The future of wine education in the Gen Z era

A new approach to wine education and service


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In the evolving landscape of the wine industry, a critical challenge has emerged: engaging Generation Z in a category traditionally embraced by older generations. This generation, marked by its distinct characteristics and preferences, requires a unique approach to be effectively integrated into the wine trade. Berkmann Wine Cellars, a prominent UK importer, has recognized this need and is pioneering efforts to make wine relevant to Generation Z, particularly within the on-trade sector.

The challenge is not insignificant. Recent trends show a decline in wine consumption among younger consumers, a phenomenon that raises concerns about the future of the wine industry. Bob Davidson, the wine training manager at Berkmann Wine Cellars, however, offers a different perspective. He suggests that the issue is not a shift away from wine, but rather a lack of shift towards it, attributed to the myriad of competing interests vying for the attention of younger generations. Today's youth have a plethora of activities and experiences at their disposal, unlike the simpler social landscape of twenty or thirty years ago.

Davidson emphasizes the importance of not viewing this trend as a deterrent to wine education. Drawing an analogy with vegetarian front-of-house staff who can still effectively sell steaks, he argues that personal preferences should not limit one's ability to provide exceptional service in the wine sector. This perspective underpins Berkmann's approach to training Generation Z in the on-trade sector.

Recognizing the changing dynamics of the on-trade workforce, Berkmann Wine Cellars has relaunched its Veraison training programme, first introduced in 2016. The revamped programme, under Davidson's guidance, focuses on making wine education more appealing and relevant to a Gen Z audience. This involves two primary strategies: technological integration and an emphasis on emotional engagement.

The technological aspect includes the introduction of a new e-learning platform and a Veraison app, incorporating elements of gamification. This approach resonates with the digital-first preferences of Generation Z, making the learning process more engaging and accessible. Additionally, the training programme enlists the expertise of a behavioural scientist, Dr. Rachael Skews, to address the second strategy: emotional engagement.

Dr. Skews notes that Generation Z seeks a different psychological contract with employers, prioritizing meaningful work experiences and a healthy work-life balance. This insight has shaped the Veraison programme to be more inclusive and representative of Gen Z's values and expectations. The programme encourages co-creation of wine language and emphasizes empathy, both with customers and fellow staff. It aims to create a psychologically safe training environment, reducing barriers and intimidation often associated with wine.

The revamped Veraison programme also takes inclusivity seriously, lowering the reading age of its content to accommodate a broader range of learners, including those with learning difficulties or from lower socioeconomic backgrounds.

Ultimately, the objective is not to convert every member of Generation Z into a wine enthusiast. Instead, it's about adapting the on-trade working environment to align with their values and perspectives, recognizing the importance of wine in the context of service and customer experience. Davidson summarizes this approach, emphasizing the need for Gen Z to understand the significance of wine for others and to connect with customers on that basis.

As the wine industry faces the challenge of engaging a new generation, the approach adopted by Berkmann Wine Cellars offers valuable insights. By adapting educational methods to the preferences and values of Generation Z, the wine industry can ensure its relevance and appeal to this emerging workforce, ultimately safeguarding its future.

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