Rosé producers save the day
They aren't quite the horsemen of the apocalypse, but the combination of economic turmoil, headlines about teenage boozing and one of the wettest summers on record ought to be very bad news indeed for the wine business.
But guess what? After a sluggish 2006, when many commentators (including me) predicted that the two decade-long wine boom was over, sales have picked up again in 2007.
Nielsen figures to the end of June show a healthy increase of 3 per cent to 94 million 9-litre cases in the past year. The numbers don't include July (arguably the most miserable month of the year, weather-wise), but anecdotal evidence suggests that even the seemingly incessant rain didn't deter wine consumers. Maybe they needed a drink to cheer themselves up as they watched the flood waters rising.
The wine recovery is being led by one style, and no prizes for guessing that it's pink. Sales have grown by 30 per cent in the past 12 months, adding a further 2 million cases to a category that was already demonstrating remarkable growth. Red and white sales are both up by 1 per cent, but the boom in wine sales is essentially a rosé boom.
It's easy to be snobbish about the phenomenon. After all, the US has more than half the rosé market, selling mostly sweet, lower alcohol concoctions that no self-respecting wine connoisseur would be seen tasting, let alone enjoying. But let's take good news where we can find it.
At a time when an increase in the drinking age is seriously being mooted and wine is described as a Class A drug by some in the health profession, it is encouraging to hear that people are drinking more rosé, a wine style that works well with food and is well suited to a Mediterranean-style diet.
America is the biggest beneficiary of our growing love for rosé, but France is the second most popular supplier with 13 per cent of the market, and most of its wines are dry. Australia, South Africa and even Germany have latched on to the trend, as have Chile, Argentina and Italy (pink Pinot Grigio is here to stay, folks). The only major rosé-producing country that is lagging behind the market is Spain, for some reason.
One of the few good things about this year's miserable summer weather is that it appears to have severed the old link between rosé sales and sunshine for good. Even when it's raining, it seems, we are happy to drink pink wine. Only three years ago, rosé had 5.3 per cent of the market; now it's 8.9 per cent and could be 10 per cent before the end of 2008.
There is a seasonal variation of sorts (sales have been running at 12 per cent since April), but rosé is now a year-round drink. As someone who always has a bottle of the stuff in the fridge, I couldn't approve more. Wine is back on track and everyone in the booze business should give thanks to producers of rosé. I never thought I'd say this, but that includes Blossom Hill.
Wine publishing needs its own thriller writer
When the sixth edition of the World Atlas of Wine is described as "the wine publishing event of 2007", there is something very wrong with the book world. Or rather the bit of it that relates to wine. I am a huge fan of this classic tome - given a more contemporary edge since Jancis Robinson MW joined Hugh Johnson at the tiller - but it is unlikely to contain anything wildly original.
The publication of the book coincides with the news in Update, the Circle of Wine Writers' newsletter, that Paul Strang's new book on south west France will not be published by Grub Street next month for reasons that remain unclear. This is part of a trend and mirrors Mitchell Beazley's decision to mothball its Classic Wine Library. In case there was any doubt, there is little or no money to be made from publishing specialist wine titles.
Scan the list of forthcoming autumn books and the message is clear: unless you're Hugh Johnson, Matt Skinner, Jancis Robinson or Oz Clarke don't bother publishing a wine book and even then don't write anything specialist. The only exception is Stephen Brook's Bordeaux (£40, Mitchell Beazley), a book that is unlikely to sell thousands of copies at that price.
There are two ways to look at this. One is to say that wine publishing is on the slide. The other is to come up with new ways of looking at the subject. Where are the wine thrillers, the wine travelogues, the collections of wine trivia? Wine publishing needs an Ian Rankin, a Paul Theroux or a Lynne Truss. Until it finds one or more, sales of wine books will continue to struggle.