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Per capita of 2.4 shameful number for wine industry

This miniscule number was lost amid much bigger and more exciting numbers like 300 million cases; 189 million cases; 3.45 million tons and a gazillion gallons mentioned often at the recent Unified Wine and Grape Symposium.

It was so small hardly anyone mentioned it. Only person who did was wine market analyst Jon Fredrikson of Gomberg, Fredrikson and Associates. He called it “peanuts;” a one word-editorial that spoke volumes about the state of the California wine industry.

The 2.4 is the gallons per capita consumption of wine in the U.S. Pathetic. Per capita consumption of beer in the U.S. is almost 22 gallons. Distilled spirits is 1.57 gallons. Wine consumption in Australia and the UK is almost double the U.S. number.

Yet the California wine industry — not rank and file wine grape growers — thinks it is cutting a fat hog with all the talk of Cabernet Sauvignon, Napa, huge percentage growth in high-priced wines, 300 million cases of wine sold in the U.S. in 2006 and the overall elitism that seems to pervade the wine industry.

According to the Wine Market Council there are 19.2 million core wine consumers in the U.S. that account for 86 percent of the table wine volume in the U.S. “Marginal” wine consumers total 28.9 million and account for the other 14 percent of table wine volume consumed in the U.S.

The wine industry is ignoring the other 77 percent of the adults in the U.S. These 163 million adults in the U.S. likely would spit out the first sip of a $15 bottle of second rate Cabernet or Chardonnay, but they may actually enjoy a glass of Johannesburg Riesling or Gewürztraminer, if they knew how to pronounce the names or had a clue they might be refreshing, enjoyable wines. However, those potential consumers are not even on the wine industry radar screen.

The big 4 (Gallo, Constellation, The Wine Group and Bronco) have a total lock on the California grape industry controlling more than 60 percent of wine case sales in the U.S. Gallo alone has 21 percent. (Federal Trade Commission/Justice Department where are you?)

It is almost like the quartet of California wine giants does not want America to discover wine. It might lead to a robust wine grape industry for growers.

The California Association of Wine Grape Growers (CAWG) apparently has had enough of watching growers being punching bags for the Big 4. The final insult came last season when California grape growers left grapes hanging on the vine; custom crushed grapes because there were no buyers or sold grapes at below costs of production when California wineries brought in boatloads of cheap Australian wine, mixed it with California wine and sold it under a legal, but insulting, “American Appellation.”

This came after growers endured Tom Dooley-like viticulture practices called hang time followed by the very scientific practice of putting water into wine to make up for juice volume lost via hang time. And last year more games were played at winery scales and grading platforms.

CAWG is telling growers if producers don't promote California wine, no one — including California wineries — will.

California is the U.S. wine industry and if it wants to grow, 2.4 must become a shameful number to be doubled with an aggressive, drink California wine campaign funded by growers.

Then and only then will California wine grape growers have control of their own destiny and all in America will at least have a chance to discover California wine.

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