Book Review: Wine Wars

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Veseth, Michael. Wine wars : the curse of the Blue Nun, the miracle of Two Buck Chuck, and the revenge of the Terroirists. Rowman & Littlefield, 2011.

When I buy wine at the grocery, I stare at 500 different choices on the “wine wall,” and often walk away without making any purchase at all.   According to economist and wine blogger Mike Veseth, there are more choices for wine than for any other product in the supermarket. In his insightful and amusing new book, Wine Wars, author Veseth explains the complicated world of wine, analyzing its past and predicting its future.

He begins with the wine wall.  Typically, the expensive wines are shelved at the top and the cheap wines at the bottom, as most wine consumers shop by price, usually within a narrow margin. Within the price strata, New World wines are organized by country, then by brand/grape/region.  Old World wines are organized by region, such as Bordeaux and Burgundy.  Wine is complicated, even at the supermarket, but Veseth, a university professor, clarifies the global wine business for the uninitiated.

As an economist, Veseth also teaches about forces that influence the production and consumption of wines, notably the markets of three top importing markets, the UK, Germany and the US.  The industry is changing under globalization, as corporations produce high volumes of inexpensive brand named wines for unsophisticated consumers who look for a consistent affordable product.  Giant wine producers take up much of the wine wall, and garner much of the restaurant business, making it harder for Old World producers to compete.  Gallo has several familiar brands at every price point (Turning Leaf, Barefoot Cellars, Redwood Creek etc) squeezing out small wineries in France and Italy.  Growers in Old World countries worry about the end of their small operations, and the unique quality and character of their wines, which reflect the local soil, climate, culture and traditions.  As consumers, wine enthusiasts worry about wine becoming a homogenous commodity.

Yet Veseth remains optimistic.  He predicts that in the future more clarity and simplicity will be injected into the wine markets, giving consumers more confidence,  and they in turn will buy more wine.  A consumer who begins by drinking Two Buck Chuck often graduates to more sophisticated tastes.  Globalization will bring more consumers with more choices for everyone.   This rich volume with peppery overtones is the perfect match for anyone wanting to know more about the business of wine.  Recommended.

© Reviewer: Meg Trauner & Ford Library – Fuqua School of Business.
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