Data on wine consumption in 2010 is rolling in, and it seems that the haves and have-nots spent most of the year staring at each other across a growing ocean of fermented grape juice.
Globally, revenue from wine auctions hit an all-time high of $408 million, nearly doubling the 2009 total. The center of the action was Hong Kong, which has become the world’s center of fine wine consumption. By itself, Hong Kong accounted for $165 million of auction sales, up 157% from the previous year.
The amounts spent on individual lots were particularly breathtaking. Chateau Lafite-Rothschild has emerged as Asia’s ultimate luxury brand, and buyers don’t care what they have to pay for it. A case of the 1982 vintage hit a high of $132,584 in Hong Kong in October, compared with New York’s record of $65,550. Even that amount is insignificant next to the $232,692 paid by a Chinese buyer for a single bottle of 1869 Lafite. That sum shattered the previous single-bottle record of $156,450 for a bottle from the 18th century, supposedly owned by Thomas Jefferson, which turned out to be a fake.
On the other side of the economic divide, things were very different. U.S. wine consumption rose for the 17th straight year in 2010, if only by 1%, but the vast majority of that wine was plonk—Barefoot, Sutter Home, and the boxed wine from Franzia. Sales were lead by the large, mass-market brands as Americans traded down. We may have spent more than $40 billion on wine last year, but we did it $6 and $8 at a time.
Before you conclude that the American wine market resembles a South American dictatorship, with the upper 2% of the population living well and everyone else starving, there’s some cheerful news. The largest amount of growth actually occurred in the $20 price category, which saw an increase of nearly 25%. Discounting undoubtedly had something to do with this, as many bottles that previous sold for $40 are now $20, but it’s still a very good indicator. Look for the numbers to trend upward in 2011.