US ‘phe­nom­e­nally thirsty’ for wine

The China Post - - ARTS - BY PHILIPPE BERNES-LASSERRE

The U.S. wine mar­ket, al­ready the world’s big­gest, still has “phe­nom­e­nal” po­ten­tial for growth if han­dled with care, U.S. wine pro­fes­sion­als said this week at the world’s lead­ing wine fair, Vin­expo.

“We are a young thirsty na­tion,” one ex­pert said, re­fer­ring to the 370 mil­lion cases of wine guz­zled in 2014 — 25 per­cent of them im­ported — as well as the steady growth in wine con­sump­tion in the last two decades, which is ex­pected to see an 11-per­cent hike be­tween 2014 and 2018.

“Think about it, 370 mil­lion cases bought and we only drink about 10 liters per capita. If we were drink­ing like, say, the UK, it would mean 740 mil­lion cases. And if we were drink­ing like the French, 1.6 bil­lion cases,” said Mel Dick, se­nior vi­cepres­i­dent of the coun­try’s top dis­trib­u­tor, South­ern Wine and Spir­its of Amer­ica.

“The fu­ture of wine in the U.S. is phe­nom­e­nal,” he added, par­tic­u­larly with 77 mil­lion po­ten­tial new tip­plers from “Gen­er­a­tion Y” born be­tween 1980 and 2000.

They are “less risk averse, more so­phis­ti­cated on food and wine, well­trav­eled,” said David Trone, owner of To­tal Wine and More, a chain of wine su­per­stores in 18 U.S. states.

But the av­er­age wine-buyer is no con­nois­seur.

“The vast ma­jor­ity of U.S. cus­tomers buy wines at the gro­cery store or su­per­mar­ket and are not very wine­fo­cused or ed­u­cated about the nu­ances of wine and ap­pel­la­tions,” Trone said. “They don’t think Bordeaux, Rhone, they don’t think Tus­cany. They think US$10 (8.8 eu­ros) or less.”

“So some of the la­bel­ing is too con­fus­ing, too opaque. We need color to jump off the shelf, in­no­va­tion in la­bel­ing. That will help draw at­ten­tion — and then we can tell the story of the wine, the her­itage.”

‘Con­stant ef­fort needed’

To sell in the United States, wine­mak­ers in France, the world’s lead­ing pro­ducer, need to take ac­count of Amer­i­can taste “which is much more fruit for­ward,” Trone added.

The mar­ket may be dy­namic, but it is also whim­si­cal, and the French wine in­dus­try has failed to pay it enough at­ten­tion, said Tom Mat- thews, editor of The Wine Spec­ta­tor, the U.S. “wine bi­ble.”

“When China came on big and the U.S. suf­fered be­cause of the re­ces­sion three years ago, Bordeaux ba­si­cally aban­doned the U.S. from a mar­ket­ing and pre­sen­ta­tion point of view, and they lost cus­tomers as a re­sult. Partly it was the vin­tages, partly it was the price, but partly it was en­gage­ment,” he said at a fo­rum.

By vol­ume, Italy re­mains the top sup­plier of the U.S. mar­ket, fol­lowed by Aus­tralia and then France. New World pro­duc­ers Aus­tralia, Ar­gentina and Chile jointly ac­count for 46 per­cent of U.S. wine im­ports.

But for Euro­peans the U.S. mar­ket is tough to ap­proach be­cause of its com­plex­ity. “It’s not one coun­try with one leg­is­la­tion on al­co­hol, it’s 50 states with 50 leg­is­la­tions,” Trone said. “It’s prob­a­bly the world’s worst al­co­hol leg­is­la­tion.”

Re­stric­tions on al­co­hol man­u­fac­ture, dis­tri­bu­tion, im­port and sales are tighter in some states — which may in­clude “dry,” “wet” and “mixed” coun­ties — as are the rules and reg­u­la­tions on li­cens­ing.

Part­ner­ships with lo­cal busi­nesses and a re­gional iden­tity to give buy­ers a frame of ref­er­ence are key to pen­e­tra­tion, Matthews said. “I think the roses of Provence have been able to do that,” he said.

“It takes con­stant ef­fort. You can’t one day be there, and then just ex­pect to stay there,” Matthews said.

AFP

AFP

(Above) A man sam­ples the bou­quet of a glass of Syr­ian white wine on a stand of the Vin­expo, the world’s big­gest wine fair, in Bordeaux, France on Wed­nes­day, June 17. (Right) Peo­ple lis­ten as they take part in a work­shop on the recog­ni­tion of wines at the world’s big­gest wine fair, in Bordeaux on Wed­nes­day.

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