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Top 10 Stories of the Year

December 2010
by Jim Gordon

What news stories were most on the minds of North American winemakers and grapegrowers in 2010? Certainly the economy and the dramatic weather conditions during the growing season were big topics. What else caught our attention and yours during the year that’s now almost finished?

I looked through 12 issues of Wines & Vines in print and reviewed our major website headlines throughout the year. I ranked the big stories by weighing their overall importance and relevance to our readership. Some were of immediate concern. Other stories arose in 2010 but loom as potentially bigger challenges in the future.

1. The economy
Although economists determined that the U.S. recession ended in June 2009, many vintners will swear that it continues. True, consumers bought wine, but they also searched for values as never before. Vintners making wines in the $40-and-up range may have suffered the most as on-premise sales stayed way down in dollar terms and bank loans remained hard to get.

2. Bankruptcies and sales
A dramatic number of winery bankruptcies, distress sales and strategic restructures occurred in 2010, from the closure of Novato, Calif.’s small Starry Night Winery, which also housed five other wine companies, to the high-profile sale by Diageo of two Napa Valley properties, Sterling Vineyards and Beaulieu Vineyard. Diageo keeps the brands, grapes and inventory and leases back the facilities.

3. Wine sales improved
Plenty of positive wine sales news broke in 2010, however. Sales of $20-plus wines in major food and drug stores rose 22%. Further, the new Wines & Vines/ShipCompliant DtC Shipment Model showed direct-to-consumer shipments up a whopping 20% in October over a year earlier.

4. Long, cool summer
Those critics who lament the big style of California wine should be very happy when the 2010 vintage comes to market. It may be positively European in style. The West Coast growing season was very long and cool, bookended by lots of rain in spring and again in fall during harvest. Hillside Cabernet didn’t pass 22° Brix in parts of Napa Valley until Nov. 1. Growers had to fight off mildew, rot and a freakish bout of sunburn along the way. The many who were proactive expect to make excellent wines.

5. Hot, dry summer
Almost exactly the opposite scenario unfolded in much of eastern North America. Grapegrowers hailed a relatively dry, hot summer that ripened grapes to higher than usual levels at unusually early dates. New York’s Finger Lakes recorded the warmest season in 38 years. Ontario growers harvested several weeks early. It was nearly too much of a good thing, as some reported berry shrivel from heat and dehydration.

6. House Resolution 5034
In Congress, the perversely named CARE Act, House Resolution 5034, threatened to roll back the direct-sales opportunities that wineries gained with the Granholm vs. Heald Supreme Court decision in 2005. Supported by the Wine & Spirits Wholesalers of America, the bill had vintners and their supporters up in arms. At press time HR 5034 had not advanced beyond a House Judiciary hearing but was likely to reappear in 2011.

7. The euro moth
The pest of the year award goes to the European grapevine moth. Technically it debuted in 2009, when a horde of the moths ruined harvest in at least one Napa Valley vineyard and threatened many others. In 2010, state and county ag officials mounted an extraordinarily successful campaign to kill, neuter or quarantine as many moths as possible.

8. Positive packaging
Packaging certainly made headlines in 2010, as sales of bag-in-box wines and aseptic packs soared. Glass closures seemed to break through to acceptance due to their many positive attributes (and a price reduction), while major glass manufacturers hit their stride with thinner, lighter bottles that save money and carbon.

9. Applied science
Wines & Vines published numerous articles about the innovative use of science to improve wine quality from the soil to the closure. On page 28 in this issue, read how geographic information systems have become affordable and important for viticulturists. A few other examples are Tonnellerie Radoux’s Oakscan technology for grading barrel staves, Francis Coppola Winery’s use of the Adams-Harbertson tannin assay to evaluate must and wine, and so on.

10. Chile’s earthquake
Why does Chile’s 8.8 earthquake last February rank as a big story in North America? Because it can and will happen here. Vintners on the West Coast should take note of the destruction to Chilean winery facilities, take stock of their own operations and consider how to protect their assets during and after a major quake.


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