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January 2021, Volume 27, Number 1

Food, Wine

USDA issued Dietary Guidelines for Americans 2020-2025 that did not include recommendations to reduce added sugars from the current 10 percent and to reduce drinking limits for men from two a day. Advocates wanted added sugars to be six percent of daily consumption and alcohol limited to one drink a day. Over 70 percent of US adults 20 and older were overweight in 2015-16, including 40 percent who were obese.

Selling groceries is usually a low-margin business, but supermarket margins rose in 2020 as consumers bought more groceries and more store branded products. Walmart accounts for a quarter of US grocery sales; followed by Kroger with 10 percent; Costco with eight percent; and Albertson’s with five percent. Amazon is not considered a supermarket chain, but sold more groceries in 2020 than all of the chains except Walmart.

Romaine lettuce from the Salinas Valley was implicated in three E. coli O157:H7 foodborne illness outbreaks in November-December 2019. The FDA found that manure from cattle grazing on the hills above the Salinas Valley seeped into the irrigation water and contaminated the lettuce.

Spain produces 45 percent of the world’s olive oil, followed by Italy, where production fell in 2020 due to the Xylella bacteria that affected trees in Puglia, which accounts for half of Italian olive oil production.

Wine. Closed bars and restaurants reduced spending on beer, wine and spirits away from home in 2020 and increased spending on alcohol consumed at home. The same switch to drinking more at home occurs during recessions, but in 2020 those drinking at home moved up the price ladder, as exemplified by professionals working from home who bought more expensive wines.

In most years, about 15 percent of US wine is sold by bars and restaurants. Less than seven percent of wine in 2020 was sold in bars and restaurants, but sales via wine and grocery stores rose. Some Napa wineries released library or cave vintages of older wines at prices above $100 a bottle.

There is a growing list of celebrity wine labels. Movie director Francis Ford Coppola was among the first when he bought the Gustave winery in Napa in 1975 and the former Inglenook winery in 1995, which was renamed the Rubicon Estate Winery in 2016. Today celebrities from Cameron Diaz to Joe Montana have their own wineries or wine labels. Celebrity involvement in wine making is usually limited.

Global. Between 2000 and 2018, the world’s vineyards shrank from 7.8 million to 7.4 million hectares, including vineyards whose grapes are used for raisins, table grapes, or wine. Spain has 13 percent of the world’s vineyards, France 11 percent, and Italy 10 percent, and almost all of the grapes in these three countries are used to make wine. By contrast, China has 12 percent of the world’s vineyards, more vineyards than all countries except Spain, but only 10 percent of Chinese grapes are used to make wine.

Rising yields mean that more wine is being produced from fewer acres of grapes. Total wine production rose from 280 million to 290 million hectoliters between 2000 and 2018 (one hectoliter is 26.4 gallons). Italy produced 19 percent of the world’s wine in 2018; France 17 percent; and Spain 15 percent, and together these three countries accounted for 51 percent of the world’s wine. The US produced eight percent of the world’s wine, and Argentina five percent. France’s share of the world’s wine fell the most over the last two decades, while Argentina’s share rose.

Wine production exceeds wine consumption: 246 million hectoliters were drunk in 2018, up from 226 million in 2000. The US consumed 13 percent of the world’s wine in 2018; Italy 11 percent; France, nine percent; and Germany eight percent. The big three wine grape varieties remain unchanged, Chardonnay, Cabernet Sauvignon and Merlot.

Indonesian Rudy Kurniawan, the only person convicted in the US of selling fake wine, was released in November 2020 after serving nine years of a ten-year sentence in federal prison; ICE will deport him. Kurniawan sold $30 million worth of fake wine to collectors who did not believe they could be fooled.

Kurniawan arrived in the US on a student visa in the mid-1990s, and soon learned that he had an extraordinary memory for wines that he tasted. Kurniawan ingratiated himself with wine collectors by allowing them to taste expensive wines, and began auctioning wines at New York’s Acker Merrall & Condit, including Burgundy’s most prestigious wine, a fake jeroboam (equivalent to four standard bottles) of 1971 Romanee-Conti that sold for $85,000.

Kurniawan made fake wines in his Arcadia, California home by blending old commercial grade wine from France with young American wine made from the same variety of grapes. Wine critics praised the youthful fruit taste. An Acker action in April 2008 offered Burgundy Domaine Ponsot made between 1945 and 1971 for $70,000 a case. The fake was discovered because Domaine Ponsot did not control the vineyards claimed on the bottle labels at the time, leading to Kurniawan’s arrest in March 2012.

Nakedwines.com is the largest US direct-to-consumer winery, selling wine worth $170 million to 250,000 US customers and an equal number abroad.

China in November 2020 placed tariffs of up to 200 percent on Australian wine in a bid to protest Australian policies toward China; previously, China targeted Australian exports of coal, timber, seafood and barley. The Chinese government listed 14 troublesome Australian actions, including public statements in support of Taiwan and Hong Kong freedoms and criticism of the Chinese government in Australian media.


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