With wine being the highest value-added product for wild blueberries, we believe a Maine wild blueberry wine industry could grow — over two decades — to the relatively small scale of Massachusetts’ grape wine industry (4M bottles).
Five companies own more than 60% of the blueberry acreage (38,660 reported on the 2017 USDA National Agriculture Statistics Survey), leaving the rest to small family farms. The future of these small farms is in doubt as the field price for wild blueberries has declined 75% in the last decade due to Canada’s expansion of wild blueberry production and to the economics of hybrid blueberries farmed around the world.
A Massachusetts-size wine industry would absorb more than a quarter of the wild blueberries from these small farms. If Maine wild blueberry wine production grew to the volume of Napa Cabernet, more than double the entire crop of wild blueberries would be needed (67,732 tons of Napa Cabernet v. 33,650 tons Maine wild blueberries in 2017).
We are not in Napa and wild blueberries aren’t Cabernet so this may sound unrealistic, but look what happened with cider: 25 years ago the U.S. drank 100,000 cases a year–today it’s over 30 million.
There is a natural market in Maine for wild blueberry wine and a national market with potential to explore. We figure a wild blueberry wine industry is worth trying to build .
This idea of making wild blueberry wine isn’t new but there is a timing component right now that is encouraging. Interest in healthy, high antioxidant, moderate alcohol beverages is strong and blueberries enjoy a tremendous reputation as a superfood. Maine has earned a national reputation for food and drink and natural products. Wild blueberry wine ought to be at the front of the pack.
There’s a rule of thumb in the wine business that a bottle of wine costs about a hundredth of a ton of grapes. Napa Cabernet sells for $80 and a ton of Cabernet grapes cost $8,000. Wild blueberries cost $1,000 per ton (and far less recently) which should mean a bottle can sell for $10. A winery would have to be at scale for this to work, but profitability and sustainability is fundamentally possible.
This is the time to build a wild blueberry wine industry here in Maine. A national market awaits development while small family farms hang in the balance. Let us act on this opportunity together, now.