To reflect on the 2017 year in wine is to contemplate fires and fizz, roses and red blends, cans and consolidation. As we dive into 2018, here’s my take on some of the most significant wine world happenings of 2017.
Wine country fires – Humans, not vines, bore the brunt of the colossal impact of the wine country fires. Being mostly water, vineyards frequently served as firebreaks that saved structures and slowed the fires’ fiercer pace when sweeping through drier areas. Much of the harvest was already in before the fires broke out, and many parts of the wine counties affected remain untouched and open for business. The anecdotal reports from restaurants and winery tasting rooms with whom I have spoken, is that visitor traffic is down 30-40%. So if you can join us in the recovery effort by planning a wine country getaway, it will be worth your while. Check out my blog post and video for some of my favorite places to visit.
Consolidation – Gallo purchased Napa’s renowned Stagecoach vineyard and the Germain-Robin distillery, Calera Winery was bought by Duckhorn, LVMH acquired 60% of Colgin Cellars, and on the distribution side, Breakthru Beverage merged with Republic National, just to name a few. What does all this mean? My research indicates it is part of a trend, and that over the next five years or so, more of the boutique jewels of wine country will get gobbled up by bigger fish. And although dominance by the big guys sometimes piques fears of homogenization of wine, it’s not always bad news. Napa legendary winery Louis Martini actually improved quality after Gallo bought them, and Jackson Family Wines is well-known for preserving the distinctiveness of its acquired properties (think Penner-Ash or Copain). Let’s hope that part of the trend continues.
Sparkling wine – The fizz category continued its double-digit growth, led by juggernaut Prosecco brands such as LaMarca (a Gallo property) and Ruffino. Clearly this is an indication that consumers no longer reserve their (bargain) bubbly for special occasions. The millenial generation is a big driver for this growth – are you part of that movement? I hope so! If not, you’re missing out on the value, festiveness and food friendliness of the category.
Rose – The fastest-growing varietal in the U.S. – rose – often isn’t varietally labeled at all. Alongside their penchant for bubbles, Millenials, the largest segment of the wine-drinking public now, love drinking wines that are unique and don’t seem to mind at all if the label doesn’t sport a known varietal. And it’s not just for summer any more. My Delta Sky Clubs offer rose year-round and it sells very well most months of the year. As the category explodes, I think you can look forward to ever-more distinctive roses that offer real spice, unique fruit flavor profiles like watermelon and pomegranate, and real textural interest. Two that I love which are varietally-labeled Pinot Noir Roses: Wittmann and Villa Wolf, both from Germany.
Red blends – Speaking of wines that don’t sport a known varietal on the label, enter red belnds. With catchy names like Apothic, Menage a Trois and The Prisoner, this category of reds is exploding across price points from $8 to $28 and higher. According to the marketers scrambling to capitalize on their popularity, this is thanks to their softer, rounder palate profile and simpler proposition that you don’t need to memorize grapes or regions to figure out what to buy–just choose a cool name and label. Although I don’t personally enjoy the sweeter taste profile of many of the offerings, I like that the wines are encouraging consumers to experiment and try wines beyond their comfort zone. My favorite of the red blends was actually a pioneer in the category, Cline Cellars Cashmere.
Wine in a Can – Another Millenial-driven wine sensation because of the convenience and value, wine in a can is growing at high triple-digits (admittedly off a small – but exploding – base). The pioneer was Coppola’s Sofia, and the Francis Coppola Diamond Label offerings are pretty tasty, too. Oregon’s Underwood is another quality leader. Have you tried canned wine and if so, what do you think? I have to admit that I still pour canned wine into a glass to taste it, because I like seeing and smelling the wine and that doesn’t happen out of the can. Still, I don’t think that matters to most consumers contemplating can-worthy occasions like picnics or hikes where beer dominates. If cans “can” steel some of that market, they’ve got a bright future.