California's wine industry saw its shipments fall in 2009 -- for the first time in 16 years.I find it fascinating that wine's experience is just about the exact opposite of beer in this economy. Small, high-end brewers are booming, and the big guys are sucking wind. Those high-end beers are selling in more restaurants than ever, including national chains, like Ruby Tuesdays and ESPN Zone. Sales of imported mainstream lagers are generally declining.
Consumption of wine is up 2.1% nationally, but...the American public was opting for cheaper bulk wine imports from overseas winemakers.
Last year, the state's seven largest producers saw sales overall grow by nearly 7 million cases.
But...overall...California wine shipments fell almost 4%, or by nearly 4 million cases of wine...
Nationwide, the domestic wine market dropped by 3 million cases compared with a year earlier. (Restaurant sales were sluggish too: Wine sales dropped as much as 10% at restaurants across the country.)
Wines from countries such as Argentina, Chile and Australia...bubbled up 87% last year, cornering about 32% of the U.S. market.
What's that mean? Well, for one thing, maybe brewers should be careful about following wine too closely. I've encouraged many craft brewers to read Paul Lukacs's American Vintage to see the blueprint of American wine's success -- focus on quality, talk to chefs rather than managers, develop a language of flavor -- and I still think it's a good idea, but I'm reminded of something Benton Fraser said in Due South: "Never follow a man over a cliff." California specialty/boutique winemakers may have focused too closely on the high end to survive a slowdown, a cautionary tale for some brewers.
Stop making pricey beers? No, absolutely not: it's working...for now, and the money's good. But should you think about adding other strings to your bow? Definitely. The little mammals beat the dinosaurs, you bet. But you don't see mammoths, sabretooth tigers, and giant beavers around any more, do you?