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“Wine has entered a new era of consumption”: the talk, to WineNews, by Gianni Moriani

The Italian food and landscape historian’s reflections on “how to deal with the cultivation and cultural crisis of wine”

The decline in wine consumption, in Italy and much of the world, is there for all to see. For many reasons. There is the big issue of healthism, which includes the effect of alarmist messages not only against abuse but also against simple moderate consumption. There is the aspect of generational change, with Millennials not as faithful to wine as the Boomers, and with younger people, such as “Gen Z”, who not only no longer drink like their predecessors, but also do not approach “the table” in the same way either, increasingly focusing on aperitifs and other moments of conviviality and consumption, where they drink with increasing frequency beverages other than wine, such as cocktails, ready-to-drink and others. There is the economic issue, of course, with diminished purchasing power for many, and which also often clashes with the huge mark-ups, now as high as +500%, that some restaurants make on wine prices, making their purchase and consumption almost prohibitive at a time when, in addition, for many people dinners and lunches out are being reduced due to budget issues. There is the climatic aspect, which is not secondary, which, on the one hand, pushes consumption toward lighter, in terms of alcohol content, and cooler wines, as witnessed also by the great growth of white wines that have surpassed reds in production and consumption, and, on the other hand, creates the conditions for which, with today’s viticulture and enology, wines, on the contrary, have higher and higher alcohol contents. All pieces of a complex problem, that of declining wine consumption, which to be managed will require major interventions from a cultural, communicative, but also agronomic and enological point of view, with a profound rethinking of the entire supply chain, from the vineyard to the shelf. An extreme summary of the contents of the speech, to WineNews, by Gianni Moriani, a historian of Italian cuisine and agrarian landscape, former professor at the Catholic University of Rome and Ca’ Foscari University of Venice, where he conceived the Master in Food and Wine Culture, at the Vita-Salute San Raffaele University of Milan, where he held the Course on “Construction of Italian Identity in Cuisine” in the Master in Philosophy of Food and Wine, as well as author of several books, including “Man is what he drinks. A history of drinking, from spirits to caffeinates” (Cierre Edizioni), and editor of the great philosopher Tullio Gregory’s book, the “Gastronomic Eros. In Praise of Identitarian Traditional Cooking, Against Anonymous Creative Cooking” (Editori Laterza). An intervention that we receive and gladly publish …

Wine has entered a new era of consumption. What to do? (How to deal with the cultivation and cultural crisis of wine) by Gianni Moriani
For several months now, the wine and food press has been repeating that wine is in crisis. How did it come to this? How was it possible that wine, from a drink historically consumed in almost every Italian household, is now occasionally taken? A trend, moreover, that is emerging in many other countries as well. Granted that wine consumption patterns are influenced by culture, weighed on the one hand by awareness of health risks, which has led to the development of less alcoholic or even non-alcoholic alternative drinks, and on the other hand by the fact that wine is coming to terms with new models of organization and social coexistence.

The irruption of the new generations into the wine market
It is well established that new generations have a tendency to drink lighter (i.e., less alcoholic, less structured, cooler wines) and explore alternatives such as beers, cocktails and ready-to-drink (Rtd), low and no alcohol. Millennials themselves are no longer wine loyalists, being mostly driven by fads of the moment spread through social media. The pattern is broadly as follows: one comes out of domestic solitude to meet someone or simply to exist in someone’s gaze. The favorite place for these adventurers of the everyday is the bar. This is where the aperitif is ritualized, based on appetizers/tapas/chips that are mostly paired with the drink that has become fashionable: the Spritz. With this mode, drinking and eating more or less well, one replaces what was once called dinner, resulting in moments of conviviality. When one then returns home, one does not have to occupy/waste time cooking and tidying up. It is an approach that initially bewitched mainly young singles and students, and later spread to other age groups. Not only that, Spritz is increasingly being drunk while dining as well. Seeing people in restaurants eating while drinking wine has become increasingly rare. Many bars have turned this drinking/eating mode into a format, feeding it with the creation of ever new cocktails and appetizers. Against this backdrop, establishments have sprung up that practice “catering” while being without a kitchen. From the starred restaurant to the tavern, the mixed drink (which has decreed the success of the Spritz) is gradually gaining ground, aiming for ever greater involvement, enjoying its inherent versatility capable of bringing novelty and fun to the drinking experience, configuring itself as an accessible “luxury”. This phenomenon also triggered the rise of ready-to-drink (Rtd), which are pre-mixed cocktails that are ready to drink by pouring them into a glass with ice. This has also brought mixing into the home environment. It has also made it possible to serve discreet aperitifs to customers in those bars and restaurants lacking a bartender figure. As a result, premixed cocktails are expected to grow in consumption by 12% by 2027. In this context, the category of low and no alcohol drinks, from wine and beer, has been added in recent times, and they continue to gain market share, consolidating a trend that is taking them out of their initial niche. A study conducted by Iwsr (International Wine & Spirits Research) Drinks Market Analysis, of 10 of the world’s major markets (Australia, Brazil, Canada, France, Germany, Japan, South Africa, Spain, the United Kingdom, and the United States), showed that under the growing momentum of demand, the low and no alcohol beverage category has reached a turnover of $12 billion, with an aggregate growth of 5% per year between 2018 and 2022, and a projected rate of increase of a further +7%, until 2026. These are forecasts that show how foolish it is to stay out of the low and no alcohol beverage market.

The wine crisis in figures
Where has wine gone? By the younger generation, wine is predominantly understood as an occasional recreational drink, instead remaining an important player only on special occasions, where premium wines (whose consumption is not coincidentally on the rise), which account for a miniscule 0.5% of all wine production, find their place. Add to this the fact that taking a bottle of wine to a restaurant can mean spending 500% more on the production price. These excessive mark-ups in restaurant cards, which are completely unjustified, reduce consumption and risk cutting off a segment of the public. We are faced with the paradox that the item “wine” has become so disproportionate in the total meal consumed that it has taken on the connotation of a luxury good. It should also be pointed out that climate change affects wine consumption patterns in no small way. How can we drink, for example, a wine of 15-16 degrees alcohol, when for months and months we are plagued by temperatures ranging from 35 to 40°C?

Daily consumers fall in Italy, occasional consumers rise
Daily consumers are now a minority: 41% of the total, compared to the 55% they represented in 2008. In all age groups there is a decline in regular consumers, with negative peaks for the 35-44 age group (-50%) and the 25-34 age group (-38%). On the contrary, occasional users increased in all age clusters (except for 35-44 year olds), with peaks of +85% in the 55-64 age group and +70% in the older age group.

The rise of aperitifs
On the rise is the alcoholic aperitif segment, which has come to count almost 22 million consumers (+41% in the last 15 years), thanks in particular precisely to the female boom in out-of-home consumption (+79%). These are habits now no longer the preserve only of young people in the so-called Generation Z (up to 26 years old) and Millennials (27-42 years old); the 45-54 age group is also growing.

Wine production in the world
Overall, in 2023, the total of 221 million hectoliters of wine consumed worldwide indicates a further decline of 2.6%, or the worst figure since 1996, according to OIV estimates.

Major consuming countries: who goes up and who goes down
Considering the various markets, the United States remains the first and most important on the consumption front (33.3 million hectoliters with -3%), followed by France (first in Europe, with 24.4 million hectoliters and -2.4%) and Italy (21.8 million hectoliters with -2.5%) . All down, then, as are Germany (-1.6%) and the United Kingdom (non-EU market at 12.8 million hectoliters with -2.9%), at 19 million hectoliters and 12.8 million hectoliters, respectively. Other countries in the ranking include Spain ( with a slight growth of +1.7%) and Russia (returning to pre-pandemic levels with +3% to 8.6 million hectoliters), while a real collapse hit the Chinese market (-25%).

White wines and Prosecco excel
Worldwide demand and supply of white wine (lighter and fresher than reds) have grown since 2000. White wine production increased by 13% in 2021 from its lowest level in 2002, and as of 2013 it has surpassed red wine production. At the beginning of the 3rd millennium, white wine accounted on average for 46% of the world total, while in recent years the percentage has risen to 49%. Driving this increase has been the boom in sparkling wine, Prosecco in primis. The decline of red wine should be attributed to the fact that in this category we find very structured, strongly alcoholic products (even 16 degrees, such as Amarone, which in exports in 2023 marks a -12%), which no longer meet the favor known in recent decades. In this context, it should be noted how Prosecco sparkling wine, derided by not a few in the past, is instead the wine that is well suited to the tastes of our time, because of its characteristics of effervescence, relatively low alcohol content, and freshness; a wine suitable for uncorking in occasional moments of celebration by consumers since childhood who have grown up on the taste of carbonated beverages (Coca Cola and the like). This explains why Prosecco turns out to be the most consumed denomination in the world, with its 736 million bottles sold in 2023. This evolution in wine consumption makes it sensible to initiate a thoughtful policy of grubbing up vineyards that have ended up out of business.

What to do?
We have seen how the global wine supply chain is going through a difficult time, both because of the climate crisis, the demand for light wines, and competition from new beverages. Climate change will force wineries to adopt innovative practices, with a strong focus on sustainability, which is currently perceived as an important value for two-thirds of the most relevant wine markets. Introducing changes in vineyards.
New consumer tastes require that production be oriented toward naturally light wines. Italy has grape varieties, inadequately valued or in the past abandoned, that can now respond to the taste of the not a few consumers who are looking for an everyday wine with low alcohol content, while preserving the identity and character proper to a real wine. Taking this path requires major investments, to develop vineyards and wineries on the basis of adequate knowledge. The other problem for winemakers is how to react to the increase in average temperatures, which have the effect of increasing the sugars in the grapes, resulting in an increase in the alcohol content of the wines, which is precisely what the market does not want. In addition, heat also negatively affects those aromatic notes, which are perceived when tasting a wine. At the same time, it is necessary to address the consequences of drought on vineyards. Let’s see how.
Dryland farming. Current climatic conditions are prompting a rediscovery of the precepts of dryland farming, which calls for low-density cultivation, i.e., “sparse” planting (reducing the number of vines per hectare), to contain water consumption. Instead, on the contrary, much of Italian viticulture, over the years, has embraced the French approach to thickening vineyards, in not a few cases even foolishly exaggerated. Here, solutions should also be sought in the choice of rootstocks that are more efficient in water absorption, in keeping with the principles of sustainable development. In addition, when possible, precision irrigation strategies should be adopted that allow not a single drop of water to be wasted;
Shielding. Vine leaves provide a natural screen for the clusters, reducing their temperature, avoiding the risk of non-synthesis or degeneration of polyphenols. I have heard more than one elderly winemaker regretting the pergola forms of vine training;
Moving up in altitude. In Trentino, Valpolicella, and Langhe, there are interesting examples of winemakers who have moved vineyards to higher altitudes in order to have lower temperatures. This is an approach that should be implemented with caution to avoid compromising valuable and often fragile natural environments.
These are some indications to counter the impact of climate change, which requires changes in varietal choice and/or cultivation technique. However, one can only agree with Gregory V. Jones when he wrote that “in all likelihood, the most daunting challenge in terms of adaptation will be how winemakers will respond “culturally” to changes in the “identity” of a certain terroir, imposed by changes in the ampelographic platform or style of wines”.

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