This week’s wine news: Costco wine’s Annette Alvarez-Peters, often called the most important person in the U.S. wine business, retired quietly at the end of last year. Plus, the California grape glut does in Treasury Wine Estate’s stock and CBS fudges on Capt. Picard’s vineyard
• Costco wine: Annette Alvarez-Peters, who oversaw Costco’s massive success in wine (as well beer and spirits), retired at the end of last year and without any fanfare. Which, given her annual ranking as one of the two or three most important people in the U.S. wine business, is amazing. As one wine marketer told me: “Potentially tectonic news.” Since 2010, Costco’s alcohol revenues almost doubled to $4.4 billion annually. She will be succeeded by Chad Sokol, who had been an assistant general merchandise manager.
• Grape glut: Sinking U.S. wine prices, brought on the the California grape glut, sunk Treasury Wine Estate’s stock price last week. Its share price has fallen 18 percent on its home Australian stock market on news that too much wine in the U.S. forced it to “walk away” from around 500,000 cases of wine in this country. Or, in Wine Curmudgeon-speak, Treasury had to discount heavily to get rid of the wine. The story in the link says Aussie investors want the company to dump its U.S. producers, which include Beringer, BV, and Sterling.
This week’s wine news: Utah makes it a crime to have wine with dinner, plus Australia restricts wine sales, and Italian wine thieves
• Utah drunk driving: Utah’s new legal drinking limit – the toughest in the country – will turn almost anyone who has a couple of glasses of wine with dinner into a criminal. How else to explain the state’s .05 limit, which translates to drinking two glass of wine for an ordinary sized man and one glass of wine for an ordinary sized woman? We’ve written about this before, part of the Neo-Prohibitionist movement to restrict drinking by focusing on health, and what’s more health-related than drunk driving? That it will criminalize legal behavior – “Utah: Come for vacation, leave on probation,” said one ad opposing the law – doesn’t seem to bother them. Ironically, phone calls to the governor of the predominantly Mormon state, and Mormons aren’t supposed to drink, ran 9 to 1 against the law.
• Not just in the U.S.: Costco, the world’s largest wine retailer, not only has to endure our old pal the three-tier system in the U.S., but an Australian version as well. It can’t sell alcohol in the state of South Australia, even though it sells wine in three other Aussie states. I can’t quite figure out why, though there seems to be opposition from other retailers as well as more restrictive licensing in the state.
• Gotcha! Italian police have broken up a crime gang in northern Italy, but only after they stole 16,000 bottles of fine wine, worth around €100,000 (US$108,000), as well as €80,000 (US$87,000) worth of Parmigiano-Reggiano cheese and an undisclosed amount of Modea balsamic vinegar. Police launched Operation Wine and Cheese, as it was called, following a series of high-value food thefts between 2015 and 2016. The thefts are quite common in Italy, and especially for the pricey Parmigiano-Reggiano.
Some intriguing news about how wine retailing works just in time for the holiday shopping season.
? Best places to buy wine: W. Blake Gray ranks the nine best places to buy wine, and it’s not surprising that his top pick is the independent where someone waits on you. More important, though, is that he speaks rare truths about a couple of respected retailers: At No. 4, “You won’t find bargains at Whole Foods, but over $25 you will find interesting wines” and No. 8, where “there’s a widespread myth that Trader Joe’s wines are great values. Actually they are just cheaply sourced wines: an $8 wine there has the same markup as an $8 wine at ay other store, but most other stores put more effort into quality control.” That’s the kind of honest wine writing I wish we had more of on the Internet — and in print, as well.
? Because points matter: Australian wine writer Philip White details the sad and not exactly honest relationship between wine scores, wine writing, and wine retailing. “Put very simply, whether it ?s the wine shows or the shiny mags or books, the system of scoring wines has not done much to improve the average quality of the wines made in Australia. Rather, the scores are awarded according to fad, fashion and what needs to be sold, usually as dictated to the judging teams by their chair.” In other words, the only way retailers, producers, and wine media is with high scores, which don’t necessarily benefit consumers or the quality of the wine. Wonder if White is the down under version of the WC?
? College scholarship: The St. Louis Media History Foundation has established a college scholarship in honor of Joe Pollack, who died earlier this year. Joe was not only a great wine writer, but a fine human being who was a huge supporter of what we did with DrinkLocalWine. He could also tell a story with the best of them, and I missed that this year. I can hear him analyzing everything that happened, whether the presidential election or Robert Parker. Contributions to the scholarship fund are tax-deductible; contact the foundation for donation information.
? Best Texas wines: Two of the state ?s best critics have published their top 2012 wines, and there are some impressive efforts on both lists. What struck me about Jessica Dupuy at Texas Monthly's selections was the breadth ? not just the same old names. Russ Kane at Vintage Texas had red and white posts; Russ does love his tempranillo (which I note because I never thought it would amount to anything in Texas, and I was quite wrong).
? Most powerful women: The Drinks Business trade magazine, based in Britain, shows why it may be the most insightful liquor trade in the world with this top 50 list. It includes two Americans in the top three, neither of whom has initials after their names or has anything to do with Bordeaux, which are usually the only types who make these lists. Gina Gallo is No .1 because her family ?s company, E&J Gallo, ?sold 75 million cases of wine last year, up 7 percent on 2010, dwarfing second place Concha y Toro ?s 29.7 million. ? In third was Costco ?s Annette Alvarez-Peters, one ?of the most powerful wine buyers in the world, responsible for influencing hundreds of thousands of consumer palates. ?
CNBC, the cable network, is running a documentary later this week about what it calls “The Costco Craze: Inside the Warehouse Giant.” Part of this is a very quick look at the role Costco plays in the wine business as the largest importer of high-end French wine in the U.S. and as perhaps the largest wine retailer in the world.
The clip, which is after the jump, is revealing if only for the interview with Annette Alvarez-Peters, who oversees Costco’s wine buying — and rarely gives interviews. It’s not long, only a couple of minutes, but worthwhile for Alvarez-Peters’ reaction when reporter Carl Quintanilla asks her if she is the most powerful person in the wine world. Continue reading →
More importantly, and though it seems contradictory, the victory will spur the the beer and spirts lobbies to push harder for HR 1161, their attempt to limit federal control of booze regulation and to allow the states to manage their own liquor laws as they best see fit. More, after the jump: