The Wine Institute reports that the United States, for the first time, has become the biggest wine market in the world. In 2010, the United States consumed 330 million, 9 million more than France's total.
For the United States, this meant the market grew 2% in cases over 2009, but 4% in sales owing to higher pricing for the average case. It was the 17th consecutive year of case shipment growth in the US.
Ironically, while the US is a bigger market than France in total, per capita consumption is a small fraction of the French number. The average citizen of France consumes more than five times the average American (53 litres per year to 9.7 litres per year). It is only because the US has 311 million people - more than five times the French population - that the total puts the US on top.
To put this in perspective, if Americans drank wine like Canadians, the wine market would jump from $30 billion to $38 billion; if Americans uncorked as many bottles as the British, the wine market would leap to $60 billion. And, if Americans could tipple at French levels, the US wine market would be a staggering $150 billion market.
Perhaps hitting French consumption levels is too ambitious, but is it difficult to imagine American wine consumption looking like British wine consumption? The wine industry thinks this is possible. Per capita consumption in the US has been growing and younger Americans are increasingly attracted to the wine lifestyle and the possible health benefits of moderate consumption.
Remember, none of this considers the natural growth in the total market that comes with having a growing population. So how will this affect the wine distributors, both in controlled and privatized jurisdictions? The growth in per capita wine consumption will mean, in brute terms, considerably more capacity than exists today. And with that growth, some important details where devils hide. The first, SKU proliferation that comes with a ever-more sophisticated consumers where variety is a necessity. The second, the complexity of a global sourcing operation where, for many vintages, there is a very real scarcity.
Here come the wine wars. Figuratively speaking, of course.