Friday, March 13, 2009

Recessionary Drinking

If you're not living like a hermit cooped up in a shed tucked out in the hills (like some people I know) then you've heard about this 'recession' that's been plaguing the market as of late. In the States it's managed to make front page news for at least the last six months, while in other parts of the world, like here in New Zealand, market struggles are slowly starting to show a trickle down effect. Regardless, people are tightening their grip on already tight budgets, and spending amongst the worlds fortunate is becoming more cautious by the day. Personally, I think it's partially a huge media boon, spurred on by the usual doom and gloom by the worlds 'Liberal Media', as well as huge mistakes by some people with too much money. Easy to preach as a young idealist, but why not? Enough of my rants.

That said, the wine, beer, and liquor industry sits in an interesting place. It has been said that in times of recession, booze and entertainment are the two industries to remain strong. In the depression era, people flocked to theatres in hopes that the fantastic world of cinema would ease their sorrows. Drinking, arguably, always eases one's sorrows. Though I've heard statistics about film success lately, I have read about surprising struggles for the wine and beer industries. It would, within a reasonable logic, fit that the wine industry take a blow from the impending recession, but why?

Wine has suffered its ups and downs throughout history. I recently heard that in the 17th century winemakers in Europe began to see less interest in their product because the availability of clean drinking water made wine less of an asset to the daily diet. Sometimes seen (at least in the new world) as 'a beverage for those with their noses up in the air' (this is based solely on my experiences), I think wine sales, at least in the States, might take a hit in this 'recession.' I don't think it has to be that way at all.

Sure, when funds are tight, you have to make cuts. As a citizen perhaps you would opt towards that box of wine instead of that 1.5L bottle, or the $8.99 special instead of your $12.99 favorite. Please reach beyond if possible. In the wine business, perhaps it comes in the form of reducing the number of NEW oak barrels you buy for your latest vintage, or even the amount of fruit (that will be made into wine) you decide to buy from local growers. Perhaps you will create a second (budget) label of wine that at a lower price point, will be aimed at the average consumer. It's hard regardless. If you create a stellar wine at a low price point this year, then it will be hard to raise the price in the future. If you cut corners or the climate simply makes for a bad vintage, your luck in the recession will only get worse. It's hard to form opinions with so little invested in the industry (besides my days, nights, sweat, passion, and hard work), but I think with perseverance and patience, success is anyone's gain. It's exciting to see where things will go from here.

That said, I think that there are fantastic buys at all ranges of the price scale, from all parts of the world. In these times, all wineries are considering the budget squeeze and considering the effects on the buyer as well. It couldn't be a better time to buy wines. Whether you have a $100 or $10 budget you WILL be in luck. As always, with the higher end wines (in my opinion) your established French, Italian, and American producers will not let you down. Do your research on the producer and the vintage first. For any collector or investor, there will always be exceptional vintages that will hold their value and only get better in the bottle as time progresses. For mid range, there are sooooo many options. If you're willing to spend $50 on a bottle, I'd assume you have some idea of what you're looking for. Find a wine store where you are comfortable with the staff and their suggestions. They can lead you to a bottle that will fulfill your dreams. For those of us looking for something to accompany dinner, that will dance memorably on the palate and still fit within the restraints of the wallet, there is hope. Look to import wines. Whether it's the diversity and history in Spain, the technology blended with culture/location in Portugal, blending of old world varietals with new world experimentation in Chile, tradition and progression in France, massive climatic differences of Australia or budding possibilities of New Zealand, you're sure to find something interesting. For $10 to $15 you can get yourself a quality bottle of vino and expand your knowing of different wine varieties and regions of the world. Not to say that there aren't good value American wines (for those of you who feel inclined to buy only local). There is so much wine being produced in the States. I once heard that grapes are grown in each of the 50 states. Why not support the local vintners and taste the nectar that comes from the earth on which you set foot? In addition to the long respected Napa/Sonoma stronghold, other regions of California, as well as Oregon, Washington, and New York are gaining ground with their innovation and open-mindedness in viticulture and wine-making practices. Have a look, and a taste!

When it all comes down to it, spend within reason, but don't forget to enjoy the simple luxuries in life. A bottle of wine might only last for a few hours, or minutes, but it will carve itself into your memory and lead you in the direction of new tastes and opportunities.