Category:Wine news

Wine premiumization and the Winestream Media

wine premiumization

“Reportin’? We don’t need no stinkin’ reportin’.”

Wine premiumization may be ending, but you wouldn’t know it by reading the Winestream Media

By most measures, the end of premiumization is underway. Wine drinkers have been opting for less expensive wine over the past six months, and, depending on which expert is talking, the trend will continue and perhaps even accelerate. In other words, lower wine prices and better quality cheap wine.

But it would be difficult to know this from reading the Winestream Media.

I don’t write this to be snarky (well, maybe, just a little), but to point out how difficult it is to tell what’s going on in wine from its most important media outlets. Wine-searcher.com somehow managed to run these two stories almost at the same time – “Premium wine falls victim to the coronavirus” and “Wine sales defy doom and gloom.” And this doesn’t include the site’s regular roundup of all things high priced – “Bordeaux’s most expensive wine,” “Napa’s most expensive wine,” and (my favorite), “Brunello 2015: Another perfect vintage.”

At the Wine Enthusiast, meanwhile, one writer was salivating over $40 California gamay, which is about as premiumized as wine gets that isn’t cabernet sauvignon. And the Wine Spectator has reassured us that it will continue to cover the 2019 Bordeaux futures market, despite what the magazine’s Bordeaux reviewer called the pandemic’s “rude interruption.”

So, why?

Why is the Winestream Media treating this almost unprecedented moment in world history – and with all of the changes it looks like it will bring to wine – as just another minor sales blip?

• Because that’s what it does, and to expect more of it is expecting more than it is capable of. Yes, it may well be fiddling while Rome burns, but it doesn’t understand that Rome can burn. Rome is eternal, just like wine scores and $300 Napa cabernet.

Because it doesn’t want to see what’s going on, as Richard Hemming, MW, explained to us last week. If wine writers write things the wine business doesn’t want written, there’s a good chance the wine writers will find themselves persona non grata. As Hemming said, there’s no reason consumers should necessarily trust wine writers.

• Because there aren’t really any good numbers to describe what’s going on, even if a wine writer wanted to write about it. We’ve noted this on the blog many times, and another example came up last week. David Morrison at the Wine Gourd has made a specialty of parsing wine industry statistics, whether sales or scores, and noted last week about one sales study: “The conclusions seem to vary from quite accurate to wildly exaggerated.”

So what’s a consumer to do? Buy wine you like, be willing to try something else, and wait to see what prices will do. We’ll almost certainly see prices drop before the Winestream Media discovers most of us aren’t all that interested in $40 California gamay.

Join the Wine Curmudgeon for a virtual Happy Hour on June 11

virtual tasting

“Damn. Who knew a WC virtual tasting would be this popular?”

The WC will taste two great cheap wines, take questions, and maybe even go off on a rant or two

Blog readers spoke, and the Wine Curmudgeon made it work – with lots and lots of help from my friends at the American Wine Society. Hence, a virtual happy Hour at 7 p.m. EDT on June 11. Best yet, everyone is welcome, even if you’re not a member of the AWS.

So what will we taste? Cheap wine, of course – one of the blog’s favorite roses, the La Vieille Ferme, as well as one of the best cheap pinot noirs out there, from the always top-notch McManis family.

Don’t have those? Not to worry – drink what’s on hand, and we can visit anyway. I’ll talk about why I do what I do and why cheap wine is important, discuss the two wines, offer a few thoughts about wine during the duration, and perhaps go off on a rant or two. Plus, of course, take questions.

Click this link to join the fun; the AWS uses Zoom for their events. I’m part of an impressive group doing this for the AWS that includes Marnie Old of California’s Boisset Collection; Chris Pearmund of Virginia’s Pearmund Wine Cellars; and Meaghan Frank of New York’s Dr. Frank’s Vinifera Wine Cellars.

And a tip o’ the WC’s fedora to AWS executive director Dave Falchek for putting this thing together and asking me to participate. Few people are as passionate about showing Americans how much fun wine is than Dave.

Winebits 648: Massachusetts three-tier, AI writing, Amazon grocery

Massachusetts three-tierThis week’s wine news: Massachusetts is one step closer to allowing food stores to sell beer and wine, plus Microsoft axes people for AI writing and Amazon will open a traditional supermarket

Massachusetts three-tier: Supporters of a ballot question that would let Massachusetts convenience and food stores sell beer are step closer to voting on the issue. The state’s highest court rule that an election to allow the sales was constitutional. However, supporters must still gather enough petition signatures to ensure an election. The Massachusetts three-tier system is complicated, even for for the U.S., with state and local governments each issuing liquor licences based on a variety of criteria. The ballot measure would let local authorities issue licenses allowing food stores to sell beer and wine over and above the current system.

Thank you, Microsoft: The Wine Curmudgeon’s disdain for Microsoft is well known, but its recent decision to fire people in favor of machines is a bit much even for the tech giant. It will replace 50 journalists with artificial intelligence machines to edit news stories for the company’s MSN website. As noted on the blog, AI is coming – but it’s not here yet with something as simple as tasting notes. And asking AI to select stories and photos for the website – deciding story importance, how the pictures look, story and photo placement on the page, and so forth – is much harder than writing toasty and oaky (which I know from having done both for my entire professional career). But what do you expect from the company that gave us Windows 8?

Amazon not go? Amazon will open a traditional supermarket – and not an Amazon Go store – in suburban Chicago. This is huge news, and not just for Kroger and Safeway. If Amazon is serious about the grocery business, it will have to sell wine. So will it follow the others and throw up a Great Wall of Wine with fake priceing plonk or actually do something creative to benefit wine drinkers? The new store isn’t far from my mom; after Illinois lift its lockdown, I’ll ask her to investigate for the blog.

Winebits 647: Responsible drinking, wine sales, wine writing

responsible drinkingThis week’s wine news: We’re not boozing it up during the duration, plus what comes next as the country opens up and a wine writer discusses wine writing and objectivity

Not overindulging: You couldn’t tell from many of the medical warnings we’ve heard over the past couple of months, but a survey last week found that we’re not drinking more than normal during the coronavirus pandemic. Responsiblity.org, a group funded by some of the biggest alcohol companies int the world, says more than six out of 10 Americans are drinking the same or less as before the pandemic – and that includes 11 percent of us who say they’ve stopped drinking entirely. These studies can be unreliable, and that it was paid for by liquor companies gives another reason to wonder. Having said that, the numbers – 35 percent drinking the same, 28 percent less – jive with similar surveys from Nielsen.

What will it take? Nielsen reports that alcohol sales will have to continue to grow more than 20 percent to offset losses from closed restaurants during the pandemic. Which isn’t very good news for the wine business, if the Responsibility.org survey is correct. That means, as restaurants open at less than capacity, or don’t open at all, we’ll have to buy more from retail to make up the difference from what we bought in restaurants.

Hardly objective: Richard Hemming, MW, a Singapore-based wine writer, caused a stink in the cyber-ether last week when he wrote that most wine writers aren’t particularly objective and do consumers a disservice. “the wine media is frequently compromised by the close-knit nature of the trade. … The quick answer is money.” The industry has it, whether in samples or trips, and wine writers take those perks. It would be one thing for me to write this – which I do regularly – but that someone with initials after the name put this in print is mind-boggling. I’m trying to set up a podcast with Hemming to talk about this; as soon as we figure out a way to handle the time difference between Singapore and Dallas, I’ll post the podcast.

Winebits 646: Expensive wine, Grocery Outlet, drinking laws

expensive wine

“Oh no, expensive wine is endangered!”

This week’s wine news: Catching up with what’s going on that isn’t about rose

The future of expensive wine: Esther Mobley, writing in the San Francisco Chronicle, asks whether the coronavirus pandemic “will make luxury Napa Valley wine less relevant?” It’s one thing for me to write that on the blog; that’s the Wine Curmudgeon’s reason for being. But it shows old-fashioned newspaper gumption for Mobley to do it, since the Chronicle is the paper of record for luxury Napa Valley wine. Because as soon as I saw the piece, I knew Mobley’s bosses would be getting a variety of nasty emails, texts, and phone calls. “How dare she write something like that?” would have been the general tone.”We need her support more than ever, and she is tearing us down!” That’s when they usually threaten to pull advertising. And how do I know about stuff like that? Let’s just say it happened once or twice during my journalism career. Hard to believe, yes?

Grocery Outlet thriving: Grocery Outlet’s sales increased 25 percent during the first quarter this year, as shoppers flocked to the discount chain as food prices increased elsewhere. Grocery Outlet is known on the blog for its quality cheap wine, but its other prices can be as much as 70 percent lower than full-service supermarkets. That has helped the chain, with stores mostly on the west coast, attract shoppers who are still looking for value despite the pandemic, say analysts.

U.S. drinking laws: The BBC takes a look at how U.S. drinking laws have changed during the duration. The story isn’t the news organization’s best reporting – it’s too long, unfocused, and depends on weak sourcing (trade lingo!), but that it did the piece at all speaks to the momentous changes that the pandemic has brought to U.S. liquor regulations. Which, of course, you read here first. It also includes the obligatory quote from a U.S. medical official saying that we’re all burn in hell if we don’t stop drinking so much.

Winebits 645: California grape glut, grape DNA, Pennsylvania liquor board

grape glutThis week’s wine news: The California grape glut, especially for high end cabernet sauvignon, continues worse. Plus, the Aussies misidentify a grape, and more fun from the Pennsylvania liquor control board

California grape glut: How much excess is there in the California grape supply chain? There “is still more bulk wine available than there are buyers for it, and that makes bottle price increases difficult to foresee, even as wine consumption has risen sharply. It also means you might get better wine for the same money,” reports Wine-Searcher.com after a wine business symposium last week. In addition, there is apparently more bulk cabernet for sale today than at any time in the state’s history. The kicker? Much of the excess is in high-end caberent sauvignon, so we’re “going to see some grapes meant for the higher-end market coming into the middle range,” says Mark Couchman, managing partner of Vintage Supply Partners – and that’s good news for wine drinkers.

Whoops: Identifying grape varieties without benefit of DNA testing is difficult; for decades, Chilean producers thought the carmenere grape was merlot. A mixup has happened again, this time in Australia, where wines labeled with the petit manseng grape were actually made with the gros manseng grape. The mix-up has been going on for almost 40 years, when the misidentified grapes were purchased from France. The seller, too, didn’t know what variety the grapes actually were.

Only in Pennsylvania: The Pennsylvania Liquor Control Board, much beloved by the blog’s readers, has decided that closing all of the state’s liquor stores in the wake of the coronavirus pandemic may not have been such a good idea after all. It has reopened about 15 percent of the some 600 stores in the state-run system. But those lucky enough to have a newly re-opened store near them will have to drink what they buy. No returns are allowed.

Winebits 644: Flat wine bottle, wine lawsuits, artisan wine

flat wine bottleThis week’s wine news: Meet the flat wine bottle, plus one more yummy wine lawsuit and trying to define artisan wine

Bottle of the future? How about a 750 ml plastic wine bottle, made from 100 percent recycled material and is flat enough to slide through a mail slot? The Wine Curmudgeon is beside himself with excitement. “I was surprised by how little the wine bottle had changed in the last 200 years,” Santiago Navarro told Wine Business International magazine. His goal: Find a bottle better suited to home delivery and that would interest younger wine consumers. The article reports that the bottle is lightweight and environmentally friendly — and it didn’t break when dropped more than four feet onto a tiled floor.

Bring on the attorneys! Regular visitors here know how much fun the WC gets from wine lawsuits, and this one is even better than most. JaM Cellars, which makes Butter Chardonnay, has filed a series of lawsuits against The Wine Group, which makes Franzia Bold & Jammy cabernet sauvignon and Rich & Buttery chardonnay. JaM alleges that the Franzia products infringe on its trademarks and “is likely to cause consumer confusion, deception or mistake.” Where’s Shakespeare when you need him? The story in the link does a decent job of explaining a difficult subject, complete with sidebar discussing legal precdents. To me, though the best thing is that JaM has been suing other producers since 2013 to defend its trademarks. One would think that the money would be better spent improving the wine, but I’m just a cranky wine writer and not a marketing guru.

So what is artisan? Artisan wine is one of those terms difficult to define. There is no legal standard, and Big Wine mostly uses the same production techniques as the smallest producer. And this news release, with its 40-word first sentence that is full of gibberish and jargon, doesn’t help matters much. It mostly does a mediocre job of promoting the company that says it’s going to help artisan wineries and doesn’t really say what it’s going to do to help them or what an artisan winery is. It almost makes me want to bring back the Curmudgies.