Wine sales are in decline — is it a fluke or the future?

Published 8:03 am Wednesday, January 22, 2020

I don’t know much about wine (although my late classmate Tracy Holder gave a hilarious rendition of Richard Pryor’s “Wino Directing Traffic on a Sunday Morning” routine during a long-ago high school program), but I do know catchy headlines when I see them.

And lately I’ve seen lots of headlines with reporters blowing their cork over tough times in the wine industry.

The industry tracker International Wines and Spirits Record (IWSR) says Americans bought less wine last year, the first such drop in 25 years. (I wonder what precipitated that previous dip? Maybe a sudden realization like “Dang! The country is doing so well, I could be stuck in the White House with Hillary for another term! Time to break out the hard stuff!”)

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I should point out that it’s the cheap (under $10) wines that are suffering the decline in sales volume. The premium stuff is still being snapped up by wine snobs with discriminating palates. (*Sigh* Yes, yes, that was when your grandfather got carried off by a tornado, your wife developed amnesia and the sinkhole swallowed the town’s only employer; but other than that, you have to admit it was a VERY GOOD YEAR.”)

Although baby boomers have done their share of cutting back on wine consumption recently (“NOT okay, boomer!” vineyard owners nationwide shout), most of the softening is attributed to millennials, who are opting for alternatives such as hard seltzers, cocktails, nonalcoholic beers and just drinking in all the free stuff Bernie will pull out of his magic bag. (“Okay, you don’t want wine – here’s a free Keurig coffee maker, made out of recycled paper.”)

Let’s face it: although wine has been popular for millennia (as evidenced by early tribes hunting, gathering and then trying to remember where they PUT all the stuff they hunted and gathered), for the past several decades, sales have been artificially propped up by hype about the alleged health benefits of the beverage. (“That Thuggee who had his heart ripped out in ‘Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom’? His heart would still be beating today if he had just sipped a little Cabernet Sauvignon before the human sacrifice scene!”)

But recent medical research gives a much more tentative nod to the theoretical benefits of wine, while also raising concerns about the link between alcohol and cancer. Suddenly, all the “too good to be true” health guidelines we’ve depended on are being gutted. Stealing office supplies? No longer a sure thing for preventing Type 2 diabetes. Driving without using your turn signal? Proven mostly ineffective at battling plantar fasciitis by the Mayo Clinic.

Consumers’ nagging doubts about wine are bubbling to the surface. Some cultures and individuals have always accepted fermented grape juice as one of life’s little joys, but other people have always been defensive about their drinking. You’ll notice that the ones who are the first to invoke Jesus turning water into wine are the most adept at turning a PAYCHECK into an EVICTION NOTICE.

Still, wine may prove more resilient than the headlines imply. Increased online sales could compensate for recent downward trends. And industry experts are confident that millennials will eventually mimic past generations and drink more wine as they age.

Richard Pryor would have liked that kind of Sunday morning.

“Hey, fool! You kids better stop comin’ across my lawn like you crazy!”

Danny Tyree welcomes email responses at and visits to his Facebook fan page “Tyree’s Tyrades.”