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Anything but Chardonnay?

There is a whispering in the hood, especially among winemakers but not just, that Chardonnay is no longer the famous kid anymore. I listen and tend to agree. In this article I want to show wine bars and restaurants that the world is changing and they shouldn't be afraid to place other wines on the menu - not just Chardonnay.

I know there are still many Chardonnay loves out there, but for me Chardonnay wines, never were on the top of my consumption list (hope that Chardonnay fans wouldn’t kill me for saying that). I do consume some Israeli white blends or some wines from specific regions in France – Champagne and Burgundy. But It kinda feels like the world doesn't want to drink Chardonnay as before.

This grape became so commercially used that most of the wines on the market taste like one of 2 things: oaky buttery vanilla or diluted sour fruit juice. Like this Chardonnay served on Wizz flights

Although I wasn’t Chardonnays first consumer, but I could never guess that for the last decade, there is a real decline in Chardonnay consumption. I will show you what I mean.

Chardonnay who?

France brought the world it’s 4th most famous grape varieties: Merlot, Syrah, Cabernet Sauvignon and Chardonnay which is the 5th grown wine grape on the planet[1] [2].

Chardonnay is the result of a crossing between the Pinot Noir and Gouais Blanc (Heunisch) grape varieties, and it became worldwide famous around 1970s. Countries outside Europe – found it easier to market Chardonnay because of France’s strong reputation with this variety.Nonetheless, chardonnay did very well in a wide range of growing environments and have been found to be desirable for blending with the traditional varieties of a region.

I think It’s impossible and totally wrong to put all Chardonnays under the same category because there are different kinds like: basic wines, premium wines or iconic wines. But most of wine consumer consumption researches do put them all together. Furthermore, this discussion is more relevant to chardonnays outside Europe.

I have read interesting articles that point out that there a clear reduce in Chardonnay consumption during the last decade[4] [5]. Many stated that general opinion has shifted toward fresher, lighter-bodied, more predictable wine styles, such as Sauvignon Blanc[6].

Another problem that brought to low demand for Chardonnay, was that good quality chardonnays required at leased 5-8 years of cellaring period form vintage in order to drink it at their best. Consumers wanted more approachable wines, most young people (under 30) don’t cellar wine, they don’t want to wait, and they want the wine not to be too expensive.

To win back consumers and assure continuous success in both the domestic and export markets, the local winemakers created the unoaked chardonnay (so-called next-generation chardonnays) that were fresher with lower alcohol. It’s logical because it’s much cheaper than replanting with different varieties. This change didn’t work everywhere. Some of the countries (Australia, Chile, Israel and others) experienced transition to other French varieties that were thought before as cult wine grapes: Marsanne, Roussanne, Viognier and Pinot Grigio.

The results were amazing and consumers LOVED the new wines.

Chardonnay Consumers:

Wine consumers are a bit different from country to county, but different researchers show that purchase behavior depended on more than mere liking of a product. Different researches were made by questioning different amount of wine consumers, found strong differences in choice behavior between low- and high-involvement and as I see the market - there are 3 general groups of wine consumers by their knowledge and involvement – wine drinkers, wine lovers, wine pros.[7].

Consumers from different groups rely both on extrinsic cues (price, brand name, packaging, store name, country of origin, color, etc) and intrinsic cues (taste, texture, aroma, etc) when assessing wine quality. 

But - Who are the Chardonnay Consumers?

In contrast to what you may think, Research that was make in Australia in 2015 pointed that consumption of Chardonnay is quite even to both sexes (49% to males and 51% to females). While 60% of the Chardonnay drinkers are over 40 years old.

Who is a “regular” Chardonnay Drinker?

There are different consumption habits in different countries but for US, UK and Australia, a regular drinker was a person who drink wine “at least once a week”.

Same research pointed that 42% of Chardonnay drinkers - sip at least once-a-week, when 35% drank chardonnay at least once a month. Males drank more Chardonnay a month than females.

How consumers purchase Chardonnay?

The millennial age-group (18–39 years) paid close to $17 for a bottle of chardonnay, as opposed to the just over $13 paid by older consumers. Older consumers, on the other hand, drank significantly more chardonnay.

Millennials bought significantly more often chardonnay wine from supermarkets/grocery stores, restaurants and winery tasting rooms, while the older age-groups bought chardonnay wine significantly more from large national liquor chains, directly online, and wine clubs/mail order.

How decision-making process happen in a retail store?

Female were more likely to look at the brands and the price as their important choice factors. Also, the brand was considered significantly less important to participants aged 18–24 years than to those aged 35–64 years, and participants aged 65+ considered it more important than those aged 18–44 years. The factor “label” was characterized by younger participants being more likely to agree than older participants.

Other research showed that in general under 30 years old consumers search for new trends, they got bored of the "good old" Chardonnay. Rumours say that Pinot Grigio is the new cool kid.

So - “Anything but Chardonnay”?

Jancis Robinson wrote 30 years ago in her book "Vines, Grapes and Wines" (Simon & Schuster, 1986) that Chardonnay "is one of the happiest of all combinations: the grower loves to grow it, the wine maker lives to fashion it and we all love to drink it.[8]"

It’s true that some parts of the market live to drink Chardonnay but from what it seems, even in US the market not fashioning it as before[9]. Young consumers (50% of the world population is under 30) want something new, interesting, tasty with fun label at good price. Their grandparents drink Chardonnay, they want something else.  

Writer: Svetlana Bekker

List of sources:

 [1] [2] [3] [4] “Why Plant Anything Other Than Chardonnay?” Jeremy Oliver. [5] [6]Paterson T. Australian chardonnay: past, present and future. J Wine Res. 2004;15(2):135–169.

[7] Bruwer J, Fong M, Saliba AJ. Perceived risk, risk-reduction strategies (RRS) and consumption occasions: roles in the wine consumer’s pur- chase decision. Asia Pa J Mark Logist. 2013 -




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