2021 was a year that many approached with uncertainty, and as we reach its end, it proved to hold many highs and lows. On one hand, 2021 offered plenty of hope as devastating tariffs on EU wines and spirits ended and vaccines rolled out across the country, allowing most pandemic restrictions to be lifted and sending consumers back to restaurants, gatherings, and travel.
But despite semblances of normalcy, this year also made clear that post-pandemic life is a long way off. From the emergence of new variants to ongoing supply chain disruptions (and resultant shortages and price increases), COVID-19 continues to impact everyday life—a reality that is felt acutely across the beverage and hospitality industries.
Many of our top-performing features reflected this need to navigate a “new normal,” from exploring the pandemic’s impact on the role of the sales rep, to one sommelier’s conflicted feelings about returning to her intended career, to the transformation of alcohol distribution.
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They also reflect issues that have been bubbling for several years now, particularly surrounding climate change’s impact on the drinks industry—and how we can lessen our industry’s impact on the environment. Betsy Andrews’ feature on eco-packaging innovations was popular among readers, as was Diana Seysses’ essay on the potential of carbon capture during fermentation to make wine a negative-emission industry.
But our top-performing feature of the year was Joshua Bernstein’s beer industry trend report, published in January as readers tried to make sense of their own feelings of uncertainty. Though the year had plenty of curveballs in store—as next year certainly will as well—the article’s popularity proves that the drinks industry will do its best to prepare for the future—and adapt as necessary.
10. Beyond High-Profile Scandals, Wine Fraud Is Rampant
How the pandemic-fueled increase in online sales and decrease in vetting has led to more counterfeit bottles—and how wine professionals can spot them
When most of us think about wine fraud, we think of headline-making names like Rudy Kurniawan, the first person to be arrested for counterfeiting wine. Released from federal prison on Nov. 6, 2020 after serving seven years behind bars, Kurniawan, aka “Dr. Conti”—so named for his prolific Domaine de la Romanée-Conti trades—sold millions of dollars of fake bottles between 2004 and 2012, most of that through auction houses such as Acker Merrall & Condit, which alone sold $35 million worth of Kurniawan’s bottles in just two auctions.
Yet hiding behind high-profile players like Kurniawan and Hardy Rodenstock—the German wine trader who peddled the fraudulent “Jefferson bottles” of 18th-century Lafite to collectors such as Christopher Forbes and Bill Koch in the ‘80s—recent reports across the globe demonstrate that fraud is more pervasive in the industry than people realize. Many players exist on a small scale, says Edgerton—and they aren’t always trading in unicorn bottles.
From Penfolds to Jacob’s Creek, even a counterfeit whiskey ring recently uncovered in Rioja, fake bottles are produced and being sold around the world. And with the pandemic-fueled uptick in online sales of fine wine, combined with lessened ability to enact preventative measures, a growing number of fraudulent bottles are circulating undetected. [Read more]
9. Why the Alcohol Industry Is Betting Big on Cannabis
As legalization increases, drinks companies see huge opportunity in the THC and CBD beverage space
The tide has changed for cannabis in the U.S., and the beverage alcohol industry is noticing—and increasingly, getting in on the game. Cannabis sales in the U.S. are expected to reach $21.6 billion in 2021, with cannabis beverage sales comprising around $210 million of that, according to BDS Analytics.
These blockbuster sales come as cannabis legalization spreads; only three states—Idaho, Kansas, and Nebraska—lack some form of legal cannabis, according to the National Cannabis Industry Association. New Jersey and Arizona, among others, passed adult recreational use of cannabis this past November, and New York is poised to be next.
While past studies have been mixed on whether cannabis legalization impacts alcohol sales, health and wellness have increasingly become consumer priorities, and 81 percent of cannabis consumers believe that cannabis is safer than alcohol, according to a New Frontier Data survey. Many alcohol companies have been hedging their bets and making significant investments in cannabis—specifically, the cannabis beverage space. [Read more]
8. Get Back to Work
Welcome to SevenFifty Daily’s Back to Work guide
With all the disruption and uncertainty the coronavirus has brought upon the drinks and hospitality industries this year, one thing is for certain: We’re all coming to terms with a new normal.
For the months ahead, we’ll be speaking to experts in all areas of drinks and hospitality to provide the advice, tools, and information you need to get back to business. From what to look for—and avoid—when job hunting or hiring, to tips on smart cellar restocking, to navigating changing workplace protocols, we’ll curate everything you need to return to work with a renewed sense of purpose and optimism. [Read more]
7. ‘Carbon Capture During Fermentation Could Make Wine a Negative-Emission Industry’
Domaine Dujac’s Diana Seysses explains how producers can become key players in the future of green fuel by working together to trap CO2 during vinification
Few industries bear witness to climate change more closely than the wine world.
Last year the Napa Valley was on fire again. Then in April, Burgundy and all of France endured a catastrophic frost which has been declared a natural agricultural disaster. As an enologist and as a land steward in these two beautiful and historic wine regions, I have recognized that there is no issue more important to our world and industry than that of climate change. The fine wine community has made impressive strides in taking decisive and direct action to adapt—and to reduce our impact.
In the last four years I have thoroughly studied my industry from the perspective of sustainability and greenhouse gas emissions. One small, transparent piece of this puzzle has particularly captured my attention and imagination: the carbon dioxide emitted by yeast during fermentation.
Though vinification doesn’t produce large volumes of CO2, it’s a point of production with an obvious opportunity for capture—and if the industry worked together, carbon sequestration during fermentation could make wine a negative-emission industry. [Read more]
6. Meet the Eco-Packaging Innovations Transforming the Drinks Industry
A new generation of products aims to shrink the carbon footprint of wine, spirits, and beer for a more sustainable future
As a drinks writer, I get sent a lot of bottles in a lot of packaging. It’s a privilege to write about interesting beverages. But my heart breaks at the amount of waste involved in getting them to me. An estimated 91 percent of plastic packaging—the material that cushions bottles—ends up in the environment, or in landfills where it leeches harmful chemicals. Then there’s the carbon footprint of making and sending glass.
The drinks media has tended to focus on earth-friendly production. But the biggest burp of CO2 comes afterwards, in the glass bottle production and shipping that comprises from 51 percent to as much as 68 percent of wine’s carbon footprint. Glass is impermeable; it’s great for preserving beverages. But it requires inferno-like heat to make and loads of fuel and packaging to ship. Cans are lighter and less delicate, but aluminum alloy production billows with greenhouse gases.
As the CO2 index rises above 415 parts per million and temperatures soar, as cargo ships languish in COVID-paralyzed ports and shipping costs skyrocket, isn’t it time for us to rethink the way beverages get to consumers? [Read more]
5. What New Research About Wine Headaches Means for Natural Wine
Recent research has identified a link between lower sulfur dioxide usage and higher levels of headache-inducing biogenic amines. Could it mean the end for no-SO2-added wines?
Over the past decade, sulfites have become some of the most vilified, controversial, and misunderstood compounds in the wine world. They’ve been blamed for everything from headaches to congestion and subsequently avoided by consumers who have latched onto the association. Though most industry members understand that sulfites don’t cause headaches, the debate around sulfur dioxide (SO2) and its positive and negative effects on wine continues—and foregoing the addition of SO2 is commonplace for many natural winemakers.
That’s why Sophie Parker-Thomson, MW’s recent Institute of Masters of Wine research paper caused such a buzz. In it, she showed that biogenic amines (BAs)—the compounds that are more likely to be the actual culprit behind wine headaches—are higher in wines with no SO2 added before fermentation. Could this change the way that natural winemakers—and the wine community as a whole—view SO2 usage? [Read more]
4. The Transformation of Alcohol Distribution
Pressure from small producers, ecommerce, and emerging new models are challenging the traditional three-tier system. How are new players and established wholesalers responding?
The $1.1 billion acquisition of alcohol delivery app Drizly by Uber in February was a high-profile example of how 2020 reshaped the way consumers purchase wine and spirits. But behind the scenes within the distribution tier, where hundreds of thousands of pallet loads of product are moved through warehouses and trucked across hundreds of miles each day, the changes have been just as significant.
A variety of forces—both serious challenges to the status quo and new opportunities—have converged to push the U.S. alcohol distribution industry into one of its most significant periods of modernization since the three-tier system was created in 1933. [Read more]
3. Restaurant Wine Jobs Are Coming Back—But Do We Want Them?
A year after the pandemic, one sommelier confronts her complicated feelings about returning to the wine industry
It’s spring in New Orleans, the town I’ve been briefly flirting with in my post-DC search for a homebase I could better afford. I decide to treat myself by shooting over to Patron Saint, a super inspired wine shop founded by Leslie Pariseau.
It’s my first local wine buying experience in town and I’m unprepared for all the feels to follow. Immediately, I’m struck by the selection. I want to buy and drink every bottle on the shelf. The wines and producers that I recognize are intermixed with bottles that are unfamiliar and begging to make my acquaintance. “If you’re cool with all of these wines, how come we haven’t met yet?” I think as I reach for a bottle of Equipo Navazos La Bota de Manzanilla 82 Florpower.
But other feelings are beginning to surface, too; feelings that will leave me tossing and turning until I surrender to a hearty cry in the middle of the night. More than a year has passed since losing my job at the start of the pandemic—what is all of this I am still trying to unpack? [Read more]
2. The Future of the Wine and Spirits Sales Rep Role
Purchasing may be normalizing, but the way retail and restaurant buyers interact with importer and distributor reps has changed for good
For years, many importer and distributor sales representatives had begun to suspect that tired methods of selling wine and spirits needed to adapt to modern day demands. The past 18 months—marked by economic volatility, technological advances, and social upheavals—has accelerated that evolution, driving many modifications to the way wine and spirits are bought and sold at wholesale.
Today, and increasingly in the future, the role of salesperson will require more adaptability, client understanding, digital know-how, and business savvy than ever before. [Read more]
1. Six Beer Industry Trends to Watch in 2021
Breweries were forced to adapt in 2020. Which pivots are poised to become permanent fixtures on the brewing landscape?
Confronted with shuttered taprooms and closed bars, restaurants, and sports stadiums, breweries made many devastating choices in 2020. Some were forced to dump draft beer or ship off IPAs and pilsners to distilleries that created hand sanitizer.
But those economically destabilizing first months led to a wellspring of adaptation and creativity. Breweries found innovative ways to connect with customers and place cold beer in palms. “It’s always been said that beer is recession-proof, and now we’ve proven that it’s pandemic-proof,” says Ryan Bandy, sales director for Indeed Brewing in Minneapolis. As we say good riddance to 2020, here are six trends that will have staying power in 2021. [Read more]