Category:Wine news

Winebits 594: All rose, all the time

roseThis week’s wine news: All rose, all the time, to celebrate the blog’s 12th annual rose extravaganza

Under $15: The Refinery29 website lists 14 roses costing less than $15, and it’s mostly a good list – including a couple of canned pinks. Credit for sticking to affordable wines, which rarely happens with rose these days. Availability may be a problem, but there’s nothing new about that, is there? The biggest dud on the list is Aldi’s $8 Exquisite Collection Côtes de Provence, which wowed NBC’s Today show last year (and which underwhelmed me). This vintage, though, isn’t even that well made. I bought it last night, and it wasn’t really Provencal in style, had some sort of weird Jolly Rancher fruity sweetness, and was very disjointed. The bottle is still three-quarters full; that almost never happens in my house.

Rose beer: Because that’s what the world needs, right? MarketWatch reports that two Texas producers, Spoetzl Brewery and Kiepersol Winery in east Texas, have combined for a rose-flavored beer. The beer uses grape must and is aged in wine barrels, and is supposed to be made in a style ro accentuate the rose flavor. I’ll leave the verdict about whether it’s worth drinking to those much younger and much more hip than I.

25 best roses: VinePair lists its 2019 rose honor roll, and it’s proud that the “prices are reasonable” for the 25, since only two cost more than $30. Frankly, I’d rather drink three bottles of the Bieler Sabine than buy a $30 rose, but I may be too old and not hip enough to appreciate rose any more. Plus, save for the $10 Tortoise Creek from the great Mel Masters and the Sicilian Planeta pink, the list is missing a lot of top-notch roses, and especially from Spain.

Land, Kendall Jackson, land: The biggest factor in California wine prices

California wine prices

Jackson Family Estates doesn’t want to make $10 wine, but there it is.

Real estate, not foreign tariffs, determines California wine prices

Consider two wines: Both white Rhone-style blends, both from respected wineries, both speaking to varietal character and terroir, both well-made and enjoyable. One costs $24; the other costs $12. So what’s the difference?

Vineyard land prices in California. The $24 wine is Eberle’s Cotes de Robles Blanc from Paso Robles, where land goes for $30,000 to $35,000 an acre. The $12 wine is McPherson’s Les Copains White from Texas’ High Plains, where land goes for less than $5,000 an acre. Otherwise, save for a fancier screwcap on the Eberle, the wines are the same – mostly the same grapes, the same style, and the same flavors (some lime and stone fruit, very clean and crisp).

We’ve spent a lot of time on the blog over the past couple of weeks discussing the Jackson Family Estates proposal to raise a tariff wall to keep cheap imports out of the U.S. What we haven’t discussed is the role that the cost of California land plays in all of this.

More than anything, that’s why California wine prices are as high as they are. The land – even in the less famous regions like Paso Robles – can be some of the most expensive in the world. Equally as important, a lot of vineyard land in Europe — even quality land — was paid for decades ago, so the price of a bottle may not include the cost of the loan to buy the land. In some parts of California, the cost of the mortgage is the difference between a $50 and $60 bottle of wine.

And the more demand for California wine that there is, the more money people will pay for California vineyards. And higher land prices in California mean more expensive grapes and more expensive grapes mean more expensive wine. It’s that simple.

That’s because all else is mostly equal: The cost of labor, the cost of the bottle, the cost of shipping, and it doesn’t matter whether you’re in Texas, California, or France. In fact, California might have a slight edge in some production costs, since it’s the center of the U.S. wine business. So, in the end, the price of the land in determines California wine prices.

Jackson Family, like other big California producers, likes high land prices. High prices make the company more valuable. So when it says it can’t afford to make $10 wine, it’s being honest – but it’s also crying crocodile tears. It has decided premiumization is the future of wine, and it doesn’t want to make $10 wine. Smaller producers, faced with the same land price constraints, aren’t nearly as sanguine. Many have told me they see their wines being squeezed out of the market by companies like Jackson Family, who can work on smaller profit margins on an $18 bottle and undercut the smaller producers.

The irony? There’s plenty of cheap land in California to make $10 wine, which is where Barefoot, Two-buck Chuck, and much of the state’s cheap wine comes from. It’s in the Central Valley, where a ton of grapes can cost as little as $300, one-sixteenth of the price in Napa. And, in another irony, premiumization has made this land even cheaper – so cheap, in fact, that some farmers are replacing grape vines with almonds, which offer higher profits.

In other words, Jackson Family Estates could do what E&J Gallo (Barefoot), The Wine Group (Franzia), and Bronco (Two-buck Chuck) do – use Central Valley grapes to make $10 wine. But it’s easier to ask for a tariff wall and punish U.S. wine drinkers. Which should demonstrate exactly where Jackson’s interests lie, and it’s not with the wine drinkers.

Rose celebration 2019 begins on Tuesday

rose celebration 2019Win four Luminarc wine glasses during the blog’s rose celebration 2019

The blog’s 12th annual rose extravaganza begins on Tuesday — rose celebration 2019. This is the third consecutive year we’ll devote most of the week to celebrate rose, perhaps the last bastion of great cheap wine.

Plus, of course, a giveaway — four Luminarc wine glasses on Thursday when I list the the best roses available this season. Plus, two more days of rose reviews, as well as rose news on Tuesday.

Will the next great wine movie be about drink local?

drink local

Todd Kliman

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.

Winebits 593: Sommelier scandal, wine scores, sparkling wine glasses

This week’s wine news: Ron Washam puts the sommelier scandal in focus, plus more on why wine scores don’t work and yet another examination of sparkling wine glasses

• “Ethics and truth are Roundup for the wine business:” Ron Washam, writing on Tim Atkin’s website, offers some much needed perspective on last fall’s sommelier scandal, in which a then-sommelier apparently gave a list of the wines to be used for the blind tasting portion of the master sommelier exam to one of the candidates. “The wine world moves on,” he writes, “unconcerned with ethics and truth, as well it should. Ethics and truth are Roundup for the wine business. You don’t want to use them liberally, or at all, they pretty much destroy the ecosystem.” As Washam notes, the Court of Master Sommeliers has brushed the scandal under the rug, and sommeliers remain wine royalty. Is it any wonder that I worry about the future of the wine business?

No more scores: Ian Cauble, writing in the Robb Report, hits scores firmly up the side of the head: “A high score doesn’t always mean the wine is excellent. …” he says, and then explains why. In this, his is one more voice trying to free us from the tyranny of 92 points. “Don’t assume the score tacked onto a shelf is Holy Writ,” he writes. “Drink and acquire what you like. Above all, remember that wine is about the land, the people who make it, and the friends with whom you enjoy it. A single score never defines the full story.” I could not have said that better myself, and I have been trying for almost 20 years.

Put it in the glass: Christopher Walkey, writing for Glass of Bubbly, dissects sparkling wine glasses in all their shapes and sizes. In fact, there’s even a photo of seven kinds of glasses – just looking at it made my head hurt. The reason for the article is the past several years worth of carping about which glass best serves sparkling wine and Champagne. Which, to Ron Washam’s point, says a lot about what the wine business considers to be important.

Photo: “Sommelier” by Antonio Calero Garcia is licensed under CC BY-SA 2.0 

Winebits 592: Wine thefts, direct to consumer shipping, truth in wine advertising

wine thefsThis week’s wine news: An airline investigates wine thefts, plus the growth of direct to consumer wine shipping and a plea for more truthful wine advertising

Missing airline wine: Employees of Cathay Pacific airlines are being investigated for stealing sparkling wine, as well as ice cream and cutlery. The story is vague about what was actually stolen, and this may be more about a labor dispute than theft, but the point is well taken. As we’ve seen on the blog many times, if you’re going to commit a crime with wine, steal the good stuff. What’s the point of swiping the wretched plonk that those of us in economy have to drink?

Direct to consumers: Tom Mullen, writing on Forbes.com, gives a level-headed account of the history of direct-to-consumer wine sales in the U.S. – how it became possible for most of us to buy wine directly from a winery, bypassing retailers and distributors. The piece is a bit long, but any mainstream article that calls U.S. wine laws “sometimes archaic” and spends time discussing the history of Missouri wine is well worth reading.

More truth, less artisan: “I see far too many industrial brands calling themselves ‘artisanal,’ ‘family-owned’ or claiming their wines are ‘hand-crafted’ when they are anything but.” No, that’s not the WC ranting, but Dwight Furrow in Edible Arts. His argument is passionate but logical: The “issue isn’t whether there is an exact cut off point for what counts as artisanal. What is obvious is that wineries with annual case production levels over 50,000—enough to supply large retail stores—are unlikely to use artisanal methods. To claim they do is just false advertising.” His point matters more than ever as younger people, who are more sophisticated about advertising than their parents and grandparents, may be turning away from wine because they see those claims as hooey.

Top U.S. wine executive: Let’s make wine so expensive no one will be able to afford it

tax wine

“Buy California wine — or else!”

No, that’s not a Wine Curmudgeon joke – it’s a proposal by the man whose company makes Kendall Jackson chardonnay

No, this isn’t a Wine Curmudgeon April Fool’s post. It’s as true as it is unbelievable: A top U.S. wine executive wants to tax wine so that most of us can’t afford to buy it.

Rick Tigner, the CEO of Jackson Family Wines (home to  the legendary Kendall Jackson chardonnay), told a wine industry meeting last week that California can no longer afford to produce cheap wine. Hence, the federal government should tax wine imports because “we need a better, higher pricing structure.” In other words, $10 European, Australian, New Zealand, and South American wine should cost as much as California wine — because, of course, California wine.

Yes, that was my reaction, too. Wine consumption is flat and young people don’t seem particularly interested in it. So the man who runs one of the most important wine companies in the country wants to make wine even more expensive? That makes tremendous economic sense, doesn’t it? Let’s price wine out of the reach of most consumers, and our business will be even more successful.

The story was so incredulous that I almost called the reporter who wrote it to ask him if something had happened during Tigner’s speech. Was Tigner struck by a bolt of lighting? Was there an invasion of body snatchers? Does he have one of those evil soap opera twins?

I wasn’t the only one who was dumbfounded. A European wine analyst told me she was surprised a leading wine company official would say something like that. A Napa wine marketer said it was just one more example of California arrogance — because, of course, California.

Tigner overlooked two things (besides the most basic laws of supply and demand):

First, 95 percent of U.S. consumers won’t pay more than $20 for a bottle of wine – perhaps my favorite wine statistic, courtesy of the Wine Market Council. So who is going to buy all the expensive wine that tariffs will give us?

Second, Tigner can complain that other countries tax California wine unfairly as much as he wants, but that’s irrelevant. U.S. wine exports measured by cases (mostly from California) are insignificant – barely more than 10 percent of what we produce each year. That’s because we drink almost all the wine made here, so there isn’t much left to sell to the French (assuming they would want it). In fact, U.S. wine exports are so trivial that two of our biggest markets are Nigeria and the Dominican Republic, countries not usually associated with wine culture.

So, no, taxing my $10 Gascon white blends, Spanish cava, and Italian red blends won’t save the California wine industry from itself. The only ones who can do that are part of the California wine industry, which tells us everything we need to know about how that will turn out.