America’s Wine Trendsetters
Unlike Alder over at Vinography, I like lists. Of course Alder is correct—list such as "The Most Powerful People in Wine", "The Best Movies of All Time", "The Top Ten Roses" or "The Top Wines of the Year" are indeed "reductive, simple, and trite, and don’t acknowledge the complexity of the world we live in at all."
Yet these shortcomings don’t overshadow the benefit of such lists: They are provocative and make us think. Alder’s examination of Decanter Magazine’s List of "The Most Powerful People in Wine" got me thinking. Not so much about "power" but thinking about trends in wine. Who are "America’s Wine Trend Setters"? Who sets the standards? Who shifts the debate? Who influences what others do in the wine industry and among wine consumers?
It got me thinking…
AMERICA’S 10 MOST IMPORTANT WINE TRENDSETTERS
They buy the wine! If women respond to labels with cute animals, we’ll get more labels with cute animals. If women start buying more wine that is low in alcohol, we’ll see more wines low in alcohol. The logic of this is so impermeable as to make it a law of nature
2. ROBERT PARKER AND THE WINE SPECTATOR
Together these two reviewing juggernauts have helped redefine what "fine wine" is to the collector class as well as the wine industry. They have helped change the way wine is marketed into something that is so completely defined by the power of third-party endorsements that price points and distribution strategy is nearly bumped from the top of the marketing strategy list. The upshot is that many winemakers have changed the way they make wine, retailers have changed the way they buy and most other influential wine publications have adopted the 100 point scale.
3. THE SUPREME COURT OF THE UNITED STATES OF AMERICA
We’ve not seen so much wine politics in such a short amount of time in the past 20 years. All because the Supreme Court told us what we already knew: discriminatory, state-enacted, trade regulations are discriminatory. Now, states across the country are changing their laws to conform to the Supreme Court’s new paradigm for wine shipping. We are going to see more legislation, more political fights, more everything as the new paradigm unleashes a wave of interest based lobbying in state capitals.
The sheer size of this privately held company is astonishing. But what’s more important is that it has been a company of extraordinary size for many years. In those years its power and influence has grown. The trend it still sets is the spot market for CA grapes. For years Gallo has looked at the spot market for grapes, decided what it wants to pay for those grapes and that price has set the trend for grape pricing in the North Coast of California and beyond. That price affects the economic viability of vineyards, of new grape plantings as well as wine pricing.
Yes, I know this is a list of AMERICA’s wine trendsetters, but you just can’t ignore the impact that Australia’s low priced, good value, good quality wines have had on the American market and American wineries and American palates. And we are not just talking about the ubiquitous "Yellow Tail" brand. The fact is, since the mid 1990s Australia’s exports to the United States have defined good value. They introduced American palates to the idea of well priced, creamy, soft reds such as "Shiraz," a style that has been imitated by numerous American wineries.
6. THE CULT WINE PRODUCERS
Trendsetting not for the wines they produce but for the way they sell the wine…direct. One of the original cult wines is Grace Family Vineyards in Napa Valley. Long ago they were selling nearly all of their wines direct to the consumer off a mailing list that just grew and grew until they needed a new list to keep track of those who wanted to be on the list. The new cult producers understood and began to refine the idea of selling direct off a mailing list. Eventually, direct sales became a substantial part of the sales model of nearly every super premium winery in California.
7. FRED FRANZIA & HARVEY POSERT
Two-Buck Chuck literally re-defined the low end of the wine market and invited numerous consumers to put wine on their table where it hadn’t been before with literally no risk of disappointment. Two Buck Chuck’s parent is Fred Franzia. It’s champion is the esteemed and long time publicist Harvey Posert. Together they made this $3 wine a house hold name and created a market for $3 wines that had always been there but never exploited. There will be competitors to Two-Buck-Chuck. But more importantly, the low priced wine of average quality (that’s quite an accomplishment) will serve to introduce new consumers to wine, thereby helping the rest of the wine industry.
8. WEST COAST WINE.NET & WINE LOVERS DISCUSSION GROUP
Hard core wine lovers have always been an isolated group, coming together now and again at events or in small groups at restaurants to talk that geeky talk away from the rest of the world. Those groups were brought together and "came out" when the Internet discussion boards westcoastwine.net and the Wineloverspage.com opened on the web. These two websites defined what Internet Wine Interaction could become and shone the light of the internet’s potential and it’s ability to create community among wine lovers. There are a number of wine discussion sites that have followed in their foot steps. Wine Blogs too are an off shoot of these two pioneering sites that are going strong today. Where the future of the Internet Wine Community lies, we do not know, except that there will be much more of it.
9. GEORGE RIEDEL
Off the top of my head I can think of no other beverage (besides spirits) for which it is unacceptable to drink it out of its original container. Wine is different. We simply don’t drink it out of the bottle. In fact, we have an industry dedicated to the vessels out of which wine needs to be drunk. George Riedel changed that industry when he introduced us first to the idea of a mass producing and marketing fine glassware then went on to nichify wine glasses by creating glasses for specific varietals and specific types of wine. Brilliant!! Today, there is barely a white table clothe restaurant in America that does not feel the need to incorporate Riedel or Riedel-like stemware into their wine program.
The largest single buyer of wine in the U.S., I believe. The store at which more people are introduced to fine wine. And not just $4 throw around wine. We are talking first and second growth Bordeaux, top-of-the-line CA cab, great Italians. In many ways the Costco buying team has set the standard for large scare, high quality wine purchasing that will and is being emulated at other big box stores. Now, if we can just get them to win that suit in Washington State we’ll have another reason to appreciate Costco.