Australians are drinking less Chardonnay and more Sauvignon Blanc, according to a London wine research firm. The number of Aussies who regularly drank Chardonnay fell from 81% in 2007, to 76% in 2008, 69% in 2009, and then again to 64% in the first six months of 2010.
That’s a 21 percent dip in 3-1/2 years, a drastic loss for any consumable.
The study concluded that the reason Australians are drinking less Chardonnay is because they’re “moving away from these heavier oaked styles,” which are so plentiful Down Under. What are they moving toward? “For the first time, more Australians say they’re drinking Sauvignon Blanc (65% of all monthly wine drinkers) compared with Chardonnay (64%).” Much of that Sauv Blanc undoubtedly is brought in from New Zealand.
“The other main beneficiaries from Chardonnay’s decline”, according to the study, appear to be “niche varietals such as Pinot Grigio (up from 18% to 24% penetration) and Viognier (up from 8% to 13%).”
I have a feeling the same thing is happening here in America. Chardonnay remains our number one white wine, by far, but there’s evidence its dominance is eroding. Some of this, I admit, is frankly anecdotal. But some of it is based upon fact.
My anecdotal experience is that there is greater interest, among the media and foodies in California, for white wines other than Chardonnay. We’ve all heard of an anti-Chardonnay movement among sommeliers and restaurateurs seeking leaner, drier, higher acid and more minerally white wines to pair with their food. We see the same sort of reaction among critics. I, myself, recently headlined a story in Wine Enthusiast “Getting Serious About Sauvignon Blanc.” In it, I noted a turn toward Graves-style wines from producers such as Mondavi, Chalk Hill, Brander, Illumination, Dutton Estate and Gainey.
Along more factual lines, you may find it hard to believe that in 2009, there were fewer bearing acres of Chardonnay planted in California than there were in the year 2001. But it’s true.
2001 bearing acres, Chardonnay: 93,316
2009 bearing acres, Chardonnay: 90,434
Yes, if you factor in the non-bearing Chardonnay acres in 2009 — 4,551 — the total Chardonnay acreage bounces to 94,986. But that is barely more than the total Chardonnay acreage in 2003, seven years ago. And that, despite the fact (cited by Wine Institute) that U.S. per capita wine consumption increased by 14.5% between 2004 and 2008.
There are many ways to interpret this data. Planted grape acreage is a more reliable gauge of grower expectations than crush reports, whose numbers are influenced by vintage conditions. Grape growers have their fingers continually in the wind, sensing changes in direction. If they haven’t been planting Chardonnay to any degree for a decade, there’s a reason: they don’t see consumer demand for it appreciating.
Growers, however, have planted more of other white varieties. Between 2000 and 2009, Sauvignon Blanc acreage is up nearly 36 percent. Pinot Gris, during the same period, is up more than 800 percent, although it started from a very small base. Viognier has nearly doubled.
I do wonder, exactly, why Australians are “moving away from these heavier oaked styles.” The study provides no guidance, except for a mysterious reference to “a growing rejection of the classic oaky Chardonnay taste” among consumers. Generally, when large numbers of people reject something suddenly which they had previously liked a great deal, there are profound reasons for it. What could those reasons be for the Australians? I suppose it’s a hankering for something different. Maybe a new generation in Australia is like the new generation here: more adventurous, less likely to drink what their parents drank.
Then again, maybe the long-rumored turnaround is occurring — the switch toward more nuanced, drier, more balanced wines. Maybe the Aussie migration from Chardonnay is one of those canaries in the coal mine that portend sweeping changes ahead.