Monday, April 26, 2004

Best Time For Wine in 30 Years

Faced with fierce competition and an overabundance of supply, attributable to prime weather conditions and improved technology, wine purveyors are working to woo customers with new packaging, pricing and production.

At the same time, a winemaking renaissance of sorts is sweeping the globe, from Morocco to Missouri, bringing unprecedented bargains for both neophytes and connoisseurs. All 50 states, in fact, now produce wine.

Winemakers see plenty of growth potential. Although total wine consumption in the United States has increased, to 232 million cases last year from 164 million in 1995, according to Adams Beverage Group, a publishing and market research company, Americans still lag far behind Europeans in wine drinking per capita. Only an estimated 13 percent of Americans drink wine regularly, and an additional 14 percent drink it occasionally, it said.

Wine drinking is up among adults over 40, according to the Wine Market Council, an industry group, perhaps because of widely publicized health benefits. (A glass or two a day may lower the risk of heart disease.) But sales to younger adults have been flat, the council said.

The persistence of the weak dollar is starting to drive up the cost of imported wines, and the industry is working through the wine glut. "Consumers have been really lucky for the last few years, but it won't continue forever," said Liz O'Connell, a spokeswoman for Southcorp.

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