There is an article posted for the staff at the tasting room in Carmel Valley, California, where I work on the weekends. It features a series of tasting room “no-nos” that are guaranteed to leave the customers with a bitter taste in their mouths (pun intended).

One of the “no-nos” in the article contains quotes by well-to-do (and quite frustrated) twentysomethings who describe being completely ignored in a tasting room, in favor of an older couple who may have only ended up buying one half-bottle of $12 Chardonnay.

Photo courtesy of Young Winos of LA

Photo courtesy of Young Winos of LA

Bingo. Ageism against young wine drinkers is still alive and well in the U.S. We twentysomethings are often not seen as valuable in the wine community. In fact, sometimes we’re viewed as a complete waste of time.

I once went to a jazz and wine bar in Morgan Hill, wanting to try some wines while waiting to pick up some medication from the doctor’s office. The server, who was also the co-owner, treated me like a nuisance. She never once talked with me about the wines I was tasting, even when I tried to open up conversation about them. But when an older couple came in and sat down in the lounge, her service demeanor completely shifted–and by that, I mean she actually gave service. Only to them, of course.

Needless to say, I haven’t graced that wine bar since.

Downright ignorant attitudes toward young wine drinkers are not limited to one part of the country either. Delaware resident Sara D., 24, relates:

There’s this wine store near my house… I went there to pick out a nice bottle of wine to share with my boyfriend, and I decided to see if the ‘expert’ had anything he would recommend. He gave me a bottle and walked away. I followed him, and told him that I didn’t really want a Merlot—my boyfriend likes dryer wines. He insisted that we would love it. It was horrible.

A lot of the time older wine-shop staffers assume that, because we are young, we don’t understand the difference between a good wine and a bad wine. We’re often looked at as mindless, just as quick to down a $2 jug as to appreciate a 1985 Gaja “Sori Tilden.” Colin Wright, 24, of Los Angeles (currently in Buenos Aires), explains: “I think it’s usually because the person serving believes that I’m there to get drunk or not planning on buying anything, just there for cheap or free booze.”

At wine tastings, the individuals giving more expensive wine samples often give me a superior look and a smaller [pour], even if I’ve already paid a cover to get into the wine tasting,” says FoxFire, 24. “I guess they are thinking ‘You are too young to afford this bottle of wine’ and don’t want to waste their time with me.”

So how can young twentysomethings prove their value in the wine scene, without having to wait 10-15 years to look older? According to Jesse Porter, 27-year-old founder of the Young Winos social networking group in Los Angeles, it’s all about showing the world that you know your stuff, and for others to appreciate that:

There’s this expectation that twentysomethings are inherently less serious about wine, so when you start talking about Brix and malolactic fermentation, they kind of do a double take … So as you might imagine, I’d encourage the older wine-tasting crowd to take this younger generation seriously.

If both sides of the Generation Gap pay a little more attention to the wine conversation—without making assumptions based on appearances—then someday the folks at the tasting room in Carmel Valley can take that article down off the wall.

— Beth Elderkin, 24, lives in Monterey and works as a bartender/tasting room host/wine-loving happy girl. She’s currently working towards her degree in Journalism as well as her sommelier certification, and she blogs at http://winorhino.blogspot.com

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  • Julien

    Very well written and insightful article! You wouldnt believe the amount of times Ive been treaded badly simply because Im young. This should be required reading for everyone who works in the wine buisness.

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  • diana

    An interesting look into ageism and the wine industry – articulate, to the point and I appreciate the glimpse into the heads of some twenty-somethings…. Stereotypes will most likely always be a part of our society – and the wine industry is apparently no exception. Good article!

    Wine and medicine? :)

  • Adrian DeVore

    Although, I didn’t become overly involved with wines until I was in my thirties. My problems with wine stores involve race since as an African American, I sometimes get slighted and mistreated due to a perceived notions that people of color who are serious about wines are viewed as “show offs” by wine store “experts”!

  • http://winorhino.blogspot.com Beth

    Adrian, that’s an interesting point! That isn’t something that I have personal experience with, since I am Caucasian, but as a woman I can understand how being different from the traditional “norm” (i.e. an older white male) would affect people’s perceptions. Thank you for your comment! And thank you Julien and Diana for your wonderful words!

  • http://www.msdrinkwell.wordpress.com Ms. Drinkwell

    I have had similar experiences at wine shops/bars, unfortunately. It’s silly, really, that people judge wine knowledge or interest at first sight when everybody knows (or should) that wine appeals regardless of age, race, gender, etc. IMO, any server/salesperson worth their salt gives professional service to every customer who walks in the door, and none of us should accept less in places we choose to patronize.
    As to the tasting room experience, I also work in one, and I find that our 20-something visitors are on the whole very knowledgeable and excited about wine and curious to learn more — my favorite kind of people!

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