Tag Archives: Big Wine

Stop hyping cheap wine like Two-buck Chuck rose just because it’s cheap

Two-buck Chuck roseCheap doesn’t mean a wine is worth drinking, and the Two-buck Chuck rose is almost undrinkable

The cyber-ether is agog with praise for the new Two-buck Chuck rose: “Who needs Two-buck Chuck when you can get $4 organic rose from the same brand at Trader Joe’s?” And, “Trader Joe’s Made $4 Organic Rose Just In Time For Memorial Day Weekend.”

Obviously, no one tasted the wine.

The only good thing about the Two-buck Chuck rose ($4, purchased, 11.5%) is the closure. It’s one of the new Helix corks that works like a screwcap. The wine itself is almost undrinkable – thin, bitter, practically no fruit flavor, badly sweet, and devoid of any rose character other than its light pink color.

In this, it’s everything that’s wrong with Big Wine, where more money is spent on the bottle and the marketing than on the wine. The back label actually refers to “the Charles Shaw family,” which doesn’t exist. Call that the height of marketing cynicism. The wine is made for Trader Joe’s by Bronco Wine, the seventh biggest producer in the country with at least $200 million in sales.

But none of this matters to the cyber-ether. The Two-buck Chuck rose is cheap. It comes from Trader Joe’s. What more does anyone need to know?

A lot, actually. Cheap wine is not worth drinking just because it’s cheap. Anyone who thinks that hasn’t been paying attention for the past 25 years. Besides, you’re hurting the cause when you write that. Cheap wine should offer quality and value, just like any other cheap product. Would you praise a broken car or a broken computer just because it’s cheap? Of course not. And the Two-buck Chuck rose is seriously broken.

Hence, this Wine Curmudgeon offer: The next time anyone in the cyber-ether wants to write about wine, . I’ll help you figure out what’s going on so you don’t recommend a wine most of us will pour down the drain.

Winebits 545: Alcoholism, Big Weed, wine fraud

alcoholismThis week’s wine news: Alcoholism in the restaurant business, plus Big Wine wants to move into weed and more Chinese booze fraud

Staying sober: Nation’s Restaurant News looks at subject rarely discussed – what it calls “the culture of alcoholism and substance abuse in the restaurant business. “ In this part of the on-going series, Bret Thorne talks to a prominent Atlanta-area chef who had a choice at age 30 – stop drinking or die. “The whole lifestyle — you’re in a place that has alcohol. There’s always alcohol in the kitchen, behind the bar, and after the adrenaline of an awesome service, it was typically followed by chasing that buzz with alcohol, and then usually cocaine.”

If it’s good enough for wine: Marijuana Business Daily (and no, I’m not making that up) reports that North America’s largest wine distributor will become the the exclusive product distributor for one of Canada’s largest licensed cannabis producers. Great North Distributors, a wholly owned Canadian subsidiary of U.S.-based Southern Glazer’s, will serve as exclusive representative for Aphria’s adult-use cannabis products in Canada. This is yet another foray by U.S. wine-related companies into Canada’s legal weed business, including Big Wine stalwart Constellation Brands..

$15.6 million worth of fakes: Chinese police arrested 15 people suspected of producing more than 55,000 counterfeit bottles of high-end booze, says Reuters. Police in the southern province of Fujian broke up three gangs running workshops that made fake bottles of several famous brands of baijiu, a fiery Chinese spirit. The gangs bought cheap liquor for about 10 yuan (about US$1.56) a bottle and pour it into the counterfeit bottles, which they would sell for up to 400 yuan (about US$62) each. To give you an idea about what they were doing, this is not unlike filling empty bottles of pricey white Burgundy with Two-buck Chuck chardonnay.

Big Wine 2018: The good, the bad, and the ugly for consumers

Big wineBig Wine’s continuing dominance over what we drink means less interesting wines to buy, as well as fewer places to buy them

This is the second of two parts looking at Big Wine 2018. Today, what Big Wine’s dominance means for wine drinkers. The first part – Big Wine 2018’s stranglehold by the numbers – is here.

My mother took a copy of the blog to a Chicago-area Kroger affiliate recently, looking for a wine that I had bought at a Dallas Kroger. The guy at the Chicago store looked at her as if she was crazy. “Why would we have something that was in Dallas just because we’re Kroger?” he asked her.

The conversation took place next to a huge aisle display of E&J Gallo’s Barefoot, which is in every Kroger store in the country. So who was the employee kidding?

Big Wine has changed the wine business in countless ways since I started doing this 20-plus years ago, but the biggest change is the idea of national brands. In the early 1990s, save for Kendall-Jackson chardonnay, there wasn’t a national brand like Tide detergent or Heinz ketchup. And even Kendall-Jackson wasn’t quite national.

Today, though, walk into a retailer anywhere in the U.S. and you’ll find at least a handful of national brands – Barefoot, certainly, as well as Yellow Tail, Woodbridge, and Kendall-Jackson. They may not be in smaller, independent stores, but they are in the supermarkets and chain retailers like Total Wine that are beginning to sell most of the wine we drink.

Big Wine’s dominance is not new, and it has benefited wine in so many ways – more women and minorities and improvements in winemaking standards among them. What’s different now, and what has developed over the past couple of years as Big Wine has gotten bigger, are the national brands — and they are not a benefit. Wine is not laundry detergent or ketchup.

The top 10 companies in this year’s Wine Business News ranking of the the U.S. largest producers account for about 80 percent of the wine made in this country. Almost without exception, they are national brand-style wines – technically competent perhaps, but boring and dull and devoid of varietal character and terroir. They are, says a friend in the wine business, the wine equivalent of a Big Mac – something to eat, but hardly worth eating.

After the jump, what Big Wine dominance means for wine drinkers and especially for those of us who want to drink quality cheap wine. Continue reading

The power of Big Wine 2018

Big Wine 2018

Three out five bottles on the grocery store Great Wall of Wine could come from just three companies.

Big Wine 2018 accounts for nine out 10 of bottles made in the U.S. How can that be healthy for the long-term growth of wine?

This is the first of two parts looking at Big Wine 2018. Part I, the numbers. Part II, what that dominance means for wine drinkers.

Nothing illustrates the power of Big Wine 2018 more than the half a pallet of Meiomi pinot noir sitting on the floor in the wine department at a Central Market in Dallas. Meiomi, owned by Constellation Brands, is mass market wine, not exactly what you’d expect to see by the case at Central Market, which positions itself as Whole Foods with a Texas twist.

But there it was. And why not? Big Wine is so big, as noted in Wine Business News’ annual ranking of the U.S. largest producers, that it can make almost any retailer an offer that it can’t afford to refuse.

In 2017, Big Wine continued to dominate what we drink, according to the Wine Business numbers. The 10 biggest companies accounted for 81 percent of the wine made in the U.S. In addition:

• The three biggest producers, E&J Gallo, The Wine Group, and Constellation, kept their market share from last year – almost 60 percent. In other words, they make three out of every five bottles of U.S. wine.

• The share of the top 10 companies actually declined from 2016, from 84 percent to 81. That’s not because they’re less powerful, but because the next 20 brands took business away. The Josh Cellars label, owned by Deutsch Family, was little known a couple of years ago. Today, though, it is the 12th biggest “winery” on the list, with 2.2 million cases. Stop and consider what that means: Two years ago, hardly anyone had heard of Josh Cellars. Today, it accounts for close to one percent of all the wine made in the U.S.

• The top 50 companies on the list represent 90 percent of U.S. wine production. Given that there are almost 10,000 wineries in this country, this means the other 9,950 make only 10 percent. Is that healthy for the wine business over the long term?

• In the first Wine Business list in 2003, a winery had to produce 350,000 cases to make the top 30. This year, that threshold had doubled. So yes, the big are getting bigger; given that wine consumption is flat, how long until that starts hurting the other 9,950 wineries?

• The 10 best-selling grocery store wines in the country are owned by Big Wine; Gallo owns No. 1 Barefoot, and No. 10 Apothic. These 10 account for almost one-quarter of sales as measured by dollars. That’s depressing enough, but measuring by dollars probably under-represents their dominance. These are cheap wines, most costing less than $10 a bottle, so they could account for as much as 40 percent if measured by cases sold.

More on Big Wine:
Big Wine takes over
Big Wine growth 2016
Big Wine to become one company

Wine trends 2018

wine trends 2018

Who needs wine? We have legal weed.

Wine trends 2018: The wine business prepares for a future where fewer of us drink wine, focusing on “authenticity” and making us believe smooth is good

Wine trends 2018 will revolve around the wine business preparing for a future where fewer of us drink wine. Meanwhile, the news for wine prices in 2018 isn’t good. And my 2017 trends are here.

• The search for authenticity, or, Can we scam the wine drinker? As Big Wine owns more brands, they’ll try to convince us these wines aren’t like other mass-produced consumer goods. Instead, they’ll insist that their plonk is “authentic,” part of a post-modern corporate effort to persuade us that “everyday consumerist choices — from organic heirloom tomatoes to eco-tourist yoga retreats to small-batch whiskey” will make the world a better place. So mass-produced grocery store brands that use every winemaking trick and tool possible will be described as artisan and boutique and hand-crafted – adjectives that are the opposite of what the wines are. Wine analyst Paul Mabray has written extensively about this, and we’re trying to arrange a podcast to talk about it.

• We’re stuck with smooth. The worst descriptor in the history of wine is smooth; first, because it means nothing – water is smooth – and second, because wine isn’t supposed to be smooth. It is supposed to have texture and structure and body. Nevertheless, we’ll see wine marketed as “a sumptuous, almost magical outcome of the growing season and winemaking process.” Or, even worse, have smooth in its name. Or, even worse still, cost $20 or more and be boring, alcohol-infused fruit juice that only a handpicked focus group could love.

• The continuing death spiral of restaurant wine. We’ve talked about this many times over the past 18 months, and it’s just going to get worse. One study says almost three-quarters of adults will make dinner at home at least four nights a week this year. Where does this leave restaurant wine? Getting pricier, less interesting, and in the hands of aging Baby Boomers, the only ones who can afford to buy it. I saw this at a tres chic Dallas restaurant in December. We were the only table with a bottle of wine, and I had to navigate a sad and overpriced wine list to find something drinkable. Meanwhile, there was only one glass of wine at the table of eight Millennials next to us, and one of the men was drinking Basil Hayden with dinner.

• Big Wine branches out. The biggest wine companies have been hedging their bets with craft beer and spirits for years, and will continue to do so. But they will also expand into legal weed; witness Constellation Brands’ $191 million investment in a Canadian medical marijuana company. And why not, given that U.S. wine consumption is flat? It’s worth knowing that Constellation’s most profitable business, even though it owns Meomi, Mondavi, and Kim Crawford, is beer and craft spirits.

• Winery consolidation continues, mostly among medium-sized companies. This means that your $20 California brand, once owned by a family or a small group, will become part of a larger company that owns a lot of $20 brands. These companies, like Precept Wine, Foley Family Wines, and the Crimson Wine Group, have been active for a decade or more and own some of the best-known names in U.S. wine. This is happening for two reasons: first, the original owners are ready to retire and no one in the family wants the business; and second, the U.S. wine business has evolved into a business just like anything else – becoming what one analyst has called corporatized. Which then leads to smooth and the authenticity scam.

Winebits 517: Big Distributor, Big Wine, Wine.com

Big DisributorThis week’s wine news: Two of the biggest distributors in the country merge, plus Coke considers the wine business and Wine.com adds pick-up

The big get bigger: This spring, the 10 biggest distributors in the U.S. controlled almost three-quarters of the second tier of the U.S. wine business. That means that a handful of companies touched three-quarters of every bottle of wine we drank, adding another layer of bureaucracy and cost to a system that exists nowhere else in the world. Last week, the big got bigger, when No.2 RNDC announced it would merge with No. 3 Breakthru Beverage. That means, since Breakthru bought a smaller company in July, that the top eight companies will control 73.3 percent of the second tier. And, if that’s not enough concentration, the two biggest – Southern Glazer’s and the combined RNDC – will control 55.4 percent of the U.S. wholesale market. How anyone can claim this is beneficial to anyone but the distributors is beyond me. It will reduce competition, never good for consumers, and limit choice. That’s because fewer distributors mean the ones remaining will distribute fewer wines; can someone explain to me how that helps wine drinkers?

Is Coke returning to wine? One of the most famous failures in the wine business is Coca-Cola’s effort in the 1970s. Its brands included Sterling, but the company had little success and got out in 1984. So is Coke ready to try again? The company’s CEO said probably not, but that “Philosophically, I never say never about most things. …” Intriguingly, that company that bottles Coke in Australia is partners with the company that owns Yellow Tail, the best selling imported wine to the U.S., in the beer business.

Let me pick it up: Wine.com, the biggest on-line wine retailer in the U.S., has tripled the number of pickup locations to more than 10,000 across the country. This includes nearly 1,000 in California and more than 500 in New York. If you order from Wine.com, you don’t have to wait for it arrive at your house; you can get it FedEx Office locations, selected Walgreens and Duane Reades, plus some Safeway, Shaws, Jewel-Osco, Albertsons, and Fred Meyer grocery stores.

Winebits 495: Imported wine prices, Justin Beiber wine, Big Wine brands

imported wine pricesThis week’s wine news: Why a strong dollar doesn’t cut imported wine prices as much as it should, plus a rant about too commercial wine and Big Wine’s fastest growing labels

Not so cheap: The strong dollar has finally cut the price of imported wine, but it took surprisingly long and import prices don’t seem to be as falling the way they should be. A working paper in the Journal of Wine Economics may explain why: Laura Werner of Germany’s FernUniversitat writes that as the dollar gets stronger, other pricing pressures and how the supply chain works may slow price cuts. For example, the price of wine already in the U.S. or on its way here won’t fall, so that means a delay in cheaper wine until it’s sold at the higher price. The paper is incredibly complicated for those of us who don’t speak math, but my interpreter, Suneal Chaudhary, explained it to me. In the end, he said, a 25 percent drop in the euro may only result in a 10 to 15 percent drop in retail prices here.

Take that, crappy wine: A top Italian wine type has lashed out at wines that are too commercial, saying that “Winemakers need to gain more confidence and feel more comfortable in doing their own thing and making authentic wines that are true to themselves. Oherwise, you end up with the wine equivalent of Britney Spears and Justin Bieber – commercially focused wines made to suit the market.” That’s not the WC ranting, but Italian winemaker and consultant Alberto Antonini speaking to thedrinksbusiness magazine website. “I don’t like to make wine for the market,” he told the magazine. “I like to go out and make wine that is true to a place and then find a market for it.” Antonini was also scathing about winemakers who make what he called boring and ineffective Bordeaux knockoffs, because they don’t know what else to do.

The big get bigger: We’ve written many times on the blog about how much of the market is controlled by Big Wine, and this chart from the Wine Industry Insight website reminds us of that once again. It lists the 10 fastest growing brands in the U.S. from 2015 to 2016 – five of which are owned by Big Wine, including the top four. How about 1,600 percent growth for Constellation’s Ravage, which seems to be something the WC would write long diatribes about, and 400 percent for E&J Gallo’s Vin Vault boxed wine?