Sizing Up the California Wine Scene

Dec 19, 2007

A reader recently asked how big the big wine companies are in California and how much wine they make and how they dominate the market.

If you want to guess, go ahead right now … either cases or percentage of total wine, because in a couple of sentences I’ll give you a few answers and insights.

The question took on greater meaning here in our Napa office as we marveled at the proliferation of new brands, most of which produce fewer than 1,000 cases of a given wine, and many that make less than 500 cases. The Mazzacco Zins in yesterday’s blog are a good example, with 600 cases the largest production of the four wines.

My crystal ball doesn’t foresee a decline in the number of new labels any time soon. But it is cloudy when trying to guess how the market will absorb all the new wines, and not just those from California.

OK, for the figures I asked Frank Walters, our resident number crunching guru and director of research for Impact, one of our sister publications, which covers the drinks industry.

Getting exact numbers for many segments that are of interest to most of us is not easy to obtain. How many wineries are there? What is the average size? How many wines do most wineries make? And what about volume? “It’s hard to keep up,” Walters admitted. “There are so many wineries …”

So I asked Walters to give us an overview.

The most recent figures show that in the past year or so, California produced 188 million cases of wine and 85 percent of that wine came from the Big Seven.

But the two largest wineries produced one out of two bottles made in California.

The Big Seven are Gallo, Constellation, Bronco (which makes Two-Buck Chuck), Foster’s, Kendall-Jackson, Trinchero (Sutter Home) and the Wine Group (Franzia). Of course each of these companies has handfuls of labels, including in most instances prestige labels, most with a broad global reach.

The two giants are Gallo, which made 28 percent of the wine in California, and Constellation, which produced 21 percent.

So while it’s apparent the big companies can throw their weight around, they make a lot of good wine and in most instances they provide the entry points for most wine drinkers.

United States California

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