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World’s Oldest Libation Is Newest Rage

Virginia winery DuCard Vineyards helps US consumers enjoy their wine!

It’s common knowledge among those who follow wine that the USA is hot. And we’re not talking global warming. Consumption is the function.

Two recent reports speak to what is unfolding in the United States of Winemerica. First, in 2010, we became the largest wine-consuming nation on earth. Secondly, beer consumption is in decline, being driven by a younger, upscale crowd called millennials who are more eager to pull a cork than a pop top.

Added to these dramatic shifts in alcohol consumption, there’s been an explosion in the growth of wineries nationwide, further encouraging sipping rather than guzzling.

As of 2010, there were 7,626 bonded wineries scattered across every state in the union, with California being home to 44% of them. Here in Virginia, we have almost passed the 200 mark and there doesn’t appear to be any easing up. Is this fun or what?

But let’s do the numbers. Wine consumption in the U.S. climbed 2% last year to 329.7 million cases, generating $30 billion in retail sales. That compares with 320.6 million cases for France. While the French still hold the per-capita wine drinking title – the U.S.’s 311 million population is five times that of France’s – our surging growth of younger wine drinkers and torrent of social media promoting the world’s oldest libation is having its impact.

Ben Franklin summed it up nicely saying, “Wine makes daily living easier, less hurried, with fewer tensions and more tolerance.” Sounds like gifting a bottle of wine to every Member of Congress might even improve our political discourse.

An equally interesting counterpoint to America’s wine ascendency is the decline in wine drinking occurring in France, where consumption has dropped by three billion bottles in the last generation. There is a fear among French wine lovers that the culture of wine drinking is fading.  Just 16.5% of French citizens are now regular wine drinkers. Sacre bleu, who knew?

Lifestyle changes

One of the key drivers in our nation’s interest in the fermented grape is the growing importance of wine with food. Lifestyle changes in the last few decades have created a dramatic interest in serving wine on social occasions, from family dinners to corporate grand banquets. Unconvinced? Note the reaction of your party hosts the next time you gift them a bottle of wine.  It will be all smiles.

But is beer drinking really slacking off? Indeed. A July 2011 Gallup study surveyed 1,016 US adults, revealing that 35% drank wine most often compared with 36% who favored beer and 23% who preferred liquor. It was the best showing for wine ever and the trend is likely to continue.

In January of this year, a Nielsen report revealed millennials are more likely to explore new and different alcoholic beverages. In the U.S., this means looking past the beer aisle. The trend toward experimentation bodes well for future wine sales.

One possible reason for the change in behavior is the marketing of beer for many years had a frat house slant, emphasizing goofy humor or young guys watching sports on TV. That’s not a demographic brewers are pursuing now.

Today, you’ll likely view upscale couples enjoying a night out at a classy restaurant or enjoying outdoor activities such as cycling followed by a frosty brew that bears no connection to the image of partying good ol’ boys. Beer makers are following the dollar signs.

Whatever the causes of the shift to wine, it bodes well for the health of our citizens.  Numerous studies have shown that moderate wine consumption produces a number of positive effects on our health and well-being.

Ben Franklin summed it up nicely saying, “Wine makes daily living easier, less hurried, with fewer tensions and more tolerance.” Sounds like gifting a bottle of wine to every Member of Congress might even improve our political discourse.

John Hagarty works at Rappahannock Cellars in Huntly, VA. Visit him at Hagarty-on-Wine.com

 

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