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California winery sales fall; will Two-Buck Chuck be the new 'high-end' drink?

January 28, 2010 |  1:48 pm

Wine Talk about a party-pooper: For the first time in 16 years, California’s wine industry saw its shipments fall in 2009.

The news is sure to plunge the state’s viticulturists into a frothing ferment, though it makes sense as the country’s economic woes continue to drag out. While consumption of wine is up 2.1% nationally, industry analyst Jon Fredrikson told the audience at the annual Unified Wine & Grape Symposium that the public was snubbing tonier bottles from the Golden State, and instead opting for cheaper bulk wine imports from overseas wine-makers.

"Usually, we're raving about how great the year was," Fredrikson told the crowd gathered in Sacramento on Wednesday, according to media reports. "But this was probably the worst year you ever had."

So how bad was it? Shipments fell by almost 4%, or nearly 4 million cases of wine, for the first 11 months of last year. Nationwide, the domestic wine market dropped by 3 million cases, compared to the same time period a year earlier. (And no surprise, restaurant sales were sluggish too: Wine sales dropped as much as 10% at restaurants across the country.)

At the same time, imports from countries such as Argentina, Chile and Australia -- which is reportedly swimming in a glut of the good stuff -- saw business boom: Imports bubbled up 87% last year, and grabbed about 32% of the U.S. market.

Just one more woe to California's Recession-era hangover....

-- P.J. Huffstutter

Photo: A visitor enjoying the fruits of Hart Winery’s labor in Temecula. Credit: Mark Boster / Los Angeles Times