These are challenging times for the U.S. wine market. NielsenIQ data reported in the April 2022 issues of Wine Business Monthly shows the wine market declining overall in value and volume terms. The picture isn’t perfectly clear, of course, because NielsenIQ numbers miss some sales vectors and it is hard to know what base to pay attention to given covid sales channel distortions. But there is plenty of cause for concern about U.S. wine market growth.
The situation is even worse for wine imports, because they face most of the headwinds of domestic producers but also have to deal with unfavorable international logistics issues and significant exchange rate and trade policy uncertainty.
But cloudy skies over the U.S. wine market landscape contain some welcome sun breaks — market segments where growth opportunities can be found — even for imported wines. Sue and I recently sampled wines from Chile and Argentina that illustrate this strategy.
Sauvignon Blanc to the Rescue
Where you search for growth depends on how you look at the market. In terms of grape varieties, for example, the clear target these days is Sauvignon Blanc. Sales of both domestic and imported Sauvignon Blanc have done very well in the last year.
For a long time Sauvignon Blanc has been all about New Zealand, which has sold out of this wine year after year. The rising SB tide seems to be raising all ships these days, which is good news for growers in California and elsewhere.
Chile has a long history of Sauvignon Blanc production with quality rising year after year. Sauvignon Blanc is the second most-planted grape variety and Chile is the world’s third largest SB producer. But the marketing focus has often been on that other Sauvignon, Cabernet Sauvignon. Until now. Concha y Toro sent us three wines that will compete very well in this dynamic market segment.
- 2021 Concha y Toro Gran Reserva Sauvignon Blanc | D.O. Litueche, Colchagua Valley | $15 | 100% Sauvignon Blanc | 12.5% ABV | 1.5 g/L RS. Sourced from our estate Ucúquer Vineyard, located in the arid hillsides of the Rapel River in Colchagua Valley, 10 miles from the Pacific Ocean.
- 2021 Cono Sur Organico Sauvignon Blanc | Chile | $11 | 100% Sauvignon Blanc | 12.5% ABV | 3.1 g/L RS | Made with organic grapes | Vegan. Fruit from coastal San Antonio DO’s Campo Lindo Estate and Bío Bío provide an ideal mixture of sand and red clay for this Sauvignon Blanc expression.
- 2020 Concha y Toro Casillero del Diablo Reserva Sauvignon Blanc | Chile | $12 | 100% Sauvignon Blanc | 12.9% ABV | 2.44 g/L RS. Fruit from Aconcagua—which stretches inland from the coast above San Antonio—Valle Central, and Región de Coquimbo compose the final blend.
As you can see from these wine profiles, the three wines present three distinctively different representations of Sauvignon Blanc from different Chilean wine regions. What they have in common — beyond grape variety — is their remarkably good value-for-money proposition. This is especially true for the Gran Riserva. It is not often that you can find a wine like this for such a reasonable price. Distinctive and intense, you won’t mistake it for France, New Zealand, or California. Definitely worthy trying.
Raising the Bar for Malbec and More
Wines of Argentina sent us a little “mystery box” to sample and I wondered what would be in it? What message would they want to broadcast? How would they attempt to navigate the swirling U.S. wine market currents? The answers to these questions were clear as soon as we opened the package.
Message #`1: Argentina is Malbec, as everyone knows, but not just Malbec (just as Chile is not just Cabernet Sauvignon). Our mystery case included both a cool climate Wapisa Pinot Noir from Patagonia and a Trapiche Broquel selected barrel Cabernet Sauvignon, hand-picked from 30-year old vines.
Sue and I learned about the great diversity of Argentina wine on our first visit there in 2011. Our friend Andrés Rosberg arranged a tasting menu that featured wonderful wines not named Malbec until, at the very end, when a Rutini Vino Dulce Encabezado de Malbec 2007 appeared with dessert. Argentina is more than Malbec. Message received!
Message #2: Argentina makes wines that can compete successfully in the key growth segment of the U.S. wine market when we analyze it by price point — the ultra-premium $20-$25 range. A Salentein Reserve Malbec from high elevation vineyards in the Uco Valley and Luigi Bosca “De Sangre” limited edition Malbec from select vineyard parcels in the Altamira district. I understand the average vine age is 90 years — remarkable!
During the Malbec boom of a few years ago Argentina became stereotyped as the source of simple Malbec wines at bargain prices. Slowly — and now more quickly — Argentine producers have worked to show that they have more to offer and distinctive wines of higher quality, too, for those who are willing to reach up to a higher shelf on the wine wall.
Follow the Money
Follow the money. That’s what Deep Throat famously advised and it is something to consider in today’s U.S. wine market. If you break down market trends you’ll find a number of categories where growth opportunities exist. These Chilean and Argentinian producers demonstrate the strategy of focusing on key categories with wines of quality and value. Good lessons for us all to consider.