Tag Archives: coronavirus (COVID-19)

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Winecast 53: Doug Caskey and Drink Local during the pandemic

doug caskey

Doug Caskey and his spiffy Colorado wine Zoom background.

“The situation isn’t good, but it’s difficult to make a monolithic assessment. The situation depends on where you are, and it can be all across the board.”

Colorado’s Doug Caskey has been one of the leaders in the local wine movement for almost as long as there has been one. He has been the executive director of the Colorado Wine Industry Development Board since 2000, and has served in a variety of roles with the Wine America trade group. As such, he is well-placed to discuss how the pandemic is clobbering regional wine.

Perhaps the biggest problem, Doug said, is that state laws classify wineries as bars. This means they suffer from the same restrictions as places people go to pick up girls and boys and to get drunk. Which, of course, is hardly the case with a winery tasting room. In addition, local wineries depend on events like weddings and concerts to stay in business, which are also limited by pandemic bar restrictions.

Among the topics we discussed:

• The recent spike in coronavirus cases doesn’t bode well for Drink Local, since wineries that have been able to re-open their tasting rooms may not be able to keep them open.

• The pandemic hasn’t been a boon for Drink Local at retail, despite all the glowing sales numbers. Consumers seem to be buying the best known brands instead of trying lesser known regional labels.

• The Trump wine tariff, advertised as a help to Drink Local, has actually been a tremendous hindrance. It has wreaked havoc on the wine supply chain, making it more difficult for local wines to get on store shelves.

Yurts, as a solution to outdoor winter dining. Yes, yurts.

Click here to download or stream the podcast, which is about 13 minutes long and takes up almost 9 megabytes. Quality is mostly excellent. And yes, I was able to post Doug’s Zoom background.

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Winecast 45: DCanter’s Michael Warner and wine retail trends during the duration

Michael Warner

Michael Warner of DCanter

Our wine purchases during the duration? Cheap and cheerful, says this Washington, D.C. retailer

Michael Warner, the co-founder of DCanter, a neighborhood wine shop in Washington, D.C.’s Capitol Hill neighborhood, has seen all the reports about wine buying during the duration: More expensive wine to treat ourselves, lots of this and some of that, and even boxed wine. But he thinks he has seen something significant at this shop, which has more affluent demographics than most.

“Cheap and cheerful,” says Warner, whose store is seven years old. “People are buying less expensive wine. They’re not entertaining, which is when they would buy more expensive wine.”

In this, he says, his customers are buying more vinho verde, the cheap Portuguese fizzy wine, as well as half bottles. That’s because those who live alone want wine for dinner, but don’t want to waste it, and that’s what half bottles are for.

We also talked about:

• That wine delivery and Internet sales have become as important as the studies suggest. Dcanter sold more wine on-line in the first two days of D.C.’s stay at home order than it did in the previous three years.

• The need to update delivery and on-line ordering regulations to reflect the 21st century. DCanter’s customers who live in Maryland,  just a couple of miles away, can’t get delivery. But those in Virginia, also a couple of miles away, can. How much sense does that make?

• The obstructions in the wine supply chain thanks to the pandemic, and that it is becoming more difficult to find imported wine.

• Wine retail websites, and how too many of them look and work like they were put up during GeoCities’ heyday.

Click here to download or stream the podcast, which is about 11 minutes long and takes up 4 1/2 megabytes and was recorded on Skype, the blog’s unofficial podcast software.

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Winecast 44: Clara Klein, Sunday Vinyl

Clara Klein

Clara Klein, Sunday Vinyl

Stuck at home? Then there’s nothing wrong with $12 white Bordeaux, fast food, and pantry staples, says Clara Klein

Clara Klein, the lead sommelier at Sunday Vinyl in Denver, bought a house in October. Six months later, she was unemployed, courtesy of the coronavirus pandemic.

Hence, the reason for this podcast — Clara offers smart, insightful perspective on wine and the restaurant business during the duration. I’ve known Clara for a couple of years from judging the Colorado Governor’s Cup, and she understands that not all wine costs $100 or needs to be Napa Valley cabernet sauvignon. How many people in her line of work are willing to admit that?

Clara is also a passionate supporter of local restaurants, local jobs, and local food. And her plea for federal aid to help save local is one of the best I have read or heard. If four out of five restaurants close because of the pandemic, do we really want the one restaurant left to be a national chain?

The good news is that she has plenty of inexpensive wine at home, and she and husband Ian Palazzola (laid off from Denver’s Acorn) have been able to cook, drink wine, and spend time together. Which, she says, doesn’t happen much. Finally, a mea culpa: Sunday Vinyl is in Denver, despite my saying it was in Boulder twice.

Click here to download or stream the podcast, which is almost 11 minutes long and takes up 4 megabytes. The sound quality is very good; we’re back with  Skype, the blog’s unofficial podcast software.

Photo courtesy of 5280, using a Creative Commons license

Winebits 642: Coronavirus wine roundup

coronavirus wine This week’s wine news: Coronavirus wine sales trends, more Pennsylvania legal foolishness, and virtual wine tasting samples

What comes next? Noted wine business analyst Christian Miller, a long-time friend of the blog, tells Forbes’ Liza Zimmerman that the coronavirus pandemic could finally slow wine sales later this spring, and the slowdown could last through 2021. The good news, he says, is that “Demand for wine is not going to dry up, or even diminish much, once the initial shocks are ridden out.” He also sees significant changes in the three-tier system as it struggles to cope with the pandemic. The former is pretty much what SVB’s Rob McMillan told the blog a couple of weeks ago, and the latter is something I wrote about last week.

More fun in Pennsylvania: Remember Pennsylvania closing its state-owned liquor stores? Remember state residents being asked to leave neighboring New Jersey and Delaware when they came in search of booze? Well, now the state is being sued by two wholesalers, who say the state is violating its own laws by refusing to let the wholesalers sell directly to retailers and restaurants. The details, not surprisingly since it’s Pennsylvania, are quite confusing. But it’s enough to know that the state’s liquor control board says it doesn’t have to obey that particular law because it is still studying it.

Bring on the samples! The Wine Curmudgeon knows that many of you in the cyber-ether have been worried that I would not be able to receive wine samples for virtual tastings during the duration. But have no fear. The federal agency that oversees that sort of thing said last week that not only wine writers, but consumers would be able to receive “small containers of wine” for virtual tasting. There’s lots of fine print, depending on which state you live in, but this is one more example of the pandemic pushing the three-tier system to the side.

Image: “wine” by Chas Redmond is licensed under CC BY 2.0 

Winebits 640: Aussie booze rationing, restaurant closures, wine sales

booze rationing

Yes, that’s a line at an Australian liquor store as customers “stock up.”

This week’s wine news: Booze rationing, as only the Australians can do it, plus looking at restaurant closures and that pandemic-fueled spike in wine sales

How much do you buy otherwise? Australia’s top retailers are rationing booze purchases to prevent hoarding, which seems reasonable given all that is going on. But the limits are mind-boggling: two 24 beer-cases or pre-mixed drinks, 12 bottles of wine, or two bottles of spirits. And you can buy the limit in two of those categories. Even with pandemic-related pub closures, alcohol spending Down Under increased 34 percent in the 52 weeks to March 27. I wonder what the U.S. neo-Prohibitionists would say about that. The Reuters story did note that “one in six adults drinks more than the recommended daily maximum.”

Restaurant closures: More than one in 10 U.S. restaurants could be closed permanently by the end of the month, says a study from the National Restaurant Association. Restaurant Business reports that three percent have already closed, which translates to 30,000 locations around the country. If 11 percent close, which the study said was possible, that’s another 100,000 empty stores. Nationally, restaurant sales were down 47 percent between March 1 and March 22. “That’s a stunning decline for an industry that operates on a weak foundation of thin margins and excessive debt,” said the story.

Wine sales up: Some good news – wine sales in the U.S. were up 66 percent March 7 to March 14, far outpacing every other alcoholic beverage as Americans, to quote Nielsen, participated in “consumer pantry-loading time.” That phrase is even worse than social distancing and sheltering in place – shame on you, Nielsen. On-line sales, meanwhile, were up an unprecedented 243 percent. That figure is worth another post; look for it on Friday.

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Winecast 43: Rob McMillan and what happens when all this is over

rob mcmillan

Rob McMillan: There are going be better quality grapes in cheap wine, even as wine prices decline.

“What’s going to happen to demand? People are still going to drink”

The good news? Rob McMillan of Silicon Valley Bank, perhaps the foremost financial analyst in the wine business, says wine can survive the coronavirus pandemic. The bad news? It’s not going to be a lot of fun during the duration.

The highlights of our conversation:

• Expect to see weaker wineries fail, as well as some grape growers who don’t have producers to buy their grapes. In this, there probably won’t be bankruptcies or foreclosures as much as there will distress sales. There are always people wiling to buy wineries, says McMillan, even in a recession, and prime vineyard prices probably won’t decline all that much.

• Wine prices were expected to fall before the pandemic hit the U.S., and the stay at home orders and layoffs will only hasten the process. In this, though, since there are too many grapes, expect to see better quality grapes going into cheap wine. One rumor? That a major $3 producer snapped up Napa Valley cabernet sauvignon at bargain prices.

• Look for more producers to try to sell their wines at mass retailers and supermarkets. The loss of tasting room business needs to be made up somehow, and retail wine sales haven’t slumped as much as some thought.

Click here to download or stream the podcast, which is about 18 minutes long and takes up 11 megabytes. The sound quality is very good; it’s my first podcast with Zoom.

Hoarding toilet paper and what it says about us in the time of the coronavirus

toilet paper

This is where the toilet paper wasn’t on my trip to a Dallas Kroger on Thursday morning.

Is hoarding toilet paper really the best way to fight the disease?

How screwed up is this country at this place and time, even though the Coronavirus (COVID-19) is barely here? So screwed up that the best advice I’ve heard came from a couple of sports radio hosts, who are hardly the source one would expect. They told their Dallas audience on Thursday morning to ignore everything they hear and read about the illness unless it comes from an expert – and no, Twitter trolls do not count as experts.

Yes, this has nothing to do with wine. But I just got back from my local Kroger, and the picture with this post is where the toilet paper should be. How did we get to the point where our reaction to a global crisis is to horde toilet paper? When that happens, someone needs to say something, and I’ve never shirked that responsibility.

This is the United States, and we’re supposed to be the best and the brightest and to set an example for the rest of the world. That was the point of our experiment in self-government 244 years ago; as Benjamin Franklin put it: “Our cause is the cause of all mankind….

Instead, we’re hording toilet paper.

We should be leading the fight against the Coronavirus (COVID-19), not banning travel from Europe. Talk about locking the barn door. The virus is here – banning travel isn’t going to make it go away or slow its spread. That’s what makes a pandemic a pandemic. Instead, we should be spending the time and energy and money we’re wasting on the travel ban for testing kits and medical supplies, and for research to understand what this thing is, and how it spreads, and how to contain it.

But we’re hording toilet paper.

Says one leading scientist: It’s “clear from genomic evidence that community spread is occurring in Washington state and beyond. That kind of distortion and denial is dangerous and almost certainly contributed to the federal government’s sluggish response. … Transmission rates and death rates are not measurements that can be changed with will and an extroverted presentation.”

Hopefully, we figure this thing out sooner rather than later. Until then, people will die. But not to worry, right? We’ll have enough toilet paper.