Category:Wine news

The final “nutrition and ingredient labels for wine are a good thing” post

ingredient labelsOne more study shows consumers use ingredient labels and that it influences what we buy

The Wine Curmudgeon has long advocated nutrition and ingredient labels for wine, but the response has been silence punctuated by more than a few cat calls. So, rather than continue to elicit abuse, consider this the final post on the subject. I can’t make the point any more forcefully other than to report this story:

An analysis of studies that looked at how labeling on food packaging, point-of-sale materials and restaurant menus prompted consumers to eat fewer calories and fat; reduce their choice of other unhealthy food option; and eat more vegetables.

What more do we need to know about the efficacy of labels? How much better off would wine be if each bottle listed calories, fat, and the like? Wouldn’t consumers benefit to know that there are about half the calories in a glass of wine than in a jelly doughnut? Wouldn’t they feel better knowing their wine was mostly fermented grape juice instead of something like Dr Pepper – with its 250 calories, high fructose corn syrup, and four percent of the daily value of sodium?

The wine business disagrees, and just not because it doesn’t want consumers to know wine sometimes has a lot more in it than fermented grape juice. Instead, I will get emails and comments citing another part of the study: Consumers “also selected 13 percent fewer other unhealthy food options such as sugar-sweetened beverages, alcoholic beverages, non-alcoholic caloric beverages, french fries, potatoes, white bread, and foods high in saturated fat, trans fat, added sugars or sodium.”

My answer: Doesn’t wine need to do something drastic when it’s compared to french fries, white bread, and sugar-sweetened beverages? When consumers think your product is as nasty as french fries, you’ve got nothing else to lose.

So read this, and know the way the world is going. And know that the wine business is headed in a completely different direction.

More about nutrition and ingredient labels:

Wine and GMO labeling
Update: Nutrition labels and what the wine business doesn’t understand
Nutrition labels for booze

Winebits 581: Wine humor, Cooper’s Hawk, wine palates

wine humorThis week’s wine news: Even The Onion can’t make wine humor funny, plus Cooper’s Hawk may be for sale and women may not have better palates than men

Still not funny: The Onion, which can make almost anything funny, can’t do it with wine. A recent effort mostly recycled the cliches that have bored millions for decades, including this: “MYTH: Red wine lowers blood pressure. FACT: It’s probably not great that you’re so eager to justify drinking poison.” The blog has long considered why so much wine humor isn’t funny, but to no avail. One would think that wine offers so many targets that it would make us laugh without any effort. But apparently not. One scholarly paper, without naming wine, does offer an explanation about how humor works, and wine doesn’t really fit into any of them. Could it be that wine is so boring and cliched that wine humor is an oxymoron?

On the market? Cooper’s Hawk, the Illinois-based winery and restaurant with 25 units in nine states, may be the next target for restaurant conglomerate Darden, which owns Olive Garden and LongHorn Steakhouse. Ron Ruggles of Nation’s Restaurant News reports that the chain fits “quite well with what Darden would ideally seek.” And the 325,000-member wine club and 30 percent annual sales growth probably don’t hurt, either. The Wine Curmudgeon once judged with Cooper’s Hawk founder Tim McEnery at the Indy International, and famously told him the concept didn’t sound like it would be too successful.

Wine palates: Do women have better palates than man? That has been accepted for as long as I’ve been writing about wine, but one study says it may not be true. Research using wine competition scores says men and women taste wine with equal precision, something that bothered me when I read it. That’s because wine judging isn’t exactly tasting. As one expert says in the story, judging “is not very good sensory [evaluation] …. The sheer number of wines they go through in that time frame is hugely fatiguing. There has been some interesting work that shows that wine judging is very inconsistent.” So more work needs to be done.

Winebits 580: The “Is legal weed taking over the world?” edition

legal weedThis week’s wine news: The many sides of legal weed and its effects – real, imagined, and anticipated – on the wine business

Not really: Tim Hearden, writing in Western Farm Press, callas legal weed “a shiny new object” – but doesn’t see it hurting the wine business much. “But they’d have a long way to go to make a serious dent in California’s $1.53 billion wine industry, and I’m not yet convinced they’ll get there, at least in the near future.” His point is common among those I’ve interviewed over the past couple of months: “The nascent cannabis industry is sure to grow. Cannabis-infused beverage consumption rose by 61 percent last year in states where it’s legal. But I see it filling its own niche, not toppling – or threatening — California’s world famous wine empire.”

Really? Legal cannabis use in Canada didn’t grow as quickly as anticipated after legalization, reports the Canadian government. In fact, the number of users barely changed since last October, when weed became legal. About 4.6 million, or 15 percent of Canadians aged 15 and older, reported using cannabis in the last three months, reported Statistics Canada. That’s the same number as reported in the third quarter and throughout 2018. The story doesn’t delve into reasons, but whatever the cause, few of the experts expected so little growth.

Yes, really: Analysts expect a $600 million market for cannabis-infused beverages in the next several years – if someone can find a cost-effective infusion process. Bloomberg News reports that the the catch is a major one, since alcohol is water-soluble and cannabis is not. That means alcohol is absorbed into the bloodstream quickly, but cannabis takes far longer. So the trick with cannabis-infused drinks is to find a way for them to mimic alcohol’s affect on the drinker. And so far, no one has quite figured that out.

Winecast 34: Dave McIntyre, Washington Post

Dave McIntyre

Dave McIntyre

Dave McIntyre of the Washington Post says those of us who care about affordable, quality wine should be worried about the direction of the wine business. But he says we can fight back.

Dave McIntyre, the wine columnist for the Washington Post, has spent the past decade fighting for affordable, quality wine — no scores or winespeak, but intelligence and passion. He’s one of the best wine writers in the country, and I’d say that even if we weren’t friends who suffered through interminable wine trip bus rides and even longer Drink Local Wine conference calls.

Dave and I talked about the challenges of the wine business in the second decade of the 21st century and what those of us who care about quality and value can do to overcome those hurdles. Something is very wrong, Dave says, when the average bottle of Napa Valley cabernet sauvignon costs $67. But there is hope, as our experiences with drink local demonstrate. Consumers will buy interesting wines that don’t taste exactly like each other, which is the promise of the regional wine movement.

Click here to download or stream the podcast, which is almost 20 minutes long and takes up 7.2 megabytes (and that’s Dave’s dog, Ringo, chiming in at the end). The sound quality is very good to excellent; we used Skype’s new recording feature, which works surprisingly well for a Microsoft project.

Winebits 579: Super Bowl, robot bartender, liquor museum

super bowlThis week’s wine news: The WC’s readers didn’t desert the blog during the Super Bowl, plus a grocery chain installs a robot bartender and a New York City booze museum

Thank you, readers: This year’s Super Bowl must have been as lackluster as the score indicated, since the blog didn’t suffer its usual 30 percent drop in traffic. In fact, visitors increased 21 percent over a typical Sunday, the second year in a row for better than average numbers during the game. I’m not sure why – maybe it was everyone avoiding the third successive Yellow Tail commercial. “It tastes like happy” was dumb, but it was still a marked improvement over two years of the Roo.

Do you tip it? Gelson’s Narkets, an upscale grocer in southern California, has added the Somabar robot bartender to a couple of its in-store wine bars. The machine – which loads containers of booze and mixes the cocktail in 10 seconds, uses lower-proof spirits to mirror almost two dozen drinks, including margaritas and cosmopolitans. This allows wine bars to skirt licensing issues that prevent them from serving drinks with full strength spirits.

Thousands of items: A house on Staten Island is home to the Booze History Museum, with more than 1,000 artifacts in two rooms – a jumble of signs and statuettes, hundreds of different Russian liquor labels, and 10 glass cases of booze-related bric-a-brac. Says its founder: ““When you’re talking about alcohol, it’s always just drunken driving or breaking up families. Nobody talks about how many people are getting relaxation, how many people are getting enjoyment from drinking alcohol, how many people are getting together because of alcohol.”

Big Wine 2019

Big Wine 2019Big Wine 2019: It still has a stranglehold on what we drink, but the biggest companies aren’t quite as big

A funny thing happened to Big Wine 2019: The three biggest companies didn’t dominate the market in 2018 the way they did in 2017. Neither did the top 10. But the top 50 still sell 90 percent of the wine made in the U.S., according to the 15th annual Wine Business News magazine survey,

In other words, it’s business as usual for Big Wine. They’ve just rearranged the profits.

Still, before you get too depressed, know that the magazine study acknowledged that the wine business is in trouble, citing the usual reasons – aging Baby Boomers, competition from craft beer and spirits, and the neo-Prohibitionists. Or, as the woman who runs the company that makes the ubiquitous Kendall Jackson chardonnay told the magazine: “It seems tougher this year and it probably will be tougher next year. It doesn’t seem like it’s as easy as it was.”

Which, hopefully, is good news for those of us who are tired of higher prices, declining quality, and more plonk on the shelves. If Big Wine sees the problem, maybe they’ll do something to fix it besides putting sugar in dry red wine.

Among the highlights

• Sales by volume were almost flat, from 403 million cases in 2017 to 408 million in 2018. That’s a 1.2 percent increase, far less than the growth in the legal drinking age population. Which means younger drinkers are drinking something else or aren’t drinking at all.

• The average price of a bottle of wine sold in 2018 was $14, which includes restaurant sales. Hence, the number is higher than the average usually cited for retail sales, $9 or $10 a bottle.

• Imports, as a share of U.S. wine sales, were only 23 percent. That’s also much lower than the numbers usually cited, which range from one-third to 40 percent of all the wine sold in the U.S.

• E&J Gallo controls 17 percent of U.S. sales, and its Barefoot brand accounts for almost 5 percent of all the wine sold in this country. Which succinctly describes the power of Big Wine.

• The share of the three biggest producers – Gallo, The Wine Group, and Constellation Brands – fell to 55 percent in 2018 from 60 percent in 2017. The share of the top 10 companies declined for the third year in a row, from 84 percent in 2016 to 81 percent in 2017 to 78 percent in 2018. Was this decline caused by premiumization, since these producers tend to have the least expensive wines? Or was the cause something more ominous, related to the decline in wine’s popularity?

• The magazine said there are 10,047 wineries in the U.S. Take out the top 50, and the other 9,997 sold 31.5 million cases in 2018, or about 3,150 cases each. The average Big Wine company sold almost 6 million cases – making it almost 2,000 times bigger. Which, regardless of any changes in the market share among the 50 producers, shows just how top heavy the U.S. wine business is.

More about Big Wine:
• Big Wine 2018
• Big Wine 2017
• Big Wine 2016

Winebits 576: Free delivery, Dry January, booze moderation

free deliveryThis week’s wine news: Direct-to-consumer wine must solve the free delivery problem, plus Dry January in an age of booze moderation

The problem of free delivery: The latest numbers show that direct-to consumer wine sales – from the winery to the wine drinker, without a retailer – have increased again in an otherwise flat market. Of course, direct to consumer still represents a tiny part of the wine market, in the low single digits. And what’s holding direct sales back? One study suggests it’s charging for delivery: Shoppers “increasingly expect free delivery of items they purchase on-line. … 75 percent of the roughly 3,000 U.S. adults polled want delivery to be free even on orders less than $50, up from 68 percent a year ago.” The story goes into fascinating detail about how expensive free shipping is for the retailer – it loses about $2 on every delivery – and that consumers will pay only $1.40 for delivery. The study doesn’t address wine specifically, but the points are well made.

Dry January: Booze drinkers who don’t imbibe for a living are increasingly taking the month of January off, a fascinating development in the wake of of the slowdown in worldwide alcohol consumption. The link, from Self magazine, notes that Dry January is an opportunity to “reevaluate your relationship with alcohol.” This is an equally fascinating turn of phrase, since it implies that even moderate drinkers may be drinking too much and will benefit from giving up booze. I’ve noticed it on the blog — visitor numbers are down about one-third this month. Which raises an even more fascinating question: How did we ever get to this point?

Marketing to non-drinkers: Ad Age reports that Dry January, as well as other trends toward less drinking, “is forcing bars, restaurants and alcohol brands to adapt. More low- and no-alcohol products are in development, and some, like Heineken’s new no-alcohol 0.0 beer, are already hitting store shelves. Drinking establishments, meanwhile, are adding fancier non-alcoholic cocktails, or mocktails, to their menus as they look to keep their drink revenues flowing.” Again, how did we get to this point? And why does no one in the wine business seem to notice?