Tag Archives: wine trends

Wine prices 2021

wine prices 2021Wine prices 2021 will defy the law of supply and demand, and we’ll suffer with more overpriced, mass-market wines

This is the first of two parts looking at wine prices and wine trends in 2021. Today, Part I: Wine prices 2021. Monday, Part II: Wine trends 2021.

Anyone who says they know what wine prices 2021 will do is guessing, at best – the Wine Curmudgeon included. How else to explain a wine world which continues to deny the existence of the law of supply and demand?

That’s because we saw demand continue to decline in 2020, supply continue to increase, and prices refuse to follow along. In fact, some prices increased, and that had nothing to do with the tariff, but producers and importers trying to take advantage of the last gasps of premiumization.

Or is this premiumization’s last gasp? I’ve been writing about the end of premiumization for a couple of years (and I’m not the only one), but it’s still with us in all its irritation and aggravation. I’m beginning to think that the oligopoly structure of the post-modern wine business, with a handful of companies controlling production, wholesaling, and retailing means that prices will do what the oligopoly wants, and not what they should do. If the oligopoly wants premiumization, then we’re going to have premiumization, and that means more overpriced, mass-produced, flabby, and boring supermarket-style wines.

And it looks like the oligopoly does. How else do you explain paying $15 for Italian wine, which isn’t included in the tariff, that costs one-third that much in Italy? Or $15 and $20 California labels, where the bulk grapes used to make the wine may have cost as little as $1 per bottle? Or $20 Washington wines when the state is awash in bulk grapes? Or all those French roses that cost two and three times as much as something like this – even though the former have much the same grape cost?

So if I had to make one prediction for wine prices 2021, it’s not to expect any price relief. For one thing, the tariff isn’t going away any time soon. That not only raises the price of most French, Spanish, and German wines, but gives producers elsewhere an excuse to raise their prices. Ironically, I asked several experts about this possibility when the tariff took effect in 2019, and was told no producer would be stupid enough to raise prices to take advantage of the tariff. Once more, the experts were wrong, and the wine business demonstrated yet again why I worry about its future.

So not much good news here – save for the caveat that if I have been as wrong this time as I have been before, then we will have some good news. Just don’t count on it.

More about wine prices:
Wine prices 2020
Wine prices 2019
Wine prices 2018

SVB wine report 2021

svb report
SVB report 2021: The wine business must find a way to reach under-40 consumers.

The good news in SVB wine report 2021: This year should be an improvement over 2020. But don’t get your hopes up for 2022

How about some good news in the SVB wine report 2021, Silicon Valley Bank’s annual state of the wine industry effort? It would be a welcome change from the gloom and doom of the past 10 months, as well as the past couple of years of SVB reports.

So rejoice.

“I think the news will be measured and good,” says Rob McMillan, the report’s author. We exchanged emails in the run-up to the report’s official release and webcast yesterday.

“I think we have a bounce ahead of us,” he says. “And going back to history, I remember having data that showed a massive growth in wine consumption in 1945, then a drop in 1946. I do expect a bounce in 2021 – maybe not like 1945. Call it a rolling celebration that will span 2021 and into 2022 as occasions and delayed celebrations come back.”

The report reinforced that good news – assuming the pandemic gets under control and the wine business doesn’t do anything stupid:

• Expect a bounce in demand if tourism and restaurants come back. The report sees an increase in wine sales gaining momentum in 2021, but it may not be sustainable next year.

• Wine demand this year did not increase, no matter what others are saying. Instead, says McMillan, what happened is what’s called a channel shift — we bought less wine at restaurants and more wine at supermarkets and on-line, but the overall total didn’t change. In this, restaurant wine sales have not recovered and may still be down as much as two-thirds over the same time last year.

• Premiumization is nearing its peak, but will continue this year thanks to that pent up demand and the industry’s efforts to reduce the wine supply. The 2020 California harvest may be the smallest in a decade.

• Retailers who understand on-line sales and e-commerce – even without more loosening of three-tier laws — “will have a strong 2021.” The report says on-line sales could represent 20 percent of an average winery’s sales within five years – an impressive figure, given those are in the mid-single digits now. And e-commerce sales during a three-month period in 2020 increased as much as the previous 10 years.

Not all was good news, of course. What else would we expect after 2020? Wine’s growth rate, even with premiumization, has declined across all price segments for years, and there is no reason to expect a long term change unless the wine business changes tactics in how it sells wine. In addition, as Baby Boomers continue to drink less wine, the industry must find a way to reach under-40 consumers. Which, as we know, it has failed miserably at.

The demographic history of the U.S. alcohol consumer

alcohol demographicsWe don’t drink much (and we never really have), what we prefer to drink constantly changes, and religion, gender, and income still matters in what we drink

Know all that foolishness about booze drinking in the U.S.? Prognosticators pontificating about wine, beer, and spirits consumption without any real numbers? That we’re drinking ourselves to death?

Well, forget that. Here are facts – real, certified, mathematical statistics. It’s a freelance piece I wrote for the December issue of the revived American Demographics magazine, “The Demographics of Drinkers.” It starts on page 8 of the linked site.

Among the highlights:

• U.S. alcohol consumption, per capita, peaked in the years before World War I. In other words, despite all the talk about how we’re passing out in front of our kids and the TV set, we have always been one of the least boozed up industrial countries in the world.

• The 15 or so years between the end of World War II and the early 1960s saw drinking reach a low not seen since Prohibition, less than two gallons per person a year (not even one bottle of wine a month). The reason? No one is quite sure.

• Consumption declined again in the late 1980s, thanks to tougher drunk driving laws, groups like Mothers Against Drunk Driving, and the Just Say No campaign. So today’s drink-free Millennials have nothing on their parents.

• And, perhaps my favorite bit, from a 2019 study by University of California-Davis researchers: People who prefer craft beer are more likely to have voted for Donald Trump in the 2016 presidential election, live in a rural area, drink less expensive or sweet wine if they drink wine, and spend more on alcohol than anyone else. And no one is quite sure why this is, either.

Many thanks to Dane Twining and Tim Simmons, who did the editing on the story, which had more than its share of obstacles on its way to print.

2021 $10 Wine Hall of Fame

2021 $10 Hall of FameGood news, and just when we need it — nine wines entered the 2021 $10 Hall of Fame

Somehow, nine wines entered 2021 $10 Hall of Fame. That’s the most since 2017, which also had nine.

How is that possible, given the Trump tariff, premiumization, and supply shortages caused by the pandemic? I’m not sure. Chalk it up to a bit of good fortune, as well as a variety of far-sighted importers and retailers who saw an opportunity in a market glutted with overpriced, supermarket-quality plonk.

All was not good news, of course. Some of  the greatest cheap wines in the history of cheap wine dropped out. France’s Chateau Bonnet red, white, and rose now cost as much as $20 each, while the importer for Italy’s much beloved Falesco Vitiano dropped the white and rose and limited distribution of the red. Two other wines dropped out — New Zealand’s Matua sauvignon blanc and the Australian Yalumba Y series rose, both for quality.

Meanwhile, availability became an even bigger problem last year. A half dozen more wines were Hall quality, but weren’t readily available, so I couldn’t use them. And even the ones I did add might be more difficult to find now than they were when I tasted them in 2020. There are still too many wines and not enough distributors, and the distributors that remain are so big that they don’t want products from the smaller, niche producers who make the most interesting cheap wine.

Still, given how cheap wine quality has plummeted over the past couple of years, and how pitiful last year’s Hall was, any good news is welcome. The inductees include the 2021 Cheap Wine of the Year, the MAN chenin blanc from South Africa; the Campuget and Masciarelli roses; the Italian Tenuta Carpazo sangiovese and La Valentina Montelpuciano; a vinho verde, the Aveleda Fonte; the Spanish Balnea verdejo; the French Le Paradou viogner; and an old friend, the Mont Gravet carignan.

The complete 2021 $10 Wine Hall of Fame is here. You can also find it at the Hall of Fame link at the top of the page. The Hall’s selection process and eligibility rules are here. I considered wines that cost as much as $13 or $14 to take into account price creep and regional pricing differences.

You’ll be able to print the Hall as either a text file or a PDF. Look for the printer icon on the upper right hand corner of the post.

This California winemaker is impressed with nutrition fact boxes

nutrition fact boxes
Just 100 calories — take that, light beer.

Not everyone in the wine business thinks nutrition fact boxes are the spawn of the devil

Anthony Riboli didn’t necessarily want a nutrition facts box on his peach flavored fizzy wine. But U.S. and Italian wine regulations required it – and you know what? The facts box isn’t so bad.

“I wish I could say I had a choice in the matter, but now there are obvious benefits,” says Riboili, the fourth-generation winemaker for his family’s San Antonio Winery and its four brands. “Are wine connoisseurs going to care? Probably not. But it will it open us up to drinkers who may not identify themselves as wine drinkers? I can see that.”

The wine in question is the Stella Rosa Golden Honey Peach, a fizzy Italian moscato flavored with peach that has 100 calories, no added fruit juice and no sodium. How do I know this? It’s on the back label. (Click on the label to make the picture bigger.)

The wine snobs reading this probably stopped after the last sentence. It’s bad enough he’s writing about nutrition facts again, they’re thinking, but a peach-flavored moscato? That’s not even real wine. Cancel my subscription!

Which is their loss. As has been argued here for years, the future of the wine business has a nutrition facts box in it, even if no one in the wine business wants to admit it. If Smoothie King wants ingredient transparency, why not wine?

Yes, there will be short-term difficulties, particularly for smaller producers. But the long-term benefits will be more than worth it. Consider just one: A light beer has about 100 calories, while a normal glass of wine has 125. In other words, not all that much difference, and wine tastes better. But how is anyone going to know unless they can check a nutrition facts box?

In fact, Riboli told me that the peach wine nutrition facts box has worked so well that he’d consider adding one to San Antonio’s traditional wines, assuming any potential legal issues could be resolved about how the information could be used.

One other note: The wine was damned good – well-made, peachy, not too sweet, and fresh and sparkly. I’ve tasted much worse from serious winemakers chasing 92 points, but who don’t want to use a nutrition facts box.

More about nutrition and ingredient labels:

Clean wine: Has the Winestream Media finally figured out why we need nutrition and ingredient labels?
Nutrition labels for booze
Bud Light debuts new and improved ingredient labels

Birthday Week essay 2020: Wine as expensive shiny baubles instead of something to savor and enjoy

cheap wine
“Ha! Just try and keep me from writing about cheap wine.”

How did we end up in a Peloton wine universe, when all we want is something to drink with dinner?

How does one keep cheap wine in perspective, given this year of living depressingly – the pandemic, the Trump wine tariff, the presidential election, the sommelier sex scandal? In fact, why even bother? Why not just load up on Winking Owl at Aldi, get hammered, and leave it at that?

And who would blame us if we did? Has cheap wine ever been worse off in the blog’s 13-year history? Yes, I know I seem to write that in each of the blog’s annual Birthday Week essays, and I am writing it again for the blog’s 13th birthday. But that’s because, sadly, it always seems to be true.

We’ve been dumped into some sort of bizarre Peloton wine universe, where everything is sold to us as an expensive, shiny bauble – even when it is neither expensive, shiny, nor a bauble. And, most infuriatingly, even if we don’t need it. I got a $17 sample this fall, and the tasting notes were past snotty (let alone indecipherable): “Polished fore palate with ample fine grain tannins on a generous mid palate.”

We want quality and value, and the wine business gives us $15 supermarket plonk because surveys say that’s the hot price point. The cost of the wine in that $17 sample, allowing for some crude math, was probably less than $4; does that mean the tasting notes cost more than grapes? We aren’t customers anymore, but lines on a spreadsheet, metrics to be parsed, trends to be analyzed, and preferences to be focus grouped.

How did we get to this point?

It starts with the state of the world, and is not exclusive to wine. It’s what one observer has called late-period capitalism, which is based on “taking beloved institutions and destroying everything that made them great so that a few billionaires can get even richer.”

Wine’s contribution is consolidation. Today, most of the world’s wine production is in the hands of maybe a couple of hundred companies, and the U.S. business is even more top-heavy. The top five producers account for about three-quarters of U.S. sales, even though there are some 10,000 wineries, while the two biggest distributors control half the wholesale business.

The result? An almost surreal wine market:

• Cheap wine that tastes cheap — poorly made, stemmy, and bitter, and produced for no other reason than to cost $3 or $4 a bottle.

• $15 wine made for a mass audience — sold in supermarkets and the biggest retailers, slightly sweet and “smooooth,” and where more money may be spent on label copy than on the grapes.

• Expensive wine that exists for no reason other than that it’s expensive, and which commands the fawning supplication of the Winestream Media.

The idea that wine should taste like wine, and that it is something that most of us can afford to drink with dinner – which was the idea of wine for much of the past 200 years – is a quaint, old-fashioned notion. Which only cranks like me still believe – because, of course, late-period capitalism.

So is it time for the Winking Owl?

Hardly. Wine is a pleasure, something to be enjoyed, and something that makes life more enjoyable. A glass of wine after a day of good writing is something to be savored and appreciated, not scored and cataloged and trophy-ized. Why should I let people whose idea of success is as offensive as it is self-defeating spoil it for me?

Yes, cheap wine is in a bad place – we’ve lost much quality cheap wine over the past couple of years thanks to producer and distributor consolidation, and consolidation has wreaked havoc with availability. And it’s not like availability was easy even in the good old days.

But there is still great cheap wine out there, it’s still worth looking for, and I’m going to keep looking for it. Call it the cheap wine version of grace under pressure – if something is worth doing, then we should do it, even when it may not be easy. No, finding great cheap wine won’t solve the world’s problems, but it may help us endure until we can figure out a way to solve them. That’s a fine job in and of itself, and one I am happy to do –because we must solve them.

More Birthday Week perspective on the wine business:
How do you write about quality cheap wine when the system is rigged against it?
Have we reached the end of wine criticism?
• 10 years writing about cheap wine on the Internet

Wine Curmudgeon most popular posts 2020

popular posts 2020
“Churro, we need to find a way to boost blog traffic. Your being cute didn’t do much.”

The Wine Curmudgeon’s most popular posts 2020: Not necessarily about cheap wine, and a lot fewer visitors

What does one make of a blog about cheap wine when a majority of the most popular posts weren’t about cheap wine — or  were even wine reviews?

That’s where we find ourselves as the blog celebrates its 13th annual Birthday Week. Only four of the top 10 posts from November 2019 to November 2020 were sort of about cheap wine. And one was about as far removed from cheap wine as possible — a six-year-old post about the $300 Coravin wine opener at No. 10.

Ordinarily, I’d blame all this foolishness on our overlords at Google, whose search engine algorithm has more to do with sending visitors to the blog than anything I write. But the past 12 months also saw a precipitous decline in traffic, about one-third from last year’s 600,000 or so visitors. That no doubt also contributed to the bizarre top post results — fewer visitors exaggerates the importance of the posts that do get traffic.

So what caused the drop? The pandemic, almost certainly, combined with the U.S. presidential election. There were other things on people’s minds that didn’t involve finding a $10 wine that doesn’t taste like alcoholic grape juice. Even sites like Linkedin, which should be immune, may have had some traffic declines.

Which I understand. The problem comes if traffic doesn’t recover if and when we get back to normal toward the end of next year. What’s the point of a wine blog where no one wants to read about wine?

The top 10 posts of 2020:

1. The four-year-old “Barefoot wine: Why it’s so popular.” This was the top post in 2019, as well, and was No. 7 in 2018. But it didn’t make the top 10 in 2016 or 2017, which makes no sense given how the Internet is supposed to work.

2. The Kim Crawford wine ad critique, which moved up from fifth in 2019. There are 38  comments, most very harsh about the ad; that’s not only a lot of comments for the blog, but that so many people agreed with me is also unusual.

3. The 10-year-old Barefoot wines (again) post was third for the second year in a row. How does a post that old get so much traffic? Ask our overlords at Google.

4. The residual sugar post was fourth, after being second for two consecutive years. This is something I am quite proud of, that wine drinkers can come here and get practical information to help them make intelligent decisions.

5. The Louisiana shrimp boil wine and food pairings post l call it my contribution to making the pandemic a little less difficult It’s also the first wine and food pairings post to make the top 10.

6. Ask the WC 1 — another pandemic-specific post, I think. It offers cheap cava suggestions, though why a seven-year-old post that was only partially about cheap cava is beyond me.

7. The 2020 $10 Hall of Fame. Long gone are the days when that year’s Hall of Fame was the most visited, and a couple of others would be in the 1op 10. Again, I have no idea why, and it’s more than a little sad.

8. Will the pandemic bring permanent changes to the three-tier system? This is self-explanatory — and  one of the few hopeful things to come out of this year.

9. A post about discount wine retailer Grocery Outlet. Which, hopefully, is coming soon to a town near you.

10. That damned Coravin post. I wonder if it’s because I actually discussed its value to wine drinkers, instead of fawning over it like most of the Winestream Media.

A few other thoughts:

• The $10 wine category was 34th for the second year in a year. Double sigh.

• The various five-day, $3 wine challenge posts dropped out of the top 10. The highest ranking one was 15th, and again, I have no idea what that means. One would think this would be a very popular pandemic-related post.

• My undercover, illegal interstate wine shipping post was 16th, which isn’t bad since it didn’t post until the end of July.

More about the blog’s top posts:
2019 top posts
2018 top posts
2017 top posts