Wine Prices Climb as Demand Puts Squeeze on Supplies

LOS ANGELES (Los Angeles Times/MCT) -

Ordering some Chardonnay or Cabernet while eating out can sometimes be the priciest part of a meal. And it’s only getting more expensive.

The price of vino by the glass rose steadily over the last six months, according to Restaurant Sciences, an independent firm that tracks food and beverage product sales.

The cause of the costlier buzz? A tightening squeeze on wine inventories – some even call it a shortage – coupled with swelling consumer demand.

“We’re seeing more and more wine lists with nothing under $40 for a bottle,” said Michael Whiteman, president of Baum/Whiteman International Restaurant Consultants. “And that’s a bargain considering what you’ll pay for four wines by the glass.”

The most pronounced surge in wine prices – an 8.4 percent jump – came in the family dining sector, where the average meal costs $38.50 or less, according to Restaurant Sciences. Wine prices also boomed at the opposite end of the scale, swelling 5.4 percent at white tablecloth establishments, where an overall check can reach $1,000.

The increase was more muted at casual and upscale casual restaurants, where bill totals range from $38.50 to $122.50. There, wine prices have risen less than 2 percent.

The shriveling global supply of wine is contributing to the price bump, experts said.

Vineyards and nurseries are still replanting from the recession, research group IBISWorld said. Workers familiar with vineyard management, grape picking and winemaking are few and far between. Viticulture and oenology training programs are scarce.

Worldwide wine production shrank 6.1 percent last year to its lowest point since 1975 after poor weather damaged grapes, according to Paris trade group International Organization for Vine and Wine. This year, the industrywide shortage could equal 1.3 billion bottles, according to French wine cooperative Val d’Orbieu.

The United States is the top wine-drinking nation in the world by both volume and value, according to a report this year by Vinexpo, which puts on a major international wine exhibition every year. Analysts there predicted that consumption will continue booming through 2016.

Last year, wine sales in the U.S. reached a record high, rising 2 percent from 2011 to 360.1 million cases, worth an estimated $34.6 billion, according to trade group the Wine Institute.