Wine in the Year of Covid

By Jack Brostrom
April 25, 2021
Posted April 25, 2021

2020 Statistics for the Global Wine Trade

The pandemic year 2020 saw massive turmoil worldwide and in all phases of life. The wine industry was not spared, though the various segments of the trade saw markedly different outcomes, ranging from disastrous to positive. Wine production was comparatively unaffected, as the vines themselves were impervious to the coronavirus, and vineyard and even winery work was among the safer activities taking place. Consumers’ interest in drinking wine doesn’t appear to have diminished, either.

The trouble, of course, was getting wine to the consumers. Supply chain issues disrupted distribution, particularly in the international market, and off- and especially on-premises sales plunged with the short- and long-term restrictions and closures of bars, restaurants, hotels, cruise lines, and retail outlets. The saving element, where permitted, was off-off-premises sales: curbside pickup or home delivery of wine with little or no human contact.

These influences are borne out by the official report on wine production and consumption for 2020 from the International Organization of Vine and Wine (OIV), the intergovernmental body that tracks wine and grape production worldwide. At the macro level, it shows that global wine production actually grew by 1% from 2019 to 2020, reaching 260 million hectoliters. Over the same period, consumption fell by almost 3% to 234 million hectoliters, though that is a very small drop given the limitations of retail options. Import-export trade represents about 40% of total wine production, and it was down 1.7% by volume from the previous year. Again, that was not as bad as it could have been, although revenues fell by 6.7%, probably because many higher-end wines that depended on the services of sommeliers and wine shop staff struggled to find buyers.

Italy remained in its usual spot as the world’s largest source of wine, with production of 49.1 million hectoliters, an increase of more than 3% over 2019’s volume. It also showed an increase in consumption of more than 7%, despite the lengthy lockdowns the country endured in 2020. This helped to ease the contraction in exports, which fell 2.4% in both volume and value.

Other countries had varying fortunes in 2020, though only a few shifts were dramatic enough to change the rankings of countries overall. One example is South Africa, which had its highest wine production since 2018 and moved up to 7th in the world ahead of Chile (which had a poor harvest). But South Africa also suffered through a 3-month period when all alcohol sales in the country were banned and an even longer time when the international borders were sealed tight, resulting in a decline of more than 20% in consumption and 12% in exports year over year. Argentina, by contrast, was down 17% in wine production, yet managed to export 27% more wine than in 2019 (though the increase was mostly bulk wine, so export revenue actually decreased).

Probably the most consequential story—one that appears to be part of a continuing multiyear trend rather than pandemic related—is China, where demand for wine has been evaporating. Chinese wine production has fallen by half in just 4 years, and consumption is down 35% since 2017. Perhaps this could be the result of a pivot toward better quality wine and away from low-quality wine made from table grapes or blended with imported bulk wine—except that wine imports are falling, too, down 43% by volume and 35% by value since their peak in 2017. A lot of countries, including Italy, have invested a great deal of time, energy, and hope in the Chinese market, and these figures are not encouraging.

Photo of customers seated outside a bar in the town of Fontanellato (Parma) by Gabriella Clare Marino on Unsplash
Italian flag photo by Julia Casado from Pixabay
Chinese dragon by Arlekim from Pixabay

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