Directing the Enthusiasm of Gen Y Sommeliers and Wine Waiters

By Brian Mitchell Principal, Mitchell Performance Systems | August 14, 2016

Co-authored by Evan Mitchell, Senior Consultant, Mitchell Performance Systems

The best thing about Gen Y sommeliers and wine waiters is their enthusiasm. And the worst thing? Their enthusiasm.
Youth has ever been a period of intensely romanticized responses. No one has ever felt a love like this – captured such a clarity of insight – no one has ever felt so angst-ridden and bereft – no one has ever tasted a wine like this with such purity of focus and appreciation.

No one has ever loved/lost/felt/tasted as intensely as this. Youth has despaired through history over this self-evident (to them, at least) truth. With Gen Y, however, this attitude is through the roof, living as they do in a social media-created echo chamber that consists largely (perhaps only) of like-minded tastes.

Hence the ubiquitous youthful enthusiasm for natural wines – with many young soms restricting their lists only to what’s minimal-intervention, bio-dynamic, amphora-fermented, oxidative or orange (or, ideally, all of the above). There’s something of the same enthusiasm that young aspiring art lovers feel when they pass unglancingly by the Turner seascapes on their way to the Damien Hirst formaldehyde-floating dead shark. Novelty and shock value, a middle finger to convention, combine in the youthful urge to flout the more timid tastes of their elders.

Unfortunately, their elders are still very much your patrons. You don’t want them to feel the bewilderment that many wine lovers of a more traditional bent frequently do feel in the face of a list with nothing they recognize, or the manner of a young som acting as both arbiter of taste and keeper of the natural-wines-arcana.

In our book The Psychology of Wine – Truth and Beauty by the glass, we observed (about a cheesy-tasting Sardinian vermentino, from memory), “there’s volumes to be said for a wine that takes you three glasses to decide whether you find it compelling or repellent.” That’s us, and it’s many in the restaurant and wine trades. But it’s not the greater part of your clientele. Gen Y wine waiters can, though, be prone at times to forget that the average diner wants a wine that will delight them, match their meal and leave an ongoing impression and memory – not something to challenge and confront their palate, or something excessively cloudy, sporting more funk than James Brown and tasting decidedly like pear cider.

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