Mini-reviews 141: Be Human, Carmel Road, Brancott, Mulderbosch

Be HumanReviews of wines that don’t need their own post, but are worth noting for one reason or another. Look for it on the fourth Friday of each month. This month, bring on the residual sugar!

Be Human Merlot 2018 ($17, sample, 14.5%): Slightly sweet Washington red, with lots of fake chocolate and fake cherry. Somehow, one review described this as a dry, cheap wine. Sigh.

Carmel Road Chardonnay 2019 ($15, sample, 13.%): A California white that is about as typical a $15 supermarket wine as you’ll find: Pleasant and a touch sweet, the kind of wine that will leave you wondering what you saw in it after you finish the bottle.

Brancott Flight Song Pinot Grigio 2019 ($12, purchased, 9%): This New Zealand white gives new meaning to the term post-modern. It’s a riesling-style pinot grigio, so it’s sweet – and its selling point is that it’s lower in calories than “regular” pinot grigio. Not so much gross as just annoying. Imported by Pernod Ricard USA

Mulderbosch Cabernet Franc 2017 ($39, sample, 13%): South Africa’s Mulderbosch has found a way to add sweetness to a pricey red wine. Who knew? Otherwise, it’s a sort of New World cabernet franc, which means less graphite and more red fruit, and not much else. Imported by Third Leaf Wines

Photo: “A couple drinking wine” by freestocks.org is marked with CC0 1.0

Winecast 55: Wine America’s Michael Kaiser and helping small wineries make it through the pandemic

michael Kaiser
Michael Kaiser

Michael Kaiser: I haven’t been to a winery in nine months, and it’s my job – so you can imagine how difficult it has been for wineries that depend on visitors

Wine America, a trade group for U.S. producers, has played a key role in helping small wineries survive in the first nine months of the pandemic. Michael Kaiser, the group’s vice president of government affairs, has played a key role in that effort.

Foremost among that was passage of something called the Craft Beverage Modernization and Tax Reform ACT, a long way of describing a bill to change the way the federal government taxes alcohol producers. Yes, it’s a bit esoteric, but the bill’s passage means small wineries will face a more rational tax system – especially helpful during the pandemic.

We also talked about:

• What else can be done to help for regional wineries, both on the state and local level. Because, if the pandemic continues, Michael expects to see increasing numbers of wineries close.

• The tariff, and why it’s still with us. Michael makes a fine point: The wine tariff was intended to hurt the European Union, and it has. So, maybe, just maybe, we could see some progress in getting rid of it by the end of the year.

• New laws about can wine sizes, which should make it easier to make canned wine. This might sound esoteric as well, but it means we can finally buy canned in the same size can as we buy beer and soft drinks. And you didn’t know there was a difference, did you?

Click here to download or stream the podcast, which is about 25 minutes long and takes up 16 megabytes. Quality is good to excellent – you’ll probably notice three or so bits where I had to edit the recording because we lost our Zoom connection.

Wine of the week: Parducci Petite Sirah Small Lot 2018

Parducci Petite SirahThe Parducci Petite Sirah Small Lot is a California red that offers structure, quality, and interest

Mike Dunne, the esteemed California wine writer, has pointed out more than once that we don’t do enough California labels as wines of the week on the blog. In fact, he and I are trying to figure out a way to fix that.

Until then, the Parducci Petite Sirah Small Lot.

The Parducci Petite Sirah ($12, purchased, 14.5%) is a California red made with one of my favorite grapes, petite sirah (which, as regular visitors know, was once one of the state’s glories). It’s surprisingly nuanced for a post-modern petite sirah, let alone one at this price. That means it has much more than just sweet dark fruit and that party cocktail mouthfeel.

Instead, it’s almost plummy, in a pleasant, old-fashioned way. Best yet, the wine opens up after 30 minutes or so to reveal a little spice and something that tastes sort of earthy (hard to believe, I know). The fruit even gets juicier, though still rich and full.

Highly recommended, and just the kind of thing for big, beefy winter dinners.

Winebits 681: Ed O’Keefe, Internet wine, pandemic wine

ed o'keefeThis week’s wine news: Drink Local pioneer Ed O’Keefe has died, plus a study says consumers may be wary of Internet wine and a French producer addresses the pandemic

Ed O’Keefe has died: Ed O’Keefe Jr., who started Michigan’s Chateau Grand Traverse winery in 1976, has died, aged 89. I was lucky enough to interview O’Keefe several times over the years, and he was featured in a 1995 American Way story featuring U.S. wineries that weren’t in California. It was my first piece ever about regional wine. The story in the link, from the Detroit Free Press, tells O’Keefe’s story, but what impressed me was that he always ignored everyone who said regional wine didn’t matter. And he was right.

Internet wine: Some of us may want to buy wine over the Internet, but a surprising number of aren’t interested. That’s the result of a study by the Wine Intelligence consultancy, which found that only 58 percent of “regular” U.S. wine drinkers would buy wine on-line. The number, given all the time and effort so many of us have made to make Internet wine possible, reminds us how traditional – and resistant to change – that wine drinkers are in this country.

Call it “Vaccs’vin:” A French producer has released a wine called Vaccs’vin– perfect for the pandemic, since its goal is “just to make people laugh” – and it’s sold without a prescription. Sadly, the wine, made with merlot, won’t be available in the U.S. We could use some giggles these days, yes?

Wine trends 2021

wine trends 2021
Will I be able to buy wine over the Internet after 2021 — but not in January, of course?

Look for Dry January, “healthy” wine, the pandemic, and legal maneuvers to mark wine trends 2021

This is the second of two parts looking at wine prices and wine trends in 2021. Today, Part II: Wine trends 2021. Part I: Wine prices 2021.

Anyone in the wine business who says Dry January doesn’t matter must also believe the Trump wine tariff is good for business, young people are flocking to buy $100 wine, and I think scores are the future of wine criticism.

But there it is, as we look at wine trends 2021: Any number of experts who say Dry January and the neo-Prohibitionists don’t matter. Or, as one magazine editor asked me, “What’s Dry January? Why is that in your story?”

I should have pointed him to this story. Or this one. Or this one.

In fact, I spent much of the past couple of years writing trade magazine stories about the growth in no-alcohol, low-alcohol, and “healthy” wines. And I wasn’t talking to one-off startups, but executives at some of the biggest wine companies in the world. So any discussion of wine trends 2021 must start with Dry January and that it’s OK to say you don’t drink – cool, even.

What we don’t know is exactly how Dry January will change the wine world. But it will change wine in 2021, as will these:

• “Healthy” wine. If you haven’t heard of FitVine yet, you will. It markets itself as “less sugar, fewer sulfites, and no flavor additives for a cleaner wine” – all for $15. And it’s not alone. There are products like The Wine Group’s Cupcake Light Hearted; Trinchero’s Mind & Body; and Constellation’s Kim Crawford Illuminate, which promise fewer calories, less sugar, less alcohol, and say they are gluten free and vegan. The idea is to sell wine to younger consumers who supposedly prefer a healthier lifestyle and who may not be drinking wine now. One estimate: this market will grow 34 percent over the next four years.

• Shortages and supply chain problems will continue. The longer the pandemic lasts, the more we’ll see retailers and wholesalers have a difficult time keeping popular wines on shelves. It doesn’t mean the wines will disappear; rather, they’ll be there, sell out, and not return for a week or more.

• Wine tourism on the brink. If the vaccines do their job, and if life returns to normal by the fall, then all should start to improve. But if we go through another year of travel and public place restrictions, then questions must emerge about the future of wine tourism. The 90 percent of U.S. wineries that don’t make 90 percent of the wine survive on wine tourism. How will they survive if there isn’t any?

• Three-tier reform, but slowly and incrementally. That’s because the Supreme Court won’t hear a key three-tier case, so no Internet wine sales anytime soon. Still, we will see alcohol delivery continue to expand, thanks to the pandemic. In Texas, the legislature is expected to make cocktails-to-go permanent this year, a development that is so unprecedented as to be almost indescribable. And Illinois is set to legalize retail booze delivery throughout the state, also difficult to believe.

• The Trump tariff, and how soon we can get rid of it. Change here requires compromise, good will, and good faith from the U.S. and the European Union. Sadly, all have been in short supply.

Wine prices 2021

wine prices 2021Wine prices 2021 will defy the law of supply and demand, and we’ll suffer with more overpriced, mass-market wines

This is the first of two parts looking at wine prices and wine trends in 2021. Today, Part I: Wine prices 2021. Monday, Part II: Wine trends 2021.

Anyone who says they know what wine prices 2021 will do is guessing, at best – the Wine Curmudgeon included. How else to explain a wine world which continues to deny the existence of the law of supply and demand?

That’s because we saw demand continue to decline in 2020, supply continue to increase, and prices refuse to follow along. In fact, some prices increased, and that had nothing to do with the tariff, but producers and importers trying to take advantage of the last gasps of premiumization.

Or is this premiumization’s last gasp? I’ve been writing about the end of premiumization for a couple of years (and I’m not the only one), but it’s still with us in all its irritation and aggravation. I’m beginning to think that the oligopoly structure of the post-modern wine business, with a handful of companies controlling production, wholesaling, and retailing means that prices will do what the oligopoly wants, and not what they should do. If the oligopoly wants premiumization, then we’re going to have premiumization, and that means more overpriced, mass-produced, flabby, and boring supermarket-style wines.

And it looks like the oligopoly does. How else do you explain paying $15 for Italian wine, which isn’t included in the tariff, that costs one-third that much in Italy? Or $15 and $20 California labels, where the bulk grapes used to make the wine may have cost as little as $1 per bottle? Or $20 Washington wines when the state is awash in bulk grapes? Or all those French roses that cost two and three times as much as something like this – even though the former have much the same grape cost?

So if I had to make one prediction for wine prices 2021, it’s not to expect any price relief. For one thing, the tariff isn’t going away any time soon. That not only raises the price of most French, Spanish, and German wines, but gives producers elsewhere an excuse to raise their prices. Ironically, I asked several experts about this possibility when the tariff took effect in 2019, and was told no producer would be stupid enough to raise prices to take advantage of the tariff. Once more, the experts were wrong, and the wine business demonstrated yet again why I worry about its future.

So not much good news here – save for the caveat that if I have been as wrong this time as I have been before, then we will have some good news. Just don’t count on it.

More about wine prices:
Wine prices 2020
Wine prices 2019
Wine prices 2018

SVB wine report 2021

svb report
SVB report 2021: The wine business must find a way to reach under-40 consumers.

The good news in SVB wine report 2021: This year should be an improvement over 2020. But don’t get your hopes up for 2022

How about some good news in the SVB wine report 2021, Silicon Valley Bank’s annual state of the wine industry effort? It would be a welcome change from the gloom and doom of the past 10 months, as well as the past couple of years of SVB reports.

So rejoice.

“I think the news will be measured and good,” says Rob McMillan, the report’s author. We exchanged emails in the run-up to the report’s official release and webcast yesterday.

“I think we have a bounce ahead of us,” he says. “And going back to history, I remember having data that showed a massive growth in wine consumption in 1945, then a drop in 1946. I do expect a bounce in 2021 – maybe not like 1945. Call it a rolling celebration that will span 2021 and into 2022 as occasions and delayed celebrations come back.”

The report reinforced that good news – assuming the pandemic gets under control and the wine business doesn’t do anything stupid:

• Expect a bounce in demand if tourism and restaurants come back. The report sees an increase in wine sales gaining momentum in 2021, but it may not be sustainable next year.

• Wine demand this year did not increase, no matter what others are saying. Instead, says McMillan, what happened is what’s called a channel shift — we bought less wine at restaurants and more wine at supermarkets and on-line, but the overall total didn’t change. In this, restaurant wine sales have not recovered and may still be down as much as two-thirds over the same time last year.

• Premiumization is nearing its peak, but will continue this year thanks to that pent up demand and the industry’s efforts to reduce the wine supply. The 2020 California harvest may be the smallest in a decade.

• Retailers who understand on-line sales and e-commerce – even without more loosening of three-tier laws — “will have a strong 2021.” The report says on-line sales could represent 20 percent of an average winery’s sales within five years – an impressive figure, given those are in the mid-single digits now. And e-commerce sales during a three-month period in 2020 increased as much as the previous 10 years.

Not all was good news, of course. What else would we expect after 2020? Wine’s growth rate, even with premiumization, has declined across all price segments for years, and there is no reason to expect a long term change unless the wine business changes tactics in how it sells wine. In addition, as Baby Boomers continue to drink less wine, the industry must find a way to reach under-40 consumers. Which, as we know, it has failed miserably at.