Wine Weakness

The demand for wine is declining but there is evidence suggesting that drinking wine is linked with longevity.
Wine Weakness
Wine is going on sale as demand is falling. (Andrii Zastrozhnov/Shutterstock)

The California wine business is undergoing a severe crisis based on consumers’ changing drinking habits, and one consequence is that wine sales are drastically down from a year ago, and gloom appears rampant within the industry.

None of this is good news for wine lovers, except possibly consumers of expensive wines who are savvy enough to understand some of the bargains that may well be offered in retail stores in the coming months. That is all the more reason to pay attention to what’s actually happening.

A longtime wine blogger, Tom Wark of Portland, wrote recently in his “Fermentation” newsletter that he expects a number of wineries in California to close. Some of this is already happening, with one large production facility in Sebastopol (Sonoma County) closing its production facility and offering all of its equipment for sale.

Mr. Wark also predicted that some consumers will benefit, although prices for inexpensive wines are already low, so discounts on them will be small. Major discounts will come, he said, for expensive wines ($50 a bottle and up).

One high-level producer of chardonnay and pinot noir in the Russian River Valley has closed out some of its $70 wines for $29 on an internet sales site.

Crises like this have hit the industry in the past on a regular basis. Most last for a year or two. Part of this reluctance to consume wine relates to a movement afoot of consumers who are trying to drink less alcohol; some are even eschewing alcohol completely.

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Some so-called experts also suggest that no amount of wine is good for anyone, but science long ago showed that regular daily consumption of a few ounces of wine can lead to a long and healthful life.

This was part of a “60 Minutes” episode in November 1991 called “The French Paradox” that said French citizens have less incidence of lower heart disease than do Americans, even though the French smoked more than did Americans and consumed much more fatty foods.

An article last October in Meininger’s International reported on the Lifestyle, Diet, Wine, and Health Congress in Toledo, Spain, at which Dr. R. Curtis Ellison spoke. He is director of the Institute on Lifestyle and Health at Boston University School of Medicine.

Responding to a criticized report from the World Health Organization last January that questioned the benefits of small amounts of wine, Dr. Ellison said that numerous scientific studies in the past 50 years have shown that “moderate drinkers have significantly lower mortality. Why the persistence of the anti-alcohol sentiment?”

Dr. Ellison added that governments must deal with the consequences of alcohol abuse, so have been cautious when speaking about possible health benefits of moderate amounts of wine.

Meininger quoted Dr. Ellison: “Health policy should not be based on paternalism,” and some of the conclusions of the WHO were probably based on inexact reading of statistical data from several sources.

I don’t usually make conclusions about wine and health, because I compiled the following list, which I think speaks for itself:

World wine personalities’ ages at death:

Napa winemaker Andre Tchelistcheff, 92; Sonoma County winemaker Louis Foppiano, 101; British wine author and collector Andre Simon, 92; British wine author and Bordeaux chateau manager Harry Waugh, 97; Mendocino winegrower Charlie Barra, 92; California winery owner Ernest Gallo, 97; Napa winery owner Robert Mondavi, 94; Los Angeles wine columnist and merchant Robert Lawrence Balzer, 99 1/2; wine author Leon Adams, 90; Mendocino winemaker John Parducci, 96; British wine critic/auctioneer/author J. Michael Broadbent, 92; winemaker Brother Timothy Diener (The Christian Brothers), 94; Sonoma County grape grower Louis Pagani, 98; Portugal winemaker Baron Bodo von Bruemmer, 105; Napa winemaker Mike Grgich, 100.

California wine merchant Jerry Draper is 100 and is still working.

Former wine executive Peter Sichel (Blue Nun, Chateau Fourcas-Hosten) will be 102 in September.

Wine of the Week

2022 Osmosis Sauvignon Blanc, Argentina ($15): Designated “de-LIGHT-ful,” this elegant and relatively simple wine was made with only 9 percent alcohol, has absolutely no sugar, and has a nice, dry aftertaste. There’s not very much flavor, but its low alcohol allows it to be paired with some light, savory foods.
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