Wine Book Review: Adventures on the China Wine Trail

chinaCynthia Howson & Pierre Ly, Adventures on the China Wine Trail: How Farmers, Local Governments, Teachers, and Entrepreneurs Are Rocking the Wine World. (Rowman & Littlefield, 2020).

I remember my first taste of Chinese wine very well. My university student Brian brought a bottle of 1999 Changyu Cabernet Sauvignon back from his study abroad semester in Beijing. It didn’t really taste much like Cabernet, but it was the smell that really got me. “Ashtray, coffee grounds, urinal crust” was the tasting note I found on the internet. Exactly. Quite an experience.

The second taste was not much better. Matt, another student, found a case of Dragon’s Hollow Riesling in a Grocery Outlet store in McMinneville, Oregon. He gave me a couple of bottles that I tried (but failed) to serve at a student tasting. The smell (something rotten?) got in the way of tasting and the wine went down the drain.

I learned two things from these tastings. First, maybe my students were out to kill me! And second, Chinese wine had a long way to go.

And a long way it has come, too, in only a few years. That’s one of the messages of Cynthia Howson’s and Pierre Ly’s fast-paced new book, Adventures on the China Wine Trail. Howson and Ly, partners in life as well as wine research, might have been initially attracted to Chinese wine by its peculiar taste and unexpected existence. But as they have immersed (I nearly said marinated) themselves in the wine, the people, the geography, and the culture they have discovered so much more, which they enthusiastically share with their readers.

Adventures on the China Wine Trail works on many levels. It is in part the record of the authors’ personal journeys and it is interesting to travel with them as they lug their seemingly-bottomless wine suitcase from place to place. The authors have an amazing mastery of the detail of the people and places, food and wine. It’s almost like being there.

In fact, the book works as a travel guide as well wine journey account, providing information of where to go, what to do, where to stay, and so on. But beware: Howson and Ly aren’t your typical tourists, so while they do take us on a walk along part of the Great Wall, this is only because they took part in a wine conference quite close by. They still haven’t seen the famous Terracotta soldiers despite spending time in that region.  They couldn’t pull themselves away from the wineries. Maybe next time, they sigh.

More practical advice appears in the closing chapters. Where should you go to buy or drink excellent Chinese wine if you visit China? They have recommendations for you. And when will you be able to enjoy Chinese wines (good ones, not the drain-cleaner stuff) at home? Sooner than you think, they say.

Some of the wines are already here, including the $300 Ao Yun that Pierre bought at a Total Wine in Washington State. But that is just the iceberg’s tip and if you are reading this in London or Paris you may know that Chinese wines are no longer the shocking discovery that they were just a few years ago.

And how are the wines? They vary in quality, just like wines from any place else. But many of them (more each year) are excellent and even distinctive. I know this both because Howson and Ly tell us about the wines and also because Sue and I have been fortunate to share some of their Chinese finds — including that luxury Ao Yun.

There’s a final layer to the story that I can’t forget. Howson and Ly are both professors and serious scholars. Although the book doesn’t read like an academic treatise, it has a serious purpose. The authors began their study of the Chinese wine industry wondering where it might lead? Could wine possibly be the basis of sustainable rural economic development? Or was it an alcoholic dead end in terms of a greater purpose?

Chinese wine’s journey has been anything but simple or smooth and continues today. It will be a long time, I suspect, before we know for sure how the story will end. But as for economic development, Howson and Ly have overcome their doubts. Wine in China is the real deal, whatever specific shape it takes in the future. All the hard work of the farmers, government officials, teachers and entrepreneurs we meet in the book has succceeded in building a viable industry.

So here’s my tasting note:  Adventures on the China Wine Trail is a fast-paced journey through the world of Chinese wines that will appeal to readers who love wine, China,  travel, or who just looking a good adventure yarn. Highly recommended.

Money, Taste & Wine: Best of the Best Wine Writing 1995-2020

gourmand-best-25years-1995-2020Gourmand International has been spotlighting the best food and wine books and writing for 25 years and for this year’s big fair in Paris they are recognizing what they consider the “best of the best” of the last quarter-century.

9781442234635I am happy to announce that my book Money, Taste, and Wine: It’s Complicated! has been shortlisted for the 25th anniversary best wine writing award (it previously won the 2016 best wine writing prize). Here is a quick summary of the book in case you haven’t read it yet.

As wine economist and best-selling author Mike Veseth peels away layer after layer of the money-taste-wine story he discovers the wine buyer’s biggest mistake (which is to confuse money and taste) and learns how to avoid it, sips and swirls dump bucket wines, Treasure Island wines and toasts anything but Champagne. He bulks up with big bag, big box wines and realizes that sometimes the best wine is really a beer.

Along the way he questions wine’s identity crisis, looks down his nose at wine snobs and cheese bores, follows the money, surveys the restaurant war battleground and imagines wines that even money cannot buy before concluding that money, taste and wine might have a complicated relationship but sometimes they have the power to change the world. Money, Taste & Wine will surprise, inform, inspire and delight anyone with an interest in wine – or complicated relationships!

I admit that it warms my heart to be on a short list with authors like Steven Spurrier (see below).  And the nominees in the other categories (full pdf list here) read like Who’s Who of wine wriiting.

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Very exciting. Big thanks to Gourmand International and everyone who helped make Money, Taste, and Wine such a success.

Wine Book Reviews: Vino, Économie, Le Guerre & Leonardo’s Vines

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Four wine books with intertnational twists for your reading consideration.

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Alessandro Torcoli, In Vino Veritas: Praticamente tutto quello che serve sapere (davvero) sul vino. Longanesi.

Billy Joel tells us that wine is a simple thing. A bottle of white? A bottle of red? Perhaps a bottle of Rosè instead? Alessandro Torcoli wants us to know that wine is actually complicated, but not so complex that we can’t enjoy it. And that’s a good thing.

Torcoli is editor of Civiltà del Bere, a leading Italian journal of wine and culture, and an aspiring Master of Wine (there are no Italians on the current list of MWs — incredible!).

I am not fluent in Italian (or French, either — see below), but wine is a universal language and that plus some extra effort allowed me to read and enjoy Torcoli’s new book, In Vino Veritas. My efforts were well rewarded.

In Vino Veritas, as the subtitle promises, provides the reader with “pretty much everything you need to know (really) about wine,” which is to say that it is a survey of the most important topics in wine. I might be wrong, but I imagine that the book came out of Torcoli’s MW studies and represents his thoughtful reflections on the world of wine. Two things especially impressed me about this book.
First, the writing style is so fluid that it is a pleasure to read even, as I noted above, when struggling a bit with translation. Some of this is no doubt because it is written in Italian, which is a beautiful language. But it is possible to write poorly in Italian, too, so most of the credit must go to Torcoli, who is a poet as well as wine expert.

Although Torcoli’s book has global reach, analyzing both old and new world wines, it is written for an Italian audience and so uses Italy and its wines as the reference point. I didn’t realize how important the shift in perspective (from France in many cases) would be and how much it would help me understand and appreciate both Italian wines and those from other places.

This is an enticing book with much to offer both novice and professional. Highly recommended.

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Jean-Marie Cardebat, Économie du vin. La Decouverte.

Jean-Marie Cardebat is a wine economist who teaches at the University of Bordeaux. Although my French is only a little better than my Italian, I found this book accessible because it draws on both the language of wine and the lexicon of economics.

Prof. Cardebat’s book is an introduction to the economic analysis of the wine industry and successfully straddles a certain kind of line, telling economists about wine and wine people about economics without leaving either group behind.

Because of this the book’s organization is very different from that of a standard wine guide. Forget about the typical arrangement based on grape varieties and wine regions. We start instead with the determinants of the supply of wine and move to demand, the market structure, and price, drawing on relevant data and published research along the way.

The tone becomes much more analytical in the final chapter, perhaps because this is where Cardebat’s own research is most relevant. Well written and clear with many fine passages (although understandably not as poetic as Torcoli’s essays). A worthy addition to your bookshelf. You might also consider James Thornton’s American Wine Economics, for an American perspective on the topic.

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>>><<<Attilio Scienza & Serena Imazio, Sangiovese, Lambrusco, and Other Vine Stories. Positive Press.

The third book on this list is provided in English translation of the original Italian, which is helpful since its topic can be dauntingly technical.

I have had the pleasure to be on programs with Prof. Scienza in both the New York and Italy and to appreciate that he is quite a legendary figure in viticulture research. It is easy to see why.

This book analyzes the origins of and the relations between many of the most important indigenous Italian grape varieties using DNA analysis. An important topic, to be sure, but it can be quite technical and somewhat tedious for the novice like me.

So it is significant that Scienza and Imazio interweave the stories of the vines with human stories, drawing upon history and archaeology to help understand how the vines and the wines developed and how they gave us the wines and grapes of today.

One of my favorite chapters explores the family tree of Moscato and Malvasia. Along the way we are introduced to Zibibbo, which the authors compare to a sailor who has a son in every port because this somewhat obscure grape was instrumental in the evolution of so many other wine grape varieties.

We also learn about Leonardo Da Vinci’s personal vineyard in Milan, which still exists and has been somewhat miraculously reconstructed. How do they know what grapes were grown then and are therefore planted again now? Elementary, dear reader. DNA analysis — plus some human detective work that would make Sherlock Holmes proud. We can say with confidence that Leonardo favored sweet wine. Sweet wine? Perhaps that is part of the secret of the Mona Lisa’s mystical smile.

Hard to resist a book with so many fascinating insights.

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Christophe Lucand, Hitler’s Vineyards:How the French Winemakers Collaborated with the Nazis. Pen & Sword History, 2019.

Originally published in French as Le vin et le guerre (Wine and War), the English translation’s title really grabs your attention. Hitler’s Vineyards? Hard not to pull it down from the shelf to learn more.

This isn’t the first book I’ve seen about wine and World War II. One of my favorite wine books of all time is Wine and War: The French, the Nazis, and the Battle for France’s Greatest Treasure by Donald and Petie Kladstrup. It tells the story of how French producers walked a delicate line, trying to preserve their wines and vines during the Nazi occupation. The Kladstrups are wonderful story-tellers, so this is a book that is hard to put down.

Lucand’s detailed historical analysis of wine during the Nazi Occupation of France is fascinating, too. Nazi forces purchased truly enormous quantities of French wine from all regions and of all qualities at prices well above the market and shipped it all back to Germany. The money to buy the wine came from the exorbinate fees that Germany charged the French government for the costs of occupation. So French money bought French wine for German drinkers.

Although I am sure the wine producers had mixed emotions about these transaction, the fact is that the high-priced sales were welcome since large stocks had built up in the pre-war years. And, Lucand tells us, the occupiers worked to improve vineyard operations in order to keep the wine flows going.

When the clouds of war finally cleared, Lucand explains, the French wine industry was transformed from an inward-looking business to an export-oriented giant. Fascinating. Detailed, well-written, and controversial, Lucand’s history of France and its wine during the Nazi Occupation is an unexpected treat.

Wine Book Review: Back to the Future? Strong, Sweet & Dry

9781789141528Becky Sue Epstein, Strong, Sweet & Dry: A guide to Vermouth, Port, Sherry, Madeira and Marsala. Reaktion Books, November 2019.

What do Vermouth, Port, Sherry, Madeira, and Marsala wines have in common? They are all fortified wines (the “strong” part of the book title). You probably have bottles of several if not all of them stashed away somewhere in the back of the wine closet, although you might not have thought about them in a while.

And they are all delicious. Time you brought them out of the closet and onto the table where they belong! Becky Sue Epstein’s entertaining and informative new book is just the nudge you need to do it.

There are two themes that run through the chapters on the different wines. The first is a classic rise, fall, rise again arc. Each wine was once the object of intense interest and widespread celebration. Then, for reasons that are sometimes the same (phylloxera vine devastation) and sometimes unique to the particular situation, interest declined and production faded away.

Now, however, these wines are enjoying a bit of a renaissance.  Back to the future! Why now? Well, this leads to the second theme. As they declined, each of the wines was reduced to a stereotype (think stuffy Port and cigars or your grandmother’s sticky sweet sherry). Now, however, there is more interest in exploring the diversity of these wines and returning to their roots.

Controversially,  there is also a trend toward using these fortified wines as the base for cocktails. Wine cocktails? OMG. How could you do that to a nice wine? Yes, I know there are purists who turn their noses up at this idea, motivated perhaps by the fear that it is a slippery slope that leads all the way down to Vintage Port and Coca Cola. Shudder!

But Epstein embraces the idea, pointing out that fortified wine cocktails are part of the history of these wines. People made cocktails a hundred years ago using whatever products were available. And fortified wines were often more readily available than Gin or Vodka, for example.  No reason why such a drink can’t be tasty. And it is probably lower in alcohol than many spirits concoctions.

sandemanSogrape, the Portuguese producer of the Sandeman wines, has embraced the old/new trend. My 2016 column on Port wine developments noted that the Sandeman Tawny Ports were packaged into new bottles designed to look at home behind the bar. What do you think? The shape is more like a whisky bottle and very different from the traditional black Port bottle with its stenciled label.

Sue and I have a strong interest in fortified wines and have been fortunate to be able to sample many of them — including some unusual ones like Commandaria from Cyprus — at the source. But for some reason we’ve never explored Vermouth. Until now.

Epstein’s chapter on Vermouth convinced us we had to learn more. So now we are working our way through the local selection and look forward to adding this wine to our travel agenda list.

Becky Sue Epstein’s Strong, Sweet & Dry inspired us and I think it will inspire you to try something new that’s also something old. Highly recommended.

It’s Going to be Huge: 2020 Unified Wine & Grape Symposium

 

The Unified Wine & Grape Symposium is just a few weeks away (February 4-6 in Sacramento) and I am already excited. The Unified is North America’s largest wine industry event with about 14,000 in attendance for the trade show and seminars.

Bursting at the Seams

The 2020 Unified promises to be bigger and maybe even betterthan ever before. The event has been moved out to the Cal Expo fairgrounds for 2020 while the Sacramento Convention Center is expanded and remodeled — the Unified  simply outgrew the old facilities. The one-year move means even more room than in the past for trade show exhibitors, including outdoor space for big machines and equipment. It’s going to be huge — literally!

And the program organizers have gone to some trouble to expand seminar offerings, too, with 110 speakers divided among about 30 sessions. Something for every need and interest with programs for growers and winemakers, marketing and business management. As has been the case for several years, some of the technical sessions are offered in both English and Spanish.

Labor cost and availability is an important issue in the wine business, so I am interested in one session that examines mechanization in the vineyard and includes a wine tasting. I’m guessing that the audience will be offered the opportunity to see if they can taste the difference between wines made with machine-harvested versus hand-picked grapes. Should be interesting.

State of the Industry

I’ll be moderating and speaking at the “State of the Industry   general session on Wednesday morning. Danny Brager (Nielsen), Steve Fredricks (Turrentine Brokerage), Jean-Marie Cardebot (University of Bordeaux), and Jeff Bitter (Allied Grape Growers) will be joining me on the big stage. A great team with deep understanding of the wine market.

Jeff O’Neill of O’Neill Vintners and Distillers is giving the Tuesday luncheon keynote speech this year and I am looking forward to hearing what he has to say. These are uncertain times for wine in the United States and it is easy to be pessimistic about the future. O’Neill’s company has been remarkably successful in navigating the treacherous seas, taking advantage of favorable winds. Everyone will be looking for lessons and insights they can take back to their businesses.

This is important because one cloud hanging over the meetings is a structural surplus of grapes and wine in some categories. U.S. wine demand is plateauing, which is better than some countries where demand has been falling for years. Overall wine expenditures are still rising even if overall volumes have declined.

The surplus creates a problem that may take years to correct through a combination of rising sales in old markets, development of new markets, and adjusting production capacity. Heidi Scheid is leading a session that will address the issues directly titled Strategies for Managing Through Over-Supply. Should be a standing room crowd.

Trade Wars Shrink the Pie

Trade wars are another concern. President Trump has said that trade wars are good and they are easy to win, but the wine industry has found little to celebrate about being in the center of the battlefield. Having invested years of effort and lots of dollars opening up Chinese markets, for example, many wineries have watched hoped-for opportunities disappear with retaliatory Chinese tariffs on U.S. wines.

It looks like French wine producers have dodged a bullet, avoiding sky-high U.S. tariffs that were threatened as retaliation for France’s digital tax scheme. You might have expected U.S. wine producers to celebrate tariffs on wine imports because some buyers are likely to shift from imports to domestic wines. But this substitution effect is not the only impact the tariffs have.

Prohibitive tariffs on imported wine are more likely to shrink the wine market pie at every stage of the product chain. It is hard to see how retailers or distributors can justify investment in the wine category when overall sales fall and uncertainty about future conditions is high. The uncertainty effect looms especially large, despite the recent wine tariff trade truce. If wine was caught in the trade war cross-fire before, there’s no reason it couldn’t happen again. And truces are by their nature temporary and fragile.

When tariffs work to protect an industry they tend to do so only temporarily and at high cost (struggling Harley-Davidson is a good example of this). But they more often backfire. The recent tariffs meant to protect manufacturing jobs in the U.S., for example, seem to have only accelerated the decline of the manufacturing sector generally because of the complex international interweaving of manufacturing chains and other factors.

Food (and Drink) for Thought

There a lot to think about as the wine industry moves into 2020, so I encourage readers to check out the Unified’s seminar programs and start working on a strategy for the trade show.

I’ve been to a lot of wine meetings both here and abroad, but there’s nothing like the Unified. Hope to see you there.

Wine, Adapting to Climate Change, & the Peter Parker Principle

beforeThe Red Mountain AVA is Washington’s smallest, warmest, and maybe its most distinctive wine-growing region. The warm part has been advantage for most of Red Mountain’s history. But not any more, according to Gaye McNutt and Benjamin Smith, owners of Cadence Winery and the Cara Mia Vineyard.

Too Darn Hot

Climate change has had a variety of effects that condition Smith’s ability to make the elegant wines he prefers. Earlier harvest, potentially higher alcohol levels, sunburned fruit, tough tannins — none of these impacts is desirable. Working with vineyard manager Dick Boushey, McNutt and Smith considered many alternatives and found each potential solution problematic in one way or another.

Then they hit upon an insight — to transform the vineyard in the image above to the emerging vineyard you see below.

after

The result is the first vineyard in Washington State specifically designed to mitigate the effects of climate change by doubling the row density of the vineyard. First planted in 2004 at three feet between vines and eight feet between rows the vineyard is now spaced at four feet between rows.

This tighter spacing provides up to two hours additional morning and afternoon shading of adjacent rows thereby cooling the fruit, reducing the effects of high heat, and ultimately producing more elegant, lower alcohol wines even in hotter vintages.

All around the world winegrowers are facing up to the challenges that climate change presents and, because wine people are creative by nature, they are finding ways to adapt through innovative viticultural techniques. Cadence is a model of how this can be done.

The Cadence solution is not inexpensive, of course, but it promises to allow them to continue to make excellent wines and even has benefits as an opportunity to add additional clonal selections to the mix.

Peter Parker Principle

A 2000 case winery like Cadence is to be commended for setting an example of innovation to mitigate the effects of climate change. Larger wineries can do the same, but the Peter Parker Principle (familiar to all Spider-Man enthusiasts) holds them to a higher standard. With great power comes great responsibility.

Many large wineries have risen to the Peter Parker challenge. Familia Torres and Jackson Family Wines, for example, have taken the lead in forming a global wine alliance to fight climate change, the International Alliance for Climate Action.  Adrian Bridge of Port producer Taylor Fladgate was instrumental in creating the Porto Protocol and the global conference on climate change and wine that Sue I and attended last year.

Many wineries embrace their social and environmental responsibilities by becoming benefit corporations (B Corps for short). Certified B Corps commit to a social and environmental responsibility agenda and agree to transparent assessment of their activities. Are you familiar with B Corps? A number of large businesses have taken this step including Patagonia Works, which has a B Impact Score of 151.2 on a scale of 0-200 (the minimum score for B Corps certification is 80 — an “ordinary” business might score about 50 points).  The craft beer producer New Belgium Brewing is also a B Corp (B Impact score 136.5).

It is easy to be a B Corp skeptic because it seems so unlikely that a business really would elevate people and planet to the same level as profit in its priority list. And I am sure that some are more committed than others. But a number of my former university students have become practitioners of and advocates for the B Corp program and they have persuaded me to take it seriously (Steve, Russ, Portland, Douglas, and Colleen — I’m talking about you).

Many wineries are entering the B Corp economy. Oregon’s A to Z Wineworks became the first certified winery B Corp in 2014 and is now joined by a growing international community including Symington Family Estates in Portugal and Fetzer Vineyards in Calfiornia. Fetzer, with about 2.5 million case production, is the largest B Corp winery in the world.

The Symington Family’s sustainability program, Mission 2025, is especially ambitious and includes a recently announced €1 million Impact Fund. The primary use of the funds will be for community well-being and health, environmental protection and conservation and cultural heritage and education in the Duoro and Alto Alentejo regions where the company has vineyards.

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Mapping the Road at Fetzer

Fetzer has doubled-down on the Peter Parker Principle. Fetzer and its Bonterra brand have long been known as environmental stewards and activists. Chilean leader Concha y Toro’s 2011 acquisition has given Fetzer greater scale and even deeper commitment to corporate social responsibility.

Fetzer’s 2017-2018 “Peter Parker” report, Mapping the Road, makes good reading because the range of activities and commitments is very impressive. As the report says,

Fetzer Vineyards understands that transforming the future requires not just small, incremental steps toward sustainability, but rather an ambitious framework—like regenerative development—applied to every part of its business. With the knowledge that the road will not always be easy, Fetzer Vineyards is poised to continue taking bold steps toward its vision of a regenerative, net positive company, and to be part of the movement to redefine what responsible business is all about.

One thing that I admire is that Fetzer is willing to “own” its supply chain. Many environmentally ambitious firms limit their universe of concern to their own operations, which is both practical and understandable. But wine’s supply chain is long and complex and progress in the vineyard and cellar alone is commendable, but not enough. Major players like Fetzer need to take responsibility for the whole chain. It’s the Peter Parker thing to do.

And, increasingly, they are. Congratulations to Cadence, Symington, Fetzer, and others  for their leadership.

Wine and the Dry January Syndrome

 

It is easy to dismiss Dry January (going alcohol-free for the first month of the year) along with Veganuary as typical well-intended New Year resolutions on lists that might also include pledges to quit smoking, keep a daily diary, make better use of that gym membership, and spend less time fiddling with your phone.

Resolutions are an optimistic impulse. They signal that we think we still have the ability to improve, which is important. There is also an element of penance in some resolutions. Had too much food, drink, fun, etc. over the holidays (and maybe spent too much money, too). Time to settle up.

A Toast to Your Health?

But there is more to Dry January and similar impulses these days. Health has risen in the hierarchy of needs for a growing segment of the population especially, we are told, younger people, and reducing consumption of beverage alcohol (wine, beer, spirits) is part of that movement.  Young people in many countries now start drinking later than previous generations and then choose to drink less once they begin.

Slavea Chankova, health-care correspondent for the Economist newspaper, recently identified the health-driven pivot away from alcohol consumption as one of the key trends for 2020 and beyond. Drinking is going out of style, she argues. She notes that …

Big alcohol companies can see the writing on the keg. They are expanding their low- and no-alcohol offerings of beer, wine and spirits. Innovation in such drinks is booming. Many are now indistinguishable in taste from the real thing. Nearly 50 of Heineken’s brands, for example, have an alcohol-free version. In most Western countries such alternatives are still a novelty, but sales are growing fast. In Germany and the Netherlands, both early adopters, they make up about 10% of beer sales.

It’s Complicated

baxterWine’s relationship to health is complicated and can be confusing. It seems like there are new studies every week, often with contradictory conclusions. A new book, Wine and Health: making sense of the new science and what it means for wine lovers by Richard Baxter M.D. surveys and analyzes the scientific data and makes the case for moderate wine consumption as part of a healthy, happy life. It’s an interesting and useful book that I recommend highly.

If you accept the premise that wine can be part of a healthy life, there is still the question whether people actually behave this way.  An article in the Economist newspaper’s October 19, 2019 edition argues that “Alcohol firms promote moderate drinking, but it would ruin them.” The article cites research based on a study (see reference below) of British consumers in 2013 and concludes that the beverage alcohol industry in Britain is heavily dependent on unhealthy behaviors by their customers.

Drink, Drank, Drunk?

The study found that 25% of the British population consume hazardous (average 24 drink units per week) or dangerous (average 73 units per week) levels of alcohol. Together they drink 78% of total alcohol and account for 68% of revenues. Moderate drinkers (average 4 units per week within a range of 1 to 14) are 59% of the adult population, but drink just 23% of alcohol and generate 32% of revenues. (Non drinkers make up 16% of the British population according to the report.)

If all alcohol drinkers consumed at healthy moderate levels, the study concludes, the demand for beverage alcohol would fall dramatically. The data reported by the Economist does not break out wine from beer and spirits. I could be wrong, but I doubt that wine is as dependent on binge drinking and excessive consumption as beer or spirits, at least in the U.S.

Studies of the U.S. wine market, however, show that consumption is similarly concentrated in a relatively small proportion of the population. These frequent wine drinkers (who consume wine several times a month or more) are key to wine market success.

No Wine = 56% in U.S.

Wine drinkers are a minority in the U.S. A 2014 Wine Market Council study found that 35% of U.S. adults drank no alcohol and another 21% consumed alcohol, but not wine. High-frequency wine drinkers made up just 15% of the adult population. An even smaller group — 30% of the 15% of high-frequency wine drinkers — accounted for 90% of spending on $20+ wine and 40% of all purchases of $10-$20 wine.

Dry January and related health concerns are something that the U.S. wine industry needs to take seriously since its consumer base is so relatively narrow. If the small group of high-frequency wine drinkers reduces consumption for reasons of health, it will make a difference.

Obviously the point is not to promote high levels of alcohol consumption like those found in the British study, but to encourage healthy consumption patterns of wine as an element of a sustainable lifestyle, much as Wine in Moderation has done is many countries. Health is important and wine needs to address the concerns.

This isn’t the answer to the problems facing wine today, but it might be part of a strategy to make wine more relevant and appealing to today’s evolving consumer base.

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Sources for the Economist article: “Drug harms in the UK: a multicriteria decision analysis” by D. Nutt et al., The Lancet; “How dependent is the alcohol industry on heavy drinking in England?” by A. Bhattacharya et al., Addiction; Centre for Responsive Politics; NHS.