Do We Really Need More Wine Labels?

Last week VinExpo, perhaps the world’s largest and most important exhibition of wine and spirits, just concluded in Bordeaux. Wine Spectator sponsored a panel discussion entitled “Inside the US Wine Market” with US industry leaders. Speaking largely to a European audience, the panel touched upon both the tremendous opportunity of the US wine market and the challenge navigating it.

Today’s US wine market

The market for wine in the US has never been more vibrant, with a burgeoning population of young adults adopting wine at a faster clip than ever before.

We have seen an explosion in the number of producers with wine now produced in every state in the nation (yes, even Alaska).

And finding a good bottle of wine at a decent price has never been easier, such has been the progress made in the craft of making wine.

The problem

The problem with the US wine market is, and always has been, the challenge of navigating it.

It is, as David Trone, Owner of Total Wines and More, stated

“It’s not one country with one legislation on alcohol, it’s 50 states with 50 legislations,” Trone said. “It’s probably the world’s worst alcohol legislation.”

This complexity acts as a rather significant barrier to producers, both domestic and abroad, in penetrating the US market. And it should be no surprise that the companies best suited to navigate the complexity and cost of such a fragmented system are those with significant scale. The producers most impacted by the complexity are small, artisan producers. What I did find curious however was the solve for consumers:

“So some of the labelling is too confusing, too opaque. We need color to jump off the shelf, innovation in labelling. That will help draw attention — and then we can tell the story of the wine, the heritage” said Trone.

From my point of view, Trone has it partly right. We certainly need to tell the story of the wine and the heritage. This is something critically important for the discerning wine consumer, if you care about authenticity and sense of place. What we have no shortage of however is innovation in attention grabbing labels. Anyone who has shopped Trone’s excellent stores, or Safeway, Kroger, or Publix for that matter, would know that.

Think about this

Last year there were over 142,000 beverage alcohol labels approved for distribution in the US, with approximately 102,000 of those wine labels. And that is only a partial accounting of all the wine labels for sale in the US. A label only need be submitted for approval if it is new or a significant change has been made to it. Products for which only a vintage is changed in a particular year do not need a new approval. I conservatively estimate there to be over 175,000 products available for sale in the US, from all sources.

Innovation in wine labelling, or the explosion in wine labels might just be holding back the industry not helping it. Labels that find their way into distribution tend to be from larger companies, not small artisans. And while I love a great label, distinctiveness of wine style and quality is not necessarily the premium when you are putting your money into label development.

What I believe will advance the wine industry is celebrating authenticity. Place and craftsmanship create authentic, singular wines. And what will help are ways in which consumers can learn about these wines and acquire them.

Stores (like Trone’s Total Wine) that invest in educated wine stewards, who can help you navigate the labels from the authentic artisan brands, are part of the solution. A direct connection to you, by-passing all the market complexity, is the other.

Here at GrapeSeed it is our mission to connect those who care about authentic artisan wine with the leading winemakers who craft them. In exchange for upfront funding in the form of a subscription fee, our consumers (aka Partners) are able to purchase (using that subscription) exclusive wines made only for them. Wines made by Artisans such as Jean Hoefliger of Alpha Omega, Ed Sbragia formerly of Beringer, and Nick Goldschmidt of Goldschmidt Family Vineyards.

These and the rest of our collective of winemakers have earned critical acclaim by the world’s leading wine critics, and deserve a bigger share of voice in the wine world. The type of wines people-who-care should be able to easily find, now GrapeSeed is giving them that platform.

Dave Trebilcock, GrapeSeed Founder

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