Wine trends 2018: The wine business prepares for a future where fewer of us drink wine, focusing on “authenticity” and making us believe smooth is good
• The search for authenticity, or, Can we scam the wine drinker? As Big Wine owns more brands, they’ll try to convince us these wines aren’t like other mass-produced consumer goods. Instead, they’ll insist that their plonk is “authentic,” part of a post-modern corporate effort to persuade us that “everyday consumerist choices — from organic heirloom tomatoes to eco-tourist yoga retreats to small-batch whiskey” will make the world a better place. So mass-produced grocery store brands that use every winemaking trick and tool possible will be described as artisan and boutique and hand-crafted – adjectives that are the opposite of what the wines are. Wine analyst Paul Mabray has written extensively about this, and we’re trying to arrange a podcast to talk about it.
• We’re stuck with smooth. The worst descriptor in the history of wine is smooth; first, because it means nothing – water is smooth – and second, because wine isn’t supposed to be smooth. It is supposed to have texture and structure and body. Nevertheless, we’ll see wine marketed as “a sumptuous, almost magical outcome of the growing season and winemaking process.” Or, even worse, have smooth in its name. Or, even worse still, cost $20 or more and be boring, alcohol-infused fruit juice that only a handpicked focus group could love.
• The continuing death spiral of restaurant wine. We’ve talked about this many times over the past 18 months, and it’s just going to get worse. One study says almost three-quarters of adults will make dinner at home at least four nights a week this year. Where does this leave restaurant wine? Getting pricier, less interesting, and in the hands of aging Baby Boomers, the only ones who can afford to buy it. I saw this at a tres chic Dallas restaurant in December. We were the only table with a bottle of wine, and I had to navigate a sad and overpriced wine list to find something drinkable. Meanwhile, there was only one glass of wine at the table of eight Millennials next to us, and one of the men was drinking Basil Hayden with dinner.
• Big Wine branches out. The biggest wine companies have been hedging their bets with craft beer and spirits for years, and will continue to do so. But they will also expand into legal weed; witness Constellation Brands’ $191 million investment in a Canadian medical marijuana company. And why not, given that U.S. wine consumption is flat? It’s worth knowing that Constellation’s most profitable business, even though it owns Meomi, Mondavi, and Kim Crawford, is beer and craft spirits.
• Winery consolidation continues, mostly among medium-sized companies. This means that your $20 California brand, once owned by a family or a small group, will become part of a larger company that owns a lot of $20 brands. These companies, like Precept Wine, Foley Family Wines, and the Crimson Wine Group, have been active for a decade or more and own some of the best-known names in U.S. wine. This is happening for two reasons: first, the original owners are ready to retire and no one in the family wants the business; and second, the U.S. wine business has evolved into a business just like anything else – becoming what one analyst has called corporatized. Which then leads to smooth and the authenticity scam.