New generation of wine buyers savvy about food pairings, years and types
BY CHARLES WILLIAMS
Of The Post and Courier Staff
Piper Fleming doesn’t know all there is to know about wine, but she’s learning fast. “Beer has so many carbo-hydrates. Wines not bad for you, and it’s good for your heart,” she said. “I drink red with steaks, venison and tuna, and white wine with fish and chicken.”
Jennifer Berzof (left) and Gretchen Loos, both of Mount Pleasant, sip on cabernets at Meritage in downtown Charleston. They say they prefer wine over beer or mixed drinks.
The 29-year-old property manager at Atlantic Islands Vacations at Seabrook Island is among a lot of people her age who have switched from beer and liquor to the grape.
The trend has wine store owners, restaurants and vineyards feeling, well, rosy.
“More and more people in that age group are coming in for wine tastings and asking a lot of questions,” said Debbie Marlowe of the Wine Shop on Lockwood Drive in downtown Charleston. “Rather than drinking cocktails with dinner, they’re drinking wine.”
Julie Limehouse of Rosebank Farms Cafe at the Bohicket Marina has seen the spike in wine consumption.
She said wine now makes up a majority of her alcohol sales.
She said more and more young people are turning to wine because, quite simply, it’s “in.”
“We’re seeing younger kidscome more sophisticated,” Limehouse said.
Jack Libby, who owns Uncork, a wine store at 333 King St., said his business was up 26 percent during the Southeastern Wildlife Exposition. A lot of those customers were in the 21-30 age group.
“They make me feel like an old codger,” Libby said.
Libby said the new breed of buyer is “very wine savvy and already versed in good bottles of wine. They know about pairing wine with food.”
These new wine drinkers, or people who drink wine at least once each week, have increased 32 percent during the past three years, according to the Wine Council. The trade group said Americans are consuming more than two gallons of wine annually, a figure that has not been seen since the 1980s.
All of these new wine drinkers — coupled with the devaluation of the dollar, which makes European wines more expensive, and the decline in the supply of grapes worldwide — are expected to benefit the California wine industry, which produces 90 percent of the wine in the United States.
“Price is definitely part of the equation,” Libby said.
John Campbell, wine manager at Meritage Restaurant on East Bay Street, said groups of young adults have been showing up regularly at his bar, which is known for its vast selection of wines. He said most order wine, and that has led to an increase of about 20 percent in his wine business.
“It’s been steady,” he said.
One business that is taking advantage of the good times is Irvin House Vineyards on Wadmalaw Island.
Co-owner Ann Irvin said she and her husband, Jim, are planning a sizable increase in their wine output. “We’re getting ready to bottle 50,000 bottles this year, almost double our production” from last year, she said.
She said recent medical studies have shown that wine drinkers have a substantially lower death rate than people who drink other forms of alcohol. “Red wine is good for you,” she said.
While there is no wine association in South Carolina, there is some movement afoot to get one started. A group of wine growers met with officials from the state agriculture commission in Columbia in November.
“It’s in the embryonic stage,” said Mary Ridgeway, marketing specialist for the agriculture department. “We want to see if we can grow that industry or help the folks producing it.”