Bridging the generation gap (I) – looking beyond the ‘botellón’

new logo RiojaAs Rioja’s core drinkers age and are told to lay off the sauce, it becomes crucial to  involve younger consumers in our product.  This is a daunting venture.  Kids in Spain today don’t share their parents’ love of wine, but rather choose the quick buzz with beverages they’ve seen advertised in magazines and at concerts.  An interesting example of a teenager’s social event is the ‘botellón’ or ‘big bottle’.

Every Friday and Saturday evening, just before closing time, the supermarket down the street from our house fills with teenagers who load their shopping carts with half gallon plastic bottles of cola, orange and lemon soda, while others make deals with over 18s to buy them bottles of rum, gin and vodka.  Then, just after dark, the groups go to the parks behind apartment buildings, sit down, mix the booze with the soda and pass the bottles (and other things) around.  The more civilized of these groups clean up their mess afterwards, but more often than not, the apartment building’s maintenance man has to police the area.

Sadly, teenagers in Spain don’t have much else to do with their friends, a fact that is related to an unstable job market and Spanish pride that doesn’t encourage a work ethic (what parent here would admit that they can’t afford to give their teenager spending money? Work?  How ignominious!) 

In addition, Spain’s dual job structure (employees with a permanent contract are entitled to 45 days’ unemployment for each year on the job while young people out of high school, vocational school or college are hired for six months at a time for less than a 1,000 euro a month gross salary, with no seniority accrued which, after taxes, doesn’t allow them to save for entertainment, marriage, buying an apartment or a car. What little they earn is supplemented by largesse from their parents. So they drown their sorrows in parks with their friends. Some people might be tempted to say that from the kids’ standpoint, this is an ideal situation, but even young Spaniards long for living independently from mom and dad.

I’ve gone on record in my lectures about wine that an important step to involve younger consumers in wine culture would be to change Spain’s labor laws to encourage companies to give stable jobs to young people.  This would give them some disposable income to go to restaurants and allow them to begin to enjoy wine.  Unfortunately, the only restaurants young people can afford to patronize in Spain are pizzerias and the only wine they can afford is lambrusco from Italy.  This is a sad commentary about the Spanish wine trade’s ability to react to market trends.  

Rioja has a long way to go before it bridges the generation gap in its home market, but as we will explore in future posts, we are making progress.