Will the Bloom Fall Off The Pinot Grape?
Recently there have been a few warnings about impending doom for the continued success that domestic Pinot Noir has
enjoyed post-Sideways (after 2004). This is notwithstanding that Pinot Noir wine has shown a 12% growth rate in
off-premise sales during the past 52 weeks, according to the market research firm IRI. This growth rate is twice that
of domestic wine generally. According to Statista, Pinot Noir rose 41% in consumption since 2008. Pinot Noir has
shown a 65% increase in plantings in California over the past 10 years (2006-2015), with 39,931 acres currently,
compared to only an 8% increase for Cabernet Sauvignon and a -18% decrease for Merlot.
At the recent Anderson Valley Pinot Noir Technical Conference, Glenn McGourty, the executive director of the
Mendocino County Farm Bureau, prepared a report presented by Devon Jones that warned that cheap Central-
Valley-grown Pinot Noir threatens to ruin the image of the varietal in California. There is a rapidly growing demand
for Pinot Noir, but high-quality California coastal grapes are in short supply, and producers may have to turn to using Pinot Noir grapes from the Central Valley that are of lower quality and cheap ($443 to $710 a ton) compared to
coastal Pinot Noir grapes ($1,802 to $3,530 and more a ton). McGourty warned this potential trend may have a
damaging long-term effect on the image and popularity of California Pinot Noir.
Richard Ward, co-founder of Carneros Pinot Noir producer, Saintsbury, told www.thedrinksbusiness.com (June
2016), “Despite the popularity of Pinot Noir in the US, selling Pinot Noir in North American has become increasingly
difficult, even for an established brand like Saintsbury, which was founded in 1981.” Ward pointed out that 10-15
years ago, there were probably 10% as many Pinot Noirs as there are being made today in California. He said, “I
thought I had a deal with Cabernet producers in Napa. I didn’t make Cabernet and they didn’t make Pinot Noir - but
they are all making Pinot now.” Compounding the problem is the disappearance of small distributors and the shrinkage
in number of distributors, so that, “The sheer number of American Pinot Noir brands means that the market is totally
saturated so it is hard unless you are important to distributors’ bottom line.” Wineries have to turn to selling direct to
Matt Kramer posted a web feature article at www.winespector.com (June 21, 2016) titled “Has Pinot Noir Peaked?”
Kramer stated, “We’re probably at the peak of selling this much Pinot Noir at the prices currently being asked. Pinot
Noir is now the iPhone of fine wine. It likely has reached market saturation and very likely cannot significantly grow
sales, at least at the prices being asked now.”
What does this mean to the vast number of Pinot Noir producers that are producing a limited number of cases of
Pinot Noir annually? They have to become smarter about marketing their wines direct to the consumer. It is not
enough to have a creative and modern website that is succinct and easy to navigate because there are many of
those. The trumpeted message is most often trite and the same on every other winery website, emphasizing family
ownership, artisan and limited production, wines of character that capture terroir, blah, blah, blah. No matter how
much the winery raves about its inspiration and its distinct wines, the message comes across as contrived self-promotion
The most important aim for a small Pinot Noir producer should be to achieve and emphasize independent verification
of wine quality. It is not enough to simply note a score, since there is an ocean of domestic Pinot Noir that
have received scores of 90 points these days. Complete reviews of the wines from respected sources should be
linked, as well as any articles about the winery or winery personnel. The Prince of Pinot website at
www.princeofpinot.com is the only Pinot Noir review source that welcomes open and easy linking of wine reviews
and winery features published in The PinotFile to winery websites. As a champion of the small producer seeking a
voice and recognition, I offer this marketing option for wineries at no charge, yet almost no wineries take advantage
of this innovative feature of my newsletter.
To link to an article or review about your winery, go to The Prince of Pinot Home Page at princeofpinot.com. Click on
Wineries and Vineyards. Click on your winery. In the information box under the winery name, there is the wording,
“How to link to an article or review about your winery.” Click on this and your will see link information for your winery
including links to the detail page about your winery, links to feature articles on your winery, and links to specific
tasting notes within an article. This information should be passed along to winery public relations consultants.
Consumers can also use this feature as another way to quickly look up specific articles and wine reviews
published in The PinotFile.