This week’s wine news: 1 Wine Dude’s Joe Roberts takes on premiumization, plus the grape glut worsens and the Wine Advocate is sold
• “Impending hangover?” Joe Roberts, who writes the 1 Dude Blog, doesn’t mince words: “It seems that, in focusing on selling higher and higher priced wine to a dwindling set of older consumers, the U.S. wine business has painted [itself] into a corner. …” I asked Joe about the piece, which rips the wine business as few others have, and he pointed out he has been warning the wine business about its follies for as long as I have. Maybe we can beat this premiumization thing after all.
• “A steep decline?” California’s grape glut continues to get, well, gluttier. The Napa Valley Register, the industry’s hometown newspaper, reports that “2019 has been a year where it’s tough to sell grapes and bulk wine.” In fact, even Napa Valley cabernet sauvignon – the epicenter of premiumization – has plummeted in price. Quality cabernet, says one broker, has been selling for one-quarter to one-third the price of past years. This almost certainly points to lower wine California wine prices – if not in the next six to eight months, then by the end of next year.
• So much for that strategy: In 2012, Robert Parker sold the Wine Advocate to a group of Singapore inventors. The goal, the company said at the time, was to expand the reach of perhaps the most influential magazine in the history of wine to China. So the news that France’s Michelin Guide has bought the 60 percent that it didn’t buy in 2017 probably speaks to the end of the strategy. The story in the link is mostly a puff piece that really doesn’t explain what’s going on, but there’s a sense that Michelin’s need to expand its food and wine review business trumped whatever plans an independent Advocate had or could afford.
Joe Roberts helped revolutionize wine writing, becoming the first wine blogger with a reach, an audience, and reputation that equaled many print writers. Not surprisingly, he came to wine from a successful business career, unburdened by most of the wine foolishness that hampers the rest of us.
I’ve known Joe since he attended our Drink Local Wine conference in Denver in 2012, and he has always displayed an open mind, a willingness to try something he has never tried before, and an understanding that just because he likes something doesn’t mean everyone else will or should like it. As he says in the podcast, “I tend to drink wines that score lower on my own scale. … I don’t care. It’s delicious.”
Among the other topics we discussed:
? Wine is not one size fits all. This is something, he says, that is difficult for most people in the wine business to understand, trapped as they are by the three-tier system and the complex laws that regulate wine sales. In this, Joe says with a laugh, wine producers, retailers, and distributors have to pay more attention to what he writes about their product than what consumers think about it. How many other businesses does that happen in?
? The pants analogy, which I’m going to steal: That when we buy pants, we trust our taste, our sense, our style — no Pants Spectator, no scores, no tasting notes. The goal, then, is to help consumers reach that same level of confidence with wine. Or, as he said, “No one freaks out in the mustard aisle.”
? It’s easier to get to that confidence level than ever before, with more resources for consumers, whether on-line with writers like us, friends, or social media. “If you find a bottle of wine that you enjoy, and you’re happy you’re not getting ripped off, than you’re doing OK.”
Click here to download or stream the podcast, which is about 18 minutes long and takes up 8 1/2 megabytes. The sound quality is very good, and Skype ? the unofficial VoIP provider for the blog ? was in exceptionally fine form for the third consecutive podcast.