20-year-strong US wine boom tailing off

While the US has experienced a boom in wine sales over the past two decades, that growth is now levelling off, according to the Silicon Valley Bank’s (SVB) 2018 State of the Wine Industry Report, with retiring baby boomers and “frugal” millennials driving a “rotation” of consumer preferences.

Premium wine sales (above $10 per bottle) will grow in the range of 4 to 8%, down from the estimate of 10 to 14% in 2017.

According to the report, written by Rob McMillan, EVP and Founder of the SVB Wine Division, the US is reaching the end of a 20-year growth period.

While consumers are continuing to eschew lower-priced wines in favour of more premium products, total sales growth is levelling off, the report states. In particular, the premium wine segment (above $10 per bottle) which has been growing strongly, will grow in the range of 4 to 8% in 2018, down from the estimate of 10 to 14% in 2017. Overall, value sales are expected to rise by 2 to 4% in 2018, while volumes will increase up to 1%, the report states.

In particular, the report identifies a trend among millennials moving away from red blends and introductory wines, and are instead “starting to have a positive impact on other lower-priced still wine categories, both domestic and foreign”. Boomers are still the leading consumption of fine wine, but are consuming less as they age “as they adjust to living on a fixed income”.

“There is no question that we are seeing a changing of the guard in premium wine,” the report states. “Young consumers are giving blends a chance, and from our view their palate maturation looks like a sequel to the baby boomers’ entrance to wine, which started with Bartles & Jaymes14 and then moved to white Zinfandel and Chardonnay before settling on Merlot. It is interesting to note that the No. 2 growth varietal under Cabernet this year is Chardonnay, which is a natural place for palate-expanding millennials to move after sweet red blends.

“What happens when more of the matures leave the consuming market and the baby boomers move down the premium price ladder and collide with millennials, who also want wines that are more distinctive and consistent and that have a greater sense of place than a red blend? Where does the consumer push the growth curve next? My bet is Oregon Pinot Noir, $15 to $25 limited-production domestics and premium foreign wines.”

Premiumisation will continue, according to the report, but a “softening” is likely on the luxury end for wineries without pre-existing strong brands.

“2018 will be a good year for the wine industry, and while there will still be sales growth, the rate of growth is slowing,” said Rob McMillan, founder of Silicon Valley Bank’s Wine Division and author of the report. “The successful wineries 10 years from now will be those that adapt to a different consumer with different values – a customer who uses the internet in new and interactive ways, is frugal and has less discretionary income than their generational predecessors.”

“Successful companies will be those that evolve retail strategies away from the winery location as the sole point of experience and find other, scalable means of delivering the experience — and the wine — to consumers where they live.”

Read the full report click here.

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