Today, Americans collectively drink more wine than any other nation, an epochal change that began three generations ago. In addition, we are more sophisticated about what we drink.
Not all wine makers, however, are thrilled by increased sophistication.
Growers in California’s San Joaquin Valley, where almost half of California’s grapes grow, are freaked because demand for their wine—usually priced less than $10, often poured from a box—has declined in spite of increased American consumption.
Key factor appears to be decline in consumption of Baby Boomers, core buyers of low-cost, large-format wines. Plus, Boomers still pouring decided some hard-earned retirement income should be spent on higher quality before the actuarial table kicks in. They replaced bucket lists with bottle lists.
Millennials—the next big generational wave—enjoy rising incomes and favor the flavor of higher-priced pours, those in the $10-$25 range. No surprise. Boomer parents introduced them to wine, and Millennials took it to the next level.
In spite of this, San Joaquin Valley grape supplies rise. Almost 60,000 acres were added the past three years alone. Now panicked growers slam on brakes. Some experts predict up to 40,000 acres will be taken out of production in the next three years.
Texans who live through oil booms and busts feel your pain.
Silver lining: acres and growers dropping off the grape pipeline are not ones making $25-per-bottle fruits, but those who make bag-in-a-box and $5 bottle stuff.
Furthermore, don’t shed too many tears; there is still plenty of market for low-end vino—weddings, charity fund raisers, and college parties are not going away.
• Becker Vineyards Chardonnay 2013: Value-focused chard; oak and buttery softness on palate, balanced with acidity; oranges, lemon-lime; easy drinker, simple, full flavored. $9
• E. Guigal Côtes du Rhône Rosé 2014: Friendly summer sipper; crisp watermelon, strawberry; affordable, accessible, maturely delicious rosé from legendary Rhône maker. $15
• Kim Crawford Unoaked Chardonnay 2014: Lilt of grapefruit nose; peach, lemon meringue, tropical fruit, pinch of pineapple; crisp, light, creamy, medium texture, nice acidity. $16
Last round: I drink wine by the box because it is not available by the suitcase.