Category:Wine news

Tuesday winebits 77: Wine importers, vineyard prices, fast food wine

? The best wine importers: Mike Steinberger at Slate has written one of the best guides ever to understanding wine importers ? the people who bring non-U.S. wines into the country. It gets a bit wine geeky at times and it ?s too long, but, overall, well worth the effort. ?The importance of importers ?the quality of their selections, the care with which they treat their wines ?remains paramount, ? he writes, and includes a cheat sheet you can print, clip and carry with you to consult at a retailer or restaurant. I ?ve touched on this subject briefly; now I don ?t have to do anymore.

? California vineyard price update: It looks like prices for vineyard land in Napa and Sonoma are finally leveling off, especially for the highest-priced land. They still aren ?t falling, reports my old pal Paul Franson, but the go-go days of the middle of this decade seem to be over. However, a prime acre of Napa land still costs $300,000 ($125,000 an acre in Sonoma), so it ?s all relative. Interestingly, writes Franson, few properties seem to be for sale, something that may be helping to hold up prices. What happens at the end of the year, if wineries and growers are forced to sell land, is anyone ?s guess.

? Do you want wine with that? A Pacific Northwest burger chain has started serving wine and beer, which seems like a quite welcome development. The Burgerville chain, with 39 locations in Oregon and Washington, is testing beer and wine at a store in Vancouver. If successful, the chain expects to add the program elsewhere within the next four to six months. It is serving mostly local beer and wine, but prices aren ?t fast-food — $6.50 to $9 for a glass of wine.

Texas crop update

And it ?s not good at all. Some of the state ?s best vineyards are reporting significant losses, thanks to a series of late winter freezes and thaws that followed in rapid succession.

Neal Newsom, whose Newsom Vineyards in west Texas supplies grapes for some of of the state ?s leading producers, says he may get as little as half a crop from his 95 acres — and his experience may be typical. Newsome says his grapes mostly made it through a first freeze at the end of March, but didn ?t survive a second freeze. Temperatures had climbed into the 70s and 80s between the two freezes, and buds started to appear. Then, when the second freeze occurred a couple of weeks after the first, the budding grapes were set up to die.

The problem, says Newsom, was not so much the second freeze, which hit 21 degrees around Easter weekend. It ?s not unusual to see a freeze that late in the year. Rather, it was the unseasonably warm temperatures between the freezes, which made the vines  bud earlier than usual.

This is the fourth consecutive year that west Texas will produce less than a full crop, thanks to bad weather. Reports from the rest of the state aren ?t good, either, including the Hill Country between Austin and San Antonio. Rick Naber at Flat Creek near Marble Falls told me he may have lost more than half his crop.

Tuesday winebits 76: Recession update, Bordeaux futures, Corkeeper

? Recession-related woes? The recession is not a short-term problem and wineries should expect it to last beyond this year, says one of the wine industry ?s top financial experts. ?This is not a fear mongering, the world is coming-to-an-end scenario, but it is a real bump in the road, ? says Rob McMillan, founder of Silicon Valley Bank ?s Wine Division. ?We are going to be bumping around in a rocky business climate for a number of years. ? McMillan says to expect more layoffs and more labels to go away.

? Bordeaux futures squabble: Yes, this doesn ?t apply to most of us, but it is fun to watch. Decanter, which follows the ins and outs of futures pricing the way ESPN covers sports, reports that many British wine merchants are furious with Robert Parker, who sent prices for the 2008 Chateau Lafite futures soaring after a positive review. Said one: ?No one else believes this vintage is outstanding. ?

? Mother ?s Day gift: Stuck for an idea? And apparently, many of you are. Then how about the Corkeeper? The Wine Curmudgeon can ?t vouch for it personally, but does seem an improvement over throwing wine corks in a kitchen drawer. I ?ll have Mother ?s Day wine ideas on Thursday, plus a Mother ?s Day wine of the week on Wednesday. The conference

The conferece is Aug. 14-15 in Dallas. We ?re going to bring some of the best wine bloggers and writers in the country to Dallas in August for the first conference. This will be the start of what co-founder Dave McIntyre and I hope will be an annual event that moves around the country to key regional wine states. And yes, it will be open to the public – ? seminars and a Texas Twitter wine tasting included.

The details are on our new and improved Web site – ?, which includes a DLW blog, with links to some of the best regional wine writing in the country. We are also Twittering (may the wine gods protect the world) and we have a Facebook page. We ?re at 300 fans in just three days on Facebook, and I don ?t understand that at all. (I ?m not complaining – ? I just don ?t understand it.)

I ?ll have more on the conference as we get closer to the date. Everyone is welcome – ? we ?ll have registration information in six weeks or so. But we already have commitments from some of the top regional wine people in the country, including winemakers, growers, sommeliers, and writers, to speak.

And you know something? Even the Wine Curmudgeon is excited about this. And how often does that happen?

Women and wine: What do they want?

Do 8 out of 10 women really prefer red wine? Not to be treated like women, apparently ? or at least treated like a marketer ?s idea of a woman.

That ?s one of the most interesting results of a study conducted by Vinexpo, a French wine trade group, in conjunction with four magazines around the world. Just 4 percent of the respondents in the U.S. portion of the survey said they bought wine based on what the label looked like. Most women ? two-thirds ? said they bought wine based on the grapes that were used to make it.

This is revolutionary, if true. The wine business has spent the past 15 years designing labels specifically designed to sell wine to women, like Little Black Dress and Mad Housewife. I can see millions of marketers running around the office in a panic after reading this.

But it ?s not quite time for them to panic. The study, say its organizers, was not scientific. And, most importantly, in the U.S. it was conducted through the Wine Spectator Web site. This means it was almost certainly skewed toward more experienced and sophisticated wine drinkers, given the demographics of those who read the Spectator. I ?m willing to bet that the answers would be have been quite different if the survey had been done on a more mainstream site.

The two other results that should warn people the results may not be entirely accurate? That 93 percent said they drink wine at least once a week and that 79 percent prefer red wine over white and rose. If those numbers are correct, then all the sales data that companies like Nielsen and IRI spend millions gathering is wrong, and the wine world is much different than the statistics say it is.

Tuesday winebits 75: Dom Perignon for sale, wine drinking study, wine critics

? Is Dom Perignon parent for sale? That ?s the story that has had the wine world atwitter (pun fully intended) since the end of last week. Reportedly, French luxury goods conglomerate LVMH, which also owns Luis Vuitton, wants to sell its wine and spirits brands to Britain ?s Diageo, the drinks behemoth whose brands include Guiness and Smirnoff. The price is said to be around 12 billion euros, or about $15.8 billion. Why this deal and why now? The LVMH brands, which include Krug champagne, are some of the most prestigious in the world. Is LVMH feeling a recession pinch? Does Diageo see an opportunity to buy the brands at a recession discount? Or is this just more multi-national wheeling and dealing in which the investment bankers get rich?

? Just 7 percent of wine drinkers drink 80 percent of the wine: That ?s the finding from a study by Pointer Media Network, which says that 7.5 million wine drinkers in the U.S. consumer 8 out of every 10 bottles sold. For imported premium and imported wine, 4.7 percent drive 80 percent of the volume. Which, and not coincidentally, is about the same number as that for table and box wine — 4.6 percent drive 80 percent of the volume. This compares to the 15 percent figure from the Wine Market Council ? that is, 15 percent of Americans drink 91 percent of the wine,

? Wine critics and biorhythms: How do you get a critic to like your wine? Have the critic taste it when the moon is in the best position, of course. Tesco and Marks & Spencer, which sell one-third of all wine in Britain, invite critics to taste their wines only at times when the biodynamic calendar suggests the wines will show at their best. Hey, not even the Wine Curmudgeon can make this stuff up. Bunk? Hooey? Depends on who you ask. Biodynamics is gaining currency in the wine world, but what strikes me as even more important is that Tesco is a $94 billion company and Marks & Spencer is an $18 billion one. They ?re awfully big to go in for hooey.

Tuesday winebits 74: Cheap wine award winners, Maryland direct shipping, e-tasting

? Gold medal $10 wines: There were plenty of them at the prestigious Dallas Morning News Wine Competition this year, including labels that will probably surprise quite a few people. Among the golds were Barefoot zinfandel, Smoking Loon cabernet sauvignon, and Banrock Station and Black Box merlots. The complete list is here, in a searchable database.

? Maryland strikes out: Residents of the crab cake state won ?t be able to order wine from out of state (and a tip ?o the Curmudgeon fedora to Adam Borden, executive director of Marylanders for Better Beer & Wine Laws, for passing this along). The legislature recently killed a direct wine shipping bill, no doubt terrified by the thought of consumers being able to buy wine like the adults they are. Borden says, though, that much progress was made, and is optimistic about getting a bill passed in 2010.

? Virtual wine tastings: Kendall Jackson is offering wine writers and wine critics the chance to do tastings over the Internet, which it hopes will be easier for the wine writers than one of the usual dinners or tastings. It will also save the cash-strapped company, which did layoffs earlier this year, a bunch of money. I was asked to do one, but turned it down. It doesn ?t seem quite wine-friendly enough.