The Top Wine Stories of 2019

The wine industry in America is a trailing indicator of the culture and economy. It always has been. The top stories in wine in 2019 reflect this truism. Politics, powerful social movements, the economy, evolving modes of consumerism and natural disasters all came together to give us the industry’s biggest stories in 2019. These are those stories.

Supreme Court Pushes Back on Protectionism
Fourteen years ago the U.S. Supreme Court rendered an opinion in Granholm v Heald that created the legal underpinning for a huge jump in winery direct to consumer sales. This year, in its first decision concerning alcohol since Granholm, the U.S Supreme Court reiterated the anti-protectionist principles laid out in Granholm and made sure everyone knew those principles apply to more than just wine producers. Tennessee Wine v Thomas will have far reaching implications for the American wine market and wine consumers. All those implications won’t be known for a long time. However, since the June decision lawsuits challenging bans on wine shipments from out-of-state wine stores have cropped up in seven states. And this is just the beginning.

Oregon’s Tumultuous Year Reflects Maturity/Success
Looking to protect its brand, Oregon wineries this year set out to push strict labeling laws through the Oregon legislature, took on a powerful out-of-state producer and discovered that the industry has become significantly diverse that it is no longer relatively easy to gain consensus on how to govern and represent the Oregon wine industry. All of this points to an Oregon wine industry that, under booming conditions, has found a point of maturity.

Trump Imposes Tariffs—Helps Wineries, Hurts Retailers/Consumers
President Trump imposed tariffs on a vast swath of European wines. In the process he gave an advantage to California and other state’s wine industries, while simultaneously harming America’s retailers who sell those European wines that are now much more expensive. Consumers will have to pay in the end. And the tariffpalooza may not be over. As we write, more threats from the president aim at increasing tariffs to 100% on those European wines already impacted and additional tariffs on other Euro wines, including Champagne. This means that for the first time in decades, the word “wine” might be uttered by a presidential candidate or two.

Sonoma Fires Rage, Prompting Questions of the “New Normal”
Just two years after Napa and Sonoma were hit by devastating fires, the flames returned via the Kincaide Fire centered in Northern Sonoma. Again, wineries burned, vineyards acted as fire breaks, thousands of people were displaced and lost homes, and wine lovers around the world wondered if “wine country” had burnt to the ground. The bigger question for members of the California wine industry and all those folks who work in and around the industry is whether fall fires have become the new normal?

Gallo Eats up Constellation’s Brands
Gallo, the largest wine company in the world, got a little (a lot) bigger in April when it scooped up the primarily value brands owned by Constellation. Brands included in the deal and now under the Gallo umbrella include Arbor Mist; Blackstone; Blufeld; Cook’s; Cribari Tables & Desserts; Diseño; Estancia; Franciscan; Hidden Crush; J. Roget; Manischewitz; La Terre; Milestone; Paul Masson Grande Amber; Paul Masson; Primal Roots; Rex Goliath; Simply Naked; Taylor; Toasted Head; V. No; Vendange; Wild Horse; Black Box; Clos du Bois; Capri, Richards Wild Irish Rose, Ravenswood, Hogue Cellars and Mark West.

Social Justice in Wine
2019 was the year that the social justice, #metoo and equity movements entered the realm of wine and hospitality. We saw numerous articles and conferences looking at wine from the female perspective. Social justice and the wine industry were contemplated too in very public ways. There were excesses. There was piling on. There were attempts to take down prominent wine personalities. And there were too many justified demands for equality to count. I fully expect these trends to continue to play out in 2020 and beyond.

Winery DTC Shipping Hits $3 Billion
In January the annual ShipCompliant/Wines & Vines report on direct-to-consumer winery shipments showed that this channel passed the $3 Billion mark. Everyone saw this coming, but it still made an impression. A reflection of the changes in consumer behavior, the winery shipment channel out performed nearly every other distribution channel for wine. Momentum is likely to keep the channel lively going forward.

Hints of a slowdown in U.S. Wine: Millennials, The Economy, Health to Blame
In reports, at conferences, in the media and in one-on-on conversations there was a distinctive taste of slowdown in the air. Millennials aren’t connecting with wine. Wineries are wed to Boomers. The economy is set for a recession. A health industry attack on alcohol. All these issues swirled as the industry appears to be getting prepared for a slowdown in wine sales and growth in wine sales.

Tom Wark Moves Family To Oregon
Yes. This happened too.

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