America’s Wine Decline

Numbers, they say, do not lie. But the numbers to which you pay attention matter greatly. Much ado has been made in recent years about America’s ascendancy to become the world’s largest consumer of wine by volume, a title it achieved in 2014 and has kept since (as-yet-unreported numbers from the last two years notwithstanding). America seems to be drinking more wine than ever, but that seemingly good news belies a much more disturbing trend that suggests America’s wine industry is in some fairly serious trouble.

Rob McMillan has been watching the American wine industry for three decades, having founded the Wine Division of Silicon Valley Bank in 1992. SVB, as it is more commonly known, finances a significant portion of the country’s wineries and wine businesses, and has unmatched visibility into the financials of thousands of wineries. Each year, based on information gleaned from those financials, as well as an industry-wide survey, McMillan assembles his State of the Wine Industry Report and attempts to provide a snapshot of where the industry is headed.

‘Let’s talk about the elephant in the room’, said McMillan in his live-streamed presentation of the report. The elephant, hiding under big flashy numbers like rising wine consumption and many high-end wineries saying that 2021 was the best year in the history of their business, was this: McMillan’s analysis shows steadily shrinking growth rates for the industry as a whole for the last 20 years.

You don’t have to have an MBA or a degree in statistics to know that when it comes to business, you want your graphs to go up and to the right. The American wine industry’s graph goes down and to the right.

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This article is my monthly column at JancisRobinson.Com, Alder on America, and is usually available only to subscribers of her website. If you’re not familiar with the site, I urge you to give it a try. It’s only £8.50 a month or £85 per year ($11/mo or $111 a year for you Americans) and well worth the cost, especially considering you basically get free, searchable access to the Oxford Companion to Wine ($65) and maps from the World Atlas of Wine ($50) as part of the subscription costs. Click here to sign up.