Ten Hot Wine Trends for 2021 - An Interview with Dr. Liz Thach, Ph.D., Master of Wine

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Meet Dr. Liz Thach, MW, Ph.D.,  Author and Wine Writer, Consultant, and Professor of Wine Business

Every year Dr. Liz Thach, Ph.D. and Master of Wine, publishes “The 10 Hot Wine Trends in the US Wine Market,” this year published in February. Link here to her free report. Liz and I met at a Women in Wine conference in Napa Valley over 7 years ago. I believe her insight about these trends has been accurate and has played out well over the last 10 years. Recently, Dr. Thach has written a significant article for Forbes Magazine, April 8, 2021, about the mega-wine company Constellation Wines and how premiumization has paid off for them: “Constellation’s Wine Premiumization Strategy Is Starting to Pay Off.”  Constellation’s premium brands include: Kim Crawford, Meiomi, and the Prisoner Brand Family.

I interviewed Dr. Thach this month regarding this publication, her favorite go-to wines, and her writing, both fiction and non-fiction. See Transcript of our interview below.

10 Hot Wine Trends in the US Wine Market by Dr. Liz Thach, MW - February 2021

1.    Sauvignon Blanc Rises

2.    Cans & Convenience is Very Important

3.    Flavored Wine Category Explodes

4.    The Rise of Low-No Alcohol Wines and [Labeling] Transparency

5.    Premiumization & Pricing Sweet Spots

6.    On-line Wine Sales Boom & Stay

7.    Cab, Red Blends, and Pinots Still Popular

8.    Rosé Continues to Delight

9.    NY Joins Oregon as Favorite Wine Producing State

10. Sparkling and On-Premise [Restaurants]: Get Ready to Party – Post Pandemic

Tricia Conover, DipWSET: “Speaking of wines, Liz, what are your go-to weekly monthly and special occasion wines?”

Dr. Liz Thach, MW: “I say weekly is Sauvignon Blanc. I love a nice, crisp cool glass of Sauvignon Blanc in the evening while cooking dinner. For my special weekly wine, it depends on what I'm eating. I have a tendency to drink a lot of Pinot Noir but sometimes it's Rosé or even Sparkling wine. My husband and I had a Sparkling with dinner the other night. We were having seafood and we just decided to stay with bubbles through the whole meal, which was lovely. For a special occasion wine, I will never pass up a big beautiful Napa Cabernet Sauvignon. Some of those are pretty expensive, and I just think they're lush and velvety and they're like a treat. It’s the same with a Bordeaux. You know the high-end Bordeaux’s are a special treat for me….and vintage Champagne.

Wine Wanderings Wine Recommendations

Everyday Sauvignon Blanc:

2020 Craggy Range Winery Te Muna Rd Vineyard Sauvignon Blanc $23.99 Martinborough, NZ Wine Spectator 92 Points.

Once a Week Pinot Noir:

2015 Au Bon Climat Isabelle Pinot Noir Santa Maria, CA $59.99 Wine Spectator 93 Points.

Once a Week Rosé:

2018 Chateau d’Esclans Rock Angel Rosé, Cotes de Provence, France $34.99 Wine Enthusiast 90 Points.

Special Occasion Wines:

2016 Raymond Generations Cabernet Sauvignon, Napa Valley, CA $134.99 Wine Spectator 93 Points, Robert Parker 95 Points.

2008 Billecart-Salmon Elisabeth Salmon Brut Rosé Vintage Champagne $229.99 Decanter 98 Points.

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Full Interview Transcript: Dr. Liz Thach, Ph.D, MW, and Tricia Conover, DipWSET Interview

TC (Tricia Conover, DipWSET, Wine Wanderings)

Welcome to Wine Wanderings. Today, my guest is Liz Thach, Master of Wine, Author and Consultant. Liz and I first met at the Women in Wine Symposium in Napa Valley.

Welcome, Liz.

(Dr. LT) Dr. Liz Thach, Ph.D., MW:

Thank you. It's a pleasure to be here, Tricia.

TC (Tricia Conover):

I want to give my readers a little background on you first. Liz Thach is an award-winning author and educator specializing in wine business strategy, marketing, leadership, and the wine lifestyle. Liz has visited several major wine regions around the world, actually visiting more than 50 countries. Impressive! Liz worked for more than 10 years as an HR executive in Fortune 500 companies before transitioning to Sonoma State University in 2000 to teach management and wine business classes. She has presented at more than 100 conferences, published nine books and over 200 articles, and now is teaching part-time at Sonoma State University. Liz was the first woman in California, and the seventh in the US, to become a Master of Wine. She also holds a Ph.D. from A&M, Texas A&M. I'm in Texas, so we just say A&M. Welcome, Liz, to Wine Wanderings.

(Dr. LT)

Thanks, again, a pleasure to be here.

(TC)

Please tell us, Liz, how you first came to teach about wine business from working as an executive in HR, at Fortune 100 companies, what was that transition about?

(Dr. LT)

That was a big transition! Wine has always been my passion. In fact, I was in college in California, and a friend took me to Napa Valley for my birthday. And I fell in love right then and there. I started taking classes in wine and tasting and traveling to wine regions at a very early age. Then my husband got interested, too. We lived in Houston for 10 years, and I took lots of wine classes there. It was always a hobby and a passion. I never thought it would be a career. But then fate jumps in and changes things for you. I ended up as an [HR] executive, and I was encouraged to go back and get my Ph.D. in Human Resource Development. Then, I came back to work again. Eventually I ended up taking a job as a professor of human resources, and teaching “Introduction to Wine Business.” All my studying and traveling paid off. I started doing wine business and wine tasting at Sonoma State University in the year 2000. I just retired this year, but still teach there [SSU] part-time. That's sort of how it happened. When I moved to Sonoma,  I also planted a hobby vineyard. I took a lot of viticulture and winemaking classes. I make a little wine, too. It started out as just a passion, and then it became a job. When I started teaching wine business, [I discovered] there were no books. There were no textbooks on wine business. Three years later, I ended up writing the first wine business textbook just because I needed something for my students. It was an edited book. I called upon all these experts in the industry to send some chapters. That's sort of how it started with writing all the wine business books.

(TC)

Well, that's really impressive and fun. I'm a software executive.  I understand this passion [for wine] and the transition thing. I must tell our readers that every year you put out the 10 Hot Trends for 2021 in the US Market [for wine.]  [Shows copy] This is my “much-dogeared,” one of my favorite annual reports. When I read that list [this year], I was especially interested with three things [on the list]: First, the flavored low calorie or no-low wines; second; the premiumization of wine (that is, during the pandemic, people wanted to treat themselves and were upscaling their [wine] buying); and third, Sparkling Wine, which will peak again, as people celebrate the [Pandemic] opening?  Any other of the trends that you think are notable right now?

(Dr. LT)

Those are all great questions. What's exciting for me is that those top trends that you just mentioned have continued and are strong this year. For example, I would say the “better for you” category is also called “no low no or low alcohol wines” that are better for you. People are very health conscious. They're deciding they still want to drink wine, but they are looking for lower alcohol and lower calories. That is booming. I can't imagine all the new brands that have come out in just the last six months. There are so many of them. There was just another announced today, so the category is hot. The other one that's really, really hot is wine cocktails, which is sort of the opposite extreme. We're just going to have fun with wine. We're going to have wine seltzers and wine sparklers and wine spritzers, and add fruit to the wine, and make fruity wine. All these kinds of things that are fun with wine. Agave wine fits into this category. Of course, these wines are not necessarily local. They're just fun, and they're fruity, and they're usually a little sweet. That is booming, too. What's great about both of these two new categories in wine is it's bringing new people into wine. A lot of younger consumers are now drinking, adopting wine, which is more than before. Oftentimes people waited till their 30s [to drink wine]. Now we're having a lot more people in their 20’s, Gen Z’s, as well as younger millennials. That's good for the wine industry. So, those two trends are just booming right now. I think they're going to continue.

The third one you asked about was Sparkling [wine.]  I would have to say Sparkling and Rosé, because those are both are really hot and especially Sparkling Rosé. That one's really hot right now. I just looked at some numbers last week with Jon Moramarco who owns bw166. It's a market research firm. He has tracked Rosé over the last 10 years in the US market. It literally grew at a 1,400% increase. That's how popular Rosé has gotten. Then when you add Sparkling Rosé to that, you know, because Prosecco just came out with pink Prosecco this year. There are lots of others as well. Both of those categories are getting hotter. Now, during the pandemic, Sparkling wine sales went down, which is understandable, because people were not celebrating especially in  March, April, May [2020]. They cratered. Champagne was really hurting. Then it came back up a little bit as people sort of felt better in the summer. Then remember, we had the second or third wave and it crashed again?  It just wasn't good. But, now people are really celebrating. They say that by the end of the year, we're going to “party like it's 1999” or be like the Roaring 20’s again. Or [behave] something like end of World War Two. There are all these different analogies that the US market will really start partying. I think that that's true as we're coming out of the pandemic. Now it's not over yet, but there's a lot more hope. So, people want to celebrate. All the Champagne Sparkling houses I talked to say their sales are are way up already.

(TC)

I got one [Champagne] as a gift last week. We all are traveling [again.]  I just got back from the Washington wine country. You know, we're all drinking a lot more wine out there as well. I'm really happy about Sparkling [wines’] comeback.

(TC)

Speaking of wines, Liz, what are your go-to weekly, monthly, and special occasion wines?

(Dr. LT)

I say weekly is Sauvignon Blanc. I love a nice, crisp cool glass of Sauvignon Blanc in the evening while cooking dinner. For my special weekly wine, it depends on what I'm eating. I tend to drink a lot of Pinot Noir, but sometimes it's Rosé or even Sparkling wine. My husband and I had a Sparkling with dinner the other night. We were having seafood, and we just decided to stay with bubbles through the whole meal, which was lovely. For a special occasion wine, I will never pass up a big, beautiful Napa Cabernet Sauvignon. Some of those are pretty expensive, and I just think they're just lush and velvety. They're like a treat. It’s the same with a Bordeaux. You know the high-end Bordeaux's are a special treat for me….and vintage Champagne.

(TC)

I'm with you on all of those [choices] actually. Especially like a high-end [Cabernet] like Shafer Hillside Select cab from Napa, or a St. Emilion, Right Bank, French [Bordeaux.] Those would be my special occasion wines. We're on the same path.  I want to conclude our interview with asking you about your writing. I know you're writing for Forbes now, but also [about] your novel writing. I read one of your novels. Are there any of those in the works, or any other books that you have in the plans?

(Dr. LT)

I would love to get back into my novel writing. I write, as you know, under a pen name [Kathleen Tosh], not my own name, with a friend of mine.  We write wine mysteries. We keep talking about it. Right now we're just both too busy. But I hope to soon. That’s fun writing. Right now, the newest book that I'm writing [is one] with a colleague on virtual wine tourism. Because as you know, during the pandemic virtual tours, virtual tastings just took off, not just in the United States, but all over the world. We're going to look at a book on global virtual wine tasting: what works, what doesn't, and what's next. Because it's not going to go away. Now people have learned that they can taste wine with a winemaker in Greece or Italy or South America, Brazil, or where-ever. People are going to want to continue doing that because it was exciting and it helps them travel from their armchair and their desktop and taste wine.  I think that's an exciting topic for me to be writing about.

Liz, thank you for joining us on Wine Wanderings. I look forward to talking with you again soon.

(Dr. LT)

Tricia Conover, you look fabulous, and I hope we get to taste some wine together.