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Wine shipments from California fall in 2009

The drop is the first in 16 years and comes as consumers are shunning tonier offerings from the state in favor of cheaper overseas imports.

January 29, 2010|By P.J. Huffstutter
  • For California's biggest commercial wineries, whose business targets the price-conscious consumer, these are fairly rosy times.
For California's biggest commercial wineries, whose business targets… (John Green / Contra Costa…)

Talk about a party-pooper: California's wine industry saw its shipments fall in 2009 -- for the first time in 16 years.

Although the news may plunge the state's viticulturists into a frothing ferment, industry watchers say the downward sales trend makes sense as the country's economic woes drag on and consumers tighten their budgets.

Consumption of wine is up 2.1% nationally, but industry analyst Jon Fredrikson told the audience at the annual Unified Wine & Grape Symposium on Wednesday that the American public was snubbing tonier bottles from the Golden State and instead opting for cheaper bulk wine imports from overseas winemakers.

"Usually, we're raving about how great the year was," Fredrikson told the crowd gathered in Sacramento this week, the Modesto Bee reported. "But this was probably the worst year you ever had."

For California's biggest commercial wineries, whose business targets the price-conscious consumer, these are fairly rosy times.

Last year, the state's seven largest producers saw sales overall grow by nearly 7 million cases.

But for the state's overall industry, the news was sobering. California wine shipments fell almost 4%, or by nearly 4 million cases of wine, for the first 11 months of last year, Fredrikson said.

Nationwide, the domestic wine market dropped by 3 million cases compared with a year earlier. (Restaurant sales were sluggish too: Wine sales dropped as much as 10% at restaurants across the country.)

At the same time, wines from countries such as Argentina, Chile and Australia -- which is reportedly swimming in a glut of the good stuff -- saw business boom: Imports bubbled up 87% last year, cornering about 32% of the U.S. market.

p.j.huffstutter@latimes.com

Associated Press was used in compiling this report.

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