Category:Wine news

Has the next phase of the wine slowdown started?

wine slowdownToo many grapes, younger people who don’t drink alcohol, and slowing sales among all age groups are signs of a wine slowdown

Call it a tipping point if you don’t mince words or an easing of momentum if you do, but the results are the same. It looks like a major change in U.S. wine consumption is underway. Call it the post-recession wine slowdown.

Know four things:

• California wineries, faced with an oversupply of grapes from yet another bumper harvest and lagging sales, don’t seem to be buying as many grapes this year. In fact, their attempt to get out of grape-buying contracts in some parts of the state is causing controversy and bad blood.

Wines sales have slowed, so that even an industry cheerleader termed growth for this year at a “sluggish 0.2% projected pace.” These numbers, from the company that publishes the Wine Spectator, confirm what has been reported elsewhere many times – U.S. sales by volume won’t exceed the increase in the drinking age population for the foreseeable future.

• One of the world’s biggest spirits companies expects that the “low-[alcohol] and no alcohol cocktail movement will increasingly shape the bar world” in 2019. The report went on: “What is most notable, though, is the differing consumption habits of the younger demographic, with 46 percent of people under the age of 35 likely to order a mocktail (non-alcoholic cocktail), versus just 16 percent of over-35’s. “

Rob McMillan of Silicon Valley Bank, one of wine’s leading statistical gurus, says the industry is at that tipping point. McMillan says there will be more grapes than are needed to meet slowing demand, and that the industry must come up with a Plan B to sell its product in this more challenging environment.

In other words, we have too many grapes, younger people who don’t necessarily want to drink alcohol, and slowing sales among all age groups. But the industry is hellbent on selling more expensive wine as if none this was relevant – if it was still the heyday of scores and wine magazines in the 1990s and that post-recession premiumization would go on forever.

Consumers – and that includes most wine drinkers – vote with their debit cards. You can only sell overpriced and lower-quality wine for so long before they put their debit cards away. If that is happening now, and I think it is, then we have a wine industry selling something fewer people want to buy. And that is not a recipe for success.

Winebits 563: Wine snobs, wine theft, legal weed

wine snobsThis week’s wine news: Are tasting notes the last refuge of wine snobs? Plus, a tragic end to one of the biggest wine thefts ever and Big Beer gets into legal weed.

Wine snobs: Tim McKirdy, writing in VinePair, strikes a chord with anyone who has struggled with a tasting note: “But convoluted tasting notes inevitably alienate at least as many prospective consumers as they entice. It begs the question: Is it time to change the way we talk about wine?” The answer, of course, is yes, and if McKirdy sometimes writes as if he composing a university research paper, his points are well made. “If wine industry professionals truly want to make wine more open and accessible — besides providing free wine education for all.” he says, “sommeliers and critics should carefully consider when to use technical language. In wine, as in most things, it’s better to keep things simple.”

Suicide: A man charged with stealing more than $1.2 million worth of rare wine from Goldman Sachs CEO David Solomon apparently killed himself last week while his lawyers waited for him in court. The BBC reported that Nicolas De-Meyer, who was Solomon’s personal assistant, fell from the 33rd floor of the Carlyle Hotel in New York. Police said De-Meyer had used the money from the sale of the stolen wines to fund a 14-month globe-trotting adventure. He was facing up to 10 years in prison.

Big Beer and weed: One more multi-national booze company is getting into legal marijuana. Molson Coors Canada has foremed a joint venture with Canadian cannabis producer The Hydropothecary Corporation, or Hexo, to sell cannabis-infused drinks. Called Truss, the new company will develop non-alcoholic, cannabis-infused beverages for the Canadian market, following the country’s vote to legalize the recreational cannabis. This is at least the third deal between a leading alcohol producer and a Canadian company to get into the legal weed business.

The sommelier cheating scandal: Once again, wine reminds us it’s big business

 sommelier cheating scandalFirst, fame and fortune, and now a sommelier cheating scandal

Wine’s biggest secret is that it’s a business, just like coal mining or car manufacturing. That’s because it pretends to be something else, this huge family of wine lovers where yes, we have to make money but that’s not the main reason we do it. Which is just more hypocrisy to anyone paying attention, and which the sommelier cheating scandal amply — and sadly — demonstrates.

Know that I’m not tarring the innocent with this brush. The cheating scandal, revealed last week by Esther Mobley in the San Francisco Chronicle, involved a master sommelier giving a list of the wines to be used for the blind tasting portion of the 2018 exam to one of the candidates. The accused has apparently been struck off the Court of Master Sommeliers, and everyone who took the test will have to take it again. No one has said that the cheating goes past that, though Mobley noted that 24 people passed the 2018 exam, compared to 274 in its almost 50-year history. Still, the organization that runs the certification has seemingly been  open and transparent about what happened.

Sommelier-ing has become an industry in and of itself – movies, even. Sommeliers are the current rock stars of the wine business, perhaps even more quoted and revered than the celebrity winemakers who used to dominate the discussion. Or, as this story amply demonstrates – “curated by a master sommelier for taste” – why not cheating if those are the results? Talk about pedestals; only someone with initials after their name can decide if wine is worth drinking.

Consider that someone who earns an MS can make twice as much money – high six figures, in fact – than someone without the distinction. Which, regardless of anything else, is all the incentive one needs to cheat in 21st century America. Because, as a good ol’ Texan famously told me at the bar at Louie’s, “If you have to ask how much money is enough, you don’t understand the question.”

The best perspective on the sommelier cheating scandal came from someone who must take the exam again. The person, who asked not to be named, told the SevenFifty Daily website: “I will probably be one of the candidates who will not retake the exam. I know this is not the intent, but I feel like a martyr. I am embarrassed, though I did nothing wrong. I want to find a different industry to work in. I want this to be over.”

How sad is that? Isn’t wine supposed to be fun?

Winebits 562: Smoke taint, wine advice, non-alcoholic booze

smoke taint

I’m just not going to worry about smoke taint, no matter how much I read about it.

This week’s wine news: The cyber-ether is awash in smoke taint controversy, while we get more not very good wine advice from the Mainstream Media and non-alcoholic booze gets more popular

Fire damage? Wildfires in California and the Pacific Northwest the past two summers may have damaged grapes with something called smoke taint — or they may not have. And, even if the fires caused smoke taint, it may not affect most of the wine sold in the U.S. Ain’t writing about the wine industry grand? Smoke taint, say researchers, is caused by smoke from fires, leaving the wine with unpleasant “ashtray” smells and flavors. But no one is quite sure how to detect it or even if it can be detected before the grapes are crushed. Confused? Growers, especially after last summer’s fires, swore smoke taint wouldn’t be a problem. But some producers insist they’re wrong. More perplexing? The fantastic amount of coverage in print and the Internet, given that the grapes under scrutiny are used to make wine costing at least $20, which most of us don’t drink. But that’s how the Winestream Media rolls.

Stop me before I advise again: The Wine Curmudgeon keeps a weather eye out for wine advice in the mainstream media, where good intentions too often lead to bad advice. Witness this post from Lifehacker, which makes no sense at all and seems mostly to be a plug for the retailer doing the recommending. Please, editors: Make sure your reporters know the basics of wine before you let them write about it. You wouldn’t let them write that way about brain surgery, would you?

No more buzz: Will the non-alcoholic wine and beer market be worth will $25 billion by 2024? That’s the estimate from the Global Markets Insight consultancy. It cites several reasons: Improved brewing and fermenting techniques, which give the products the same taste and feel as those with alcohol, as well as increasing health concerns about booze from younger consumers. By comparison, wine sales in the U.S. total about $36 billion a year.

Winebits 561: Drink Local, three-tier, Dave McIntyre

drink local

Cool… a book about local wine trails

This week’s wine news: Drink Local gets a book, plus three-tier and the Supreme Court and Dave McIntyre celebrates his 10th anniversary at the Washington Post

All over the country: One more sign that drink local has become mainstream – a travel guide from one of the world’s leading travel publishers. Lonely Planet’s “Wine Trails: United States and Canada” includes 40 wine trails: The usual California, Oregon, and Washington suspects, plus Texas, Virginia, Vermont, Nova Scotia, Virginia, Pennsylvania, Colorado, Arizona, North Carolina, and Maryland. Again, if someone had told me I’d be writing about this book when we started Drink Local in 2007, I’d have laughed. And rarely have I been so glad to be wrong. So glad, in fact, that we’ll give a copy of the book away during Birthday Week next month.

Bring on the Supremes: The U.S. Supreme Court has agreed to hear a key three-tier case this term, though it may not be as important as many people are making it out to be. The court will decide the constitutionality of a Tennessee law that requires anyone who wants a retail liquor license to be a state resident. Residency laws are often used to keep out-of-state companies, like Total Wine, from opening in a new state (and was used in 2016 in Indiana to stop an Illinois chain from opening stores). This Tennessee case is a big deal, given how few three-tier laws get to the Supreme Court. But there has also been a lot of cyber-buzz that the court will use it to allow direct shipping from out-of-state retailers, so that someone in Texas, for example, can buy wine from a store in Illinois. Currently, that’s illegal in most of the U.S. I checked with the blog’s liquor law attorney, and he says it’s too early to tell if a residency case could transform into a direct shipping case. If anything develops, I’ll write more.

Congratulations, Dave: My pal Dave McIntyre, who was a co-founder of Drink Local Wine, recently celebrated his 10th anniversary as the Washington Post’s wine critic. This is most welcome news, and not just because Dave and I have been friends for a long time. He possesses a fine palate, cares about quality and value, and wants to share those things with his readers. Would that more people who do this thought the same way.

Winebits 560: Wine trends, Wine Spectator lawsuit, Coke and weed

wine trendsThis week’s wine news: The Italian Wine Guy notes several disturbing wine trends, plus the Wine Spectator sues another magazine, and Coke wants in the weed business

Making money: Apparently, I’m not the only one worried about the future of the wine business. The Italian Wine Guy, who spent the last three months visiting retailers and restaurants around the country, writes that price “seems to be one of the biggest factors. It’s the economy, stupid. The wine trade has often been a race to the bottom, and these days, there is a significant concern for revenue and profit.” Consumers, he was told, are showing “high anxiety over a buying decision.” In other words, not everything is peachy-keen in the era of premiumization. And his take on the three-tier system? Intriguing and insightful for someone who used to work for the biggest distributor in the world.

It’s time for the lawyers: The Wine Spectator is suing a new marijuana magazine called the Weed Spectator for infringing its trademarks and copying its familiar 100-point rating scale for wine to rate cannabis. Reuters reports that the filing says Wine Spectator owner M. Shanken has no interest in associating Wine Spectator and the Wine Spectator marks with cannabis, a largely illegal drug. Any association of this type is likely to tarnish the reputation and goodwill that has been built up in the Wine Spectator marks and business for decades, resulting in dilution of the brand.” I’m most fascinated by the charge the weed magazine is copying the 100-point scoring system. I’d love to watch that unfold in court, given how many people use it and that the Wine Spectator didn’t invent it.

One more time: Those of us with long memories still laugh about Coca-Cola’s failure in the wine business in the late 1970s. So its foray into marijuana beverages elicits a similar chuckle. Nevertheless, reports the BBC, “the drinks giant is in talks with [Canadian] producer Aurora Cannabis about developing marijuana-infused beverages. These would not aim to intoxicate consumers but to relieve pain.” Apparently, it would be a “recovery drink,” aimed at the same market as Gatorade and Powerade. I’ll leave that straight line alone – it’s almost too easy.

The cyber-ether loves the Wine Curmudgeon blog

wine curmudgeon blogTwo rankings put the Wine Curmudgeon blog among the top 100 wine sites on the Internet

Good news for those of us who love cheap wine. Two website rankings put the Wine Curmudgeon blog among the top 100 wine sites on the Internet for 2018.

Amsterdam Diary (and no, I don’t know why it ranks wine blogs) says the site is among the top 90 on the Internet, while Feedspot puts the blog among the top 100 sites.

This is a big deal, and not just because I like to boast about the Wine Curmudgeon blog. First, that I made these lists speaks to the need for credible, well-written information about the wine most of us drink. Which, of course, many in the wine business prefers we don’t know, since they want to sell us crummy, overpriced wine.

Second, I made the same lists as sites with more money, employees, and ad revenue, including the Wine Spectator, VinePair and Wine Folly. Here, of course, I do everything myself. That says a lot about how much you appreciate what I do — and is one of the reasons I keep writing the blog.