Let me begin by writing about a past conversation I had with one of my contacts, who works in the Pentagon, whose identity I’m going to keep private. I will say, he knows enough to have called this one, and I’ve watched it all happen to be true.
When the Democrats are in power, it’s all about wine
When the Republicans are in power, it’s all about alcohol
If you’d like to argue this one, I would only counter with, why is there now a 25 percent import tax on wine coming into the US; and, alcohol comes from red states, crafted by the original moonshiners, with no 25 percent tax increase?
Since I’ve been in the wine world, a lot has happened before my eyes. This includes my name having reached places I’ve yet to understand. I’m witnessing this as people come to me for advice, which I’m happy to give when able. And, if I don’t have an answer, I usually know who does. So, something will come of any connection, for all of us.
Bonjour Jo, Parlez vous français ou espagnol? Mon anglais est très précaire… à bientôt, Michelle (not her real name)
RESPONSE: Un peu et un poquito. Les deux sont difficile pour moi aussi… tambien, à bientôt, Michelle.
So, “my husband and I bought a property in Bordeaux, where we have been working since 1996 (before we lived in Spain). The economic situation in Europe is dire .. and we must seek to sell our wines beyond our borders. Can you help us? Best regards, have a nice day.”
I told her that I don’t have the ability to work with importers or wholesalers, anymore. But, I would find an answer. And so the connections and updates into the shrinking of the wine importing business in the US began. The one thing I did already know, because I’ve been watching it for about 30 years, is the continuing development of global wine AND wholesale oligopolies. What this has meant for consumers:
- Fewer options for wine brands on store shelves
- Fewer people to hire in the wine world
- More commodity wines edging out the artisans
- More use of chemicals, since artisan brands are more likely to farm organically and/or biodynamically
- Farmlands growing more consolidated; ergo, more immense farming techniques
- Mechanization of harvests
- Less hands-on during harvests; ergo, less delicate aromas and flavors result
- Fewer options for wine brands in their portfolios
- Fewer people to manage the sales to wine shops, grocery stores, and restaurants
- Artisan wines have no place on the shelves, except for a few “pet” brands for the buyers
- Their fighting against any direct sales for artisan brands, to keep wine buyers hostage to their own portfolios
- Keeping imports out of our country, as they’ve been value brands in the past, perhaps with the exception of Bordeaux and Burgundy wines, and if they don’t own them, they don’t want anyone else to, either
Hey, why keep listing anymore, you get it by now, right?
So, my connection might be working with her
But here’s her lengthy scenario… It’s going to take a lot of time, if she truly wants to come into the US market, regardless of the fact that her label will say “Bordeaux.” Just imagine that one about 25 years ago; Bordeaux would have been a shoe-in.
What my source says about the global wine world today
“I need to be honest and say that I have never seen the American market in such turmoil. COVID has permanently closed many restaurants, 70 percent in some cities. Furthermore, the current regime in Washington has imposed a 25 percent tariff on many EU wines that include the wines of France and Spain. It’s a daunting time in the US for wine sales, but we continue to do our job, which is to put new producers into the system.
“Small importers are going out of business. The big guys are cutting marginal suppliers and won’t even discuss new products. The fact is that 90 percent of owners have the same level of passion and quality (and investment). The secret of making very good wine has been out for a long time now. From a marketing standpoint, the names of the wines are awful and the labels are even worse. I spend much of my day telling current clients why things are not working. The best thing for any hopefuls about the US market is to rid themselves of any hopes for selling in the American market, for the foreseeable future and to concentrate on Asia. This is no longer the ‘promised land’ for anything. Yet, if brands haven’t been discouraged by all of this, I’m happy to discuss the process further, and give it a try.
My contact explained all of this with Michelle and she’s NOT discouraged that it will take so much to get her company ready. She’s young, so time is on her side, but is the United States? The November election will have something to do with this, too. I’ll be closely following this one. The work ahead for her wine brand is going to be a full-time, part-time job.
One hopeful caveat to all of this: with international wine brands begin discouraged from US practices, the playing field could be a bit more hopeful. Meanwhile, Asia is taking the stage as a leader, perhaps for many more years than is possibly imaginable. Still, let’s remember, the oligopolies are also moving in that direction. So, it’s all still shaking out for an inevitable plateau.
For me, I may have an upcoming trip to Bordeaux. My contact wrote the following to Michelle. “Creating press relationships during this period is also important, but you already have Jo in your corner, which will be hard to improve upon!!” This made me smile, but my job is also more complicated now, based on all that’s been written above. This is not your daddy’s wine business anymore, as it shrinks and expands simultaneously… as the heartbeat of wine…
Thank you to Wine Business and Wine Industry Network for featuring this story in their blog section.
So true Jo, everything you said. I hadn’t realized that alcohol = red states, wine = blue connection to run so deep but it does. Let’s see what the next 6 months brings.
I’m definitely hoping for a change in administration, to say the least, Susannah. God and the rest of us know that wine is a healthier beverage. Some cultures refer to it as civilizing. I’m all for that, given our latest climate.
I can only say “Thank God” I was able to retire from the wine industry in 2011 after a 45 year experience in retail, wholesale and the supplier side of the business. In the end, it wasn’t fun anymore to watch the BIG BOYS push around smaller premium wine shops, distributors or anybody else with a passion for the “premium” side of the business.
I’m with you on that, Eric. It’s not fun. There’s room for everyone on the playing field, until someone owns it all. When that happens, you only get the fun by being behind the scenes, because many people STILL have a passion for winewmaking.