Pinot noir isn’t necessarily the reason; how about sweet red blends?
Eight percent of the wine produced in California in 2013 was merlot, up from four percent in 1993. So why does it look like merlot may be on its way out as a varietal?
Think sweet red blends, the hottest California wine trend. There was no red blend category in 1993; in 2013, one out of every 7.4 bottles of California wine was a red blend, about 13.5 percent. That’s a staggering statistic, and speaks to the industry’s ability to give consumers new products on the turn of a dime. Who would have thought that about the tradition-bound wine business?
One can argue that I’m over-reacting, and that merlot is no worse off than cabernet sauvignon, whose share increased just two points in 20 years. But cabernet remains the most popular red varietal and the second most popular overall, and its U.S. sales (including imports) remain strong.
In fact, merlot trailed every category in 2013, including white zinfandel, which the industry gave up for dead years ago. The chart (click on it to enlarge) was compiled by Lew Perdue at the Wine Industry Insight website from information at this year’s Wine Industry Financial Symposium. It’s a revelation:
• Chardonnay, long the most popular California varietal, fell from one of every three bottles to one of every four.
• Chardonnay almost certainly lost market share to pinot grigio (13.1 percent) and moscato (9.8%), neither of which were in the 1993 numbers. Would anyone have thought 20 years ago that California would make more of those than merlot?
• Pinot noir, once thought to be nearly impossible to grow in California, was almost as popular as the red blends. This isn’t so much the infamous “Sideways” affect as it is to the way inexpensive California pinot noir is made – fruity and more like a red blend.
• The “other”category accounted for more than one-quarter of the wine produced in 2015, also staggering. Is our chardonnay and cabernet world changing so quickly that we aren’t noticing? The varietals included in the other category aren’t listed, but I assume it includes rose. In which case, the numbers may not be quite so surprising.
Much of this has to do with the change from the smaller and more traditional producers who dominated the market in 1993 to Big Wine’s control of production today. But that’s a post for a different time.