Tag Archives: wine trends

podcast

Winecast 28: Bret Thorn, Nation’s Restaurant News

Bret Thorn

Bret Thorn

Restaurant wine prices are so high because restaurant costs keep going up. But that doesn’t necessarily mean they need to be so expensive, says one of the country’s top restaurant experts.

Bret Thorn, the senior food and beverage editor at Nation’s Restaurant News, knows more about the restaurant business than almost anyone in the country. So who better to ask why restaurant wine prices keep going up despite woeful sales?

We talked about that, as well as changes in the restaurant business that may alter the way we eat out — if we eat out at all in the coming decades — and are changes that the restaurant business still doesn’t completely understand.

To high wine prices, says Thorn, some restaurant operators see wine as a way to recoup increased costs, which include a higher minimum wage in some states and rising food prices. Those of us who buy wine in a restaurant may be shouldering more than our fair share of those rising costs.

But Thorn is an optimist, and says there are a lot of smart people in the restaurant business who might recognize an opportunity to sell more wine — especially if we let them know we think a four to one markup for a glass of $10 wine is too much. His suggestion? Politely and reasonably let the restaurant know you’d buy more wine if prices were more reasonable. And no, he said, a Twitter rant probably isn’t the best way to complain.

Click here to download or stream the podcast, which is about 16 1/2 minutes long and takes up 11.6 megabytes. The sound quality is mostly good, though I wasn’t able to get it to play on my Linux box. Windows is OK, though.

winetrends

TV wine ads: Almost 40 years of awful

One of the great mysteries about wine: Why did Americans ever take to it, given how difficult it is to understand and how badly wine has traditionally been marketed?

Case in point is this Bolla commercial from 1978, which more or less coincides with the first increase in wine’s popularity in the U.S. Why would anyone want to drink wine based on the commercial, which doesn’t make much sense? How can a wine be both soft and full-bodied? And even then, marketers focused on what we think of today as “smooth,” making sure to call a red wine soft.

And, because sex sells, we learn that if we drink Bolla, we can get a hot chick. This is the one constant over the past 40 years of silly TV wine ads, and like most of the claims in these ads, there is little truth to it. I was there, and we didn’t. We didn’t even drink wine; we drank beer. Lowenbrau, in fact, to impress a girl. (Video courtesy of Vintage Wine Commercials at YouTube.)

More about TV wine ads:
Riunite on ice — so nice
When Blue Nun ruled the world
TV wine commercials and their legacy
How wine commercials on TV have changed — or not

winelist2

Follow-up: Restaurant wine prices

restaurant wine pricesLast month’s restaurant wine prices post was so well received and got so many comments, both here and in emails, that it’s worth a follow-up.

Restaurant operators may well have their reasons for marking wine up four times their cost, as one comment explained. Or as this restaurant management website advises: “You can therefore reasonably price a bottle that retails around $20 at $60 and $80” (giving new meaning to the word reasonably).

But the numbers say otherwise. Restaurant wine sales measured by volume have declined for three consecutive years, failing to even meet the flat growth of overall wine sales. And they have not made up the difference with higher revenue, according to any number of national surveys for 2014, 2015, and 2016.

And we know the reason. Restaurant wine prices are too high:

• Emailed one regular visitor: “I don’t buy wine at restaurants because it’s too expensive.”

• Emailed a long-time Dallas restaurant operator, now retired: “I made money selling wine at 2.14 times the cost. The .14 was to cover the state fee. And I sold lots of wine by the glass and the bottle. And most important – staff training!”

• Said a distributor friend of mine: “If the only way for a restaurant to stay in business is to charge four times cost, then how did everyone stay in business when they didn’t do that? Or if they didn’t sell wine at all?”

• Perhaps the best comment in the original post? From a wine producer: “I only wish restaurants marked prices up 3 times. I am finding restaurants marking wine up 4 times. Trust me, the waiter makes more on his tips vs. the money I make producing the wine.”

In this, the restaurant business is alienating its best customers – the Baby Boomers who drink wine and who like to eat out. Because younger consumers are less interested in both, and their preference for delivery and eating restaurant food at home may eventually deserve the term disruptive — something, I think, GrubHub already knows.

Says this year’s annual Silicon Valley Bank wine business study, perhaps the best source of reliable wine industry data: “We believe the reasons for this change are explained by more at-home consumption and a behavior change of our frugal millennial consumers who are more likely to satisfy their restaurant consumption needs by starting with a beer or cocktail, then having a glass of wine rather than a bottle of wine with dinner.”

So, restaurants, keep charging $50 for a $15 bottle of wine. It’s not our problem; it’s yours.

winerant

Texas and the Walmart lawsuit

Walmart Texas lawsuitThree things are certain in Texas – the Cowboys, brutal summers, and the god-like power of the Texas Package Stores Association, the trade group that represents the state’s liquor store owners. The package store lobby is why liquor stores are closed on Sunday, why we have unbelievably restrictive laws on liquor store ownership, and why we have a fourth tier in the three-tier system.

All that may be about to change.

Later this year, a federal judge could overturn the ownership laws, and once that happens, many of the other restrictions could end, too. We might be able to buy wine in the grocery store before noon on Sunday or even – God forbid – spirits. And yes, that would be like a 72-degree day here in August, and where it gets chilly enough at night to need a jacket.

I never thought this would happen, but after talking to a variety of people who follow Texas liquor law, it looks like the unthinkable will take place. The package store owners, who have pretty much vetted the state’s liquor laws since the early 1970s, will have to compromise or lose all of the advantages they’ve written for themselves.

More, after the jump: Continue reading

winetrends

The wine premiumization stranglehold gets tighter

wine premiumizationA $28 rose sample arrived the other day, which says pretty much everything that needs to be said about the speed and ferocity of wine premiumization’s takeover of the wine business. The world needs a $28 rose like we need more terrorism, pestilence, and famine, but since the wise guys and their numbers say we want to drink more expensive wine, we’ve got one.

In addition, California grape prices continue to rise, despite what seems like a plentiful supply of grapes. That’s because the best quality grapes, which are used in more expensive wines, aren’t as plentiful, and their prices have increased by as much as 50 percent over the last couple of years. In fact, speakers at a recent trade seminar said that as prices continue to go up, wineries may have to use cheaper and lesser quality grapes to maintain their profit margins. In other words, $15 wine as the new $8 wine.

This embrace of wine premiumization also explains many of the dozens of high-dollar winery acquisitions over the past couple of years. Big Wine’s thinking (and even that at some not so big wine companies) is that it’s more efficient to buy an existing winery, which already has customers and a brand (as well as grapes), than it is to start from scratch. So if you have to overpay, so be it.

In this, quality seems to be the one thing left behind. I wrote in January that the push to premiumization has resulted in some of the worst winemaking I’ve seen since I started the blog, and things have only gotten worse. The $28 rose was not exceptional in any way, and that was one of the least offensive wines I’ve tasted this spring. A four-year-old California pinot noir not only had too much fake oak, but tasted purposely oxidized. I mentioned this decline in quality to a colleague the other day, not nearly as cranky, and he agreed with my assessment, and especially for wine from California and wine that costs as much as $20 a bottle.

That’s the difference between now and the bad old days before the recession, when it seemed like everyone was racing to charge $100 a bottle. Those wines were overpriced, but at least you could drink some of them. Increasingly, more and more premiumized wines are barely fit for the drain in the kitchen sink.

So until things change, hopefully sooner rather than later, we’ll just have to pour and bear it.

More about wine premiumization:
Premiumization: Are wine drinkers really trading up?
Is the U.S. wine boom over?
Wine prices up, wine quality down in 2016?

winetrends

The Great Wall of Rose

great wall of roseThis picture, taken at a Sainsbury’s grocery store in Londonderry in Northern Ireland, speaks volumes about how far we’ve come in our effort to make rose respectable. Who would have expected that a supermarket in Northern Ireland would have that much rose? Or that there would be so many empty spaces on the shelves? Many thanks to regular visitor Rex Warburton for taking the picture and passing it along.

Still, much remains to be done. That is more rose than most grocery stores in the U.S. carry; the two I shop most often in Dallas have a half dozen labels at best, and even some liquor stores here don’t stock that much.

How can you help? I’ve added the PDF printer to this post. Feel free to print the post and take it with you the next time you’re in a retailer where rose is still the pink-headed stepchild. Because if they can do it in Northern Island, why not where you are?

winetrends

Wine in a can

wine in a canThe problem with wine in a can, which several Big Wine companies want to be the next big thing, is not necessarily price or quality or the idea that it’s canned wine – all of which are huge obstacles.

The problem is that Americans aren’t particularly interested in drinking wine that doesn’t come in a traditional, 750-ml bottle, and no one in the past 40 years has convinced us otherwise.

The chart at the link shows that the glass bottle accounts for almost three-quarters of the wine sold in the U.S. As the report accompanying the chart says, “After years of packaging innovations, the traditional 750-ml wine bottle is more important to the domestic wine industry than ever.”

Trying to break us from the 750-ml bottle has been all but impossible, and even the wise guys on Shark Tank underestimated the challenge. Which means that wine in a can will have to offer something that we can’t get from wine in a bottle, and that isn’t novelty. The Wine Curmudgeon, who goes where no other wine writer dares, recently put wine in a can – the Underwood rose ($7/375-ml, sample, 12%) – through its paces, and I’m not optimistic about its future. And not because it’s almost impossible to swirl wine in a can:

• Price/value: Not pretty. The can is half the size of a bottle, and it’s sold in a four-pack, so you’re spending $28 for two bottles, 8 to 10 glasses of wine. In other words, you could buy two bottles of $10 Hall of Fame wine, spend almost one-third less, and get better wine. Or you could buy a three-liter box of Black Box for about $24, and get four bottles – eight times as much wine – and about the same quality.

• Quality: Meh. It’s Big Wine wine in a can and tastes remarkably like E&J Gallo’s Dark Horse rose. This is a neat trick since the Underwood has an Oregon appellation, and the Dark Horse is from California. The wine is drinkable, but lacks the crisp and fresh qualities I want in rose; almost any $10 rose in a bottle will be more enjoyable.

• Ease of use/convenience: Very easy – just pull back the tab and drink. Plus, it’s easier to keep cold, and especially in an ice chest. These are wine in a can’s selling points, but even they probably won’t be enough. If I can buy quality craft beer for $12 a six-pack and get the same convenience, why would I pay twice as much for less wine of lesser quality? Or not bring boxed wine, which also works in a cooler, to the beach?

The biggest disappointment with wine in a can? I wanted to like it, if only because it’s such a poke in the eye for the wine business. Perhaps someone else can solve the pricing problem. Until then, though, wine in a can doesn’t offer enough value. So why bother?