This is a difficult time for those in the wine trade. But the effects on wine consumers should be negligible, and in many cases positive. Especially if they know where to look.
First the tariffs, which amount to 25% for table wines below 14% alcohol from Spain, France, Germany and the United Kingdom. That means sparkling wines and those with alcohol levels at 14% or above should not be affected.
In addition, wineries and importers are taking measures to avert the levies. Not many European vintners can suddenly ratchet up alcohol levels after years or even generations of making lighter wines. But Larry Colbeck, owner of St. Paul-based import/wholesale outlet the Wine Co., expects that many producers are taking or will take other tacks.
“The bigger wineries need all of their markets to take all of the wine they produce, so they’re much more amenable [to adjusting prices],” he said. “They’re either sharing the price rise [with importers] or reducing what they charge.”
In addition, Colbeck said, producers “can generate savings by shipping their wine in bulk and having it bottled over here,” which not only averts the tariff but also saves on shipping costs. “[Sending wine over] in cases and bottles limits the amount of juice you can get into a container [vs. large pouches].”
More low-alcohol wine
More good news for those who prefer not starting to feel tipsy after one glass: West Coast wineries large and small have been picking their grapes earlier and taking other steps to produce lower-alcohol juice.
Daniel Brashi, wine buyer at South Lyndale Liquors in Minneapolis, said his customers already have been “asking about lower-alcohol wines, California especially. The question does tend to go hand in hand with a lot of the new guard of California,” he said, citing vintners Pax Mahle, Martha Stoumen, Ruth Lewandowski and Matthew Rorick (Forlorn Hope) and noting that Mahle’s Wind Gap Syrah comes in at 11.7% alcohol.
Even at lower price points, popular wines such as the Bogle Petite Sirah and Kendall-Jackson Vintner’s Reserve Chardonnay are clocking in at 13.5%.
“Customer response to [lower-alcohol domestic] wines at the tasting bar has been very positive,” said Mitch Zavada, wine buyer at 1010 Washington in Minneapolis.
Other ramifications, per Colbeck: Smaller European producers won’t be able to absorb the cost, and many will disappear from local shelves (ask your favorite wine merchant about possibilities there and stock up now).
“And I see the middle part of the market [$15 to $25] falling the most.” The rationale: Bargain-basement wines won’t see much of a price hike, and folks who shop at the higher end won’t care as much about paying a few dollars more.
But the pandemic crisis might stymie sales at higher prices. In the last economic crash a dozen years ago, the wines that suffered the most were in the $25 to $60 range, and that could easily transpire again.
The only sure thing at this point is that restaurants are getting hurt and even those doing a more brisk takeout and/or delivery business are suffering because their margins are built on beverages.
With more people eating at home, more wine is consumed there, too. That’s almost certainly helping retailers in inverse proportion to how much it’s hurting restaurants.
Rodney Brown, owner of Cedar Lake Wine Co. in Golden Valley, noticed the effect on March 12, the day after President Donald Trump’s Oval Office speech on the pandemic.
“I had multiple customers buying multiple extra bottles,” Brown said, adding that twice as many customers as usual bought a case or more.
Buying wine by the case may well be advised, especially for those in two-week quarantines.
And there’s an added bonus for the legions of us who will be enjoying more wine at home: not getting behind the wheel.