COMMENTARY

Latest Line on World Wine

By Karl Klooster

Most of the time, this column focuses on the home front. It’s a perfectly logical approach given that what’s happening right here makes the most immediate and significant impact on our community and even on our own lives.

However, taking a look at the wider world of wine provides perspectives we may find not only interesting and informative but also valuable in making decisions about local endeavors. With that in mind, let’s take a global look at the fermented grape.

Over the past several years, total wine production around the world has remained relatively stable. In 2007 it was 27.2 billion liters (6.13 billion gallons or 2.57 billion cases). In 2009 it was 26.4 billion liters. In 2011, a short vintage, it was 24.2 billion liters. 

In other words, if distributed to the world’s seven billion people, every one of them would get four 750 ml bottles apiece with a few left over. 

Whereas that may not appear to be cause for either celebration or concern, what lies behind these figures is a picture of changing dynamics involving old world markets, new world markets and, perhaps most significantly, one quite consequential emerging market.

Traditionally, Western Europe was the engine generating the greatest wine sales and consumption. However, the longstanding socio-cultural tradition that once marked family life there has broken down considerably over the last couple generations.

This change has been most prevalent in France, which still makes more wine than any other country in the world, but no longer drinks most of it themselves. In 1980, French producers crushed 6.97 million tonnes of grapes. By 2010, it had plummeted to 4.54 million tonnes.

Still, France’s 4.63 billion liters was the most wine of any country in 2010, edging out Italy, whose 4.56 billion liters took second. Third came Spain at 3.61 billion liters. All told, the three most prolific European countries accounted for roughly half the entire world’s wine that year. 

Rounding out the top 10 were the United States, solidly in fourth with 2.65 billion liters, Argentina, 1.62 billion, Australia, 1.07 billion, Germany, 932 million, South Africa, 922 million, Chile, 884 million and Portugal, 572 million.

Putting those numbers in perspective, the top 10 accounted for 80 percent of the world’s total of 26.4 billion liters, 6.9 billion gallons or 2.7 billion cases in 2010.

Of course, it’s those drinking all this wine who determine the dynamics of the market. As of 2010, the United States surpassed France in total consumption with 2.912 billion liters as compared to France’s 2.892 billion. 

It may not be much, but it constitutes bragging rights.

The French still managed to put away 45.7 liters per person in 2010, whereas the American’s downed a mere 9.42 liters. More than 45 liters, or 12.1 gallons, may sound like a lot but that’s down dramatically from the 100-plus liters of three decades ago.

The real story, however, is neither in the new world nor the old, but in the Far East. Over the past few years, China, the world’s most populated nation with an estimated 1.4 billion citizens, has gotten into wine in a big way. 

Though annual per capita consumption is still very low — less than one liter person — demand has increased dramatically and shows no signs of abating. 

As the saying goes, if every person in China wanted one more egg per day, there wouldn’t be enough eggs in the world to accommodate the demand. Whether or not this happens with wine remains to be seen.

China, itself, has been ramping up domestic wine production in anticipation of capitalizing on the increasing interest in wine. One report claims they went from 698 million liters in 2008 to 960 million in 2010, a 37 percent increase.

Such an astounding production increase seems difficult to fathom. It could be possible only if thousands of acres of vineyard reached maturity over the course of those two vintages. 

A production report released by California Wine Institute lists China listed as the world’s 13th largest producer with 425 million liters in 2010. Another report from the same source places China ninth in the world in total production, with 949 million liters or 245 million gallons

As for consumption, recent industry estimates now place China in fifth position overall, surpassing the U.K. It should be mentioned that all of these figures include Hong Kong. Total consumption in China is now said to be 373 million gallons, a 33.4 percent jump over 2010.

Whether exaggerated, interpreted in different ways, or whatever, the reality is that the country with one fifth of the world’s people has caught the wine bug and if it bites many more of them the chicken-and-egg scenario could get interesting.

Americans average only a modest 3 gallons per capita annually and still we’ve become the world’s largest wine-consuming country. If the Chinese got to that level, it would require 4.2 billion gallons, or 11.7 billion liters of wine to meet the demand.

That’s more than 40 percent of all wine crafted worldwide. 

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