Covering the international wine industry calls for a lot more than looking at charts and graphs and coming up with a prediction that the world is running out of wine.
Yet that was the gist of a report issued last week by the august multinational financial services firm Morgan Stanley. More than anything, it was a scare story that lacks any real understanding of the worldwide wine industry. But it was so upsetting that major news organizations around the world sought to do follow-up stories on it.
The use of charts showing various statistics on worldwide wine production could lead, under one interpretation, to what Morgan Stanley was trying to put forth: that wine prices will inevitably rise because of the so-called “shortage.”
Yet looking at only a few facts and not all of them cannot possibly tell the real story. And this story was really a nonstory.
First of all, look at the way the report was written. In one part, we see this: “Data suggests there may be insufficient supply (of grapes) to meet demand in coming years.”
The use of the terms “suggests” and “may be” are red flags for any Journalism 101 student. It’s simply one point of view that may or may not be true. That was the first tipoff.
Another red flag: A chart showing the decline in “area under vine” implies that worldwide vineyard acreage is declining. But the chart merely shows a decline in the percentage of the world total for the 13 top wine-producing nations, and does not look at actual vineyard acreage, which may well be increasing.
Moreover, even a vineyard acreage total would say nothing at all about grape production, a far more useful statistic — nor does the story address this most crucial area.
In the Napa Valley, for example, cabernet sauvignons of world acclaim are typically made from vines that yield between 3 and 4 tons of grapes per acre. Almost never as much as 5 tons per acre.
But the wine that Morgan Stanley was speaking of isn’t Napa cabernet. The report was speaking of all wine, and the vast majority of this wine is inexpensive and probably came off vines that yielded 10 tons per acre.
How much worse would this inexpensive wine be if that tonnage figure were raised by just 10 percent? Not much different, especially since modern vineyard and winemaking techniques could create additional volumes by many methods, not least of which is the use of wine concentrates, water and other legal methods.
And it’s easy to increase vine production by 10 percent and can be accomplished in a year.
It may be true that some areas of the wine world have suffered smaller-than-average crops in recent years (France with cold weather, Australia with drought).
However, California and Washington both had massive harvests in 2012 and 2013. And just days ago a report out of Italy said the decline in wine consumption by Italians has increased the exportation of Italian wine to other countries by huge factors in the last few years.
The Morgan Stanley report seems to me to fall into one of the classic pitfalls that author John Allen Paulos, a professor of mathematics at Temple University, wrote about in his acclaimed book “A Mathematician Reads the Newspaper.”
Perhaps someone should get a copy for Morgan Stanley.
Wine of the Week
2012 Mohua Sauvignon Blanc, Marlborough ($13): This reasonably priced sauvignon from the Peregrine winery has wild tropical fruit, gooseberry and lime/mint aromas, with hints of dried herbs and a tart entry, but a succulent finish. A fine example of the New Zealand style of wine at a fair price.
Dan Berger lives in Sonoma County, where he publishes Vintage Experiences, a weekly wine newsletter. Write to him at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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