Tag Archives: coronavirus (COVID-19)

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Winecast 68: Clara Klein and restaurant wine after the pandemic

Clara Klein
Clara Klein, Sunday Vinyl: We have challenges, but we’re dealing with them.

Clara Klein: “The restaurant wine business is good.”

Know all that bad news we’ve heard about restaurant wine prices? Clara Klein, the lead sommelier at Sunday Vinyl in Denver, says it’s not necessarily so.

Klein, the blog’s official restaurant wine expert, returned to discuss what she is seeing as the restaurant wine business works its way out of the pandemic. She is seeing some significant changes in restaurant wine, including better pricing and more choices. “It’s important not to dumb it down — we’re having too much fun,” says Klein.

Among the subjects we discussed:

• Rose season should proceed on schedule, with prices more or less the same and decent selection. Which, of course, is good news for the blog’s 15h annual rose extravaganza next week.

• She is working diligently to keep pricing fair and selection high. How about a quality bottle of restaurant wine for $35? Sunday Vinyl also has expanded its wine by the glass offerings and has added tasting flights for some of the most expensive bottles on its list. That way, says Klein, customers can get a chance to taste rare wines they would not otherwise be able to afford.

• Working conditions have improved as well — health insurance and 401K plans included. In this, she says, the restaurant has been able to attract more and better qualified employees.

Finally, you’ll notice what is perhaps the first discussion of Greek wine on the blog. Which, as I note, is almost surely the last discussion, given how difficult it is to find Greek wine in most of the country.

Click here to download or stream the podcast, which is about 19 minutes long and takes up 13 megabytes. The sound quality is very good to excellent.

Photo courtesy of 5280, using a Creative Commons license

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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.