Michael Mondavi comes from a long line of winemakers.
His grandfather, Cesare Mondavi, bought and restored Napa Valley's historic Charles Krug Winery when Michael was just a young boy. In 1966, Michael and his father, Robert Mondavi, founded the first winery in Napa Valley since the time of Prohibition, paving the way for the area to become the wine mecca it is today.
But even after 50 years of experience in the industry, Michael — who founded Folio Fine Wine Partners in 2004 and Michael Mondavi Family Estate in 2006 — is more excited than ever about the people who are choosing to drink wine.
"The average age of the consumer has dropped, and the millennials and Gen X'ers are the exciting part of the wine business," he told Business Insider. "The millennials were the first generation where men and women preferred wine or beer over spirits. The millennial generation was the first where women drank as much wine as men."
According to Wine Spectator, millennials consumed 159.6 million cases of wine in 2015, which is equal to about 42% of all wine drunk in the US last year. This has led to the rise of wine delivery and check-in apps, as well as products that promote convenience, like wine sold in a can. And in the age of social media, the urge to share your most recent finds and good taste has been a boost to winemakers.
"Whether it's with food or wine, millennials are saying, 'I like this, and I'm going to share that with my friends,'" Mondavi said. "Young people today have the confidence to express their preferences. I think that communication is now more important than the ratings of wines by experts."
When Mondavi first started selling wine back in the '60s and '70s, the industry's focus was on appealing to an older generation. But now, Mondavi says, younger people are more interested than ever — and it reflects a major shift in how the modern American views food and drink.
"In the '60s, '70s, and even the '80s, we were drinking and eating solely for fuel. In the last 20 to 25 years, people have found that yes, we need fuel, but it can also taste good," he said. "Instead of just eating for survival, it's eating and drinking — hopefully in moderation — for pleasure."
He added: "The per capita consumption of wine in the '60s was under 1 gallon per person per year. Today it's over 3 gallons per person per year. The quality wines — over $10 a bottle — are growing dramatically, while wines under $5 a bottle are shrinking. People are not wanting the cheap wines. Now they need to taste good."
Wine Enthusiast Magazine named Mondavi its "Person of the Year" in 2015. These days, he runs Michael Mondavi Family Estate, which produces wines M by Michael Mondavi, Animo, Isabel Mondavi, and Emblem. He also works with Italian and Spanish winemakers through his importing and marketing agency, Folio.
As for his personal preferences, Mondavi doesn't believe in following the strict rules that sommeliers pushed on the American people when wine was first becoming popular 50 years ago.
"If you want white wine with a steak, try it. If you want red wine with fish, try it," he said. "If it tastes good to you, that's good enough."