For California's Wine Industry, 'the Music Has Stopped'

'San Francisco Chronicle' finds that many wineries are in trouble as boom times wane
By John Johnson,  Newser Staff
Posted May 12, 2024 6:00 AM CDT
For California's Wine Industry, 'the Music Has Stopped'
Sunset in the vineyards of Sonoma County, California.   (Getty / latypova)

The San Francisco Chronicle is out with a bleak story about the future of the once-flourishing wine industry in California. The boom times, it appears, are over. "A lot of brands are dead but they don't even know it right now," says Michael Honig of Honig Vineyard & Winery in Napa Valley, echoing a sentiment repeated throughout the story by Esther Mobley. She writes that "no sector is immune—not the luxury tier, not the big conglomerates, not the upstart natural wines." For example, Sonoma's Bedrock Wine Co. is down 10% in sales this year—the first time it's registered a dip of any kind in 17 years. The story makes clear that its plight is not unique within the state's $55 billion industry, and it's a safe bet some wineries will go under. California vintners are feeling the same pain as peers around the world, the story notes, with wine consumption down about 9% in 2023.

"The industry's had the wind at our back for a long time," says Jeff O'Neill of O'Neill Vintners and Distillers. "And finally the music has stopped." The story explores the stew of factors at play, including younger people shifting to beverages such as hard seltzers and a pushback in the medical community against the idea that wine is healthy. The pandemic also complicated things: Sales spiked, prompting hopeful wineries in California to increase production. But that spike has since reversed ("pantry loading" is the culprit here), leaving wineries stuck with unsold cases of wine. Except for the brief pandemic blip, this downward trend has been in place for several years, but things are finally coming to a head, writes Mobley. "It's become clear in 2024 that the nature of the California wine industry has fundamentally changed." Read the full story. (Or read other longform recaps.)

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