The Subtle and Important Change Coming to Wine

change in wineNo 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.

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6 Responses

  1. Afternoon Brief, Jan. 2 : WIN Advisor - January 2, 2014

    […] The Subtle and Important Change Coming to Wine […]

  2. Terroirist: A Daily Wine Blog » Daily Wine News: Sustainable Agriculture - January 3, 2014

    […] According to Tom Wark, “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.” He thinks that the “the expanded production and consumption of non-West Coast wine” represents a huge change. […]

  3. Kyle Schlachter - January 3, 2014

    Tom, I’m glad to see you give non-West Coast wine the attention it deserves. I agree with everything you say here!

  4. Tony Margiotta - January 4, 2014

    The bottom line is that wine is a profitable business and everyone wants to get into the game. That’s partly why you’re seeing more and more wineries popping up all over the country and clearly the demand is there with Americans consuming more wine year over year.

    While there might be indications of a trend happening, I would leave it at that: just a trend.

    I’ve had some very good wine and very bad wine in California. I’ve had some drinkable New York wine and some horrible tasting NY wine. I’ve also had drinkable wine from North Carolina and Virginia. My own personal opinion is we don’t have the right soil and climate to make wines that are timeless and great irregardless of the current trends.

  5. Dan Gatlin - January 5, 2014

    Thank you so much for your article. While the story of the last 30 years was Calif, I firmly believe the story of the next 30 will be the “the Other 46 States” (Parker’s term).

    Full Disclosure: I was the first the plant Tempranillo in the high elevations of West Texas. Growers tell me today there are over a million vines planted there. Point is, industries are being created at a relatively fast pace, but there is virtually zero coverage in the national media.

    Unadventerous writers continue to mail it in with same old, same old about safely accepted appellations while expressing no interest in the cutting edge of research and development which will be the stories of the next decade.

    I have also wondered whether the coastal media is ready to accept the presence of great wines from Red States. This would make another great topic to explore, if one can tolerate the controversial nature without becoming too inflamed in political rhetoric.

    I have been a wine professional for 37 years and brought many of the great Calif brands to Texas for the first time in the 70s. I remember when Calif was struggling to gain a foothold in the marketplace so I know I exactly how difficult it is. But whether it’s Virginia Merlot or Michigan Riesling or Texas Tempranillo, fact is, there’s an awful lot going on out there that has been completely ignored.

    Prediction: if we’re still around 20 years from now we will remember this small article as one of the first in an historical trend. Thank you again.

  6. Tom WARK - January 5, 2014

    Dan, withTexas the key is getting wine distributed out of state. Texans are loyal and drinking everything you can make down there. Thanks for commenting.


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