Update: Wine prices and the recession

The weather has finally cooled off in Dallas, and one local sales guy asked me if that would help business. "Everyone's mood has improved, right? So they'll spend more money on wine?" Because, he said, it looked like he was going to need all the help he could get going into the holiday season.

The wine business has been eagerly awaiting the end of the recession, and almost every news story that has come out over the past nine months has been forecasting a return to the good old days, when the price of wine didn't seem to matter to consumers. The reports have been heralding every quarter-to-quarter increase in sales as soon as it has been reported, and you could almost hear the sigh of relief from retailers, distributors and producers.

But that enthusiasm seems to have been wishful thinking (and it has been even worse in Texas, oddly enough, since we've supposedly handled the recession better than elsewhere). More, after the jump:

The total amount of wine sold in the U.S. through August, according to Nielsen, was pretty much the same as it was at this time in 2010 and 2009. Monthly retail sales, as measured by Nielsen, haven't much exceeded $700 million over the last three years for those months that don't have Thanksgiving or Christmas in them. The line-by-line numbers have moved around, but in the end they haven't changed much. Business is about where it was when the recession started.

That ties in to the anecdotal evidence I've seen and heard. One producer, whose sales have pretty much withstood the recession, said even he is starting to see declines, and several retailers are living month to month. Restaurant wine lists seem to be more price-friendly; the markup may be the same, but I'm seeing a greater number of less expensive wines on lists.

This is, of course, good news for wine drinkers. There is still lots wine in the supply chain, and prices should remain low as retailers and distributors work to sell all that excess inventory. In this respect, the situation doesn't seem to be all that different from what it was at the beginning of 2010. Call it consumer-friendly wine pricing. Look for lots of specials on current vintages (including high-end wine) as well as discounted prices on previous vintages. And enjoy the lower prices, because as soon as things get better, they'll go away.

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