Tuesday, December 31, 2013

Prognostications old, prognostications new... (A look back at 2013 and a peak at 2014)

A little over a year ago, I wrote an article outlining my five predictions for 2013. Today, I want to briefly examine those statements and make a few new guesses for 2014.

My first prediction came on the heels of Robert Parker, Jr. taking on foreign investors and yielding editorial control of the Wine Advocate to Lisa Perrotti-Brown, MW. Going against popular belief at the time, I said that the Wine Advocate would expand and increase its popularity. Well, I didn't quite nail this, but the publication did not shrivel up and die like many other people thought it would. Many wine aficionados still wait with anticipation for the release of each issue. Wine prices still jump when Parker (or his other reviewers) throw high numbers at already expensive wines. I still think Robert Parker and his henchmen will remain pertinent (but not dominant) in the American wine industry, but will look to expand to Asian markets as they rapidly grow.

My first prediction may have been a push, my second prediction was both spot on and a bust. I thought that regional wine, and especially Colorado, would see more coverage in the major publications (Wine Advocate and Wine Spectator). Wine Advocate maintained the status quo on ignoring wine from the other 47 states despite having a reviewer living in Colorado (Jeb Dunnuck) who is eager and willing to taste and review Colorado wine. Dunnuck had personally told me that he wanted to get CO reviews into the Wine Advocate, but "the powers that be" have squashed that idea.

The Wine Spectator actually took a step forward before jumping three steps back. In 2013 alone (prior to a policy change), Wine Spectator reviewed more than 115 Colorado wines, doubling the number of Colorado wines reviewed by the magazine the previous 20 years combined! Moreover, both James Moleworth and Harvey Steiman had written relatively positive blog posts about Colorado wine (read more on my take here). But unfortunately, the gains regional wine saw in 2013 looks to have all but evaporated going into 2014. An assistant tasting coordinator at Wine Spectator informed several Colorado wineries that Wine Spectator will "not [be] tasting any wines from Colorado at the moment. Furthermore, we have a new policy which requires all importers and wineries to send the info sheet with samples listed that they would like to submit and then they wait for our approval." For this, they were bestowed Curmudgie by local and cheap wine proponent, Jeff Siegel. Unfortunately, I don't think regional wine will gain much traction with the large wine publications in 2014.

With 2013 yielding another bumper crop in California, and despite a terribly inaccurate prediction by Morgan Stanley's Australian arm of a global wine shortage, my third prediction of California's highest-end wineries growing is still on target. However, the gains in production may not yield the results the vintners want. In August, I wrote about how demand for some of these tightly allocated wines may not be as strong as it once was. I know the high prices turn off many wine lovers and the glut of interesting and delicious wine that costs between $20 and $50 will be driving many consumers to the middle. I know this is where I will focus almost all of my purchases in 2014.

Prediction number four, more local wines will grace restaurant wine lists than ever before, is still one of my predictions for 2014. I continue to see more restaurants and retailers touting local wine. Not as much as I would like, but there seems to be the beginnings of a lasting relationship between Colorado wine and Colorado consumers. In fact, for the first time ever Colorado wine past the 2% threshold for market share by volume and 5% by value of all wine sold in the state. Those numbers may seem small (and, they are), but the growth of local wine sales in Colorado is outpacing the sales of wine from anywhere else! I still think that local wines from across the country will start to be seen as less a novelty and more a serious competitor to their Californian and foreign counterparts.

My last prognostication for 2013 was that Colorado will remain a beer state. Colorado is still and will continue to be known for its microbrews, but in just a few hours marijuana will become legal here. Many people are already talking about pot tourism and the economic boom that marijuana will unleash on the state. The first few months of 2014 will be interesting because of this drastic legal 180 degree turn. Beer is still king in Colorado, but a new kid in town is eyeing the thrown and Colorado may end up being known more for its Cannabis than any alcoholic beverage.

Finally, I want to add a few quick new predictions on what 2014 will bring.

1. Nascent and yet-born publications will gain more traction. Magazines like Loam Baby, Purely Domestic Wine Report, Punch, or other new publications will become more widely known. New voices, new perspectives and new wine discoveries will be even more important to America's growing wine conscious consumers

2. Sommeliers will stake their claim as gatekeepers by searching for new wines when the large wine magazines won't. Wine Advocate and Wine Spectator will continue reviewing the same wines they always have, but sommeliers will reach even more into the obscure (think less Monterrey or Mendoza and more Maryland and Macedonia) to attract and intrigue diners.

3. Despite some claims to the contrary, Social Media will become more influential in the wine industry. Online communities, like WineBerserkers, and new social platforms, such as Delectable, will complement Twitter and Facebook as important ways wineries will need to engage with their customers (current and potential!) if they want to remain relevant.

4. Trendiest wine of 2014 goes to sweet still white wine. The past few years saw moscato and sweet reds as the trendiest styles of wine, but late-harvest wines from all over the world will gain more popularity. Sauternes, sweet German riesling and even domestic stickies will catch the attention of Americans' sweet tooth.

5. Perhaps more wishful thinking than a real prediction, but I think a big-name player will stake claim in Colorado. Large wineries willing to invest in a region are important to a region's success. Winery owners are always looking for ways to improve, invest and grow. Establishing a presence in an emerging region is one way to accomplish this, and I think a company or a person with the willingness to stake a claim in Colorado's wine industry will invest this year. It may not be a huge splash, but it will be at least a ripple.

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