Tariffs, Tourism, CBD and More: The Biggest Stories of 2019

Vineyard by wine turbines
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1. Climate change is on everyone’s mind, and the industry is mobilizing to fight it.

From California to South America, throughout France and over to Oregon, consequences of climate change like rising temperatures, unpredictable weather patterns and water shortages are increasing at an alarming rate and impacting virtually all aspects of what’s in your glass. Concerned growers, producers and other beverage professionals are banding together in alliances like the Wineries for Climate Protection and International Wineries for Climate Action to develop and communicate research, establish support networks for challenged colleagues and encourage sustainable and responsible practices in the light of a dynamic agricultural landscape.

2. California infernos remind us that debilitating fires are the new normal in the state’s wine country.

On the heels of devastating wildfires in 2017 and 2018, the October Kincade fire in Sonoma, exacerbated by dry conditions and winds up to 90 mph, as of press time required the evacuation of 186,000 people in Geyserville, Healdsburg, Windsor and all of western Sonoma County. By the time the blaze was contained, at least 374 structures, including Soda Rock Winery in Healdsburg, were destroyed. Though no deaths were reported, the ongoing fires mean increased pressures on America’s top wine regions and the people who work and live in them.

3. Wine and tech: the perfect pairing.

The wine world took a deep dive into creative technology in 2019, with advances in the space giving us the ability to make, age, serve and select wines like never before. Among some of the cooler developments are more ubiquitous augmented-reality labels; smart irrigation and drones in the vineyards; virtual reality tasting, next-gen decanters and a proliferation of apps offering everything from virtual wine assistants to crowd-sourced tasting notes to exclusive access to wine events.

4. Wine tariffs mean increased prices for many European wines.

Tariffs of 25%, totaling $7.5 billion, were imposed on certain European Union goods this year, including still wines from France, Germany, Spain and Britain that are under 14% alcohol by volume (abv). The hike means that being an intrepid drinker just became a lot less accessible, and that some of Europe’s small and most unusual producers, unable to take the inevitable customer hit, may disappear from American shelves.

5. Wine tourism takes flight.

Whether they’re heading to South Africa or Santa Barbara, Georgia or Patagonia, more adventurous travelers let the vineyard lead their travel choices this year, with a growing number of travel companies dedicating themselves solely to the focus of food and drink in their packages. Airlines stepped up their in-flight wine offerings, too, with creative lists paired to meals making more appearances on planes worldwide and ensuring your eno-vacation starts on take-off.

6. CBD-infused beverages are on the rise.

CBD found its way into more craft beer and wine this year, as well as elixirs, coffee, water and kombucha. Cannabis-spiked wine like the CBD-infused CannaWine, as well as CBD beers touted blissful effects like reduced anxiety and inflammation, and “a sense of well-being” to thirsty drinkers nationwide. Napa-based House of Saka went one step farther, creating dealcoholized wines infused with THC and CBD.

7. The packaging revolution continues.

With an eye toward sustainability, portability and user-friendly portions, wine increasingly took shape in cans, boxes, single serving packs, bottles made out of paper, refillable growlers and more across all price-points and without a sacrifice of quality. Recycled cork and noncork closures were also more prevalent, and more open-minded wine drinkers got the memo, supporting the change and moving away from traditional mindsets about where wine lives.

8. Low-ABV wines meet lifestyle needs.

Responding to an increasing taste for lower alcohol wine styles as well as a mindful public including drivers, pregnant women, the calorie-conscious and those interested in cutting back without full abstention for a variety of health reasons, producers offered more alternatives for wines in the .5% ABV range and up. It’s proof positive that wine can be a responsible and natural element of a healthy lifestyle, without the sacrifice in quality once assumed.

9. Hard seltzer is exceeding expectation.

Alcoholic seltzers like the 100-calorie, low carbohydrate, 5% abv, gluten-free White Claw took off in 2019, checking off consumer needs boxes like crazy and attracting enough young, calorie-conscious men to put traditional beer brands and styles on alert. Offering a variety of flavors, and boasting clever marketing and packaging all for an affordable price point, category demand shows no sign of slowing.

10. The natural wine movement continues.

Natural wines reached unprecedented popularity this year. Made with a hands-off, minimal-intervention approach to winemaking, the wines appeal to proponents of healthy living, environmentalism and the preservation of culture and tradition, all hot buttons in today’s world at large. Wine lists nationwide took note, slotting in pét-nats, skin-contact wines and amphora-aged natty selections next to classic bottles.

Published on December 26, 2019
Topics: Year in Wine