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Where All That Wine is Going

I swear I've seen something like thirty news headlines in the last two weeks announcing "Americans Now Drink More Wine than Anyone Else." This is clearly not true. But what is true, apparently, is that for the first time ever, more wine was shipped into this country (and/or shipped within our borders) last year than any other country in the world.

What this actually means, well that's a complex answer. Anyone looking to simplify that complexity (and who wouldn't when you're trying to make generalizations at the scale of the global economy) could reasonably say that America consumed more wine last year than any other country.

I gave my own little cheer when I read the news stories, but then I started to wonder at the real story behind the numbers. Certainly, shipping volume can't be denied as an indicator of commercial activity, and a derivative of commercial demand. But where are all those boxes of wine going? And are they really being consumed when they get there?

What has happened to wine inventories in the past year in all those big warehouses around the country where the boxes end up when they cross our shores? According to some folks I know who spend time in those warehouses, they're not exactly emptying out at the rates they were several years ago.

And then there's the little problem of per-capita consumption in this country, which is still dismally low compared to almost all other countries in the world. We Americans drink only 9.6 liters of wine a year per-capita. That's less than Macedonia, and only a bit more than the United Arab Emirates, where alcohol is pretty much illegal.

The good news is that our consumption, no matter how you measure it, is on the rise. Our per capita consumption in 2008 was up 14% (thank you recession), and I expect it to keep on rising, though it will take us a long time at even a 14% annual increase to approach the per-capita consumption of France, at 53 liters of wine a year.

This of course means that some of us (we know who we are) seem to be responsible for vastly more than our fair share of wine consumption in this country. Nothing wrong with that, of course, but that's a gap not unlike the income inequality gap in this country. Sobering. Or just the opposite, as the case may be.

So forgive me if I don't get too excited about this recent milestone in our country's history of global wine commerce. It's an achievement to be sure, but there's much more to be done to get wine on more tables in this country, more often. And of course, there's much more wine to be drunk.

See the official press release.

Comments (17)

Carlos Silveira wrote:
03.23.11 at 4:44 AM

Why Vatican is # 1?

Eric Orange wrote:
03.23.11 at 8:11 AM

"9.6 liters of wine a year per-capita"

That's about my weekly consumption so we're doing our part in the Orange household to keep those numbers up.


03.23.11 at 8:50 AM

I also think warehouse restocking accounts for much of the story.

I wonder how much of a role collectors play in the numbers. I believe that the U.S. has long led the import numbers by value. Likely much of the more expensive wine is being collected rather than consumed.

Interestingly if the U.S. consumed as much wine as the Vatican City, it would come out to something like 205,000,000 hectoliters. That is all of the wine produced in France, Spain, U.S., Argentina, Australia, Germany and Chile! Now there is a goal for us!

Alder Yarrow wrote:
03.23.11 at 9:09 AM


Not entirely sure why Vatican is #1, but perhaps because the statistics aren't actually what people consume, but how much wine is ordered vs. how many residents there are. I would expect that the vatican has a lot of sacramental wine plus a lot of big dinners where wines are served not only to "residents" but also people visiting.


03.23.11 at 10:50 AM

"Nothing wrong with that, of course, but that's a gap not unlike the income inequality gap in this country."

Great analogy...from the retail side, definitely seeing that 80/20 rule, 80% of the wine is consumed by 20% of the population.

Mark wrote:
03.23.11 at 11:52 AM

Who cares if we consume per capita any more or less than any other country? Why would one be concerned about that? Is it interesting? I suppose.

Alder Yarrow wrote:
03.23.11 at 11:55 AM


Good question. You're speaking to a blogger, and less directly at a community of wine lovers who believe that our country would be a better place if people drank more wine. If this were true, then wine would be easier to get, with more variety, at better prices, and our culture would be richer for it, in the same way it would be if people went to see more plays and cooked better meals at home.


Bill wrote:
03.23.11 at 1:53 PM

The US also exported more wine than ever before, offsetting some of those numbers.

One thing to consider is winery inventory in addition to warehouse/distributor inventory. A lot of inexpensive Australian and Chilean wines have grown in popularity in the US while some of the more expensive California wines have sat in tanks at the winery. This equals people in California drinking Australian wines instead of California wines, a trend which is not represented by these numbers.

In addition, this report counts California shipments to other states as "imported" wine. Since approximately 4% of California's population has left the state in the last two years, I suspect that we are seeing the wine follow those people, resulting in a major increase in shipments.

When you consider that the US has approximately 5 times as many people as Italy or France, doesn't it make sense that we would buy more wine?

I guess I agree with you Alder, the reality is far too complex to be explained simply. Let's just have a glass and let everyone who's not holding up their portion of the 9.3 liters know what they're missing ;)

BTW, have you seen the size of the masses they have at the Vatican? St. Peter's Basilica alone uses 2000 liters a year, and there are 3 other cathedrals where the Vatican holds mass. If you take that out of the numbers, Vatican City drops down to the same level as the rest of Italy, around 50 liters per.

Brenda wrote:
03.23.11 at 3:56 PM

i'm with you on the per capita notion. we have a lot more people than does France or Italy but by comparison we have far far less wine drinkers than them.

Fred Aliano wrote:
03.23.11 at 4:58 PM

The per-capita number is the most significant number if one is pondering the future and/or potential of the wine business in the US. France or Italy would need significantly larger populations to have a meaningful effect on their wine consumption because their per-capita consumption isn't likely to increase. In contrast, per-capita consumption is increasing at a healthy clip in the U.S. and total consumption will continue to rise as a result. If I'm in the wine business I think that spells opportunity and growth.

tom barras wrote:
03.23.11 at 8:15 PM

Hey, I've been doing MY per capita share.

Mark wrote:
03.24.11 at 9:59 AM

Looks like I have competiton from another "Mark" around here. Ok, so go with 2 broad generalizations about these stats.

To start, if Americans are buying more wine than any other country as a whole, it isn't surprising given the population size.

I also hope per capita continues to increase while the average bottle price increases as well.

David Price wrote:
03.28.11 at 10:14 AM

Sorry if I'm going against the collective wisdom here, but I would rather keep buying great and good wine at bargain prices than have everyone else on my block competing with my dollar. Short sided, yes, selfish, yes, but love these low prices for good wine. Hope to stock up before the prices start to climb back up again.

CJ and PK wrote:
03.29.11 at 6:36 AM

"some of us (we know who we are) seem to be responsible for vastly more than our fair share of wine consumption"

*sigh* You've got us bang to rights...

BaroloDude wrote:
03.29.11 at 10:00 AM

9.6 liters per second squared... the Law of Specific Gravity of wine and the speed it flows out of my bottle.

Jason wrote:
03.31.11 at 5:45 PM

I enjoy reading these statistics when they are published every six months with a new change in line up. Down here in Australia the per capita numbers constantly change and no one who actually drinks or produces wine can figure out why. Better to stay with the boutique wineries and on the road than become sober to odd results.


Alex wrote:
03.09.12 at 1:43 AM

"We Americans drink only 9.6 liters of wine a year per-capita. That's less than Macedonia, and only a bit more than the United Arab Emirates, where alcohol is pretty much illegal."

These are truly shocking statistics, I thought wine was a big deal in the states like it is in Australia. Although it is very 'fashionable' in China these days and wine consumption is rising, I have no doubt it will rise in the States but not necessarily as a fashion statement!

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