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A tip of the WC’s fedora to Dave Crawford, who navigated the rocky shoals of the third-party newsletter service to make this work.
British retailer’s top 101 Internet wine sites list says WC can really pound that keyboard
The Wine Curmudgeon blog is ranked 29th among wine sites on the Internet, according to a survey by a British wine retailer. Yes, I know there are many ways to interpret that, and most aren’t printable here.
But given all that has happened to the blog over the past 18 months, including declining visitor counts, less love than ever from our overlords at Google, and the increasing difficulty in finding cheap wine worth drinking, it’s worth mentioning that our cause is still making an impression in the cyber-ether.
Hence, the details about Corking Wines’ Top 101 Wine Writers of 2020. There I am, at No. 29, between Great British Wine and The Wine Stalker, and just two spots behind the Indian Sommelier. But I’m also two spots ahead of The Wine Ninjas, so that’s something.
Jonathan Doubtfire, a marketing executive for Corking Wines, an on-line wine retailer in York, emailed that the rankings are based on “a number of factors. … We started off using a tool that estimates traffic, readership levels, etc. Then the wider team got involved and we reviewed each site on the shortlist, in order to establish the final order on there.”
Using site numbers is typical for these kinds of lists, which usually include various social media metrics (and yes, one has to use the word “metrics” when one writes a sentence like that). Given that I haven’t used social media in almost a decade, I suppose my performance is that much more impressive. And the selectors liked one of my wine tariff posts, which is surprising since it’s not traditional wine writing, but consumer journalism. Which, of course, is about as anti-wine writing as possible.
The sites on the list are most of the usual suspects, though it’s more international than this list (where I am merely No. 44). Also shocking: No Wine Spectator or VinePair, which are usually among the top handful of sites on most lists. But Jancis Robinson (No. 4) and Wine Folly (No. 1) are ranked here, and those are more or less the same kinds of sites as the Spectator and VinePair.
But if I did this for awards or rankings, I would have quit long ago. I do this because I love wine and want others to know they can enjoy it without deep pockets or wine foolishness. It’s about professionalism and writing for the people who come to the site, and not to impress anyone in the wine business with how smart or wonderful I am. Because how will that help anyone learn to love wine?
But that’s the case with this effort from Australia’s Brokenwood Cellars, which does everything but call on the shade of Orson Welles to chant, “We will sell no one wine before its time.” Does the narration really say (around 0:30) that Brokenwood makes wine “to be drunk and enjoyed, savored and admired?” What else are we supposed to do with it? Spit it out?
Brokenwood wines aren’t readily available in the U.S., but appear to be critically respected. Which makes the ad that much more difficult to figure out — if you’re already well thought of, why bother with this? It’s the kind of faux image building that less respected brands do to puff up their reputation. If you make quality wine, why gild the lily with a shot of someone’s gnarled hands?
Yes, $14 isn’t cheap, but the Chateau de Ribebon still offers value in red Bordeaux
The amazing thing about the $14 Chateau de Ribebon is not that the 2015 vintage has aged well enough to become a wine of the week, but that the current vintage is the 2016. So someone, somewhere, remembers how to make popularly priced wines that will last.
The Chateau de Ribebon is a traditional red blend, though with more merlot than cabernet sauvignon. Hence, it’s a little softer and a little fruitier (cherries?) than many others, but there are still tannins in the back and it’s nothing like a jumped up New World fruit slurpee.
Pair this with beef, but it’s the sort of wine that would work for coq a vin and even roast chicken.
Beer drinkers want to know what’s in their glass, but wine drinkers? Nope.
This week’s wine news: A wine industry survey finds that wine drinkers aren’t interested in ingredient labels, plus a wine celebration at the U.S. Open and two New Jersey distributors are fined $8 million for cheating customers
• They didn’t ask me: Most wine drinkers aren’t interested in knowing the ingredients in their wine, according to a survey by the Wine Market Council. The Wine Curmudgeon, of course, has long lobbied for ingredient and nutritional labels as a way to bring more people to wine, but I was not surprised by the results. The council’s bills are paid by the wine industry, which has opposed ingredient labels since the federal government first contemplated the idea more than a decade ago. The other thing to note: The survey didn’t include all consumers – just what the council calls “core” and “marginal” wine drinkers, and it was skewed in favor of core wine drinkers. I wonder: How different would the results have been if it had included all consumers, instead of those who already think they know what’s in their wine? I don’t write this lightly; I have tremendous respect for the Wine Market Council, and its staff has helped me with countless stories through the years. And this post probably means I will never get a phone call returned again. But it has to be said: This result has far less significance than if a Gallup poll of all consumers had found the same thing. Until then, I still believe consumers want to know if their wine contains industrial adhesives.
• Bring on the wine: Tennis player Madison Brengle celebrated her upset victory over the U.S. Open’s No. 19 seed last week by chugging a bottle of Sutter Home wine, the New York Post reported. Brengle ran into the stands to drink a 187 ml bottle of an unidentified Sutter Home red after her victory. No report on how many points she gave the wine or whether she was a core or marginal wine drinker. And Brengle didn’t get a chance to celebrate again – she lost in the next round in straight sets.
• $10.3 million fine: New Jersey’s two largest distributors were fined $4 million each for cheating many of the state’s liquor retailers, reports WRNJ. The legal charge was “discriminatory trade practice” – wholesalers Allied Beverage Group and Fedway Associates agreed to pay the record-high fines and promise to never to do it again after a two-year investigation by the state’s liquor cops. In addition, 20 retailers were fined $2.3 million for participating in the wholesalers’ scheme. The story in the link has the detailed charges; it’s enough to know that Allied and Fedway worked with the 20 retailers, using illegal payments, to cheat smaller retailers. I wonder: If we need the three-tier system to protect us from corruption, who is going to protect us from corruption in the three-tier system?
The blog is off today for Labor Day, but will return tomorrow with our usual features. Until then, this cat doesn’t need scores, the Winestream Media or winespeak to decide that what’s in the glass isn’t what it wants to drink. Would that the rest of us could decide so easily.
There are many reasons for this, including the fact that lots and lots of wine is sold by lots and lots of independent retailers who aren’t tracked by companies like Nielsen. So why does this matter now? Because, according to one set of numbers, the wine business is in a pandemic-fueled crisis and things are going to get much worse before they get better. Or, if you believe these numbers, the past six months (as well as the past couple of years) are just a bump in the road and worrying about it is for small-minded people.
The reason for the discrepancies? Most agree that wine sales have declined since U.S. restaurants closed in March and April. What they can’t agree on is whether retail sales have made up most of the difference, so that the decline is insignifcant. Further complicating matters, based on yet more statistics, is that some insist sales are up for the year thanks to lots of foofry about the Internet, e-commerce, and wine delivery.
The WC wine business index
But no one has actually been able to figure out where we are seven months into the pandemic. Which is why the blog is unveiling the WC wine business index, where numbers aren’t the be all and end all. Instead, I’ve talked to retailers, producers, and marketers from around the country to see if I can sketch where the wine business is and what it means for consumers. Hence:
• There’s some desperate marketing going on in an attempt to boost sales. One major Texas wine event, forced to cancel, is trying to sell wine via email solicitations. Shudder. And one trade group wants you to buy its wine for the “iconic, uniquely-designed rose bottles that can be used for crafts and ingenious displays. …” Double shudder.
• Producer after producer, mostly smaller but also some larger, has told me that many of the 9,000 or so wineries that make up 90 percent of the U.S. total may be in danger of closing. The pandemic has shuttered their tasting rooms, and since most of them don’t sell much, if any, at retail, they depend on tasting room sales to stay in business.
• How about an Oregon pinot noir with a suggested retail price of $12.50? That means the street price is $10.99 or $11.99, almost unheard for Oregon pinot. In fact, most Oregon pinots that used to cost that little long ago went to $15 and $18. This points to way too much wine being made in Oregon, as well as slowing sales; the wine in question may be close to being sold at cost.
• The pandemic apparently clobbered the keg wine business, which has been a bright spot over the past couple of years. Wineries were putting their wine in kegs, just like beer, to sell to restaurants. But no restaurants means no need for keg wine. So keg producers are spending time and money to repackage their wines, often in boxes.
• Big Wine, save for a few glitches, seems to be doing better than most. One reason: It sells less wine, proportionally, to restaurants and more to supermarkets, which fits the pandemic consumer profile. In addition, consumers seem to be focusing on brands they know, and that fits the Big Wine product line.
And what about consumers?
Your guess is as good as mine. Most retailers tell me we’re trading down, and that Big Wine supermarket sales are OK speaks to that. And I’ve seen signs that some high-end wines, the $100 and up kind, are clawing for new business in a way they’ve never clawed before. That implies there is some trading down, though trading down from $150 to $75 isn’t exactly the traditional definition.
In this, there is still a lot of money in the hands of aging Baby Boomers, who will continue to buy their overpriced 92-point wine despite what else is going on. And the wine business will be happy to sell it to them to paper over any other problems.
So what’s the overall impression from the WC wine business index? That we’re in a holding pattern, though likely headed down sooner rather than later. Specific parts of the wine business are already suffering, and some are suffering badly, be it smaller producers or independent retailers.
But consolidation among producers and distributors has insulated the biggest companies from the worst of the pandemic. So expect to see two levels of pain over the next year or so: Something akin to an ankle sprain among the biggest companies, compared to a broken leg (or worse) among the smaller. And the consumer will get caught in the middle, which is exactly where the wine business likes us.
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