1: Drought on the West Coast. The escalating drought (three years and running) and increasing battles over access to water for wineries up and down the entire West Coast were big news this year. Grape yields were down considerably as well, although some contest grape quality is actually up.
2: The Ongoing Impact of Climate Change. Drought wasn’t the only aberrant natural obstacle this year for vintners. Heat waves in Italy, Austria, Germany and others, plus an early and erratic season in California, show that extreme weather shifts are a modern vintner’s Achilles heel.
3: The Increasing Importance of Crowd-Funding in Wine. Sites like Kickstarter and Indiegogo have been helping small business get a foothold for years, but Naked Wines, Fundovino, Cruzu and Seedrs gained noticeable momentum in the wine space. That means small producers and businesses actually have a chance to launch in a famously expensive industry.
4: Social Media Becomes Wine’s Top Conversation Platform. Following travel and dining trends, wine went seriously social this year, with Twitter hashtags like #wineoclock gaining hundreds of thousands of entries. Winemakers, sommeliers and bloggers also aggressively engaged followers, using Instagram to showcase vineyards, bottles and more.
5: Balanced Wines Take America. A taste for higher acid, lower alcohol wines inspired domestic producers to follow suit, especially in California, where the taming of alcohol and oak, despite the warm vintages, was a focus. The popularity of dry whites (Sauvignon Blanc, Grüner Veltliner) and crisp reds (Pinot Noir, Cabernet Franc) drove overall domestic and international wine purchases as well.
6: Sommeliers Reach Celeb Status. Personality-driven wine lists, wine-driven TV shows and movies featuring wine-list gatekeepers, plus an unprecedented sourcing in the media of “somm opinions”…all escalated this year, indicating a growing following for wine personalities in America.
7: Mobile Wine Applications Take Off. Apps like Hello Vino, Vivino and others proved this year that wine lovers want to learn about, and buy, wine on their mobile devices. In August, CNBC reported that up to 36 percent of U.S. consumers were using apps to check prices and reviews before wine purchases.
8: Sparkling Shows No Signs of Stopping. Studies reveal that around a third of U.S. sparkling wine drinkers, or 18 million Americans, now drink sparkling wine at least once a week. This includes Italian Prosecco (a frontrunner), California sparkling, Champagne and Spanish Cava, among others.
9: Dry Premium Rosé Remains Hot. Elegant bottlings from France lead the pack in our growing taste for the pink stuff, with new products on shelves across the country proving its versatility is resonating with wine drinkers (of both genders) everywhere.
10: Au Naturel is Natural. More available, more popular and more geographically diverse than ever, natural wines (generally agreed to be made from grapes certified organic or biodynamic, and fermented with indigenous yeasts) follow the “farm-to-table” trends in food, and show that American palates are becoming ever more adventurous.
About the photo: At 268 pages—the biggest in our 28-year history—this double issue represents the evolution and growth of the magazine at a time when wine is more popular than ever.