California Wines Just Keep Getting Better

Apparently, we drank more wine last year from the Golden State than ever before.

You all know how this happens, right? You go online to search for, say, a statistic on consumption of California wines in the U.S., and before you know it, you’ve slipped quickly down the internet rabbit hole and find yourself perusing articles in the Mid Sussex Times reading about life in rural southeast England – replete with bucolic countryside photos that look a lot like those we saw on “Downton Abbey.” But I digress…

What caught my eye was a wine tasting held in London in June that was Master of Wine, Justin Knock, the U.K. Director of the Wine Institute, a California-based advocacy group. Knock showcased some unexpected wines from California (think: old-vine Carignan, etc.), and, I’m happy to report: all were well received, which surprises me, even though it really shouldn’t. I don’t know about you, but when I travel abroad (to Europe, in particular), I don’t see a lot of American wines on wine lists or in wine shops. I imagine it’s because they don’t need our wines when they’re surrounded by so many great wines that grow nearby. But, there are plenty of tastings held in Europe where American wines are poured alongside European wines – often “blind” to conceal each wine’s identity – where they surprise and delight everyone, if not also cause a bit of outrage and disbelieve (see so-called, “Judgement of Paris,” here).

“…last year the total production of Californian wine grapes was 4 million tons …”

The article stated that 90-percent of all U.S. wine comes from California, and if the Golden State were a separate country, it would be the fourth-largest wine-producing country in the world. Also, last year the total production of Californian wine grapes was 4 million tons, according to author, Richard Esling, who quipped, “When you consider that one ton [of grapes] conservatively makes 800 bottles, that’s an astonishing amount of wine.” Quite right, my good man!

While I didn’t search how much California wine the British drink, I did find compelling numbers for the American market via Wine Institute. Apparently, 2016 California wine sales in the U.S. reached a new record of 238 million cases. In terms of bottles, that means we purchased (if not yet, consumed) 2.85 billion bottles of California wine last year, valued at $34.1 billion. If that’s not surprising enough, how about that California shipped nearly 50 million cases abroad last year, too? And while I already knew this nugget, perhaps you didn’t: The U.S. has been the world’s largest wine market since 2010. 

So, what are we drinking? According to Nielsen, a global provider of information and insights into consumer preferences and purchases, which surveyed U.S. food store purchases, (in states that allow wine to be sold at food stores) Chardonnay remains the largest varietal of all wine types, accounting for 20% share of the cases. This is followed by Cabernet Sauvignon (15%), Red Blends (including: Sweet Reds (12%), Pinot Grigio/Gris (9%), Merlot (7%), Pinot Noir (6%), White Zinfandel/Blush (6%), Moscato/Muscat (5%) and Sauvignon Blanc (5%)). The largest gains for whites came from Sauvignon Blanc with Pinot Grigio following well behind. Red wine growth was driven by Red Blends, followed by Cabernet Sauvignon and Pinot Noir.

Interestingly, from the vantage of mid-summer Rosé season, the report states that from a smaller base of 1% share, Rosé remains on fire, with a 35% volume gain, but more than 60% on dollars. Also of note, total shipments of sparkling wine and Champagne to the U.S. reached 25.6 million cases in 2016, an increase of 14% from the previous year. Can you guess what’s driving those numbers? If you said Prosecco, I’m raising a glass to you right now. But when that glass is empty, might I suggest you splurge on a bottle of sparkling wine from California that would rival any Champagne (in my humble opinion), such as Domaine Carneros Le Rêve Vintage Blanc de Blanc, Roederer Estate Vintage Brute Rosé L’Ermitage (from Anderson Valley), or Schramsberg Vintage Brut Reserve, or (even better) their J. Schram Vintage Brut Rosé (from North Coast). Cheers!