Karen Ross (at lectern) of CAWG welcomed the audience before a program on human resources with (from left) Yesenia Plascencia, Ron Barsamian, Donna Bowman, Fred Philpott, and Andrew Waterhouse.
Indications of how positive an economic outlook the wine industry currently faces were not hard to find at the annual Unified Wine & Grape Symposium in Sacramento, Calif., Jan. 23-25. And sometimes the good news came from unexpected angles.
Bill Turrentine, a leading broker of bulk wine, said during the keynote session of the three-day gathering that the domestic wine industry may benefit from global competition in a turn of the economic cycle that's just beginning. The normally ominous force of wine imports that seemed to flood the United States with inexpensive Aussie Shiraz and Italian Pinot Grigio in recent years has a good side. Because the wine business is globally connected now, the severity of shortages and surpluses that have caused so many price spikes and dips in the past may be muted going forward, said Turrentine, whose firm Turrentine Brokerage has offices in four countries.
Consultant Jon Fredrikson raved about the wine market's performance.
"We're likely to see a longer period of relative shortage this time," he told several hundred growers, winemakers and suppliers at the 13th annual symposium, held at the Sacramento Convention Center. (Total attendance reached 10,400 and set a record.) Some domestic wineries also profit from international opportunities by importing (and exporting) bulk wine and then bottling it in the destination country.
In the last shortage period, which began about 1994, growers responded by planting more vines, which came on line during the bumper crop year of 1997. The oversupply that resulted by 2000 lasted several more years, but had just about dried up when the recent tonnage bonanza of 2005 was harvested.
Turrentine and another speaker that day, Nat DiBuduo, president of the Allied Grape Growers, both observed that the situation now is largely a result of natural conditions in 2005, and not solely because of too many acres being in production. Which is a good thing, DiBuduo said in a cautiously optimistic speech about the status of his grower constituents.
The growth in winegrape-bearing acreage of many of the biggest selling varieties in California--Chardonnay, Merlot, Cabernet Sauvignon--is now basically flat, though varieties including Pinot Grigio/Gris, Sauvignon Blanc and Pinot Noir, as well as Zinfandel and Syrah in some areas, are still growing. His figures showed total bearing acreage in the state to be 481,000 acres this year.
Symposium-goers worked on case depletions in between visiting supplier exhibits.
On the sales side of the business, veteran wine industry consultant Jon Fredrikson presented a rave review of the wine market's performance, pointing to increases in volume sales virtually across the board, including significant gains for domestic wines despite fierce foreign competition.
It was also the year when wine penetrated more deeply into the public consciousness, one measure of which was its unpaid appearances in numerous ads for other products, including Dr. Scholl's foot pads: "Are you gellin'? I'm Zinfandelin'!" was the gist of one copy line. This trend is a "monumental step forward," Fredrikson said. He saw a very good outlook for wine consumption in the future. Indeed, some projections have the U.S. becoming the No. 1 consuming wine market in the world by next year.
Results of an economic impact study had been released in Washington, D.C. a few days earlier, which tabulated $162 billion as the total amount of money that the domestic wine industry injects into the U.S. economy. Jim Trezise, head of the New York Wine & Grape Foundation, summarized those numbers, and said they will help the wine industry get more attention and research funding from the government.
"We're likely to see a longer period of relative shortage this time," said broker Bill Turrentine during the symposium's keynote session.
The Unified Wine & Grape Symposium continues to be developed and refined each year with the joint input of growers, vintners and allied industry members. With informative seminars and nearly 500 vendors displaying their products and services, it is the largest wine and grape trade show anywhere in the Western Hemisphere. Its co-hosts are the American Society for Enology and Viticulture and the California Association of Winegrape Growers.
In 2008, the Unified Wine & Grape Symposium will again be held at the Sacramento Convention Center, Jan. 29-31. For additional information, go to unifiedsymposium.org