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U.S. wine industry rebounds as sales of $7-plus bottles pick up

LOS ANGELES ― After two years of sluggish wine sales, consumers are starting to reach for ― and spend more on ― their favorite vintages.

U.S. domestic wine retail sales grew 7 percent in 2010 over the previous year, according to the Wine Institute in San Francisco. And the country’s wine exports also jumped to a record $1.14 billion in 2010, up nearly 26 percent from 2009.
Customer Jennifer Murphy tries to decide on a bottle of wine inside the Ralph’s grocery store in downtown Los Angeles, California. (Los Angeles Times/MCT)
Customer Jennifer Murphy tries to decide on a bottle of wine inside the Ralph’s grocery store in downtown Los Angeles, California. (Los Angeles Times/MCT)

For the first time, the U.S. in 2010 consumed more wine than France. While the French still drink far more wine per capita than Americans, the U.S. ― with its much larger population ― has more people pouring a glass of cabernet sauvignon or chardonnay.

As the U.S. economic recovery creeps on, restaurateurs say they are seeing more diners ordering full bottles of wine, rather than a single glass, with their meals. Technomic Inc., a Chicago research firm, forecast that alcohol sales at restaurants and bars would grow 1.9 percent in 2011, compared with sales in 2010.

“People are feeling a bit more confident about the economy and are going back to what they know,” said Tom Klein, the Wine Institute’s chairman and Rodney Strong Vineyards’ vintner. “The wine industry, is it easy right now? No. But I think the industry has turned a bit of the corner. People are being smart about what they buy, but they are coming back.”

Shoppers, who shifted to wines that cost less than $7 during the height of the recession, are reaching for pricier bottles, analysts said. According to the Wine Institute, sales of wine in the $7-to-$14 category grew 5 percent in 2010.

Even sales of high-end wines, which plummeted as recession-wary consumers cut back on luxury spending, are picking up.

At the Ralphs grocery store in downtown Los Angeles, shoppers have snapped up more than 100 bottles of Veuve Clicquot Ponsardin yellow-label brut Champagne in the last month; each bottle, on sale, costs $49.

“We’re buying a lot more $12 bottles,” said Carolynne Chan, 43. “We’re not spending money to travel this summer, but we can afford to make our Friday dinners a bit nicer.”

By P.J. Huffstutter

(Los Angeles Times)

(McClatchy-Tribune Information Services)
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