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Trends that weren’t predicted, and predictions that never happened

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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

  1. “Wineries continue to struggle to figure out how—or if—they should use it.” <- Very true. But that doesn't make SM as unimportant as you may think. In fact, SM is more important than ever for the wine industry, including wineries, distributors, retailers and publications. Consumers and other members of the trade expect everyone to be on SM. You made your name via SM. Your blog has exponentially increased your brand (for better or for worse…). The average winery is missing out on one of the most important marketing tool (not necessarily sales tool) if they are not utilizing SM. ROI has always been difficult to calculate, so it is no surprise the same is true with SM. Just as those that think SM is the end all of marketing won't admit they were wrong, you also fall into that category of being wrong and not admitting it…

  2. the moscato trend is really interesting, especially because it taps into a demographic that has, up til now, rarely been part of the wine conversation. I am very curious to see how this one will evolve over the next few years

  3. Gabe, I personally don’t think Moscato has “legs.” Like any fashion that arises from the street, it’s eventually supplanted by something else.

  4. Steve–

    I think that one has to separate PN and PG into vastly different categories. PG arose because Italian Grigios became so incredibly important thus creating an opening, and a demand for, domestic PG. Secondly, it turns out that Oregon, always searching for a white wine to call its own, found that PG suits their situation better than Chard, JR, Gew, etc.

    Pinot Noir on the other hand has always been with us, and its rise, rather than not being predicted, was over-predicted time and time again. It took, as you and I discussed a few weeks ago, the emergence of the right places for PN and the critical mass of interested folks to make it happen.

    I happen to think that lots of us saw it coming–including you with your extensive writings about the RRV.

  5. Charlie, I don’t think I foresaw the coming of Pinot as quickly as it’s happened. We all knew it could successfully be grown in California, but even ten years ago, would you have said that California had two great red wines, Cabernet and Pinot? I wouldn’t have.

  6. What medium to larger sized wineries are not using Social Media in some fashion?

  7. I hear what you are saying, but this seems like the first ‘pop-culture’ wine that is actually accessible to the general public. Will moscato start making appearances on sitcoms? Will applebees and olive garden have moscato night? And when moscato finally goes out of fashion, will riesling or chardonnay be able to replace it as the pop-culture wine of the moment? If these things start to happen, then we might finally see mainstream America become a wine culture

  8. I agree with Charlie…Pinot was more anticipated that you think (Beringer, KJ, Gallo were long on supply-pre sideways), yet Sideways finally made it for real & sustaining. Moscato will be interesting. If it is to stay, it will need to be embraced by the trade, rather than shunned. Sommeliers can play a role by featuring higher end ($10-$20 retail) Moscatos by the glass. This is a new demographic and it should be encouraged to enjoy wine. It will be interesting if there is a “trade-up” to higher priced wines within the varietal… WZ never really provided a trade-up option.

  9. Donn Rutkoff says:

    Moscato. Yep. Whodathunkit? Riesling was pushed by we in the industry, or at least by some, and we get no response. But now it is socially just fine to drink sweet, and Moscato, sweet reds. But still not much Riesling. I am guessing that the newly dandy sweets will be 2/3 new consumers and 1/3 will come at expense of Chard and PG, and of other segments that are under $10,under $7, per bottle. Do Yellowthing and KJ Chard face a slowdown? We know Yellowthing is in trouble. And Moscato does NOT need somms and placement on lists. The consumer is not a foodie or a wine list restaurant customer. More blu collar. Shops in grocery, not wine shop. Mateus and Lancers are not participating in this, and I believe it is a trend with legs, not a fad. Candy flavored vodka is a fad (I hope and pray). And a bravo to those wine brands who actually put a sweet n dry scale on the back label. Providing actual useful info, what a concept.

  10. “Three, four years ago you had the social media mavens predicting social media would quickly become the main marketing and sales tool for wine.”

    Steve, who were those folks predicting that?

    An important tool, yes, and one that no doubt many producers should be spending a larger % of their marketing time on, but I’m curious who said that it would totally supplant pre-existing media outlets and move tot he #1 spot in 3-4 years?

  11. Steve, you look DASHING!

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