Despite being relatively young in the “wine universe,” the United States is the world’s fourth largest wine producer – behind only countries as characteristic as France, Italy, and Spain – and is top in terms of wine consumption (with 339.5 million 12-bottle boxes in 2015, a figure that is expected to grow by 2.1% up to 2019 – the most growth forecast for any of the 10 most important markets). That being the case, we think it’s worth taking a short trip through its past and going deeper into its consumption culture in order to discover the future trends, since they will surely have an impact on the Old World sector in one way or another.
Although the more or less standardized production of wines in the USA dates back only 300 years, it seems inevitable that today it would be the second most powerful producer after old Europe. Some figures to take into account include the 25 million hectoliters of wine produced from 400,000 hectares of vines, the more than 30 million hectoliters of domestic consumption, and not to mention its exports and imports, which are growing rapidly.
Accidental beginnings, unstoppable development
In the 16th century, the first French colonists to settle in North American territory (Huguenots in present-day Florida) produced wine that took advantage of the abundant local vitis species in the area, with vitis labrusca being the species used most. These were varieties that were excessively crude and resulted in wines that were intense, strong, and overly animal in nature, or, as Jancis Robinson would say, “foxy wines.”
Attempts were then made to introduce European varieties… but they didn’t take root. They died, in fact. No one knew the reasons behind this new frustration for the vine growers, who, although this did not put them off continuing to experiment in the following centuries. They tried different varieties and cultivation methods, but nothing was working. The ground was an endless carpet of phylloxera and only indigenous varieties seemed immune.
We don’t know when and how, but thanks to their coexistence, at some point the American and European stock mixed their genes, creating accidental hybrids that could be used as raw material to make more accessible wines with an intense aroma. As a result, Alexander, Norton, Delaware, Catawba, and Isabella were the first indigenous varieties suitable for producing wine with a view to commercialization.
All was going well until the Prohibition laws came into effect in the 1920s, putting the brakes on the expansion of the sector, which was relegated to producing wine for liturgical purposes only. It became common practice to create your own supply of wine at home, adding yeast to the must in order to start and complete what would most definitely be a clumsy and unsavory fermentation.
Today, thanks to its huge geographical expanse that is influenced by different climates and mesoclimates, the United States is a “garden” where international varieties take root in a healthy, productive way, and where nearly every state makes some kind of wine. California leads the ranking in terms of production, with around 90% of the country’s total. Some of the most dominant varieties are Zinfandel (used to make pale blush rosés), Cabernet Sauvignon, Pinot Noir, Cabernet Franc, Garnacha Tinta, Syrah, Gamay, and Merlot in reds; and Chardonnary, Sauvignon Blanc, Riesling, Semillon, Chenin Blanc, and Colombard in whites, as well as other foreign varities such as Albariño.
Consumer trends: Millenials or… Villennials?
The US market is relatively young and the wine plays an important role in its diet, where it is generally seen as a drink associated with social moments that are particularly exceptional in nature.
However, this trend is changing radically, and today both young people and adults integrate wine into their routines and social events, frequently using technology to learn more and discover new references, flavors, and formats.
According to the latest report from the Wine Market Council (WMC), Millennials drank 42% of all the wine consumed in the USA in 2015. This generation, made up of 21-38 year olds, is now the largest demographic group in the USA in terms of wine consumption. In 2015 they surpassed the Baby Boomers (51-69 year olds) who accounted for 34%. Generation X (39-50 year olds) was relegated to third place with just 18%.
The study showed that women have a very important role in wine consumption in the United States, consuming 57% of the country’s total. What’s more, a large percentage of women (38%) opt for organic wines when choosing their options.
Another study on consumer trends between Millennials vs. Baby Boomers, in this case conducted by American wine giant Gallo through a survey of 1,001 people, shows that:
- 66% of young wine consumers would be willing to consume it mixed with fruit juice.
- 51% see it as the ideal base for cocktails.
- 48% consider it as an ingredient for other mixed drinks with soda or other cocktails.
- 46% are willing to put ice in their glass of wine…
- 27% sometimes drink it with a straw.
- The most popular varieties among people under 40 are: Merlot, Cabernet Sauvignon, Chardonnay, Pinot Noir, and Pinot Grigio.
- 58% seek convenience in the packaging and consider it important, so formats such as bag-in-box, screw top, and 18.7-cl bottles are widely accepted.
It’s interesting to see how the interviewees responded when asked about which wine-lovers tribe they would put themselves in according to the suggestions in the study:
- 35% considered themselves to be adventurers
- 25% to be novices
- 20% were traditionalists
- 3% were snobs
- 3% openly recognized themselves as impostors
- The remaining 3% were “other”
Ultimately, the weight of tradition in the USA has much less influence than in the producer countries in Europe. The sector is therefore open to different and multiple possibilities without prejudices, taking the needs of young consumers into account and considering their lifestyles to make wine something their own.
We’ll be keeping a close eye on things!
An article by Rafa Moreno
The World Atlas of Wine, Jancis Robinson, Hugh Johnson. Ed. Blume
El Mundo del Vino. Ed. Larousse
WCM (Wine Market Council) – Study