1) What Grapes Were Used?
Really, this is the first thing that strikes American’s when they begin buying European wines. On American wine labels, the grapes in use are called out specifically by name.
There are rules of course, with California and most states requiring 75% of a specific grape to be used, to use the name on the bottle.
In the EU, the place of origin is normally placed on the front of the bottle, requiring a consumer to know which grapes are allowed in that growing region, or requiring the winery to add that information to the back of the bottle.
2) Stylistic Conventions Do Continue
It’s perhaps too easy of a talking point, but for generations we’ve been told that European wines were more balanced and higher in acidity or lower in fruit than their American counterparts.
While that’s an oversimplification in part because both the EU and America have evolved, but also because new growing regions have taken prominence.
Southern France, Spain, Portugal and parts of Italy are every bit as able to produce fruit forward wines like California. Likewise, new growing regions in Oregon, Washington and yes, even colder climate spots in California are producing balanced, approachable wines that would remind our parents generation more of France than the buttery, oaky bombs of Chardonnay that made California vintners famous in the 1980’s.
If you think about the diversity in wine being produced when comparing Bordeaux to Burgundy, which are 600km apart, it makes sense to realize that it’s the same distance from San Francisco to Los Angeles and that’s only about half the state of California.
There is going to be a great diversity of wine being produced in the golden state as well.
3) Co-op’s Do Exist, But Differently
To start, no I’m not talking about my youngest and his coop preschool and yes dad, we’ve totally gone hippy dippy.
Ok, in Europe, there are tons of cooperative wineries. Just as there are in California. But, how they function couldn’t be more different.
Take LaMarca Prosecco. It’s not a single grower or winemaker, but a group of both coming together to pool grapes, winemaking and sales resources.
They then create something under a common label and interestingly, these are among the highest rated wines in the world on a consistent basis. In California there are plenty of cooperatives as well, but really they function as a place where new or smaller wineries can rent space to make their wine.
Plus, we refer to them as a custom crush. The main difference between how a custom crush functions and what you’re picturing is that winemakers at a custom crush rent a total number of cases they can make at the facility, not the physical space.
Here this is done to save the millions of dollars of upfront cost it would cost to make a first rate winery from scratch.
4) History and Innovation Are At Odds
Without a doubt, the European wine industry is older. There aren’t many 2nd generation winemakers here in California, let alone 10th of longer lineages like you can find in France.
That’s generally really positive and that type of history and expectation can lead to a stewardship of the land and community not possible without it.
But, there are parts of this history that do come at a price. Do you want to plant a few rows of Grenache in Bordeaux? What about a Verdelho in the Rhone Valley?
Both of those would make a ton of sense from a winemaking perspective, at least insofar as trying something new.
But, in France like in other European winemaking communities, that type of experimentation is simply not allowed.
5) Wine Consumption is Changing
This is going to be the most important aspect of this entire list before too long. Americans are increasingly drinking more wine.
Meanwhile wine consumption in many established European markets is actually falling. When you add in the fact that Americans love European wine, but Europeans don’t buy nearly as much American wine, it’s pretty easy to see how things may get a bit complicated in the industry before too long.
Given increasing demand in America, but decreasing demand in the EU, will some EU producers change how they do things to be more American?
Will some American producers fall by the wasteside after increasing imports from Europe, wine that’s cheap and good, take even more sales from them?
So there’s my short list of 5 ways that the EU and American wine markets differ in both the way wine is produced, but also how its sold. While it’s difficult to draw conclusions about millions of bottles along the way, I hope that’s at least some food for thought.