Are California Wine Production Figures Show Biz Hype?
You have probably heard that California “accounts for nearly 90% of American wine production.” The reason that the “90%” figure has become accepted as fact in the wine industry could be because that’s the figure in the first line of the Wikipedia article for “California Wine.”
But the California wine production figure in Wikipedia is often interpreted to mean that California has 90% market share which is not correct. The article in Wikipedia is the first listing in Google for “California wine” so it has attained a certain credibility. There’s also a 2006 U.S. Department of Commerce Survey that’s all over the internet touting the “90%” figure.
However, The California Wine Institute is not quite so grandiose in its claims. According to them, 61% of the wine consumed in the U.S. is made in California. That’s a lot less than 90%, but it still appears to be an inflated number.
Before I explain why California does not have anywhere close to 90% of the U.S. wine market, it would wise to paraphrase Mark Twain’s quote about using numbers to prove or disapprove a point: “There are three kinds of lies; lies, damned lies and statistics.”
Even obtaining a consistent estimate of total U.S wine consumption is difficult. The California Wine Institute states that Americans consumed 329 million cases of wine during 2011. The Wine Market Council says that Americans consumed 291 million cases of wine in 2011, but we’ll use California’s larger, and therefore more conservative, figure to make our case that California’s share of market is overstated.
First, we must consider that a substantial amount of the wine consumed in U.S. is imported. IMPACT DATABANK says that in 2011, total U.S. wine imports were 98.6 million cases or 30% of the wine consumed in the U.S. (Italy is the largest wine importer to the United States with an 8% market share, followed by France.)
Simple math tells us that if California really does produce 61% of the wine in U.S. and another 30% is imported, then only 9% of the wine American’s drink can come from someplace other than California or overseas. This is where the California market share claim starts to fall apart.
The second largest U.S. wine producer, Washington state, accounts for 6% of U.S. wine consumption according to the Washington State wine website. New York production was 16 million cases in ’05 or 5% of the national total. Oregon is the third largest U.S. wine producer at just under 2 million cases.
When the New York, Washington and Oregon production figures are added to the imported wine totals and the California claim of 61% market share, the total is over 100%. Granted, some small percentage of the wine from New York, Washington and Oregon is exported, but can that amount be more than all the wine produced in Virginia, Michigan, Texas, Missouri and all the U.S. states that are now growing grapes and making wine?
The problem with comparing Midwestern wine production is that a lot of the data is old. The latest production figures for Michigan, the largest Midwestern wine state, are from 2006 when the state produced 420,000 cases of wine. No one will dispute that Michigan produces a lot more wine now than it did six years ago. Fifteen wineries have opened in Michigan since just the beginning of last year. (A lot of the fruit used in Michigan wine is from California and New York but we are only talking about state wine production here.)
Missouri uses a 2009 figure of 389,00o cases produced annually as the latest production figure. The number of wineries in Missouri has increased by 62% since 2009 so Missouri’s actual wine production is anybody’s guess, but it must now be over 500,000 cases.
So it appears that California overstates its dominace while Midwestern wine production is underestimated. Surely, this is the way the California wineries like things to be. While California wine can be very good, but California wine marketing is even more astounding. (The double superlative is intentional.) The message from California always seems to be, “If you don’t like our wines best, you must be some kind of hillbilly from the Midwest.”
As California wine makers look down on us “flyover people” from their lofty perch, they should remember that there are a lot of people in mid-America. The 11 state area that Midwest Wine Press serves has a population of over 66 million. Recent attendance at Midwest wineries and wine events is evidence that consumers are waking up to the fact that the better Midwestern wines are every bit as good as California wines. Plus, Midwestern wine is a reflection of the region’s climate, soils and varietals. Agriculture is something we excel at in the heartland and we have every right to be proud of the food and beverages we produce.
My goal is for all Midwestern states to sell 10% of wine production in state. And from what I’ve heard, a few states like Missouri and Iowa are within striking distance of having 10% market share in their home states. In the Midwest, we are developing a wine industry and culture that is more open-minded and inclusive than some other wine producing areas, like California. The Midwest will become a major wine producing region and when this happens, we will still be our good ‘ol humble selves.