Kelly J. Hayes: WineInk |

Kelly J. Hayes: WineInk

Kelly J. Hayes
Aspen Times Weekly
Aspen, CO Colorado

This is the 200th edition of WineInk to appear in these pages.

Since June 10, 2007, nearly every issue of the Aspen Times Weekly has included 700 to 1,000 words devoted to wine, beer and assorted spirits. While no justification is required (my fondness for drinking, researching, writing and drinking is all the justification I need to get it together each week), I nonetheless went looking for a statistic that would validate WineInk’s existence.

An increase in circulation or a spike in advertising revenues for the Aspen Times Weekly over the last few years would be nice numbers to report. But those would be micro and I was looking for macro. So I went to the homepage of Napa’s Wine Institute, the keeper of all things numerical in the world of wine, and instantly found my reason for being. Ready? Here it is:

In 2010 (a mere three years after the debut of WineInk) the United States surpassed France to become the world’s largest wine market.

Coincidence? I’ll leave that for you to decide. But for this wine scribe the happenstance, the quirk, the concurrence of these related events simply verifies what I had hoped to be true all along. If I write it here, they will drink it there.

But enough about me and WineInk’s growing influence on the global wine market. Let’s, as broadcast journalist Kai Ryssdal says each day on Marketplace, take a look at the numbers.

In 2010 the wine industry shipped 329.7 million cases of domestic and imported wines for U.S. consumption. That is 10 million more cases, or 120,000,000 more bottles, than France. The total dollar value for those shipments in the U.S. was $30 billion with a “B.”

In a year that could best be described as “recessionary,” the U.S. retail wine market grew 4 percent in 2010, the 17th straight year it has grown.

And the real story is that the American market will likely get even bigger. With a 2010 population of just north of 310 million, Americans drank about a case of wine per person, or two and a half gallons per capita. The 64 million residents of France, on the other hand, sip and gulp down five cases or nearly 12 gallons per person. Sounds like we have some catching up to do on the domestic drinking front.

So why has the American market seen such steady growth, not just in total sales but also in individual consumption, over the last two decades?

Well, all kidding aside, let’s start with the power of the press. From Robert Parker, who began ranking wines on a 100-point system in his newsletter in 1979, to the Wine Spectator, to online video wine blogger GaryVaynerchuk who launched Wine Library TV in 2006, there has been an explosion in wine coverage and criticism. Thirty years ago the idea of making a living covering wine was unknown. Today, while it is still not your mother’ s idea of a smart career choice, there are an increasing number of people who eek out a living doing nothing but traveling, tasting and communicating about wine.

All of this coverage has resonated with consumers, who have become increasingly sophisticated about what grapes they drink, where their wines come from, and who makes them. This in turn has spawned a new breed of wine professionals who stoke the thirst for both fine wines and knowledge. Sommeliers have gone from being wine snobs with tastevins dangling from their necks in restaurants with red leather banquettes, to being rock stars who evangelize about the obscure and hard-to-find wines of the world.

And once the somms rediscover an old wine and make it a new love – think Shiraz from Australia or Pinot Noir from Santa Barbara or Xinomavro from Greece – the marketing machines kick in. Today when a wine shows some life in a region, not only do the makers band together to promote their region; nations themselves hop on board to spend marketing money for the development and growth of the industry. These expenditures frequently result in subsidies for growers and massive campaigns that, in turn, produce affordable wines that people know about.

And let’s not lose sight of the idea that wine is simply a great part of life. Not only does it taste good; it is, as science keeps proving, good for you. Wine makes people happy, it brings them together, it is perhaps the best social lubricant ever invented.

I write about wine every week because I love it. If this column helps you to think about or, better still, drink better wine than you did before, then I love that too.

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