This week’s wine news: Coke and wine – is the soft drinks giant pondering the wine business again? Plus the confusing sizes of canned wine and bias in wine scores
• We’d like to teach the world to sing: The Wine Curmudgeon reports this item with a caveat – there has already been one correction made to the story, and there may be another error in it. Still, it comes from the usually reliable drinks business trade magazine: An Australian newspaper reports that the Aussie Coca-Cola bottler, Coca-Cola Amatil, wants to buy the wine brands owned by Pernod Ricard, the luxury French booze house. Its products include Chivas Regal whisky, Absolut vodka, and Beefeater gin. Pernod’s wine holdings include Jacobs Creek in Australia, Brancott Estate in New Zealand, and California’s Kenwood. Know that this isn’t exactly like Coke’s first foray into wine, which was a disaster (and which the story in the link overlooks). The Atlanta-based company lasted six years in California and New York before selling its holdings. Coca-Cola Amatil is partly owned by Coke, and there is no indication that if it buys Pernod’s wine labels that it will be like Coke actually owning wine again. This is something else the story in the link is unclear about.
• One size doesn’t fit all: Talk to anyone in the wine business about canned wine, and their first complaint is that there are three sizes for canned wine, as opposed to one for beer and soft drinks, and none of which are 12 ounces. Plus, one size can only be sold in a three- or four-pack. That’s the legacy of federal booze law, which regulates package sizes according to alcohol content. U.S. Senator Charles Schumer (D-NY) wants to change that. He’s asking the federal Tax and Trade Bureau that oversees these regulations to streamline the process and make it possible for wine to be sold in 12-ounce cans.
• The inherent bias of wine scores: The Wine Gourd’s David Morrison, who apparently dislikes scores even more than the Wine Curmudgeon does, regularly runs mathematical analyses of wine scores. His current examination, looking at scores form the Wine Advocate and the Wine Spectator : “All three datasets show that variation in wine-quality scores is substantial, and that it arises from several sources. When you combine these sources of variation, it is difficult to attribute any mathematical precision to the use of numbers for wine commentary.” It’s good to know that the math agrees with those of us who see scores as inherently biased, thanks to the flaws that are an integral part of post-modern wine criticism.
This week’s wine news: Rose growth continues, plus Coke is launching alcopop in Japan and on-line grocery store wine sales
• Bring on the pink: Rose shows no signs of slowing down, despite what some curmudgeonly wine writers might think. This post in a trade publication calls it a “category killer,” which means its sales are growing much, much faster than other wines. According to Nielsen, rose is outpacing overall U.S. wine growth and still growing at double digits – “a rate unheard of in other categories.” I’m convinced (and ignoring the hip factor, which has played a role) that’s because rose represents one of the last values in wine – a quality product at a fair price that tastes like it should.
• One more time: Coke, whose failure in the wine business 30 years ago was almost as big a debacle as New Coke, is launching an alcoholic beverage in Japan – call it alcopop. The BBC reports that Coke wants to take advantage of “the country’s growing taste for Chu-Hi — canned sparkling flavored drinks given a kick with a local spirit called shochu.” The products, sweet and fizzy, have about as much alcohol as beer, three to eight percent. Chu-Hi is especially popular with younger women.
• Directly to your door: A European consultancy says U.S. supermarkets will boost wine sales via on-line and home delivery – shocking news for those of us who have watched the three-tier system have the opposite effect. But a Rabobank report says its “relative irrelevance will not last long. We firmly believe it will develop into the most important driver of on-line alcohol sales.” The reason, says the report, is that alcohol delivery will benefit from projected growth in increased grocery store delivery, piggybacking on its increase. It also cites a huge boost in Google searches for “alcohol delivery.” Which is all well and good, but there’s a long way from a Google search to actual on-line delivery.
This 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.