Sunday, February 15, 2009

America the wine culture

While trying to catch up on my reading the other day, I came across a story from January that addressed the seeming growing wine consumption in the United States.

The direction of the brief story was to show the relationship between declining wine consumption in Europe (especially France and Italy) beside the rising consumption in the United States.

One of the statistics in the document that caught my eye also jiggled my memory.

The numbers reported in the story don’t always appear as per capita but rather as the overall consumption numbers and then they are compared to Europe and Australia, etc.

I did quick math on the overall consumption numbers and came up with a per capita wine consumption by Americans in 2008 at nearly three gallons.

Each case of wine is approximately 2.4 gallons. So, the numbers mean that for every adult of drinking age, wine consumption in the United States accounted for just over a case annually.

Juxtapose those three gallons a year over here with the per capita consumption in Italy and it presents quite a picture.

In Italy, wine consumption has been steadily dropping for a few years now. Still, the per capita consumption in Italy hovers just above nine cases annually, and that’s the wine that’s not homemade, which in Italy is surely quite a number.

All of this got me to thinking. I seemed to remember a per capita wine consumption number in the United States from 1984 that wasn’t too distant from the one posted for 2008. I did some checking and came up with the Wine Institute link below.

The reason 1984 stuck in my mind is because, that was the year I started my small winery and I was doing consumption research that year. Sure enough, as you can see in the link, in 1984 per capita wine consumption in the U.S. was just under one case annually.

What do the numbers say about the United States as a wine culture?

I’m afraid the numbers don’t say what we would like to believe about our wine culture.

Wine consumption in the U.S. has been rising for the past 15 years, and all we’ve come up with is an annual increase in per capita consumption from just under one case to just over one case!

So, why do we keep hearing about the United States wine market being coveted by Europeans and Australians?

The answer to that is in the numbers, too.

The latest census bureau report shows the adult population of the United States at 218 million (that includes 18 year olds). The over 65 group is at 36 million and the under 17 at 53 million.

I can’t find any information that gives a census of how many adults drink that one case each year, but I did find that just over 300 million cases of wine are consumed each year.

Think about it: 300-plus million cases going to a couple hundred million people, yet each person is allotted just over one case a year.

Based on my wine consumption, and the consumption of people I know, it’s clear to me that there’s a vast opportunity for selling wine to adults in the United States. Only a few of us presently do the heavy lifting.

Couple the opportunity here with the opportunity in China, where they might drink one bottle per year on a per capita basis, and you’ve got the two truly growth markets for wine in the 21st century—provided someone figures out how to speed up the growth, because at this pace, it will take a couple of centuries to make any money selling wine.

One thing is certain: the United States is NOT yet a wine culture. Not even close.

Wine Institute

Wine Market Council

If you are reading this entry anywhere other than on the vinofictions blog, be aware that it has been lifted without my permission (and without recompense), and that’s a copyright infringement, no matter that the copyright information appears with it.

Copyright Thomas Pellechia
February 2009. All rights reserved.


  1. "One thing is certain: the United States is NOT yet a wine culture. Not even close."

    You are so right.

    Instead, the US is a High Fructose Corn Syrup nation. Making us fatter and fatter.

  2. The depressing truth seems to be that the U.S. will never be a "wine-consuming country." Too many factors are against it: the Puritan background, the large number of Christian evangelicals, the notion that wine is a European elitist beverage, lack of knowledge, and lack of education about wine in the home. It's interesting that the year you started your winery is the year I first wrote a newspaper wine column. Obviously, not much has changed in 25 years, but I keep writing for what must be a small group of consumers. One problem must be the way wine is advertised, not as an everyday drink for having with meals but as a romantic, snobbish expression of a "wine lifestyle."

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  4. Hey Jack, have you been reading my bathroom scale???

    Actually, wine has made me gain a few extra pounds, so now I have to cut back to 1/2 a bottle a day.

    I wonder what that will do to the per capita count?


    One more coincidence we share--the 1980s thing.

    As for the advertising angle: you got that right. I remember Leigh Knowles the Pres of Beaulieu back in the 70s who did radio spots that were a breath of fresh air, but he remained relatively alone in how to talk about wine. He took his cue from the beer industry.

    My ex-wine retail partner used to say that he won't be happy until a TV ad shows a guy taking a break from his lawn mowing by reaching into the cooler and pulling out a bottle of wine.

    As for that small group of consumers you write for--stop stealing my audience!

    Really, the stats prove that quite a small number of Americans drink quite a lot of wine and the rest must be slugging down the fructose/corn syrup.

  5. Due to the depression- disguised-as-recession, I've cut back to 3 bottles a day!

  6. Disguised only by the politicos, Marco.

    We plebians know better--or in this case, would that be worse?