Wine trends 2016

By Wayne Crawford

As we welcome a New Year, wine trends continue to evolve.


In October, I spent several days at the French Embassy in Washington, D.C., attending the 10th Anniversary of the French Wine Society, now The Wine Scholar Guild, adding certifications in Italian and Spanish wine regions. This was an in-depth immersion in French wines over three days with extensive instruction linked to tasting a cross-section of regional wines – Champagne, Burgundy and the Loire Valley. It’s always humbling to see how little you know after eight years of wine writing and certifications along with almost 50 years of enjoying wine.


A recurring theme was the evolving of wine offerings to match generational drinking trends. The conference’s best example came from Champagne Pommery POP, a 187 ML drink-out-of-a-straw sparkler for $15.99, targeted for Millennials or Gen Xers. (For generation designations, go to I admit it was not overly popular with the 125 wine writers, distributors and educators in attendance, but we quickly appreciated the new norm is for evolving wine tastes and presentations.


The post-Millennial generation, Gen Z, is from 1995 to 2012. They are driven by technology and rapid information access with short message exchange. It is important that, in 2015, Millennials overtook Baby Boomers and, by midcentury, Boomers will be down to 16.6 million, diminishing their impact on wine trends.


In my view, access to information through advancing technology will lessen the need for wine publications and translate into more real-time blogs, with wine peer writers receiving rapid feedback on food, wine and service. With enhanced access to robust technology, we are likely also to overcome what I call wine discomfort around “wine snob” vocabulary; quick, concise and to the point information will be all anyone will look for when considering what and where to drink or eat. Bad wines, marginal food and poor service won’t last long in this marketplace. The non-technology savvy, still reading printed papers, may not notice this trend, but it is clearly the way ahead.


Access to contemporary peer feedback may drive wine logistics and stimulate the continued growth in wine-buying online and across state lines; states stuck with antiquated wine laws already are seeing negative impacts on growth among their wineries. Perhaps we will traverse rapidly to “Zoomawines,” a clearinghouse similar to an Amazon format for two-day wine delivery to the consumer and the smaller restaurant from strategically positioned dispatch points. Yes! We still may have to sign for our wines to verify age – it’s like being carded in a restaurant when you are old enough to draw social security – and great wine cellars holding aging wine still will be as valuable.


Enough prognostication about what might happen in future years; more change clearly is coming and state-run ABC stores likely will become dinosaurs Wine diversity is the growing wave and we are likely to see expanded loyalty programs driving dining and wine consumption, particularly among Millennials. See Software Advice for examples,


A robust wine website will be essential for a winery to stay competitive, and a focus on customer trends will be needed to stay current. This is the best way to advertise, so stop the billboards, unless they are electronic, and, even then, many folks won’t bother looking up from an iPad or smart phone to notice.


Before I focus on 2016 wine trends, let’s review a few key points from 2014, which were used to project trends in 2015. Last year, my base for wine trends was drawn from Gallo Wine Trends 2014. Rose and sparkling wines were the new norm, and drinking sparkling wine more frequently was very common – no special event needed. Chardonnay was still the leading white wine with Cabernet Sauvignon the favorite red, but sweet Moscato sales increased. Remember: The top reason Millennials liked the 187 ML format was it was great at a picnic or barbecue and it was in a can – a trend Pommery must think will continue, so they are still backing POP.


Some 72 percent of wine drinkers under 40 purchased wine in screw top bottles – a trend likely to continue. For the small, local winery committed to a bottle system using corks, this is not and easy change; my mantra remains “Buy local drink and enjoy the experience.” Young wine drinkers like to mix their wines in coolers and other exotic formats and enjoy diverse varietals. This is likely to continue.


With this baseline, I returned to Gallo to see what was captured in its new survey, The number one key factor that encourages wine drinkers to try new wines is a recommendation from a friend, family member or coworker. This may support my theory that enhanced technology and rapid links to family and friends is already the new norm for wine recommendations. However, it is still important to drink what you like.


This does not eliminate the wine sommelier, but many places where we enjoy wine do not have a wine program for their wait staff, so customers are often on their own to decide or, like my daughters, to send me a question via text. Millennials are looking for personality and originality and often buy wine based on the label or, perhaps, a new name – I think this trend applies to more than just Millennials.


I also would use caution is buying wine based on scores. Shelf talkers and wine ratings are prolific, often don’t match the wine on the shelf and scores seem to increase every year. On a positive note, we are drinking much better wine today. The more natural and well crafted a wine with a great quality point ratio (QPR) is the better for the consumer.


We have known for some time women, while food shopping, are the primary wine buyers and labels are a key influence. This is not likely to change in 2016, but I think wineries that blend wines benefit at the point of sale when they tell the customer what is in the blend – use labels smartly.


Wine drinkers, about 35 percent of America according to the Gallo survey, purchase, on average, 3.2 brands regularly at an average price of $5 to $7.99, but 35 percent of wine drinkers are adventurers, willing to try something new. I believe the price range is more in the $9-16 range in North Georgia and drinking for a broader experience is commendable. If you are a Baby Boomer and are entertaining multiple generations, reconsider the wines you have available – try something new every chance your kids visit!


More wine drinkers, 37 percent, believe boxed wine is very convenient and, in some cases, the quality is clearly improving, so this trend is likely to continue. Significantly, 85 percent of frequent drinkers believe wine is equally good for casual and formal occasions. Chardonnay is still the most popular for casual occasions, and the most popular varietal for formal occasions is cabernet sauvignon, no surprises there, but 42 percent of wine drinkers believe wine drinking is now less formal. This is all good news to local wine merchants and wineries.


So, what wine trends are we likely to see in 2016?


We will continue along the diversity trail with wines to drink and new wine regions producing very drinkable fruit. I just finished 1,000 miles travelling through West and South Georgia around to Savannah. Not only are new wineries emerging this year – Farmer’s Daughter near Thomasville and Trillium Vineyard in Bremen – but also they are growing Pierce disease (PD) resistant bunch grapes, like Blanc du Bois, a crisp white wine grape with light citrus aromas and a freshness like sauvignon blanc that will grow successfully at lower altitudes and in the warm climate of middle and South Georgia, along with muscadines. Wines with strange names are in vogue, like Falanghina, a white Italian wine grown on volcanic ash near Naples, which is a revival of an ancient grape.


Sparkling wine sales continue to grow and the competition with Champagne is significant. We are likely to see sparkling wine from the United Kingdom, using the same primary grapes in production. If costs can be controlled, it could be competitive. In Georgia, we continue to see Wolf Mountain Vineyards offer a variety of sparkling wines, and I was impressed with the new sparkling wine produced from Three Sisters Vineyards Winery, both on the Dahlonega plateau. Sparkling wine in the USA improves annually and pricing is very competitive. Cava, Franciacorta, Prosecco and Asti are available, but American wineries likely will start providing more bubbles with lower alcohol to extend the wine-drinking experience. When I asked Georgia winemakers if they are considering adding sparkling wine, some answered it is a consideration, while that might not have been the case even three years ago; Three Sisters is a good example.


One trend is clear: One size does not fit all and each region offers unique challenges for the wine grower and winemaker. This is agriculture and encounters from climate, soil, pest and disease do not always support being totally organic or natural. The average winery in America is about 15 acres and, as new ones open, older ones close. We have been fortunate in the positive growth in Georgia wineries; we have lost a few, but today we have 45-50 that are bonded.


Enjoy 2016 and drink more wine!


In my next article, we will take a look at Argentina wines.


Wayne Crawford is a certified specialist of Wine CSW and a member of the Society of Wine Educators, American Wine Society and French Wine Society/Wine Scholar Guild.

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