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People are drinking less and less red wine and we don’t know why.

Lorenzo Biscontin

In the overall scenario of reduction in wine consumption, red wines are those showing the worst trend.

The news actually wouldn’t be new. The International Organization of Vine and Wine (OIV) recently published an analysis on the production and consumption of wine by color from 2000 to 2021. The study highlights how the world production of whites + rosés exceeded that of red wines for all the period and that of white wines alone has consistently outperformed reds since 2013.

Over the last twenty years, France has reduced red wine production by -50% and Italy by -20%. However, this has not prevented discussion of uprooting red grape vineyards in the areas of Bordeaux, Rioja (the most famous Spanish Appelation) and Australia.

The reason is evidently that the consumption of red wines has fallen more than production. Globally, red wine consumption has been decreasing since 2007, with an acceleration of the trend since 2018. Conversely, white wine, still remains lower than red wine by 12 million hl, is growing. The consumption of rosé wine in the period grew from 20 to 23 million hl and the white+rosé aggregate surpassed red from 2017 onwards.

The European countries that have historically produced and consumed wine are those in which the drop in consumption of red wines has been most significant: France -40%, Italy -30% and Spain -20%.

Instead highest percentage increase in red wine consumption occurred in China, USA, Russia and Brazil.

These are the incontrovertible facts, but what are the reasons that generate them. In one word: why?

We don’t know and, what’s worse, we’re not even investigating.

Of course, practitioners and experts in the sector have opinions or ideas on the matter, but they mainly derive from market experience.

The most widespread is partly tautological: “(Young) consumers prefer fresher and less alcoholic wines”.

Which is a bit like saying “Consumers drink less red wines because they prefer white and rosé wines”

Furthermore, this motivation is not unequivocally confirmed by actual market situations.

For example, the positive trend for wines aged in bourbon used barrels, which in the USA has reached 20 million bottles with premium prices and high alcohol content.

Speaking of alcohol content, the difference between a “normal” red and a still white (I exclude wines which, due to the pedo-climatic characteristics of the territory and/or production techniques, such as drying of the grapes, develop high alcohol levels) it is on average 1% – 1.5% alcohol. Perceivable by the consumer? Sufficient to guide their preferences?

If we think about freshness and alcohol content, should bold and structured red wines suffer more than “lean” ones? In reality, the cheaper ones, generally with simpler (and fresher) profiles, seem to suffer more than the prestigious appellations offering more complex wines. A phenomenon probably linked more to the polarization of the market between enthusiasts and occasional consumers.

But also these considerations of mine are nothing more than hypotheses, because to date no one has done what would be the most logical thing to do in a situation like this: ask the consumer.

I didn’t do it in a structured way either, but in the last 6 months I happened to find people in different countries, with different spending capacities and therefore who drank wines of different levels, who said: “I don’t drink red wine because I don’t I like the taste.”

They were about ten people and therefore NOT a significant sample. However, it is a sign that makes me doubt that we do not know enough what moves people to purchase and consume wine.

We don’t even know how much of the drop in red wine consumption is due to the drop in the number of consumers and how much is due to the drop in the quantities consumed per person. That is, we don’t know how much is a numerical distribution problem and how much is a weighted one, key information because these are two situations that require different strategies to be addressed successfully.

I therefore want to launch an appeal to urge the wine production sector to go beyond the discussion among experts and take a step towards the consumer, to understand their behavior with first-hand information.

Someone asked me who should take charge of this research; considering the values at stake and the costs of research (you can start from just one market), I believe that the number of bodies and institutions in the wine industry for which it is worth investigating why people drink less and less red wine is very many.

The risk is that everyone waits for someone else to take care of it and so no one moves. Quoting Ernest Hemingway “And therefore never send to know for whom the bell tolls. It tolls for thee.”

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