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.