Trends in the US Wine Industry for 2014 – Sunny Cellars with Some Cobwebs

Dr. Liz Thach, MW

Dr. Liz Thach, MW

The numbers for 2013 are in, and most experts are more optimistic about the 2014 wine market in the US. Though there are still some areas recovering less quickly from the recession (parts of the Midwest and some on-premise wine sales), in general “cellars are sunny but with a few lingering cobwebs.”

Following is a brief review of trends in the US wine market for 2014 and highlights of 2013. Sources include the Wine Marketing Council, Nielson, Silicon Valley Bank, ImpactRabobank, Euromonitor, ShipCompliant, GuestMetrics, OIV, Wine Institute, Constellation Brands, and Frederickson at the Unified Wine Symposium.

Wine Sales in the US in 2013

  • According to Impact Databank, US wine volume was 329 million cases in 2013, a 1% increase from 2012. This includes both domestic and imported wine, and makes the US the world’s largest wine market with France in second place at 313 million cases.
  • The estimated retail value of 2013 wine shipments is $36.3 billion, a 5% increase from 2012. This makes the US the largest wine market in terms of revenues.
  • Approximately 34% of sales were from imports, with California comprising 57%, and other states making up the remaining 9%.
  • Wine sales have been growing at a rate of 2 to 3% per year in the US market for the past 21 years.

US Wine Consumption Rates

  • The US is either the 1st or 2nd largest wine-consuming nation depending on the statistic source: OIV 2012 states the US consumes 29,000 hectoliters behind France (30, 269 hectoliters); whereas the Wine Institute (2011) states the US consumed 3,282,500 liters verses France at 2,891,700 liters.
  • Approximately 44% of all US adults drink wine, but only 35% per capita.
  • For per capita wine consumption, the US ranks #62 at approximately 11 liters per person or 3.08 gallons. The Vatican ranks #1.
  • Of the 330 million people in the US, 101 million now drink wine.

US Wine Consumer Demographic Trends

  • Of adult wine drinkers, 15% are High Frequency drinkers (consuming wine at least once a week or more) and 29% are Occasional drinkers.
  • In terms of gender, 55% of American wine consumers are women and 45% are men, with more men adopting wine over the last decade .
  • Babyboomers are still spending the most on wine, with Millennials (ages 21 to 36) in second place.
  • Major reasons Americans drink wine: 1) they enjoy the taste, 2) like to pair with food, 3) to socialize with friends, and 4) to relax.

Trends in Wine for 2014

  • The most popular varietals in off-premise continue to be: 1) Chardonnay, 2) Cabernet Sauvignon, 3) Pinot Grigio, 4) Merlot and 5) Blends.
  • The fastest growing varietals, with double digit growth, are still moscato, malbec and blends.  Blends include red and white blends in both dry and sweet categories. Expect more growth and experimentation in this segment.
  • The sweet spot for wine pricing is $9 – $11.99, but Americans are trading up and spending more on wine.
  • Sparkling wine, especially Prosecco, continues to be popular, with forecasted growth.
  • Dry roses, often from Provence, are desirable in summer months. Expect new entries from other countries and US wineries.
  • Syrah and white zinfandel continue to decline in popularity.
  • Favorite imported wines by value include: 1) Italy, 2) Australia, 3) Argentina, 4) Chile, and 5) France, but largest value growth in Argentina and New Zealand.
  • Keg wine continues to gain in popularity in on-premise settings, including ultra-premium wine in this new style of container.
  • Craft beer is growing faster than wine, and experts suggest that the wine industry needs to be more innovative to compete.
  • Creative opportunities for wine include seasonal wines, new types of containers, e.g. mini 6-packs of wine, new varietals, blends, innovative labeling, wine cocktails, and additions, such as flavors, vitamins, energy, etc.
  • People are interacting with wine much more on social media, with 80% of wine drinkers using Facebook; wine is the third most popular subject on Pinterest; and wine drinkers talk about wine online 63 times every minute.  See Constellation’s great video with more statistics on this at:

Trends in Wine Channel Distribution

  • Approximately 80% of wine sold in the US is off-premise with 16% on-premise. Direct to Consumer (DTC) and Direct to Trade make up the remainder.
  • There are 7762 wineries in the US (Wine Business Monthly, 2014)
  • The number of retail outlets to sell wine has grown to 522, 420 (Nielson, 2014).
  • Off-premise remains healthy with significant growth in the $9 – $11.99 range showing Americans trading up, with $9.19 average bottle prices (Nielson, 2014).
  • On-Premise volume and value still not back to 2007 levels, but slowly making progress with the average bottle price at $46 and by the glass at $10.67 (Guestmetrics, 2012).
  • Online wine sales (ecommerce) have grown 17% in the past year, but still only maintain about 1.5% of total wine sales (, 2014).
  • Within online wine sales, retailer to consumer is 5.9% of off-premise wine sales (Nielson, 2014)
  • Winery to Consumer (DTC) online sales up 9.3% to 3.47 million cases in 2013 with value at $1.57 billion (ShipCompliant, 2013).
  • The three largest wine corporations in the world, E&J Gallo, Constellation and The Wine Group, are headquartered in the US and own approximately 51% of the market.


12 Best Practices in Global Wine Tourism

(NOTE: This article was originally published in Fine Wine & Liquor Magazine, Dec. 2012 and Jan. 2013 in both English and Chinese)

Chateau Changyu Moser XV in Ningxia China

Chateau Changyu Moser XV in Ningxia China

Wine tourism has been increasing steadily around the world for the past decade.  Tourists who are interested in visiting new wine regions are spending millions to taste different wines and enjoy a wine vacation experience.  For example, in California in 2012 more than 20 million tourists visited wineries and spent $2.1 billion on wine and related activities.

Defining Wine Tourism

But what is the definition of wine tourism?  According to Don Getz it is “travel related to the appeal of wineries and wine country.”  Today wine tourists can be found in most every major wine region including France, Italy, Spain, Germany, Australia, Hungary, Austria, Greece, Croatia, South Africa, Portugal, Australia, New Zealand, Chile, Argentina, the USA, China, and Japan.

Motivations of Wine Tourists

Wine tourists around the world are motivated by several different factors, and some of these vary by country.  For example in parts of Europe and Asia, consumers will often visit a wine region not only to taste wine, but because of the health benefits of wine consumption in moderation.  Tourists in the US and Australia may go winetasting with a group of friends because it is a fun activity.

At the same time, there are smaller segments of wine consumers who are motivated to visit wine regions because of the architecture or art in the wineries, to see nature and participate in eco-tourism, for food and wine matching, or for cultural or romantic reasons.  A motivation that research shows is common to the majority of wine tourists, however, is the desire to taste new wines, learn about them, and see how the wine is made.

The 12 Best Practices of Global Wine Tourism

The most successful wine regions have adopted some best practices which enable them to provide tourists with memorable experiences that keep them coming back time after time – and bringing their friends and relatives.  So what are these best practices?

#1 – Wine Roads – Any wine region that wants to be taken seriously has taken the time to develop maps which list their wineries and provide information on hours of operation, website, phone numbers, and directions.  In addition, the wine maps may also include local restaurants, hotels, and other tourist sites.  The maps are provided free on the web and in brochure format, and are very helpful for tourists planning a trip.   

#2 – Wine Community Partnerships – Successful wine regions work in partnership with local hotels, restaurants, airports and transportation companies to make sure that tourists have a way to find them.  Often they hire an Executive Director of Wine Tourism and Marketing for the region that is responsible for developing these community partnerships and tours.  A good example is in the Hunter Valley of Australia where they pick-up visitors at the Sydney airport and transport them 2 hours to the valley where they spend 4 days visiting wineries, including hotel and meals.  The wineries of Hunter Valley work together with local tour operators to create this beneficial partnership. 

#3 – Special Wine Events and Festivals – Many wine regions host special events and festivals, but the most innovative regions think “out of the box” in developing unique events.  For example, in Lodi, California they have an annual “Wine and Crane Festival,” and at Melton Wine Estate in New Zealand they host a “Cabaret & Wine Show” with comedians and singers.

#4 – Experiential Wine Programs – Related to special events is the new practice of offering wine tourists unique experiential programs.  For example, in Napa and Sonoma valleys of California, it has become common for visitors to participate in wine blending seminars where they mix together different types of wine to create their own customized bottle – such as a Bordeaux blend with merlot, cabernet sauvignon, and malbec.  Next they design their own wine label and get to take the wine home with them.  Another example of an experiential program is “Dog Walks in the Vineyard,” like that offered by Martha Clare Winery in New York.

#5 – Link Wine to Regional Tourism – Smart wine regions make sure to link to other local tourism sites.  This is a win-win strategy for everyone involved because the more activities that can be advertised, the more likely the region will attract greater numbers of tourists.  For example, tourists visiting Beijing for the first time always want to see the Great Wall and the Forbidden Palace, but now many also want to taste the local wine and visit famous wineries such as Chateau Changyu and Jinshanling.

#6 – Unique Partnerships – Linking up with different types of partners, rather than just the usual marriages of food, wine, music, and art, is another best practice of successful wine regions.  For example the wineries in Okanagan Valley of Canada have joined forces with the many golf courses in the area to provide experiences that include both golf and winetasting, such as their “Chip & Sip” experience.  Likewise, the Sonoma Mission Inn Spa in California has teamed up with local wineries to offer afternoon wine-tastings for visitors who have spent the day at the spa enjoying such wine-related treatment as a Chardonnay Scrub and massage.

#7 – Wine Villages – Some wine regions have committed the time and resources to create a “wine village.”  This is a town in the wine region that is designed specifically around the theme of wine.  There are generally multiple winetasting rooms within walking distance that tourists can visit.  Restaurants in the village cater to the wine tourist and provide food that matches local wines.  Hotels offer rooms and packages designed around a wine theme.  In some cases, these wine villages are quite old and have been known as a wine center for generations, such as Chateauneuf du Pape in the Rhone Valley of France or the mountaintop wine village of Montalcino in the Brunello region of Italy.

However, other regions have created their wine villages from scratch.  Examples include the town of Healdsburg, California in Sonoma County where they have expanded from 5 winery tasting rooms to over 20 in the past five years.  They also have many hotel and restaurants that cater to wine tourists.  Another example is the town of Grapevine, Texas outside of Dallas.  Not only does the name of the town proclaim their linkage to wine, but they have more than 12 wine tasting rooms and many wine-related tourist experiences, plus souvenirs advertising Texas Wine.

#8 – Focus on Art & Architecture – Some wineries attract visitors by adding art galleries, sculpture gardens or other unique art-related items.  For example, both Bodegas O Fournier Winery outside of Mendoza, Argentina and the Hess Collection Winery in Napa Valley, have famous art collections that visitors can see while tasting wine.  Other wineries use architecture to attract crowds, such as Vina Mar Winery in Casablanca Valley, Chile with its beautiful Moorish-influenced building, and the impressive Chateau Changyu Moser XV in the Ningxia wine region of China (featured photo above).

#9 – Food & Wine Matching – Another best practice is targeting tourists who enjoy the culinary aspects of wine tourism.  Generally this is implemented by a wine region organizing special food and wine tours or events.  A good example is the Wine & Paella Event held every spring in Baja, Mexico where the local wineries match their wines to many different types of paella rice dishes.  Another case is the Wine & Food Showcase celebrated every autumn in Sonoma County where the local restaurants pair up with wineries to showcase their food and wine pairings.  There are also many food and wine tours offered in the various wine regions of France and Italy throughout the year to attract tourists. 

#10 – “Green” or Ecotourism Focus – For wine tourists who seek organic and biodynamic wines, or those who enjoy begin around nature and in the outdoors, a newer best practice is an emphasis on “green” or ecotourism aspects of wine.  For example, some wineries offer special tours and educational programs on how they craft organic and biodynamic wines.  Parducci Winery in Mendocino County of California is the first carbon neutral winery in the US, and they provide special tours of the vineyards to describe their environmental practices.  Likewise, Banfi Winery, in Montalcino, Italy, that has the distinction of being the first winery in the world to achieve environmental certification in ISO14001 and SA8000, also offers tours and explanations of their special “green” practices.  Also, Saturna Island Winery in Canada responds to ecotourists by encouraging them to taste wine and then go boating around the island in search of whales.

#11 – Unique Wine Tours – Another cutting edge practice is offering very unique tours for winery visitors.  These are usually targeted at the more adventurous wine consumer or for those who have already visited a specific wine region and are looking for something different.  An example is “wine & kayaking” as offered by Chatham Winery in Virginia, or a “river-rafting and wine tasting” as offered by Southern Oregon Wineries working in partnership with a local tour company.  Other examples include 4-wheel jeep drives through Steinbeck Vineyards in Paso Robles, California, or wine and hiking tours.

#12 – Social Media for Wine Tourism – Finally many wineries and regions are catching onto the benefits of using social media to attract wine tourists.  This includes making sure those tourists who use their mobile phones and the Internet to seek information on which winery to visit can easily locate the winery.  They do this by ensuring GPS directions are correct, that they are easily found in search engines, and that they have a website that is also designed for mobile phone users.  Several wine regions have gone so for as to develop “apps” that can be downloaded onto a mobile phone to provide winery information, maps, and even coupons and tasting fee discounts.  Finally, savvy wineries have set up Facebook fan pages and work with other sites, such as Trip Advisor, to make sure they can interact with wine tourists.

In conclusion, as wine tourism continues to increase about the world in popularity, and wine regions recognize the positive economic benefits derived from wine tourists, the adoption of these twelve best practices will spread to even more countries.

Trends in the US Wine Industry in 2013 – Cautiously Optimistic

Liz Thach2Each year in January we are blessed with multiple reports on the state of the wine industry from such esteemed research bodies as Shanken’s Impact Databank, the Wine Marketing Council, Nielson, Silicon Valley Bank, and Unified.  This year the news is similar to 2012 in that most experts are cautiously optimistic of numbers and trends that continue to skew positive but without any large changes.  In general, the economy is better, but people are still cautious.

Wine Sales in the US

  • For the 19th year in a row wine sales have continued to grow in the US market, at a rate of 2.9% in 2012
  • The US is the largest wine consuming nation in the world with more than 100 million people now drinking wine, out of a total population of 316 million.
  • Per capita wine consumption in the US hit 3.08 gallons in 2012.
  • The US is  the world’s largest wine market in terms of revenue, with consumers buying more than 360 million cases of wine in 2012, up 2% from 2011.
  • In 2012 total wine sales in the US reached $34.6 billion, a 6% increase
    from 2011.
  • The US still imports almost 30% of all wine sold in the country.
  • Growth in on-premise wine sales is flat, but retail wine numbers are strong at $13.3 billion in 2012 (Nielson)
  • Online wine sales are finally coming into their own, with 74% of consumers purchasing wine from winery websites and 68% from  Wine e-commerce has grown 15% overall since 2011.
  • More wine is being sold in drug stores and other chains such as Walgreens and Dollar General.

US Wine Consumer Characteristics

  • Of all US wine consumers, 57% are now core (those who drink wine at least once a week or more often) and 43% are marginal (drink wine less often than once a week, but at least once a quarter).
  • In terms of gender, 55% of American wine consumers are women and 45% are men, with more men adopting wine over the last decade
  • People are drinking wine more often in different occasions and settings.
  • 80% of people talk about wine on Facebook and 40% chat about wine on Twitter.
  • Babyboomers are still spending the most on wine, but Millennials (ages 21 to 36) continue to adopt wine in high numbers with more than 15,000 per day coming of age.
  • The Hispanic population is growing very fast in the US with a forecasted population increase from 16% today to 30% by 2050.  There is a concern that wine is not doing enough to embrace this population, while beer and spirits are.

Trends in Wine

  • The hottest varietals are still moscato, malbec and sweet red blends.  Some producers are now experimenting with sweet white blends.
  • Chardonnay is still the most widely purchased wine varietal with cabernet sauvignon as second.  American consumers also still enjoy pinot grigio, sauvignon blanc and rose, but there have been further decreases in syrah and white zinfandel sales.
  • Hot new packaging trends include wine in 187ml bottles (16% increase) and tetra packs (27%  increase).  Pouches are also gaining traction.
  • Americans still enjoy buying wine from Argentina, New Zealand and Spain, but wine purchases have declined from Australia and Germany.
  • The sweet spot for wine pricing is $10 – $14.99.
  • Some wineries have suggested they need to raise prices due to a global grape shortage situation, but retailers are concerned that consumers are not yet ready for price increases.
  • Beer is growing faster than wine, with many consumers intrigued by beer’s new flavors, cider, malts, and artisan brews.  There is concern that wine needs to do something new, e.g. new varietals, new packaging, etc.

Statistics on the US Wine Industry – 2011

428047_4187596921499_1003172458_n (1)As the 4th largest wine producing country in the world, the US wine industry has steadily increased in size and revenue over the past decade.  In 2010 the US became the leading wine consuming nation at 330 million cases (Wine Institute, 2011).  This equates to Americans drinking 3.96 billion bottles of wine in comparison to France’s record of 3.85 billion bottles (Press Democrat, 2011).  According to the Impact Databank Report, Americans spent more than $40 billion on wine in 2010, and wine consumption recorded its 17th annual increase in the US.  California, the largest wine producing state in the nation, currently accounts for 61% volume share of the US market (Wine Institute, 2011).

Wine Production in the US

Wine is produced in all fifty US states.  According to Wine Business Monthly (2012), the total number of wineries in the US reached 7,116 in 2011 showing a 9% increase from the previous year.  Of these, 6,027 are bonded wineries with a physical location, whereas the other 1,089 are virtual wineries.   California is the largest wine producing state with a current count of 3,458 wineries.  The next largest wine producing states are Washington, Oregon, New York, Virginia and Texas, respectively.

According to the US International Trade Association (2011), in 2010 grape production in the US was 6.86 million tons with 944,800 bearing acres.  The top 5 wine grape varieties grown in the US are Chardonnay, Cabernet Sauvignon, Zinfandel, Merlot, and Pinot Noir.  The highest price per ton of wine grapes in the US is Napa County with an average of $3,389 per ton paid in 2011(USDA, 2012).

Wine Consumers in the US

Of the more than 313,000 million inhabitants in the US, approximately 35% drink wine at a per capita rate of 3.03 gallons or 11.5 liters (Wine Market Council, 2012).  In terms of demographics (SVB, 2012), 69% are white, 14% Hispanic, and 11% African American, with the remainder 9% from other races.  The average age of the American wine consumer is 49, with Millennials, or those who fall between the ages of 21 and 34 making up 26% of wine consumers,  ages 35-44 at 19%, ages 45 to 54 at 21%, and those over 55 at 34%.  College degrees are held by 24% of American wine consumers.  Consumption rates are growing amongst Millennials and men.

Preferred varietals of Americans in terms of sales are chardonnay, which holds first place in the US, at 21% market share and cabernet sauvignon in second place at 15% (Nielsen, 2012).  Though sales are decreasing, merlot still holds third place, with pinot gris and pinot noir as fourth and fifth favorites, respectively.  Fastest growing categories are Moscato, Malbec, Riesling and sweet red blends.  The most popular price point in 2011 was the $9 – $11.99 category.  Some of the best selling brands include Sutter Home Moscato, Cupcake Chardonnay, Barefoot Pinot Grigio, Gnarly Head Zinfandel, Menage a Trois Red, and Gallo’s Apothic Red.

Americans also enjoy drinking imported wine, with 1 out of every 4 bottles sold from a foreign country.  In 2010, the top imported wines countries were (ITA, 2011):  Italy (30%), France (24%), Australia (14%), Chile (7%), Argentina (6%), and Spain (6%).  These accounted for 87% of the total value of imported US wines.

Future Prospects

In general, the future prospects for continued wine growth in the US market are positive.  American consumers are adopting wine at a strong level with 17 years of continued growth (Wine Spectator, 2011) and prospects for this trend to continue.  On the negative side, the US wine industry has experienced two years of poor weather resulting in lower crop loads.  This indicates a looming shortage in US wine supply, which will require supplements from foreign sources

Ancient Wine Legends – A Brief History Note*

Modern technology and carbon-dating have helped us prove that wine from cultivated grapes was being made in what is now modern-day Georgia, in the Caucasus Mountains around 6,000 B.C. There are also reports of wine remains in Armenia, Turkey, Iraq, Iran and China which claim to be older than those found in Georgia – though there is some confusion over whether it is grape, rice, date, or honey wine. Regardless of the birthplace of wine, it is commonly agreed that because women were involved in the gathering of berries, grapes, and other crops that it was most likely a woman who picked some grapes and placed them in a pottery container in a cool dark corner. When she remembered to check the container a few weeks later, she found a fermented beverage that had a delightful flavor and a pleasant inebriating effect. Thus wine was born.

From Persia, there is an ancient legend documented in the Epic of Gilgamish that supports a woman discovering wine. She was a member of the harem in the palace of King Jamshid, and she suffered from severe migraine headaches. One day the king found that a jar containing his favorite grapes had a strange smell and was foaming. Alarmed he ordered that it be set aside as unsafe to eat. When the woman heard of this, she decided to drink from the container in an effort to end her life with the poison inside. Instead she found the taste of the beverage very delightful. Furthermore, it cured her headache and put her in a joyful mood. When she told King Jamshid, he tasted the “wine” as well and then ordered that more should be made and shared with the whole court.

It was from this same part of the world, in the Sumerian Empire in what is modern-day Iraq, that the most ancient goddess of wine is first mentioned. Her name was Gestin and she was being worshiped as early as 3000 BC. Gestin, which translates as wine, vine, and/or grape, is also mentioned in the ancient Indus manuscript, the Rig Veda. Experts believe that it is quite reasonable that the first gods of wine were women, because the oldest deities were female agriculture goddesses of the earth and fertility. Gestin was most likely born from this agriculture base and over the centuries came to represent wine.

Later, in 1500 BC, we find mention of another wine goddess, Paget, in the same part of the world. The clay tablets refer to her as working in the vineyard and helping to make wine.

Then around 300 to 400 BC as wine became more prominent in Sumeria, a new wine goddess, Siduri, is described as living near the city of Ur. She is reported as welcoming the hero in the Epic of Gilgamish to a garden with the tree of life which is hung with ruby red fruit with tendrils. Siduri is referred to as the Maker of Wine.

Across the deserts in Egypt the wine goddess Renen-utet is mentioned on hieroglyphic tablets as blessing the wine as early as 1300 BC. Interestingly she is known as both a wine and snake goddess. She usually had a small shrine near the wine press and often her figure would appear on the spout where the grape juice flowed into the receiving tank. She is sometimes joined by Ernutet, the Egyptian goddess of plenty, in blessing the grape harvest.

It wasn’t until around 500 BC that records mention Dionysus, the Greek wine god, who is so well known to modern wine buffs.  Even more famous is the Roman version of Dionysus, Bacchus, who rose to eminence around 200 BC as the Greek Empire was fading.  Other wine gods included Osiris from Egypt and I-Ti from China.

So what are the implications of these ancient legends and wine deities?  Why have so many civilizations in the past identified goddesses and gods to link with wine?  Was this the early precursor to wine as part of a religious ceremony as still depicted in some religions today?  There are those who say that wine in moderation is not only good for health, but also for introspection and collegial conversation.  Perhaps we need to remember the lessons of wine history and seek guidance from another ancient deity, the Goddess of Delphi, who cautioned “everything in moderation.”

*A longer version of this article was originally published in Wayward Tendrils Quarterly (Vol 18, No. 2, April 2008), Liz Thach, Ph.D. 

What is Mother Nature Trying to Tell Us?

This has been the most amazing semester in terms of the weather.  January and February brought some of the sunniest and driest weather we have seen in wine country in many years.  Then in March, when the East Coast and Northeast portions of the US heated up to the 80’s – -bringing the earliest tree blossoms and flowers that part of the country has ever experienced – Northern California slumped back into rainy weather in the mid 50’s.  What is going on Mother Nature?  What can each of us do to stop the drastic increase in CO2 emissions which are heating up this planet?

On campus, both students and professors seem to be enjoying our change in schedule.  We started two weeks earlier this year – in mid January, rather than at the end of the month.  This means we will end two weeks sooner as well, with graduation scheduled for May 12.  Now that is early, but it means that everyone gets to enjoy a longer summer.

Based on all of the changes, and to honor the power of Mother Nature, I have found a quote from Albert Einstein.

We still do not know

One thousandth of one percent

Of what Nature has revealed to us. 

Albert Einstein

Winter in Wine Country

I always think that winter is a great time to be studying in a university.  The cooler weather is conducive to reading by the fire or finding a comfortable nook in the library to complete assignments.  It is a cozy and creative time – marked by Winter Solstice (Dec. 21) and the first day of spring on March 20.

It is also a beautiful and introspective time in California wine country.  The crowds are gone and it is possible to visit a winery tasting room and receive lots of one-on-one attention.  The vineyards are bereft of leaves and so it is possible to see the beautiful sculptures the naked branches create.  Recently I visited a winery in Napa that is varnishing old vines and selling them in the tasting room as works of art – they really are!

In celebration of this beautiful winter season, I found a quote by Frenchman, Pierre Motin, which describes the warmth which wine can bring (drunk in moderation):

Bacchus we thank who gave us wine,

Which warms the blood within our veins;

That nectar is itself divine.

The man who drinks not, yet attains

By godly grace to human rank

Would be an angel if he drank. 

Pierre Motin, French drinking song

Autumn in California Wine Country

Autumn has arrived in California Wine Country, and once again I am struck by how incredibly beautiful it is here at this time of year.  The air actually smells like wine as the harvest gets underway, and there is a huge rush of energy as winery employees work around the clock to pick the grapes at the exact moment of perfect ripeness.  Fermentation begins in vats, tanks, and barrels, and the used skins and seeds are redistributed back in the vineyards to provide nourishment for next year’s crop.

When I first moved here eleven years ago from Colorado, I was worried I would miss the change of colors in the tree leaves during autumn in the Rockies.  However, I was unprepared from the magnificent tapestry of orange, gold, yellow, and red that spreads over the vineyards.  The hillsides are ablaze in a myriad of fall colors, and it takes your breath away when the huge harvest moon rises in a deep orange globe over the evening landscape.

I am on sabbatical this autumn semester, working on two new books – one on California’s
most famous vineyards.  I’m also helping with harvest in some local wineries and waiting for my own grapes to ripen before the yellow jackets eat them all.  Who knew that yellow jackets ate grapes?  This semester is also filled with travel.  I just returned from 3 weeks in Italy where they were having an early harvest in Tuscany.  In October, I head to Hawaii, and in November to London and Idaho.   I stay in touch with many of my students through email and Facebook.

And so in this time of miraculous autumn in wine country, I believe the following quote from J. Robert Moskin is most appropriate:

“One of
life’s gifts is that each of us, no matter how tired and downtrodden, finds
reasons for thankfulness: for the crops carried in from the fields and the
grapes from the vineyard.” 

J. Robert Moskin

Summer in Sonoma

Sonoma and Napa Counties are a wonderful place to spend the summer. The weather is usually in the mid 80’s during the afternoon, but fog gently covers the landscape most mornings and some evenings.  This is especially the case in Carneros and Sonoma Coast appellations, which are closer to the Pacific Ocean and San Pablo Bay.  This cooling marine influence is what allows us to grow world-class pinot noir and chardonnay in these areas.  However, if the fog is too cool for some (as it was for Mark Twain when he spent a summer in even cooler San Francisco), you only need to drive a few miles inland to find the hotter areas of Alexander, Dry Creek, and Calistoga where cabernet sauvignon and zinfandel thrive.

This summer on campus we are offering classes in both the June and July sessions.  Many students can accelerate their studies by taking for-credit classes during this time.
I am not teaching this summer, because I am working on research and a new book.  In addition, I have much travel planned, including trips to France, Italy, Croatia, Wisconsin and Arizona.

During the summer I also work much in my vineyard.  We got off to
a cool start with unseasonably cold and wet weather at the end of May and first
of June.  This caused delays in fruit set and increased threats of powdery mildew.
I have had to spray the vineyard with sulfur and Serenade (both organic products) more than usual.  Everyone is predicting a delayed harvest again in this area. Interestingly France is experiencing a drought with no rain in April and May including heat in the 90’s.  Their vines are much more advanced than ours at this time, and they are predicting
one of the earliest harvests on record – perhaps in August!  It is amazing how much control Mother Nature wields, and so for the summer months, I offer a few quotes in honor of her power.

“We cannot command Nature except by
obeying her.” – Francis Bacon

“Let us permit Nature to
take her own way; she better understands her own affairs than we.” – Michel de

May and Senioritis Runs Rampant

May came quite fast this year, and on May 1 were we treated to the first 80 degree weather of the year in Sonoma County.  Hurray!  There are only three weeks of class left before Final’s Week.  Graduation is on May 28th, and my classes are filled with graduating seniors who have a bad case of “senioritis.”  This means they can’t stop talking, fidgeting, and swinging betweens moods of euphoria over graduating and anxiety over entering the job market.

In the vineyards the green leaves are growing rapidly under the warm sun.  Small baby clusters of grapes are being formed.  I spend much time in my vineyard “suckering” the vines, which means pulling off unnecessary leaves and shoots which take energy from the grape bearing vines.

And so during this very busy month of the year, I have found a quote by Ernest Hemingway which reminds us to relax a little and enjoy life and wine.

Wine is one of the most civilized things in the world and one of the most natural things of the world that has been brought to the greatest perfection, and it offers a greater range for enjoyment and appreciation than, possibly, any other purely sensory thing. 

Ernest Hemingway, Death in the Afternoon