Breaking booze: It's wine o'clock but there's a shortage
Poor harvests, along with higher consumption in the US and China, are putting supply under pressure
The harvest in Burgundy overall is 20 per cent down on 2015
Dire predictions of future wine shortages make for good copy. The media needs a constant stream of stories and tales of hailstorms, late frosts, flooding and other random acts of nature help fill pages, online and off. A year or so ago, it was northeast Italy. I certainly haven’t noticed a great Prosecco shortage in our wine bars, or any massive price increases. If anything the opposite seems the case. As well as providing news, such scaremongering may help producers push their prices up a little. Generally I ignore these tales of alarm. If there is a genuine shortage of one wine, we are lucky to have plenty of alternatives from other regions, although when the stories are genuine, naturally I do feel sorry for the unfortunate producers who may have lost an entire year’s income in a few short hours.
However, it does now seem possible that we are facing into a worldwide shortage of wine. World consumption has been increasing steadily over the past decade or more, particularly in the US and China, two of the largest markets. At the same time, production has declined, mainly in Europe, where growers have been paid to grub up vines. To make matters worse, France and Italy, the two largest producers, have suffered a series of small harvests. Further afield, Argentina, Chile and South Africa are all looking at a reduced harvest in 2016. Australia and New Zealand both saw increases, and are reporting high quality too, but this is unlikely to make up for the shortfall elsewhere. As it takes several years for a vine to become productive, and a decade or more to yield high quality grapes, it could take time to address the shortage.
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In 2016, well-known names such as Sancerre and Chablis suffered from late frosts in April and early May, and parts of Beaujolais from hail. We will probably see shortages of these over next year. The harvest in Burgundy overall is 20 per cent down on 2015 with some areas suffering far more. The finest region of Burgundy, the Côte d’Or, has experienced a series of smaller and smaller vintages, affected by frost, hailstorms and floods. Prices for the top wines have rocketed as demand has increased dramatically in the same period.
More worrying in the long-term is the increased demand worldwide for the finest wines. Consumers in China, Hong Kong and elsewhere are happy to pay large sums for the very best labels. In the most sought-after areas, the scope for increased production is very limited. It is likely that the great wines of the world will continue to increase in price, and we will have to look elsewhere for our wine. I will return to this subject again in the near future.