Sunday, February 1, 2009

Sustainability among symposium's key words

Saw these items on the weekend e-letter from the New York Wine & Grape Foundation and editor Jim Trezise, and felt they had the most regional interest:

CHANGE, SUSTAINABILITY, VALUE, AND MILLENNIALS are four themes that have resonated strongly during several recent industry symposia, starting at mid-January’s Wine Market Council presentations in New York City and last week at the incredible Unified Wine & Grape Symposium in Sacramento, which drew over 11,000 attendees. Whether it’s change you can believe in, like, or don’t like, change is the one constant in our lives, with the rapidity and scale of change multiplying at dizzying speed. In terms of politics, economics, communication, and generation gaps, the decades-old “Future Shock” prediction of best-selling author Alvin Toffler has come true: It’s not change itself that is unsettling, but rather the pace of change that’s impossible to keep up with. Sustainability has gone from a back burner topic to a front burner priority in just a few years, as evidenced by virtually the entire first day of Unified devoted to various aspects of sustainability from grape growing and winemaking to marketing and social responsibility. With retail giant Wal Mart leading the charge toward products made sustainably and therefore others sure to follow, the message is clear to wineries and others that this will be a big deal in years to come. The importance of value to consumers was also evident during several presentations over the past month, perhaps most starkly in two slides by John Gillespie of Wine Market Council which showed that $10 = $20, and $20 = $100—in other words, for consumers during this recession, buying a bottle of wine at $10 feels like what used to be $20, and paying $20 feels like $100 when times were good. This is most evident in the on-premise (restaurant) segment, which has basically evaporated. That price pressure also makes potential wine excise tax increases even more devastating for our industry, as dramatically illustrated by Jon Fredrikson (more on that next week). But there’s hope: The Millennial generation (basically aged 15-32), also called Echo Boomers because they’re the millions of children of Baby Boomers like me (45-63). This is a huge population of young people who, for whatever reason, have taken to wine in a big way, are interested in exploring different wines, want to learn about them, and remain relatively optimistic about the economy. They consume more wine per occasion (about 3 glasses), frequent wine bars, and have remained wine-loyal more than any other age group during these challenging times. And there are still 23 million of them who haven’t yet reached the legal drinking age! Finally, while no one claims that wine is recession-proof, the preliminary statistics from 2008 show consumption growth of about 1%--certainly below recent years but still on the positive side and much better than many other products, especially during the year-end holiday season. Cheers!
NEW YORK GRAPE CROP in 2008 increased in both volume and value over the previous year, according to recent statistics from the New York office of USDA’s National Agricultural Statistics Service. The 172,000 tons (up 4%) were valued at $58.4 million (up 8%), with 4,000 tons marketed as fresh fruit and 168,000 processed (73% for juice, 27% for wine). New York is a clear but distant third to California (6.7 million tons) and Washington (350,000, or double New York’s total). Fortunately, grape quality in New York was also excellent last fall, breeding expectations of superb wines. While 2008 was a good year for New York grapes, our friends in the apple and other fruit sectors did not fare as well, with all experiencing decreases from 2007. We sincerely hope 2009 will be better for all.