The 4 Key Trends in the Wine Industry in the Past 20 Years
This month I will embark on my 24th year working in the wine industry and I’ve begun to start to think, finally, about the industry from the top down. I was speaking with a friend about this perspective and they asked a pretty simple question:
“What have been the major themes in the wine industry over the past two decades?”
That it’s simple also makes it somewhat difficult to answer. But, by breaking down the industry into its constituent parts, it becomes a little easier to answer. The major themes that have dominated the four parts of the industry over the past 20+ years seem clear to me:
Part I: GRAPE GROWING
Terroir, Terroir, Terroir (or, what grows best where?)
Even before 1990, when I entered the business, the trend of trying to carefully pick where to plant which grapes was driving not only new vineyard plantings, but then the replantings that resulted from the Phylloxera outbreak of the 1908s and 1990s. It’s been a slow go to turn California, Oregon and Washington into the Old World, where certain grapes are grown in certain places because they tend to respond better. But the pace of this search for the right land for the right grape has only accelerated. This terroir-driven thrust of grape growing in America will of course continue as the drive to base sales on the spiritual and profitable notion of land-born quality and a wine’s connection to the land continues to be blessed by the consumer.
Part II: WINE PRODUCTION
Increasing production and broadening the source of production
The number of wineries that have launched since 1990 is nothing less than amazing. The increase has been exponential. In 1990 you could spend a week in Napa or Sonoma and feel like you had a great feel for the regions by having visited 15 or 20 wineries. You couldn’t touch the surface now. Nor in Paso Robles, Santa Barbara, Monterey County, Oregon or Washington. And today, every state in the nation has gotten in the game with no end in sight. Today, we can count New York, Virginia, Texas, Missouri, and Michigan and important wine-producing states with a number of others snapping at their heels. The increase and broadening in production of wine has been a direct result of the Baby Boomer generation adopting wine as their own and being willing to support not only America’s best known winegrowing regions but their own home state’s industries.
Part III: SALES
Modifying the Three Tier System
In 1990, with the exception of a few states, you had a very strict three-tier system of sales in place in which the producer depended entirely on the wholesaler to bring their products into the various states and the retailer depended upon the wholesaler to get them inventory to sell. Today wineries across the country, by having modified, stretched, altered and fought back against the 80-year-old relic of a sales system, can disregard the three-tier system almost entirely. These are smaller wineries, making less wine. But it is the emergence of alternative routes to the consumer that has allowed the explosion of wineries to occur over the past two decades.
Part IV: CONSUMERS
Empowering the consumer to feel confident in ordering and buying wineFor more than two decades everyone in the industry seems to have agreed that the consumer is intimidated by wine and needs to be made to feel comfortable choosing wine. I agree with this. I also understand that this has been the driving force behind the emergence of the 100 point rating system, behind the emergence of the sommelier as a force in the industry, behind the minds of the vast majority of wine media/writers and wine bloggers, and accounts for the reasoning behind most of the wine books, wine television and wine newsletters given to the wine drinking public in the past two decades. There is no reason to believe this imperative to calm the consumer will yield in the coming years when you consider that wine is only becoming more complex and more varied in every country where it is produced.
The four major trends mentioned above in the four main parts of the industry have one thing thing in common and it could be no other way: The consumers’ actions and desires have driven all the trend. And this should tell us all that in the coming two decades we only have to guess what the consumer will do and want and how they will act to have a precise idea of what will happen in the wine industry.