BUSINESS NEWS - What a decade this has been for wine—both good and bad.
The 2010s saw the rise of serious global concern (at last!) about the effect of climate change on wine. That will continue big time, especially with 2019’s scorching heat waves in France and catastrophic fires in Sonoma, California, and South Australia.
The rosé juggernaut of the past decade continues, as luxury players move in to Provence. LVMH acquired two rosé producers last year, including a majority share of Château d’Esclans, maker of ubiquitous Whispering Angel. Chanel, owner of three Bordeaux châteaux, snapped up Domaine de l’Ile.
Natural wine captured the zeitgeist of the decade, which ended with trade wars slamming wine in the form of US tariffs on French, German, and Spanish reds and whites, with the uncertainty of more to come in 2020.
Brexit is still a problem, and wine caves, once a major tourism attraction in Napa, Calif., turned into political footballs. (Tip for cave owners: Don’t turn on the chandelier.)
Hard seltzer also captured hearts, minds, and tongues this past year, with sales surging 210% in the US. To my dismay, they’re poised to triple by 2023, according to the drinks market analysts at IWSR. Why not make wine spritzers?
On the plus side, fizz continues to effervesce, even though the French are drinking much less Champagne. To supply ever-increasing global demand (and at lower prices), Brazil, California, New Zealand, Oregon, and Tasmania are producing better sparklers than ever.
At least, unlike the roaring ’20s of a century ago, 2020 won’t begin with Prohibition.
Here’s what else I see in my crystal glass for 2020:
1. Global warming will ramp up wine experiments everywhere
You’ll see the bottled results of dozens of experiments, and more will be started. Sparkling wine from Nova Scotia? Definitely. Historic and new hybrid grapes that can cope with heat better? Spain’s Torres winery is on it; ditto Bordeaux, Champagne, and Napa. Fresher, brighter whites from high-altitude vineyards? Look to Chile and Argentina, including even the cold extremities of Patagonia.
2. Unfussy piquette will become a thing
Casual, low-cost, and low-alcohol drinks that offer gluggable simplicity are having a moment, and they’ll be even more important in 2020.
The fashion for pét-nats (pétillant naturel wines) and even hard seltzer (ugh!) are part of this trend. The latest addition is piquette, a worker’s drink popular centuries ago. Not technically a wine, it’s made by fermenting pomace—the leftover skins, seeds, and stems of grapes—to create a drink that’s 4% to 9% in alcohol with light bubbles to perk it up. It’s zippy and refreshing, akin to a sour beer. Wild Arc Farm in the Hudson Valley released four in 2019, including one in cans.
3. You’ll learn about wine in space
The past decade has seen wineries experiment with ageing their wines under the sea. For 2020 and beyond, they’ll look to space.
This past November, Luxembourg-based Space Cargo Unlimited started a project that sent bottles of red wine to the International Space Station to be aged for 12 months. The idea is to investigate how exposure to more radiation and microgravity affect the evolution of a wine’s components. When the wine returns, the University of Bordeaux will analyze it and compare it with wines aged on Earth.
4. The no- and low-alcohol movement will gain a foothold
The health and wellness craze will affect wine beyond the idea of “Dry January.” Cutting back on how much you imbibe will be one of the biggest drinks trends of 2020, according to London-based retailer Bibendum. Alcohol-free Real Kombucha, introduced in 2017, is now available at more than 50 Michelin-starred restaurants and touted as an alternative to sauvignon blanc.
Expect a boost of interest in organic and biodynamic wines—“health-focused” wine club Dry Farm Wines claims its offerings are all-natural and lab-tested for purity—as well as those naturally low in alcohol, such as riesling, lightly fizzy Spanish txakoli, and slightly sweet Italian moscato d’Asti. All are far more delicious and just as healthy as wines from “clean wine” companies such as FitVine.
5. You’ll buy luxury wines from vending machines
Insert token, receive a small bottle of Moët & Chandon brut or rosé. What could be simpler? Nabbing a bottle at a test machine in the Ritz-Carlton in Naples, Fla., was cheaper, more convenient, and more fun than waiting for room service.
New York got its first machine in October, and in 2020 Moët plans to spread 100 of them across the U.S. (You can even buy your own—$35,000 at Neiman Marcus—but stocking it with 360 mini-bottles costs extra.)
The machines reflect the growing demand for instant access, even for luxury wines. Expect other wine companies to jump on this bandwagon. But because of France’s alcohol laws, don’t look for one in Paris.
6. Enotourism will get bigger
For starters, a €100 million ($112 million) World of Wine project is opening in 2020 across the Douro River from the city of Porto. The Fladgate Partnership, owner of several top port houses, is transforming 300-year-old warehouses into a series of wine experiences including a wine school and cork museum.
In France, Champagne Bollinger is opening its doors to the public via membership in its special Club 1829, Château Lafite Rothschild will open a new hospitality center and wine school at Château Duhart-Milon in time for harvest, and Burgundy breaks ground this month on its own Cité des Vins.
But the most interesting new wine travel development is the global DIY winemaking timeshare the Vines Global. Membership will let aspiring vineyard owners test their mettle making wine in a dozen regions with top winemakers. It started in Tuscany’s Montalcino last September; next year it will add Priorat, Spain, and two other places, with more to come.
Just want to see vineyards? The World’s Best Vineyards, a new annual ranking of the 50 most amazing ones to visit, will help you know where to go.
7. Wine packaging will surprise you
No longer a fad, canned wines are expected to reach sales of $4.6 billion by 2024. Now that canning has been normalized, and higher-quality wines skip the traditional glass bottle, keep a lookout for ever more innovative packaging: refillable, reusable jugs and flat bottles made from recycled plastic, as well as green-friendly components such as zero-carbon corks.
As for the staid wine label, more than 500 wineries across the globe are turning to augmented reality to bring labels to life through apps. And in Washington state, Chateau Ste. Michelle’s new Elicit Wine Project will act as an innovation hub for brands to take an info-rich, creative look at names, labels, and bottle design; for instance, its Fruit & Flower brand comes in both cans and bottles with themed label images to mirror the flavors of the wine inside.
8. Wine shops will become less conventional
UK department store John Lewis has added bookable wine master classes. Stranger Wines in Brooklyn, NY, plays vintage vinyl records and is expanding to snacks, and Manhattan’s just-opened Peoples is a wine bar that doubles as a retail wine shop, even if they have to have separate entrances because of liquor laws.
Nielsen predicts AR and virtual reality technology will transform wine shops with navigation apps and electronic shelf beacons. The future will surely bring artificial intelligence-powered robot assistants. At the same time, buying online via phone apps will soar, again helped along by new technology.
But as the year progresses, I still have plenty of questions. Will wine lovers continue to lust after the wines LeBron James posts on Instagram? Will interactive wine lists on tablets take over in Michelin-starred restaurants? Will South Africa be the value region of the year? I’ll be watching and reporting on these stories and many more in 2020.