Wine glut

Prices rise and fall for agricultural commodities—ask any local farmer or rancher—and wine grapes are no exception, although grapes have less volatility.

According to UC Davis research, from 1995-2009 the annual price change for wine grapes was 11.2%, compared with 18.7% for milk, 23.6% for cotton, and 27.2% for rice. Still, given recession, wine industry is hurting with an over-supply of wine grapes and wine.

A good thing for wine drinkers: excess supply means lower prices.

The world excess is somewhat mitigated by steady increase in U.S. wine consumption, pushing the U.S. to be world’s second-biggest wine consuming country in total volume. We passed Italy a few years ago. Experts expect U.S. to pass France soon.

Closer examination, however, shows U.S. consumption may be on steady rise, but main reason we will soon be No. 1 is decline in France and Italy consumption, a trend started in 1960s.

While French and Italian consumption declines, their wine production does not, which is why you get good bargains from these countries today.

The wine glut problem—problem for producers, at least—extends to Spain, South Africa, Chile, Argentina, major U.S. producing states, and Australia, where bounding 1990s kangarooed into struggling 2000s.

Bottom line: now is terrific time to enjoy good wine at affordable prices.

Appreciate the moment. Remember other rule of agriculture—after prices go down, they come back up.


• Blackstone offers quality in both value and reserve wines. California. Winemaker’s Select Merlot is flagship value wine. $11. Sonoma Reserve Cabernet Sauvignon: grapes harvested only at night and shipped cold to winery; excellent Cab. $18.

• Chateau Roland-La-Garde Premières Côtes de Blaye. Earthy, ripe fruit, full body, soft tannins, excellent value. France. $13.

• Charles Smith Riesling, Merlot, Cabernet Sauvignon. Washington winery has variety of wines with campy names: Kung Fu Girl Riesling, Velvet Devil Merlot. Their top-shelf bottles cost more than $100; try their many value wines at $12-$20.