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The Regional Convergence of Wine Drinking in the United States

Submitted by on August 18, 2010 – 4:10 pm 2 Comments |  

As we saw yesterday, regional disparities in alcohol consumption in the United States have diminished significantly in recent decades. But “alcoholic beverage” is a broad category, and in different parts of the country, people favor different drinks. Have beverage preferences converged as well? Today’s post examines wine consumption in the United States, again pairing maps depicting the situations in 1970 and 2007, derived from data supplied by the National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism.*

The first map, showing consumption in 2007, reveals marked regional differences. Wine drinking is much more prevalent in New England and the far West than it is across the South and in the Great Plains. Residents of Nevada evidently consumed more than six times the amount of wine in 2007 than residents of West Virginia.

But regardless of its current imbalance, wine drinking has undergone pronounced regional convergence. In 1970, as the second map shows, wine was popular in the Northeast and especially the far West; in most of the country, consumption was negligible. In that year, residents of Californians drank more than eleven times more wine than inhabitants of Iowa. Since then, per capita consumption in Iowa has more than doubled, while that in California has dropped. Californians now drink only about three times as much wine as Iowans.

Unlike alcohol consumption in general, wine drinking has been increasing in the United States. The average American drank 0.26 gallons of wine a year in 1934: by 1970 that figure had increased to 1.31, in 1990 it reached 2.05, and in 2009 it stood at 2.5. But California, the undisputed center of the U.S. wine industry, has bucked the trend. Per capita wine consumption in the Golden State dropped by roughly 22 percent from its peak year in 1980 to 2007. Presumably, the influx of Hispanics into the state has been responsible for much of this decline.

*The data set itself is admittedly somewhat suspect, as it places Idaho as tied with New Hampshire as the country’s top wine drinking state. Other sources peg Idaho’s wine drinking at a much lower level; see, for example, the Many Eyes map posted above. Idaho is a relatively rural state with a large Mormon population – not exactly conducive conditions for heavy wine drinking.

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  • ironrailsironweights

    As with alcohol in general, New Hampshire is not necessarily the top wine-drinking state, its sales figures being inflated by out-of-state buyers attracted by low taxes. More than ten years ago, it's probably the same today, people I knew in Connecticut would routinely drive 2+ hours to New Hampshire to stock up on alcohol. Buying even a relatively small number of bottles would more than make up for the cost of gasoline.

    Peter

  • Martin W. Lewis

    Good point, Peter. What is interesting is that all of the data sources that I found claim to show consumption, but actually show sales, as reflected by New Hampshire's consistently elevated figures.