The U.S. is now home to over 9000 wineries, up from about 250 wineries in the early 1980’s. When you check out the wine aisle of the supermarket it would appear that a good percentage of those 9000 are represented there, but that is an illusion, the result of clever marketing. Supermarkets and large retailers like Costco or BevMo, buy wine from large distributors who for the most part work with wineries large enough to keep the store shelves stocked. You have to be big in order to play in this league. In fact, only about 65 wineries have a case production over 500,000 per year. And according to Wine Business Monthly’s 2015 summary, the top 30 producers make 90% of the domestic wine by volume sold in the U.S.
35 out of 9000! Most of those bottles with the cute labels on supermarket shelves are made by just a few companies that make a homogenous product and depend on marketing to differentiate their wines. Although most of that wine is drinkable, there is nothing distinctive about any of it. You have only the illusion of choice at the supermarket.
Yet, there is a whole other wine industry out there. About 7000 of the wineries in the U.S have a yearly case production under 5000. Unless your supermarket or big box store has a distributor that makes a special effort to stock local wines, you won’t find these wines on the supermarket shelf. Yet they constitute the vast majority of people making wine in the U.S. And in order to compete they have to offer a unique product. If they make wine similar to what you buy in the supermarket why would anyone go to the trouble of seeking them out? This is where you find innovation and distinctiveness, in the small wineries that are now emerging all over the country in every state.
And this is where you find people making wine because they love to do it. Few people get rich making small lots unless they can sell their wine for hundreds of dollars.
The problem is that most of these wines are not available to most consumers. Although most states now allow wineries to ship direct-to-consumer, each state has different regulations governing the sale and shipping of wine across state lines, and it is costly and time consuming for small wineries with limited staff to navigate these regulations. The complexity of these regulations is one primary reason why Internet wine sales have never taken off.
Happily, VinoShipper, is emerging as a viable platform for giving consumers access to some of these wines. VinoShipper maintains their own shipping licenses for most states. Wineries can transfer wines to VinoShipper and ship under their license avoiding the hassle of dealing with each state’s regulatory regime.
But coverage remains spotty. It is still the case that to sample the most interesting wines in the country you have to get in your car and go to the winery. But if you’re a wine lover, that’s a hardship you must endure. If you’re a wine lover, you value distinctiveness and difference, and so you owe it to yourself to get out and sample these wines that will never find their way to a supermarket shelf.