Every year at this time I take a look back at the stories and industry issues that I believe will most profoundly affect what Americans will drink, how much they will pay for it and how they will perceive it. Here are my top 10.
America soon to be the world’s number one wine-consuming nation. U.S. wine consumption has risen for 14 straight years, increasing 3.4% in 2006. Between 1994 and 2006, consumption rose more than 50 percent. By 2008, according to most estimates, the United States will pass France, Italy and Spain as the world’s largest consumer of wine—much of it fine wine. The sweet spot for wine sales in the U.S. is between $8 and $15, but bottles priced above $15 are doing very well too. Americans pay more than twice as much as their European counterparts on average at retail, and are drinking higher quality wines.
Global warming. On one hand, look at Australia’s drought. Australia’s 2007 harvest was the lowest since 2000, and the 2008 harvest is expected to be much lower still. On the other hand, look at China and India, and the pace of unfettered industrialization. Those countries will not take steps to reduce their carbon emissions unless the U.S. helps take the lead. Australia is the canary in the mineshaft. Wine growing regions all over the world will be increasingly feeling the effects unless somethng is done now.
Countries are targeting the U.S. for their exports. American wine producers will be facing a challenge from abroad. Wine imports have grown 184% since 1995. All the major wine-producing countries are targeting the U.S., and they are growing more savvy about marketing to the American consumer.
America’s palate is at the center of the alleged “homogenization of wine” issue. Many industry experts point to America’s growing thirst for wine, as well as its fluency and dominance in the field of marketing, as the driving force influencing wine styles throughout the world. The rise of the fruit-forward style of wine, rather than the more nuanced, terroir-driven and ageable style championed by the Old World, is being laid at America’s door.
Wine blogs come of age. Producers are paying more attention to the Web, as they should. There’s much change afoot. The term “Wine 2.0” refers to community-based wine Web sites in which users share their wine opinions, receive recommendations, make contacts and purchase wines online. Unreserved by Jim Gordon, the blog on our
magazine Web site, is one of the most provocative, informative and exciting. Check it out. (www.blog.winemag.com)
The democratization of wine. The lines are blurring between casual and fine dining restaurants, in terms of wine lists. The most successful brands are being carried by both. In other words, casual restaurants are carrying prestigious brands. It’s amazing how many pizza restaurants are carrying Dom Pérignon.
Ernest Gallo. In March, Ernest Gallo passed away at the age of 97. In 1933, starting with a mere $6,000 investment, Ernest and his brother Julio eventually built the world’s biggest wine company. By 2006, they had recorded case sales of 62 million. Along the way, they formed the foundation of the modern distribution system while also defining many other marketing and industry practices. Ultimately they introduced the American public to the joys of wine.
The rise of Riesling. U.S. supermarket data indicates that Riesling sales jumped 172% in 2005, and according to Nielsen, grew another 24% in 2006. The Riesling renaissance that the media has been predicting for a decade is now truly here. It is the wine of choice among millennials whose taste often dictates to the rest of the culture—youth’s prerogative. American wine producers are taking note.
South Africa. Dramatic scenery, exotic animals and an intriguing cultural mosaic are enough to make South Africa a favorite for any smart traveler, but the real story these days is the fantastic wine that is being produced there. Their commitment to quality and craft is resulting in affordable and collectible wines that bridge the gap between Old and New World. Shiraz is the star of the future.
Argentina’s Malbec. A newcomer to the international wine world, Argentina has identified a signature grape. Its Malbecs are creating a sensation worldwide. They are priced right, soft, friendly and colorful. And depending on yields, vine age and terroir as well as winemaking, any bottle has the potential to be great. They are competing with the very best of the wine world’s reds.
Happy New Year, and cheers!
Have a comment on this month’s Enthusiast’s Corner? Email Adam Strum