Tag Archives: James Conaway

Winebits 531: Two wine rants and three-tier reform

three-tier reformThis week’s wine news: Two wine analysts may be even less optimistic about the future of wine than I am, plus Internet retailer Wine.com calls for three-tier system reform

Napa Valley worries: Author James Conaway, who has written three books about California’s most prestigious wine region, is “pessimistic and alarmed about the valley’s state and direction.” That’s the word from Mike Dunne in the Sacramento Bee. Conaway is afraid Napa will morph into a “viticultural Disneyland, vineyards as sideshows, wineries as thrill rides.” “I don’t see any hope,” he told Dunne. “It’s too late for it to become an agricultural Yosemite.” That’s as gloomy a view as I’ve heard, but not surprising given the news out of Napa in the past decade as the region tries to decide how to manage its unprecedented growth. When land costs as much as $1 million an acre, it’s difficult to sustain an agricultural vision.

Boxes, bulk wine, and blends: Or how about a wine business where what we drink is made like juice boxes, and varietal character is as quaint as the blacksmith? Elliott R. Morss, PhD, isn’t quite that alarming, but it’s not far from what he writes to that scenario: “The growth in blends is also notable. It means customers are focusing less on specific grapes and region and trusting more on the bottler. As the blend demand grows, so will the demand for bulk wines. …” The blog article is a little geeky, but the trends that Morss outlines apply to all of us who want our wine to taste like the grape and region it came from.

Three-tier Ecommerce? Wine.com, the largest Internet wine retailer in the U.S., wants to reform the three-tier system to make it 21st century e-commerce friendly. You won’t learn much more that that – if that much – from this very poorly written news release, which combines PR-, wine-, and supply chain-speak to create a language that even I had trouble understanding. The point, though, is that the retailer sees U.S. wine sales declining and wants to do something to make it easier for consumers to buy wine. Says one Wine.com official: “Limiting the market size of your own customers is not a recipe for growth.”