Trends that weren’t predicted, and predictions that never happened
Back from New York and Wine Enthusiast’s truly fabulous Wine Star Awards, which we followed up with an intense day of meetings at the magazine. I always return from these trips to Enthusiast HQs thinking about larger issues within the wine industry and particulary about “trends” in the world of wine. Being something of an historian of wine, I’m fascinated by these longterm fluctuations that are so important to the industry’s future. So, on the airplane ride back, I made two lists: the first, of trends over the last few decades that actually happened despite being unpredicted, and second, of trends that were predicted, but never actually happened. Which just shows how flimsy predictions can be.
Here are three trends that really occurred in California. To the best of my knowledge, nobody saw them coming.
1. Pinot Noir. Whether “Sideways” pushed Pinot, or Pinot pushed “Sideways,” or they both were simultaneously pushed by some external force, Pinot has become THE varietal trend of the decade. Caught everyone by surprise.
2. Pinot Grigio. Acreage more than doubled since 2002, as Americans have embraced this variety. If anyone anticipated this, I don’t know who.
3. The rise of Moscato. I know for a fact that some of the biggest wine companies in the state had to scramble to find grapes after Moscato erupted, fueled by hop-hop lyrics. Completely unforeseen. Just goes to show how stuff can happen from the street on up, instead of being forced onto the street from above.
Here are three trends the “experts” predicted that flopped.
1. The rise of Sangiovese and the Super Tuscans. Hahahaha! You’ll have to forgive me, I just spurted Chardonnay through my nose. If you were around in the late 1980s-1990s you’ll remember the hype. Sangiovese is the Next Big Red! California will soon have its own Tignanellos! Didn’t happen. The “experts” said it would, but consumers didn’t listen.
2. Before the turn of the Millennium, French Champagne houses rushed to establish vineyards and brands in California. They figured that tens of millions of cases would be consumed for New Year’s Eve, 2000, and that the party would continue on into the 21st century. Alas, that didn’t happen, either, and the French either sold their properties, switched over to dry table wines, or otherwise stayed in business, but with reduced expectations.
3. Three, four years ago you had the social media mavens predicting social media would quickly become the main marketing and sales tool for wine. At the risk of yet again becoming the poster child for the “Steve Hates Social Media” crowd, let’s just say that predictions of the importance of social media for wineries were vastly overrated. Wineries continue to struggle to figure out how—or if—they should use it. The goal of determining how to calculate return on investment has proved elusive and may ultimately be impossible. I don’t expect that anyone who made these hyper-ventilated claims will come forward and admit they were wrong. But they were. At least for now.
So there you have it. I’m not making any predictions for wine in 2013. I just hope everybody who’s in business now still will be here next year, and that they’re making a little more money than they did last year. Salud!
David Biggar (Vintage Point) and me at Wine Star Awards