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Rod Byers: What’s the buzz?

The Henrys from Montoliva hosting virtual wine tastings.
Provided photo

I saw a headline in the wine press the other day that proclaimed eight wine trends for 2021. I thought, OK, I’ll play. I didn’t open the story. Instead I challenged myself to come up with as many wine trends as I could think of.

My list, quickly scribbled, included less alcohol overall, more low-cal, low carb and lower alcohol wines, more sweet wines, more organic, more varied, from more places, more transparent, more winery-direct-to-consumer sales, increased online retail sales both in and out of state, more virtual tastings, a continued shift in the demographics of who’s buying and, we still like Prosecco.

Of course, COVID is the elephant in the room. While COVID is a reality, it is not a trend. It does however have significant influence on what is trending.



First is the ginormous push it gave to doing-it-online. Working from home and shopping of course, but then came cocktail parties, concerts, movie theater releases, and dinner with the grandparents. We don’t go to the doctor. We see the doctor. It’s hard to imagine putting it all back in the box.

It’s no different in the wine world. When tasting rooms, restaurants, and life celebrations ceased wineries were forced to shift channels to curbside pick-up, online, and telephone sales. According to Rob McMillan’s Silicon Valley Bank 2021 State of the Industry report, (State of the Wine Industry Report 2021) in 2020 winery-tasting rooms on average saw about half their normal foot traffic. They were forced to shift. A staggering 60% of their customers bought wine online for the first time.



There was a surprising silver lining. It’s more economical to ship a case of wine than individual bottles and it makes no sense to pay shipping charges for cheap wine, consequently small wineries found the average purchase rose both in quantity and value.

Not only are online and telephone direct sales delivering a higher per ticket value, they are proving to be a more effective and efficient use of sales people’s time.

In 2020 many wineries were able to maintain previous year’s sales levels albeit with a very different way of arriving at those numbers.

While it’s neither simple nor inexpensive, winery-direct-to-consumer shipping laws are easing making it ever more possible for small wineries to reach new target-specific markets.

The addition of virtual Zoom tastings with the winemaker was the ultimate 2020 game changer.

Having a captive at-home audience, the ability to ship wines for a tasting without going through a distributor, with the winemaker presiding over the tasting, hit an undreamt-of trifecta. Vinotainment.

It is probably safe to say that a lot of winemakers who hosted virtual tastings felt uncomfortable and hope to never do it again but that genie is not going back in the bottle either.

2020 will be remembered as the year of dawning recognition by wineries that you don’t have to go to the winery itself to have the winery experience. It is possible for wineries to connect with wine lovers in disparate locations without either leaving home.

Imagine attending a winetasting, with the wines in front of you, with a winemaker in Croatia, or the Finger Lakes in New York, or Nevada County in the Sierra Foothills.

The winery tasting room has always been the mother ship of sales. That is often where people taste the wines for the first time. It is where people join the wine club. It is where brand loyalty is established.

Yet Commerce7 research showed that 27% of new 2020 wine club members originated through digital sources without going to the winery. That is one of those poof and your head explodes moments.

Wineries have been on Facebook with its ability to micro-target specific groups for years but used it for little more than announcing events or awards. The tools are there.

Challenging times call for innovation. Just because nobody knows how to do it doesn’t mean they shouldn’t try.

Let’s see. What else? Climate change will drive the biggest worldwide vineyard upheaval in 150 years. Bordeaux, the most entrenched of regions, just approved plantings of six new varietals beginning this year. That’s a serious indication of how dire they think the situation is.

Diversity, with its many sub threads, is another big one. America is the leading wine consuming country in the world and will attract attention from wineries around the world. Recent wine tariffs notwithstanding, it’s a global marketplace.

Cabernet and Chardonnay still rule the roost but look for more varieties from more places you never imagined. If you thought Greece was a stretch consider that both Sweden and Thailand make wine. So do Columbia, India and China, and not necessarily from familiar grapes.

Who’s buying is changing. Women are becoming a majority factor. Rabobank recently reported that for the first time the number of young women who drink surpassed the number of young men who drink.

Healthful alcohol is trending, with wine losing ground. Wine had the market cornered as the healthful alcohol but lost that title to hard water and vodka soda. It is more likely that we’ll see a mandatory cancer warning on wine labels before we see a healthful wine statement. There will be a growing push for transparency in wine labels including ingredient lists and nutrition panels.

I never did read that article about eight wine trends. If you’re curious, do read the Silicon Valley Bank report.

Rod Byers, CWE, is a Certified Wine Educator and wine writer as well as a California State Certified Wine Judge. He is the host of the local television show Wine Talk. He can be reached at rodbyers@pinehillwineworks.com or 530-802-7172.

 


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