ADVERTISING: Advertorial — GEORGE BALLING: The year in review

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It is that time in 2019 to look back on all of the developments of the year in the wine and beer industry. Some of them you will no doubt be aware of, and others may be more industry insider items that matter to “wine geeks” but less so to wine consumers. Here is what we have seen from our seat in North Idaho!

Cabernet and Chardonnay still “rule the roost.” In by-the-glass-requests, wine list placements and bottle sales, Cabernet and Chardonnay remain the most requested varietals both in restaurants and at the retail level. We speculate that some of this is reflexive; that customers go to the most familiar when ordering a glass of wine. But to give you an idea of the dominance of these two grapes, Malbec — despite double digit growth over the last couple of years — remains more than 20% below either Chardonnay or Cabernet!

Super premium surges and below $10 craters. Wine consumers are moving steadily to small production — more boutique wines — in their consumption and away from the mass-produced brands that retail for less than $10. This trend can be seen in two statistics. The average price per bottle of wine purchased in the US this year is approaching $13 per 750ml bottle, the highest ever. The other statistic has to do with the largest global wine companies shedding the value priced category. This year, both Constellation Brands and Gallo sold off portions of their portfolios that contained the under $10 brands. We see it in our own market too, as consumers are willing to pay up a bit for wines that come from smaller producers and wineries they know. If they are going to take a chance on wine they are not familiar with, they target more expensive bottles.

The rise of the alternative varietals. Grenache, Carignane, Grenache Blanc, sparkling Nebbiolo and other lesser known varietals are seeing surging demand amid an open mindedness among wine consumers and the willingness to try new things. More than any year since we opened 12 years ago, wine consumers here at home come in and talk of trying something new. In our tastings and winemaker dinners we see our customers ordering the lesser known grapes. As we mentioned above, they still haven’t made a dent in Cabernet and Chardonnay demand, they are attracting more attention.

Craft beer sales have peaked. Coeur d’Alene is home to some great craft breweries with a very loyal clientele that will continue to see great support. What is waning is demand from the consuming public outside the more traditional craft consumers. For a few years many wine and spirits consumers were being drawn into the craft beer world which is what fueled the explosive growth in the industry. These consumers have gone back to their comfort spot, slowing the consumption of craft beer.

The other trend in the beer industry is the rapid decline in “growler” purchases. As one distributor related to us recently, “A growler is a lot of beer and once you crack it you have a limited window of freshness and consumability.” The waste factor is what appears to be the culprit in precipitous decline of “growler demand.” It is being seen at the retail level as stores are removing “growler” systems rapidly.

A thing that really isn’t a thing. Some clever marketers have developed a term they call “dry farmed wines.” The claims from those promoting this fad are pretty outlandish, as they claim everything from lower sugar levels to lower sulfite content to more natural wines. The simple truth is that dry farming wine grapes does absolutely zero to accomplish any of these goals. The goal of more natural wine is accomplished during the winemaking process. Dry farming grapevines versus those that are irrigated has never, and will never affect the natural or altered state of the wine they produce. The best evidence of this is that irrigation plays no role in the organic or sustainable designations for grape growers which are the most stringent standards in the wine industry. Consumers should view the dry farmed movement and wine offerings with skepticism.

A thing that really is a thing. On our recent trips to wineries it seems that all of the higher end wineries are tasting from red wine glasses with traditional tulip bowl but a flat bottom. We have found the glasses do enhance the wine and provide an updated current look on the table. We thought so much of them we now carry a line from IVV in Italy, both in Champagne flutes and red wine glasses.

Here’s looking forward to more great wine industry evolutions in 2020 as we toast in the New Year!

• • •

George Balling is co-owner with his wife, Mary Lancaster, of the dinner party, a wine and gift shop in Coeur d’Alene by Costco. The dinner party has won the award for best wine shop in North Idaho twice, including for 2018. George is also published in several other publications around the country. After working in wineries in California and judging many wine competitions, he moved to Coeur d’Alene with Mary more than 10 years ago to open the shop. You can also follow us on Facebook at facebook.com/#!/dinnerpartyshop.

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