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Wine and Statistics—Gotta Love Them

By Charles Olken

A few decades ago, even before I was in high school, I discovered that I loved numbers. I could calculate batting averages in my head. I would keep detailed records of my hitting tendencies in our summer schoolyard games—you know the ones that started at 10:00 in the morning, broke for lunch and then ran another two or three hours in the afternoon day after day and were only interrupted on Sundays because of Sunday school in the morning and the neighborhood adults taking over our field for their weekly soccer game. Man, how I hated that sport at the time. Little did I know that I would also become a soccer junkie when my kids took it up. They were, thankfully, also baseball players.

It will not surprise you to learn that I grew up into a professional economist—albeit one with a practical bent. It was the real world and the implications of what was happening on the ground that interested me. Oh, yes, and baseball statistics, which to this day, I follow with almost as much enthusiasm as I followed my own batting average in Little League.

Today, of course, I follow, an entirely different set of statistics as well—those of the wine industry. And while what I do at CGCW has very little to do with statistics, I still feel those numbers. They have meanings both obvious and hidden. They suggest more than just trends but reality, and, as such, when people toss around wine numbers in a vacuum like they are reality without recognizing why those numbers have come about, I cringe the way I cringe when unknowing folks misuse and misunderstand the numbers in our economy.

Take the most recent surges in the consumption Prosecco and Sangria. And put them next to the surge in Millennial wine consumption as a whole. There are wine economists who think that we are heading for the end of the world in the fine wine area because young people are not rushing out to buy three-digit Cabernets.

If you are old enough to remember the White Zinfandel craze of the 1980s, it was predicted then that wine drinkers had lost their interest in dry wines. They had gone loony for sugary, soda-pop styled wines, and surely grapes like Zinfandel as a red wine were bound to disappear. Of course, the folks who said that also forgot that an earlier generation had honed its wine teeth on Lancer’s, Mateus and Zeller Schwarz Katz.

So, now we have history repeating itself, and some wine observers are falling all over themselves at the rapid growth of interest in Prosecco and Sangria.

I see something different when I read numbers like Prosecco growing at 12% last year and Sangria at 10%. I see growth in the wine sector, and I see it coming from Millennials. And I tell myself, this is not a remaking of the wine world any more than my going 5 for 5 in one schoolyard game was about to turn me into Ty Cobb. This is about young people discovering, as we all did at some point, that wine is a very good libation, and doing so through the typical, time-proven entry portals that get repeated and repeated and repeated.

Far too little is made of the fact that Sauvignon Blanc sales also grew at double digits, and did so as prices increased at the same time. Now, that is a statistic that interests me greatly. Because, just as there came a time when we grew out of sweeter, easy to sip wines and began to choose wines for the way they worked with dinner, so too is the new generation of wine drinkers beginning to make that discovery. It will take time, and it will never be universal, but it is part of the pattern and it is happening.

We are told to worry that imports are a much larger part of U. S. wine consumption now than they were three or four decades ago. And, yes, that statistic is undeniable. But here is the other side of that “truth”. U. S. wine consumption grew last year for the 23rd year in a row. And sales by U. S. producers also grew. I wonder if the naysayers are also aware that we buy far more imported clothes and imported cars now than we did a few decades ago. And we ship far more goods overseas than we did then as well.

So, here is the bottom line on wine statistics. Like all reports and the analysis of them, it is helpful to look at the big picture and to see it in the light of history. Our wine industry is incredibly healthy, and so too are we.

And while we are on the subject, if you want to read more about wine numbers, do have a look at the article in the line below authored by Dr. Liz Thack of Sonoma State.


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No Subject
by Paul Wagner
Posted on:2/17/2016 10:38:52 AM

Liz Thach, not Thack. 


And somehow you managed to write about statistics without quoting Mark Twain...

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