Back from a week in Chicago with Speechmark Bordeaux, a wine education and language school based in Bordeaux. I have accompanied them on week-long ‘market immersions’ for the past few years, for winemakers to get to understand Anglophone markets, and meet up with journalists, buyers, sommeliers and other key players. We were in New York last year, and this year headed to Illinois for five days in Chicago.

Apart from the fact that it rained pretty much all week, we had a fantastic time. There were five winemakers with us, all from small properties who do not sell en primeur, and who have limited or no distribution within the States. These were:
Chateau Rivalerie (Blaye Cotes de Bordeaux)
Chateau Brethous (Cadillac Cotes de Bordeaux)
Chateau de l’Esperance (Blaye Cotes de Bordeaux)
Chateau Cantinot (Blaye Cotes de Bordeaux)
Chateau Beau Rivage (Bordeaux Superieur) and Clos La Boheme (Haut-Medoc), both owned by the Nadalie family, fifth generation barrel makers.

The aim of the week is not sales (they may go on to pursue that of course, but we have nothing to do with it) but to understand the opportunities and the barriers to entry of the market. It gives them really useful information (for me too, just a brilliant way to keep up to date) that comes straight from the guys who are shaping and commenting on the market.

First up, from Marc Witham, a wine educator in Chicago whose mother is French, and who used to work at Sam’s Wines (bought out by Binny’s in 2009). He started off the week by giving an overview of the US market as it stands today:
US largest wine market in the world, drank the most wine ever in 2010, the 17th year of growth, spending $40 billion. 300 million consumers
Added 71 million cases over the last decade in sales. Higher per consumption drinkers, regular once a week drinkers are now responsible for 91% of the consumption
72% domestic wine, 28% imported wine
After decades of more white than red, since 2005 it is the other way. 14% rose, 44% red, 42% white.
Costco sold 1.1 billion in wines, 75 billion bottles worldwide in 2010
There are 233 million adults in America, of which 80 million drink wine on a weekly basis
Even during this recession, wine drinking has increased.
In 1988, 94.2% of imports were Old World wines, today its 67.3%
In 1997, France represented 30% of imports, in 2009 it was down to 9.3% (and Australia at 30%)
3.3 million purchasers of luxury wine, classed as bottles over $25
52% of spend overall is at under $10
Cabernet Sauvignon prices across the US (survey from 2009) saw prices of Bordeaux cabernet at an average $26.6, Australia $12.9, California $23, and the cheapest from Chile at $12.9€
There are 6000 restaurants in downtown Chicago, for a population of 9 million. Concentration of chains such as Wine Styles and Binny’s, plus boutique shops like Lush, Galleria, Just Grapes and gourmet food stores can sell wine such as Jewel or Dominicks
Consumers in Chicago buy almost entirely by grape variety
Southern Wine and Spirits the biggest Chicago distributor
Wine Styles biggest retailer

Mark also did some great online research using tools from Nielsen:
66% of core US wine drinkers look for info online
41% of core US wine drinkers use a smart phone
More than 50% of core US wine drinkers are on Facebook

He found that there are 45,000 comments on Bordeaux wine across one year (the query term was to include the last 620 days) across all social networks (so Twiter, Facebook, blogs etc), using words such as ‘red wine good great, positive, sauvignon, merlot’
When the comments were divided by demographics, he found ‘Bordeaux’ was much more likely to be discussed by men (although not Latino men, apparently, who had almost no chat about Bordeaux).
Worth putting this alongside the fact that women drink more wine than men in the US, but not more Bordeaux, so an opportunity exists. And of course there is the opportunity with the younger Generation Y drinkers (aged 25 to 35 approx). This demographic are more open to imported wines (68% drink them regularly, compared to 30% of Baby Boomers), and spend more per bottle – and of course will be around for a while to keep on buying the wines…