After the excitement of the Rudy Kurniawan trial, will wine counterfeiting diminish in 2014? Michael Egan, a fine-wine expert based in Bordeaux who testified at the trial, notes shifts. “All the recent activity has made the top domaines redouble their efforts to prevent counterfeiting and bolster record keeping.”
He says that the recent activity of the Department of Justice will have a chilling effect, making the U.S. a less likely place of fabrication. China, however, continues as a locus. Thus, to keep the American market as clean as possible, Egan suggests inspections by U.S. Customs on imported wines.
Late in 2013, a report from Morgan Stanley analysts in Australia made a bold claim: the world is running short on wine. Although wine industry experts and insiders around the world disputed the claim, the meme gathered steam in the media, and, for a few weeks at least, lots of people who wouldn't normally talk about wine were discussing the shortage and picking up bottles.
That may have played a part in pushing wine sales higher in the U.S., the world’s largest wine market. If figures show that wine sales increased in 2013, it would be the twentieth consecutive year of increasing per-capita consumption. Indeed, interest in wine remains high, and growing – even economic downturns haven’t derailed the wine train in America.
But threats loom, foremost among them craft beer and cocktails. The rising quality of craft beer, often at a lower price than wine, and the rising interest in mixology and flavored vodkas (cinnabon flavor, anyone?) could peel off marginal wine drinkers. Younger drinkers, though, are ecumenical and often like to sample a variety of drinks.
A decade ago, critics bestrode the wine world, swirling wines, spitting out points, and moving markets. Today, a placement on a top wine list can be a bigger boost for sales. Sommeliers, particularly in America, are the new influencers. But, with social media, room remains for many voices.
One trend, particularly for restaurants, is a shift away from Champagne toward other bubbles, according to Patrick Cappiello, who presides over New York restaurant Pearl & Ash aka “Sabertown USA." Frequently found astride the bar, saber in hand, Cappiello decapitates more bottles in a week than most of us will do in a lifetime. He cites such strong interest in “grower Champagne” over the past few years that the wines have become hard to find in the market. “As a result,” he says, “importers and wine buyers will have to look to new or forgotten areas.” Top on his list of such places are the Loire Valley and Northern Italy, including producers La Grange Tiphaine and Ca’ dei Zago.
As with bubblies, rising prices for domaine and estate wines from many established regions will continue the push by consumers and sommeliers to explore new or emerging regions. Beneficiaries of this trend will continue to be New York State riesling, Greek wines, indigenous varieties of Spain and Italy, and wines from central Europe (including, perhaps, Moldova, benefiting from Secretary of State John Kerry’s brief winery visit there in December).
Collectors will continue to broaden their interest in Burgundy, pushing beyond Domaine de la Romanée Conti in 2014. Jamie Pollack, managing director of Zachys Wine Auctions for North America, reports that Domaines Dujac, G. Roumier, Rousseau, and Leroy saw more bidding last year. The auctioneer says that provenance matters because bidders have become “more and more educated in understanding the importance of how the wine has been stored and where it was purchased.” Lots with pristine provenance – particularly those wines sold straight from the producer's cellar – have fetched impressive premiums this year.
Meet the author, also the publisher:
As the Great Recession wreaked havoc on traditional media and publishing, newspapers and publishers have closed or been sold as journalism seeks a new business model. With its relatively small but educated and affluent readership, self-publishing has proven viable and accepted with books from the likes of Allen Meadows, Neal Martin and Peter Liem in recent years. This trend will continue in 2014. Blogs, newsletters and social media can also be forms of self-publication, needless to say.
Wineries have, on the whole, been reluctant and late adoptors of social media. But 2013 has demonstrated that Twitter sells. Take, for example, Richard Betts’ "scratch and sniff" wine book, which skyrocketed to number 10 on the New York Times bestseller list thanks to promotion on Twitter. Or Beyoncé’s surprise year-end album. The album's launch was announced via social media on the day it was released and shot to the top of the charts within hours.
Many producers have been all thumbs when it comes to social media but will start putting their digits to better use on their smartphones. Some of that will involve better tracking and engagement on social media; others could implement geolocation such as “geofencing” from VinTank, which helps wineries track the locations of mailing list customers visiting wineries nearby (with their consent).
Red wine, not red tape:
There’s hope that consumers will achieve more unfettered access to wine. In November, a group of representatives of 21 Pacific Rim countries met with an eye to reducing what Robert Koch of California’s Wine Institute called “burdensome and duplicative” regulations; between 1990 and 2012, wine has tripled to $23 billion in the region.
In the U.S., the formation of a group representing wine consumers' rights, the American Wine Consumer Coalition, augurs well for more voices in the discussion on America’s own complex, burdensome and duplicative regulatory structure.