Skip to navigation

Skip to main content


January 2013, Volume 19, Number 1

Wine, Food, Fish

California's wine grape harvest was 3.8 million tons in 2012, up from 3.3 million tons in 2011. California produces about 10 percent of the world's wine.

Lake county, north of Napa and Sonoma counties, has 8,000 acres of vineyards, including 10 percent owned by Gallo, which bought Snows Lake Vineyard in 2012. Many Lake county vineyards are planted with Cabernet Sauvignon grapes that are sold to Napa wineries and blended with Napa grapes.

Some $28 billion worth of wine was sold in the US in 2011, including $1.4 billion or five percent that was delivered directly to consumers. Most direct-to-consumer sales are wine club shipments. Online purchases, perhaps one percent of total wine sales, are complicated by state and local laws that restrict shipments to consumers. About 12 percent of all retail sales were made on line in 2011.

Amazon launched a wine marketplace in November 2012, offering to ship up to six bottles of wine to consumers in 12 states for $10. About two percent of wine is sold over the internet. Wine sales have been hampered by the three-tiered distribution system, which normally requires producers of alcoholic beverages to sell to distributors who sell to retailers.

Global. Wine has accounted for 18 percent of the world's alcohol consumption over the last decade, with wine's share highest in Europe and lowest in Africa. Wine's share of alcohol consumption in Asia doubled over the past decade to three percent, and the share of wine in alcohol consumption in Russia is now 10 percent. China in 2012 was the world's sixth largest wine producer and fifth largest consumer, consuming about 30 percent more wine than it produced.

During the 1970s, about 10 percent of the world's wine was consumed outside the country in which it was produced, as when the British drank French wine. Today, over 35 percent of the world's wine is consumed outside the country in which it was produced, including Australian and Chilean wines consumed in other countries. A third of the wine produced in France, Italy and Spain is exported, and two-thirds of the wine produced in Australia and Chile is exported.

Australia's wine exports peaked in 2007, and a combination of over-production and a stronger Australian dollar have reduced wine exports and the value of Australian vineyards. Argentina is the new export star as a result of the devaluation of its currency in 2001.

Georgia's wine exports account for 10 percent of the country's exports. Until 2006, the major destination for Georgian wine was Russia. A Russian ban on Georgian wine has required wine exporters to find other markets, including Ukraine, which has absorbed half of Georgian wine exports in recent years. The average value of Georgian wine exports was $3 a liter in 2011, up from $2 between 2000 and 2005.

The countries with the largest share of crop land planted to grapes are Portugal, Chile, Italy and Georgia, where eight percent of crop land is vineyard, more than the six percent vineyard share of Moldova and Spain. Exports were almost half of Georgian wine production in 2005, but have since fallen to less than 20 percent because of the Russian ban. Georgia hopes to export more semi-sweet red wine to the UK, US and Germany.

Wine production remains far less concentrated in the hands of the largest four firms than beer or tobacco. The largest four wineries, all in the New World, accounted for about seven percent of global wine sales in 2009.

Food. TheÿFood and Drug Administration in January 2013 announced several of the expected 50 regulations that will eventually implement the Food SafetyÿModernization Act in 2010. The FDA is responsible for the safety of about 80 percent of US food, while USDA regulates the safety of meat. A sixth of US residents become ill from eating contaminated food each year, including 130,000 who are hospitalized and 3,000 who die.

One new FDA regulation requires food manufacturers to identify, adopt and carry out measures to reduce the risk of contamination, and maintain records that FDA inspectors can audit. A second regulates the production and harvesting of fruits and vegetables to combat E. coli bacterial contamination by focusing on the four Ws: water, waste, workers and wildlife. The FDA says that its safety standards for fruits and vegetables are risk based, meaning that they are less stringent for foods such as potatoes that are cooked than for lettuce that is consumed raw.

USDA is changing its per capita food consumption data to reflect new estimates of how much food is thrown away. USDA relied on nonprofit RTI International, which used data from the Nielsen Company's Homescan surveys of food purchases and interviews done for the Centers for Disease Control's National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey, to estimate what was eaten and what was thrown away.

RTI estimated that almost 70 percent of fresh pumpkins are thrown away, up from 20 percent in previous USDA estimates, compared to 15 percent of meat and poultry that is bought but not consumed, down from 40 percent (the reduced waste largely reflected the fact that today most meat is sold boneless). The most controversial change was for sugar. The old estimate was that 20 percent of sugar purchased was thrown away, including the sugar in sugar-heavy products. The new estimate is a third of sugar is discarded, which reduced per capita sugar consumption from 100 pounds a year to less than 80.

Richmond, California, a city of 104,000 with a large Chevron refinery, rejected Measure N in November 2012, which would impose a one-cent-per-ounce tax on sweetened beverages. More than half of elementary school students in Richmond are considered overweight or obese, and the Richmond Progressive Alliance on the city council hoped the soda tax would reduce consumption of sweetened drinks. Hispanics now outnumber Blacks in Richmond, and whites drawn to Richmond's lower rents are changing the city's demographics. Voters in El Monte near Los Angeles rejected a similar cent-per-ounce tax on sugary soda.

The American Beverage Association, which finances the opposition to the soda taxes, concluded that Richmond voters reject the theory that obesity can be reduced with more taxes. However, proponents of soda taxes believe that added sugar will ultimately be found to be an addiction that leads to diabetes and other illnesses and will be taxed.

Denmark in November 2012 repealed its so-called fat tax and canceled plans for a sugar tax. For one year, Danes had to pay a tax on foods containing more than 2.3 percent fat, prompting many Danes to travel to Sweden and Germany to buy butter and cheese.

Fish. TheÿFood and Drug Administration lists 519 acceptable market names for fish, but more than 1,700 species are sold, as restaurants and other marketers try to persuade consumers to move beyond the five major seafood items, that is, shrimp, tuna, salmon, pollock and tilapia. Tests in New York City found that almost 40 percent of the seafood from 81 grocery stores and restaurants was mislabeled.

The FDA in December 2012 concluded that a fast-growing salmon created by AquaBounty Technologies was "as safe as food from conventional Atlantic salmon" and would have "no significant impact" on the environment. AquaBounty welcomed the announcement, while critics threatened to sue to block the adoption of FDA's tentative conclusions.

The AquAdvantage salmon is an Atlantic salmon that contains a growth hormone gene from the Chinook salmon and a genetic switch from the ocean pout, an eel-like creature, that keeps the gene on so that the salmon produces growth hormone year-round, rather than only during warm weather. The fish reach market weight in about 18 months instead of three years. AquaBounty produces salmon eggs in Prince Edward Island, Canada, and raises the salmon in Panama.

In January 2013, Tokyo's Sushi Zanmai restaurant chain paid 155 million yen ($1.8 million) for a 488-pound bluefin, or about $3,600 per pound, at the Tsukiji fish market. The first tuna sold in the new year typically sells for a very high price.