Craft beer is hot these days and the wine industry is jealous. Two giant companies (AB InBev and MillerCoors) control 77 percent of the US beer market. Add in the rest of the giants (Pabst, Heineken, Guinness, Boston Brewing) and big beer accounts for more than 90 percent of the market. But craft beer has been taking a bite out of that in recent years. It might be a reaction to the dominance of the big guys or that savvy beer drinkers are looking for more authentic brews. But I am a wine writer.
Wine appears to be heading in the same direction. A handful of wine companies controls the marketplace, shrinking diversity. The giants control 85 percent of the market, with three wine companies (Gallo, Constellation and The Wine Group) accounting for 55 percent of the market share. It might take another couple of years for wine to reach the height of dominance and depths of diversity that created the craft beer phenomenon, but leave it to the wine marketers to celebrate this statement: “Reflecting an environment where Americans choose brands over appellations, E. & J. Gallo Winery and Constellation Brands have been named Wineries of the Year for 2012,” according to Jon Fredrikson, the keynote speaker at this year’s Unified Wine & Grape Symposium in Sacramento, California. That statement along with the accompanying article by W. Blake Gray really hit me hard—this is a battle for the soul of wine and passionate wine drinkers need to take heed.
Hopefully we won’t wait until two companies control the wine industry to begin a craft wine movement. It can start right now. There are already thousands of small wineries that offer excellent value and they need our attention—many right in our backyard. There are more than 7,000 wineries in this country, so that leaves a good 6,500 that aren’t big brands and come from a place you can visit. Engage with a wine professional to explore wineries beyond big wine and you will find many reasonably priced alternatives to Barefoot, Cupcake and Cavit.
Non-branded non-commodity wines worthy of attention:
2010 Domaine Font Sarade Ventoux, Rhône
2011 Suhru Pinot Grigio, New York
2011 Les Galets de Sauveterre, Côtes du Rhône