December 2014 Issue of Wines & Vines

The Best of 2014

Best-Selling Varietals, Fastest-Growing Regions, Best Sales Channels and Most-Read Stories of the Year

by Kate Lavin, Andrew Adams, Jim Gordon
Best of 2014

Wines & Vines reports daily on our website and monthly in the magazine about what’s new and what’s best in the wine industry. This year-end special section highlights the best of those stories, trends and metrics as we measure them.

Many of the Best of 2014 selections are based on data from our own Wines Vines Analytics team and our market research partners, IRI and ShipCompliant. The best-read articles and social media posts are based on user metrics.



It’s not a hot topic anymore, but Chardonnay—whether oaked, unoaked, bone dry or semi-sweet—is still the queen of retail wines. Chardonnay had the highest off-premise sales total of any varietal or type measured by Chicago, Ill.-based market research firm IRI during the 52 weeks ending Oct. 15. With $1.83 billion in sales, Chardonnay from all countries captured a 20% share of the market by value and volume. Sales grew 3% from a huge base during 2014 (compared to 6% for all domestic wines and 5% for all wines including imports) and averaged $6.32 per 750ml, an increase of 10 cents per bottle compared to the previous year. IRI gathers sales data from food and drug, multi-outlet and convenience stores across the country.

Cabernet Sauvignon
Cabernet Sauvignon was the king of direct-to-consumer (DtC) shipments in 2014. Its sales totaled $495 million for 636,638 cases, which represented 14% growth in value, according to analysis from Wines & Vines and ShipCompliant, which partner to track monthly shipments from U.S. wineries. (We report on these data in the print magazine and the Wine Industry Metrics section of our website.) At an average of $64.77 per bottle, Cabernet Sauvignon also had the best average bottle price and beat the next-best wine type, red blends, by $22.

Red Blends
Sparked by brands like Ménage à Trois, the category that IRI calls red blends/Meritage grew faster than all other wine types or varietals in off-premise sales. Red blends also maintained a higher average price per bottle than the two most popular varietals, Cabernet Sauvignon and Chardonnay. The category grew 15% in sales during 2014 to reach nearly one-third the sales of Chardonnay. Not only did red blends have the fastest growth rate, they also accounted for more dollars in 2014 than Chardonnay. Red blends are not technically varietals, since they don’t list the grape varieties on the front label; many red blend winemakers take advantage of the excess Syrah and Merlot grapes and bulk wines selling at relatively low prices to create smooth and sometimes slightly sweet wines that consumers like.

Syrah/Shiraz wines experienced the most negative change in off-premise sales of any major varietal in 2014, according to IRI. Sales of this varietal have been dipping in recent years, so the loss of 13% in value came from a smaller base than before. This category includes both domestic and imported wines, and it reflects decreases in Australian Shiraz as well as U.S. Syrah and Shiraz.

Cabernet Franc
Cabernet Sauvignon may have won the competition for most direct-to-consumer sales in 2014, but one of its parent grape varieties, Cabernet Franc, had the fastest sales growth rate (40%) of any major wine type. This was from a relatively small 2013 base of $17 million, which rose to $24 million this year. Cabernet Franc reached an average bottle price of $35.88. (By the way, Sauvignon Blanc is the other parent variety of Cabernet Sauvignon.)

Napa was the best wine origin for direct-to-consumer sales in 2014, when wines from this region fetched $820 million. This figure accounted for nearly half of total U.S. DtC shipments by wineries, which reached $1.7 million in the 12 months through September. While Napa Valley wineries only account for 4% of California wine production in terms of volume, Napa grapes and wine command the highest average prices, and many wineries rely heavily on DtC shipments. Sonoma’s DtC sales were second highest with $345 million, followed by the rest of California, then Oregon and Washington.

Wines in IRI’s most expensive price segment, $20-plus, have been the fastest growing in sales for years and maintained that status (but barely) in 2014. The segment grew by 15% in off-premise sales and 16% in volume, while the average price per bottle decreased by 27 cents. This means that consumers may be trading up, but they are doing it partly to claim relative bargain prices on high-priced wines whose prices have edged down. Still, wines at $20-plus only claim 4% market share in value. At a close second place in sales growth, the $11-$14.99 segment grew 14% in sales and 14% in volume.

The lowest price category for wine was the wrong place to be in 2014—at least for domestic wine in glass bottles. Wines selling for less than $5 per bottle in off-premise locations experienced the worst sales change of any price category, according to IRI. Sales were flat for wines priced below $3.50 per bottle, but $3.50-$4.99 wines shrank by 4%.

As the leading wine-producing state, and the leader in shipping wines direct, California didn’t have to ship most of its DtC wines very far. That’s because California was also the state receiving the most DtC shipments. The value of the 1.2 million cases shipped within California and coming in from other states was $558 million. The value change from 2013 to 2014 was 9%.

While Texas is no doubt a big state, it had to settle for second place as the biggest market for DtC shipments. With sales of $168 million and 339,000 cases in 2014, Texas beat out New York (No. 3) and Florida (No. 4).

Lawmakers in Boston, Mass., did the industry a big favor by finally opening the Massachusetts market to direct shipping in July. Jeff Carroll, vice president of Boulder, Colo.-based ShipCompliant, estimates that in just a few years Massachusetts could become a $70 million wine market. “It’s an affluent, wine-drinking state,” he said. A license to ship to Massachusetts will cost wineries $300, and annual renewals cost $150. With Massachusetts approving a shipping law, 45 states are now open to some type of direct shipping—although one of the most populous, Pennsylvania, is not. There is some hope lawmakers there may soon pass a law to let consumers have wine shipped directly to their homes or businesses, but there doesn’t appear to be any political momentum to privatize the burdensome Pennsylvania Liquor Control Board that limits retail wine sales to state-operated stores.

0.5-Liter Aseptic
Sales of these handy, portable and non-breakable cartons (see example at right) have been growing fast for a few years, and in 2014 sales increased by 26%, beating all other sizes of glass and alternative wine packaging. The incredible uptick is from a small base, of course, since their sales represent only slightly more than 1% of sales compared to the traditional 750ml bottle.

With Australian imports shrinking at 6% in 2014, Italy is selling the most imported wines in U.S. off-premise locations. Italian wine sales grew by 3% during the past 52 weeks ending Oct. 15, buoyed by the rising sales of Prosecco and other wine types. Italy has a 6% share of the market in dollars, and its wines average a relatively high $8.14 per bottle in stores tracked by IRI.

Oregon leads winery growth outside of California
More new wineries continue to open in California than anywhere else in North America, but the best states for new wineries outside of the Golden State appear to be Oregon and Virginia.

Based on data for the 12-month period from October 2013 through September 2014, Napa County’s 84 new wineries is the most recorded in any wine region in the United States. With 1,042 total wineries, Napa remains home to the highest number overall and accounts for almost a third of the 3,803 wineries in California. Sonoma County, Calif., has the second-highest total of 783, with 69 new wineries open there, according to the Wines Vines Analytics winery database.

Elsewhere on the West Coast, Oregon had the most new wineries at 78. Most of these new wineries are located in the Northern Willamette Valley counties of Washington, Yamhill and Multnomah, near the Portland, Ore., metropolitan area. Thirty-one new wineries opened in British Columbia, accounting for an 11% growth rate in the province’s number of wineries, or the second-largest increase behind Oregon.

East of the Rockies, Virginia boasted the highest number of new wineries (36), followed closely by Pennsylvania (32), which accounted for a 16% increase, the largest for a non-western U.S. state. New York is still home to the most eastern wineries (327), but it only saw a 6% increase in the number of new wineries.



Wine Woot Comes Out On Top for Diversity, Discount and Offers
The best flash website for wine sales in the past 12 months was Wine Woot. It wasn’t the website’s large online community of vocal, feisty wine lovers and commentators that pushed Wine Woot to the top, nor was it the snappy dialogue between stuffed monkeys in the company’s email offers. Instead, the number of wine offers and diversity of offers (percentage from wineries with a single flash offer)—combined with a relatively high average discount—propelled Wine Woot to No. 1.

Based on data collected during the past 12 months (from October 2013 through the end of September 2014), flash wine sales websites excelled in different areas. Invino had the most offers by far with 1,475, nearly a quarter of all 6,122 flash wine offers. Wines Til Sold Out had the highest average discount of 53% and the third-highest number of offers at 784. Last Call Wines had the second-highest number of offers (1,095) and the second-highest average discount 49%.

The major websites were ranked based on their total offers, average discount and diversity of offers. The rankings were then averaged, and Wine Woot’s average ranking was the best.

Wine Woot, the wine flash site that’s a subsidiary of Amazon, didn’t lead in any of the parameters but finished strong in all of them, making it the best flash site of 2014. The website posted 488 offers (the fourth-highest total during the past 12 months), had a 30% diversity rate and an average discount of 43%.

New Year Prompts Flash Sites to Offer Most Deals
Just like their brick-and-mortar retail equivalents, flash websites appear to push a greater number of sales around key holidays. The best day for flash offers in the past 12 months (October 2013-September 2014) came Dec. 30, the day before New Year’s Eve, when flash sellers posted 260 total offers. The second-highest number of offers came Aug. 30, during Labor Day weekend, with 175 offers. Unlike retail stores, the promotions are less about getting consumers to purchase wine for that holiday and more about tying a promotion to a holiday when consumers are likely to be home and willing to buy wine. The third-highest number of offers came May 25, during the Memorial Day weekend, while Fourth of July, a Friday this year, had the fourth-highest number of flash offers.

Flash Wine Seller Offers 91% Discount
The best “deal” by a flash site within the past 12 months (October 2013-September 2014) came Dec. 12, 2013, when Rue La La offered a two-pack of 2006 and 2007 Terra Valentine Spring Mountain Cabernet Sauvignon for $16.90 (or $8.45 per bottle), a 91% discount off the winery retail price of $91.50 per bottle.

Wines Vines Analytics also records the critical score of a wine if listed by the flash reseller. If a wine has received a score of 90 points or higher by critics with the Wine Enthusiast or Wine Spectator magazine, or The Wine Advocate newsletter and International Wine Cellar, it’s typically included in the offer. Reviewing offers by retail price, discount and critical score, the best “deal” appears to be an Aug. 21 offer by WTSO for a bottle of 2010 Beringer Napa Valley Cabernet Sauvignon for $95, a 41% discount off the retail price of $160. The wine received an average score of 94 based on 90+ ratings from all four major reviewers.

Invino, which often has some of the priciest wines for sale, also had the most expensive wine for sale in the past 12 months, a 1993 Cabernet Sauvignon from Screaming Eagle Winery. The website offered the wine for $2,499, a 44% discount off the listed retail price of $4,425.



The Winery of the Future
by Paul Franson, April 2014
A presentation at the Wine Executive Program offered by the University of California, Davis, prompted Wines & Vines senior correspondent Paul Franson to take a closer look at “The Winery of the Future,” as envisioned by professors David E. Block and Roger Boulton. According to statistics from, Franson’s story was the best-read feature of 2014.

As members of the UC Davis Department of Viticulture and Enology staff (Block is now department chair) during planning and construction of the new teaching and research winery, the pair have spent countless hours considering ways technology can improve winemaking and eliminate waste.

Many of these practices are commonplace in other areas of agriculture, while some were even incorporated into the facility in Davis (photovolactic cells used to generate to electricity and heat water, captured rainwater used for cleaning and irrigation).

Other elements are innovative to the point they haven’t yet been put into action. According to Boulton, CO2 collected during tank fermentation could be sequestered and added to a solution to form calcium carbonate (otherwise known as chalk). He added, the sequestration system will “demonstrate the storage of seasonal production for later, easy transport to others and the reuse of the calcium oxide itself.”

To learn more about Boulton and Block’s vision for the future, check out the April 2014 issue of Wines & Vines.

American Oak at the Source
by Andrew Adams, February 2014
Wines & Vines’ February 2014 cover story, “American Oak at the Source,” was the best-read feature among subscribers to our digital edition this year. To write the article, associate editor Andrew Adams traveled to the oak forests of Missouri, where he met with loggers, mill owners and coopers to get a sense of what sets domestic barrels apart and how the American oak industry has changed over the years.

He found that American white oak can be quarter-sawn at the mill due to its large cellular structure. The result? More staves can be cut from a single American oak tree than a European oak, which must be split by hand or using powerful wedge presses. American oak is also naturally watertight.

While cooperage accounts for just 5% of the total market for American white oak—and most of that is destined for the spirits industry—at least one multi-generational logger told Adams that the wine industry helped keep his business afloat during the Great Recession that started in 2008.

Read “American Oak at the Source” on page 32 of our special report about barrels in the February 2014 issue.

Vineyard Irrigation Management: Good, Bad and Deficit
by Yun Zhang, July 2014
Author Yun Zhang of Washington State University wrote the best-read Practical Winery & Vineyard story of 2014, according to metrics from our digital edition. In it, Zhang examines whether it’s better to measure the amount of water lost to plants and evaporation (easy to track but not very specific), the amount of water needed to bring soil to a target level (practical, but requires frequent monitoring) or how much the vine itself requires to ripen fruit (the most precise method, though it requires expensive technology).

Zhang describes how deficit irrigation techniques such as regulated deficit irrigation and partial root-zone drying can be used to control vigor and increase berry quality while maximizing water-use efficiency. Ultimately she advises growers to use the data they’ve collected to design an irrigation strategy for quality, production and savings.

Learn more about Zhang’s research in the July 2014 issue of Wines & Vines.

The ‘Vino Rod’ a Big Hit on Facebook
Of all the Facebook posts the Wines & Vines team posted during the past year, none were as popular as the one about the “Vino Rod” car built by Central Coast resident Robert Hartman. The car is a 1930 Ford Model A that features a body made of oak barrel staves and other tools of the wine trade. Hartman used three French oak barrels he picked up from Rancho Sisquoc Winery in Santa Maria, Calif., to build the car’s body and trunk, a large, stainless steel wine thief for the gear shifter and a wine bottle for the radiator overflow. “It’s a big hit at the local car shows and when I’ve taken it to wineries,” Hartman says of the hot rod. Wines & Vines doesn’t pay Facebook to promote the magazine’s posts so the Vino Rod pictures reached nearly 2,000 people “organically” and generated almost 100 likes, comments and shares. The second two most popular Facebook posts concerned the Aug. 24 Napa earthquake, with a set of “before and after” photos of Saintsbury winery’s barrel room reaching more than 1,200 people. Wines & Vines’s most retweeted and favorited tweet that also held a link with the most clicks was: “How Constellation and other companies are making social media generate actual wine sales.” The tweet linked to a story by senior correspondent Paul Franson and likely was so popular because most of those running social media in the wine business are still trying to translate likes and retweets into dollars.

Top 20 Luxury Wine Brands
by Andrew Adams and Jim Gordon, June 13, 2014
Online readers flocked to “Top 20 Luxury Wine Brands” in June, propelling the story to No. 1 among articles based on data compiled by Wines Vines Analytics, the research arm of Wines & Vines.

The focus of the story was a list of wine brands priced above $20 per bottle that had the highest sales in the off-premise sector tracked by Chicago, Ill.-based market-research firm IRI. With the exception of Santa Margherita from Italy, all of the brands were from California. Another standout on the list was Justin. Based in Paso Robles, Calif., Justin was the only brand besides Santa Margherita located outside Napa and Sonoma counties.

Duckhorn Vineyards and its second-tier label Decoy both made the list, with off-premise sales for the year totaling nearly 95,000 cases for both brands combined, according to IRI.

For more analysis of wine industry data including off-premise and DtC sales, winery hiring and flash retailers, visit

Early 2014 Grape Harvest Begins
by Andrew Adams, July 29, 2014
Where grapegrowing is concerned, Mother Nature is calling the shots. This year she interrupted winery staff during their summer vacations, calling them back home to start harvest a full two weeks earlier than normal. When we posted our best-read breaking news story of the year on, “Early 2014 Grape Harvest Begins” on July 29, California wineries were dusting off harvest equipment and starting to haul in Chardonnay and Pinot Noir for their sparkling and rosé programs.

July start dates weren’t exclusive to Temecula and the South Coast, either. Winegrowers from Sonoma and Napa counties also told Wines & Vines that harvest was under way by the end of July.

Steve Matthiasson picked Syrah for his Matthiasson Family Vineyards on July 28, declaring these varieties riper on that date than they had been at the same time in 2013. He correctly predicted Bordeaux varieties such as Cabernet and Merlot would be ready for picking a full month ahead of schedule.

For more information about the 2014 wine grape harvest, watch for our Vintage 2014 Report in the January issue of Wines & Vines.

Will Barrels Go the Way of Floppy Disks?”
by Tim Patterson, April 2014
The “best of” column among readers of Wines & Vines’ 2014 digital editions was penned by the late Tim Patterson. Known by readers as “the man in the hat,” Patterson wrote the Inquiring Winemaker column for Wines & Vines for 11 years before he died May 17, 2014. In the best-read column of 2014, Patterson asked the question, “Will Barrels Go the Way of Floppy Disks?”

The April 2014 column analyzes the advantages of traditional oak barrels and oak barrel alternatives. And while Patterson acknowledges, “Barrels are a hard act to follow,” he concedes that barrel alternatives “give the winemaker more control of dosages and exposure.” Plus, they cost a fraction of the price of oak barrels.

Some of Patterson’s supplier sources boast that they air dry and toast their oak adjuncts just like coopers do. Purists, meanwhile, theorize that the shape of traditional oak barrels add a certain je ne sais quoi to the practice of élevage.

As always, Patterson’s reasoned points are worth considering. Read his penultimate column on page 36 of the April 2014 issue.

Villa San-Juliette Expands Estate Production
by Andrew Adams, July 2014
Star power may have been one draw for our best-read Technical Review of 2014, calculated based on pageviews of the Wines & Vines digital edition. “Villa San-Juliette Expands Estate Production” recounts the construction and operation of this 60,000-case winery (25,000 cases are bottled under the Villa San-Juliette label) owned by English television producers Ken Warwick and Nigel Lythgoe, whose credits include “American Idol” and “So You Think You Can Dance.”

The quickstep was winemaker Matt Ortman’s dance of choice during 2013, when he was charged with moving Villa San-Juliette’s production from a custom-crush facility to a more permanent home north of Paso Robles, Calif.

“We were a brand new team working in a brand new winery with fruit that none of us had worked with before,” Ortman told Wines & Vines associate editor Andrew Adams.

Learn what equipment Villa San-Juliette uses to make its estate-grown wines starting on page 40 of the July 2014 issue.

Winter Survival of Vidal Blanc Vines for Ice Wine Production
by Imed Dami, April 2014
An article about raising Vidal Blanc for ice wine production drew the most attention from digital edition readers, with the April 2014 story garnering the most pageviews of any feature to run in the Wine East section during 2014.

Associate professor and viticulture extension agent Imed Dami of The Ohio State University wrote this well-illustrated story, which outlines what makes Vidal Blanc a popular cultivar choice for ice wines and describes an experiment to uncover a relation between cluster thinning and winter injury.

Through his research, Dami concluded that 40 was the optimum number of clusters for this hybrid cultivar based on crop weight, pruning weight and crop-load ratios. It was also discovered that pruning and cluster thinning did not affect winter hardiness of Vidal Blanc vines.

Read more about Dami’s experiment starting on page 78 of the April 2014 issue of Wines & Vines.

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