The U.S Wine Industry

Article excerpt

A couple lifetimes ago I decided I would someday work in what I called a "lifestyle" industry: for me, that was food, wine, art, design--a business that produced a product that could really add to my own quality of life, that had intrinsic pleasure. That decision was made some time between saving the world at the World Bank and investing in emerging markets at merchant and investment banks in London. A bright young Harvard MBA who worked for me at the European for Reconstruction and Development once said that finance was "sterile." She did have a point.

In any case, four years ago I found myself in the wine business, managing a firm called MKF Research, the leader in advisory and research services for the business of wine. Today, that has turned into being the President and CEO of Stonebridge Research Group, which takes those research and advisory services the next step to improving operations and efficiency as well as analysis. But more about that later.

A Few Metrics for the Wine Industry

Let's start with a few basic metrics for the business of wine in the United States:

* The Alcohol and Tobacco Tax and Trade Bureau of the United States Department of the Treasury (the old ATF, now known as the TTB) listed more than 5,400 bonded wineries in the United States at the end of 2006, more than double the number in 1999. Each of the 50 states now has at least one winery.

* The retail value of wine produced in the United States in 2005 was $23.8 billion, about 73 percent of the total wine sold in the United States.

** About 90 percent of the volume of wine produced in the United States comes from California. California-produced wines also account for 95 percent of the value of all U.S. wine sold.

** An estimated 305 million cases of wine from all sources were sold in the United States in 2006.

** The vast majority of wineries in the United States produce less than 5,000 cases of wine per year. Together these wineries represent less than two percent of all the wine the United States produces but a major share of the wine costing more than $30/bottle.

The United States ranks 38th in the world in per capita wine consumption--the United Kingdom is first. However, wine consumption is growing in the United States. Depending on the data used, the aggregate growth rate has recently averaged between four and nine percent per year, while it is declining in most of the traditional wine consuming regions. (1)

Thus, simply extrapolating recent growth rates and population will make the United States the world's largest market for wine within the next few years. The United States is, in fact, the only major wine producing country that is a net importer of wine, in a world which otherwise seems to be floating on a lake of surplus wine. (2)

More than 23,000 farms grow grapes in the United States on more than 900,000 acres, for a total crop value of $35 billion--and the majority of those grapes are wine grapes. Grapes are the highest value fruit crop in the United States and the sixth highest value of all United States crops. Nevertheless, the total amount of funding for research on grapes and grape products in the United States in 2005 was $45 million, almost entirely provided by state governments and private companies.

The Wine Institute observes that North America is the only major wine market where demand for wine costing more than $5/bottle is increasing. Where consumers used to look for a bottle of wine under $10 for tonight's dinner, that ceiling today is more likely to be $15.

Americans tend to see wine as an "affordable luxury," a product that symbolizes a special experience; while most of the traditional wine-drinking countries see wine as a staple, a commodity of declining appeal (an exception being Bordeaux first growths and similar grand trophy wines). Consistent with the emergence of the "New Affluents," (3) wine has become a symbol of a quality standard of living. …