Or how we’ll learn to stop worrying and embrace the change

News in wine hasn’t been good as of late as even people who don’t follow the wine scene have probably heard that sales are down and people are drinking less wine.

It’s understandably-easy to run around with a sky-is-falling mentality with unpleasant figures of a 2-4% decline.

What’s really crucial of course is to look to larger trends as while humanity has overall been drinking less wine in recent years, does the big dip in 2023 signify a larger change? After all, there are those who believe that sales in 2024 will ultimately go back up and in fact, some countries saw an increase in wine consumption in 2023 such as Spain, which grew 2%, (ES) thus bucking larger trends.

Whatever may be the actual case, the irony is that somehow wine production is oddly keeping pace what with a 10% reduction in 2023 due to various global issues, but primarily Climate Change. Again, that large picture view is important given that during another bout of sky-is-falling journalism in 2013, it was predicted that there would be a wine shortage, which seemed as silly back then as it does now.

To your health?

What has everyone spooked beyond the blips from one year to another is the health portion in wine and what’s being seen as the Neo Prohibitionist push to not only make the beverage not be seen as healthy, but also paint it as being dangerous “at any amount”.

There’s nothing new here though as Prohibitionists have been around for eons. After all, they managed to get alcohol banned by an amendment of the US Constitution over a century ago. This requires a yes vote of 2/3 in both Houses of Congress and then 3/4 of the US states voting yes as well. Can you imagine that happening today?

Suffice to say, while it is right to worry about the Prohibitionist influences, the amount of actual sway that they hold isn’t anywhere near what it once was.

But the worry is more along the lines that swaying governments to promote non-drinking is actually more the game this time around as opposed to an outright ban on wine and alcohol in general. As a side note, even in Muslim countries bans on alcohol don’t work as it just leads to bootlegging and a great many deaths from alcoholism, just like it did in the “dry times” of the United States.

I can’t really understand how a strong push on messaging is going to work though. I mean, seriously, does anyone listen to what government authorities say? If COVID-19 and the vaccines weren’t an indication of this, then nothing was. Suffice to say, people don’t follow government guidelines and a certain segment openly states that they’re tired of “experts”.

If people did listen to government authorities, cigarette sales wouldn’t be $100 billion in the US and $1.1 trillion worldwide. That’s more than double US wines sales at $46 billion and more than triple world wine sales at $330 billion. And, keep in mind that the harmful aspects of cigarettes are exceedingly well-established at this point. Despite this, not only are cigarettes still legal, but people smoke in abundance, despite all the money and energy spent on “messaging”.

But then why do sales appear to be on a downward trend for wine? Perhaps it could be the case that COVID-19 infections are seeing people drink less as studies show that hangovers are harsher if you’ve had COVID-19. Having had it at least twice (especially early on), I can see there being some truth to this as it can do bad juju to your body and think there’s going to be a lot more discovered on this front. Also, I have far less to drink then just 2-3 years ago simply because I often don’t feel like having wine. If this is a problem for someone immersed in wine, I can only imagine what it’s like for the general populace.

But these are the potential health reasons why wine drinking is down which either might not be as big of a thing as people think they are, or are simply part of some kind of temporary health cycle. While we still need to see what 2024 holds, this is indeed worrying for the moment, yes, but not potentially the future.

Think of the children!

As a card-carrying member of Gen X, I’m rather accustomed to being forgotten in statistics. We just seem to get lumped into the Boomers as being “the same” which we very much are not.

While no one worries about us, there was however a great deal of talk about how Millennials weren’t drinking wine, which has now morphed into talking about how Gen Z isn’t drinking wine. As these are the future of wine drinking, if they’re not drinking it, then there potentially could be less sales.

Again, I’ve seen people charging that it’s because these generations are more health conscious or changing their lifestyles as opposed to previous generations.

As a Gen Xer, I can definitely attest to the fact that we were the last “feral” generation, drinking out of garden hoses when thirsty, riding bicycles without helmets/brakes, and binge drinking when bored. But, having come of age and survived this time in the wild, I am keenly aware that everyone worrying about Millennials and Gen Z not drinking wine should do something that’s known under the technical term of: calm the fuck down.

We Gen Xers didn’t start drinking wine until our 30s and it was much the same for the Boomers. That wasn’t a coincidence, it’s just that people seem to develop a taste for wine later in life. And, low and behold, as the Millennials are all now proper adults and Gen Z is getting there we’re seeing articles about how people in this age bracket are “magically” taking to wine now.

If Gen Z are from the mid-1990s, then the oldest of the generation is only now creeping up on their 30s which is just about when they’ll start getting into wine.

I’ve personally seen that Gen Z are getting into wine as a friend’s university-age daughters will happily have a bottle of wine when going out with friends and note, that’s a bottle each. Or then there’s a tasting I gave to a very early twenties couple who absolutely loved the wines they had.

Worry about the future generations and “reaching them” all you want, but they’re either going to get into wine or not on their own. I vote for the first option however due to two words: Taylor Swift. As has been shown, Ms. Swift is a tremendous fan of wine and where go-eth Taylor, the Swifties shall follow and they, are a a lot.

There is no need to “democratize” wine either as if we’re to believe anything said in huge terms about Millennials and Gen Z it’s that they value authenticity and talking down to them or crafting some “brilliant” youth message about wine will be a major turn off, not to mention the rest of us who will have to endure it as well.

All this is to say, the younger generations are going to come along to wine without an issue, just don’t try to force it upon them. Leave that to the Neo Prohibitionists who will ultimately make the bland starkness of absolutist sobriety a source of ridicule.

The Rot Economy

Perhaps my laissez faire attitude to the problems working themselves out comes a great deal from the fact that I’m sick of the “forever growth” model of business. As an American, I know this is an exceedingly American concept, but it’s permeated all aspects of global economics at this point and it needs to collapse as it has no future.

This is best summed up as “The Rot Economy” which is a term that technology writer, Ed Zitron has used very effectively, but it applies just as much to wine as it does technology.

It’s all to say that if a business isn’t growing, then it’s dead. This is simply lunacy when in fact what’s important is if it’s profitable; an irony given that most of the growth-at-all-costs technology companies have never been profitable.

But it’s this idea that somehow wine consumption needs to keep growing every year that’s shoving us in the toilet as it gives birth to commodity wine drinks such as Meiomi. Or then the vast, endless hectares of vineyards in central Spain, Chile, or Australia that churn out cheap plonk for a growth-loving market.

Growth is the antithesis to wine and I’ve always opined that if someone is making a lot of money in wine, then they’re doing something horribly bad.

At the end of the day this is what’s killing wine and make absolutely no mistake, this is what’s being hidden in all the messaging about declining wines sales. Large companies aren’t meeting the stock growth (note, not profitability) expectations and it’s being portrayed as a greater problem when in fact, it’s simply greed tainting the industry.

I mean, how and why on earth does Freixenet lay off 80% of its workforce in Spain when Cava sales are supposedly growing? Oh, but it’s the drought! No, it’s to give growth figures on paper to the stockholders of this transnational company and justify management bonuses that are strangling viticulturists.

The embrace

This has led us to something of a Bolshevik Moment in wine as we stand at the precipice of making extremely large changes in the industry which will insure its future, if we’re able.

Do keep in mind that wine, no matter what any pithy t-shirt might claim, is not a necessary agricultural product. It takes up land, resources, and workers from other farming endeavors producing crops critical to human survival. Always remember: wine production is expendable.

With that in mind, we need to see a massive mindset change from wine bodies the world over. The European Union and others have been trying to market their way out of a glut of production for several years now. This usually sees resulting endeavors such as “Promotional Features” or “Special Reports” in wine publications that are subsidized or outright paid for my EU money. I can’t see how this is going to continue unless there are those convinced that tossing money into a void arrives to a net benefit.

I predict that within five years we’ll see a massive drop in promotional budgets paired with a massive increase in structural budgets. To some extent this is already happening (ES) but I’m sure there will be more as there are simply too many hectares of vineyards that serve no purpose than to flood the market and in the process, are dragging down the overall value of wine. Removing these in an intelligent manner will be of tremendous benefit to the industry at large as well as facing the reality of Climate Change head on in that there are places where vine cultivation won’t be possible in the very near future.

This is going to be a huge change for sure, but absolutely necessary. It will probably mean that “certain” markets with an average bottle price of £6.50 might have to pay a good deal more but if that means viticulturists can exact living wages and wine can be produced in as sustainable a manner as possible, then this is all for the better both now and going forward.

On no account do I suggest that we ignore the Neo Prohibitionists, but we shouldn’t take them on directly. Instead we need more books like this one.

We also need wine writing to be good again both in terms of ethics (as the concept of disclosures appears to have been conveniently lost) but also in terms of content. For far too long articles have flattened out to be borderline AI spew of: This is a region. This is its history. These are the varieties. Here is a good producer. Climate Change. Wines to buy.

Ultimately, this change in wine requires us to ask, has humanity ever stopped drinking wine in the 8,000+ years that we’ve been producing it? No.

But at the same time, it’s crucial to realize that we’re at a massive point of introspection and changes need to be made and a great wealth of complacency, done away. Ultimately we need to remember that wine is a pleasure, not a right.

(I wasn’t aware of it when setting out to write this piece, but apparently 2024 is the 60th anniversary of Dr. Strangelove. Learn to love the bomb…)

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