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American drinking at 25-year high: Gallup

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Americans are consuming alcohol at the highest rate in 25 years, reports a new Gallup Poll, and I say, there’s nothing surprising about that! I’ve never seen so many people so gloomy about America’s future and their own economic situation. Everywhere I go, it’s topic #1. I was talking with the Master Sommelier, Fred Dame, at Sunday night’s gala Top Sommelier event, and he mentioned some very big Napa Valley wineries that might collapse. In my own candid conversations with winemakers and winery owners, when people are being honest with me, they tell me how much they’re struggling. Here in California, the official unemployment rate in June was 12.2%, but unofficially, it’s far higher. And I heard on the radio yesterday morning that Napa County has lost more jobs, as a percentage of its work force, than any other in California, mainly because construction there has ground to a halt.

According to that Gallup Poll, beer is more popular than wine, but wine is more popular than liquor. I also liked the finding that “People who seldom or never attend church are ‘substantially more likely’ to say they drink than people who go to church on a regular basis.” Since Gallup also reported just last month, in a different poll, that “Americans are beginning to go to church more than they have in recent years,” I wonder if those church-goers are telling the truth to Gallup’s pollsters. I, myself, would have no problem telling a pollster (should one call me) that I’m drinking a lot these days because I am. But I don’t think I’m necessarily drinking more than I used to.

Drinking wine, or beer or even the occasional cocktail makes me feel good. Wine is balm for the spirit. If there’s a God, He created the miracle of fermentation in order to please the human spirit and give people a way to kick back and chill after a long, hard day of work. You’d think that church-going Americans would be the first ones to say, proudly, that they love alcohol, but I guess that’s not true. On some level they seem to be ashamed of it, and I don’t know why.

The Gallup Poll also said that the high point for American drinking was 1976-1978, when 71% said they consumed alcohol (the current number is 67%). I don’t know why 1976-1978 set a drinking record, except maybe that Carter was President, and Americans seemed pretty glum in those post-Watergate, post-Vietnam days (although Carter never used the word “malaise”). On the other hand, America’s lowest year of drinking was way back in 1958, when only 55% of the people told Gallup they drank. When I was a little boy, I can’t remember anybody drinking anything, not even beer. It was a very white-bread era. People could have used a good shot of something to jolt them out of their tedium, but the zeitgeist didn’t encourage it.

It’s also interesting in the new poll that the biggest drinkers are the youngest Americans (18-34 and 35-54). Also, the biggest drinkers are college grads, and the more money Americans earn, the more they drink. Maybe that’s because they can afford booze, although being poor never stopped anyone from drinking. Non-Christians drink the most, which I guess includes Jews. Most Jews I know love to drink. Alcohol has always been a big part of Jewish culture.

Women prefer wine over beer, 48% to 27%, while for men it’s just the opposite, 54% to 17%. Beer is still seen as a masculine beverage. This is because beer started in Northern Europe, where the Prussians always thought the wine-loving southerners were pansies, and that perception continues today via generations of Budweiser and Miller ads linking beer to sports and masculinity. Oddly, although senior citizens drink least of all the age groups, the highest percentage, 58%, of wine drinkers is women 50 and older. I hope they’re not secret drinkers who drown their sorrows alone, like Betty Draper, in Mad Men.

  1. As onw who attends church most every week, my pastor has pointed out on more than one occasion that Jesus’ first miracle was transforming water into wine. His thoughts are that it’s proof that God wants us to be happy, as long as we don’t overdo it.

    I grew up in the 50′s and while I don’t remember much socialization of drinking, it seems that it was always around (more beer & spirits than wine). It was just something that one did, not something one participated in and talked about its finer points.

  2. Brooklyn Winery says:

    I saw this Gallup Poll yesterday. The numbers were pretty interesting, but not nearly as good without your commentary. Thanks for the insights!

  3. Thanks, Brooklyn. Happy to know somebody likes my stuff.

  4. “If there’s a God, He created the miracle of fermentation in order to please the human spirit.” I agree.

    Perhaps the reason a high percentage of women age 50 years and older admit to drinking wine is that we realize how wine enhances the experience of breaking bread with family and friends. And how each meal is a celebration of not only of life’s milestones but of life itself.

  5. bob dickey says:

    I echo Brooklyn’s comment.. saw the results, but enjoyed your insight. a couple other things: the Chardonnay Symposium that you recommended, though couldn’t attend, was VERY good.. informative seminar in the morning, nice lunch and tasting with ample opportunities to talk with winemakers. AND, since Jeff Pisoni was one of the speakers at the seminar we attended, I went back and read your chapter on him, his brother and dad in your “Classic New Winemakers” book.. was interesting as background and gave a nice foundation for a good talk with him.. so, thanks for that, too.. : )

  6. Bob, I heard nothing but great things about the Chardonnay Symposium. I hope to attend next year. Thanks for liking my book.

  7. Dear Chris Jones, I couldn’t agree more! Thanks.

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