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Wednesday, May 17, 2017

The Future of Wine in America

The American wine market is humming along right now. There have been a few bumps in the road in the past. There have certainly been changes. What about the next 25 years? It's safe to say there a lot more unknowns then things you can make educated guesses on. Climate change, technology, politics, and finicky consumers are are going to alter what we now consider the norm.

Looking back

 A lot can happen in a quarter century. Looking back at the California wine industry 25 years ago:
  •  Merlot was king. Syrah was up-and-coming and would be the next big thing. Pinot Noir was scarce and largely mediocre. Pinot Gris? What's that? The best Chardonnays were toasty butterballs.
  • Dry dinner wines over 14% alcohol were usually a mistake.
  • Twenty bucks would buy a really nice bottle of wine.
  • Climate change wasn't something people knew about.
  • Computers were still too large to be of any use in the vineyards or the cellar except maybe for a couple spread sheets.
  • There were about 900 wineries in California. Today there are 4,000.
Here's a telling article on "Top Discoveries in California Wine" written in 1990. It almost all Napa and Sonoma. It's almost all Chardonnay and Cabernet Sauvignon.

Climate change

Vineyard folks are talking about this now. Wine grapes are very dependent on the weather. In 25 years will we see Chardonnay from Montana? Cabernet from New Zealand? Europe is likely to be the hardest hit as they have established growing areas for certain grapes. What if Chablis is no longer good for Chardonnay or Bordeaux for Merlot? 


It hasn't been growing by leaps and bounds, but small changes happen often and every few years you see new things come along in the vineyard and in the winery to improve the product. No doubt some new things will come along to fight off the effects of climate change.


Changes to trade policies and possible retaliation seems like a possibility with the current U.S. administration. If this happens consumer choices will go down and prices are likely to go up.

U.S. shipping laws for alcohol are slowly loosening up, but what if this trend reverses for some reason? Many wineries live and die off of their direct-to-consumer business.

Consumers, the great unknown

Wine's competition is now craft beer, trendy cocktails, and even marijuana. None of these challenged wine 25 years ago. The current 20-somethings will be controlling the adult beverage market and what are they going to want?  History tells us it will be different from what people are drinking now. The economy is always an issue with the wine market. And then there's China.

I get the impression Chardonnay is a middle-aged person's drink and not so popular with younger folks. If that continues then Chard will no longer be the most popular grape in the country unless maybe we're exporting it to China. See, difficult to know. Pinot Noir and Pinot Gris caught on a few years ago. Rosé more recently. Merlot is dead. Malbec has been hot. Sparkling wine sales are climbing. How long will these trends continue?

What the heck are they thinking of buying?