Category:A Featured Post

Winebits 302: Wine snobs, wine marketing, appellations

dougfrost

The great Doug Frost

? Enough already: Or so says the great Doug Frost, writing about a recent piece in the Wall Street Journal: “…this is the sort of seemingly contradictory advice that is all too common in wine, and that speaks to a dwindling and, I ?ll dare further, annoyingly precious sub-group of gourmands called wine snobs.” I have been lucky enough to judge with Doug and even appeared in an interview with him a couple of years ago, and the experience has always been terrific. When Doug Frost takes someone to task for being snotty, it’s time for the entire wine world to listen.

? Giving consumers what they want: A British supermarket chain and an Australian producer have signed a three-year deal for the latter to provide the former with wine. Why does this matter to U.S. consumers? Because, as one official involved in the deal said, “Gone are the days when a producer could get off a plane and go and see the likes of Tesco with its list of wines. You need to have a category plan and look at what customers want.” In other words, not making wine because you think you can sell it, but asking retailers what wines to make, in both style and varietal, based on what their customers want. This is revolutionary, part of the trend over the past five years that saw the growth of, among other things, sweet red wine and the increasing power of large retailers to set prices.

? Just say no: Not soon enough, apparently, as the debate over whether there are too many American Viticultural Areas, or appellations, in the United States, continues. The federal government approved four more AVAs last week, reports the British wine magazine Decanter, and it follows “criticism earlier this year that the proliferation of AVAs could confuse consumers as to the wine ?s origin. Historically, this has been a common complaint aimed at the appellation system in Old World countries, and particularly France.” Case in point: Sonoma will now have 16 sub-AVAs.”

The new website is open for business

The new website is open for businessSo far, so good. There is still some tweaking to do, but my biggest concern — that the email subscriptions transferred — seems to have been satisfied. Someone cancelled their email subscription this morning, so it must be working. We still need to add an email subscription form to the new site, but it should appear in the next day or so. Done — look in right hand sidebar.

The other good news? That the e-commerce site is working, and you can pre-order the Cheap Wine Book — autographed, even. Just click on the tab at the top of the page that says New book.

The bad news: Most of the links that refer to older blog posts are broken, and they will need to be updated by hand. That will take a while, given that there are seven years of posts. Also, not all of the pictures made it to the new site; there are some odd-looking squares on some pages as well as some sentences that look out of place, but are actually picture descriptions without the pictures.

If anyone has questions or comments, .

Texas and Drink Local Wine’s sixth annual Regional Wine Week

Texas drink local wineRegional wine week started yesterday, and what kind of co-founder and past president would I be if I didn’t participate? So here are my links for this year’s effort, focusing on the changes in Texas wine since I started writing about it:

? How much more accepted is Texas wine than just five years ago? The culinary students I spoke to on Thursday night at Dallas’ El Centro College were interested not because they were supposed to be, but because they really wanted to know about Texas wine. Contrast this with the culinary students I taught at the Cordon Bleu, whose main interest in Texas wine came when I drew my not very accurate map of Texas on the board.

? Not only has Texas wine changed, but so have the people drinking Texas wine — the focus of a story I wrote for the Texas Wine and Trail website. The new generation of Texas wine drinkers I talked to this fall were not “the older Anglos who have powered the local wine movement in the state since the 1990s, and doing yeoman work in the process. Rather, they were younger and, at Grapefest and especially at its People ?s Choice wine tasting and competition, less white. I talked to a Chinese husband and wife who asked such detailed questions about what was going on and which wineries to visit that I couldn ?t answer all of them.”

? A French producer made sparkling wine in the state 30 years ago, though the winery eventually failed. Still, one has to admire the effort: “Texas-made sparkling wine is rare, even today. Thirty years ago, when there were only a handful of wineries in the state, it was much less practical. Sparkling wine is difficult, costly, and time-consuming to make, requires top-notch grapes, and needs an established market for its products.”

? The Hill Country is the focal point for Texas wine for most consumers, and it has undergone huge changes, too — not only in the number of wineries and quality of the wine, but in how the region sees wine in terms of tourism and its economy. Ten years ago, wine was an afterthought; today, Highway 290, with its dozens of wineries, could be a wine trail in California.

? And what would a Texas wine post be without reviews of Texas wine?

Wine review: Spy Valley Riesling 2011

One of the themes on the blog for the past couple of weeks has been value — does a wine offer more to the consumer than it costs? In this, value is not about price, because not all cheap wine delivers value. Sometimes, it’s just cheap.

It’s also worth noting that a wine doesn’t have to be cheap to offer value. Yes, it’s more difficult for an expensive wine to do this, given that too many expensive wines are expensive because their reason for being is to be expensive. But it is certainly possible, and it happens more often than I acknowledge here.

One producer who consistently does this is New Zealand’s Spy Valley, which as been making $15 and $20 wines that taste like they cost much more for as long as I have been writing about wine. I had one of those sublime, geeky wine experiences with the sauvignon blanc last year, and it’s not even my favorite Spy Valley wine.

That would be the riesling ($18, purchased, 12.5%), which is as enjoyable as it is difficult to find. I only see it in Dallas every couple of years, given the vagaries of the three-tier system, so when I do see it, I buy it, even if it’s a previous vintage. The producer is good enough so that doesn’t matter.

The 2011 didn’t let me down. It’s not riesling like most consumers know it — no sweet tea-like sugar or fruit flavors that taste like they came out of a can. Instead, it’s a dry riesling, complex with layers of flavor that range from petrol on the nose (a classic riesling characteristic) to citrus and tropical in the front and middle. It’s still fresh and almost aggressive after almost two years in bottle, which is a sign that it’s only going to get better with age.

Serve this to someone who doesn’t think they like riesling, and see if they change their mind. Highly recommended, and well worth the money.

How low are wine prices these days? Awfully low

There has been a lot of news about wine prices holding steady lately, but it’s been mostly economic — studies, analysis, and so forth. That’s the kind of stuff, as accurate as it is, that is sometimes painful for consumers to read. Not many of us worry too much about grape tonnage.

On the other hand, it’s very easy for consumers to understand low prices, like these in a maling sent this week from Total Wine, the large regional retailer that wants to be a national chain:

? Barefoot pinot noir for $4.97, almost 30 percent off the suggested retail price.

? The 2009 Groth Oakville cabernet sauvignon, a previous vintage, for 12 percent less than the current vintage’s $57.

? Bogle chardonnay, a mainstay of the $10 Hall of Fame, for $6.97.

? A previous vintage of King Estate pinot gris, about as dependable as a $17 wine can be, for $11.97.

? Perrier-Jouet Grand Brut, a holiday Champagne staple, for $39.99 — 20 percent off suggested retail.

Some of these, like the Barefoot and the Bogle, are likely loss leaders — priced to lure customers to the store in the hope they’ll buy other, more profitable, wines. But the prices also speak to two other trends. First, there’s still a lot of unsold wine in the supply chain left over from the recession, and especially expensive wine. Until those wines are sold or disposed of (right, Treasury?) they will continue to drag down prices. The Total mailing also had previous vintages from Cakebread, Chimney Rock, and Silver Oak, each expensive and popular California producers.

Second, competition among retailers is fiercer than ever, with liquor superstores growing 15 percent since 2008, three times faster than their conventional counterparts. Total, with almost 100 stores, wants to double revenues to $2 billion by 2016, while BevMo, with 144 stores mostly in the west, wants to expand outside its base. All that competition — which is especially brutal in Dallas, where Total opened last year — means more discounting in an attempt to build market share. And that means more low prices.

Throw in the economy, which has been treading water for at least a year, and the idea that wine prices are going to go up anytime soon is as silly as the Wine Curmudgeon using wine scores on the blog.

For more on wine prices:
? Retailers and wine prices
? Wine prices in 2013, one final time
? The revolution in cheap pinot noir

The Treasury debacle, masstige wines, and what the consumer is trying to teach the wine business

Treasury debacleThe Wine Curmudgeon, despite his brilliance as a writer, is a lousy businessman. How else to explain that former Treasury Wine Estate CEO David Dearie earned A$2.4 million (about US$2.25 million) for running his company into the ground, while I have been giving away, for free, the wisdom that could have helped Treasury avoid this year’s 53 percent drop in profit?

One more time, for those who still aren’t paying attention: The U.S. consumer buys wine on price. The challenge for wine companies, whether multi-nationals like Treasury, Napa cult wineries, or the thousands of other producers around the word, is to add value so that the consumer gets more than their $10 worth. Some do it with cute labels and marketing; some do it with points and high scores; and the best do it by giving us $12 or $15 worth of wine for our $10. (Go here for almost seven years worth of examples of how the best do it.)

Treasury did none of those. Instead, it looks like it did the absolute worst possible thing — it charged us $12 or $15 or $18 for $10 wines, a technique called masstige that was part of its business plan. I spend some time on this in the Cheap Wine Book, though I didn’t realize what masstige was when I wrote it. Rather, I noted that wines that cost between $12 and $18 seem to offer the least value, “probably because producers don ?t improve the quality of the wine as much as they increase the price and gussy up the label.”

Think of masstige as a cross between mass market products like Two-buck Chuck and Barefoot and luxury labels like high-end Champagne. Masstige is apparently very common in cosmetics, where the added value comes from the prestige a product provides because it costs more money. This approach may still work in cosmetics, where the value difference between Revlon and Clinique remains well established even though the products are quite similar based on what’s in the jar. But in wine, the idea that expensive is always better (as noted here and elsewhere many times since 2008) is something that the consumer has rejected.

Interestingly, I’m not the only one who has realized this. An analyst, discussing Treasury’s problems, said “the underlying problem in the U.S. is not inventory, it’s the health of the brands, because of underinvestment in marketing.” Which, as mentioned above, is one of the three ways for producers to add value.

Want to make money in the wine business? Treat the consumer fairly, and the consumer will reward you. That’s the lesson the recession taught, and it’s really not any more complicated than that. Which is probably why I never thought I needed to charge for the advice.