The Subtle and Important Change Coming to Wine
No one doubts wine is a consumer product steeped in tradition…some would say made moribund by tradition. While not insulated from change (witness the new packaging, new sales channels, technological developments), the consumer product known as “wine” and the consumers’ relationship with it does not change quickly. For example, consumers remain as they have been for so long, torn between their confusion with the mysteries of wine, while truly enchanted by those same mysteries.
For these reasons it is often very difficult to lay hands on critical shifts occurring with consumers’ relationship with wine. Some would argue the opposite. “For example, we can easily track the new love of Moscato,” they will say. But honestly, the rise of Moscato is not much more than a continuation of the public’s demand for something sweet, cheap and alcoholic.
Some point to new trends among the Millennial wine drinker and tell us we can see how this generation is so much more adventurous. But if you really look at what they are buying, we see they are not buying loads of different kinds of wine. Cabernet, Chardonnay, Merlot, Pinot and Pinot Grigio are at the top of the Millennials’ list of wines, just as they are for their grandparents.
However, there is a subtle, but very important change occurring in the world of wine consumerism that I think will be gazed at 20 years from now and said to be a most important development: The expanded production and consumption of non-West Coast wine.
For decades now, California along with Washington and Oregon have dominated the discussion of America’s wine world. And there is no reason the focus should not continue to stay trained here in the coming years. However, at this point it is impossible to ignore the substantial wines being produced in Michigan, New York, all down the entire East Coast, in Illinois, Missouri, Texas and other states. And they won’t be ignored.
The best of these non-West Coast wines are beginning to expand distribution regionally. Their rise is supported by younger or progressive or risk taking retailers and restaurant buyers. This kind of insurgency results in increasing prices and with them greater profits for these wineries, leading in turn to increased production and expanded distribution.
I will not be surprised to see more and more metropolitan-based, high-end retailers and sommeliers take the risk of case stacking Michigan Riesling and New York Cabernet Franc or restaurant buyers pouring Virginia Chardonnay, Viognier and red blends by the glass. These kinds of risks will be supported by a media that is now more than willing to champion wines far removed from Napa, Sonoma, Mendocino, Willamette Valley and Washington.
Then there is the consumer. Americans young and old are now accustomed to eating and tasting well beyond their safe zones, particularly in large metropolitan areas where restaurants serving what were “exotic” cuisines and specialty food markets now stocking what were formerly unknown foods are now commonplace.
Really bold changes and trends becoming active product lines often require innovators and savvy marketers. If one or two such wine makers and marketers emerge out of these “other” states, we might see this important change overtake the wine market faster than I would expect.
Either way, the emergence of the non-West Coast wines is now slowly happening. And it’s one of the most important changes in the American wine market in decades.