By Laura Ness
This article is part of the Bold Predictions series.
Few people have the vantage point of Carolyn Wente, 4th generation winegrower and CEO of Wente Vineyards in the Livermore Valley. Not many winemaking families still exist in America that have been serially and continually involved in the wine industry for more than 3 generations; she is among them, and she is predicting hard times for winegrowers in the coming years.
“I believe history will repeat itself with 8 to 10-year growing cycles and high/low yields based on Mother Nature. The 2018 vintage was a large crop with a big overhang into 2019, but the 2019 vintage seems to be picking about average. The excess fruit is good for buyers, but bad for growers. Given the oversupply of wine coming from the 2018 vintage, the consumer will likely benefit in the next 18 months with discounted pricing at the shelf. Cannibalization will continue at all price segments for wine in the next 3 years and beyond,” says Wente.
She also points to the competition from a plethora of offerings in the alcoholic beverage space, along with cannabis and a trend towards wellness oriented and sober lifestyles. “Once again, another subtle shift around temperance and moderation is on the rise reprising the decade of the 1980s to early 90s. Along with strong anti-alcohol lobbying, we are faced with health and medical studies spouting mixed messages about the positive and negative effects of moderate consumption of alcohol. This ultimately creates noise in the media and mounts pressure on government warning messages on labels, which all contribute to the conversation guiding consumer trends,” says Wente.
Let’s not forget all the competition from spirits, spiked seltzers and the like.
Is this all a passing fad? Probably, she says. “Young people are always attracted to the hot new shiny toy. It gets all the attention and then gets thrown aside. Remember Bartles & Jaymes wine coolers in the 1970s? I feel like we’ve seen it all before!”
She sees packaging options as a key trend for 2020 and beyond. “We tried wine in cans a few years ago with our Entwine brand. We were early adopters: probably way too early! Now we are seeing more demand for cans in certain markets. I see my own son (25) wanting to buy half bottles of wine: the 375ml format works better for many in that age group. I think we will see a trend toward smaller packaging. That said, kegs and growlers are still growing, but not as much as we thought they would.” Wente launched growlers as part of their Winemaker’s Studio concept in 2014.
Does she see a place for wine in the lives of younger consumers? The answer is yes. She says it’s all about authenticity and being true to your story. “Wine still holds a special place in the fabric of our lives. Wine is a unique, storied beverage with a rich cultural history. By crafting wines of the highest quality at fair prices, wine can continue to be a beverage enjoyed not only on special occasions, but interwoven into everyday life enhancing meals, conversations and experiences. My advice is to stay true to the authenticity of the grape and the elegant, balanced wine that results. Quality and authenticity is what has made wine a truly sustainable beverage through the centuries and will into the future.”
At Wente Vineyards they are planning on continuing the family business and tradition into the future. In the last two years, they have brought in more of the 5th generation to join Wente’s nephew, Karl, who acts as Chief Operations Officer and Chief Winemaker. “It’s really great having Karl and three of my nieces (ages 27—42) as part of the team,” she says. “They see what I don’t, and they help shape all the unique, fun and different curated experiences that keep people coming back.”
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