2016 Wine Industry Predictions as told by Wine Professionals

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‘A new year, a new you!’…isn’t that what commercials, ads and social media frenzies are touting?  While we’re all trying to reset, rejuvenate and reenergize our mindsets, health routines and bodies, many from my side of the industry are also trying to get a handle on and reset our business plans for what will actually happen in the world of wine this 2016.  

With all the new year’s ‘resets’, will the wine world reset as well?  

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Because it had actually been a topic of discussion several times over this past week with friends, clients and colleagues, I thought ‘maybe inquiring minds DO want to know what folks from my industry are saying about what’s to come (in the way of wine) for 2016′, so I asked!  Reaching out to a few of my favorite wine peeps, from almost every angle of the industry, from California, Chicago to the Twin Cities, here’s what my community of winos had to say!  (These are pretty fantastic, by the way, and ALL worth reading through…even Nicolas Giraud’s!)

What wine goals, wine trends or predictions do you see or have for 2016?

“Here are my wine trends/predictions for 2016 (based on no particularly scientific/statistically significant findings):  The “post varietal” era continues to expand, with a growing appreciation of blends and “wines of place” (as contrasted with the “vanilla/chocolate” land of varietals). Also, alternative wine delivery systems (think keg wine/bag-in-box, etc.) are finding increasing acceptance, especially with younger wine drinkers.”   ~ Fred Peterson, Winery Owner/Winemaker, Peterson Winery, California

“The trend toward lighter bodied, lower alcohol red wines continues. One sees this especially with the growing popularity of wines from Beaujolais and Jura- Burgundies country cousins to the south and east and with ascendancy of wines made from grapes like Counoise planted in Mendocino county CA. I like to think that people are paying more attention to what they drink at the table because these wines in general work really well with dinner.   A trend toward natural wine continues. We do have wines in stock now that have only a single ingredient- grapes, Wines made with little or no sulfur can be somewhat quirky. They can also have an expanded flavor range that can be intriguing for someone who is looking to challenge and expand their palate. However interesting, they are not for everyone. We are seeing greater acceptance of them in the market and intend to grow that portion of our portfolio. These wines also play toward the larger food trend of healthy eating. We like the wines because they are delicious.”   ~ Erin Ungerman & Eric Freeburg, Senior Sales Team, New France Wine, St Paul

“Far to often in the supplier world it is easy to get tunnel vision on just your brand and the varietals that are part of it. I am constantly amazed at the amount of new brands that are introduced yearly. Most of these introductions try to be whimsical and witty but end up being cheesy especially for us that are in the biz. As the category gets more and more fragmented I think it actually drives the consumer to familiarity (too many choices). That’s why 2016 is the comeback of MERLOT!  Yep, I said it. It’s been 12 years since the release of Sideways and we have a new population of consumers that have no idea that movie exist. I just read a stat that said 20% of the worlds population were born after Bill Clinton was getting a BJ in the Oval Office.. I also am very curious about new package formats, particularly “cans”.  I think you will see this category increase in size this year and hopefully the quality will match the growth. Who doesn’t like a nice CAN?   ~ Brad Butcher, Senior Sales Director, Jordan Winery, California

“I thought last year was a huge step forward in what people were looking for. I see more younger people with regional knowledge than ever before and that’s awesome. For next year, a couple things I would like to see:  A:) Let’s drink more wine when it’s ready. I know not everyone has the luxury to age things but I try to find things that are drinking maturely, even for wines by the glass, and it makes a huge difference.  B:) Half bottles! I wish more distributors pushed for them, and more wineries found value in putting them out there.  C:) Can merlot come back yet? The Simcic opoka merlot (’09) was one of my fave gems this year. Come on people, get over it.  D:) Vermouth. Lets all drink a shitload of the good stuff.  E:) Geeky note, but, can we all get on the single vineyard graziano bandwagon? I’ll drive it.”  ~ Nick Rancone, Owner/Operator, Corner Table / Revival Restaurants, Minneapolis

“I am going with BORDEAUX as the region that may finally grab the attention of younger wine buyers (trade) and New World Cab drinkers (consumers) ready to return to the historical home of the mother grapes they already frequently consume. That’s what I got!”  ~ Dana Bonelli, North Central Regional Manager, Wilson Daniels, Minneapolis

“On the heals of the past few years we have seen the steady increase of Millennials and Somms taking charge. I see the points system as less of a factor. We’ve seen these in the spotlight: Grower Champagne, Prosecco, Jura, Rosé and Sangria. I am not sure orange wine and ‘Natural’ wine will ever be a big hit but I do think more and more people are seeking quality and value v.s mass produced. One of the value propositions may be quality box wine from outside of California. More restaurants will opt for BTG wine in Keg.  Last year I expected a little more from Cabernet Franc so I think we might see a bigger push this year, especially from South America. Merlot is making a comeback and that is a grape of choice right now with Millennials. France is pushing hard to get America’s business back so watch them closely. At least here in the midwest the future looks bright, the way I see it is that we are so fortunate to have so many more wine companies, and ultra-talented buyers that we won’t be bored with the enormous range of choices in 2016.  My goal is the same, to keep learning, traveling and educating!”  ~ Nikki Erpelding, Regional Manager, Winebow Imports, Minneapolis 

“This last year, I noticed better and more interesting wines being poured by the glass at restaurants than ever before. Maybe with all the great local craft beer and innovative cocktails on every drink list in town, wine selections are catching up. More of this in 2016, please!”  ~ John Garland, Senior Editor, Growler Magazine, Minneapolis 

“My prediction for 2016:  1. Chuck Kanski (owner of Solo Vino Wine Shop) will have a girl, they will name her Lily (after Lily Bollinger).    2. Peter Vars (Manager of Thomas Liquor) will have a boy, Peter Junior.  3. Chardonnay will come back in force.  4. Cru of Beaujolais will get a raise in price due to the higher demand.   5. We will see a little army of “newly certified” sommelier raising, even among the customers.   6. The Houses of Champagne are going to be very competitive to fight against the grower movement.   7. Lenny Russo (owner/chef of Heartland Restaurant) will be nominated for a Jame Beard Award that they won’t give him.  Happy 2016!”   ~ Nicolas Giraud, Wine Director/Manger, Brasserie Zentral / Meritage Restaurants, Minneapolis & St Paul

“After over 20 years in the food and wine industry, the past few have definitely been the craziest! There has been so many changes on the wine scene with new big distributors, new national retailers entering the market, tons of new restaurants and everyone in the industry sort of making a mad dash to find that perfect fit for them. I feel like 2016 is the year where we will all be able to take a deep breathe and finally hit our stride. The wine community has truly grown so much stronger and even though everyone is sort of spread out now I feel like we have never been closer. With all of the change and crazy market additions, our consumers are becoming a heck of lot more savvy. They are demanding really cool wines and are willing to make the drive to their local independent retailers to find them. There will always be a demand for the big brands however, now is the time to explore and discover new and interesting wine. I set a personal goal about 5 years ago to continue my education and I started pursuing some certifications. 2016 will find me at the Court of Master Sommeliers advanced course in Texas this March and finishing my Advanced WSET at the end of the year. I have enough flashcards, books and bottles to last a lifetime. I look forward to a beautiful 2016 filled with many surprises, growth and discoveries.”  ~ Rikki Iglesias,  General Manager, Sommelier (and Dreammaker!), Domace Vino, Minneapolis

“Go!  Wine goals:  1. To bring Italy outside the Italian restaurant. As an Italian wine importer I may be a little partial, but it is amazing how many people believe an Italian wine only belongs with Italian food. Sangiovese is not just for baked ziti and pizzas.  2. Showing off new varietals – Pinot Grigio is not the only white wine made in Italy, and yet it continues to make up ~70% of Italian white wine sections. Branching out and capitalizing on the customer’s interest for “new” is what needs to be taken on in 2016.  3. Helping people to understand a real balanced wine. You’ve said it about mine and I find it to be the biggest battle when sipping on something. It’s so difficult to do…naturally. Sure the mystery red blend with a smiley face on it seems smooth and balanced, but that is a manufactured juice bomb with a world of chemicals, oils, and flavoring agents getting it to that point. Commend the ones that do it right and knowing what’s in your glass.   Wine trends and Predictions 1. Restaurant free-flowing menus. I’m seeing younger buyers with less serious loyalty to specific wines. They’re wanting an in the moment interest, and that is what goes on their wine list…even if there’s only a few cases available. With more readily available menus (in-house printing and iPads), wine directors can make more changes on a whim.  2. Tasters. Letting the customer choose their own adventure. By that I’m seeing more 3oz pour options on wine lists and air-tight sampling dispensers in retail. As the customers are doing more research (via tasting clubs, classes, wine apps, and social media) retail and restaurants are beginning to offer a broader scale w less commitment required from the customer. Instead of one glass, have two half glasses!  3. ABC – anything but chard, anything but Chianti, anything but cab. The big guys are still the biggest sellers out there, but-as mentioned above-customers are experimenting and learning more. People are asking me for wines such as Aglianico, Croatian wines, and PROPER Rieslings. It’s glorious to see people step out and try the unique/different!”  ~ Cari Focht, Regional Manager, Empson Wines, Chicago

Whoah — you go guys, this is awesome!

 Lastly, my predictions for 2016?  My colleagues have about covered it, don’t ya think?  This is a pretty good run down of what’s to come.  

Here’s my add:  “The future for the wine industry is brighter than ever!  With the continued movement towards more education, more restaurant/retail wine opportunity via our local distribution channels and more folks willing to step beyond their ‘usual drinking grapes’ – we are on a roll.  I am excited to see what 2016 will bring for this push of recognition towards more Eastern European regions like: Slovenia, Croatia, Hungary, Austria & Germany.  I agree with Cari on this one, more PROPER Riesling!

I’m also completely on board with what Brad & Fred said (above) regarding ‘alternative’ packaging for wine.  The wine CAN, esp. in silos, made a big hit this year.  I’m all for taking your wine with you, so yes to more of those wines (under $20) hitting the ‘alternative’ packaging scene.  

As for a new grape varietal revolution…we’ve seen a lot in the last ten years.  The fall of Merlot, the rise of Pinot, the impact of Malbec and the annoying Moscato trend (Dear Barefoot, please stop it!).  I agree with everyone that made the ‘Merlot’ comments above.  Let’s get this lady grape back on the scene!  I currently pour a 2008 Merlot from Lazio, Italy by the glass at The Salt Cellar in St Paul, and it’s one of my biggest sellers.  It’s a ballsy wine, and people absolutely love it!  Go Merlot!

I agree with Nico (above) about the ‘Rise of the Somms’.  It’s a thing.  Pick an age group or a career, and everyone’s suddenly dropping everything to get on board.  I am both sides of the fence about this bit.  The movie SOMM made folks wickedly aware of our positions.  However, currently we are in a bit of a ‘puppy mill’ cycle, cranking out somms at a level that does not require the amount of knowledge & experience that everyone on this page, with 15+ years in the industry, has obtained.  The prior standards of: 15+ blind wines/libations, 18 hour/2day exams, theory, essay and all wine, beer, spirit, sake, coffee, tea knowledge that I needed 12 years ago just to pass just my initial International Sommelier Guild sommelier certification doesn’t exist anymore until you reach the master level of the court of master sommeliers.  I’m starting to feel a little saddened by the court of master sommeliers these days because of this cycle they’ve created.  Are we a reality show or a profession?  Are we actors or educators?  But!  But, But, But…the flip side is that it HAS raised excitement for the wine industry it HAS actually jump started wine in a serious way.  And, that IS exciting.  Plus, new blood is a good thing, in fact, a great thing!  I love that I receive daily emails from folks asking about ‘my path’ and ‘my education’ — it makes me feel extremely proud to be part of the old guard of ISG & Court of MS certified somms.  You know what else?  Folks are spending more time TOGETHER learning, studying, examining and moving through additional advanced wine, sake & tea programs, and that’s wicked cool, too.  So in the end I say: ‘Carry on, Somms!’

Certified now for move than 12 years as a sommelier, having spent 23+ years in all aspects of the hospitality and wine industries and with Amusée now 11 years old today, I am still so damned excited by my industry and my profession!  The cool part? There is still so much more to see from the wine world.  I am amazed by the constant open minded ‘wine drinking’ attitudes of just our local scene, so much so that I feel Minneapolis & St Paul have no where to go but, up!    As for Amusée?  It’s a big year here for me!  I’ll be unveiling a brand new arm to my company here within the coming months, so that’s exciting!!  Including, so much more travel & exploration on the table for 2016.  Hoping that you’ll continue to explore & sip in this amazing world of wine that we live in & enjoy with me.  Lucky me, is all I can say…to be surrounded by such enthusiast, positive and energized colleagues & consumers.  I feel honored & am exceptionally grateful for having shared this time with you all so far.  Bring me more, 2016, bring me more!”  ~ Certified Sommelier/Owner, Amusée, Minneapolis

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