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

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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. 

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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

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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

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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

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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

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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

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