These four 2020 wine trends are more click bait than anything else
The Wine Curmudgeon is constantly on the alert for wine foolishness and silliness, since those things usually mean someone is after your money. So when several experts posted their 2020 wine trends, my hooey meter went into overdrive.
Hence, four 2020 wine trends you don’t have to worry about:
• Cannabis-infused wine. Yes, legal weed is still it its infancy and it may yet prove to be the next big thing. But so far, it has been a disaster. How big a disaster? Just ask Constellation Brands, which dumped more than two dozen wine brands this spring to focus on cannabis. Along the way, the company has invested at least US$4 billion in Canadian weed producer Canopy, and Canopy has yet to turn a profit.
• Pop-up wine bars. Apparently, the experts didn’t consider liquor laws or the three-tier system, which would make this almost impossible in most of the U.S.
• Piquette. Lots and lots of websites and experts ask sommeliers about the hippest trends, since they figure sommeliers are hipper than the rest of us. Thus, piquette. This isn’t exactly wine, but is fizzy and has low alcohol, which do seem to be legitimate trends. The catch? Piquette is made by just a handful of small producers on the East Coast, which means that no one will be able to buy it unless they visit a bar or restaurant which has a very hip sommelier.
This week’s wine news: Three-tier lawsuit over pricing reminds us that booze regulation isn’t gong away quickly. Plus, is organic the future of wine, and why does printer ink cost more than vintage Champagne?
• No discounting: Total Wine, the national liquor store chain, can’t discount wine lower than the state of Massachusetts says it can, ruled the state’s highest court. The decision overturned a lower court judgment in favor of Total, which said the chain could charge lower prices, and that they didn’t violate state law. There’s almost no way to summarize the judgment for anyone who doesn’t have a law degree and is familiar with alcohol wholesalers; it’s enough to know that the ruling (the pricing laws are “not arbitrary and capricious or otherwise unreasonable”) reminds us that three-tier isn’t going away quickly, despite what many people think.
• Organic wine: An Italian high-end producer says the future of quality wine is organic. “I think it’s important to go organic, because today, we need to be careful about what we eat and drink,” says Salvatore Ferragamo, whose family owns Tuscany’s Il Borro. Since the vines absorb what is found in the soil, and since that is transferred in varying amounts to the fruit and into the wine, organic makes the most sense.
• Very pricey: Those of us who have always wondered why printer ink was so expensive will not be surprised to learn that it’s 10 times more expensive than vintage Champagne, widely regarded as some of the best wine in the word. A British consumer advocacy group says printer ink costs around £1,890 per litre (about US$2,400), compared to £1,417.50 per liter (about US$1,756) for vintage Champagne from luxury producer Dom Perignon. The consumer group also reported that printer was more expensive than crude oil.
This week’s wine news: California betting on organic wine, plus three-tier lawsuits and an English critic signs off on New York wine
• Make it organic: Organic wine has never been especially popular in the U.S., with a market share in the low single digits. But several producers see its growth as part of premiumization, as consumers pay more for better quality wine. “I think it’s going in the right direction. It’s just not happening as quickly as we like,” says one winemaker. “I think it’s inevitable.” Perhaps. But until consumers see a difference between organic wine and conventional wine – the way they do with tomatoes – inevitable doesn’t necessarily mean anything.
• Drink Local: Andrew Jefford, writing in Decanter, has been to New York’s Finger Lakes and found it worth drinking: “We are as far from Red Cat” as possible, referring to the legendary cheap, sweet white wine that fueled New York’s wine business for decades. That Jefford, one of Britain’s leading wine writers, likes what he found in the Fingers Lakes speaks volumes about how far Drink Local has come.
This week’s wine news: An update on organics, organic wine, and natural wine
• Not a whole lot: Organics are one of the fastest growing categories in the food business, but not in wine. This piece from Vinepair doesn’t say so explicitly – it’s mostly boilerplate about two-year-old harvest numbers – but that’s what the Wine Curmudgeon is for. In 2016, about two percent of the cabernet sauvignon harvested in California was certified organic. In other words, not much at all. Given the growth in organics in the U.S, it’s always puzzled me why so little organic wine is produced. The best answer: That most consumers assume that all wine is more or less organic, which is hardly true.
• How natural is natural? One of the biggest controversies in wine is about natural wine – wine made without pesticides, chemicals or preservatives. Having said that, don’t be surprised if you haven’t heard about it, since natural wine has an even smaller share of the market than organic wine. This piece from England’s Guardian newspaper does a fine job of exploring the controversy: “Advocates of natural wine believe that nearly everything about the £130 billion (about US$174 billion) modern wine industry – from the way it is made, to the way critics police what counts as good or bad – is ethically, ecologically and aesthetically wrong.”
• The other organics: Meanwhile, the U.S. organic market grew 6.4 percent in 2017 – a little slower than usual but still huge growth from a big base. The value of all organic products sold in this country is almost $40 billion, about the same amount as all wine sales sin the U.S. How stunning is that number? Especially since organics are just five percent of the U.S. retail market. Says the head of the biggest organic trade group: “Consumers love organic, and now we’re able to choose organic in practically every aisle in the store.” The key word there, of course, is practically.
This week’s wine news: How do we improve the quality of wine competition judges? Plus more indications that legal weed will hurt wine and consumers’ attitudes toward green wine
• Judging the judges: Jamie Goode at the Wine Anorak asks the question that all of us who judge wine competitions should ask – how can we increase the diversity and quality of the judges? This is a question that has come up increasingly over the past several years, with little consensus about what needs to be done. Interestingly, writes Goode, “It’s not always the famous people or the people with letters after their name who turn out to be the best judges. [I know some MWs who have passed a difficult blind tasting paper, but who are weak, inconsistent judges.]”
• Marijuana vs. wine: Tom Wark talks about a report that offers three reasons why legal marijuana poses a threat to wine sales, something we’ve talked about before here. Writes Wark: “I highly recommend reading this article because it offers a logical and well-sourced argument why the wine industry ought to be worried.” Intriguingly, legal weed can sale its health benefits, which is something I’ve never thought about (probably too many Cheech and Chong bits in my youth). Wine, on the other hand, has always seemed torn about whether wine and health was a good thing.
• Green wine: The Wine Market Council reports that regular wine drinkers like the idea of organic and organically-produced wines, and might even pay more for them. But the study doesn’t address why the market for green wine is almost non-existent, and especially when compared to other organic fruits and vegetables, as well as meat, pork, and chicken. One reason, which the report hints at, is the confusion between terms: organic wine is different from organically-produced wine, while both are different from biodynamic and sustainable.
This week’s wine news: Silly wine descriptions that are so silly even I don’t believe them, plus the EU takes on nutrition labels and the sad state of organic wine
• No sense at all: John Tilson at the Underground Wine Letter has found three silly wine descriptions that prove, again, how little the Winestream Media writes for the average wine drinker. Or for anyone who cares about English. Click on the link and read all three; this, part of one of them, will give you a hint of what’s in store: “texturally silken, supremely elegant effort transparently and kaleidoscopically combines moss, wet stone, gentian, buddleia, coriander, pepper, piquant yet rich nut oils and a saline clam broth savor. …” Know that I am a professional writer who has been paid to do this since I was 15 and have won numerous writing awards, and I have never seen the word gentian. Let alone used it. Is it any wonder I worry about the future of the wine business?
• Nutrition labels: EU wine producers, as well as beer and spirits makers, will make more nutritional and ingredients information available to consumers, including calorie information for wine, reports Decanter magazine. It’s part of a requirement by the EU that producers improve nutrition and ingredients information for consumers. The story notes there is disagreement between the industry and some public health officials as to whether the information is enough, but it still puts the EU decades ahead of the U.S. Here, nutrition labeling is optional, and most producers don’t do it because they think it will scare or confuse consumers.
This week’s wine news: The end of the U.S. wine boom, plus the profitability of organic wine and returning wine gifts
• Is the fat lady singing? Those of us who rely on facts instead of “this is the way it’s always been” to parse the wine business got more bad news last week. “Two measures suggest that the U.S. market for wine may have peaked – or at least paused. There has been a reduction in the average consumption per head of wine in the last few years, coupled with a reduction in the number of very frequent wine drinkers – that is, those drinking wine on a near daily basis.” This, from a report by the Wine Intelligence consultancy, confirms what has been reported elsewhere – the 40-year-old U.S. wine boom seems to be over. What happens next, as more producers and retailers chase fewer consumers, is anyone’s guess. I’m going to write about this quite a bit over the next year; it’s probably the most important trend in wine in this country since the fighting varietals of the 1970s.
• Not much of a market? Organic wine, whether it’s labeled as organic, made with organic grapes, or farmed bio-dynamically, has never been much of a factor in the U.S., and certainly not the way organics are for tomatoes and the like. This article from the Western Farm Press trade magazine is about as technical as you would expect from something called Western Farm Press, but the gist is that growing organic grapes is not easy and not necessarily profitable. Sheep grazing for weed control, anyone?
• What about the leftover wine? The Wine Curmudgeon, who has insisted that giving wine for a gift should be done with thoughtfulness and considerations, is always impressed when someone else feels the same way. Hence this article from the Courier-Post in Camden, N.J..: Unless “you’re specifically asked to bring wine to contribute [to dinner[, do not be offended if the bottle you bring isn’t opened. Sometimes, wine is specifically chosen to go with the food being served. Although you may bring a perfectly wonderful wine, it may not complement the dishes being served that evening.”