The changing face of the American wine consumer is turning the traditional industry on its head. We caught up with Wirtz Beverage Illinois Fine Wine Specialists Matt Schneider and Saša Sinanagic to discuss where the wine industry is headed.

Matt Schneider

Saša Sinanagic

Wirtz: What are your predictions for the wine industry?

Saša: People are looking for great value. They’re not willing to pay a fortune for a huge label or huge appellations. They are looking to explore old world countries producing wine—everything from Slovenia, South Africa, Canada, Michigan and Virginia even. Wine is becoming thought of in the same way that food is. Especially in Chicago—wine is becoming a food pairing, not just a liquor. The general public is more and more educated.

Matt: Five years ago, foodies were the trend. In the same vein, now we see more and more consumers who care about wine. People are taking the time to explore and educate themselves on new regions and are looking to try more indigenous varietals. People are no longer afraid to step outside of their comfort zone and because of that, they are willing to take the advice of their wine buyer; they aren’t surprised to see an offering from Croatia.

Wirtz: There’s a lot of talk about how a new “wine generation” is forming in the U.S. and younger consumers are all about “trying new things.” What can wine lovers expect to see on the average wine list?

Saša: This new generation has grown-up in families where parents are wine collectors. They have traveled with their parents to the winery, which is very different from 25-30 years ago when wine could be very one-tract.

I was very fortunate to work in hotels the majority of my career and had the opportunity to build multiple wine lists across the property. You have to have your staples, those friendly varietals and big brands that the consumer will understand. You can find a good balance—the 60/40 balanced wine list—where you can bring in those indigenous wines as well as the familiar varietals.

Matt: Every list needs a little Portlandia: sommelier-driven, esoteric wines, things that you wouldn’t expect balanced against what brought people into wine. Most people didn’t get into wine because they tasted a late harvest viognier from North Carolina; they got into wine because they had a glass of Sauvignon Blanc and down the line, they were willing to try something out of the box.

Saša: Education is important. Understanding what came first, the balance between the new world and the old world, is key.

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Wirtz Beverage Illinois is a statewide leader in the distribution of fine wine, spirits and beer brands. The company combines its time-honored tradition of execution excellence with a reputation for best-in-class service and brand building throughout Illinois. The company is a member of Wirtz Beverage Group, a leading wholesaler and broker with interests in Illinois, Iowa, Minnesota, Nevada and throughout Canada. To learn more, visit www.WirtzBev.com.