Latinos’ growth in consumption, interest impacts wine industry

lifestyle_detail_media_filename_16_taste-wineGrapes have been in the United States since the late 1500s. In the 1600s, the first grapes to be planted in Texas, Arizona, New Mexico and eventually California were brought up from Latin America by Franciscan missionaries. In 1769, Franciscan missionary Junipero Serra established California’s first vineyard and winery near present day San Diego. Since then, grapes have been planted all around the United States, and the vineyard and winery industry has made its comfortable home in the state of California ever since. Because of that, Latinos have always had an interest and position within the wine industry, not any more present than it is today.

In correlation to the exponential Latino growth in the U.S., Latinos’ consumption of wine over the past five years has increased dramatically over non-Latinos, increasing nearly 50 percent between 2005 and 2010, according to consumer research done by Experian Simmons. Not only has consumption among Latinos grown, but the interest in wine has grown as well.

“Latinos are becoming more knowledgeable,” says Fernando Beteta, master sommelier and education director at Tenzing Wine and Spirits based in Chicago. “They’re going to be huge influencers.”

Because of wine’s noted history and “elitist” appeal, Latinos have taken an interest in everything that surrounds the wine experience, including the pleasures of food pairing, travel and cultural connections that relate to enjoying wine with family and friends.

There has been an increase in the Master Sommelier program, with Latino’s like Beteta gaining interest, allowing them to be experts in the field of wine theory, tasting and global knowledge. Currently there are 118 professionals who hold the sommelier title and only between five and seven Latino sommeliers.

“I went to judge a competition in Chile for the best sommelier in Chile and I was overwhelmed with joy at how many young Latinos are interested in this. Guatemala now has a sommelier society,” Beteta, a native Guatemalan, says. Once Latinos take on various positions within the wine industry, Beteta says that they’ll be major influencers within the market.

In addition to the wine market, “Latinos will start to influence food as well, shining a light on the cuisine of Latin American countries, pairing wines with certain dishes from Peru and Nicaragua,” Beteta explained. “There will be more people who understand the cultures, tastes and have experience and relationships with a wide array of foods”, he added.

As the largest growing demographic in the country, Latinos have a natural influence on the wine market through their consumption and choices in wine. Latinos aren’t necessarily choosing to only drink Latin American wines either, rather their choices vary by country and region.

When talking about up and coming wines, Beteta explains that Chilean and Argentinean wine have been and continue to make a name for themselves.

“This whole boom right now in Argentina and Chile [shows] they have great value,” he explains. “During the crisis people look for things that are inexpensive; they found them. So they’ve contributed to the fact that they can make good wine at good prices.”

As a young man, Beteta worked in his parents’ restaurants and says that he “fell into wine by accident.”

“In college, I studied in Italy, in Sicily and they gave us classes. It was so interesting I loved learning,” he explains. “I thought ‘I’m going to put this to use right away.’ When I was in my 20’s I just married everything that was just languages and food with wine. Wines from Spain reminded me of the language and the people. If you like wine, it’s not just the drinking part; it’s the traveling and marrying it with food.”

The fact that Beteta grew up in Guatemala has helped in his training and studying of wine and culture. From reading labels and understanding the cultural aspect of the wine world, he says that being able to speak Spanish assisted him in moving up in his career.

“I get to travel to the places and ask the wine makers directly in their mother tongue [about their wine] and they can express themselves easier,” Beteta says.

But Beteta claims that above everything else that he has seen and experienced, inspiring others to do as he has is the most rewarding.

“They feel like, ‘If you can do it, I can do it,’” he says. “I came from a little town. We don’t have vineyards growing around Antigua. I had to learn about it and we don’t have a lot of wines that go there, so I had to travel and learn about it.”

His choice in career has allowed him to live a lavish lifestyle, eating delectable food and traveling around the world. Beteta surrounds himself with flavorful information all the time while at home and of course, while at work.

“You just tie it in,” he says of working in the wine industry. “In my house I watch [the] Food Network and Top Chef and have no idea who scored in the Super Bowl. The only things that you DVR are food and wine [related]. We don’t take breaks. We live the lifestyle.”


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