The concept of wine-making was originally an art dominated by several European countries, mainly amongst the noble class, competing against one another for the highest quality wines. Traditionally set in their ways, from their methods of planting, to harvesting, to marketing channels and their consumers, the “Old World” wine-makers were unprepared for what was ahead of them as the “New World” growers joined in the struggle to appeal to the tastes of their consumers.
As the New World began gaining ground, a rivalry arose between the New and Old World - the Old World set on its traditional ways which had been in practice for centuries, while the New World focused around maximization of crops and harvesting, as well as marketing to the changing consumer preferences - leaving the Old World in awe as the New World took over in sales and imports. With a shifting of palates and an economic recession which hit not only the consumer’s wallets, but also the grower’s vineyards, a continuous battle for leader in U. S. mports emerged as the preference for premium wines increased, leaving the U. S. out to dry with their high prices due to inherent domestic costs.
Meanwhile, Australia and France were able to tap into the premium and super premium markets, respectively. Since Australia had already taken charge of U. S. imports in the middle segment with their Yellow Tail brand, their entrance into the premium market was soon to come. Accordingly, France used its opportunity to gain market share of the super-premium market, as they were able to beat out all other countries in terms of import value.
Through this stiff competition between countries and their struggle for market share, we see plans such as Australia’s “Strategy 2025” far exceed expectations, many New World growers, including the U. S. forced to shift targets, and uprisings in the EU, protesting the government changes for wine-making. How is the global wine industry changing? The global wine industry is being influenced by a number of factors but they can be factored down to two main reasons: consumer demand and changes in the way wine is produced and sold.
There has been a titanic shift in the perception of wine in the past half-century as consumers and producers have migrated away from the “old world” philosophies to the modern-thinking the “new world” has brought about. In the early years and all the way up until the mid-1970’s wine was produced in small lots from European countries (primarily France, Germany, Italy, and Spain) and was sold primarily as vin de table or “table wine”.
There wasn’t a great deal of emphasis on high-end wines and producers focused primarily on appellation regions (Rhone, Burgundy, Chablis, etc) rather than on vineyard designations (Cabernet, Merlot, Chardonnay, etc). Consumers bought in bulk (1 liter or box wine) and the price was kept inordinately low. Most wine from the European region was thought of as superior and most consumers came from that region. That changed in 1976 during the “Judgment of Paris” when American wine took top honors. That competition was challenged again 2 years later and American wines again fared extremely well.
This opened up the U. S. as a force to be reckoned with in the production arena as well as a relatively untapped consumer market. By the 1990’s the average consumer’s palate changed especially here in the U. S. whereby consumers were more apt to look for the premium ($7-14) and super-premium ($14+) vineyard-designated wines. By this time we are seeing a drop in consumption in countries that traditionally consumed a great deal (France, Italy, Spain, Argentina, and Chile) while demand in other countries expanded at elevated levels (U. K. , Canada, Belgium, and some Asian countries).
Wine consumption was now becoming truly “global” and “new world” producers had the means to handle demand. They were able to utilize methods that were banned by the AOC in Europe (drip irrigation, mechanized pruning, bulk storage, large-lots, etc). Shipping overseas was now a cost-effective way to transport wine around the globe allowing consumers even more choices of quality wines. One of the most important factors in how the wine industry is changing is in the education of the wine consumer. Consumers now can look at a bottle of wine and tell the type of grapes used and the region they came from along with the date bottled.
This has given rise to many different types of rating services that are available online (i. e. Robert Parker, Wine Spectator, Wine Enthusiast, etc). This type of information at consumer’s fingertips has allowed wines from other countries to compete head-to-head against some of the most prestigious labels in the world. Consumers can now look at a wine from Chile or Australia with a 90 rating and know how it will compare with a similar rated wine from France or Napa. Producers now strive to make wines that not only will rate well but have price-points that consumers demand.