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Michael David Petite Petit Lodi’s label is eye-catching. PHOTO BY WAYNE CRAWFORD

Column: Wayne On Wine

Wine performance 2016 and trends for 2017

By Wayne Crawford

Another year complete and wine sales in the U.S. were up 5 percent. This includes on-premise, off-premise and direct-to-consumer sales totaling $3.4 billion, as tracked by the BW166 market research firm. Results are available in the December issue of Wines & Vines.

As of July 2016, the U.S. had 8,854 wineries, with Georgia at 56. Some 66 percent of these wineries had an average selling price per bottle of $11 to $29.99. California accounts for 87 percent of case production, followed by Washington, New York, Oregon and Texas.

The wine drinking experience holds Chardonnay and Cabernet Sauvignon as the two leading varietals—the same as last year. When I reviewed the recently released Wine Spectator and Wine Enthusiast top 100 wines for 2016, the number two ranked wines on the lists were Chardonnays: Domaine Serene 2013 Dundee Hills Evenstad Reserve, $55 and Wayfarer Vineyard 2014, $80.

The top Wine Spectator wine was Lewis 2013 Cabernet Sauvignon, $90. The top red wines following Cabernet Sauvignon are red blends, Pinot Noir, Merlot and Zinfandel. After Chardonnay, the top white wines purchased are Sauvignon Blanc, Riesling and Pinot Gris. There remains a strong market for white Zinfandel.

Rose and sparkling wine, which were trending up last year, did not disappoint. Prosecco from Italy saw significant growth, as did domestic sparkling wine sales (7.2 percent growth) and champagne (8.6 percent increase). We have two wineries in Georgia, Wolf and Three Sisters, that are committed to making quality sparkling wine from Georgia-grown grapes. Increasingly, sparkling wine is more than a holiday drink. It has become the all-purpose acclamation drink for dinner parties, brunches and wine-tastings. Good Champagne, Cava and Italian Francicorta complement an entire meal, from salad to dessert.

Millennials are driving today’s wine market. As reported previously, millennials are willing to try a wide variety of alcoholic drinks, including wine, craft beer, whiskey and cocktails like wine slushes, mead and cider. This challenges the retail restaurant and store to examine closely their drinks list and shelf space—customer satisfaction is the key to retail success. Adventurous millennials pursue change: how about wine in aluminum cans and box wines, all easy-to-store, no glass to break and available to drink right now or on a kayaking trip.

The wine packaging and labeling trends feature clever names and delightful labels, which shout out to a customer, “Come buy me.” A good example is Michael David Petite Petit Lodi, California. Its great label surrounds an excellent wine of 85 percent petite sirah and 15 percent petit verdot. We will continue to see innovative labels and packaging in 2017.

Trends in 2017

There is a small but growing trend toward drinking sustainable, organic, biodynamic wines— what has been labeled natural viticulture and winemaking. There is no official definition for natural wine either in the U.S. or the European Union. The concept for growing and making wine is, “Nothing added, nothing taken away.”

In general, this limits the use of any sprays in the vineyard, and encourages hand harvest, use of natural yeasts, no fining or filtering and limited use of SO2 (sulfur dioxide) to prevent antibacterial and anti-oxidants. Since there are no specific approved standards, some natural winemakers add a small amount of SO2 just prior to sealing their bottles. One underlining objective is to be as true to the soil and micro- and macroclimates of the growing region to produce a wine that expresses the local terroir. France has been a leader in this movement and has conditions that allow for organic and biodynamic standards to prevail, particularly in southern France. The challenge with true believers in natural wine is they often imply other wine is unnatural.

Another consideration is growing conditions. In Georgia, where we have subtropical environments, it is nearly impossible to sustain a vineyard without a spray program for downy and powdery mildew. Root rot and insects can destroy a crop, and sulfur is key to extinguishing unwanted bacteria that thrives in a warm, damp climate.

In large cities like New York, Chicago, San Francisco and Boston, there are wine shops and bars that focus on these natural or organic wines. We are likely to see more growth in this area during 2017, as these large cities often drive trends. Some excellent producers are Jean-Pierre Frick sulfur-free wines, Alsace; Coturri Estate Vineyard Organic Zinfandel, Sonoma; and Frey Vineyards, California, America’s first organic and biodynamic winery.

Chardonnay and Cabernet Sauvignon will continue to dominate sales; however, there is a trend toward more diversity in wine offerings. French wine sales are up 23 percent and there are excellent wines available at competitive pricing, particularly from the southwest, Beaujolais Cru Gamay, sparkling Cremants, Languedoc Roussillon and Provence rose and white wines, like Petit Manseng. Others to consider include Spanish white Albariño, Cava and Rioja wines, Chilean and Argentinian reds and South African Chenin Blanc and Syrah. Look for some lesser-known wines from around Mount Edna, Sicily, like Alta Mora and Portuguese Vinho Verde. We are also likely to see more East Coast wines from New York, Virginia and Georgia available in Riesling, Viognier and French and American hybrids.

Bourbon or rum barrel wine and cider

In a recent visit to Urban Tree Cidery near Georgia Tech, I saw rum barrels from Jamaica being used to add flavor to the apple cider. A few years ago, the Big Canoe Wine Group enjoyed a bourbon-barrel Shiraz that had exceptional aromas and complex flavors. There is a growing trend to reuse these barrels to produce wine, and its popularity is likely to increase in 2017.

There will be an upward trend in pricing with more sales in the $11 to $15 range.

‘Drink what you like’

Enjoy wine in 2017 and look for every opportunity to drink what you like, but try something new.

In my next article, the focus will be on Merlot.

Wayne Crawford is a French Wine Scholar FWS a certified specialist of Wine CSW a member of the Wine Scholar Guild, Society of wine educators and American Wine Society.

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