Mar 1, 2022 - Business

Texas wineries and grape growers face dubious future

Photo: Max Faulkner/Fort Worth Star-Telegram/Tribune News Service via Getty Images

The Lone Star State's $13 billion wine industry faces an uncertain future, thanks to millennials and a toxic herbicide used in cotton fields.

State of play: The 26- to 41-year-old crowd is purchasing significantly less wine than boomers, all while Texas cotton growers' continue to use dicamba — a liquid herbicide that vaporizes for days — which threatens grapes in the state.

Why it matters: The two issues could spell trouble for Texas wineries and grape growers.

  • Most local wineries use grapes from the Texas High Plains, but a February report from Texas Monthly found that many of the area's cotton farmers switched to dicamba, which is now used on at least 50% of the region's 3 million acres of cotton.
    • Dicamba is known to damage grapes and soybeans, causing abnormal growth, stunting leaves and reducing fruit yield.
  • Plus, millennials are more likely to spend money on beer and cocktails rather than wine, per analyst Rob McMillian's annual State of the U.S. Wine Industry.

What they're saying: Farmers told Texas Monthly that grape yields in the High Planes have been falling steadily since 2017, when the EPA granted Bayer and BASF permission to market a new formulation that included a chemical additive design to reduce volatility.

  • "I don't even want to drive the tractor through my grapes anymore," Andy Timmons, who owns around 200 acres of vineyards in the High Plains, told the magazine. "It makes me physically ill to see my plants deformed like they are."
  • Timmons sells his grapes to popular Texas wineries, including the Hill Country's Grape Creek, Pedernales and William Chris.

Meanwhile, McMillian's report found that boomers are the biggest alcohol consumers by almost 2-to-1 over millennials.

Other takeaways:

  • Gen X has maintained interest in craft beer.
  • A small but growing number of millennials have joined virtual or in-person wine clubs over the last two years, likely due to a growing interest in digital entertainment during the pandemic.

McMillan issued a warning for the wine industry, saying falling interest among younger consumers coupled with the decreasing consumption among baby boomers "poses a primary threat to the business," the New York Times reported earlier this month.

  • The wine industry has failed to appeal to younger consumers, McMillan noted, recommending that producers list their ingredients and be clear about their social values.
  • "That issue has yet to be addressed or solved, and the negative consequences are increasingly evident," McMillan said, adding that sales of American wine could decrease by 20% in the next decade.

Editor's note: This story has been corrected to reflect that the Texas Monthly report was published in February, not October.


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