For some reason this question has popped up at almost every tasting or event that I have done in the last month. The honest answer is that I have no real idea but I have some hunches.
I relate a lot of what is happening in the industry today to the 1990s. The 90s were an arms race, or at least that is what it felt like. Successful small family wineries starting ramping up production to supply their wines to all 50 states in restaurants, retails shops and so on. Today we have top-level consolidation happening with some of the old guard and some of those, now large, family business continuing to compete for market share.
It seems to me that the wine industry is going through the same transitions as the beer industry. For years I have compared the two and attempted to learn as much as I can from our brewery brothers and sisters. To this day, America is still a beer and cocktail culture. Wine is getting there but still has some work to be done. The United States does drink more wine than any other country so we’ve got that going for us (which is nice).
With the amount of competition being brought to the table by big wine companies and conglomerates I see more room is being carved out by small, craft wine companies once again. More and more I hear from guests coming to Napa that they are looking for fun small productions that they can’t get back home. Sure they might still snag everyday wines from their local store but if they can get to know, enjoy and support some of the small guys they are more than willing to do so.
So what path is the wine industry on? With so many family businesses getting older you will likely see more consolidation as well as a battle by the big guys to become “premium” (AKA selling wines that are $9.99 or more). While some see wine as becoming increasingly competitive I am seeing more doors open than ever. More people want to find great, small production wines even though they can get some good bargains down the street at their local store. There seems to be more of a shift towards quality as more and more people get into wine.
In essence I think we are seeing a newfound look on the cult wine movement. Almost in rebellion to the intense growth through the 1990s the cult wines came out in blaze of fury to offer high-end and hard to get wines to wine enthusiasts. That trend may be repeating itself but with a slightly different focus.
At a glance it looks like it is getting tougher than ever to remain relevant, and that might be the case, but there is still plenty of room to carve out a niche for the small craft productions of the wine world.