Friday, April 29, 2016

BRAMBLES: Change is Life!

Renewal of the cycle, Vitis Vinifera
Renewal, it is Spring! A new sunny chapter to be written, just like those that visited many times before.  As my Mom approaches her 85th birthday, I reflected that she must have seen tremendous changes in the domestic wine industry over the course of her lifetime. Change can be slow, it can be seasonal, so looking back over decades we can begin to see the constantly evolving shadows that effect us.  Looking back, so that we can more clearly look forward, we begin to see that in this industry as with ourselves Change is Life!

A first ever German Wine Queen was elected in 1931 to represent the quality region of the Palatinate; by 1933 the Nazi's taken control of the entire state, and the world watched.  In early December of that year(1933), domestic Prohibition was repealed with the 21st Amendment to the U.S. Constitution. Nationally, less than 100 commercial wine producers had survived; poor quality, cheap table wines were the resulting standard through those turbulent years until the late 1960's.  Wine consumption in the U.S. averaged only about one quart per person, so perhaps that was a good thing!.

During the World War years, domestic consumption by 'the greatest generation' had grown to around .75 gals. per person annually. By 1965, Robert Mondavi had broken away from the families Charles Krug to establish his own winery, becoming the first large scale California winery built in Napa since prior to Prohibition. Importantly, Russian immigrant,  Andre' Tchelistcheff had been producing some of California's best wines for a generation at the valley's benchmark Beaulieu Vineyards.
An era of corporate consolidation of the industry was about to be unleashed, and by 1969 giant Heublein acquired a collection of famed wineries including Inglenook and BV.  By the end of the next decade, Allied Domecq, Constellation Brands, and others with international beverage portfolios had joined the industry takeover.

Celebrating the American Bi-centennial(1976) with a trumpeted international blind tasting, a '73 Stags Leap NV estate Cabernet Sauvignon, and a '73 Chateau Montelena Napa Valley Chardonnay were voted best, surprising established French quality hallmarks for the first time at any international competition.  At home, domestic wine consumption had grown to a new threshold of around 1.75 gals per person.
Growing in the Napa Valley

As defined by the U.S. Treasury's TTB in 1978, the nations first approved American Viticultural Area was designated as Augusta(GA) AVA. Napa AVA would be approved shortly afterward. The early 80's saw dozens of AVA's defined, including the Russian River, Dry Creek and Sonoma Valley AVA's. Today there are more than 230 recognized AVA's nationally.

 A 2005 U.S. Supreme Court decision(Granholm v. Heald) struck down a ban on inter-state alcohol sales in states that permit in-state sales, thereby supporting sales of California wines in states that had previously barred its commerce.
By 2006 there were more than 4388 bonded wineries throughout the U.S.; by the close of 2014 the number had grown to almost 8000!

According to Sonoma County Winegrowers, in 2012 there were more than 685 county wineries. It has not stopped evolving. Compared to 2005, today there are more than twice as many wineries throughout Sonoma County. Overall, demand continues to grow; in this new century wine remained increasingly popular and continued to grow in market share, and by 2012 U..S. adults were enjoying an average of more than 2.75 gallons per person.
By 2015, California producers had grown to be the fourth largest region or wine 'nation' in the world, with an export value of more than $1.6 billion.

Increasingly sustainability farmed, today there are over 25,000 vineyard businesses nationally, producing the highest value fruit crop in the U.S. Brick & mortar wineries see more than 30 million thirsty visitors annually, and are employing over 50,000 people. And, that is not even counting the thousands upon thousands of dedicated home winemakers. Even as global consumers are drinking about the same per capita as a decade ago, American wine consumption continues to steadily increase.  Today Americans drink more wine than do the French!

Over the course of more than eight(8) decades, she has seen the Great Depression and its recovery, armed conflicts too numerous to dignify with mention, tremendous social change domestically, and a world today that could not have been found in dreams of the 'Greatest Generation'.  Children were nurtured and raised, to have children of there own who dream.  And when we celebrated, even as we gathered around a simple communal table there was wine to be found.  And wine continued to improve, finding its way into more celebrations and on to more tables. Just like us, this industry would never stagnate, always evolving to new heights, and offering the opportunity for us to do better.  Throughout, just like Momma said, life with its many pitfalls and its unbounded joys, we find that change is life.

Happy Birthday, Momma!
"Once, during Prohibition, I was forced to live for days on nothing but food and water." W.C.Fields