Remember when I was rejoicing that even though we had to endure a pandemic, at least we had wine?
Well, I spoke too soon.
If you’ve turned on your television, you’ve heard about supply-chain issues. Every night on the national news, we are being told that this year, the shelves will be bare, and the Grinch may very well steal Christmas. While parents everywhere are panicking about the list of unattainable toys their children are asking Santa to bring them, there is an even more frightening scenario looming: a wine shortage.
This summer, we began to feel the impact of our kind-of-post-COVID world. As restaurants began to fully reopen and place orders to restock their inventory, it put pressure on importers and distributors to fill their warehouses with more cases of wine for weekly deliveries. Normally, this would be a non-issue. But life right now is anything but normal.
Despite booming sales for home consumption, much of the alcohol industry was in a proverbial coma for a year and half. Overnight, 50 percent of the sales channels dried up, and as a result, a lot of wine and liquor sales reps, truck drivers, warehouse employees and middle managers were unemployed. Some import and distribution companies went out of business entirely. This left a lot of wines we know and love “homeless,” without a way to get back into the wholesale arena. Even when some of these lost labels were picked up by another distributor, there was still no guarantee the new ambassador for these wines would actually stock any inventory.
As for wines that need to come across the big, blue sea, they face a whole other set of problems. Bringing wines over from Europe, South America, Australia and New Zealand takes about five weeks in normal times. The order is placed; the wine is loaded onto a container ship; it goes on a little voyage; it reaches a U.S. port; it’s unloaded, put on a truck and sent off to its new home. Now, that very same process is taking up to five months.
With orders being placed on sites like Amazon for everything from televisions to toilet paper, there just isn’t room on the ship for wine. No room for wine?! It’s like the end of the world, and everyone has lost their damn mind. And if wine does make it onto a ship, there aren’t enough workers at the port to unload it. So, many container ships are just sitting out there in the ocean, waiting to be unloaded. So close, yet so far.
Compound this “no room at the inn” problem with the fact that there is also a glass-bottle shortage, a cardboard shortage, a timber shortage (important for not only barrels, but wooden boxes in which wine is packaged), and a paper shortage for wine labels.
Mother nature has also been terribly cruel. Fires raged along the West Coast in 2020, all the way from California to British Columbia, during the most vulnerable time for grapes on the vine. In the weeks leading up to harvest, grapes are in their final stage of development—that critical time when ripeness, flavor compounds and sugars are coming together. The fires devastated the red grapes still hanging in the vineyards, and many producers were forced to scrap their red wine production for the year. The white wines produced this vintage were spared, but given that this will be the only source of revenue for some of these wineries, you can bet the price tags for chardonnays and sauvignon blancs are gonna go sky high.
Across the pond, countries including France and Italy experienced devastating spring frosts, during the other hyper-critical time in a grape’s life. This is when the grapes are in their fragile infancy and need ideal conditions to thrive. In April, vineyard owners lit smudge pots and anti-frost candles to provide warmth to these delicate vines, all the way from Burgundy in France to Tuscany in Italy. These thousands of small fires could be seen from outer space. It’s estimated that the agricultural losses suffered in just these two countries will be more than 1 billion euros—and production will be down by 30 to 40 percent.
New Zealand also battled a harsh, cold growing season, causing sauvignon blanc production to be significantly down.
So what does all this mean? I’m sorry to be the bearer of bad news, but it means you can start feeling nostalgic for the “good old days” when that wine you loved only cost you $12. You can reminisce about the days when you could pop into the wine shop and buy any number of bottles of Napa cabernet, or Willamette Valley pinot noir. If you’re like me, you’re already shedding tears for our beloved Chablis, which was hit the hardest by frosts, with 90 percent of vineyards losing the battle this year.
It also means it’s a good idea to get your hands on the wine you love now—or you might be crying right along side your kids at Christmas. Remember, the Grinch stole the toys, the trees, and even the roast beast. Don’t let him have the Christmas wine, too.