The Top Wine Stories Coming in 2013
Predicting what is to come is not really that difficult if you read the tea leaves without splashing them around too much and stick with a concentration on the past. What follows, in no particular order, are my top ten issues that will rise to the top in 2013 by virtue of what has come before and what will come to a head in the coming 12 months
1. OFF DRY (SWEET) REDS
In other words, Sweet red wine. The “off dry red” category of wine has exploded in the U.S. with wine consumers racing to grab up wines like Apothic and Conundrum Red and “Red Moscato” like they are candy falling out of a pinata. Actually it’s not all consumers picking up these candied wines. Young women are particularly fond of them and younger drinkers in general. The Wine Curmudgeon has already written well about this trend. However, I expect a broader array of members of the trade and press to more frequently ask these questions in 2013: Are these sweet red things good for the reputation of the American wine industry? Who is drinking them? What do they mean for the future of the American wine industry? Is there anything that can be done to stop them?
2. NATURAL WINE GOES MAINSTREAM (PRESS)
Anyone who reads this blog regularly knows what I think about the disingenuous way minimal intervention wines have been marketed and the fraudulent use of the term “Natural” to describe them. Close readers will know that my fear is the fraud will go mainstream as unthinking writers and media well outside the confines of wine writing start repeating the dreadful and false rhetoric that “natural wine” champions spew, thereby giving the fraud a wider audience. If that’s going to happen, it will be in 2013 as the message, “Some wines are better for you” gets spread among the general reading populace like a bad virus.
In June 2012, sales of spirits were handed over to private businesses in Washington State, taking the sales and marketing of these products out of the hands of the state as a result of voters in Washington passing Initiative 1183. it was a bombshell lobbed across the bow of those remaining states that continue to be in the business of controlling the sale and distribution of alcohol almost 80 years after Prohibition ended. As Washington’s privatization move meets its one year anniversary in 2013 expect to see considerable discussion over the merits of the move and whether other states ought to do the same. Pennsylvania, where alcohol sales are controlled completely by the state to the detriment of consumers, will continue to be ground zero for proponents of privatization. Expect to see some folks (wholesalers, alcohol regulators, unions, the “prevention” community) work hard to stop the spread of privatization efforts and lots being written about the pros and cons of privatization.
4. MANIPULATION IN WINEMAKING IN CALIFORNIA
In 2013, California’s 2011 vintage will begin hitting he shelves in full force and I expect these wines, produced in many cases from terribly under-ripe and rotting grapes due to bad weather, to provoke considerable discussion about “manipulation” in the winemaking process. The fact is, the difficult nature of the 2011 vintage caused many California vintners to turn to highly manipulative techniques and numerous additions of sweeteners, enzymes and other products, just to get the wines into a drinkable state. Will these techniques show? You betcha, particularly in the late ripening wines like Cabernet (Pinot Noirs and other early ripening grapes, however, might just be monumentally good). Expect a debate on the merits and downside of manipulation in winemaking.
5. THE IMPACT OF CLIMATE CHANGE ON WINEMAKING AND GRAPEGROWING
The question of climate change and the impact it may have on wine making regions has been an occasional topic of conversation, study and reports. Yet, it appears to me that more and more people are taking the theory of climate change seriously. I don’t know if it is happening or has happened. What I do know is that you can expect in 2013 a robust discussion of the impact that climate change will have on various wine producing regions, particularly where warming is concerned. What happens to Napa and Sonoma when average temperatures rise? What happens to the more northern and colder climes when this happens? If warming is occurring, what does that mean for those European appellations where use of specific grapes are mandated in order to put the appellation on the label but where these grapes, as warming occurs, may not be the right ones for the new climate?
6. DEMISE OF WINE WRITING
“Demise” is too strong a word to use, perhaps. “Diminishing” is a better word. I expect to see a number of wine columns in newspapers and magazines disappear in 2013 as the publishing industry, particularly print publishing, continue to deal with reduced revenues and readers and the budget cuts that occur in response. Wine columns are among the great luxuries in print-based newspapers. Coverage of wine rarely results in the kind of affinity advertising that makes certain kind of industry-based media coverage money makers for newspapers or magazines. Don’t be surprised to see some major newspapers and magazines dismiss their wine column all together. The causes will debated. The impact will be lamented. But don’t be surprised.
7. THE TABLET TAKES WINE
Over the last couple of years we’ve seen the occasional story of digital tablets making their way into restaurants as wine lists and into winery tasting rooms as means of explaining the wine tasting menu and expanding the visitors information about the wines they are presented with. Because I expect to see even more restaurants and wineries adopt the use of the tablet this year, I expect many more stories about this evolution. This in turn will result in more restaurants and wineries adopting the tool. From my perspective, integrating the digital tablet into both restaurant wine programs and winery tasting rooms makes great sense and works as an added value. I hope I’m right about this trend.
8. AMAZON, FACEBOOK AND WINE
In the last quarter of 2012, both Amazon.com and Facebook got in the business of wine sales, both acting as third-party marketers. Amazon’s launch has gotten more press than Facebook Gift’s addition of wine. To-date, neither Facebook nor Amazon have done much to promote their move into wine. Expect that to change in 2013 and expect the media to follow the impact on wine sales of these two huge Internet players. In 2013 we may start to see statistics on sales of wine generated by Amazon and Facebook, giving everyone lots of fodder to use in writing about the impact thus far and the future import of online wine sales.
9. REVISITING GRANHOLM V. HEALD
May 2013 will mark the 8th anniversary of the important Granholm v. Heald Supreme Court decision that helped open up winery to consumer shipping. Yet, eight years hence, the real meaning of the Granholm decision remains mired in confusion as the numerous lawsuits filed implicating the decision and using the decision in different ways have piled up. Currently, there is a lawsuit moving through the courts that uses the principle of non-discrimination outlined in the Granholm decision to challenge Missouri’s residency requirement for wholesalers in that state. It’s an important lawsuit that explores exactly what the Supreme Court meant with regard to a state’s power to discriminate against out-of-state players, be they wineries, retailers or wholesalers. The lawsuit is currently being briefed in the 8th Circuit Court of Appeals and no matter which side wins in that appeal, it could end up at the Supreme Court. If this happens, it provide the Supreme Court the opportunity to give clarity to the meaning of the 2005 Granholm opinion, and possibly substantially changing the way the wine regulatory system in America operates.
10. ROBERT PARKER AND THE FUTURE OF THE WINE ADVOCATE
If there was ever a subject in the wine industry that sparks more debate and more words than the workings of Robert Parker’s Wine Advocate I don’t know what it is. And I don’t expect this source of debate to disappoint in 2013. Wrapped up in Robert Parker’s Wine Advocate are the gifts of various juicy topics: The future utility of the wine critic. The importance of the 100 point scoring system. The wielding of power in wine writing. Wine writing ethics. Hell, you could easily track the history of wine in the world over the past 35 years through the lens of the Wine Advocate. 2013 in particular should be interesting in this regard as the impact of Mr. Parker’s $15 million sale of a percentage of the business to Singapore investors begin to result in changes. It’s no trick to predict that this will result in lots of discussion among the wine media, wine lovers and even the general media. So I will.