While many things happened in the world of wine in 2006, it’s difficult to pin one certain event or trend that dominated or changed the industry. We’ve asked the Winegeeks writers to lay out their thoughts about the previous year, and will follow this up next week with a look ahead at 2007.
In your opinion, what was the most significant event or trend in the wine industry during 2006?
E. S. Brown
Suddenly it's cool to drink wine. While this may not be a brand new story, 2006 continued a trend of increased wine consumption in the United States, and it seems that everyone wants to ride the wave while the surf is up. Everyone from Vince Neil and Kiss to Sting and Bob Dylan have gotten in on the act, but even weirder is Larry Bird, Elaine Bracco and Elvis. That's right, even the King has a wine, though if it is not a jelly doughnut from 20 years ago I am not sure how he made it recently.
But a bigger trend is that big business has taken notice. Meier and Target now sell wine. MSN is hawking the stuff on their shopping network. Costco and Trader Joe's can make a winery an overnight success by adding a wine to their 500 retail outlets. Who cares if there is no winery and the wine was created by Costco's parent company just to sell at Costco? While exposure to wine is a good thing for the novice, many small family wineries are getting lost in the shuffle of the multinational SuperCorp industry. Hopefully wine will never become like the publishing industry where if you can't sell it to Borders it is not cost effective to publish. Remember, just because it is cool now, doesn't mean it wasn't always cool.
As it happens every year, many influential things changed the wine industry in 2006. Splitting my time between retail and restaurant work, I noticed one particular influence over all others…the influx of high alcohol, plush, over-extracted Pinot Noir. It seems as though, in a general sense, American wine consumerism has us believing that bigger really is better. Stop looking to many California cabernets for gripping tannin, dye-your-teeth jamminess and that “licking an oak stave” new wood taste. Instead, why not try a young, manipulated Pinot Noir? Is it an influence I like? I don’t need to answer that, but I sure hope the elegance and earthiness that I love about Pinot Noir will shine through in 2007.
There have been a number of monumental trends and events in the wine industry this year, including the lifting of the wine shipping ban law within the United States, the American industry movement towards extracted red wines, and the re-emergence of Greece as a wine powerhouse. Of course, we’ve also seen quite a few “non-events”, such as the California vs. France competition, part deux. Yawn.
Perhaps the most notable trend, in my opinion, was a trend that began around the turn of the millennium. Simply put, the Critter Wine Label trend has gotten out of hand. In 2006, many American wineries started using their dogs as a means for marketing their wines. Now, before I start my tirade, let me say that I love visiting a winery and bring greeted by the overly joyous pups that run to the car and sniff you out before you step into the winery. And I can certainly appreciate a winemaker’s affection for his or her four-legged companion which stays by his side for 16-hour shifts during crush. But when perusing the shelves at a wine shop, if I find a wine titled “Fido’s Merlot” or spot a wine label with a picture of John Q. Winemaker’s beloved canine posing in front of a field of vines, I immediately know that is a wine I am not going to purchase. You can call me a wine snob if you wish, but I’ve consumed enough bottles adorned with furry ones to know that the true merit to the majority of these wines rests on the outside of the bottle, when what matters to me as a consumer is contained within the bottle.