Win four Luminarc wine glasses during the blog’s rose celebration 2019
The blog’s 12th annual rose extravaganza begins on Tuesday — rose celebration 2019. This is the third consecutive year we’ll devote most of the week to celebrate rose, perhaps the last bastion of great cheap wine.
Plus, of course, a giveaway — four Luminarc wine glasses on Thursday when I list the the best roses available this season. Plus, two more days of rose reviews, as well as rose news on Tuesday.
First, Barbara Banke, the chairwoman of Jackson Family Wines, told Wine Business Monthly in February: The wine business “seems tougher this year and it probably will be tougher next year. It doesn’t seem like it’s as easy as it was.”
Second, the suggested retail price for the company’s flagship product, Kendall-Jackson chardonnay, is about $17. But you can find it for $10 or $12 without too much trouble, which no doubt causes much consternation at company headquarters.
Is a pattern emerging here?
The Jackson Family proposal for taxing European wine has nothing to do with free trade, the so-called “level playing field,” or any other political rhetoric. It has to do with profit – Jackson doesn’t want to sell $10 wine, so it doesn’t want anyone else to sell it, either.
Which I completely understand. I don’t agree with it, but I understand it. So why hide the company’s true intentions behind complaints about unfair trade? Because who would agree to tax $10 European wine to protect one company’s profits? Hardly anyone who doesn’t work for that company.
Which brings us to the Wine Curmudgeon’s wine supply and demand primer. California’s role in the world wine market is important certainly, accounting for about 280 million cases a year. But it’s not as important as Californians like to think. The French, Spanish, and Italians combine for almost 1.8 billion cases a year, while the total production of Chile plus Argentina is some 11 percent higher than California’s.
So what makes anyone think that the so-called “level playing field” would change anything? The rest of the world already has plenty of wine of equal quality and that will probably still cost less, even without the offending tariffs and subsidies. Why would a European buy €15 or €20 California wine (assuming anyone in California could sell it for that little, given California’s pricing structure) when they could still buy €8 or €10 European wine in the supermarket?
And this assumes that California can somehow produce enough wine to export. Which, as I mentioned in the first post, it doesn’t. We drink almost all the wine made in the U.S. in the U.S., and that doesn’t look to change anytime soon. They’re pulling out vines in California, not planting new ones to sell cabernet sauvignon to France and sauvignon blanc to Chile.
So there may not be much demand in the rest of the world for California wine, even if there was enough supply to export it, tariffs or no. The Jackson Family proposal ignores those basics, because it doesn’t help their argument.
Fortunately for those of us who care about wine and not wine company profits, I’m here to make sure those basics aren’t ignored.
Rick Tigner, the CEO of Jackson Family Wines (home to the legendary Kendall Jackson chardonnay), told a wine industry meeting last week that California can no longer afford to produce cheap wine. Hence, the federal government should tax wine imports because “we need a better, higher pricing structure.” In other words, $10 European, Australian, New Zealand, and South American wine should cost as much as California wine — because, of course, California wine.
Yes, that was my reaction, too. Wine consumption is flat and young people don’t seem particularly interested in it. So the man who runs one of the most important wine companies in the country wants to make wine even more expensive? That makes tremendous economic sense, doesn’t it? Let’s price wine out of the reach of most consumers, and our business will be even more successful.
The story was so incredulous that I almost called the reporter who wrote it to ask him if something had happened during Tigner’s speech. Was Tigner struck by a bolt of lighting? Was there an invasion of body snatchers? Does he have one of those evil soap opera twins?
I wasn’t the only one who was dumbfounded. A European wine analyst told me she was surprised a leading wine company official would say something like that. A Napa wine marketer said it was just one more example of California arrogance — because, of course, California.
Tigner overlooked two things (besides the most basic laws of supply and demand):
First, 95 percent of U.S. consumers won’t pay more than $20 for a bottle of wine – perhaps my favorite wine statistic, courtesy of the Wine Market Council. So who is going to buy all the expensive wine that tariffs will give us?
Second, Tigner can complain that other countries tax California wine unfairly as much as he wants, but that’s irrelevant. U.S. wine exports measured by cases (mostly from California) are insignificant – barely more than 10 percent of what we produce each year. That’s because we drink almost all the wine made here, so there isn’t much left to sell to the French (assuming they would want it). In fact, U.S. wine exports are so trivial that two of our biggest markets are Nigeria and the Dominican Republic, countries not usually associated with wine culture.
So, no, taxing my $10 Gascon white blends, Spanish cava, and Italian red blends won’t save the California wine industry from itself. The only ones who can do that are part of the California wine industry, which tells us everything we need to know about how that will turn out.
Who cares about the missing “du?” We’re just glad the Domaine Tariquet is back.
Top importer Wildman picks up Domaine Tariquet, and it should be available in most of the country
Our too long cheap wine nightmare is over: Domaine Tariquet, one of the best cheap wine producers ever, has a new U.S. importer and its products could be on store shelves by late spring or early summer. Even better, the importer, Frederick Wildman & Sons, is big enough so that it works with the largest distributors in the country. Hence, the wines should be available almost everywhere in the U.S.
Tariquet, located in Gascony in France, disappeared last July, when its then importer dropped the brand. No one was talking about what happened, even off the record, but the result was that we’ve gone without the label’s flagship Tariquet Classic for almost a year – a painful loss at any time, but especially painful in these days of overpriced and underperforming cheap wine.
The Tariquet Classic, a white blend made with ugni blanc and colombard, is everything great cheap wine should be – fresh, fruity, dry, crisp, and low in alcohol. Its success here paved the way for a host of Gascon wines to shine in the U.S. The Classic, plus four other Tariquet wines (including a very nice rose) is in the Wildman warehouse in New York and listed on the Wildman website. Wildman’s John Little said orders are already coming in from across the country.
Even better news: There won’t be a price increase, which had been talked about last summer if and when the wine returned. That means the Classic should still cost $10 to $12.
Finally, the Grassa family, which owns Tariquet, shortened the brand’s name. This version is Domaine Tariquet; it was Domaine du Tariquet under the previous importer.
Teeter: Pay to play is the scourge of beverage journalism.
VinePair podcast says wine criticism, as well as beer and spirits, needs more transparency and fewer free trips
We need more transparency among wine writers and wine critics – and I’m not the only one who feels that way.
“It’s something we’ve always been talking about, among the staff,” says Adam Teeter, the co-founder of the on-line wine, beer, and spirits magazine VinePair. “And we thought it was time to start talking about it again.”
Hence a recent VinePair podcast discussing what Teeter calls “pay to play journalism,” where wine, beer, and spirits and writers take samples, free trips, free meals, and who knows what else – and then write exactly what will make the producer happy. Because they want to keep getting the free samples, free trips, free meals, and who knows what else.
“We call it book report journalism,” says Teeter, who also teaches at Columbia University’s prestigious journalism school. “It’s like when you wrote a book report as a kid, and you just rewrote what was in the book. The writers just rewrite what they’re told on the trip.”
I called Teeter to talk about this because transparency has always been a problem in the wine writing business. Yes, there has been progress, like most sites and reviewers acknowledging when they’re reviewing samples. That’s something that didn’t happen when I started the blog. But as technology has evolved, so has marketing, and the problem may be worse than ever. On one of the last trips I took, I was told what I could write – something no one had ever done before (and which I ignored). But many others are happy to write what they’re told, and that’s probably why I don’t get invited on trips any more.
As Teeter noted on the VinePair site: “Well, there’s a scourge in the beverage journalism world, and it’s called ‘pay to play.’ Whether it’s brands getting guaranteed coverage or even inflated scores by taking wine critics on elaborate trips, or just a spot on someone’s [Instagram] story through sending them some sample bottles, it’s an ugly side to this industry that rarely gets talked about.”
So the podcast talks about it, in detail. “The amount of free stuff out there is insane,” Teeter told me, and he used the word insane three times during our brief conversation to describe a world where producers see an Instagram post as marketing nirvana. It costs nothing, save for the sample, and it makes the person posting the Instagram feel like a big deal. In other words, it’s infinitely more brand friendly than dealing with a cranky ex-newspaperman like me.
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
• 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.
Is 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.