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Wine-ing about the economy is the new indicator: Pro

Sean Caffrey | Lonely Planet Images | Getty Images

Unsure about the economy's strength? Then answer this question: when was the last time you bought a bottle of wine?

David Duncan, president and CEO of California-based high-end winemaker Silver Oak, told CNBC in a recent interview that wine consumption can be a decent gauge of how the economy is doing. Consumption is hitting record levels in the United States, as collectors and connoisseurs have caused sales to surpass the notorious oenophiles in some European countries.

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Duncan said that his company's sales nearly follow the University of Michigan consumer sentiment index, a closely watched economic indicator that is a barometer of economic activity. According to data from The Wine Institute, 2013 was a record year for U.S. consumption, which flirted with 900 million gallons of wine sold.

And if those sales are any indication, consumers are feeling mighty fine, indeed.

"When we went through the recession we saw that go down, and wine sales got tougher," Duncan told CNBC's "Closing Bell" in a recent interview, adding that now the index is up, "people are buying wine and buying expensive bottles of wine."

This year, Duncan said his firm's holiday sales are already up 16 percent from 2013—and the season hasn't even ended. With gas prices down and more jobs being added, consumers' happiness is on the rise. As a result, lots of folks are celebrating the good times with a bottle of cabernet.

Duncan does say that Silver Oak was lucky when it came to the onset of the Great Recession—and it may have wealthy buyers to thank. Being at the higher end of the wine spectrum meant its sales were not nearly as hard-hit as its lower-priced competitors.

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"That end of the market was definitely hurt more and there was more discounting—more aggression on the behalf of the producer to really get the wines out there and get the boxes moved," Duncan said.

Rather than chase lower prices, Silver Oak stayed the course and honed its branding so that it maintained its luxury image. That may be helping now, as more and more people turn to high-end alcohols, including bourbons and whiskeys.

"That interest in beverage alcohol in general—and people seeking quality because those products tend to be very expensive—is a wonderful trend for us and for the wine business in general," he said.

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