Blog: Winemaker's Journal
January 8, 2013
The selection of wines to be found at most grocery and liquor stores these days is mind boggling.
But unless you go into an independent wine shop — The Wine Thief in Wenatchee or Monaco's Corner Store in Leavenworth come to mind — the selection is actually more limited than you might think, especially if you begin thinking about the number of companies that own and produce those wines.
According to an interesting entry on Mike Veseth's "The Wine Economist" blog site, about half of the many wines you're likely to find at many chain grocery stores, convenience stores and drug stores are actually owned by just a few companies.
Veseth teaches classes in wine economics at the University of Puget Sound and has authored several books about the world wine industry.
There's a cool graphic on his site where you can zoom in and find out what wineries are owned by which companies.
Three huge companies — E.J. Gallo, The Wine Group and Constellation Brands — account for more than 50 percent of U.S. wine sales involving dozens of wine brands they own.
The next three largest companies — Trinchero Family Estates, Treasury Wine Estates and Bronco Wine Co.— account for another 13 percent.
Altria Group wines, the tobacco company that owns Washington's largest wineries including Chateau Ste. Michelle, Columbia Crest and several other wine labels, has only about 2 percent share of the U.S. wine market.
Veseth's column is based on a recent Michigan State University study, Concentration in the the U.S. Wine Industry.
The point Veseth makes is that while market share in the wine world isn't nearly as concentrated as in the soft drink and beer industries, where just a couple of companies (think Coca Cola and Pepsi, Budweiser and Miller) control nearly all of the market, it is moving in that direction.
Even in Washington, where a new winery pops up nearly every day, it's Chateau Ste. Michelle and a few other large wineries owned by just a couple of larger companies that account for the bulk of Washington-produced wine sales, according to a study done last year for the Washington wine industry.
The state's five largest producers account for about 70 percent of Washington wine production. The next 30 largest producers account for 20 to 25 percent. That leaves just a little over 5 percent of production for about 800 family-run wineries in the state.
Concentrated ownership doesn't mean that one company's wines all taste the same, not by any means. Altria Group with its wide selection of Chateau Ste. Michelle and Columbia Crest wines, for one, does a great job in making distinctive wines at many price levels that suit many individual tastes.
Still, there are very good reasons why you might want to spend a few dollars more for the hand-crafted wines made at our many small, local, award-winning wineries.
The experience of going to a winery and hearing the story of how the wine is made is one. Supporting the local economy is certainly another. Most importantly, you can taste the difference.