The nutritional label pictured here is for Bulleit Rye, and should be on bottles this summer (click to make it bigger). Is it perfect? No, since it doesn’t list all the ingredients.
But is it still better than almost anything the wine business has done or wants to do? Of course. Because the wine business still doesn’t think consumers want to know this stuff, still thinks it’s not possible to do on a wine bottle, and still thinks consumers act like it’s 1955.
But Diageo, the company that owns Bulleit, knows better. Understand three reasons why this label matters:
• A shot of Bulleit (which is a very nice rye and fairly priced) has 110 calories – about the same as a light beer. Anyone who doesn’t think that matters to consumers hasn’t spent any time in a grocery store watching people read canned soup labels.
• Notice the lines about where the rye was distilled and bottled. This addresses the controversy (and lawsuits) surrounding craft spirits and how they are made. Diageo is practicing transparency, something the wine business is terrified of doing. Call it MegaPurple paranoia.
• “Made using a 95% rye mash,” though confusing if you don’t know spirits, means the Bulleit has almost twice as much rye as required by law. Legally, it can contain as little as 51 percent rye; the rest would be barley, corn, or other grains. The wine equivalent would be listing how much pinot noir is actually in a bottle of pinot noir. Too many producers meet the 75 percent legal requirement, and flesh the wine out with syrah, grenache, petite sirah, or our old friend MegaPurple without telling us what’s in the other 25 percent.
Finally, my contact at Diageo went out of her way to help me with this post, even locating the Bulleit label in proof. I usually don’t get that kind of cooperation from Big Wine when I write about this subject. I don’t wonder why.
More about nutrition and ingredient labels:
• Wine and GMO labeling
• Update: Nutrition labels and what the wine business doesn’t understand
• Nutrition labels coming to wine — finally
? Treasury gets Diageo wine: Get ready for more Big Wine news in the wake of Diageo selling its handful of wine brands to Australia’s Treasury Wine Estates. The $351 million deal gives Treasury four million cases worth of wine in the U.S., which may move it into the top five of U.S. producers. The key is what Treasury will do with the brands, which include Sterling: Will it keep all of them, or sell some it sees as too cheap for its new focus on wine costing more than $10? Also, the purchase was as much about getting Diageo’s infrastructure in the U.S., including its bottling lines. Finally, there is this great quote from Treasury boss Michael Clark: “We remain committed to our strategic road map of transitioning our business from an order-taking agricultural company to a brand-led and capital-light marketing organization.” If anyone can explain what that means, I’ll send you a copy of the cheap wine book.
? It’s all about Italy: We can argue about what wine consumers want, but we can’t argue with the numbers. Hence, Italy’s continued success in selling wine in the U.S., accounting for one-third of all imported wine in dollar terms the first six months of this year. The big losers? Australia, still, as well as Chile and Argentina. Americans want pinot grigio and Prosecco, and Italy is happy to give it to us at mostly cheap prices. The Aussies, on the other hand have little that anyone wants, as sales fell seven percent in dollars and six percent in volume. How the mighty have fallen.
? The French are drinking again: Decanter reports that a government survey found a six percent increase in “occasional wine drinkers,” who accounted for half of the respondents. This is important news in a country where wine consumption has declined steadily for decades. This group included younger drinkers and women, who say they were more likely to have one or two glasses of wine a week. To put this in perspective, that one or two glasses of wine a week is more than bottle a month, which means an occasional wine drinker in France drinks more than the average adult in the U.S.
? This is how hip rose has become: California winemaker Dave Phinney’s Locations wines are huge critical and popular hits — wines made in different parts of the world (even Texas) with top-notch winemakers under Phinney’s supervision. They’re known for the big country initial on the label — F from France, I for Italy, and so forth, and as huge, alcoholic fruit bombs — not something I especially enjoy. So what’s the newest Locations wine? A 15 percent French Locations rose, because if the hipsters want brose, Phinney is going to give it to them. The wine lists for $17; given the price and the high alcohol, I couldn’t bring myself to buy it for a review. Even the Wine Curmudgeon has his limits. But if someone wants to write a review, I’ll be happy to run it on the blog, even if you like the wine.
? The big get bigger — or something: Diageo, one of the biggest drinks companies in the world, has decided that wine isn’t big enough for them, and will probably sell the the handful of wine companies that it owns. That these are huge brands, like Sterling and Rosenblum, makes the decision even more intriguing, since Diageo is a top 10 wine company in the U.S. But Diageo, based in Britain, wants to boost its stock price and, as the financial types like to say, “reassure investors” that it wants to make more money. This has always baffled me; what company doesn’t want to make more money? If this happens, look for Sterling and its Diageo brethren to go to some sort of leveraged buyout company, which will cut costs and take the brands private.
? Big Beer? It’s not enough that we’re probably going to have just one beer company accounting for one-third of the beer in the world, but now it looks like craft beer — much of which isn’t all that crafty anymore — could be bigger than the California wine business by the end of 2016. That’s according to figures compiled by Lew Perdue at Wine Industry Insight, who found that craft beer is growing three times as quickly as the California wine business. Given that growth, it would total more than $29 billion, about $1 billion more than California wine. So much for premiumization.
Because it’s always worth knowing what the six companies that control 60 percent of the U.S. wine business, plus their biggest competitors, are up to:
? The biggest producer you’ve never heard of: Delicato Family Vineyards makes 5 million cases of wine a year, almost all of it Great Wall of Grocery store stuff, and almost all of it in anonymity. You might have heard of some of its brands, like Bota Box and Gnarly Head, but the winery itself is perfectly happy to be little known. That’s why this two-part interview (here and here) with Delicato president and CEO Chris Indelicato, conducted by the Shanken News Service is worthwhile. Indelicato talked about wine prices and that another big harvest in California this year will mean lower margins for producers, if not lower prices for consumers; that we’ll see more cheap pinot noir that doesn’t exactly taste like pinot noir because consumers want it; and that consumers are smarter than they used to be. Which doesn’t exactly jibe with doing Bota Box pinot noir and what Indelicato calls the consumer’s demand for soft — i.e., sweet — red, but who am I to argue with a 5 million case producer?
?Big companies, big results: Each year, the Impact trade magazine names its Blue Chip Brands, which have to meet growth and profit targets. Not surprisingly (at least for those of us paying attention), one of the Big Six, Constellation Brands, and Diageo, in the top 15, account for nearly one-third of the 2014 of Blue Chip Brands for beer, spirits, and wine. Constellation’s wines included Woodbridge, Black Box, Estancia, Ruffino, Kim Crawford, and Simi, though Diageo ?s brands were all beer and spirits. I’d also mention that all but one of the Constellation wines cost $10 or less, but that would probably be preaching to the choir.
? Big and getting bigger: The news release itself is close to useless, full of jargon and terms most of us don’t understand. But the gist is what matters: That Chile’s Concha y Toro, the biggest Latin American wine producer with $950 million in sales, is growing at a rate of 18 percent a year. That makes it one of the 15 biggest wine companies in the U.S. market, with more market share here than Diageo. Again, this is a company that most wine drinkers don’t know (though they have likely heard of Fetzer, which Concha bought in 2011). In this, it’s another example of how the biggest companies continue to tighten their grip on the market.
? Grahm sells Pacific Rim: Randall Grahm has sold one of the last parts of his $10 wine empire, the Pacific Rim white wine brand, to the family that owns Banfi Vintners, a leading U.S. wine importer, and Italy’s Castello Banfi winery. No sale price was disclosed. Grahm, the impresario of California’s Bonny Doon, broke up his $10 wine operation in 2006, selling the Big House and Cardinal Zin labels and splitting Pacific Rim off from Bonny Doon. Pacific Rim, based in Washington state, is best known for riesling, but also does gewurtztraminer and chenin blanc.
? Not enough qualified sommeliers? That’s the opinion of top sommelier Jordan Mackay, who says demand for the wine experts in restaurants has outgrown supply. “Inexperienced sommeliers are winding up in jobs that they’re simply not ready for,” he wrote on Zester Daily Web site. This has hurt restaurant wine sales and reputations, he says, and isn’t so good for the rest of us: “And, diners, for a while, be warned that you may face young somms intent on selling you the wine they like (instead of the one you’re asking for).”
? Diageo wants serving facts on labels: Diageo, one of the world’s largest drinks company, wants the federal government to allow producers to put nutritional information, like serving size, alcohol per serving, carbohydrates and calories, on wine and spirits. The government’s alcohol Tax and Trade Bureau has been considering the Serving Fact Information proposal since 2003 — so long ago that I wrote a newspaper story about it. It has been held up by resistance from the industry, as well as a low priority in Washington. Diageo, seeing a marketing advantage, wants the TTB to let producers voluntarily include the information.