Taking Stock of the Wine World

glass half fullAs we count down the hours until 2018 is in the rear view mirror, it’s a good time to assess whether we should feel optimistic or pessimistic about the wine world. (Putting aside whether we should feel optimistic or pessimistic about civilization, an entirely different question)

The shelves of supermarkets and big box stores are still laden with boring wines. Is it just me or does that problem seem to be getting worse? Big distributors continue to swallow the small distributors making it even harder for small, innovative wineries to get noticed.

One the other hand, the world is awash in interesting wine. The wine map is expanding to include new terroirs  beyond the traditional regions—from India, China, and the U.K. to Iowa and Vermont– where winemakers are striving to make distinctive wines that preserve a sense of place. The natural wine movement is finding its footing spawning a new generation of winemakers and wine lovers with a sense of adventure and a willingness to break rules and seek out originality.

On the down side, the three-tier system makes it difficult to find and procure these interesting wines. But the Internet makes a deluge of information about wine available at your fingertips and innovative companies such as Vino Shipper and LibDib, along with dedicated small distributors and importers such as DOCG Imports, are  making it easier for us to get the wines we want. And maybe, just maybe, the Supreme Court will end 3-tier in 2019.

The good news is that many of the really interesting wines being made today are from lesser-known producers who charge reasonable prices for their wine. While prices for the best wines from established regions continue into the stratosphere, that isn’t where the action is.

The scary thought is that most of these small wineries are marginal businesses who might not survive the next recession. Wine sales have been leveling off in recent years even as the number of wineries continues to expand. Competition is fierce and it’s not clear the growth in wineries is sustainable without a shake out. But on a positive note, direct-to-consumer sales are exploding, providing wineries with additional ways of gaining revenue if they can provide an interesting experience to winery visitors.

As I travel throughout the U.S. and Europe visiting wineries I discover incredible energy, commitment to quality, and a spirit of innovation.

The wine world is dynamic and evolving; it’s hard to be pessimistic when you meet the people who make it work.

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