Think about this: 30 years of wine history

The history of wine trends, facts, and fads is always good to keep in mind. So much has changed in the last thirty years, but unless we are confronted with the facts, we tend to forget them.

Thirty years ago (1994)

  • Beringer White Zinfandel was the number one wine. No questions asked. Surdyk’s would often go through a pallet (56 cases) of it in one day.
  • Sweet wines in general outsold dry wines in all markets.
  • Every restaurant, even the fanciest, had White Zinfandel by the glass.
  • In terms of California-grown red varieties, affordable Merlot dominated the shelves at most stores in terms of volume.
  • Outside of the First Growths and a handful of recognizable labels, there was little to no Bordeaux presence in most markets.
  • The Food Network didn’t exist. To learn to cook you watched PBS.
  • It was hard to find farmer’s markets in many cities.
  • Anthony Bourdain was a drug-addled line cook in New York City. Nobody knew who he was (yet).
  • Pinot Noir was an almost impossible sell. “To light and watery” was the common complaint.
  • There were only a handful of wineries in all of Washington and Willamette Valley.
  • Tony Cotturi was alone in making natural, organically grown, zero sulfites added wines. Everyone in the industry thought he was nuts.
  • The idea of a single chef opening a single restaurant with a single style and vision was relatively unheard of. Chefs were cooks and were never on magazine covers. The cult of chef fandom didn’t exist.

Twenty years ago (2004)

  • Food TV and Emeril start to change how Americans think about cooking.
  • Farmer’s markets start opening in all major cities and even minor markets.
  • The movie Sideways is released, and suddenly Pinot Noir becomes the belle of the ball while Merlot sales slide over 90%.
  • Rosé is a thing and is getting inroads as the popularity of White Zin wanes. Not big, but some.
  • Robert Parker’s The Wine Advocate is still the most powerful sales tool available. One great review would sell out a wine nationwide within 24 hours. It was still only printed and mailed at the time, and when the new issue arrived it was devoured by many with a highlighter in hand.
  • Double oaked Chardonnay was a thing. Aged in a new high toast barrel, then transferred to another new high toast barrel. Yes, it was as disgusting as it sounds. But it also sold like mad.
  • Only grandpa drank cocktails, but that was about to change.
  • Australian wine was a powerful force in the wine market (and at the time Yellowtail did not exist, and most of the recognizable brands were family-owned and operated).
  • Speaking of Australian wine, the best selling premium offerings were Shiraz over 16% ABV.
  • There was no such thing as ‘local craft beer’ for the most part.
  • The term “natural wine” was just starting to be spoken on the west coast.
  • The term “cult wine” started being used in the winepress.
  • Hardly any wine was shipped from the winery directly to the consumer.
  • Gary V is about to take his family’s business from $1M to $25M in sales through YouTube videos, and become a top-level marketing guru.
  • Amazon stock sold for $2.21. Apple stock was under a dollar!

Ten years ago (2014)

  • Rosé is selling like mad, and predictions in the industry are that it was hitting a peak and sales would start to fall. Obviously, the reverse happened.
  • Organic and Biodynamic enter the mainstream lexicon for knowledgeable wine consumers.
  • Bordeaux imports keep increasing as Americans discover a wave of affordable wines.
  • Direct-to-consumer sales start increasing at a fast rate, though still a tiny fraction of total revenue for most wineries.
  • The 2009 recession opened the doors for new, small, boutique wineries that rent space and facilities, and own no land, to start labels and sell directly to consumers. Thousands of new labels suddenly are created in California, Oregon, and Washington.
  • Jon Bonné’s book The New California Wine starts to shape new conversations about the Golden State, new styles reflecting old traditions, and the up and coming wine generation.
  • The “wellness wine” movement (i.e. “our wine is healthier for you”) is nowhere to be seen. It doesn’t yet exist as a concept.
  • Bloggers and social media start to overtake the wine press in terms of how most people find new wines to try.

Conclusion

Anyone who thinks they can predict wine trends 10, 20, or 30 years in the future is lying. Simple as that. Especially as we add in weather changes and the impact of political decisions (i.e. the neo-prohibitionist movement that seems to be evolving in the western world), who knows that the 2030’s – 2050’s will bring us!

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