So how did Stella Rosa, owned by a little known Los Angeles wine producer, get this ad right? Because, after all, the company isn’t a huge multi-national with a massive marketing budget and creative geniuses on the payroll.
Best yet, the ad is not about making fun of wine snobs or showing impossibly beautiful people drinking wine that they wouldn’t touch unless they were being paid to do it. Because we know how little that has worked — and why we shouldn’t be surprised that Stella Rose sells more than 2 million cases of wine a year.
1 Wine Dude Joe Roberts and his new book, the “Wine Tasters Guide”
Joe Roberts of 1 Wine Dude was of the first wine bloggers, and remains among the best-known and most successful. And why not? As he told me last week when we recorded the podcast, “If a wine doesn’t give you pleasure, what’s the point of drinking it, regardless of what I think about the wine?”
Joe’s goal? To make wine fun again by tasting it, and without the foolishness that passes for so much wine writing today. Joe is passionate about the failings of post-modern wine writing, and especially that we spend too much money on wine we may not like because we are too intimidated by the process.
We talked about how the book works, why Joe wrote it (given that he didn’t think the world needed another wine book), and how many times one checks the Amazon best-sellers page to see one’s book’s ranking. Click here to download or stream the podcast, which is about 15 minutes long and takes up 5 megabytes. Quality is good to very good (save for a few seconds at the beginning).
So tell us, Wine Curmudgeon, why should we allow direct shipping?
Why can’t we buy the wines we like via direct shipping? What’s so evil about that in the second decade of the 21st century?
This is the second of two parts looking at how the century-old three-tier system still prevents us from buying wine on-line or from out-of-state retailers, hamstringing 21st century technology and sensibility. Today, part II: Dear Supreme Court: Please fix three-tier and allow direct shipping. Thursday, part I: The Supreme Court’s 2005 Granholm decision, and why it didn’t change three-tier as much as everyone hoped.
Dear Supreme Court:
Yes, I know you’re busy. And yes, I know you are facing immense constitutional decisions that could alter the future of the republic. Still, it’s not like this one isn’t important, either: Please fix three-tier, so we can buy wine on-line and from out-of-state retailers.
I ask this not just to make it easier to buy $10 Gascon wine. I ask this because wine drinkers should be able to buy whatever they want, and not the wines that multi-billion dollar wholesalers and retailers allow them to buy. Because that’s the way the system works now – three-tier says each wine has to have a distributor in every state, so if a distributor isn’t interested in the wine, we’re out of luck. And since big distributors and big retailers want the same boring wines, we’re doubly out of luck.
Second, I’m getting more complaints about availability than ever, and it’s not like I write about weird wines made with weird grapes. No natural or orange wines on the blog, and certainly nothing from places like Georgia. Instead, wines from the five or six biggest producing countries in the world, made with reasonably common grapes — and that I have bought so I know that they are available somewhere. My mantra has always been: An independent retailer in a good-sized city should be able to sell readers the wines I write about.
But that seems to be less applicable as wine consolidates. A reader wrote the other day that he couldn’t find a California wine in California, and his search included an independent retailer. Even worse: another reader, no doubt more frustrated, asked if I could cobble together some sort of retail network for the blog’s wines. This is what it has come to, dear justices – someone wants the Wine Curmudgeon to sell wine. And I can’t even figure out a way to sell t-shirts.
So please do something, sooner rather than later (though I would be happy with later). In fact, it almost doesn’t matter if you decide to forever forbid retail to consumer shipping. It’s a decision, at least, and as bad is it would be for wine, it’s still better than what we have now. Which makes everyone crazy save the people who benefit from it.
The Supreme Court’s Granholm decision was supposed to make it possible for us to buy wine from out-of-state retailers and on-line. So why didn’t it?
This is the first of two parts looking at how the century-old three-tier system still prevents us from buying wine on-line or from out-of-state retailers. Today, part I: The Supreme Court’s 2005 Granholm decision, and why it didn’t change three-tier as much as everyone hoped. Friday, part II: Dear Supreme Court: Please fix three-tier.
Fifteen years ago this spring, the Supreme Court made it possible to buy wine from an out-of-state winery in its Granholm decision. The court ruled that states had to treat wineries in- and out-of-state the same way. So, if residents could buy directly from an in-state producer, then they had to be allowed to buy wine from an out-of-state producer as well. This opened the direct-to-consumer wine market, which is worth about $3 billion today
Many smart people also thought Granholm would open the retail wine market, so that consumers could buy wine over the Internet and from companies like Amazon. But that never happened (save for the rare exception like Wine.com), and I explain why in a freelance piece I wrote for Meininger’s Wine Business International.
And why didn’t Granholm do that? Because state lawmakers, regulators, and the courts still go by what’s called the “public health and safety” standard that was set up by the political compromise that ended Prohibition and gave us three-tier. The doctrine says that if a liquor regulation protects the public health and safety, then it’s constitutional. And each group – and particularly the courts in almost every decision since Granholm – still insists it isn’t safe for wine drinkers in one state to buy wine from a retailer in another state. So it remains illegal.
Yes, this is silly and outdated in the second decade of the 21st century – but that’s three-tier for you.
The Trump zombie tariff is lurking over the horizon, which means the price of European wine could double.
Why haven’t we been able to kill the Trump zombie wine tariff, which is bad economics and bad public policy?
July 13 update: Federal trade officials announced Friday that the U.S. has delayed imposing additional tariffs on French wine until January, as part of the dispute over the French tax on Facebook, Google, and Amazon. And there is still no word on whether the Trump Administration will impose additional tariffs on all European wine as part of the Boeing-Airbus trade dispute. So, yes, some good news — though not as good as so many have been reporting.
July 6 post: Just when it seemed safe to drink European wine without worrying that it could double in price, the Trump zombie wine tariff is lurking over the horizon.
That’s the 100 percent tariff on almost all European wine, which the Trump Administration proposed in February. The administration backed off then, raising tariffs on European airplane parts instead. Which made perfectly good sense, since the original trade dispute was about airplane parts.
But the proposal is back. Last week, the Office of the U.S. Trade Representative proposed tariffs on nearly $3.1 billion worth of European products and that would raise the current wine tariff from 25 percent to 100 percent.
None of this makes any sense, and not just because this whole thing is about airplane parts.
• The world economy is in recession. So why would any sane person consider raising taxes?
• The coronavirus. So why would any sane person consider raising taxes?
• France’s so-called digital tax on U.S. companies like Facebook, Amazon, and Google has somehow become part of the dispute, though why the federal government needs to protect these giga-billion dollar behemoths is beyond me. And doesn’t President Trump hate Amazon?
The good news, if there is any, is that most of the people I talked to say the tariff proposal is likely empty bluster, more posturing from an administration that has perfected bluster. Two wine industry officials, who asked not to be identified because of the sensitive nature of the topic, said they didn’t expect the 100 percent levy to be approved. One, who has been closely involved with negotiations, said, “My personal view is that the most likely outcome is no change” until the final World Trade Organization ruling later this year on the original aircraft parts dispute.
Having said that, this is no time for slacking off. After all, we all know how difficult it is to kill zombies. Hence, if you oppose the 100 percent tariff, you can leave a comment with the U.S. Trade Representative at this link. The comment period ends on July 26.
Debbie Zachareas: Trading down is going on, even for people who buy $100 wine
Debbie Zachareas is a long-time San Francisco-area wine retailer; currently she helps oversee three wine stores and wine bars in the Bay Area. And of all the surprises during the coronavirus pandemic, among the most surprising has been that even people who buy $100 wine have been trading down. A $15 to $30 bottle, she says, seems to be what they’re looking for these days, what with staying at home and social distancing.
We talked about trading down, as well as what wines are popular — lighter whites instead of the heavier reds that had been in vogue, as well as imported wines instead of California wines. One exception: The incredible wines from California’s Jolie-Laide, a small but, unfortunately, hard-to-find producer.
Plus, customer service has improved during the duration — an odd, if unintended side effect during the duration that I’ve heard about from other retailers.
Finnish 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.