The District’s most interesting new wine venue is Vin de Chez, a pop-up bar in the parking lot of Union Kitchen, a shared commercial space in Northeast. It’s the creation of Liz Bird and Tom Madrecki, two 20-somethings intent on proving that wine can be taken seriously yet still be fun. It also gives me the perfect excuse to discuss millennials and wine; after all, baby boomers tend not to drink wine in parking lots.
So what do millennials drink? Madrecki, who runs a private supper club called Chez le Commis out of his Clarendon apartment, fashioned Vin de Chez’s wine list to feature natural wines, primarily European bottlings from small family producers that use a minimalist approach and often flout the bureaucratic rules that dictate how wine should be made. It’s an eclectic, slightly subversive list with a decidedly anti-authoritarian bent. You are more likely to read about these labels in obscure wine blogs than in magazines such as Wine Advocate and Wine Spectator.
For Bird, 27, and Madrecki, 25, wine reflects a sense of adventure as well as irreverence. Both have traveled widely and worked in the restaurant business. Madrecki briefly apprenticed at Le Chateaubriand in Paris and Noma in Copenhagen, while Bird boasts “extensive experience at Pizza Hut” and Bodo’s Bagels in Charlottesville. (The two met while working on the student newspaper at the University of Virginia.) Vin de Chez is their way of taking wine outside, by overturning convention and expectation. (The most recent iteration of the pop-up, in which Madrecki cooks and Bird runs the front of the “house,” took place this past Sunday; check www.vindechez.com for 2014 dates.)
“Wine is transitioning to something people can enjoy on all occasions,” not just dinner or special celebrations, Bird told me via e-mail. “It’s less stuffy, less pretentious and generally more fun. So people gravitate to bottles that reflect this.”
Millennials have reached legal drinking age at a time when more wines from more countries are available than ever before. So it’s not surprising that their tastes are adventurous as they explore and form their own preferences. Trousseau gris is a trendy favorite; their parents probably hadn’t heard of it at that age, as they were being locked into preferences for cabernet sauvignon and chardonnay. Washington area millennials are also poised to enjoy the golden age of Virginia and Maryland winemaking, whereas their skeptical parents recall sampling the local product when it was more vinegar than vin.
Bird’s sentiments echo findings of market researchers who have surveyed millennials about their drinking habits. According to the Wine Market Council, about 39 million U.S. adults drink wine several times a week. Millennials make up 29 percent of that group, while 39 percent are baby boomers.
Millennials are more likely to spend more than $20 on a bottle, although their total spending on wine is considerably lower than that of boomers, says John Gillespie of Wine Opinions, a market research company in California.
Millennials came of age in the Internet era, scanning photos of wine labels into smartphone apps such as Delectable and Vivino and sharing their tasting notes with friends over social media. They tend to trust a recommendation from a friend (even a virtual one on Facebook) more than a retailer’s suggestion, and they are more likely than their elders to be influenced by a wine’s colorful label or catchy name, according to a study done by researchers at Sonoma State University. They don’t pay much attention to wine reviews in magazines or newspapers, leading to end-of-the-road predictions for wine critics such as Robert Parker and others. Yet they do apparently trust shelf-talkers, those little cards you see in wine stores that are based on published reviews.
“Millennials are more adventurous and more willing to try new things — if presented to them properly,” Tom Madrecki says. A new thing might be an inexpensive wine with a pretty label, but it could also be a higher-end wine with a story. Just take the pretentiousness out of the occasion. Like, maybe in a parking lot.