California winery members, press and invited guests gathered recently at the Silverado Resort in Napa Valley to commemorate the 75th anniversary of Wine Institute.
Formed in 1934 to help rebuild the industry following the repeal of Prohibition, Wine Institute has been instrumental in establishing California wine as a powerful market and economic force by fostering cooperation across a dynamic industry toward the common goal of enhancing the public policy environment for wine in the United States.
“Wine Institute’s primary role in educating government leaders on the benefits of a thriving California and U.S. wine industry and the impact of punitive taxes, legislation and regulation has never been more relevant than it is in today’s economic climate,” Robert P. Koch, President and CEO of Wine Institute, said.
“We address today’s challenges as an organization more than 1,000-strong, and an industry that generates 820,000 U.S. jobs and $15 billion in state and federal revenue, brings long-term investment, tourism and pride to our communities, and accounts for $18 billion in retail sales or two-thirds of the U.S. wine market and over $1 billion in exports to 122 countries.”
To highlight important events in the California wine business and changes in wine styles, two industry veterans, consultant Jon Fredrikson of Gomberg, Fredrikson & Associates and Master Sommelier and educator Evan Goldstein of Full Circle Wine Solutions Inc., presented “Milestones in California Wine,” featuring rare archival images, footage and historical perspective.
Fredrikson referenced early Wine Institute advocacy efforts, including preserving the right to sell wine directly from wineries (1935) which boosted winery retail sales and tourism, and more recent developments, such as passage by the U.S. Congress of the Wine Equity and Export Expansion Act to reduce trade barriers abroad (1984) that set the stage for a concerted effort by Wine Institute and member wineries to develop export markets.
Today, California wineries attract more than 20 million visitors annually, while California/U.S. wine exports have increased more than five-fold in the past 15 years.
“The phenomenal growth of the industry in California — America’s wine heartland — has been fueled by steadily-increasing consumer interest and adoption of wine as part of an everyday lifestyle,” Fredrikson noted. “Wine Institute played a key role in the public’s acceptance of wine through its early work for The Wine Advisory Board, advertising wine as a beverage of moderation to be enjoyed with meals, and later by advocating for research on the health effects of moderate wine and alcohol consumption and not just the effects of abuse.”
To illustrate the evolution in California wine styles that paralleled a growing knowledge and fascination with wine and food by mainstream American consumers, Goldstein led the group through a tasting of three wines.
Christian Brothers California Cream Sherry — a venerable name — represented the fortified wines that dominated the U.S. market post-repeal until 1967, when table wine surpassed dessert wine in volume sales.
The “fighting varietals” of the 1980s — cork-finished, varietally-labeled, affordable wines that gave Americans a common language for ordering a glass or bottle of wine — were represented by the 2008 Fetzer Vineyards Valley Oaks California Chardonnay.
The 1998 Duckhorn Vineyards Napa Valley “Three Palms Vineyard” Merlot was served as a symbol of the explosive growth of small, “boutique” wineries in the 1980s and 1990s throughout the state, usually focusing on wines from a single region and often specializing in one or two varietals.
It was this increasing number of California wineries and the concurrent consolidation of distributors that led Wine Institute to initiate the first direct-to-consumer wine shipping legislation in California in 1985, setting a path to the 2005 Supreme Court ruling that struck down discriminatory state laws and contributed to wineries now having access to over 80 percent of U.S. consumers in 35 states where Wine Institute has helped advocate change.
“Just as cooking and fine dining in this country have dramatically evolved from the hobby of a few to the passion of many — indeed aided by cable television devoted to 24-hour coverage of chefs and recipes — so has wine achieved mainstream acceptance by our current generations,” Goldstein said.
A timeline of important industry and Wine Institute developments over the past 75 years also was featured at the commemoration event, and we’ll share that with you tomorrow here on VinesseTODAY.com. The document covers social, environmental and promotional initiatives that demonstrate the organization’s leadership.