Swirling around a winemaking forecast for 2011

When asked to write a column on the 2011 wine forecast, I looked into a wine glass hoping Dionysus would send me a signal or two — but alas, he has already left for the holidays and all I got was an automatic response that he will not be back on the job until Jan. 3.

In the absence of the divine word, I asked a few wine importers what they think is going to happen in the next year, and the general consensus was “more of the same.” By this they mean consumers will continue to look for value. Regardless of what happens with the economy over the next 12 months, I don’t see the glory days — when every $75 cabernet sold out — coming any time soon.

With that said, some trends will continue, and little-known wine regions will begin to emerge.

Natural winemaking has taken hold and a greater number of domestic producers are jumping on this bandwagon. Whether practicing organic, sustainable or biodynamic viticulture, winemakers have become much more conscious of how grape growing and winemaking effects the environment as well as the vitality of their product. At some point I really believe that most wine will be made without the use of chemicals. We’re not there yet  but with each year we get a little bit closer.

Don’t be surprised to find some of your favorite wineries coming out with second labels. In the past, a lot of folks did this as a means to utilize fruit that did not make the grade, but now that people are spending less money, wineries look at second labels as a way to keep the bottom line in check.

Vendors are always, even in great times, trying to figure out how to put more wine in people’s hands. Given the fierce competition in the Bay Area, creativity is more important than ever, so look for more consumer tastings at wine shops and direct-to-consumer efforts.

If I had to pick one region that is going to make some headway this year, it is Alentejo in Portugal. I wrote about this area a few months ago and I think that it holds a lot of appeal for California wine drinkers, as it has a warmer climate and the wines have a lot of fruit. Watch out for other Portuguese areas as well.

Slovenia is finally starting to gain some ground. I’ve noticed more high-quality wines coming from Eastern Europe in general, but the Slovenian producers are far ahead of the others and it is becoming more common to see these wines in restaurants, wine bars and shops.

In California, look east. Lodi has a long winemaking tradition and many old vineyards are still around. It is a great spot for zinfandel and syrah and the wines are often less expensive than those from Napa or Sonoma for the same quality.

OK, that is enough predicting. If 50 percent of this turns out to be true, then I might just go into the fortune-telling business. Have a wonderful and safe new year and please, drive responsibly.

Pamela S. Busch is the owner of Skrewcap.com, founder of CAV Wine Bar and a Bay Area wine consultant.

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