Monday, March 28, 2011

Wine Flows, the Beer Is Flat

     There's dizzying news in the wine industry. For the first time ever in the history of mankind, wine sales in the United States are higher than they are in France.

What Baby Boomers want
      In 2010 sales of wine in the U. S. bubbled up a little more than 2 percent, to 330 million cases. In France, sales were 321 million cases. Of course, there are a lot more people in the Unites States, so French wine consumption drowns American consumption on a per capita basis. The average French person gulps 12.2 gallons of wine a year, compared to an American average of 2.6 gallons a year.

     American wine consumption has been increasing for decades. When I graduated from high school in the 1960s, Americans quaffed 200 million gallons of wine. Sales went up and up, until for some reason they took a dip in the early 1990s. Then they resumed their climb, and last year American vintners poured out some 770 million gallons of vino.

     Approximately one third of Americans drink wine on a regular or semi-regular basis. The core consumer group is affluent Baby Boomers. According to one study on, almost 90 percent of wine drinkers are homeowners. More than half are two-earner couples, boasting household incomes over $100,000. Almost half of wine drinkers have graduated from college.

     Women, more than men, choose wine as their preferred alcoholic drink. Some 55 percent of women in the 50 to 64 age group choose wine as their favorite alcoholic drink. The figure rises to 63 percent for women 65 and older.

     Less than 20 percent of men say wine tops their list of alcoholic drinks. "Apart from the cultural issues (i.e., beer and football, beer and 'getting together with the guys'), the way we market wine makes many men feel insecure," sniffs one report, saying the wine industry intimidates male customers. Wine is caught up in status, and apparently a lot of men don't think they know enough about wine to order it in a social occasion. They fear they'll make the "wrong" choice, so they tend to turn to a brand name of liquor or else a premium grade of beer.

     One reason for the increasing popularity of wine is that Americans are paying more attention to food, and that has brought greater interest in what gets poured into their glass. "We’re becoming a nation that enjoys food culture,” says Stephanie Gallo, vice president of marketing for the California-based Gallo wine company. "As people embrace cooking and enjoy delicious meals, wine is a natural beverage that accompanies those meals.”

A drink for young males
     It also seems that wine, more than beer, is resistant to recession. While wine sales increased in 2010, the sale of suds had a sobering year, down by 3 million barrels, from 183 million to 180 million. The most popular beers like Bud Lite and Miller fizzled by more than 5 percent. Only 4 of the top 30 brands increased sales for 2010.

     Why are beer sales down while wine sales are up? One headache for beer is the recession, which has hit young males -- the prime beer drinking group -- harder than other groups. Meanwhile, established middle-class wine drinkers, especially those with two incomes, are more likely to have made it through the recession without a financial hangover.

     But it could be that Americans are simply becoming a more sophisticated, upscale bunch. Fewer people work traditional blue-collar jobs and identify with the beer-drinking working class. Americans also crave innovation. There's nothing innovative about Budweiser, which might explain why those beers that are increasing sales are the microbreweries like Boston Beer, or else the cheapest beers like PBR (and if you don't know what PBR stands for, ask a 20-something).

     Just so you don't think we're a nation of boozers, I should assure you that neither wine nor beer is the most popular drink sold in America. That category goes to soft drinks. Followed by bottled water, then coffee, then beer, followed in turn by milk and fruit drinks.

     But if you want to be classy, if you want your neighbors to think you have a college degree and make over $100,000 a year, then wine is your choice of beverage.


fiftyodd said...

Nah, not in Cape Town - everyone drinks wine here as we make lots of it! My problem is a young red always gives me asthma, so I have to pay a bit more for an older one. I don't drink fruit juice or fizzy drinks or bottled water (our tap water is of a high quality). Otherwise tea or coffee. But a glass of wine at night certainly takes away a little of the drudgery of cooking the evening meal. My hubby doesn't do take-out.

Dick Klade said...

Here's a ray of hope for those unsophisticated guys afraid to order vino. Always order the house wine. If questionned, you can explain (with some truth) that experienced diners recommend the practice. Let your waiter suggest the type of red, white, or perhaps pink that is recommended in the establishment, or just take a wild guess at that part of it!

Midlife Jobhunter said...

I definitely contribute to the increase in wine consumption. Doesn't that 12.2 gallons a year sound a little low? Okay, I'll stop counting.

June said...

Oh hell, in my bad old days, I could've ingested the French annual average in a few days.

I'm surprised about the beer though. I would have thought that beer, generally cheaper than wine, would have moved up in these days. I daresay that Clarkson University is still holding up its end. Years and years ago, Playboy magazine removed Clarkson from the running in their amateur beer consumption competition, noting that Clarkson had moved to professional status. said...

Don't forget, they sell wine at the 7-11, so you can't buy class in a bottle.

Beer is okay, and there are as many kinds of beer today as there are wine. I like white wines and light beer, but I don't drink much of either anymore. Dianne

Aunt Amelia's Attic said...

But don't some of these statistics add up to.... We are a larger country than France? More people, etc.?

Same as the statistics about our horribly high crime rates and murder rates, etc. Hey! We are one biggggggggggggggggggggggggg country. With so many morrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrre people than lots of other countries. Of course we have more this and that, than some tiny country.

At least, I often wonder about this...

UPDATE: Went to publish this comment, and...... You have the *dreaded* Word Verification Setting on. -sigh- Wondering if you really NEED to make your Dear Readers do the *dreaded* Word Verification Setting?

So instead of just going away, I'm going to do the *dreaded* Word Verification Setting, and leave this comment. Will you please think about my question? Please and thank you.

Sightings said...

I usually DO order wine by the glass when I'm in a restaurant, but worry they think I'm a total hayseed when I do that -- so thanks for the reassurance. But wait a second! Are you telling me I don't have no class b/c I get my wine at 7/11? Somebody told me that wine in a screwtop bottle is "in" these days.

And I'd be happy to get rid of the dreaded word verification if a) I thought I could still weed out those dreaded comments from places like "online casino" and such, and b) I could figure out how to do it.

Will go to work on it. Meantime, thank you for persevering past word verification, b/c comments are always welcome and almost always helpful.

Hope said...

After living in N. Cali for a few years, I have a taste for good wine. But I can't drink a bottle alone and my DH doesn't drink anymore. So I always order by the glass. I've figured out which restaurants have the best wines by the glass and that's where I go. :)

Totally agree with fiftyodd that it makes cooking dinner a much more pleasant task. And I'm seeing the screw top on some decent wines now, too. I hear cork is environmentally not politically correct for one reason. Who can keep up?

Rita@Goldivas said...

I prefer beer, especially my favorite, Rolling Rock - very light. Among wines, Gazella is my favorite, it's a vino verde, also very light.