What will be the state of the wine world in 1986? What will wine consumers be buying in '86? The answers to both questions are obviously related, more than in the past, because of the fact that enthusiasts have become so well educated that it is increasingly difficult for the trade to unload poor wine or vintages on the public.
Wine consumers today will go anywhere in the viticultural world to find excellent values. They are not captives of Napa Valley or Bordeaux, but will purchase wines from such up-and-coming areas as Oregon, Spain, Australia, Piedmont and the Rho ne Valley in France.
Perhaps the most important development in 1986 will be the emergence of these latter regions that for all intents and purposes were ignored 10 years ago. Today it's a buyers' market -- the best that has ever existed -- with great wines available from virtually every viticultural region in the world. Here are my predictions of what all this means for 1986:
*The glamorous French wines -- the top two dozen Bordeaux chateaux as well as top burgundies, both red and white -- will become prohibitively expensive, affordable only by the super rich. The reason is quite simple. Production is finite while world-wide demand increases; prices will only get higher.
Prices for other French wines -- from Alsace, the Loire Valley, Champagne, Rho ne -- and unglamorous burgundies will remain stable. I also predict stability for other imported wine prices.
*Oregon will emerge as a superstar in this country as a result of its outstanding pinot noirs, which are close to rivaling the best French red burgundies. I also predict that pinot noir will become the next fashionable red wine in America because it is more flexible with food, less astringent and tannic than cabernet and easy to drink because of its lushness and fruitiness.
*California will rebound strongly in 1986 as wines from the excellent vintage of 1984 are released and as more wineries settle into definable and consistent styles of wine making.
*Despite my prediction for a healthy overall rebound, the death knell will sound for a number of California wineries, largely because wine production is significantly outracing demand and consumption. New wineries unable to produce either great wine or great wine values will not survive. In addition, the huge investment in sparkling wines will largely turn sour for many California wineries. These wines cannot compete in price with inexpensive sparklers of Italy and Spain and have not yet shown the ability to compete in quality with France.
*Italy, long known for its fine red wines, will begin to obtain an excellent reputation for its high-quality white wines.
The East Coast wine industry will get increased respect from the wine press and consumers but the East Coast growers still will not be able to compete with imported wine prices or with the snob appeal of California wines. As optimistic as I am about the prospects of high-quality wines from the East, I remain doubtful that they can be sold in sufficient quantities and at competitive price levels to make the business a lucrative enterprise.
*Wine making will improve, but will the wine be better? Technology and the enologists' obsession with technically perfect wines continues unabated and is in danger of stripping wines of their character and interest. A related danger is the excessive emulation of wine-making styles that often results in a cabernet from Italy tasting the same as one from France, California or Australia. If this trend continues I predict widespread disaffection among wine enthusiasts.
*The world glut of wine will continue. By my best estimate, the world has 25 million acres of vineyards and the amount of acreage continues to increase. That means better wine prices for the consumer, but it also means harder times for the great majority of wine producers. Unless wine consumption increases significantly, many wine growers will suffer the plight of the American farmer, becoming victims of their own efficiency and productivity.