Category:Wine trends

Amazon Wine 3.0: Is the on-line retail giant getting back in the wine business?

Has Amazon figured out how to make wine work after two e-commerce flops?

Amazon has twice given up selling wine over the past decade, perhaps the two most notable flops in the e-commerce giant’s history. But it looks like the company may be getting ready to try again – call it Amazon wine 3.0.

The evidence comes from two places: First, a Washington, D.C.-area job posting for a “manager of alcohol public policy” – someone to “create, execute, and manage key public policy issues related to alcohol procurement and sales.” In other words, someone to navigate the three-tier system for the company, which it wouldn’t need unless it was getting ready to launch a major booze initiative. (A tip o’ the WC’s fedora to blog reader Tony Caffrey, who spotted the ad.)

Second, rumblings in the trade press that Amazon might buy or lease abandoned Kmart and Sears locations (and even Pier 1?) to open more Whole Foods; to set up some sort of warehouse/retail operation; to build more Amazon Go pop-up stores; or for something that no one but Amazon knows yet.

Amazon didn’t respond to an email request for an interview. But I talked to several supermarket analysts, and they agreed something may well be going on.

“Amazon doesn’t really get all that wrapped up in failure,” says Bill Bishop, the co-flounder of the well-respected Bricks Meets Clicks consultancy in Chicago. “It’s very much a learning organization. Wine in particular, and alcohol in general, is very attractive for an organization like Amazon.”

What makes Amazon think this effort will succeed when the first two failed? In 2009, it killed a test project called AmazonWine, in which it would have sold wine just like it sells books, computers, and garden hose, because the company couldn’t make it work given the complications of U.S. liquor laws. In 2017, it closed AmazonWine 2.0, in which it didn’t sell wine but sent buyers to winery websites to make the purchases – again, because of the complications of U.S. liquor laws.

It does sell wine on-line through Whole Foods, but the orders must be made using your local store’s website and you’re limited to the inventory at that store. Plus, you have to deal with a third-party delivery service and a potential delivery fee. Which is hardly the same as Amazon’s seemingly unlimited inventory and free Prime shipping.

The sense from the analysts is that the company figured out how to work within the three-tier system for what it’s going to try next, in much the same way that alcohol delivery apps like Drizly and Internet retailer Wine.com have figured it out. But don’t expect delivery, although that’s possible, as much as a variation on the current Whole Foods setup.

Amazon Wine 3.0

One possibility:

• You order wine from the Amazon website, which sends the order to a company distribution center in your state in one of those empty Sears stores. In this case, your choice could well be every wine available from your state’s distributors, based on the Drizly model.

• The Amazon retail/warehouse in the old Sears would have a standing inventory of the most commonly ordered wines, while special wines could be shipped from the distributor to the warehouse.

• You pick your order up at the old Sears store, in much the same way you can drop off Amazon returns at some Whole Foods stores.

The advantages here are obvious: Amazon has the booze supply chain infrastructure in each state where it operates Whole Foods, plus the leverage of existing Whole Foods liquor licenses. And, since you pay for the wine on the Amazon website, there’s less legal hassle about underage drinking. All you have to do is show an ID at the old Sears store when you pick up the wine.

In addition, says Bishop, advances in robotics may make it possible to run the retail/warehouse in the old Sears with a minimum of employees, trimming costs and allowing Amazon to undercut traditional wine retailers. Think of R2-D2s scurrying around the building, picking and sorting orders. The only humans needed would be to check IDs.

Will this happen tomorrow? Probably not. Will it happen in exactly this way? If I knew that, I’d be living in Burgundy. But I talked to some very smart people, and their consensus was that something like this makes sense, and it especially makes sense given Amazon’s seeming obsession with wine.

Coming soon to a YouTube near you: Wine Curmudgeon videos

Wine Curmudgeon videosIs the cyber-ether – let alone the wine world – ready for Wine Curmudgeon videos?

Is the Wine Curmudgeon going to be the Internet’s next viral sensation? We’ll know early this summer, when the first of two wine videos I made this week goes live.

I did the videos, featuring helpful, useful information about summer wine and restaurant wine, for the Private Label Manufacturer’s Association. The videos are part of the trade group’s quest to convince U.S. retailers to step up their private label wine effort – because, of course, Winking Owl. I’ll post a link when the summer wine video goes live.

The experience was unique. How else would an ink-stained wretch see a process that involves makeup, story conferences, green screens, and long discussions about what I should wear? I haven’t spent that much time worrying about my clothes since since my mother picked them out. I should also mention that I have spent much of my writing career gently mocking – or worse – those of my friends who did have to worry about that stuff. I suppose I will have to endure their gentle – or worse – mocking now.

The goal with each video was to avoid winespeak as well as the deadly dullness that overwhelms most wine videos (even those with big names and big budgets). We wanted to offer information that wine drinkers could use when they were staring at the supermarket Great Wall of Wine. Which I think we did.

A very large tip o’ the WC’s fedora to Sonia Petrocelli, the videos’ producer, and Richard Dandrea, who wrote them. Both made the process infinitely easier than I thought it would be, and their patience with my ignorance of all things video was much appreciated.

TV wine ad survey: 1980s Richards Wild Irish Rose

Constellation Brands sold its birthright in this month’s $1.7 billion fire sale to E&J Gallo — Richards Wild Irish Rose is the brand that made the company wealthy

There were many surprises when Constellation Brands sold 30 of its labels to E&J Gallo this month, but perhaps the most surprising was that Richards Wild Rose was included in the deal. The sweet fortified wine was named after Richard Sands, the son of company founder Marvin Sands (and who would eventually become its chairman when Constellation  expanded around the world). How important was Richards Wild Irish Rose to Constellation’s success? As late as the beginning of this century, it was selling 30 million cases a year. Those are Barefoot numbers.

Obviously, those sales weren’t because of this commercial. It’s not as offensive as some, and it’s certainly not as stupid. Rather, it’s almost bland, as if the ad agency can’t decide how to market a product with a less than stellar reputation. And I can’t figure out why the blonde playing the bass is in the band, other than to shake her very 1980s hair.

Video courtesy of tvdays via You Tube

Follow-up: Two days judging European grocery store wine

grocery store wine

Yes, that’s E&J Gallo’s Apothic and Barefoot for sale in Amsterdam — and no bargains either, at €14.95 and €9.95 (about US$17 and US$12).

Cleaning out the notebook after tasting European grocery store wine

Two days judging European grocery store wine

A few more thoughts after judging the Private Label Manufacturer’s International Salute to Excellence wine competition at the beginning of April, where my panel tasted 112 wines made for and sold by grocery stores around the world. (Full disclosure: I’m consulting for the PLMA in its quest to convince U.S. retailers to step up their private label wine effort. Because, of course, Winking Owl.)

• One odd contradiction: The best cheap European wines in the states, including cava and cabernet sauvignon, weren’t that great in the competition. I was especially surprised at the poor quality of the cava, which usually costs $10 here and is almost always a value. But the other judges told me that there wasn’t a lot of well-made €5 and €6 sparkling in Europe.

• We tasted a lot of wine made from grapes we never see in the U.S. This makes sense – why try to sell something like a white wine from Lugana in Italy in a country devoted to chardonnay? But it’s also a shame. Lugana is made with the verdicchio grape, which may or may not be an Italian version of my beloved ugni blanc (there’s some DNA confusion). The best one we tasted was stunning – crisp, fresh, and sort of lemon-limey, and for about €5.

• There’s sweet, and then there’s sweet. The panel spent a fair amount of time talking about residual sugar, and how much of it makes a wine sweet. In the U.S. we consider a wine dry if it contains as much as .08 percent residual, and something like Apothic, at 1.2 percent or so, is considered sweet. In Europe, the others said, the Apothic is seen as very sweet, while dry ends around .05 percent..

• Europeans don’t get to taste much U.S. wine. This surprised me, since we drink so much European wine. But, as I was reminded, most U.S. wine is sold in the U.S., and save for some Big Wine brands like Barefoot, there is very little wine made in this country that makes it to Europe.

Finally, the competition was held at the Amsterdam Hilton, where John Lennon and Yoko Ono held their legendary 1969 bed-in for peace. Their suite is still there, and you can stay in it for €300 a night. The bed-in business impressed me no end, given I still own considerable Beatles vinyl. But not, however, the 30-something Czech judge sitting next to me. Yes, he said, he knew who John Lennon was, but can we get back to tasting wine?

Photo by Dave McIntyre

Two days judging European grocery store wine

grocery store wine

Imagine those wines costing €5 instead of $15.

The Wine Curmudgeon spends two days in grocery store wine heaven

Imagine a delicious, fresh, cherryish Italian red for about $6. Or a Hungarian riesling, taut and crisp, for about $7. Or a $3 pinot noir – a little tart, but still more than drinkable.

Welcome to the world of European grocery store wine, which puts the junk that passes for supermarket wine in the United States to shame. I spent two days last week in Amsterdam judging the Private Label Manufacturer’s International Salute to Excellence wine competition, where my group tasted 112 wines made for and sold by grocery stores around the world. (Full disclosure: I’m consulting for the PLMA in its quest to convince U.S. retailers to step up their private label wine effort. Because, of course, Winking Owl.)

I couldn’t have been happier. For the most part, the wines – and especially those sold in Europe – were cheap and well made. Many would have made the $10 Hall of Fame, including the Italian red. Which, frankly, was spectacular. It was made in Tuscany with a local version of the sangiovese grape called morellino and was bright and fresh and interesting – all for €5. That’s less than the cost of a bottle of Barefoot, and half the price of a bottle of Cupcake.

In this, almost all of the wines we judged were everything I wish cheap wine in the U.S. would be – mostly varietally correct, mostly tasting like the region it came from, and widely available. Or, as the other judges on my panel, all Europeans, said to me at one time or another, tongue firmly in cheek: “Jeff, we didn’t know you had it so bad in the states.”

Little do they know.

That was the good news. The bad is that there are still too many obstacles to getting that quality of wine in your local Kroger, Aldi, Ralph’s, Safeway, and Wegman’s. Not surprisingly, the U.S. liquor laws and the three-tier system are at the forefront.

One judge, who used to be the buyer for one of Europe’s biggest grocers, said the regulations and restrictions governing U.S. wine sales are indecipherable to most Europeans – even those who are paid to figure them out. It has taken years to understand the system, she said, and it has been a long, tedious process.

In addition, the U.S. lacks Europe’s sophisticated private label supply chain. In Italy, for example, the supermarket buyer can make a couple of phone calls to get the morellino. Here, by contrast, retailers usually have to work through bulk wine brokers, a much costlier and more complicated process.

Still, if what I tasted is any indication, there are dozens of reason for optimism.

More on grocery store wine:
Aldi wine road trip
Can grocery store private label wine save cheap wine from itself?
Wine terms: Private label and store label

Wine business foolishness already underway as 2019 rose season draws near

2019 rose seasonExpect higher princes for 2019 rose season because that’s the way the system works

The 2019 rose season is barely underway, and the wine business foolishness is in full swing. How else to explain a $22 rose I saw in a top Dallas retailer the other day whose only claim to fame is that it’s named after one of the places the hipsters go to drink rose?

Or, as rose winemaker extraordinare Charles Bieler said during our podcast last month: Be wary – the wine business is going to do everything it can to screw up rose.

With that warning in mind, here are several things to keep in mind before the blog’s 12th annual rose extravaganza at the end of May:

• Expect to pay a little more this year, as much as $15 for quality pink. This isn’t as much premiumizaton as it is supply and demand, given rose’s increasing popularity. There is still plenty of top-notch rose for $8 and $10, but importers and distributors are going to try and take price increases where they can.

• Expect to see more very expensive rose – $50 and up – on the market. I talked to a Chicago sommelier for a magazine story about rose, and she said she can’t get enough of the pricey stuff. Apparently, high-end wine drinkers want trophy rose just like they want trophy red wine. Which defeats the purpose of rose, but that’s their problem.

• Expect to see the wine geeks lusting after Austrian rose. Yes, I know there is almost none of it and most of it don’t even know it exists (and especially if you don’t live on the east coast). But that’s why they’re wine geeks. California rose should also be trendy this season, as more mainstream wine drinkers decide to try rose but will only buy it if it comes from the same region they buy merlot and chardonnay.

TV wine ad survey: 1970s Boone’s Farm Wild Mountain

How bad is this TV wine ad for Boone’s Farm? As bad as they come, unfortunately

The one thing that has been sadly consistent during the blog’s historical survey of TV wine ads is their incompetence. Past incompetent, actually, in which the infamous Orson Welles Paul Masson commercial is merely bad.

The latest example? This TV wine ad for Boone’s Farm Wild Mountain “grape wine” from the early 1970s. Those of a certain age will remember Boone’s Farm as the stuff one got drunk on as a teenager; those not of a certain age will be glad they don’t have to remember it.

The Boone’s Farm ad is so awful that it doesn’t require any more analysis. Watch and groan. And then wonder why TV ad quality hasn’t improved all that much between then and today. Right, Roo?

Video courtesy of KTtelClassics via You Tube