Category:Wine trends

Cheap wine and what (some) retailers don’t like about it

I was wandering through the wine department of a national grocery store chain with a marvelous reputation over the weekend when an employee asked me if I needed any help. No, I said, I ?m just looking to see what ?s here and checking prices. Oh, she said, we have some of the best prices in the area.

I just grumbled and moved on. I didn ?t think it would be proper for the Wine Curmudgeon to lecture her on why that wasn ?t true. Instead, I decided to do a post about retailers, cheap wine, and why so many of them don ?t like it. More, after the jump:

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Wine blogging and ethics

This has been the subject of much discussion in the wine cyber-ether, starting last fall. That ?s when Rodney Strong said it would send samples to selected wine bloggers before it sent them to the Mainstream Media, with the understanding that the bloggers had to write something, good or bad. That ?s because most mainstream types never get around to writing about all of the samples they receive, and they pile up until they ?re given away. This way, Rodney Strong would get some kind of publicity ? and, as we all know, some kind is better than none.

I thought that was much ado about nothing. Samples are samples, with all of the ethical concerns they entail, and it really doesn ?t matter who gets them first. But that doesn ?t mean that ethics aren ?t something worth discussing. I have written about this before, but it ?s worth clarifying and expanding on. After the jump, how I do this at the Wine Curmudgeon and how I avoid conflicts of interest:

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Wine blogging, what makes it tick, and how we can do it better

That ?s what Tracy Rickman, a graduate student at Auburn University, wants to find out. Her doctoral project is wine blogging: How people choose which blogs they read, whether they trust the blogs, how many blogs they read, and how professional the blogs have to be.

Frankly, this is a wonderful idea, and just the kind of thing we need. As regular visitors here know, the Wine Curmudgeon doesn ?t think much of most wine writing. It ?s too snotty, too parochial, and too self-absorbed. Rickman ?s project may well be the first attempt to actually analyze what is going on in this part of the cyber-ether.

Because, if we know what ?s going on, then we can use that information to get better. For example, if her study shows that people who read wine blogs want clearer, more educational information and less winespeak, maybe we ?ll get the hint and write that way.

I ?m curious about two parts of her research: First, do wine blogs have any credibility with their readers, and which among us are the most credible? Second, do you have to be a professional, either a wine type or a writer, to do a wine blog, or can you be credible if you ?re just someone who likes wine? As I have always said, anyone can write an effective wine review.

Rickman expects to have some preliminary data in a couple of months, and I ?ll check back with her and see what she finds out. What can you do to help? Take her survey. Yes, it ?s a bit complicated and it will take 10 or 15 minutes. And there aren ?t any questions about what wine you like to drink. But this is for a PhD project, and so has to include some technical stuff to assure that the results are legitimate.

Rickman, by the way, told me she loves cheap wine. Enough said.

Wine, the recession and what’s really going on

Pick your bad news:

? Cosentino Signature Wines, a 60,000 case winery in Napa Valley, defaulted on interest payments on an $18 million loan.

? The recession has brought sales of high-end Napa Valley red wine to a screeching halt, says one retailer.

? Layoffs have hit some of the wine industry ?s biggest companies ? Kendall Jackson, Brown-Forman (whose brands include Fetzer and Sonona-Cutrer), and Diageo ?s North American operation (Beaulieu and Sterling).

? U.S. wine sales in dollar terms were down in 2008 compared to 2007, and were mostly flat by the amount of wine sold ? the first time either of those has happened since 1993.

Which means that everyone who hoped the wine business could slidestep through the recession was probably wrong.

I don ?t write this to spread doom or gloom, or to say I told you so. Rather, it ?s about understanding the problem, because that ?s the only way to find a solution.

And there is a problem ? a big one that is getting bigger, and one that the numbers only hint at. In 2008, U.S. wine sales rose just one percent, and that was with the first six months of the year being OK. Since the beginning of the year, wine sales have actually declined, with restaurant sales especially hard hit: depending on the survey, they may be down as much as 15 or 20 percent. Even wine competitions are hurting, with entries down 10 and 20 percent.

Over the last three months, wine and distribution types have told me that the situation is going to get worse before it gets better. (And it is much, much worse in Europe ? a tip ?o the Curmudgeon ?s fedora to John Palazzo for sending this my way.)

? Many national and important regional retailers stopped buying wine before Christmas, and aren ?t going to reorder until the warehouse is empty. Literally. That also goes for wines they don ?t currently carry; one retailer told me that he isn ?t even allowed to taste new wines.

? Winery warehouses are chock full, and this includes national brands that wouldn ?t seem like they should be affected. One wine industry official told me that one of the most popular names in the world has seen sales drop 20 percent.

? All of this is causing a backup in the supply chain. Retailers should be stocking the 2007 red and 2008 white vintages this spring and summer. Instead, those wines are sitting in warehouses and could well be there when the 2008 red and 2009 whites are released next spring. And the warehouses will probably still be full when the 2009 red and 2010 whites are released in two years.

The result? Cash flow crises for an increasing number of wineries. If your wine isn ?t on store shelves, you ?re not being paid. And if you aren ?t being paid, you can ?t pay your bills. And we know what happens then. I wouldn ?t be surprised, if the recession lasts through the middle of next year, to see some fairly important companies declare bankruptcy. At the very least, a bunch of brands are going to go away, and we ?ll see mergers and consolidations at wine companies big and small.

Will all of this distress lower prices? Yes and no. Yes, because some retailers are slashing prices to reduce inventory, especially on some higher priced wines. (Though what happens when their shelves are empty is anyone ?s guess.) And I ?m seeing an increasing number of retailers selling off-name brands and older vintages at much reduced prices, stuff they have picked up when distributors empty their warehouses. The catch here, of course, is that that $3 bottle of 2005 cabernet sauvignon wasn ?t made to sit on a store shelf for four years, and who knows what it will taste like.

The bad news is that many wines won ?t be cheaper. There ?s a huge, enormous fixed cost for U.S. wine, and that ?s the price of real estate. Prices may have collapsed for California residential land, but they haven ?t for grape land. So producers don ?t necessarily have any wiggle room to cut prices ? until they chapter out, of course, and the bank makes the decision for them.

A gloomy scenario? Perhaps. But it may also restore some sort of rationality to the wine business, which has been decidedly irrational during the boom years of this decade. And the biggest winner then? You and I, because we ?ll get quality wines at a fair price.

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GoBYO — A sensible approach to bringing your wine to restaurants

Devon Segel ?s grandfather wanted to know which Philadelphia-area restaurants would let him bring his own bottle of wine. So she started a website.

It ?s called GoBYO ? for Bring Your Own. And, as someone who has had more than his share of run-ins with restaurants about wine pricing, corkage fees, and similar items, the Wine Curmudgeon applauds the effort. BYOB, as the term is also known, is one of the most frustrating parts of restaurant wine. Is it legal where you live? Do restaurants allow you to do it? Is the corkage fee – ? the price a restaurant charges you when you bring your own bottle — reasonable?

More on Segel ?s effort (and she is not related to me, by the way) after the jump:

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What’s wrong with wine writing: Views from around the web

My post on the sorry state of wine writing was not, it seems, a shot in the dark. Many people feel this way. My post not only elicited a variety of comments here, but in emails and elsewhere. Along the way, I turned up a variety of writers with similar sentiments.

Among those:

? Tim Elliott at Winecast, who wrote: ?Too often, I default to the same sort of clinical reviews you see in the Wine Spectator and other wine pubs. Terse notes on color, aromas and flavors topped off with a rating on some scale. For almost 5 years now, that ?s been what I ?ve been doing. But I ?ve had enough. ?

? Ryan Opaz at WineBlogAtlas, who wrote: ?This is what I see in the wine blog-o-sphere, and while the exceptions are growing, there are still too many websites and blogs that have more in common with wine industry rags than with the new world of which they published in. ?

? Derek Lavallee, a wine critic for The Hill: ?Whether inspired by a sincere but strenuous attempt to describe that which is inherently subjective, or an egotistical outlet for frustrated poets using wine as their muse, most wine-speak typically results in alienation of the reader. ?

? The ever knowledgeable George Rose, writing for Dan Berger ?s Vintage Experiences: ?Much of what passes for wine writing seems more like a stuffy BBC period piece. I keep expecting Dame Judy Dench to pop out from behind the bushes and recite in proper English: ?I like Viognier to show a green-straw color, peachy-dried apricot nose ?

? And Mike Wangbickler, who reprinted Rose ?s essay on his blog, Caveman Wines: ?Why do we as wine writers, bloggers, and wine marketers insist on talking over the heads of our customers

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Rodney Strong’s Rick Sayre talks sense, part II

image This is the second of a two-part series detailing my interview with Rodney Strong ?s Rick Sayre. Part I is here.

Technology ? including more efficient yeasts and improved techniques in the barrel room ? has changed the way wine is made. It has given consumers more consistent quality and wines that provide better value (as well as those high alcohol monsters that cause so much controversy). But, says Rodney Strong ?s Rick Sayre, it isn ?t the future of winemaking.

?We ?re almost at the end of technology in winemaking, ? Sayre said during a visit to Dallas last week. ?We ?re getting to the point where we are reinventing the wheel. ?

The new direction? ?We need to focus on the vineyard, and not the wine room, ? he said. More, after the jump:

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