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Prognostications for 2012


The best thing about prognostications (a fancy word for “guess”) is that nobody can prove you’re wrong in advance, and by the time the future comes, it’s unlikely anyone will haul out your predictions and show how massively incorrect they were. So here we go: my prognostications about what we can expect next year in the world of wine.

The big news is that the wine industry will improve economically. The conventional wisdom of the last three-plus years is that wine at the high end has been slammed, as consumers, wary of spending too much, cut back on the amount they’re willing to pay for a bottle of wine. This has supposedly been good for companies like Bronco, Gallo, The Wine Group and others who can manufacture a sound bottle of wine and retail it for under ten bucks. But it’s been very hard on premium wineries. I’ve heard it time and time again, from owners and/or winemakers at these wineries, who tell me, off the record, that they’d be lying if they claimed everything was hunky dory.

But the U.S. economy seems to be recovering, and I have the feeling 2012 is going to be robust. I think the GDP will be up sharply, the housing market will show signs of life, the unemployment rate will go down, and personal income will rise, albeit modestly. We’ve seen, in the latest economic cycle, that consumers are spending like they haven’t spent in three years. They’re sick and tired of frugality. They haven’t treated themselves to very much since 2007, and they’re reading to start living again! That means a $12, $15, $18, maybe even a $20 bottle of wine.

I don’t see any major trends erupting in 2012, but hey, I missed sweet Moscato! The sweet red wine trend will pick up steam, but who cares? (No disrespect to anybody, but I’m into fine wine, not plonk.) I can guarantee you Chardonnay will continue to sell like crazy, and don’t look for lower levels of oak anytime soon (despite the oak-free phenomenon), because all those consumers with a sweet tooth (Moscato, reds) will find oaky California Chardonnay to their liking, with its sweet, simple vanilla and butterscotch flavors.

Cabernet Sauvignon and Pinot Noir remain red hot. I think the Cabernet market from $12-$18 will be particularly healthy, and for sure there are a lot of good wines at that price. There’s nothing going on in Pinot Noir below $18, but once you get up to $25-plus, your options increase. Pinot will be seen as a luxury wine, Cabernet as the everyday standard, and the reason that won’t change is inherent in the properties of the varieties themselves. You just can’t make a decent Pinot Noir unless the vineyard is in the right place and yields are kept low. That’s not true for Cabernet, which can be made decently from Temecula and Lodi to the Sierra Foothills and Mendocino County.

On the social media side, I don’t expect any great breakthroughs when it comes to wineries using Twitter, Facebook, blogs, etc. in 2012. An interesting article in today’s San Francisco Chronicle suggests that Twitter “can marginally help a candidate’s general message…but the jury is out as to whether tweets lead to votes.” Isn’t that what I’ve been saying here for years–that engaging, even heavily, in social media can help a winery marginally to get the message out, but the jury is still out on whether or not social media can lead to sales. I maintain that position. Wineries are in a good position to take advantage of the impending recovery, but they’re going to have to do it the old-fashioned way: by pounding the pavements, or hiring salesmen to do it for them. Advertising, for those who can afford it, helps, as does a proper alignment of quality and price.

My final prognostication is that I’ll still be here, blogging, writing and reviewing for Wine Enthusiast, and having fun running around California and, hopefully, staying out of trouble.

  1. Gregg Burke says:

    Happy New Year Steve.

  2. And a very happy 2012 to you, thanks for all you do….I like the concept of doing it the old fashioned way because Marginally does not sell enough…Cheers!

  3. Steve –

    Regarding the category you call “sweet red wine”, I wonder if you have any particular wines in mind, and if your premise is “if it’s sweet it’s plonk”, or simply that your experience is that the wines are of low quality.

  4. I have worked in tasting rooms for almost 24 years and have been convinced for quite some time that there is a market for sweet (or off dry) red wines. It’s not the same market that currently purchases dry red wines, but it’s a big, relatively untapped market none the less. I say this because of the number of visitors I have had tell me “I don’t like red wines because they’re all too dry. Don’t you have anything sweet?” I’m not talking Mogan David sweet, something in the .75 to 1.5% RS range. Someone is going to address this market someday and end up crying all the way to the bank.

  5. Sam, I’m familiar with the category, although I can’t say I’ve tasted every brand out there. And my judgment is that these are simple, insipid, sugary wines.

  6. Somebody showed up at the neighborhood Christmas Eve party with a bottle labeled Sweet Red Wine. It was, indeed, plonk.

    But, there will be, as Fred Reed comments, a winery somewhere that will add a little sweetness to a balanced, fruity, reasonably structured red and come up with a good choice for BBQ and other savory dishes.

    I don’t see the category being anything but “everyday” in style and pricing, at least in the short term, but with the right mix of base wines and structure, there is no reason why such a wine cannot have a place in the wine world.

  7. Charlie, sure they have a place in the wine world. So does Mad Dog. Probably down on 6th St. in SF.

  8. Steve –

    Just wondering if you feel that way about Riesling, Gewurz, Vouvray, Amarone etc.

  9. Sam: No.

  10. Steve, it will not be long before someone produces a lightly sweetened red that is attractive to a wider audience than folks sleeping in alleys and under freeways.

    In the words of Mitt Romney, I will bet you $10,000. Just be careful about trying to collect.

  11. In the words of Rick Perry, I’m not a betting man!

  12. Harumph…you know, Steve, full well, to assert sweet red wine=plonk, is totally/dead wrong. Some of it is, if you’re talking < $10/btl. But there are some/many that are not much more than that that are absolutely delicious. For example, Lambrusco, as a genre. If it says Riunite on the label, and that's all you've tried; then you're right. But there are many good Lambruscos out there that I assure you are not plonk. Maybe not of Lafite's level, but perfectly good drinking/interesting in the right context. Ever since the Somm at Oliveto urged me to try OliverMcCrum's Lambrusco w/ the charcuterie plate, I've become a believer.
    Ever since a certain Monktown attourney once admonished us folks "to think outside the box", I've (slavishly) followed his advice.

  13. Dear TomHill, the sweet red wines from California that are currently so big on distributor lists are not classics like Lambrusco, but cheap, thin wines, often based on Central Valley fruit. They are indeed plonk, regardless of whether people like them or not. To assert otherwise is to claim that there are no quality standards in wine, only individual preferences.

  14. As a wine bar owner, I guess I can make note of a few trends that we see. My humble predictions from the heartland involve a same ole same ole attitude from the CA wine industry. However I will continue to sell truckloads of Blaufrankish, Moscato, Viognier and Spanish Roses at a fat margin that appeal to the non Wine Speculator crowd. I will try to find innovative and affordable CA wines but will continue to find plenty of over priced “Cellared and Bottled By” wines with no character. The Pinots will be continue to be over cooked with a good 20% Syrah or Merlot snuck in. People will continue to realize that high alcohol and big sugar in CA Zins and Cabs aren’t the most compatible with everyday dinner and a soft Cab Franc’s ability to pair with Tex Mex will be accepted by lay people.

    The wine styles from Cleopatra and Ceasar’s time will grow in popularity and those hugging their ludicrously priced Screaming Eagles will be thought of in the same way as the tulip hoarders when the bubble burst in 1630’s Holland.

    All’s fair in wine and blogging……

  15. Barney, great comments! Thanks for your insight.

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