Colorado craft brewer says its new wine is innovative, but it’s the same approach Big Wine uses
Craft beer made name its name on authenticity and honesty. This was in marked contrast to Big Beer, which kept selling the same worn out and bland fizz for no other reason than because that’s what Big Beer did.
So what happens when a craft beer producer moves into wine? Does it bring the same authenticity and honesty that it brought to beer? Not, apparently, if it’s a leading Colorado craft producer called Odell Brewing.
Maybe Odell Brewing has a reason for making its wine with out of state grapes instead of those from its native Colorado — which is hardly craft, authentic or honest. I asked, but never heard back from the company. Maybe someone there truly believes the twaddle in its news release, that Odell claims it “is dedicated to pushing the boundaries of modern American wine.” And that “we’re committed to making wine that is just as innovative as our beer.”
Because making wine with out of state grapes is the sort of thing that small wine producers criticize Big Wine for doing, and that those of us who believe in Drink Local have been fighting against for years. It’s neither innovative nor boundary pushing; rather, it’s just a way to cut costs, since those grapes will probably be cheaper than buying Colorado grapes.
And Odell’s wines – a red and white blend, plus two roses, and all made with grapes purchased from Oregon and Washington – are hardly breathtaking. And that the wines will come in cans? Not exactly innovative, either, not in the middle of 2020.
Let’s be clear here – Odell can do whatever it wants, and I’m not criticizing the company for making wine. Rather, it’s because Odell is pretending that its wine effort is something that it’s not.
In fact, I can’t help but think that someone at Odell and its wholesaler, Breakthru Beverage (the third biggest in the country) wanted to duplicate the almost unprecedented success of Cooper’s Hawk. That’s the restaurant and winery chain that uses California grapes no matter where its stores are located. For one thing, Breakthru is mentioned in the second paragraph in the news release, and that’s just odd. Why would anyone care who the distributor is?
So good luck to Odell – just don’t expect anyone who knows local wine to pretend your product is local.
• The wines, though fewer in number than in years past, were almost all terrific. One of the difficulties in regional wine is getting past the plateau; that is, quality improves to a certain point and then seems to stall. This year, much of what we tasted had climbed past the plateau. In fact, the judges gave out so many gold medals that the best in show judging featured almost as many wines as we judged on the first day. That rarely happens.
• The highlights were the rieslings and the cabernet francs. The former should always be top notch given Colorado’s terroir, but have been maddeningly inconsistent over the past couple of years. The almost two dozen we tasted were varietally correct, balanced, and enjoyable. The cab francs, which should also do well here, may have been even better. They displayed restraint, one of the grape’s characteristics, but were not thin or dull.
• We discovered a new cold-hardy hybrid that is fruitier and less acidic than the usual suspects, called petite pearl. These grapes are bred to withstand freezing temperatures and to resist disease, but are often difficult to turn into quality wine. Petite pearl, though, seems much more wine-friendly than the others, and it may have the potential to make cold-hardy hybrids more popular. It tastes a bit like gamay, the grape used to make Beaujolais, but with more of a backbone,
• A tip o’ the WC’s fedora to my fellow judges, long-time Colorado wine expert Roberta Backland and Wine America president Jim Trezise. Anyone who can endure at my enthusiasm for grapes like petite pearl shows just how much they care about wine.
• Mike Dunne, one of the best wine writers in the country, no longer writes a column for the Sacramento Bee. The paper told him it was a luxury it couldn’t afford. So the third or fourth largest metro area in the country’s biggest wine producing state doesn’t have regular wine coverage. Is it any wonder. …
• “Metrics” are one way 21st century business “quantifies” customer service. Metrics allow companies to game the system so they can show they provide customer service even when they don’t. My flight to Denver was the usual post-modern mess – it left almost an hour late, the bags took almost 40 minutes to arrive, and so on and so forth. So of course I got an email asking me to rate the “flight experience.” The Wine Curmudgeon, being the Wine Curmudgeon, answered it with a comment: “Does anyone at the airline really care about my answers, or do you do this so you can phony up the metrics?”
Higher prices imply better quality for consumers who drink Drink Local
Don’t worry that local and regional wine tends to cost more than comparable national brands, which is something that has been hurting Drink Local’s growth. That’s because a 2019 study has found that consumers are happy to pay more for local wine, beer, and the like.
“We have not studied whether local wine and beer is now on a par with local food in terms of consumer acceptance,” says Ashok Lalwani, PhD, one of the report’s co-authors and an associate professor of marketing at Indiana University’s Kelley School of Business. “But, based on our results, I would speculate that consumers would be more likely to infer higher quality from higher priced wine and beer that is locally produced, but not as much for wine and beer that is positioned globally or not locally produced.”
This is huge news for Drink Local. First, it has always lagged behind local food in acceptance, the idea that it’s worth buying just because it’s local. Second, that consumers perceive a quality difference between local wine and Big Wine may be even more important, since Drink Local has been fighting the quality battle for as long as it has been around.
In fact, says Lalwani, the study results hint that consumers are less likely to associate price with quality for national brands, and are more likely to buy cheaper products since they all seem the same regardless of price. But the reverse seems to be true for local wine; that is, consumers equate higher price with better quality.
Finally, the study quotes several multi-national marketing executives, none in the alcohol business, who sort of see this local thing, but are baffled by it: The “executives considered local or global communities in their pricing decisions, [but] none knew when such strategies were effective or why.”
Who knew those of us who believe in Drink Local knew more than lots of people with MBAs?
Reviews 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.
• Luis Felipe Edwards Sauvignon Blanc Autoritas 2018 ($8, purchased, 12%): Something very odd going on with this Chilean white — either that, or lots of winemaking to get it to some point I can’t figure out. Not especially Chilean in style, with barely ripe grapes and almost no fruit at all — just some California style grassiness. Imported by Pacific Highway
• Trader Joe’s Merlot Grower’s Reserve 2017 ($6, purchased, 13%): This California red, a Trader Joe’s private label, is a bit thin on the back and a little too tart. Plus, the residual sugar shows up after three or four sips. Having said that, it’s easily one of the most drinkable and varietally correct wines I’ve had from TJ — for what that’s worth.
• Oliver Winery Creekbend Chambourcin 2016 ($22, sample, 13.4%): Professionally made and varietally correct, this Indiana red shows how far regional wine has come. I wish it showed more terroir and less winemaking — it too much resembles a heavier wine like a cabernet sauvignon and it doesn’t need this much oak.
Asimov gives N.Y. Times readers skewed picture of Texas wine
Eric Asimov of the New York Times is probably the best wine writer in the United States, offering what a friend of mine calls a “thoughtful, balanced but personal approach to wine drinking.” He shows his passion and his joy for wine, he writes clearly and directly, and he doesn’t talk down to his readers. Would that more of my colleagues did that.
That’s why I was so disappointed by Asimov’s recent article about Texas wine — or, more specifically, about a Long Island winemaking couple, Regan and Carey Meador, who moved their Southold winery to the Hill Country. In the process, the story implied, they were bringing civilization and much needed progress to Texas winemaking. The article, displayed prominently on the cover of the paper’s Dining section, was everything that has always been wrong with regional wine reporting – not just condescending, but reinforcing the stereotype that those of us in the provinces can’t succeed without help from our betters.
It was the last thing that I expected from Asimov, and I do not write this lightly. In fact, it took me almost two weeks to decide to write anything. Who wants to be called petty and provincial?
Besides, I respect Asimov immensely (though we have never met) and have written very nice things about him on the blog and in the cheap wine book. And he has been a tremendous supporter of regional wine, helping to give New York the due it deserves. So the last thing I want to do is to get into a cyber-spat with someone who does what Asimov does as well as he does it. And this is not about the Meadors; people who want to make quality wine are always welcome.
Rather, it’s Asimov’s characterization of Texas winemaking that deserves to be called out. It was what those of us who have done journalism call “parachute reporting” – you parachute into a place with little knowledge beyond general stereotypes, do a little reporting and get airlifted out, stereotypes intact, and knowing almost nothing more about the subject than you did beforehand.
So, given what I do here and the blog’s reason for being, as well as my work over the past decade with Drink Local Wine and the regional wine movement, know this about Asimov’s Texas wine story:
• Yes, as Asimov writes, Texas produces lots of middling, mass market supermarket wine (and I’ve criticized the industry for this and taken my lumps). But so do California, France, and almost every other wine region in the world, including New York. I’m sure Asimov has run across Red Cat a time or two.
• Asimov writes that Texas’ move toward varietals more suited to its terroir, as well as the presence of more open and free-thinking winemakers like the Meadors, is a new development. This is untrue; those movements were underway at least a decade ago. We showcased both at our first Drink Local Wine conference in 2009 in Dallas. I wrote about the same subject in 2016, “The Texas Wine Revolution,” for Texas Journey magazine. If I may quote myself: “What is a new, especially in the past 10 years, is the acceptance that Texas wine is not California wine or French wine or Italian wine. It is Texas wine.”
• Hence, it was especially annoying to read that a New York winemaker had to come here to save the Texas wine business from itself.
• The Hill Country, which Asimov visited, is not the most important place in the Texas wine world. It gets the most tourists (think Red Cat again), but the High Plains near Lubbock produces 80 percent of the grapes and most of the best grapes. Because, among other reasons, Pierce’s Disease in the Hill Country — the grapevine version of the Black Death. So judging Texas wine off a visit to Fredericksburg is hardly the entire picture. And by the way, it’s not Hill Country, as the story referred to it, but the Hill Country, in the same way it’s Queens, and not the Queens.
• And since the Hill Country is not the center of the Texas wine business, Asimov apparently didn’t taste Brennan Vineyards’ viognier, always among the best in the country; McPherson Cellars’ Tre Colore, a red Rhone blend that speaks to terroir; and Haak Cellars’ amazing Madeira-style wine made with blanc du bois. None have anything to do with Fredericksburg. And it also seems that he missed Perdernales Cellars outside of Fredericksburg, with its terrific tempranillos.
So that’s a more complete picture, and one I wish Asimov had seen. He could have called Russ Kane, who probably knows more about this stuff than anyone, or Texas Monthly’s Jessica Dupuy. Either could have recommended Texas wine producers who would have been able to offer more perspective.
The old saying that any publicity is good publicity still rings true, but accurate publicity is even better.
Todd Kliman’s “The Wild Vine,” a story about regional wine and drink local, could become a Netflix–style series
Could the first truly interesting wine movie be about – gasp – drink local? We can only hope.
That’s because Todd Kliman’s terrific 2010 book, “The Wild Vine” (Clarkson Potter), may have a decent chance of becoming a film. The production company that bought the rights to the book has even hired a publicist, which doesn’t happen unless the producers are convinced something will come of their efforts.
“The Wild Vine” tells the history of the norton grape and Daniel Norton, the man who accidentally created it, Virginia winemaker Jenni McCloud of Chrysalis Vineyards and her fascination with norton, and the role regional wine has played in U.S. wine history. As I wrote in my review: “It’s a perspective that says, ‘Look, pay attention. Long before Robert Parker and scores and California, there was a U.S. wine industry. And if a few things had happened differently. …’ ”
So what about the movie’s chances of actually being made?
“When people say they’re going to option a book for a movie, traditionally nothing happens,” says Kliman, a D.C.-area freelancer and author who has been down the book option road enough times to know how the system works. “So when a book is optioned, there’s no reason to get giddy. But this time, the producer has real enthusiasm for the book and the story, so there may be a better chance than usual that something happens.”
The producer is Dax Phelan, who not only has Hollywood credibility, but grew up near St. Louis and was fascinated by the idea of norton, a red grape that thrives in Missouri and whose norton wineries produced some of the best wine in the world at the turn of the 20th century.
Kliman says the film future of “The Wild Vine” could be a Netflix-style series, where Phelan has contacts, a traditional film, or a documentary. Much depends, of course, on who will pay for production, and that will ultimately decide if anything gets done. No studio, no film – unless there’s a drink local aficionado reading this who has very deep pockets and wants to bankroll the project. My hope is the Netflix option, which would be better suited to the book’s depth and complexity. There’s too much in the book to cram into a 100 minute movie.
And before I get nasty emails and comments, know that there haven’t been truly interesting wine movies. “Bottle Shock” turned the legendary Judgment of Paris into a snoozefest, and “Sideways” – despite Paul Giamatti’s incredible effort – was mostly two guys whining and trying to pick up chicks.
In fact, your post was so lame that I am using the word “shitty” in my post, something I have not done in almost 15 years of writing the blog. When you are a good writer, you don’t need to use “shitty” in an attempt to make something funny. It’s funny because you are a good writer.
Consider this line from your post. It’s as old and tired as any wine humor, the equivalent of the worst “Take my wife, please… joke: “We have all this space that’s just sitting here. How hard could winemaking possibly be? And it’s not like most people can tell the difference between good and bad stuff.”
As I once wrote on the blog discussing this very topic, most people who make fun of wine think it’s stupid to begin with, so there is no need to be funny. Your post is an excellent example of this. Someone there, no doubt needing to make a deadline, said, “Let’s make fun of wine in the middle of the country!” Someone else, no doubt knowing the need to make a deadline, said, “Cool!”
Perhaps most depressing is that wine needs satire. As regular readers here know, I am always ready to make fun of the wine business. But this didn’t do that. There is excellent wine, as good as in France or Spain or Italy or California, in several of the states you mention. I know this because I am the co-founder and past president of a group called Drink Local Wine; in other words, I have actually tasted the stuff you brush off because wine is stupid to begin with, so wine in Texas or Michigan must be even more stupid.