Category:Wine trends The conference

The conference is just a week away, and the Wine Curmudgeon is excited. Even a little giddy, actually. And how often does that happen?

But I have good reason to be. The conference looks like it will be a huge success, much bigger than we had hoped. Registration has been beyond my expectations, and there is a chance we will sell out. Frankly, for a first-year event about regional wine in the worst recession since I was in high school, that ?s amazing. Plus, we ?re getting terrific media attention (you can see some of it here, here, and here), and even the Wall Street Journal inquired about the conference — and used something.

Maybe there is something to this regional wine thing after all. A few more thoughts, after the jump.

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Alabama and pornographic wine labels

Yet another reason why we need to change the way alcohol is regulated in the United States:

An art poster from 1895 has been deemed pornographic by the Alabama Beverage Control Board, forcing distributors to remove a wine bearing its image from stores across the state.

The poster in question is the label for Cycles Gladiator, the line of $10 and $12 wine from California ?s Hahn Family Wines. The Alabama distributor, MBC United, had to pull the wine from store shelves. The Alabama liquor authority, citing a consumer complaint, said the label had not been properly approved ? even though it had been for sale in the state for three years. A Hahn spokesman said the label had been approved.

Why this is about more than prurient interest after the jump (and I promise ? no Alabama jokes):

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Should you invite over for dinner?

The Wine Curmudgeon gets scads of news releases, so it really takes something different to get my attention. And this one did, for a Web site called ? will soon eclipse over 250,000 food and wine pairings enabling both web and iPhone application users to effectively choose wines under 30 dollars per bottle with ease. ?

We ?ll ignore that the sentence ain ?t all that well constructed and that the Wine Curmudgeon has insisted, for years, that anyone can drink whatever wine they want with dinner.

What got my attention is that this concept, no matter how noble in purpose, seems to be nothing more than the usual sort of wine industry effort to give wine drinkers not what they need, but what the industry thinks they should have. More, after the jump:

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American sangiovese: Better than ever

Sangiovese isn't just about Italy any more. Sangiovese is the only Italian red wine grape most Americans know, and even then we don ?t know it by its name. Instead, we know it as Chianti, which is the region where the best-known sangiovese is produced. (And those of us of a certain age will always remember Chianti for the wicker basket on the bottle, which meant hip and trendy way back when.)

So it ?s probably not surprising to find out that American sangiovese has, over the years, been mostly ordinary. There were a couple of producers whose wine was OK, but the grape never caught on here.

That has changed dramatically over the past decade, and it ?s not because American winemakers are trying to knock off sangiovese like a badly-made dress. Rather, it ?s because they understand the grape and its relationship with terroir in a way they hadn ?t before. We don ?t have to make sangiovese that tastes like Chianti. We can make it to taste like sangivoese from California — or even Texas or Arizona.

What ?s going on and why it ?s good news for wine drinkers, after the jump:

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Wine, the recession, and the Wine Curmudgeon Sample Index

The wine business is in trouble by any number of measurements, but the one that strikes me the most is the Wine Curmudgeon Sample Index.

This summer, I have received more samples than ever before, including samples from wineries that would not have noticed my existence in the past. I have received so many samples, in fact, that I;ve actually declined offers of many more. That’s the first time in my 20-some odd years of writing about wine that I’ve had to do that.

How weird has it been?

• I got four bottles from a major Napa winery, including its $100 and $80 cabernet sauvignons. The catch, of course, is that I almost never write about those kinds of wines, and there was no real reason to send them to me.

• A couple of weeks ago, a leading California sparkling wine producer sent me samples of the same wine it had sent me in the fall.

• Double samples 00 that is, two bottles of the same wine in the same shipment — are rampant. One of the biggest producers in the world sent me a case of wine, two bottles each of six wines.

Why this is happening? What does it mean?

The recession is pummeling the wine business, whether you’re one of the biggest producers in the world, you make expensive wine, or you sell to ordinary consumers (though regional wine, interestingly, hasn’t been hit nearly as badly as California and European wine). Yet there is still a fair bit of denial going on, despite the layoffs and sales declines. Things have been so good for so long that it’s difficult for the business — mostly the producers and the wine media — to believe what is happening.

My favorite analysis comes from Derek Benham, who runs Purple Wine Co. and Sonoma Wine Co. in California, who says the market for $15 and higher wine has suffered significantly. Benham, whose companies make quality value brands Avalon and Mark West as well as private and second labels, was quoted in the San Francisco Business Times:

There’s been a wind sheer at $15 and above — a very serious downdraft. Consequently, some high-end producers are negotiating ‘massive deals’ with retailers or siphoning off production to ‘second labels’ to purge excess inventories of expensive wine they can’t sell at high-end prices.

Which goes a long way toward explaining why I’m getting so many samples of so much wine that I’ve never gotten before.

Producers, and especially those that make wine that costs more than $25, are desperate to move product. So they’re putting pressure on their marketing and public relations people to move the product, and the marketing and PR people are doing things they don’t do when times are good — like sending the Wine Curmudgeon $100 bottles of wine. I’m even getting cold calls from young women at agencies plugging high-end Champagne, asking me when I’m going to write about their $75 this and their $50 that. And then there are the news releases that show up daily in my inbox touting $40 wine, sparkling and otherwise, as affordable. And the double samples? Why not? The wine is sitting around, not doing any good otherwise.

The consensus from the PR people that I’ve talked to is that they are under more pressure than than ever before. So they send me samples of wine or make the cold calls because then they can show the client that they’re making an extra effort. And right now, that’s about the best anyone can hope for.

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Changing California wine styles

Tired of California wines that are too oaky, too alcoholic and too fruity? Three important California producers have good news for you.

George Bursick at J Winery in Sonoma, Eli Parker of Fess Parker in the Santa Barbara area, and Dave Guffy at The Hess Collection in Napa, each told me, in separate interviews this spring, that they're re-examining how they make their wines. It's one thing to get high scores, they said, by making wines that the Wine Magazines like. It's another to make wine people want to buy.

?Whenever we made market visits, we heard the same thing, ? says Guffy. ?So it ?s a conscious decision on our part. ?

More, after the jump:

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