washington wine grapes: the wrap

Monday, February 15, 2010

A couple of interesting items crossed my desk last week, and offer some further insight into the state of the Washington wine grape industry. Across the Business Wire came this story from Nielsen (bold-face mine):

“New research by the Nielsen company into consumer wine consumption patterns and attitudes reveals surprising facts about a wine both loved and maligned in the United States: merlot. Commissioned by Blackstone winery and utilizing multiple Nielsen data sources, the research finds that merlot has the single largest consumer base of any varietal wine in the U.S. and, of the major wine varietals, is the one most closely associated with high quality at an affordable price.

•More American households purchase merlot than any other wine variety, red or white
•Consumer affinity for merlot is based on the key factors of taste and value
•Merlot has the highest repeat purchase rate of any wine variety in the U.S.
•Merlot drinkers strongly agree that merlot is a good, versatile and food-friendly
everyday wine

"Merlot remains the second best-selling red wine variety in the U.S. behind cabernet sauvignon, and the third most popular varietal overall. However, merlot also boasts the highest repeat purchase rate of any variety, with 49 percent of Merlot consumers making multiple purchases year over year.

"Nielsen’s research also challenges conventional wisdom within the wine trade that consumer perception and purchases of merlot declined as a result of the 2004 movie Sideways. In fact, according to Nielsen’s findings:

• Merlot sales, measured in both dollars and volume, have grown steadily since 2004
• The number of U.S. households purchasing merlot is more than double those purchasing
pinot noir
• Over 50 percent of current U.S. merlot drinkers are consuming more merlot than they
did five years ago"

PG: The second pertinent news item was the release of 2009 Washington wine grape production statistics from the U.S. Department of Agriculture. The top-level view is that overall production is up 8 percent, with chardonnay showing the largest increase. Here is the write-up:

“Washington’s 2009 wine grape production totaled 156,000 tons, a record high level, and is up 8 percent from 2008. Of the top four varieties, chardonnay showed the largest increase and was up 19 percent from last year. Of the major varieties, malbec received the highest average price per ton at $1,473. Growers received an average of $989 per ton for all varieties in 2009, down $41 from last year’s record high of $1,030.

"Of the total wine grapes produced, 54 percent were white and 46 percent were red varieties. Production of white varieties increased 14 percent from last year compared to a 1 percent increase in red varieties. Chardonnay was the top variety grown in the state at 33,400 tons or 21 percent of the total state production. White riesling ranked second, at 32,100 tons, also with 21 percent of the total. In third place was cabernet sauvignon with 27,600 tons, or 18 percent of the total. Merlot ranked fourth with 24,800 tons or 16 percent of the total. The average chardonnay price per ton decreased $26 from last year to $857 and the average white riesling price per ton was down $31 from last year to $781. Growers received an average of $1,276 per ton for cabernet sauvignon, $30 per ton less than 2008. The average merlot price per ton decreased $38 from last year to $1,088.”

PG: A couple of questions immediately come to mind. Why on earth did chardonnay take such a jump? You’ll note that I did not include it among the five most essential grapes profiled last week. That was not an oversight; it was a specific decision on my part. Maybe chardonnay is selling better than I realized... The price of malbec was not a surprise, given its popularity and scarcity in this state. I have not had time to compare average grape prices with the California stats, also released last week. I’ll take a look through it all and comment further later this week. One final question: why is the government still referring to “white riesling”? Is there a red riesling that I’ve somehow missed?!?


Richard Sentner said...

In your decision not to profile WA Charbonnay, I've thought in general, based on your past writings, that you personally prefer Rieslings over Chardonnay.

PaulG said...

In selecting the five grapes, I was thinking about which grapes are most distinctive here in Washington. I've never thought that chardonnay was one that showed itself as markedly unique in this state. It's just an observation, not a criticism. Obviously it must be selling well, if it is growing at such a remarkable rate. But I do think that Oregon takes the lead on producing chardonnays with refinement and a unique regional profile.

Sean P. Sullivan said...

Paul, WOW those Chardonnay numbers took me completely off guard. Would be interesting to talk to some folks and hear their perception on this. I'm assuming much of the increased production has to be coming through Ste. Michelle Wine Estates wineries? Would also be interesting to know where the wine is going. My assumption is, again, that it's SMWE and much of this wine is going out of state but who knows? I agree on it not being particularly unique here. Interesting that there is so much of it being produced. Would be interesting to see what national consumption of the grape has looked like.

I agree that the price on Malbec is not surprising. It seems a shame to have the prices be so high. Makes it more difficult for Washington wineries to compete with world-wide prices for this varietal. Seems destined to continue to be a niche wine here unless planting increases and the price goes down. I can't think of any bottlings under $15-$20 off the top of my head although they may be out there.

PaulG said...

Sean, you are the king of number crunching - let me know if you uncover a national trend here. Substance does an under-$20 malbec, but you are correct – they are few and far between in Washington.

Unknown said...

Saw that.... Riesling revised as #2....

The frost did it....

We'll be back next year!


Anonymous said...

Look for a Hudson-Shah malbec, coming soon $13.99 retail 97% malbec 3% cab QFC

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