Category:Wine rants

It’s not local wine when you’re buying grapes from another state

local wineColorado craft brewer says its new wine is innovative, but it’s the same approach Big Wine uses

Craft beer made name its name on authenticity and honesty. This was in marked contrast to Big Beer, which kept selling the same worn out and bland fizz for no other reason than because that’s what Big Beer did.

So what happens when a craft beer producer moves into wine? Does it bring the same authenticity and honesty that it brought to beer? Not, apparently, if it’s a leading Colorado craft producer called Odell Brewing.

Maybe Odell Brewing has a reason for making its wine with out of state grapes instead of those from its native Colorado — which is hardly craft, authentic or honest. I asked, but never heard back from the company. Maybe someone there truly believes the twaddle in its news release, that Odell claims it “is dedicated to pushing the boundaries of modern American wine.” And that “we’re committed to making wine that is just as innovative as our beer.”

Because making wine with out of state grapes is the sort of thing that small wine producers criticize Big Wine for doing, and that those of us who believe in Drink Local have been fighting against for years. It’s neither innovative nor boundary pushing; rather, it’s just a way to cut costs, since those grapes will probably be cheaper than buying Colorado grapes.

And Odell’s wines – a red and white blend, plus two roses, and all made with grapes purchased from Oregon and Washington – are hardly breathtaking. And that the wines will come in cans? Not exactly innovative, either, not in the middle of 2020.

Let’s be clear here – Odell can do whatever it wants, and I’m not criticizing the company for making wine. Rather, it’s because Odell is pretending that its wine effort is something that it’s not.

In fact, I can’t help but think that someone at Odell and its wholesaler, Breakthru Beverage (the third biggest in the country) wanted to duplicate the almost unprecedented success of Cooper’s Hawk. That’s the restaurant and winery chain that uses California grapes no matter where its stores are located. For one thing, Breakthru is mentioned in the second paragraph in the news release, and that’s just odd. Why would anyone care who the distributor is?

So good luck to Odell – just don’t expect anyone who knows local wine to pretend your product is local.

One more reason to be wary of alcohol health studies

alcohol health studiesFinnish researchers find – gasp – that people who abuse alcohol have higher health costs

The Wine Curmudgeon, long suspicious of alcohol health studies, is not surprised by one of the latest, which links alcoholism with higher health costs. What is surprising is the headline on the news release: “Researchers put a price tag on alcohol use” – which, of course, has absolutely nothing to do with the study.

First and foremost, let me remind everyone I know first-hand the horrors of alcoholism and abuse. A friend died from them; two more are long-time members of abuse support groups. So I am not making light of alcoholism or saying it isn’t a problem.

Rather, it’s to note, once again, that there is a difference between alcohol abuse and moderate drinking, and which is something that has apparently been shunted aside in the rash of “all drinking is evil” studies we’ve seen over the past couple of years. Drinking is not cigarette smoking, no matter what one study claimed, and drinking wine in moderation is no worse, and may even be more healthy, than regularly eating nitrate-laced supermarket hot dogs. Which, of course, no one has yet done a study about.

This effort, on the other hand, was reaffirming the obvious. Finnish researchers, using what they called a “novel” methodology, say it costs an additional €26,000 (around US$30,000) over five years to treat patients with multiple alcohol abuse factors, such such as homelessness and drug abuse. It also recommends that people with alcohol use disorders should get better treatment for their non-alcohol related conditions.

Which is all well and good, but hardly unusual. So how did the release that ended up in my inbox carry that headline? After reading it, one expects to find the social and health costs of all drinking, moderate and abusive, listed. Which aren’t there and wasn’t the study’s intention.

Maybe the reason is as simple as the headline on the Finnish study being badly translated into English. Maybe it’s nothing more than more bad marketing and public relations work, each of which as gotten progressively worse over the past several years as agencies cut back on employees and training.

And maybe it’s part and parcel of positioning all such studies as being about drinking and doom, and working on the gullibility of newspapers, websites, and the like where the bosses are more concerned with their bonuses than with quality journalism.

I assume it’s one of the first two, and probably the second. I’m terrified it’s the third.

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.

Six things the wine business is doing to cut costs and drum up business during the duration

wine business

“Hmmm. How can I write about the same wine this year that I wrote about last year?”

It hasn’t been easy for wine producers, marketers, and PR types during the pandemic

Yes, we’re buying more wine over the Internet than ever before, but that doesn’t mean the wine business is healthy. Ask anyone at the biggest distributors who was laid off in the past eight weeks. So how else is the wine business cutting costs and drumming up business during the duration?

This is what I have seen:

• Using Styrofoam inserts for packing wine samples. I really haven’t seen any in a couple of years, given Styrofoam’s environmental evil. Most shippers have switched to cardboard liners or plastic bubble bags. But during the duration, Styrofoam appeared again, since it was probably sitting in a back room and has already been paid for.

• Samples from producers who wouldn’t normally speak to me, let alone send me wine. I’m not the only who has had this happen; several of my colleagues have reported the same thing. Said one: “What am I going to do, writing about heavy Napa cabernet, in the middle of summer?”

• Old samples, as in the same samples I got last year. I’ve never had this happen before, but one producer sent me the same rose they sent in 2019. This speaks to how much wine is sitting in warehouses, unsold and unloved.

• Emails every two or three months offering me the same wines they just sent me. This has happened two or three times this year, where a PR firm offered me wine at the end of last year and the same wine a couple of months later. And then a couple of months later.  Once again, this speaks to how much wine is sitting in warehouses, unsold and unloved.

• Virtual tastings, where I have to try and find the wine to taste with the producer. I don’t mind buying the wine, since I do so much of that anyway. But what’s the point of inviting me to a virtual tasting when I can’t find the wine to taste?

• Pleas for money. I’ve never seen this. Ever. But I one email I got from a wine trade association asked to help them find money to expand their marketing efforts during the duration. We’ll ignore the fact that my job isn’t to help them sell wine, but doesn’t asking for money from complete strangers smack of quiet desperation (to paraphrase Henry David Thoreau)?

Wine scores rant: Top-notch cava gets 86 points, about the same as a crummy supermarket wine

wine scores

“I said 86 points — so give it 86 points or I’ll put my fingers in your eyes.”

Wine scores show their failings once again in Cellar Tracker’s 86 point rating for spectacular Juvé y Camps cava

The Juvé y Camps Brut Nature Reserva de la Familia Gran Reserva is a top-notch cava, a delicious, elegant, and value-driven $15 Spanish sparkling wine. So why does it only average 86 points on CellarTracker?

Because wine scores are less than useless. They reflect the critic’s biases, and not the quality of the wine. We’ve shown this many times on the blog; sadly, this is just one more example. If the Juvé y Camps is only worth the same number of points as supermarket plonk, then I’m going to start buying $50, 15 percent Napa Valley chardonnay and write poetic odes to it all day long.

This is not a rant about any of the CellarTracker users who scored the wine so poorly. They’re entitled to their opinion. Rather, it’s about the failings of wine scores and the system that has grown up around them – a system that intimidates too many wine drinkers into drinking wine they don’t like. “Oh, it got 90 points, so it must be good,” they think, and then buy it and discover the truth and give up wine in favor of hard seltzer.

There are many reasons why the Juvé y Camps could have gotten such a low score, reasons that have nothing to do with the quality of the wine. Two are common.

First, does the reviewer like cava? One of the most difficult things I have to do as a critic is to review wines and wine styles that I don’t like, such as California merlot or Argentine malbec. That’s why so few show up as wines of the week. But at least I know my shortcomings, and try to allow for them.

Second, does the reviewer expect a Spanish sparkling wine to taste like Champagne, even though it’s not supposed to? This happens all the time, and even with the most professional critics. I was talking about cava with a sharp, smart wine writer who I like and respect at a competition several years ago. “Don’t much care for cava,” he told me. “It doesn’t taste like Champagne.”

So no scores on the blog – not now, not in the future, not ever. If scores turn an amazing wine like the Juvé y Camps into something that is barely ordinary, what’s the point? And yes, that pun is fully intended.

More about wine scores:
Scores, value, and the Wine Spectator top 100
Chateau Bonnet Blanc and why scores are useless
Wine business slow? Then boost the scores

Liquor law faceoff: Which state has the silliest?

Vote for the silliest liquor law in the U.S.

Voting is closed, and the winner is Indiana and its foolishness about not selling cold beer. Minimum pricing in Connecticut and Michigan were second. Thanks to everyone who participated.

We’ve talked a lot about the three-tier system during the duration, so what better way to continue the discussion than with a poll — pick the silliest liquor laws in the country.

The choices are hardly complete; that Mississippi isn’t listed says something about how silly the rest are. No doubt, I could have included something from almost every state. If I did miss one, leave it in the comments. Those of you who get the blog via email may have to go to the website — click here to do so.

My favorite, of course, is Utah’s Zion curtain. It’s mostly gone, but not to worry: The state has other safeguards to protect children from the glamour of working in a bar.


Poll image courtesy of The Fine Print, using a Creative Commons license

Greenwashing, wine, and Earth Day

greenwashingCelebrate Earth Day by understanding the difference between greenwashing and wine that’s truly green

Wednesday is Earth Day, an annual event that reminds us that we need to treat the planet with more respect. As such, it’s the perfect time to talk about greenwashing – a marketing technique where producers, manufacturers, and other companies describe their products as environmentally friendly or sustainable even though they may be nothing of the kind.

Sadly, greenwashing is not uncommon in wine. This is the time of year when wine writers are inundated with news releases touting how green a wine or a wine brand is, even if the product in the release isn’t especially ecological. That’s because green products are rated more highly by consumers, and especially by the younger consumers who aren’t much interested in wine.

So why not flog green wine? It’s made of plants, isn’t it? How much greener does it need to be?

A lot, actually, and starting with the glass bottle. Wine bottles are notorious for their excessive carbon footprint, and even wine critic Jancis Robinson, who is about as establishment as wine critics get, has seen the light: “Consumers as well as producers really need to rethink the issue of wine packaging.” That so much wine is shipped in glass bottles all over the planet just makes a bad thing worse.

The other handicap facing wine? It’s almost impossible in this country to figure out how green a wine is. Federal laws regulating organic wine are confusing and contradictory – an organic wine is legally different from a wine made with organic grapes. Organic wine is mostly about not adding sulfites, while wine made with organic grapes is closer to what we think of when we think organic potatoes or tomatoes.

There’s sustainability, and then there’s sustainability

In addition, the leading sustainability standard, promulgated by the Wine Institute trade group, defines sustainable as winemaking practices that “are environmentally sound, socially equitable and economically viable.” Does this mean sustainability only makes sense if it’s profitable?

Several years ago, I wrote a green wine magazine story, and an organic viticulture consultant in northern California put it plainly: “Consumers assume that wine, by its very nature, is pure and natural to begin with. Ask most consumers, and they don’t equate a vineyard with a factory farm the same way they do for other products. Vineyards are beautiful, and don’t look like a picture of a factory farm.”

In other words, wine is made of plants, isn’t it? How much greener does it need to be?

This is not to say that many growers and producers don’t take green seriously. I’ve talked to many who spend extra time and money to do the right thing, and sustainability groups in the Napa Valley and in Lodi have produced impressive results.

But it’s just so damn easy to greenwash wine. A recent survey found that consumers were more likely to buy wine that used terms like sustainable and organic — and this makes it worth noting that more than two-thirds of the wines called out in the infamous arsenic lawsuit in 2015 could have been certified sustainable.

So the next time you see an ad touting a winery’s stewardship of the earth, give it a second look. There’s stewardship, and then there’s greenwashing. It’s the least you can do for Earth Day.

Image courtesy of GreenBiz, using a Creative Commons license