Monday, January 23, 2017

Long-term trends in Google wine-related searches

As I have noted before (The rise and fall of wine blogs, and other things), Google Trends aggregates the number of web searches that have been performed for any given search term (or terms); and it can display the results as a time graph, for any given geographical region. Here, I will use graphs that compare world-wide trends in the English-speaking part of the world (ie. where the web searches use English words) versus those within the USA. The Trends searches are somewhat restrictive, but they may show us something, anyway, about the period 2004-2016 (inclusive).

The Trends graphs show changes in the relative proportion of searches for the given term (vertically) through time (horizontally). The vertical axis is scaled so that 100 is simply the time with the most popularity as a fraction of the total number of searches (ie. the scale shows the proportion of searches, with the maximum always shown as 100, no matter how many searches there were).

Google searches for "Wine", "Beer", "Spirits" from 2004-2016

My first consideration is for the word "Wine" versus "Beer" and "Spirits" as a search term. As you can see (above), world-wide searches for "Wine" slowly declined until 2010, while searches for "Beer" have slowly and consistently increased since then. We are getting close to the time when beer will be more popular than wine. "Spirits" lags a long way behind, with little change through time.

The trend for "Beer" is also increasing strongly within the USA (next graph), but there has been no associated decline in searches for "Wine". Indeed, "Wine" seems to have increased somewhat during 2011, and then remained steady thereafter.

Google searches for "Wine", "Beer", "Spirits" in the USA from 2004-2016

These two graphs also make it clear that there is an annual cycle in searches for "Wine" and "Beer". "Beer" peaks during the (northern hemisphere) summer months, while "Wine" has a sharp peak at the end of the year, during the second half of December. This pattern appears in both graphs but is more pronounced in the USA. This appearance in both graphs presumably reflects the fact that the USA dominates web searches in the English language.

The boost in interest in wine before the Christmas / New Year period may not reflect people with a strong interest in wine. Such people are unlikely to be suddenly be looking for wine just before Christmas. The people who are doing these searches are probably people following the US tradition of having wine, but not beer, with their Christmas dinners, or they are giving the wine as a gift to a wine-loving friend or family member.

Google searches for red grapes from 2004-2016

Moving on, we could look at the various types of wine, to see which wines are involved in the end-of-year boom. The next pair of graphs (above and below) covers a few of the red-wine grapes. As before, the two graphs are rather similar. However, the decrease in searches for "Merlot" is less pronounced in the USA, and the increased interest in "Pinot noir" is more pronounced. All four grape types are involved in the Christmas boom, to one extent or another.

Google searches for red grapes in the USA from 2004-2016

The sudden increase in searches for "Pinot noir" at the end of 2004 is, of course, associated with the film Sideways, thus illustrating the powerful effect of Hollywood on American society. The steady increase in web searches involving "Cabernet sauvignon", between 2008 and 2012, is more interesting, as its cause is not immediately obvious (at least to me).

Google searches for "Shiraz" from 2004-2016

It is also worth noting that web searches for the Australian term "Shiraz" greatly out-number those for the alternative name for the grape, "Syrah", as shown in the above graph. This presumably indicates that wines named after this grape are far more commonly produced in Australia than elsewhere, and so the Australian name predominates — the Rhône region, of course, does not use the grape name on its wine labels.

Google searches for red grapes from 2004-2016

The final pair of graphs (above and below) cover a few of the white-wine grapes. All three grape types show a steady increase in searches through time; so, the Anything But Chardonnay movement is no longer having much of an effect. The end-of-year bursts are also present here, at least in the second half of the time period.

Google searches for white grapes in the USA from 2004-2016

While "Chardonnay" searches dominate, it is clear that "Riesling" is no longer more popular than "Sauvignon blanc". The big boom in "Chardonnay" searches that covers most of 2011 is also a bit mysterious. A more detailed look at part of the "Chardonnay" searches (next graph) shows that the boom starts suddenly at the beginning of June 2011, peaks at the beginning of September, and slowly fades for the rest of the year.

Google searches for "Chardonnay" from 2004-2016

This graph also shows that the end-of-year peaks are actually a double peak — a small peak in the penultimate week of November (for Thanksgiving) and a bigger peak during the last two weeks of December (for Christmas / New Year). This is true for all of the grape types shown above, although it is not obvious in the rest of the graphs because of the coarse scale (monthly aggregation of data).

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