What to Watch for in the World of Wine

Takeaways from North America’s top international wine and spirits exhibition
By Amanda Burrill
Amanda Burrill
Amanda Burrill
April 24, 2019 Updated: April 24, 2019

In March, I attended the Vinexpo New York show in New York City. Featuring more than 400 exhibitors from 26 countries and 3,000 North American wine and spirits professionals—including a mix of importers and distributors, buyers and e-commerce specialists, and sommeliers and mixologists—it was two days packed with educational sessions and networking opportunities.

While tasting through a conference hall lined with world-class wines and the producers eager to discuss them sounds like a great way to spend two days, I chose to focus on the educational component: the scholarly conferences.

North America’s top international exhibition for wine and spirits trade isn’t one the average wine drinker should care to attend, but there were takeaways worth sharing.

people hold wine glasses and talk at vinexpo new york
Scenes from Vinexpo New York 2019. (Courtesy of Vinexpo New York)

Wine Prices Will Increase

In several wine regions, winters are getting colder, and more problematically, summers are getting warmer. Winemakers are already taking adaptive measures: Misters to cool vines, drip irrigation for water conservation, canopy management for additional shade, altered row orientation to reduce direct sunlight, and night harvesting for lower berry temperature and reduced spoilage.

Even so, suitability for viticulture will be reduced or lost in many wine-growing regions, forcing producers to move to higher altitudes and/or latitudes, as some are already doing. Premium varietals are most at risk because of their high sensitivity—finicky grapes do poorly outside of a narrow range of conditions.

Adaptive measures increase production costs, so for the consumer, it simply means this: Prices for decent to superior wine will go up.

Leave it to me to find and point out a silver lining: Changes in viticulture suitability are also the reason wine grapes are being grown in parts of England, Sweden, and northern Poland that never grew them before.

Storytelling With Tech

Growth in wine consumption in the U.S. market slowed a bit in 2018, but the dollar value grew 3.7 percent, suggesting that Americans may be drinking a bit less, but spending more per bottle, according to Dr. Liz Thatch. And with the advent of Instacart and other digital platforms making wine e-commerce a breeze, fewer consumers are walking into stores to buy wine on impulse (me not among them).

Producers, who already were investing in education for in-house staff and distribution channels, have recognized the need to also educate these consumers willing to spend the extra bucks.

Entertaining education retains current customers and lures in new ones. Having an authentic story matters, especially in the Americas, where consumers enjoy an engaging backstory—and aesthetically pleasing labels—almost as much as the wine itself.

Wine culture is driven by food culture, which today, influenced by the “farm-to-table” trend, is all about sourcing. People want to know the location of the vineyard, who the winemaker is, and the integrity of the supply chain. Brands that can’t answer those questions by telling their story online, through a variety of platforms, to compel the consumer to choose them, will lose.

Stay tuned for a multitude of new and updated apps, online stores, and wineries with links and QR codes delivering a multitude of multimedia experiences.

Biodynamic and Organic Wines Are Mainstream

A lecturer noted that just two years ago at Vinexpo Bordeaux, the original Vinexpo event, vintners involved in the “natural wine” domain did not want to advertise it. Historically, such wines were thought of as low-end. Now, customers are demanding them.

In a 2015–2016 report, global consumer data analytics company Nielsen noted that 30 percent of U.S. wine consumers are interested in organic wines, and that organic wine sales are on the rise.

Vinexpo New York 2019 showcased these wines, clearly setting them apart: “Wow! World of Organic Wines” was its own two-day pavilion; while Renaissance des Appellations, a group of winemakers dedicated to a “return to terroir,” featured 62 biodynamic wines, made without the use of chemicals or genetically modified vines, from 12 of the 13 countries it represents.

Rosé and Sparkling: Trends, Not Fads

Rosé’s popularity continues to rise, in part thanks to the trend toward lighter, fresher dining, and people (not just females) drinking the wine through fall and into winter. Consumers are “trading up” with rosé, with purchases in the $20 to $30 per bottle category rapidly growing.

Over the past three years, Prosecco, meanwhile, has been credited with proving to Americans that sparkling wine can be a daily event: an everyday lifestyle, versus a special occasion product.

Though they may seem “faddish” in the U.S. market, both rosé and sparkling wine have been well established outside the country for decades. Transparent brands that are willing to offer different price points, so that everyone can participate, are here to stay.

Rising Whites

Sauvignon Blanc is trending (I’m either an early adopter or trendsetter: It’s been trending with me since I first started drinking wine), putting pressure on U.S. producers to be more relevant in the marketplace. To the consumer, that means Sauvignon Blanc will stop being presented as an “alternative white.”

I overheard a discussion suggesting that another of my favorite white varietals, Albarino, a diverse grape that’s entirely different depending on where it’s grown, is poised to go mainstream. The Albarinos I’ve bought around Manhattan have been excellent, whether from Spain (what it “should” taste like, and where Albarino must contain 100 percent of that variety) or Monterey County.

Hopefully, these tidbits will inspire you to get ahead of the curve and try some Sauvignon Blancs and Albarinos ASAP, continue to enjoy the rosé and sparkling, stock the cellar with those at-risk premium varietals, and take notice of the ways wine producers are working to educate and entertain you.

(Full disclosure: I did taste many delicious wines at Vinexpo 2019. How could I not?)

Amanda Burrill sees through an adventurous lens, typically focused on culinary and travel. Her education includes a bachelor’s in archaeology, a master’s in journalism, a culinary degree from Le Cordon Bleu, and wine and spirits credentials earned while living in Paris. She is a U.S. Navy veteran, Ironman triathlete, high-alpine mountaineer, and injury connoisseur who ruminates on UnchartedLifestyleMag.com

Amanda Burrill
Amanda Burrill