Every January, most of the wine industry gets together at the convention center in Sacramento,
California for the Unified Wine & Grape Symposium, a three-day potluck of seminars, trade exhibits
and late night get-togethers is various hotel suites. The real reason I always attend is the chance to
climb all over the gigantic grape harvesters that somehow get wheeled into the main floor ballroom;
it’s like a jungle gym for wine geeks.
The official high point comes the second morning at the State of the Industry session, where a panel of
analysts chops and channels all the numbers—which grapes are hot and not, what’s selling to whom, the
dance of supply and demand, where the smart money is planting and what they’re bottling. Then comes a
familiar moment, the touchstone that proves I’m really at the Unified: the PowerPoint slide documenting
exactly how much more Australian wine was imported into the US last year than the year before.
The numbers are up five or ten percent every year. Australian Shiraz is so big that domestic producers
have started trying to pass for Aussie by calling their wine Shiraz, too, not good old Syrah. There’s always
an innovative new brand like Yellowtail, emblazoned with garish labels and cuddly critters, coming out of
nowhere and zooming to the top of the sales charts. The Aussies are relentless: they announced a few years
back they were going to take over the world, and they’re right on track.
At the press conference that always follows the State of the Industry session, I asked this year if there was
any factor that might arrest the inexorable growth of the Australian market share—or was the upper limit simply
mathematical, 100% of US wine sales? Jon Frederikson, the analysts’ analyst, stepped to the mike and admitted,
“None that I know of.”
Maybe they’ll run out of water. Maybe Bush will make up with Chirac and we’ll go back to drinking overpriced
Bordeaux. Maybe “Sideways” will convince everybody to drink ten times more Santa Barbara wine. Me, I’m just going
to throw another Mad Fish on the barbie.