“There will always be ‘wine snobs’ and ‘cork dorks’ who try to acquire wine from elite producers and cult brands, of the right vintage, and store them for years. But more and more people have been buying economically friendly wines that have a pleasant taste and taste the same each time they drink them.”
So says Karen Goodlad, a hospitality management lecturer at New York City College of Technology (City Tech), and the numbers support her claim.
From 1994 through 2007, the U.S wine market grew every year, increasing in volume a total of 66 percent. In 2007, Americans over the age of 21 consumed on average a record 2.47 gallons for the year.
“As the U.S. marks the 75th anniversary of the end of Prohibition on December 5,” she says, “it is interesting to note that while Americans are drinking more wine, particularly more red wine, they are drinking much less beer and the same amount of hard liquor as they did 50 years ago.”
Sales of U.S wine reached 745 million gallons last year for a total retail value of $30 billion, making the U.S. the largest retail wine market in the world, according to The Wine Institute.
A boom in wine sales was predicted when Prohibition was lifted in 1933, but it was not realized.
“First the Depression and then a lack of research and development by the industry, coupled with the overplanting of inferior grapes, kept sales down,” explains Goodlad, who is researching the history of the American wine industry. “It wasn’t until the 1970s that the U.S. began to be seen as a serious wine-producing region.
“The first peak in per capita wine consumption was in 1985,” she adds, “but there was a drop right after this as more people linked wine to drunkenness, warning labels were put on bottles, and the effect of the legal drinking age going from 18 to 21 years old was felt.”
The current increase in wine’s popularity can be attributed to baby boomers, who appreciate its health benefits, and to 25- to 35-year-olds, who tend to eat out more than their parents’ generation, she explains.
In addition, people trying to incorporate environmentally friendly items into their lifestyle can feel good about wine, since winegrape growers have been the leaders in the sustainable and biodynamic agriculture movement, a growing approach to organic farming.
“That being the case, people may wonder why we don’t see more organic wine. The answer is that the grapes may be grown organically, but even if a small amount of sulfites are added, the wine will not get the government’s organic label. And for many winemakers, the addition of sulfites is done in order to prevent the wine from going bad,” Goodlad says.
The health benefits of wine are in the skin of red grapes, which contain antioxidants called flavonoids. However, Chardonnay, a white wine, is the most popular wine in the U.S., with the reds Cabernet Sauvignon and Merlot in second and third place, respectively.
“Most people want to just enjoy the benefits of a pleasant glass of wine,” Goodlad continues. “They’re not analyzing its color and ‘nose.’ They drink it because they like the taste.”
Goodlad and her husband, a marketing manager for a wine and spirits distributor, always have a glass of wine with their evening meal, something she hopes more friends and relatives will do.
“Every time they choose a glass of wine over soda with their dinner, I celebrate,” she says. “My children are young now, but when they are of drinking age, I hope they will enjoy wine with dinner as much as we do.”