I recently read an article by Michael Austin where he said the U.S. was not drinking anywhere near the wine per capita as compared to other countries. In fact the U.S. was ranked 39th worldwide; one spot behind Bulgaria. What makes this ranking interesting is that the U.S. is the 4th largest producer of wine in the world. A producer that is gaining on America is Argentina who rounds out the top 5 of largest world wine producers. Until 25 years ago most wine produced in Argentina was for local consumption. It is this point that explains the huge production of wine in the U.S. yet small per capita consumption figures-the U.S. is a big exporter of wine.
Rankings do not put a real face capitalforbusiness on what the actual data means to the lowly oenophile, so here are some numbers we can all relate with. “Americans drink three gallons of wine per year – a little over a bottle a month. The French drink 15.3 gallons a year, but they’re not even the tops. That honor belongs to Luxembourg. Folks there drink 16 gallons. It doesn’t make them better or worse than us. It just means that wine is more a part of their culture, and I can’t imagine that ever being a bad thing. Let’s catch up,” say Michael Austin of the Chicago Tribune.
To add a little further perspective, I recently did some research on the wine industry of Argentina (5th largest producer of wine behind the U.S.) that has had a history of wine as far back as 1550. The acreage in all of Argentina still does not match the acreage in grapes in California where they have over 900,000 acres in vines.
I am not saying we need to launch an all out assault on winning the “world’s per capita consumption of wine” contest, but it adds perspective to how important wine is to our culture and gastronomy. Even in Europe wine consumption has seen some decrease in consumption with some increases in beer and spirits, even abstaining from any alcohol has a slight rise in recent years. Some of this can be due to changes in tastes, wanting a new beverage, and a worldwide recession over the past decade.
To see if demand for wine has impacted production we can take a look at the most recent TTB (Alcohol and Tobacco Tax and Trade Bureau) data. That data also show some decrease in wine production–2015 versus 2014. Of course there are many factors that impact production: some of that decrease is related to demand, decrease in vineyards (in California) as vineyards convert to nut production, and there was a significant impact from the drought.
For the period January-November 2015, U.S. wine production was 652 million gallons, of that, approximately 95 million gallons was for export. This compares with the same period 2014 of 686 million gallons produced-a 5% decrease in production. Looking at only November, wine production 2015 versus 2014 experienced a drop of approximately 10%.
As an aside, there has been some discussion in the past few years about the increase in alcohol levels in wine. In fact, some of the conversation is negative about the alcohol in wines being above 16.0%. Current, TTB reporting shows the production of wine at the 14% plus alcohol level has decreased in 2015, after a very slight increase 2014 versus 2013.
Wine continues to be a topic that is judged subjectively and objectively. Yes, there have been some changes in how wine is produces over the past 100 years. Nonetheless, accounting for all the changes, the subject still conjures up romance, encourages entertainment, fosters critics, imparts a desire to explore, and there is an ebb and flow to how our culture responds to the beverage.
Steven S. Lay has been in the travel and corporate meetings business for 30 years and is now focused exclusively on small luxury corporate gatherings in Wine Country. More information about his company, Symtrek Partners, is available