Why Virtual Wine Tourism is More Important Than Ever Now

Adapted from an article originally published in Wine Industry Advisor by Liz Thach and Fiona Fang.

The last few years have been very challenging for wineries around the world in terms of attracting wine tourists. Not only have many wine regions been threatened by wildfires, smoke, floods, record-breaking heat, and devastating frosts, but issues not related to global warming, such as earthquakes and pandemics, have also put a halt to wine tourism in many parts of the world. Though we all pray that these destructive events will end soon, the prognosis is not that positive. Many experts report that it will most likely worsen, unless drastic steps are taken.

An old saying advises that “crisis births innovation,” and one silver lining in all of this destruction is the growth of virtual wine tourism linked to wine ecommerce. As wine regions scramble to find ways to stay in touch with customers, many have turned to innovative solutions such as virtual tours, tastings, and events. These solutions have worked very well for many wineries, allowing some to keep wine sales at even levels, despite natural disasters. Following are some of the successful methods that wineries have adopted, and will need to continue using in the future as a new method of engaging with consumers. Another positive of these virtual wine platforms is the fact that older consumers who can no longer travel physically to a beloved wine region, can now stay connected.

#1 Virtual Winery Tours

With virtual wine tours, tourists can “tour” the winery or wine region virtually by using their computer, tablet or smart phone. This can be accomplished with online videos, 360 photo tours, or 360 videos with VR glasses, and are designed to make the visitor feel as if they are really walking through the winery grounds. The intent is to entice the tourist to visit some day in person and, in the meantime, to encourage them to try the wines of the estate by seeking them out in a local retail shop or online. Links should be located on the winery or region website, as well as winery YouTube and social media pages. Following are some of the current virtual tour methods being used:

  • Engaging Online Videos showcase the winery and allow visitors to see the entrance to the winery, step into the tasting room, walk through the vineyards, see the cellars, wander the gardens, and see the wines.  These can be fun and whimsical, such as the one provided by Buena Vista Winery in California or classy and elegant as in Antinori Winery in Italy.
  • 360 Photo Tours are simply photos of the estate filmed in a 360 format and then edited so that visitors can click on a link to take them into another room, such as the cellar, the wine library, the vineyard, gardens, etc. It is a technique that is often used by home sales websites, and is less expensive to produce than professional videos. A good example is Hammersky Vineyards in Paso Robles, California.
  • 360 Video Tours are filmed with a special 360 video camera and professionally edited. Virtual wine tourists are invited to don a pair of VR Glasses, which can be purchased inexpensively online, such as the Google Cardboard headset, so they can experience the 360 video as if they were actually there. Some examples include this fast-paced 360 ride through the Champagne region or visiting 14 Hand Winery in Washington State. 
Virtual Wine Tours

360 Virtual Vineyard Tour. Modified Photo Credit: Pxfuel.com

#2 Virtual Tastings

Virtual tastings allow customers to experience a wine tasting from the comfort of their home. Again, this can take place using a computer, tablet, or smart phone with the ad of interactive software such as Zoom, WebEx, or Facetime, and streaming services, such as Facebook and Instagram Live, Periscope or YouTube Live. The two major types of virtual wine tastings are described below:

  • Streaming Large Group Tastings are useful because thousands of people can participate for free by clicking on a link to register for the tasting that is scheduled to be held on a certain date and time. Generally, visitors are also given a link so they can purchase the wine in advance and enjoy the wine along with the streaming video moderator, but this is not mandatory. The moderator is often the winemaker who describes the wine in a fun and engaging fashion, such as William Chris Winery in Texas, where he uses Facebook Live. This method can also be used by retailers, such as Wine.com, who has been very successful in attracting thousands of people to participate in their streaming tastings. Sessions are usually 30 to 60 minutes, and participates can ask questions via the chat function. A benefit of this method is the video can be taped and placed on the winery website or fan page so visitors can watch it in the future. In addition, since visitors must register, wineries are able to develop an email contact list for follow-up.
  • Intimate Small Group Tastings are more interactive in nature but require more advance planning. Customers must sign up and purchase the wine in advance so it can be shipped to their house in time for the session. These private sessions are usually booked on the winery website in advance, and include a fee because the moderator is customizing the session to the small group. Examples include Clos Du Val Winery virtual tastings in Napa Valley and specialized tastings organized for members of the California Vintage Wine Society and Commanderie de Bordeaux. These sessions are usually limited to 10 to 30 people and utilize Zoom or other interactive platforms so that everyone can participate and ask questions in real-time. They are usually not recorded, but are designed to create positive experiences to enhance and maintain wine brand loyalty, as well as to promote wine sales.

#3 Virtual Private Wine Events 

Building on virtual tastings, private wine events are more self-directed by consumers, who decide on the event centered around a customized theme or topic. This could include celebratory occasions such as a baby shower, girl’s game night-in, anniversary party, and many other occasions. Other themes could include cuisine pairings, holidays, or teambuilding sessions. In all cases, the consumer works with the winery to purchase the wine in advance, plan the tasting event, select event day/time, and agree on technology and interaction formats. Niche companies have started offering tailored services and products, such as blind tasting kits where customers buy kits delivered individually to taste with friends over a virtual party, or curated packs with add-on services such as live Wine Consultant to direct the tasting. Given the endless opportunities for customization, businesses could offer even more specific services to enhance the consumer’s planning and wine hosting experience.

#4 Advanced Virtual Wine Experiences

The future of wine business is evolving with new technologies. Although still not widely available, and some may seem more far-fetched than others, there are some advanced technology options that could be used in the virtual wine experience of the future.

  • Digital scent technology allows customers to smell a product, such as perfume, coffee, and wine via technology. Though still battling implementation obstacles, it could be modified in the future to become part of virtual wine tourism, allowing customers to “smell the wine” on a 360 virtual wine tour.
  • Smart packaging technology is advancing rapidly and may soon be available for wine bottles, allowing consumers to know such important information as the temperature of the wine, best drinking time frame, and ingredients. Already, some wine companies have incorporated some smart packaging techniques such as “cold sensors,” QR codes linked to tech sheets, and augmented reality to create “living wine labels”, allowing their winery partners to showcase the stories behind their wines for consumers.
  • 3D printing has already been applied to different wine production and tasting processes. For instance, JCB Wines partnered with Ideum, a tech company with proprietary software that incorporates 3D printed glasses and coasters “connecting” to a smart multi-touch table, which identify where the wine glass is placed, the wine it, and digitally present personalized tasting notes and information for each wine. While this is not virtual, 3D printed glasses with virtual presentations might be further explored for home applications.
  • Hologram technology projects “floating” 3D imagery before consumers’ eyes with the push of a button. While it is not widely used, partially because it requires specific projectors, some smartphone companies were looking into hologram-friendly phones. If this becomes more widely adopted in consumer technology, winery tours could be even further enhanced.
  • Drone deliveries may be possible, although obstacles such as weight – a notorious challenge in wine delivery – and logistical regulations, privacy concerns will need to be resolved. However, there could come a day, when wine can be delivered via drone for a virtual wine tasting.

In summary, both individual wineries and wine region need to adopt virtual wine tourism components as part of their overall marketing strategy. Not only are they useful in times of crisis where wine regions are forced to shut down due to natural disasters, such as wildfires, earthquakes and pandemics, they are also a means of attracting the next generation of wine consumers, who have already integrated online experiences into their lives. Taking the time now to invest in some of the components of an online wine tourism system – linked to wine ecommerce – is a powerful first step towards creating a resilient business that can be successful during both times of crisis and calm.

Virtual Wine Tasting
Virtual Wine Tasting

The US Wine Industry in 2020 – Slowing Sales, but Opportunities Still Present (with COVID-19 Update)

UPDATE: Impact of COVID-19 on US Wine Sales – a Silver Lining?

When I first wrote this annual article in February 2020, who knew that in just a few weeks the world would be ravaged by the COVID-19 virus, causing most major countries to shelter in place and global stock markets to fall. Despite the fact the restaurants, bars, and winery tasting rooms were forced to close, causing US wine sales in on-premise establishments to plummet, the uptick in off-premise wine sales was amazing. People flooded to grocery and discount stores to stock up on food and alcohol, with a stunning 66% increase in off-premise wine sales by the end of the week March 21, and an even more jaw-dropping 225% increase in online retail wine sales, according to Danny Brager in an April 3 webinar sponsored by Wine Market Council.

Though these numbers are startling, experts predict that they are not sustainable as noted in this article by Adam Andrews of Wine Analytics Report. Instead, it is considered to be a similar phenomenon as the increase in wine sales seen at major holidays, such as Thanksgiving and Christmas, which fade back to normal after the rush. Despite this, there seems to be a silver lining in all of this worry and upset:

  • It Has Forced US Wineries to Market and Sell Wine Online – which is something they needed to spend more time doing in order to reach new consumers. Now the innovation seen in virtual tastings, social media ads, and unique virtual experiences such as that offered by Gary Farrell this week, is causing wine consumers to purchase more wine online from wineries.
  • It Has Encouraged New Consumers to Buy Wine Online – apparently there has been a 72% increase in new alcohol buyers online compared to this time last year, with a large increase in seniors who had not previously purchased this way in the past. According to Brager, “once buyers go online for the first time, they tend to repeat.”

Though this is a very stressful time, with many people negatively impacted by this terrifying virus, it has forced some changes in the US wine industry, that may be considered, in the long run, to be a faint silver lining.


A faint silver lining?


It’s true. Wine sales volume is slowing in the US market, and there is currently an oversupply of wine grapes, but that doesn’t mean there are not opportunities for increased wine sales. With more than 270 million Americans of legal drinking age, and only around 49% consuming wine, there is room to grow the market. However, wineries need to pay attention to changing consumer trends, which means modifying products and packaging to meet their needs.

Wine statistics from 2019 have been reported by most of the major research firms, and they confirm less volume in wine sales, but still show decent revenues. According to bw166, total US shipments in 2019 were 409.1 million cases, a modest increase of 1.1% compared to the previous year. Of these, 277.8 million cases were domestic wine, with 131.3 million cases of imported wine.


Gomberg-Frederickson shows preliminary consumer expenditures for both on and off premise wine sales were $72.4 billion for 2019 compared to $69.7 billion in 2018, or a 3.9% increase. Of this figure, domestic wine revenues were $47.9 billion, or a 3.7% increase over the previous year, and imports totaled $24.5 billion, a 4.1% increase over 2018. This illustrates that even though volume is down, the US wine consumer is still spending a positive amount.

Best Selling Wine Varietals in the US Market

US consumers primarily purchase wine by varietal, and it is also tracked this way by Nielsen scan data. The graph below illustrates the top 5 best-selling varietals in both volume and dollar value, with chardonnay still in first place, followed by cabernet sauvignon, red blends (a new category in the past decade), pinot grigio/gris, pinot noir, and fast-growing sauvignon blanc. In terms of wine color, in 2019 red wine comprised 46% of volume sales, white wine 44%, and pink wine 10%. See bottom of article for more information on Hot Wine Trends in the US market.


Wine Sales Channels & Major Distributors in the US

Approximately 80% of wine in the US is sold in off-premise establishments (bw166), with the remainder sold on-premise, via export, and winery direct to consumer (DTC). According to Sovos, winery DTC sales grew to $3.2 billion in 2019, a 7.4% increase at a volume of 6.6 million cases.  Wine ecommerce sales are slowing increasing, with more grocery stores and wine shops shipping directly to consumers, along with wineries; however, the overall rate is still estimated to be around 5%.

According to Wines & Vines Analytics, there are 958 wine distributors in the US market. The five largest are: 1) Southern Glazer’s Wines & Spirits, 2) RNDC/Young’s Market Co,    3) Breakthru Beverage Group, 4) Winebow Group, and 5) Empire Distributors.

US Wine Imports/Exports & Top 10 Brands

The top 5 countries from which the US imported the most bottled wine by 9-liter case volume for 2019 are: Australia at 11.7 million cases, Italy at 10.4 million, Chile at 3.8 million, New Zealand at 3.6 million, and Argentina at 3.5 million, according to Nielsen.

US export data for 2019 was 41.3 million cases shipped at a value of $1.36 billion, with the majority of the wine coming from California, according to the Wine Institute.  This is down slightly from 2018 statistics showing 41.6 million cases shipped at a value of $1.46 billion. Top export markets were the European Union, UK, Canada, Hong Kong, and Japan.

Number of US Wineries

 As of February 2020, there were a total of 10,472 US wineries up from 10,043 year to date (Wines & Vines Analytics). California has the largest number at 4,613 wineries, producing 86% of wine, followed by Washington (812), Oregon (809), New York (411), and Texas (406). All 50 states produce wine.


 Wine Consumer Demographics

Each year the Wine Market Council in the US conducts several very useful research studies on the US wine market and consumer. Following are high-level results from their 2019 US wine consumer segmentation study. Some of this information is also displayed in the corresponding Infographic above.

  • Percentage of Adult Americans who drink wine= 49% of legal drinking population
  • Wine Consumption Frequency: High Frequency Wine Drinkers= 14%, or those who drink wine more than once a week, and Occasional Wine Drinkers = 35%, or those who drink wine once a week or less
  • Gender of Wine Drinkers= 54% female and 46% male
  • Age/Generation of Wine Consumers= Matures: ages 74+, 5% of wine market; Baby Boomers: ages 54 – 73, 34% of wine market; Gen X: ages 43-54, 21%; Millennials: ages 25 – 42, 34%; Gen Z: ages 21 – 24, 7% of wine market.
  • Per Capita Wine Consumption= 11.17 liters per person (2.95 gallons). Even though US is largest wine consuming nation by volume, per capita rates are less than many other countries (Wine Institute, 2018)

Ten Hot Trends in US Market

Every year at the Unified Wine & Grape Symposium, Danny Brager from Nielsen shares the latest hot trends observed in the US wine market. These are based on Nielsen Measured Off Premise Outlets, and include a large majority of US wine sales.

  • Rose Continues to Gain Favor – rose has become a staple in US market, with all styles, but especially Provence rose. It continues to grow at double digits in both volume and value
  • Sparkling Wine Shines On– wine with bubbles continues to captivate US consumers, with Prosecco still widely in favor, along with American sparkling and Champagne.
  • Private Brands Grow by 17% – an increase in private wine brands from super markets, restaurants, and other establishments is occurring in the US wine market
  • Sauvignon Blanc Accelerates – as the trend for fresh and light wine styles expands, sauvignon blanc has increased in value and volume, especially those from New Zealand
  • Oregon Grows at Double Digits – though still at a small volume compared to California, wine from Oregon – especially pinot noir – continues to be well-regarded by Americans, and grew at double digits in both value and volume in 2019.
  • Portability More Important – consumers have embraced wine in cans and tetra packs, and appreciate the smaller serving sizes of 187 ml as well as portability. Non-glass packaging grew at 22% of volume and 11% of value in 2019.
  • Small and Large Sizes Attractive – both 375 ml bottles and 3L bottles/boxes have experienced positive growth in the past year
  • Wine Cocktails, Sangria, and Flavored Wine Growing – as younger consumers seek new experiences, the growth of wine cocktails, sangria and flavored wines, such as E&J Gallo’s reintroduction of Bartles & Jaymes wine coolers, have increased 20 to 30% in dollar sales in the past 2 years.
  • The Sweet Spot for Wine Pricing – the sweet spot for wine pricing in US off-premise continues to be $11 to $14.99 and $15 – $19.99, with both growing 5% to 6% in value and volume. Wine priced at under $10.99 continues to be negative in both value and volume, but still comprises 74% of all wine sold in the US. Wine priced at $20 – $24.99 showed around 6% value and volume increase, but at smaller quantities.
  • Fear of Cannabis Over-Inflated – only 2% of wine drinkers report they will drink less due to cannabis usage; whereas 2% report they will consume more wine with cannabis.

Other New Trends Presenting Opportunities for Wine

Health & Wellness Trend Impacts Wine – the US consumer is now more concerned with health and wellness. A joint survey by Nielsen and the Harris Poll shows that almost 50% of American alcohol drinkers say they are trying to reduce alcohol consumption, but this number escalates to 67% with younger drinkers aged 21 to 34. Beer and spirits companies have responded by introducing new lower alcohol and lower calorie drinks, such as the widely popular White Claw at 5% alcohol and 90 calories, but the US wine industry has been slow in responding to this trend. There appears to be an opportunity to create more “low or no alcohol” wines for the US market, as is being done in Europe and New Zealand.

Desire for Ingredient Labeling – The joint Nielsen/Harris Poll survey also shows that 67% of Americans want to know everything going into their food and drink. However, US law does not require ingredient labeling for alcohol, though it is optional to include on packaging. This presents an opportunity for wineries to include this information to meet consumer needs, and could assist many dry wines, which at only 87 to 120 calories per 120 ml serving and relatively low carbohydrates, could be appealing for consumers. Likewise, information on organic, biodynamic, or sustainable winemaking practices, and labels such as “paleo-friendly, gluten-free, plant-based, natural flavors, no artificial sweeteners, low carb and low calorie” – which are often true for wine – would be useful to add.

Online Purchasing – Wine Ecommerce – More than 80% of Americans now shop online, according to Pew Research, and online wine sales are growing slowly, but not as fast in other countries, due to complex regulatory issues. More grocery stores are now delivering wine with groceries, and winery DTC sales, many of which are online, reached 7 million cases in 2019 – a 4.5% increase over 2018. However, there is still plenty of opportunity in this channel for innovation and expansion. According to Rich Bergsund of Wine.com, only 3% of wine is currently sold online in both DTC and off-premise retail. Furthermore, in a comprehensive review of online alcohol sales, Rabobank recommends that the US wine industry “take assertive action” to improve online wine sales as soon as possible, or risk “profound consequences.”


Gen Z – New Wine Consumers?

This article was originally published in Wine Business Monthly. Reprinted here with permission.

While many wine marketers have been focusing on selling wine to Millennials, more than 20 million Generation Z consumers have reached legal drinking age since 2016, according to US Census figures. Of course wineries should still pay attention to the other lucrative generation segments of Baby Boomers, Gen Xers and Millennials, but the fact that Gen Z is even larger than the Millennial generation and already represents up to $143 billion in buying power accorded to Forbes, is of high importance. Even more critical is that very little is known about Gen Z from a wine consumer behavior perspective. Who is Gen Z? What are their traits and characteristics? What are their wine preferences, and what does Gen Z want from the wine industry?

Gen Z Photo purchased from Veer BLP0011526

Gen Z Wine Consumers

Who is Gen Z?

According to the American Generations Report, Generation Z was born between the years 1995 and 2009, though other sources vary slightly on these dates. Also referred to as “i-Generation” and “Post Millennials,” Pew Research has recently reported that the most common term used by marketers and as an online search term is “Gen Z”. In addition to being the largest generation in the US, with US Census number showing they number 80 million vs. 72 million Millennials, they are also the largest generation globally, comprising 32% of the world population according to Bloomberg. They are expected to have a huge impact on consumer products around the world, and that includes wine.

Traits and Characteristics of Gen Z

In terms of traits, Gen Z is reported to be more realistic than Millennials, as well as responsible, determined, curious, and open-minded. They are very entrepreneurial, with more than 40% reporting they want to start their own business according to Entreprenuer.com, and other sources stating the number is higher. They are very multi-cultural with 48% from communities of color according to NPR, and many prefer to avoid labels – finding forms or surveys that request race and gender to be outdated and irrelevant. Gen Z is also very interested in health, including how food/beverage products they consume are created.

Regarding technology, they are incredibly linked, having grown up with the Internet always available. They do not watch as much traditional TV as other generations, preferring to watch YouTube. According to Forbes, 80% of Gen Zers will research a product online before purchase. This includes not only looking at the product website, but also reviewing their social media pages; then many will look at product reviews and also seek feedback from friends before making a final purchase.

Another key way they differ from Millennials is that they desire cool products over experiences, and are also more accepting of online ads. According to the Cassandra Report, 28% of Gen Z consumers want marketers to reach them with online ads compared to just 16% of Millennials. They also appreciate “edgy” and creative ads, especially on their preferred platforms of YouTube and Instagram.

Wine Preferences of Gen Z

Based on the growing importance of Gen Z to the wine industry, a series of research projects at the Wine Business Institute at Sonoma State University were conducted over the past 3 years to explore preferences and perceptions of Gen Z in reference to wine. The most recent 2019 survey included responses from 158 Gen Z wine consumers. Though the sample was small, the results still provide some direction for wine marketers to consider.

Gen Z respondents reported that they prefer both white and red wine (see Figure 1), with a slight preference for white wine (70%) over red (68%). More surprisingly was the high percentage that indicated they enjoy both rose (52%) and sparkling wine (49%), which is a larger number than reported by a national sample of American consumers from mixed generations. This could also be due to the fact that both rose and sparkling wine are hot trends in the US market.

Figure 1: Wine Preferences of Gen Z Sample

(What type of wine do you enjoy drinking? Check all that apply)


In terms of wine taste preferences, more than 50% of the Gen Z sample reported that they preferred their wine to taste smooth, fruity, and semi-sweet. Only 39% stated they preferred dry wines, however this is often common with younger wine consumers, who as they age, will often adopt drier styles of wine.

Gen Z Wine Perceptions

When asked their opinion about wine on a 5-point Likert scale, 90% of the respondents agreed that wine is “pleasurable,” 83% “delicious”, and 81% “fun.” Only 19% agreed that wine is “confusing,” and 15% as “snooty.” These perceptions are fairly positive for young wine consumers, and most likely explain the reason that Gen Zers seem to be adopting wine at almost the same rate as Millennials, according to a Wine Opinions report. The same report states that Gen Z seems to rely more on advice from friends and family, and also values wine scores and ratings more than Millennials. This corresponds with the Forbes report on how Gen Z is more apt to research a product and read reviews before they buy.

What Gen Z Wants from the Wine Industry

A major open-ended question on the survey asked Gen Zers: “What should the Wine Industry do to market better to Gen Z?” From this process, 236 written quotes were obtained. These were coded and sorted into themes, with 10 major themes emerging (see Figure 2).

Figure 2: Gen Z Recommendations for the Wine Industry


Online Advertising – the number one piece of advice was more online advertising cited 62 times by the sample. This corresponds with the Cassandra Report stating that Gen Z is more accepting of online ads. Examples of some Gen Z quotes regarding this issue are:

  • “Just advertise… I’ve never seen an advertisement for wine.”
  • “More commercials on YouTube and ads on the Internet.”
  • “(More) Highly visual wine & food pairings photos on Instagram.”

Better Packaging/Design – the second highest scoring suggestion had to do with better packaging and design (40 mentions). This also corresponds with the Cassandra Report, stating that Gen Z prefers cool products and edginess, over experiences. The responses also showed that Gen Z desired clearer labeling of wines so that consumers could tell what was in the bottle and how the wine tastes. Examples of some Gen Z quotes regarding this issue are:

  • “Find a way to make the packaging stand out. Almost every wine bottle looks the same to me.”
  • “Describe the taste on label more because it isn’t fun to buy a wine and have it taste different than you were expecting.”

Education/Approachability –tied at third place (29 & 28 mentions) was a request for more basic wine education from the industry in an attempt to make wine more approachable. A quote here was: “Make it not so scary and intimidating for people who don’t know as much about wine.” Potential platforms to make this happen could be short and fun YouTube videos or a creative Instagram campaign.

More social media (21 mentions) targeted at Gen Z was another suggestion, followed by more affordable pricing (15) and free samples (13). Given that the average tasting fee in Napa Valley has now reached $44 per person and Sonoma County $22 per person, according to the 2018 WBM/SVB Direct to Consumer Survey, these suggestions are not surprising coming from younger wine consumers just entering the category. “Have options for less expensive wine tastings,” said one respondent, while another recommended, “More sampling in grocery stores and other locations so that people can try it before purchasing.”

Finally, more festivals/events, food pairing, and healthy wine options rounded out the top 10 themes emerging from the data. These are also related to the education and approachability themes. In addition, the healthy wine concept could be linked to a growing trend for “low-no” wines seen in Europe, where more low alcohol or no-alcohol wines are being introduced. The trend to add descriptors to wine labels such as “low carb, gluten-free, paleo friendly, organic, low sulfite, reduced sugar, and natural,” is also related to this health trend that is sweeping the nation, and that is of concern to 25% of the US population, according to Nielsen. This is also supported by a 2019 Wine Market Council report showing that 31% of younger consumers are drinking less alcohol.

A small group of Gen Z wine consumers participated in the creation of a video to describe these ideas in more detail. Please access the video HERE.

Implications for Wineries

In general, this is good news about Gen Z and wine at this early stage. They are adopting wine at nearly the same rate as Millennials, and seem to be mainly positive about it.  They are quite different from previous generations, and have a huge amount of buying power and sheer numbers behind them, which suggests the wine industry should consider paying attention to some of their suggestions. More time engaging with Gen Z online on their preferred platforms of YouTube and Instagram makes sense, as well as responding to packaging and design needs to create “cool products.” This linked with approachable educational opportunities, more affordable pricing at winery tasting rooms (perhaps micro-tastings or thimble tastings…..), and possibly the development of more “healthy” wine options with clear ingredient and taste labeling would be a good place to start.


The US Wine Industry in 2019 – Slowing but Steady, and Craving Innovation

After 24 years of continuous growth in wine consumption the US market slowed to only 1.2% in volume in 2018 (bw166). Despite this flattening of volume growth, dollar value still grew at a 3.7% suggesting that, though Americans may be drinking less, they desire higher quality wine and are spending more per bottle. This indicates that wine still maintains it place as an important American beverage, but wine marketers need to get more creative in order to bring new consumers into the category. The total dollar value of the US wine market in 2018 was $69.7 billion, with $23.3 billion (33%) derived from imported wine (Wines & Vines Analytics, 2019).



Why the Decrease in Volume Growth?

Experts suggest a series of reasons for the decrease in volume growth: 1) the aging Boomer generation who are drinking less wine due to health reasons; 2) Millennials not adopting wine as much as had been predicted; 3) the growth of new substitute products, such as cider, cannabis, and creative entrants from craft beer and spirits (see Hot Trends  below); and 4) a growing focus on healthy food and less alcohol (McMillan, 2019).

US Still Largest Wine Consuming Nation and a Target for Exporters

Despite these challenges, the US remains the largest wine consuming country in the world, and therefore is a target for many foreign wine producers. Indeed, 26% of the wine volume sold in the US last year was imported, with Italy in the lead for overall sales, followed by Australia, New Zealand, France, and Argentina (Swindell, 2019). The following paragraphs provide a high-level overview of the current state of the wine industry in the US, including “hot categories” desired by American consumers.


Wine Case Volume by Channel

Total volume of wine sold in the US in 2018 was 408 million 9 liter cases (bw166, 2019), up 1.2% from 2017.

Off Premise – wine sales via grocery stores, wine shops, and other off premise establishments remain the largest channel in terms of both sales and volume in the US market. Volume was 331 million, according to Wine & Vines Analytics, but this figure included the 6 million sold DTC, so this was updated to 325 million. There are an estimated 194,000 off-premise establishments that sell wine (Brager, 2019).

On-Premise – wine sales at restaurants, bars, and other on-premise establishments is the second largest channel at around 77 million cases, according to Wines & Vines Analytics.  There are around 373,000 on-premise establishments that sell wine (Brager, 2019).

DTC (Direct to Consumer) – selling wine directly to consumers via winery tasting rooms, events, ecommerce, and other direct methods continues to be a fast growing channel in the US market, but still at a very small percentage of overall volume. According to Sovos, volume increased by 9% to 6 million cases shipped, and value increased by 12% to achieve $3 billion in sales. The price of the average bottle sold DTC was $39.70, and Sonoma, Oregon, and Washington wineries showed the most volume growth in this channel in 2018. There are currently 9997 US wineries (Wines & Vines Analytics, 2019b).

Exports – US wine exports fell slightly in 2018 to $1.47 billion, down 5% in value from the previous year. Case volume was also slightly down to 41.7 million cases, a 1.2% decrease. Part of this had to do with higher tariffs in China. The top export markets for US wine continue to be the European Union, including the UK, followed by Canada, Hong Kong, and Japan (Wine Institute, 2019)

Top 5 Most Popular Wine Varietals in the USA

The most popular wine varietals/styles in the US market based on volume continue to be: 1) Chardonnay, 2) Cabernet Sauvignon, 3) Red Blends, 4) Pinot Grigio, and 5) Pinot Noir (Nielsen, 2019b).  It should be noted that this year cabernet sauvignon ($2.595 billion) has just inched past chardonnay ($2.549 billion) in dollar value. It is expected that cabernet sauvignon will be the number one varietal in volume as well in the next year or so.


Number of Wineries and Wine Consumer Demographics

US Wineries = 10,043 as of February 2019, up from 9645 year to date (Wines & Vines Analytics, 2019b).  California largest at 4,425 wineries, producing 85% of wine, followed by Washington (776), Oregon (773), New York (396), Texas (323) and Virginia (280).

Percentage of Adult Americans who drink wine = 40% of legal drinking population (240 million) (WMC and bm166)

Wine Consumption Frequency: (WMC- 2018)

  • High Frequency Wine Drinkers = 33% drink wine more than once a week
  • Occasional Wine Drinkers = 67% drink wine once a week or less

Gender of Wine Drinkers = 56% female and 44% male (WMC, 2018)

Age/Generation of Wine Consumers = Matures (ages 73+, 5%), Baby Boomers (ages 54 – 72; 34%), Gen X (ages 42-53; 19%), Millennials (36%, ages 24 – 41), I-Generation (ages 21 – 23; 6%) (WMC – 2018)

Per Capita Wine Consumption = 11 liters per person (2.94 gallons). Even though US is largest wine consuming nation by volume, per capita rates are less than many other countries (Wine Institute, 2016)



 Hot Trends & Opportunities in the US Wine Market

A major benefit of attending the Unified Wine Symposium (largest wine conference in America) each year is the keynote speech delivered by Danny Brager with Nielsen. He analyzes top wine sales trends in the industry and shares the results. Here are some of the highlights (Brager, 2019):

  • Pink Wine – rosé wine continues to be extremely popular, with double digit growth across all price points.
  • Bubbles & Freshness – Sparkling wines and zippy sauvignon blanc wine continue to show growth, especially in dollar value.
  • Big Reds – Cabernet Sauvignon and red blends continue to be very popular, with cab starting to inch out chardonnay as the favorite US varietal
  • Cider, Sangria & Wine Cocktails – are gaining ground as variety-seeking Millennials explore new beverage options
  • Healthy Wines – though it is not legal to advertise health benefits of wine in the US, consumers are becoming more attracted to wines that use these types of descriptors: “no taste additives, gluten free, low carb, vegan friendly, sulfite free, low calorie, low alcohol, light, lighter, organic, paleo friendly, etc.” This is because of the new focus on healthy food and beverages that is sweeping the nation.


Hot Trends: Rosé, Sparkling & Wine Cocktails. Photo Credit: Pexel

  • Cans & Creative Packaging – wine in cans is no longer a fad. It is here to stay and growing at double digits, achieving $70 million in sales by the end of 2018. Other alternative containers (tetra, box, and mini-bottles), as well as clever packaging, such as augmented reality labels (see 19 Crimes and Bogle Phantom), are capturing the attention of younger wine consumers. I-Generation is especially fascinated by the AI labels.
  • $11.99 – $19.99 Sweet Spot – the sweet spot for off-premise sales continues to be $11.99 – $14.99 with 8% volume growth and $15 – $19.99 at 10% volume and value growth. Wine priced at less than $10 showed no volume growth, indicating that premiumization continued to thrive during 2018.
  • Oregon, NZ & France –continue to show most volume and value growth, maintaining their popularity with US consumers during 2018. Oregon led with pinot noir, NZ with sauvignon blanc, and France with rose and sparkling wines.
  • Cross-Overs & Cannabis – when the car industry introduced “cross-over vehicles” several years ago (SUV/car hybrid), they started a trend that has crossed over into food and beverage. Thus the US market has seen hundreds of new beer, spirit, juice, and now even cannabis beverages in which wine is a featured ingredient. Consider Oenobier beer aged on muscat wine and Rebel Coast Cannabis infused sauvignon blanc. This type of creativity is very attractive to many buyers who enjoy experimenting with new products.


About the Author: Dr. Liz Thach, MW compiles this data each year to assist in teaching wine business classes at Sonoma State University.

Which Wine Varietals Do Americans Prefer in 2018?

Every few years at Sonoma State University Wine Business Institute we launch a survey of the American wine consumer in order to understand their wine drinking preferences and shopping behavior. This year we surveyed a representative sample of 1,191 American wine consumers living in all 50 states. The results of the survey – some quite surprising and others similar to previous years – have been reported in an article with WineBusiness.com entitled “Snapshot of the American Wine Consumer in 2018.” To read the article, CLICK HERE.

Choosing wine for dinner.

American Wine Consumers. Photo Credit: Fotolia

But What Varietals Do Americans Prefer?

However, one item we left out of this year’s survey was a question asking Americans about the wine varietals they prefer. Instead we asked them about preferred style of wine. The reason we left out the varietal question was because every year we received the same exact response as that reported by Nielsen Scan Data in Wine Business Monthly. Therefore in order not to duplicate questions, we refer people to this great magazine. Despite this, I still receive numerous emails from people around the world asking me about the varietals that Americans prefer. So, here is the answer to the question based on the Nielsen Table Wine Category Segments for 52 weeks ending Sept. 9, 2018. This information was published in table format in the most recent issue of WBM January 2019 on pages 216-217.

Most Popular Wine Varietals in the US by Volume


Figure 1: US Wines Sales By Volume for 52 weeks ending 9/9/18. Source: Nielsen & WBM

From this chart, we can see that chardonnay is still number one in terms of volume, followed by cabernet sauvignon, pinot gris, red blends, and merlot. Volume is reported here in 1’000s of 9-liter cases. The most growth in terms of volume in the past 52 weeks was sauvignon blanc at 4.3%. The biggest losses were syrah at -7.4%, white zinfandel at -7.4%, and malbec at -6.3%.

Most Popular Wine Varietals in the US by Dollar Sales


Figure 1: US Wines Sales By Dollar Revenue for 52 weeks ending 9/9/18. Source: Nielsen & WBM

Figure 2, illustrating sales volume during the past 52 weeks in the US market, reported in US$ millions, shows that cabernet sauvignon edged out chardonnay by $26 million to assume first place. This is followed by reds blends, pinot gris, and pinot noir. Predictions that cabernet sauvignon may soon replace chardonnay as America’s favorite wine varietal appear to be coming true in terms of sales revenues, because chardonnay showed zero growth in sales in the past 52 weeks, whereas cabernet sauvignon showed a sales growth rate of 3.7%. The other winner here was sauvignon blanc that grew at 5.7%. Biggest losers were white zinfandel and malbec that both lost -7% in sales during the past 52 weeks.

Top 5 Best Selling Wine Varietals in US Market by Volume and Sales

In combining these two graphs, keeping sales in US$ millions and converting volume to 10,000s 9-liter cases, it becomes clear that currently the top 5 best selling wine varietals in the US market for the past year are: 1) Cabernet Sauvignon, 2) Chardonnay, 3) Red Blends, 4) Pinot Grigio/Gris, and 5) Pinot Noir.


Figure 1: Top 5 Selling US Wine Varietals by Volume & Value for 52 weeks ending 9/9/18.     Source: Nielsen & WBM

One caveat about the Nielsen wine scan data is that it primarily reflects off-premise wine purchases, and doesn’t include direct to consumer wine sales from wineries or restaurant/bar wine sales. However, since more than 80% of wine in America is sold via off-premise (grocery stories, wine shops, etc.) this is still a good reflection of wine sales in the US. Furthermore, the Nielsen scan data has always reflected the same preferences as we receive on our surveys.


Overview of the US Wine Industry in 2018: Stable Growth Forecasted – Based on 2017 Stats

Many of the statistics for 2017 US wine sales are in and the results show steady growth, but with increasing competition from imports and other beverages. The outlook is still positive because it is expected that 2018 will continue to see steady growth pattern of previous years, at around a 2% increase in US wine sales value. According to Wines & Vines and BW166 (2018), total US wine sales were $62.7 billion in 2017, with $41.8 billion in sales from domestic wine and $20.9 billion from imports.


Positive Revenue Stats for US Wine Industry in 2017

  • Revenue for 2017 US Wine Sales = $41. 8 billion, a 2% increase in value from 2016 (Wines & Vines, 2018)
  • Revenue for 2017 Imports to US = $20.9 billion, a 5% increase in value from 2016 (Wines & Vines, 2018)
  • Total 2017 US Wine Sales Revenue including imports = $62.7 billion, a 3% increase in value from 2016 (Wines & Vines, & BW166, 2018)
  • Good News on Tax Break: US wineries have been given a tax break by the US government called the Craft Beverage Modernization and Tax Reform Act. It reduces excise tax payments, which can save US wineries thousands of dollars per year (WBM, 2018).


2017 US Domestic Wine Vs. Imports by Volume

  • California Wine Shipments (including imported bulk) = 268 million cases (9 liters), equaling 66% of total wine shipments in the US market.
  • Other States (including imported bulk) = 35 million cases (9 liters), equaling 8% of total wine shipments in the US market.
  • Imported Packaged = 104 million cases (9 liters), equaling 26% of total wine shipments in the US market.
  • Total Wine Shipments into US Market by Volume = 407 cases (9 liters), up 2.5% from 2016. (Sources: GFA, 2018; BW166, 2018)

25th Year of Volume Growth: 2017 is the 25th consecutive year of growth for US wine sales, though a bit slower in 2017 than previous years. 2017 volume was 1.3% compared to 2.6% in 2016 (Brager, Nielsen, 2019).

Activity in Major Wine Sales Channels

Off-Premise – estimated at 78% of US market with an average bottle price of $10. According to Nielsen (2018) volume grew at double digits in the $15-$19.99 price segment this year with negative growth below $8 per bottle. Despite this, 55% of wine sold in the US is still under $8 per bottle, not including boxed wine. There are nearly 192,000 off premise wine retailers in the US market.

On-Premise = estimated at 20% of the US market with an average bottle price of $40, on-premise volume was up 1.3% and sales 1.9% as of October 2017, but still very competitive with spirits. There is some concern that too many new restaurants and bars have been established, with the current number of on-premise establishments around 373,000. (Wine Industry Insight and Nielsen, 2017, 2018).

Winery Direct to Consumer (DTC) = though still only less than 2% of the total US market in terms of volume, DTC sales continue to increase with 5.78 million cases shipped in 2017, estimated at $2.7 billion, an increase of 15.5% higher in value than 2016 (Sovos and ShipCompliant, 2018) – despite wildfires in California (SSU, 2018).

Note: Online wine sales in the US are now estimated at around 4% total volume, primarily from DTC sales and online retailer websites. The estimated total volume of global online wine sales in 2016 was 5% at $9.8 billion (Kedge, 2017)


Number of US Wineries and Export Figures

  • Number of US Wineries in 2017 = 9,654, up 9% from 9,091 in 2016 (Todorov, 2018)
  • Five Largest Wine States by # of Wineries: California 4392, Oregon = 774, Washington = 772, NY = 395, Texas = 391
  • US Exports – US exports were down 7.9% in volume in 2017, primarily due to a stronger dollar. An estimated 42 million cases (9 liters) of both packaged and bulk wine were shipped abroad in 2017, totaling $1.53 billion (Wine Institute, 2018)


US Remains Largest Wine Consuming Nation by Volume & Value

  • Percentage of Adult Americans who drink wine = 40% (WMC, 2017)
  • Gender Percentage of Wine Drinkers = 59% female and 41% male (WMC, 2017)
  • Wine Consumption Frequency: (WMC- 2017)
    • High Frequency Wine Drinkers = 35% drink wine more than once a week
    • Occasional Wine Drinkers = 65% drink wine once a week or less
  • Largest Wine Consuming Generations = Baby Boomers (37%, ages 53 – 71) and Millennials (32%, ages 23 – 40) (WMC – 2017)
  • Per Capita Wine Consumption = 11 liters per person (2.94 gallons). Even though US is largest wine consuming nation by volume, per capita rates are less than many other countries (Wine Institute, 2016)

 Hot Varietals and Trends Now and for 2018

The Five Most Popular Wine Varietals/Styles by revenue remain the same as in 2016: 1) chardonnay, 2) cabernet sauvignon, 3) red blends, 4) pinot grigio, and 5) pinot noir (WBM and Nielsen, 2018). This is expected to continue in 2018, but chardonnay has fallen to .9% growth, with predictions that cabernet sauvignon could overtake it as most popular varietal in the next year or two.


Fastest Growth Wine Categories continue to be Rose, Sparkling and Sauvignon Blanc – with Rose in the lead with a 59% increase in value from the previous year! Top selling Rose by country is France at 51% of the market, followed by the US at 37% and Italy at 5%. The largest Rose category by price point is the $11 – $15 bottle at 31% of the rose category (Brager, Nielsen, 2018).

Fastest Wine Growth by Country/Region is Oregon in first place, up over 15% in both volume and value. This is followed by France and New Zealand – both growing at double digits (Brager, Nielsen, 2018).

New Packaging – innovation in packaging seems to be well-accepted by Americans, with 49% growth rate of wine in cans, 37% wine on tap, 18.5% tetra-pak, 15.2% box, and 7.5% plastic. Considering that most of these containers –with the exception of boxed wine – are relatively new to the US market in the past few years (though available in other countries for decades), this is pretty amazing (Brager, Nielsen, 2018).

New Places to Drink/Buy Wine – another interesting trend is that wine is now available in more new locations in America. Off-premise it is now being sold in more natural/gourmet grocers (up 5.5%) and limited assortment grocers (up 8.1%). On-premise there is more wine available in theaters, sports stadiums, sports and up-scale premium bars, and fast casual restaurants. (Brager, Nielsen, 2018).

Top 5 Largest Wineries and Distributors by Volume in America 

Info Graphics

Top 5 Top Selling US Wine Brands by Volume 

1)      Franzia
2)      Barefoot
3)      Robert Mondavi
4)      Sutter Home
5)      Carlo Rossi   

(Shanken, 2017)



Will Consumers Pay More for Sustainably Certified Wine?

Completing the process of becoming certified for producing wine using sustainable practices can take years for vineyard owners. Achieving organic or biodynamic certification can take even longer.  Plus the cost of becoming certified and going through the inspection process can cost thousands of dollars.  Is this worth it for grape farmers?  Do consumers really care, and are they willing to pay more for an eco-certified wine?

Wine Consumers.   Photo Credit: Fotolia_123622764

A 2017 survey conducted at Sonoma State University Wine Business Institute with 301 wine consumers illustrates a willingness to pay several dollars more per bottle for “green” certified wines. The online survey was completed by a convenience sample of 26% men and 74% women living in the USA. Age by generation included 65% Millennial, 9% Gen X, and 26% Baby Boomers.

Definitions for Eco-Certified Wines

Consumers were asked: “Of the three major methods of environmental certification for wine in the US, which appeals to you most?” The results show that 44% selected sustainable wine, followed by 36% biodynamic and 20% organic grape wine.

Definition Which Appeals to You Most?
Certified Sustainable Wine – made in a way that is environmentally friendly, equitable to employees and economically viable to winegrowers. No agri-chemicals are applied, unless necessary to save the crop.  


Made with Certified Organic Grapes – means the grapes were farmed with NO agri-chemicals. To achieve this certification, the vineyard must prove they have only used organic products for 3 years or more.  


Certified Biodynamic Wine – goes beyond Organic by not only requiring ORGANIC grapes, but also uses farming practices designed to return the soil to a natural state.  


Will You Pay More for Eco-Certified Wine?

Respondents were then asked if they would pay more for a bottle of eco-certified wine. Figure 1 illustrates that 91% of the sample would pay $1 more for a bottle of wine made from sustainably certified grapes, 88% would pay $1 more for a bottle made from certified organic grapes, and 85% would pay $1 more per bottle of wine made from certified biodynamic grapes.  Likewise, a range of 78% – 81% of consumers said they would be willing to pay $2 more per bottle.  However, as the price increased from $3 more to $4 more to $5 more per bottle, there were a decreasing number of consumers willing to pay more. Interestingly, however, as the price increased a slightly larger percentage of consumers were willing to pay more for certified biodynamic wines.

Figure 1: Are You Willing to Pay More Money for a Bottle of Eco-Certified Wine?

Implications for Winegrape Growers

The results of this survey indicate that consumers are interested and willing to pay a slight premium for wines that are certified sustainable, organic, and biodynamic. The concept of sustainability seems to have slightly more appeal than the other two certifications, even when clear definitions are provided. It is possible this may be due to the fact that the definition of sustainability includes equitable work practices for employees, as well as positive environmental actions. Organic and biodynamic definitions primarily focus on environmental practices.

Previous surveys focusing on this topic show that many consumers are confused by the multiple types of certifications, and that clear messaging must be included in order for the consumer to understand the benefits of the certification. Other surveys have also shown that many wine consumers already consider wine to be a natural product and are surprised to learn that there are certifications to insure organic and/or environmental practices. Due to this type of confusion, some wineries do not advertise the fact that they are certified or are using sustainable, organic and/or biodynamic practices. However, the results of this survey indicate that the timing may be more appropriate now to consider clearer communication on these positive farming practices.

It’s the Right Thing to Do

It should be noted, however, that there are many vineyard and winery owners around the world who elect to implement sustainable, organic, or biodynamic practices because they believe it is the right thing to do. They mention the long-term benefits for the planet, their families, and their local communities. For more information on this topic, see study published in Wine Spectator entitled: Is Being Sustainable Worth It for Wineries.


The Future is Bright for US Wine in 2017: Statistics from 2016 Paint Rosy Picture

Many of the statistics for 2016 US wine sales are in and the results are rosy. Optimism is high that 2017 will continue to see the small but steady growth pattern of previous years, at around 1 to 3% volume and 2 to 4% in value. According to Wines & Vines (2017), total US wine sales approached $60 billion in 2016, with an estimated $39.8 billion in sales from domestic wine and the remainder from imports.


US Wine Consumption Positive in 2016

Hot trends continue in brisk sales of red blends, sparkling, and rose, with a surprising surge in sauvignon blanc sales in 2016 (Nielsen, 2017). Sangria continues to be a sought after wine choice at an estimated 9.3% volume increase (BW166, 2017). The most positive news, however, comes in the form of premiumization, with many Americans “buying up” and spending more money per bottle. The average bottle price is now $10, making the US wine market the largest in both volume and value (Nielsen, 2017).

Positive Stats for US Wine Industry in 2016

  • Revenues for US Wine Sales = estimated $39.8 billion, a 5% increase from 2015 (Wines & Vines, 2017)
  • Total US Wine Sales Revenue including imports = estimated $60 billion (Wines & Vines, & BW166, 2017)
  • Total Cases Shipped = 399 million, up 3% from 2015 (GFAWine, 2017)
  • Growth: 2016 is the 24th consecutive year of grown for US wine sales slide1

Imports Vs. Domestic Markets by Volume

  • Domestic Wine Sales = 67.1%
  • Imported Packaged = 25.4%
  • Imported Bulk = 7.5%

(Source: BW166, 2017)


Wine Sales Channels

 Off-Premise – roughly 78.75% of US market with an average bottle price of $10. According to Nielsen (2017) volume grew at double digits in the following categories: $11-$14.99, $15-$19.99, $20-$24.99, $25+, but only at 3.2% for $8 -$11.99 and negative growth below $8 per bottle. Despite this, 58% of wine sold in the US is still under $8 per bottle, not including boxed wine.

On-Premise = estimated at 20% of the US market with an average bottle price of $40, but is still relatively flat with only .2% value growth and -1% volume. It is presumed the higher cost of wine at restaurants/bars compared to beer and cocktails, as well as other factors are creating this lack of growth. (BW166, 2017; Nielsen, 2017).

Direct to Consumer (DTC) = though still only 1.25% volume of the total US market, DTC is booming with 5 million cases shipped, an increase of 17.1% over 2015. Even more positive are the revenues at $2.33 billion, an increase of 18.5% over 2015 (Kirschenmann, 2017; ShipCompliant, 2017).

Amazing Fact: In the US, there are now 550,000 locations that sell wine, an increase of 120,000 outlets over the past ten years. Some of the innovative new locations to sell wine include bookshops, movie theaters and car washes. (Nielsen, 2017).

 Growth of US Wineries and Exports

  • Number of US Wineries in 2017 = 9,091 (Fisher, 2017), up 4% from 8702 wineries in 2016.
  • Five Largest Wine States by # of Wineries: California 4202, Washington = 747, Oregon, 713, NY = 385, Texas = 287
  • US Exports – $1.62 billion in 2016, up from 1% from 2015. Volume = 412.7 million liters or 45.9 million cases. (Wine Institute, 2017)


US Consumers Continue to Embrace Wine

  • 120 million Americans drink wine – approx. 36% of 330 million (Nielsen, 2017).
  • Per capita global ranking = #42
  • Gender Percentage = 57% female and 43% male (Nielsen Spectra, 2016)
  • High Frequency Wine Drinkers = 38% drink weekly (Nielsen, 2017)
  • Largest Wine Consuming Generations = Millennials and Baby Boomers (Wine Market Council, 2016)
  • Americans continue to prefer wine and spirits over beer, even with popularity of craft beer (Nielson, 2017).


 Hot Varietals and Trends Now and for 2017

The Five Most Popular Wine Varietals/Styles are 1) chardonnay, 2) cabernet sauvignon, 3) red blends, 4) pinot grigio, and 5) pinot noir (WBM, 2017). This is expected to continue in 2017, though chardonnay is not growing as fast as the other categories.

Sparkling Wines continue to sizzle with double digit growth. Prosecco leads at 17% of category with $12 – $20 as a sweet spot (Nielsen, 2017). There is room for additional sparkling in the market, as consumers are expected to crave more bubbles in 2017.

Rosé is still all the rage, with Provence rosés in the lead with a 64% dollar share. However, all price points over $5 per bottle are doing well (Nielsen, 2017), and expected to continue in 2017.

Sangria continues to surge with a 9.3% volume increase in 2016, though most Americans prefer to drink it in warmer months, so summer of 2017 should be positive for Sangria (BW166, 2017).

Sauvignon Blanc, especially from NZ, captured strong increases in both volume and dollar value, with expectations for increased sales in 2017 (Nielsen, 2017).

Innovation in wine containers, packaging and product will continue in 2017. For example, the introduction of wine in aluminum cans in 2015 was appealing to some consumer segments (Thach & Chang, 2016).

Premiumization – with a higher consumer confidence rating in 2017, it is expected that consumers will continue to trade up to more expensive wines.

Acquisitions and start-ups within the wine industry are expected to continue in 2017, even with higher interest rates (McMillan, 2017).


BW166 (2017). Wine Imports and Exports Report. Available at: http://bw166.com/product/wine-import-export/
Fisher, C. (2017). Number of US Wineries Reaches 9,091. Wine Business Monthly, Jan. 2017, p. 72-77.
GFAWine. (2017). Total wine shipments to the US expanded 3% to 399 million cases in 2016.  Available at: https://www.gfawine.com/blog/1
Kirschenmann, E. (2017). State of the States: 2016 Banner Year for DTC Shipping. Winebusiness.com, Jan. 13, 2017. Available at: https://www.winebusiness.com/news/?go=getArticle&dataid=179038
McMillan, R. (2017). 2017 SVB Wine Report. Silicon Valley Bank. Available at: https://www.svb.com/wine-report/
Nielsen (2017). State of the Industry – What’s Selling. Presentation by Danny Brager at Unified Wine Symposium. Sacramento, CA: Jan. 25, 2017.
ShipCompliant (2017). 2017 Direct to Consumer Report. Available at: http://go.sovos.com/rs/485-CPP-341/images/DtC_17_012516_web.pdf
Thach, L. & Chang, K. (2016). Adventure, Tradition, and Semi-Sweet Wines Highlighted in 2016 American Wine Consumer Survey. Winebusiness.com, Dec. 6, 2016. Available at: https://www.winebusiness.com/news/?go=getArticle&dataid=177492
WBM (2017). Retail Sales Analysis – Off Premise Wine Sales up .08 Percent. Wine Business Monthly, Feb. 2017. P. 142.
Wine Institute (2017). California Wine Exports Reach Record $1.62 Billion in 2016. Feb. 14, 2017. Available at: https://www.wineinstitute.org/resources/pressroom/02142017
Wine Market Council (2016). Overview of US Wine Industry. Presentation by John Gillespie at 11th Annual Wine Market Council Research Conference on U.S. Wine Consumer Trends. Jan. 25, 2016. New York, NY.
Wines & Vines (2017). Domestic Wine Sales Nudge $40 Billion in 2016. Winesandvines.com. Jan. 13, 2017. Available at: https://www.winesandvines.com/template.cfm?section=widc&widcDomain=USwineSales
Photo Credit: Veer BLP0011526


Preferences of American Wine Consumers

(Originally published in Winebusiness.com, Dec. 6. 2016)

Wine degustation on the vineyard

What Do American Wine Consumers Want?

With a hotly contested election in the US, Britain exiting the European Union, the Zika virus arriving from South America, and thousands of Syrians fleeing the Middle East, no one can claim it has been a boring year. Perhaps this is why American wine drinkers seem to be more adventurous in some aspects of their wine preferences in 2016, yet seek tradition in others.

The results of the 2016 Survey of American Wine Consumer Preferences have just been released, and these themes as well as others are highlighted. As always the information gives a glimpse into the types of wines Americans are drinking, as well as their reasons for doing so, average prices paid for wine, shopping locations, social media usage, and the answers to a few new questions on luxury wine, packaging and label design.

About the Survey and Sample – 1081 American Wine Consumers from 50 States

First conducted in 2014, this is the third annual survey, and was launched in May of 2016. It was developed by SSU researchers who contracted with Survey Sampling International to collect household panel data from wine drinkers across the nation.

The final sample included 1081 American wine consumers (58% women and 42% men) with all 50 states represented. In terms of age, 29% were Millennials ages 21-39; 22% were Gen Xers ages 40-50; 40% were Baby Boomers ages 51-69, and 9% were from the Greatest generation, aged 70 and above. It should be noted that in the 2015 survey there were 56% Millennials and no members of the Greatest Generation, which could explain some of the changes observed in this year’s survey results.

The median annual income of the sample was $50,000 – $69,999, but 25% made over $100,000 per year. Ethnicity was 81% Caucasian, 5% Hispanic, 7% African-American, and 5% Asian. The sample was highly educated with 62% having a college degree compared with 32% of the US population (US Census, 2014). In terms of marital status, 58% were married and 30% had children under the age of 18 living at home.

Preferred Wine Varietals and Style – “Semi-Sweet Trumps Fruity”

American wine drinkers in this year’s sample included 48% high frequency drinkers who consume wine daily or several times per week (Wine Market Council, 2015). The remaining 52% are considered to be occasional drinkers.

The top five favorite varietals for the 2016 sample were the same as in previous years with chardonnay, cabernet sauvignon, merlot, pinot noir and pinot grigio as the most preferred. This matched with Nielsen scan data as the five most popular selling varietals in the US (52 weeks ending 09/10/16). Overall, American wine consumers in 2016 said they preferred the following types of wine: red (73%), white (68%), rose (36%), sparkling (31%), dessert (13%) and fortified (5%).

In 2015, a new question regarding preferred style of wine was added: How do you prefer your wine to taste? Check all that apply. Interestingly semi-sweet replaced fruity as the most preferred style in 2016. It is possible this may be due to the popularity of red and white blends in the US market, of which many include a small amount of residual sugar. At the same time, the 2016 sample also shows an increased preference for dry wine styles compared to 2015 respondents.slide1

Wine Knowledge and Reasons to Drink Wine – “Taste and Relaxation”

When asked to describe their level of wine knowledge, 57% of the 2016 sample said they had intermediate wine knowledge, while 26% identified as wine novices, 15% as having advanced wine knowledge and only 1% claimed to be wine connoisseurs or experts.

Enjoying the taste of wine remained the number one reason why Americans like to drink wine, at 80% of the sample. Relaxation (at 61%) and pairing with food (55%) were the second and third reasons. In general the 2016 sample cited fewer overall reasons for drinking wine, which could be attributed to differences in the sample or interest in other beverages.slide2

Decision-Making on Which Wine to Purchase – “Price and Brand Rule”

In 2015 and 2016, price (at 80%) and brand (at 67%) continue to be the two most important factors considered by American consumers when purchasing wine (See Graph 3). Moreover, varietal appeared to be more important to the 2016 consumer, and region/appellation to some extent.


Similar to 2014 and 2015, fewer American wine consumers make wine purchase out of environmental concerns. Only 7%, 4%, and 2% of the sample indicated that they looked for organic, sustainable, and biodynamic wines, respectively, as part of their wine purchase decision making. Such results are consistent with prior research in that many Americans believed wine to be a natural drink. A possible confusion about many environmental and organic certifications advertised on the market (Sullivan, 2010) may have made these attributes less important.

Wine Pricing and Luxury Purchases

Since the Great Recession of 2008, Americans have been slowly increasing their spending on wine. In 2016, this continued to be the case:

  • Buying Wine to Drink at Home: the most common price was $9 – 15 per bottle at 51% of the sample. However 15% will spend $15 to 20, and 5% will spend more than $20 per bottle to drink at home.
  • Buying Wine to Drink at a Restaurant: the most common price was $26 – 35 per bottle at 21% of the sample, but 12% will spend $36 to 45, and 8% will spend above $46. A surprising 25% reported they only buy wine by the glass at a restaurant, with 47% spending $7 to 10 per glass, 11% spending $11 – 15 per glass, and 3% spend over $15 per glass.
  • Luxury Wine Purchases: given the improving economy in the US, a question regarding luxury wine price was added. In 2016, 44% of Americans reported they have spent over $50 for a bottle of wine, 19% over $100, 5% over $200, and 2% over $1000 per bottle. Their main reasons for doing so were: 1) for a special occasion (60%); 2) to enjoy (53%); 3) as a gift (42%); and 4) for my cellar (12%).

Wine Purchase Locations – “Wine Shops and Grocery Stores Dominate”

As in previous years, the most common location for wine purchases in the US is a Wine/Liquor Store, followed by a Grocery Store, and then a Discount/Warehouse store, such as Target or Costco. Online wine purchases continue to be low with only 7% of the 2016 sample reporting they often or almost always make wine purchases this way, and 71% reporting they have never purchased wine online. It is possible that higher delivery prices in the US as well as concerns over temperature control, adult signature requirements, and other issues are contributing to this. Other countries, such as China, the UK and France have a higher percentage of consumers purchasing wine online (Bressolles, 2016).

Wine Social Media & App Usage – “Down Slightly in 2016”

Perhaps due to a lower percentage of Millennials in the 2016 sample, only 88% reported using social media compared to 94% in 2015. Despite this, the most popular platform – Facebook – remained in the number one position; however YouTube surpassed Twitter by a small percentage. When talking about wine online, 25% search for information about wine, 22% share a wine experience and/or label, 20% ask friends for wine recommendations, and 17% look at a winery fan page. Again these percentages are lower than the 2015 survey, perhaps because fewer Americans in the 2016 sample reported owning a smart phone, and the question format was changed to yes/no rather than a scale.

Wine app usage was also lower with the 2016 sample – perhaps again due to lower smart phone usage. The most popular wine apps were: Winesearcher in #1 position, Vivino at #2, and Hello Vino and Delectable tied at #3.

Label and Packaging Preferences – “Both Adventurous and Traditional”

A couple of new questions about wine packaging and label design were added to the 2016 survey. Americans were asked their opinion on five wine packaging options (see Graph 4) to see how accepting they are of alternatives. Results show that Americans may be more adventurous than previously thought with 89% happy with screw caps, 75% with single serving bottles, 60% with boxed wine, 40% with wine in pouches, but only 20% willing to buy wine in cans. This could be because the canned wine option is a relatively recent addition to the US market.slide4There have been several research studies showing that the majority of consumers prefer traditional style wine labels when determining which wine to select (Elliot & Barth, 2012; Boudreaux & Palmer, 2007). Therefore a new question illustrating three fictional wine label designs was included. Survey takers were asked “Which of the following wine label styles appeals to you the most?” Supporting prior research, 64% of American wine consumers favored the traditionally designed label, 23% the modern style label, and only 13% the fun and whimsical label. So though Americans may be more adventurous in accepting alternative wine containers, a larger majority still prefer traditional style labels.

slide5Conclusion – Americans Continue to Evolve as Wine Consumers

Based on this year’s survey, American wine consumers do appear to be evolving in their preferences when compared to research conducted a decade ago, when more Americans preferred white wine to red, and screw caps had a low acceptance rate. Today wine in America is not only consumed with meals, but used to relax with friends and family, or to enjoy as a delicious drink on its own. This may explain why semi-sweet wines are identified as a preference, because they can be enjoyed with or without food.

Price and brand continue to be important to Americans when selecting a wine, but they are also willing to pay more for wine, including luxury wine for special occasions. Social media has become a popular way to discuss wine online with friends and to gather information to assist in wine purchases. Finally Americans seem to be much more accepting of alternative wine containers, though a majority still prefers traditional label design.

Caveat: Since this survey is based on a representative sample of American wine consumers, and not a random sample, it cannot be generalized to all wine consumers.


Photo Credit: Fotolia 118526264


State of the US Wine Industry in 2016 – Trends and Statistics


In 2016 US consumers continue to reach for wine as an enjoyable beverage, even with craft beer grabbing an increased share of the alcohol beverage market.

A review of the 2015 wine statistics and buying trends for 2016 are generally positive. Most experts predict another good year for wine, at its usual 1 to 2% growth rate in the US. Despite fluctuating stock markets, a very competitive alcoholic beverage industry, whispers of recession, and fast-moving social media/apps that can influence trends overnight, in general wine seems to be well positioned for 2016. However it could be a pivotal year for American wine, if the industry doesn’t begin to innovate as fast as the competition.slide1

Statistics for the US Wine Industry in 2015

  • Revenues for US Wine Sales = $38 billion, a 1.3% increase from 2014 (Gord0n, 2016)
  • Number of Outlets in the US selling wine = 545,907 (Brager, 2016)
  • Total cases shipped: estimated 323 million, a .07% increase from 2014 (Impact Databank, 2016)
  • Percentage from California = 60%
  • Percentage from Other States = 9%
  • Percentage from Imports: 31%, (21 million cases in bulk)
  • The US continues to be the largest wine consuming nation since 2010 (Wine Institute, 2015)
  • 2015 is the 23nd consecutive year of grown for US wine sales 


US Wineries & Consumers

  • Number of US Wineries in 2015 = 8702 (Fransen, 2016)
  • 5 Largest Wine States by # of Wineries: California 4054, Washington = 718, Oregon, 689, NY = 367, Virginia = 262
  • Percentage of US Adults who drink wine: 40% (Halstead, 2016)
  • US Wine Consumption per Capita: 3.14 gallons (11.9 liters) in 2014 (Wine Market Council, 2015)
  • Gender Percentage = 57% female and 43% male (Nielsen Spectra, 2016)
  • High Frequency Wine Drinkers = 35% of US wine drinking population, or those who drink wine several times per week; an increase of 2% since 2010 (Gillespie, 2016).
  • Percentage Sales by Wine Color = Red: 46.3%; White: 44.3%; Pink: 4% (Brager, 2016).
  • Largest Wine Consuming Generations = Millennials at 36% and Baby Boomers at 34% (Gillespie, 2016) 

Wine Sales Channel Performance in 2015 

Off-Premise– sales of wine in grocery stores, wine shops, and other off-premise establishments continued to perform well, with double digit value and volume growth in 4 price points: $11 – $14.99, $15 – $19.99, $20-$24.99 and over $25 (Brager, 2016). Despite this, 75% of the wine in the US is still sold at $9 and under. (Fredrikson, 2016)

On Premise – sales of wine in restaurants, bar, and other on-premise establishments continued to remained relatively flat in 2015. Dollar sales were up .1%, but volume was down by -4.1%. Varietals selling well on-premise were Prosecco, Sauvignon Blanc and Cabernet Sauvignon (Guest Metrics, 2016).

Direct to Consumer Shipping (DTC/Ecommerce) – online wine sales and shipping direct to consumer was a bright spot in 2015. According to ShipCompliant (2016), revenues hit $2 billion, an increase of 8.1% from 2014 with 4.2 million cases shipped. Thought still only 1 to 1.5% of total wine sales volume in the US, DTC is doing well and expected to increase over the next few years. Average bottle price was again $38, and wineries can now ship directly to 43 states (Fredrikson, 2016).

 US Wine Exports – though not a large wine exporter because the US tends to consume most of its own wine, in 2015 the US exported 51.2 million cases worth $1.61 billion in revenues (Wine Institute, 2016). This was up 7.6% in revenues and 4.1% in volume from 2014.

Hot Wine Trends Now and for 2016


Premiumization Continues– the desire to try a more premium product and pay more for it, or “premiumization” is expected to continue in 2016 for wine and other alcoholic beverages. This is reflected in consumers paying more for wine and the double digit increases in the $11 – 25 price range. This should continue unless something happens in the economy to spook consumers.

Hot Wine Styles: Sparkling & Sangria – though still table wine continues to grow in value and volume, sparkling wine, especially Prosecco, is extremely popular in America and grew at 11.7% in value, while Sangria grew at 9.8%, according to Nielson (Brager, 2016).

5 Most Popular Wine Varietals – surprisingly the slightly tart and refreshing style of Sauvignon Blanc won the prize for most increased value(13.3%) and volume change (10.7%). This was followed by the continuing hot trend of Red Blends, Pinot Noir, Cabernet Sauvignon and then Pinot Grigio (Fredrikson, 2016). However, the highest volume varietal sold in the US continues to be Chardonnay.

Most Popular Imports – Americans continue to be in love with wines from Italy and New Zealand. However both France and Portugal made great showings in 2015 with 10.8% and 8% increases in value for wines from both countries (Brager, 2016).

Fastest Growing Wine Containers – though the 750 ml glass bottle still dominates the US market at over 50% of the volume of wine sold, the 3 Liter Box and Tetra pack continued to grow in popularity (Fredrikson, 2016)


  • Brager, D. (2016). US Wine Consumer Trends – Battle for the Next Pour. 11th Annual Wine Market Council Research Conference on U.S. Wine Consumer Trends. Jan. 25, 2016. New York, NY.
  • Franson, P. (2016). Number of United State Wineries Reaches 8,702. Wine Business Monthly, pgs. 76-81, Feb. 2016 Issue.
  • Fredrikson, J. (2016). State of the Industry. Presentation at Unified Wine & Grape Symposium. Jan. 27, 2016. Sacramento, CA.
  • Gillespie, J. (2016). Overview of US Wine Industry. 11th Annual Wine Market Council Research Conference on U.S. Wine Consumer Trends. Jan. 25, 2016. New York, NY.
  • Gordon, J. (2016). U.S. Wine Sales Total $38 billion. Wines & Vines, Jan. 15, 2016. Available at: http://www.winesandvines.com/template.cfm?section=news&content=163380
  • Guest Metrics. (2016). ON-PREMISE TRENDS END THE YEAR ON A LOW NOTE, CRAFT SPIRITS BIG WINNER IN 2015. Guestmetrics.com Blog. Jan. 22, 2016. Available at: http://www.guestmetrics.com/blog/2016/1/22/january-2016-industry-report
  • Halstead, L. (2016). Industry of Tomorrow. Presentation at Unified Wine & Grape Symposium. Jan. 28, 2016. Sacramento, CA.
  • McMillan, R. (2016). 2016 SVB Wine Report. Silicon Valley Bank. Available at: http://www.svb.com/wine-report/
  • Nieslon Spectra (2015). The US Wine Consumer Report.
  • Quackenbush, J. (2016).  Wine sales growth slows to 2% as consumers upscale.  North Bay Business Journal. Available at: http://www.northbaybusinessjournal.com/northbay/sonomacounty/5139096-181/wine-sales-growth-slows-2015?gallery=5146124#page=2
  • Shanken Daily News. (2016). Wine Market Council Finds Generational and Involvement “Gaps” Increasingly Pivotal To Industry. Shanken Daily News. Jan. 27, 2016
  • ShipCompliant (2016). 2016 Direct to Consumer Report.
  • Wine Institute (2016). California Wine Exports Set Record in 2015: Worldwide Demand Grows, Despite Strong Dollar. Wine Institute Website. Feb. 25, 2016. Available at: http://www.wineinstitute.org/resources/pressroom/02252016
  • Wine Market Council (2015).  Research. Available at: http://winemarketcouncil.com/research/

Photo Credits: L. Thach