Category:Wine news

Winebits 575: Prohibition and the Klan, Oregon wine, Millennials and wine

Prohibition and the KlanThis week’s wine news: How the Ku Klux Klan supported Prohibition, plus Oregon tightens its wine label laws and Millennials are abandoning wine

Prohibition and the Klan: Lisa McGirr, writing in the New York Times, offers that Prohibition was about more than religious, anti-drinking fervor and trying to protect working families from the evils of early industrialization. In addition, “anti-liquor crusaders found a powerful new ally in the so-called second Ku Klux Klan. … the organization snowballed after 1920 in the Midwest and West … [and] drew in a bumper crop of new recruits with their anti-Catholic, anti-immigrant, white supremacist message. … the anti-liquor crusaders ushered in the mixed-sex, alcohol-laced, night-life leisure Americans have known ever since.” She describes one incident in the early 1920s in southern Illinois (where I later worked as a young newspaperman) that led to repeated violence, 14 deaths, and the National Guard.

Defining Oregon wine: The Oregon wine industry had to fend off a major challenge from an important California producer in 2018; the latter tried to label his California-made wine as “Oregon” in defiance of federal regulations. The Oregon legislature, not satisfied with what it saw as a tardy and insufficient federal response, will consider “a measure aimed at preventing out-of-state winemakers from hijacking the names and reputations of certain growing areas.” This dispute is not as wine geeky as it sounds. Rather, it speaks to the growing power and hubris of many large producers, who see bending the law to their advantage as just another way to do business.

Bye, bye Millennials: The Wine Curmudgeon and the annual SVB wine report aren’t the only ones who have noticed younger people don’t much care about wine. The Wine Intelligence US Landscapes 2019 report “found there was a ‘marked decline’ in the frequency that wine (and alcohol generally) was drunk among people aged under 35, with around 3 million people aged 21-35 falling out of the category.” Said the Wine Intelligence CEO: “As a category we need to realize we are in a pitched battle for the hearts and minds of the next generation. They are becoming less connected with alcohol generally, for a variety of health and lifestyle reasons. … This report should be seen as a wake-up call to our industry’s biggest and most exciting wine market.’ ”

Bud Light debuts new and improved ingredient labels

If Big Beer understands the need for ingredient labels, why is it so difficult for wine to do the same?

ingredient labelsBudweiser is beefing up the ingredient labels on its Bud Light beer. Yes, that Budweiser, whose marketing gurus think the above video is witty and whose product is seen by many as the reason for craft beer.

Yet, somehow, Bud and its parent, Anheuser-Busch, are smarter and more modern and more progressive then the wine business. Wine has  viewed nutrition and ingredient labels as the spawn of the devil since the end of the 20th century, despite their value in the fight against the neo-Prohibitonists. Is it any wonder I’m not the only one worried about the future of the wine business?

Writes the Associated Press: “Bud Light went with a big, black-and-white label, similar to the ones required by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration on packaged foods. … ‘We want to be transparent and give people the thing they are used to seeing,’ said Andy Goeler, vice president of marketing for Bud Light. … [He] said the brand’s research shows younger drinkers, in particular, want to know what’s in their beer.”

Shocking news, of course, to everyone but the wine business. I’ve been writing about nutrition and ingredient labels for wine since since my newspaper days, and the message has remained the same: Why ketchup and not wine? Why not transparency? What is wine trying to hide?

Or, as consumer advocates said in this 2009 story I did for Palate Press, the refusal to add ingredient labels ”puts the industry outside of the mainstream given developments in food labeling and consumer information. The goal, they say, is more information, not less. ‘It’s all about transparency,’ says dietitian Kathleen Talmadge, RMA, RD. ‘Any time the consumer gets more information, that’s a good thing. You want them to be knowledgeable about what they’re buying.’ ”

So Bud Light, one of the most simple and inexpensive alcohol products, has better ingredient labels than a $25 California wine. How much sense does that make?

2019 SVB wine report

2019 SVB wine report

SVB’s Rob McMillan: “The U.S. wine industry needs new direction and a changed focus.”

2019 SVB wine report says U.S. retail wine sales may decline this year, and the future  doesn’t look much better

Someone in the wine business may be more worried about its future than the Wine Curmudgeon. Consider these projections, from the 2019 SVB wine report that was released yesterday:

• How about a forecast that says retail wine sales in 2019, as measured by volume, could actually decline? This would be almost unprecedented in the post-1980s history of U.S. wine.

• Or that growth by value may be less than one percent, with even premiumization starting to slow?

• Or that younger wine drinkers, more interested in legal weed and paying off their student loans, aren’t showing any interest in picking up the slack left by the aging Baby Boomers?

Why does this matter to those of us who drink wine? Because Silicon Valley Bank’s Rob McMillan, the study’s author, is one of the smartest people in the wine business. How important has McMillan’s annual report become? This year, a vice president for Big Wine’s Constellation Brands participated, and the company doesn’t usually do those sorts of things.

So if McMillan says a slowdown is coming and the wine business needs to reexamine how it does business, then it had better. Or else we all suffer.

“This is probably the most important report we’ve ever put together,” McMillan said during Wednesday’s live videocast. “Starting now, wine has reached a tipping point. We’re not closing in on a tipping point, we’re feeling it.”

The videocast threw around a lot of jargon – I even heard psychographics – and several of the other panelists nitpicked about some of the conclusions.

But that didn’t change the hard news: Younger people don’t care about about wine the way their parents and grandparents did, They are focusing more on beer and spirits and legal weed, and they’re hampered by lower relative incomes and intimidated by the repeated attacks on wine drinking by the neo-Prohibitonists.

In other words, wine is too old, too Anglo, too snotty, and too out of touch with the younger consumers. So, said McMillan, “We have to look at what the wine industry is doing about it now and what can we do in the future to fix the problem.”

Also worth noting: McMillan, who invented the term premiumization to describe consumers trading up to more expensive wine, said he’s surprised to see it slow as it faces price resistance from consumers. Price resistance? What an amazing concept.

Finally, the Wine Curmudgeon’s suggestion to the wine industry: Sweetening dry wines and calling them dry ain’t going to do it. How about giving younger wine drinkers quality and value? I know — almost as revolutionary as the idea of price resistance.

Winebits 574: Restaurant wine, wine apps, mock wine cocktails

restaurant wineThis week’s wine news: One more example of restaurant wine’s inability to deal with reality, plus the failure of wine apps and wine drinkers should try booze free cocktails

Restaurant wine, yet again: That the Wine Curmudgeon can find so many of these restaurant wine pricing faux pas speaks to the problem: Those who price wine in restaurants aren’t living in the same world with the rest of us. A recent on-line story featured an up and coming sommelier bragging about his wine list: “These are my favorite things to pour for our guests: the wines that sell for $45 to $70 but completely knock it out of the park.” Given restaurant pricing, that means he looks for values among wines that cost $25 to $40 retail. Which misses the point of how much most of us actually pay for wine. A $40 bottle accounts for a couple of points of U.S. sales (if that much, depending on whose numbers you use). Hence, the sommelier is running his wine list for a tiny, tiny share of U.S. wine drinkers.

Waste of a download? Most of us use wine apps fewer than a dozen times and then discard them, writes Robert Joseph in Wine Business International. There are exceptions like Vivino, but most of us who “ downloaded the app did so because they were briefly attracted by the novelty of the technology. But that interest soon wore off; they seldom if ever feel the need to record their views of the red or white in their glass, or scan a bottle before buying it.” This matters because wine apps were supposed to making wine pricing more competitive, since consumers could compare prices on their phones. Apparently, though, that isn’t happening.

Bring on the mocktail: Do wine drinkers want to try booze-fee cocktails? Yes, says one of the leaders in devising mocktails that mimic their alcohol counterparts. “While it seems this may be only about soft cocktail recipes, the bigger picture is that it’s about connection, community, inclusion and taking good care of people,” she says. One suggestion for wine drinkers: spice mulled “wine,” made with apple cider and cranberry juice.

Winebits 573: Sweet red wine, pension plans, Barefoot

sweet red wine

Eric Asimov is not a fan of Big Wine

This week’s wine news: The New York Times’ Eric Asimov takes on sweet red wine, plus wine helps a pension plan go belly up and Barefoot reaches 20 million cases

An unlikely review: The Times’ Eric Asimov, who makes no secret of his disdain for Big Wine, discusses three top-selling Big Wine products in a recent Times’ wine school column. His comments about E&J Gallo’s Apothic and Constellation Brands’ The Prisoner and Meomi are almost as priceless as as the comments readers left. It’s also worth noting that the wines are sweet reds – Apothic more or less labeled as such, and the other two hiding sugar behind a dry red wine label. As such, there are three of the most contentious wines among those of us who do what Asimov does.

How to make a million in the wine business: Dallas’ police and fire pension fund almost went broke last year, and only tremendous sacrifices by the cops and firefighters – who weren’t responsible for the collapse – saved the system (which is a story for another day). The point for the blog? The pension system was so badly mismanaged that it had investments in wine real estate. How is that mismanagement? Because the first rule of the wine business is this very old joke: How do you make a million in the wine business? Start with two million.

Only 20 million cases: Barefoot, also an E&J Gallo brand, has grown to 20 million cases – or about one bottle for every drinking age adult in the U.S. That’s a mind-boggling statistic. The story from the Shanken trade news site is mostly puff (boxed wine is hardly an innovation in 2019), but it’s worth reading to note how important $7 Barefoot is to the health of the U.S. wine business. We can talk about premiumization all we want, but if Barefoot was a winery, it would be the fourth biggest producer in the U.S.

2019 $10 Wine Hall of Fame

$10 Hall of Fame 20198 wines entered the 2019 $10 Hall of Fame, but long-time standbys like Bogle and Segura Viudas dropped out

The Wine Curmudgeon never thought he would write these words: Three of my all-time favorites, wines I’ve been drinking for more than 20 years, weren’t good enough to make the 2019 $10 Hall of Fame.

Bogle’s reds (excepting the pinot noir), plus the Segura Viudas and Cristalino cavas were a shell of what they have been; none were included in this year’s hall, the 13th annual. The former were noticeably and unpleasantly sweet, and not nearly as well made as Bogle’s sweet Essential Red. The cavas tasted more like Italian Proseccos than Spanish sparkling wine, soft and sweetish and devoid of cava’s crispness.

And that was just the beginning of the bad news:

• More than a dozen wines dropped out, including two other standbys: The Gascon white blends that have been in the hall for most of its history, and the Dry Creek fume blanc. The best Gascon, Domaine du Tariquet, lost its importer and isn’t for sale in the U.S. anymore, while the Dry Creek tasted bitter and harsh, something else I never thought I would write.

• Higher prices continued to wreak havoc. The Chateau Bonnett red, white and rose, which cost $6 in Europe, can cost three times that much in the U.S. I left the wines in the hall because I can still find them for $10 or $12 in Dallas, but this may be the last year I can include them. Because, frankly, they’re not worth $16 or $18.

• The decline in quality was marked. The venerable Pine Ridge chenin blanc viognier, which was once Hall of Fame quality for $10, today costs as much as $16 or $17 and isn’t worth it, either — awkward, unbalanced, and touched up with residual sugar. Consistency has become a problem, too. A wine could taste the way it’s supposed to one time, and completely different the next. This points to shortcuts in winemaking, as well as use of less expensive and inferior grapes.

• Availability continues to get worse; witness the Tariquet. Meanwhile, distributor consolidation means wineries that produce 200,000 or 300,00 cases — once enough to rank among the biggest in the country — aren’t big enough to find a national distributor. Hence, they will only be sold in parts of the country. That almost happened to McManis, another Hall of Fame standby, in 2018.

I wrote last year “this may be the last Hall of Fame for a long while where this many wines are good enough to earn induction. The quality at $10, and even $15 or $18, isn’t there, sacrificed for ‘smoothness,’ the chance to upsell consumers to equally inferior wine, and a resurgence in cute labels and marketing trickery.”

I take no pleasure in being right.

The $10 Wine Hall of Fame 2019 is here. You can also find it at the Hall of Fame link at the top of the page. The Hall’s selection process and eligibility rules are here. I considered wines that cost as much as $12 or $13 to take into account price creep and regional pricing differences.

You’ll be able to print the Hall as either a text file or a PDF. Look for the icon on the upper right hand corner of the post.

Winebits 572: Texas ABC, restaurant wine, fake Prosecco

Texas ABCThis week’s wine news: Texas liquor retailer sues the Texas ABC, plus a restaurant tries to solve the industry’s wine problem and Italian authorities seize fake Prosecco

Texas ABC lawsuit: The Texas Alcoholic Beverage Commission, which has been plagued by scandal, mismanagement, and more scandal over the past several years, is in even bigger trouble. Spec’s, the largest independent retailer in the state, has sued the agency for malicious enforcement. The federal lawsuit is the result of the TABC’s attempt to fine Spec’s $700 million after a lenghty investigation a couple of years ago.. The catch? Two judges dismissed the agency’s suit against Spec’s, saying the charges were completely unsubstantiated. Why does this matter to wine drinkers in the rest of the country? Because it might mean the end of the TABC when the state legislature meets early next year. It almost dissolved the agency two years ago, and pressure is mounting to kill it in the upcoming session. If that happens, it will send a message to liquor cops across the country about how they enforce three-tier.

One last chance: An English restaurant chain, emerging from bankruptcy, says its new plan revolves around selling better quality wine. Says the new wine buyer for the Argentine-themed Guacho: “It’s always the big wineries [who are represented] – those who can afford PR, travel and marketing. But there are so many super-interesting smaller wineries in Argentina. It’s my duty to champion those guys. If no one gives them a chance they’re never gonna get an importer.” It’s a fair plan, the idea of moving away from Big Wine, and stands an even better chance of working if the chain keeps fair pricing in mind.

Lots and lots of fake Prosecco: Italian police have seized more than 80,000 cases of Prosecco from two producers. Police said each added extra sugar to the wine during fermentation to increase the alcohol content and exceeded their production quotas. The authorities became suspicious after finding some two tons of sugar at the wineries. No doubt the wineries should have been more subtle.