Volume 4 | Issue 2 | Year 2008

At first glance, one would naturally believe that the headline is incorrect. France, the world capital of wine, both in production and consumption, since the beverage came on the world-wide scene, could not possibly be vacating that title. And certainly not to the U.S.
Yet world wine industry experts, including a group commissioned by the French, claim that the French will have to abdicate their throne soon. There’s a new king nearing the top of the wine mountain.

In a country whose citizens jokingly claim that wine flows through their veins, how could they be losing their top consumption spot to anyone, and in particular, the U.S.?

What can account for this transition?

Here are the facts: Wine consumption in the United States rose for the 15th consecutive year in 2007, after a 4 percent gain in 2006, reports The Washington Post. Per capita wine consumption in the U.S. is expected to reach 3.8 gallons in 2011, according to Freedonia’s recent report Focus on Wine.

Analysts vary as to when the U.S. could take the crown, most predicting an average of three years. However, they do agree on one thing: The U.S. has come alive in wine consumption and will indeed overtake France in the number one consumption spot in the near future.

Citing estimates from the 2007 wine market report by Impact Databank, the Post says consumption will reach a record 304 million cases this year. Wine consumption in the U.S. is forecast to reach 860 million gallons in 2011 based on growth of 3.7 percent per year.

The facts speak for themselves. The U.S. wine industry is exploding. The experts are in agreement on this, but the bigger questions remain: Why the growth? Why the explosion? And what on earth has happened that has triggered the U.S. momentum to overtake the French in wine consumption?

There is certainly not one answer, but many variables that have allowed the U.S. to gain such notable traction in wine consumption. The wine culture and climate has changed in the U.S., with contributing factors including changing demographics, wine education availability, stated health benefits, growth in wine tourism, direct-to-consumer wine shipping, and brilliant marketing campaigns.

In analyzing why the reasons have changed the U.S. wine culture, one would really need to begin by analyzing what helps to sell something in general in the U.S. marketplace. The U.S. demographic landscape has changed, with Baby Boomers leading in purchasing power, followed by the generation X and millennial groups.

THE CULTURE OF THE INDUSTRY

Wine as a beverage of choice seems to have become a hallmark of success for upcoming young professionals as they seek to impress colleagues, bosses and family and friends. Baby boomers have settled into a comfort zone and are less concerned with impressing people, and more concerned with what they enjoy and the price and availability of it.

Americans are fascinated with a beverage industry that sells more than a product. Wine sells a story and an experience. In no other beverage industry can a consumer become fascinated by the creative unique labeling, thousands of them, nor tour the place the beverage was actually made from the soil up, and certainly not meet the beverage maker personally – in this case, the winemaker. For many, experiencing the culture of the wine industry, touring the vineyard and seeing the grapes and terrain, entering into the winery and learning how those grapes were crushed, bottled and aged, is a seducing experience.

In comes the winemaker. It is intriguing to many to stand before the very person who had the knowledge and vision to make the glass in their hand a work of art. Many winemakers today are not only trained in the areas of viticulture and enology, but are media and marketing savvy and recognize the value in sharing their story with the individual consumer. This would certainly help explain why winery tours have become a huge part of the U.S. travel market and why consumption is on such a rapid upswing.

Home wine makers who have enjoyed perfecting their passion for many years, have jumped into the commercial end of the business, creating more wineries and wine opportunities for the consumer. A beverage that was once perceived as reserved for the rich and famous, has shed its image of strictly for the upper-crust, and emerged as a sexy, seductive, and approachable beverage. A beverage with a story and a personal history. A beverage that in itself is a great conversationalist.

This has allowed the wine industry to take flight and capitalize on an area that U.S. consumers can relate to.

WINE ON EVERY TABLE

Wine now serves as a generation gap healer. A young professional or a retired senior can sit down and carry on conversation about a bottle of wine, and reminisce about other wines they have experienced.

As leading health agencies began reporting the health advantages of red wine, many people began to revel in the fact that wine is the only alcohol content beverage that can make this claim. In addition to the enjoyment of taste and the overall wine culture, it became an easier sell to many since learning that wine is good for you.

Americans are now drinking wines that are increasingly easier to find. Wine sales through corporate chains such as Costco have elevated the statistics and taught the average consumer that you do not have to be intimidated to make a wine purchase. Wine shops and wine bars are opening at a rapid rate and train their staff to converse with their customers in a way that helps the consumer understand what they are buying rather than making them hesitant to merely ask a question for the fear of looking uneducated in the world of wine.

While many prefer to make their wine purchase directly at a winery or wine store, many wine enthusiasts enjoy the ease of purchasing wine through direct-to-consumer shipments. The U.S. wine industry has lobbied hard for changes in wine shipping laws and their efforts share in the reasoning for wine consumption growth.

Ironically, while the U.S. gears for taking over the top seed from the French in consumption of wines, the United States remained the leading buyer of French wines and spirits, accounting for 22 percent of all wine and spirit sales. It is also important to note that at a time when consumption of wine throughout the world is on the increase, the French are drinking less of their national beverage, according to a recent study carried out for Vinexpo, the world wine exhibition based in Bordeaux.

Between 2001 and 2005 wine consumption across the globe went up by 4 percent, while in France it went down by 11 percent. It should also be noted that for some time, the U.S. has been the number one market for wine sales (when measured in dollars) and is the fourth largest producer of wine among all countries, according to Wine Market Council’s 2007 Consumer Tracking Study.

Perhaps the French could now take a page out of the U.S. wine industry play book and reinvigorate the beverage that has captivated the world for generations. In the meantime, wine to many represents “Joie de vivre” – a joy of life, and yet in any language it represents a cultural icon – irreplaceable, unforgettable and timeless.

And hail to the incoming new king of the wine consumption mountain. May we cherish our time at the top. Cheers.