Know your history (and that things change)

The history of wine trends, facts, and fads is always good to keep in mind, mainly to recognize that some trends grow roots and stick, white others blow away with the wind. The sands shift with the tides. For those relatively new to the wine business (be it wholesale, restaurant, or retail) here are some things to keep in mind.

Thirty years ago (1992)

  • Beringer White Zinfandel was number one.
  • 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.
  • 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.
  • Pinot Noir was an almost impossible sell.
  • There were only a handful of wineries in all of Washington and Willamette Valley.
  • Tony Cotturi was alone in making organically grown, zero sulfites added wines.
  • 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 (2002)

  • Food TV and Emeril start to change how Americans think about cooking.
  • Farmer’s markets arise in all major cities and even minor markets.
  • 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.
  • Pinot Noir was still a hard sell to many consumers who would complain about it being too light-bodied.
  • 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.
  • 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).
  • 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.

Ten years ago (2012)

  • 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.
  • Pinot Noir, thanks to the movie Sideways (2004), suddenly becomes the belle of the ball.
  • 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 opens the doors for new, small, boutique wineries that rent space and facilities, and own no land, to start labels and sell directly to consumers (November 2013: Jon Bonné The New California Wine chronicles and promotes this category in a big way.)
  • The “wellness wine” movement (i.e. “our wine is healthier for you”) is nowhere to be seen. 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.
  • Gary V takes his family’s business from $1M to $25M in sales through digital marketing.

So here are the questions:

  1. What is happening now that we’ll look back on in the future?
  2. And how can you use the moment of momentum of a trend or pattern to grow (or choose what battles to stop fighting)?

Related Articles