Last year, the United States became the largest wine-consuming nation in the world. Americans have increased consumption every year since 2000, and nothing manages to curtail their enthusiasm, not war, not recession, not natural and unnatural disasters, which have filled our consciousness to the breaking point during these past 14 years. We clearly have reason to drink and forget, but the question is why more of us are drinking wine in particular. We’re making great beer now as micro breweries have proliferated throughout the U.S., and we appreciate it, but over-all consumption of beer is diminishing. The cocktail has risen to elevated heights with a huge and creative range of combinations and flavors. We appreciate cocktails, too. Our country is, after all, the birthplace of the cocktail, a delicate mixture of spirits, other ingredients, and ice.
One reason that we might be drinking more wine is that everybody else is. This insight is not as profound as it is obvious. The more we keep company with others, who drink wine, the more we become interested. The Millennial generation loves wine because it grew up with Baby Boomer parents, who were wine’s first generational champions and put it on the table. A similar but less important reason for the growing enthusiasm might be that vineyards are no longer exclusive to California. Every state in the union has its own, and the acreage is increasing everywhere. Vineyards are perhaps the most artistic agriculture of all. Even if we’re not particularly interested in wine, we will probably visit vineyards and wineries if they’re a day trip away. It’s a great beginning.
Whether the so-called French Paradox is good science has been widely disputed, but the reality is that it elevated wine to a health food. No other alcoholic beverage was ever able to successfully make that claim. In 1990, a French scientist observed that his compatriots consumed a lot of saturated fat in the form of cheese and butter but had a lower incidence of coronary disease than people in other nations. Other studies connected the dots and suggested that wine consumption among the French might be the mitigating factor. Since then, a lot of research has posited various health benefits from moderate wine drinking. Take your medicine developed a whole new meaning.
However we might rank health reasons or the herd instinct for the increasing number of American wine consumers, no other alcoholic beverage is associated with life style to the extent that wine is, and it’s a beautiful style. We connect wine with food and with leisurely dining with friends or family either at home or in restaurants. To the degree that we are turning away from industrial food to fresh and local production and artfully prepared meals at home, we are embracing wine, which we think of as an artisanal product. But just as new information has lifted the veil on factory farms, we will eventually learn that a lot of wine is in fact an industrial product. The cheaper it is the more likely that is so, but that’s a lesson for a later date.
Wine also represents culture. It is a reflection of place and suggests a destination that we might visit. Wine at its best tells a story about the farmer who cares for the vines and protects development of the fruit, handing it off to the winemaker, who employs more art than science but is master of both and seals his vision with a cork that we then extract at our tables. The entire process is connected to the great issues of our time, nutrition, land use, water use, agricultural practice, and whether the farmer is a conscientious steward of the land and will sustain it for future generations. All of these dimensions imbue the bottle with meaning.
May I pour you another glass?