Tag Archives: legal marijuana

Winebits 538: Wine competition judges, legal weed, green wine

wine competiton judgesThis week’s wine news: How do we improve the quality of wine competition judges? Plus more indications that legal weed will hurt wine and consumers’ attitudes toward green wine

Judging the judges: Jamie Goode at the Wine Anorak asks the question that all of us who judge wine competitions should ask – how can we increase the diversity and quality of the judges? This is a question that has come up increasingly over the past several years, with little consensus about what needs to be done. Interestingly, writes Goode, “It’s not always the famous people or the people with letters after their name who turn out to be the best judges. [I know some MWs who have passed a difficult blind tasting paper, but who are weak, inconsistent judges.]”

• Marijuana vs. wine: Tom Wark talks about a report that offers three reasons why legal marijuana poses a threat to wine sales, something we’ve talked about before here. Writes Wark: “I highly recommend reading this article because it offers a logical and well-sourced argument why the wine industry ought to be worried.” Intriguingly, legal weed can sale its health benefits, which is something I’ve never thought about (probably too many Cheech and Chong bits in my youth). Wine, on the other hand, has always seemed torn about whether wine and health was a good thing.

Green wine: The Wine Market Council reports that regular wine drinkers like the idea of organic and organically-produced wines, and might even pay more for them. But the study doesn’t address why the market for green wine is almost non-existent, and especially when compared to other organic fruits and vegetables, as well as meat, pork, and chicken. One reason, which the report hints at, is the confusion between terms: organic wine is different from organically-produced wine, while both are different from biodynamic and sustainable.

Wine trends 2018

wine trends 2018
Who needs wine? We have legal weed.

Wine trends 2018: The wine business prepares for a future where fewer of us drink wine, focusing on “authenticity” and making us believe smooth is good

Wine trends 2018 will revolve around the wine business preparing for a future where fewer of us drink wine. Meanwhile, the news for wine prices in 2018 isn’t good. And my 2017 trends are here.

• The search for authenticity, or, Can we scam the wine drinker? As Big Wine owns more brands, they’ll try to convince us these wines aren’t like other mass-produced consumer goods. Instead, they’ll insist that their plonk is “authentic,” part of a post-modern corporate effort to persuade us that “everyday consumerist choices — from organic heirloom tomatoes to eco-tourist yoga retreats to small-batch whiskey” will make the world a better place. So mass-produced grocery store brands that use every winemaking trick and tool possible will be described as artisan and boutique and hand-crafted – adjectives that are the opposite of what the wines are. Wine analyst Paul Mabray has written extensively about this, and we’re trying to arrange a podcast to talk about it.

• We’re stuck with smooth. The worst descriptor in the history of wine is smooth; first, because it means nothing – water is smooth – and second, because wine isn’t supposed to be smooth. It is supposed to have texture and structure and body. Nevertheless, we’ll see wine marketed as “a sumptuous, almost magical outcome of the growing season and winemaking process.” Or, even worse, have smooth in its name. Or, even worse still, cost $20 or more and be boring, alcohol-infused fruit juice that only a handpicked focus group could love.

• The continuing death spiral of restaurant wine. We’ve talked about this many times over the past 18 months, and it’s just going to get worse. One study says almost three-quarters of adults will make dinner at home at least four nights a week this year. Where does this leave restaurant wine? Getting pricier, less interesting, and in the hands of aging Baby Boomers, the only ones who can afford to buy it. I saw this at a tres chic Dallas restaurant in December. We were the only table with a bottle of wine, and I had to navigate a sad and overpriced wine list to find something drinkable. Meanwhile, there was only one glass of wine at the table of eight Millennials next to us, and one of the men was drinking Basil Hayden with dinner.

• Big Wine branches out. The biggest wine companies have been hedging their bets with craft beer and spirits for years, and will continue to do so. But they will also expand into legal weed; witness Constellation Brands’ $191 million investment in a Canadian medical marijuana company. And why not, given that U.S. wine consumption is flat? It’s worth knowing that Constellation’s most profitable business, even though it owns Meomi, Mondavi, and Kim Crawford, is beer and craft spirits.

• Winery consolidation continues, mostly among medium-sized companies. This means that your $20 California brand, once owned by a family or a small group, will become part of a larger company that owns a lot of $20 brands. These companies, like Precept Wine, Foley Family Wines, and the Crimson Wine Group, have been active for a decade or more and own some of the best-known names in U.S. wine. This is happening for two reasons: first, the original owners are ready to retire and no one in the family wants the business; and second, the U.S. wine business has evolved into a business just like anything else – becoming what one analyst has called corporatized. Which then leads to smooth and the authenticity scam.

Winebits 513: Marijuana, direct shipping, wildfires

marijuanaThis week’s wine news a day early, to make room for tomorrow’s annual Halloween post: A Canadian province takes over marijuana sales, plus a direct shipping lament and good news out of wine country

State control: New Brunswick won’t allow retailers to sell marijuana when the Canadian province legalizes dope sales in July. Instead, the provincial liquor store system will set up “a network of of tightly controlled, stand-alone stores.” The Canadian Broadcasting Corp. reports that as many as 20 stores will open, but weed products will only be displayed under glass and customers will need to show identification to prove they’re of legal age before they can even get in. The story is worth reading, even if it’s not strictly about wine, because the politicians in New Brunswick are using many of the same buzzwords to justify the system that elected officials in the U.S. use to justify three-tier and state control of liquor sales – starting with protecting young people.

More woes for direct shipping: Eric Asimov, perhaps the best wine writer in the world, has discovered that it’s not easy to buy wine over the Internet. “But now, states — urged on by wine and spirits wholesalers who oppose any sort of interstate alcohol commerce that bypasses them — have stepped up enforcement efforts. Retailers say that the carriers began sending out letters to them a year ago saying they would no longer handle their shipments. For consumers who live in states stocked with fine-wine retailers, like New York, the restrictions are an inconvenience. For consumers in states with few retail options, they are disastrous.” Welcome to the middle of the country, Mr. Asimov – as we recently noted on the blog.

Little vine damage: California grape experts say the grapes and vineyards should not suffer much from the recent wine country wildfires, reports a trade magazine for growers. The analysis says only a small percentage of the 2017 grape harvest might have been harmed by the fires and smoke, but most of the harvest was done before the fires started. In addition, the grapevines acted like firebreaks, preventing the flames from spreading as they moved through vineyards.

Winebits 486: Dope writing, cold beer, historic wine

dope writingThis week’s wine news: California’s newspapers take up dope writing, plus a historic Spanish wine cellar and three-tier foolishness over cold beer

Just like wine: We’ve written a lot about how legal weed will affect wine, and here is another example: “We think that cannabis has the potential to be more mainstream and be reviewed like wine or beer or other consumables at a really high level with a really discerning and independent perspective.” The New York Times reports that a couple of dozen California newspapers will run pot reviews, including the San Francisco Chronicle – which traditionally has had some of the best wine coverage in the country. Again, anyone who thinks legal dope won’t affect wine consumption isn’t paying attention.

How dare you? An Indiana convenience store owner, who found a loophole in state law so he could sell cold beer, has been targeted by legislators who want to force him to stop. The complete sad story is here; it’s enough for us to know that Indiana’s elected officials are going to tremendous lengths to preserve a silly, three-tier driven law that gives a cold beer monopoly to package stores and restaurants. Everyone else has to sell warm beer for no other reason than the former has a better lobby than the latter.

Really old wine: Rekondo, one of Spain’s great restaurants, has a wine cellar with almost 125,000 bottles. But quantity is not all it has – how about a complete vertical of Château d’Yquem, the world’s greatest dessert wine, dating to 1933 or a vertical of Mouton Rothschild, one of the great Bordeauxs, dating from 1945? The article from Punch magazine goes into even more amazing detail, but what struck me was one of the comments to the story: “Amazing wine list AND reasonable prices.” How often do can we say that for restaurant wine in the U.S.?

Ask the WC 11: Arsenic lawsuit, marijuana, wine competitions

arsenic lawsuitBecause the customers always have questions, and the Wine Curmudgeon has answers in this irregular feature. Ask the Wine Curmudgeon wine-related question by clicking here. This time: Whatever happened to the arsenic lawsuit?

Dear Wine Curmudgeon:
Whatever happened to that arsenic thing, where all the cheap you recommend was going to kill us because it was full of arsenic?
Drinking expensive wine to be safe

Dear Expensive:
The lawsuit you refer to faded away. First, arsenic occurs naturally in many food products, so what was found in wine – cheap or expensive – was there in tiny, tiny amounts. Second, a California state judge dismissed the lawsuit that had been filed against two dozen California wineries, saying that the warning label on wine bottles was sufficient to protect consumers. So you can go back to cheap wine and save yourself some serious money.

Hi, WC:
You write that legal marijuana could pose a serious challenge to wine consumption in the U.S. Why do you think that? One high is as good as another, isn’t it?
High on life

Dear High:
Most wine drinkers, according to the statistics and the experts, drink wine instead of something else. It’s the same for beer and spirits drinkers, too. Most of us pick one kind of alcohol and stick with it. The fear is that, if legal dope becomes widespread, wine drinkers will opt for pot. This makes sense if only from a pricing model. Legal grass isn’t cheap – more than $200 an ounce in Colorado; if you’re spending that much money on weed, why would you need (or want) to spend anything else on wine?

Hello, Wine Curmudgeon:
You’re always writing about judging wine competitions. Why does that matter to those of us who read your blog? Why should I care about awards?
Confused in Connecticut

Dear Confused:
That’s the question that the wine competition business has been asking itself for the past couple of years. Are competitions relevant? Do ordinary wine drinkers pay attention to the results? The best competitions have renewed their efforts so that the first is true and you can learn something from the results. A gold medal wine, particularly if it costs less than $15, should be a tremendous value and well worth buying. I’d look at the list of judges, which most competitions post on their websites. If the judges seem to know what they’re doing, you should be in good hands.

More Ask the Wine Curmudgeon:
Ask the WC 10: Spanish wine, wine prices, oak
Ask the WC 9: Premiumization, wine bottles, Chicago Cubs
Ask the WC 8: Restaurant wine, storing wine, sparkling wine

Winebits 478: Wine accessories, marijuana, Cliff Richard

wine accessoriesThis week’s wine news: Baseball wine accessories, plus Colorado’s billion dollar pot business and Cliff Richard’s winery

Batter up: Those of you who doubted the connection between baseball and wine last fall – or, even worse, were bored by it – must now be corrected. How about this baseball player wine holder? The bottle fits upside down, with the neck in the player’s grip, and it looks both real and odd at the same time. It comes with player logos for many teams, including the World Series champion Chicago Cubs. So where should I display it in the house?

That’s a lot of dope: Colorado’s marijuana dispensaries sold $1.3 billion worth of recreational and medical pot in 2016, up 31 percent from 2015 and almost double from 2015. Anyone who thinks legal marijuana isn’t going to affect wine sales isn’t paying attention. Colorado wine totals less than $40 million each year, and grows at about half that rate. Or, to look at it another way, the entire U.S. wine industry sells about $60 billion a year, and one small state already does two percent of that total. No wonder the three-tier system is rearing its ugly head to regulate weed.

Discounted wine real estate: Cliff Richard, the British pop star all too familiar to people of a certain age, has slashed the price of his Portuguese wine estate by one-third. You can own a 15-acre vineyard, two houses, two pools, and a tennis court, plus a winery, for just €6.5 million (about US$6.9 million). The property has been on the market for three yearst, which means the discount is even bigger with the almost one-third fall in the value of the euro.

Winebits 464: Big Wine, wine fraud, Big Weed

Big wineThis week’s wine news: Big Wine goes after women, phony French wine, and legal marijuana elections

Really big: Anyone who doubts Big Wine’s power should read this story from Bloomberg News: Treasury Wine Estates will remarket an all but unknown wine brand and target women drinkers aged 30 to 40. In addition, the Treasury executive who came up with the idea previously worked for Kraft and Coke, where marketing like this is common. And finally, the company expects the brand to be sold around the world in 18 months. Frankly, when I saw this, I was stunned: It’s just so CPG – something Proctor & Gamble would do with one of its products. But then I reminded myself that I’ve been writing for almost a decade about how Big Wine was pushing the wine business in this direction. Think they’ll send me a sample to review?

` • Phony wine: How seriously do the French take wine fraud? A Bordeaux producer will spend two years in jail for selling entry level wine as more expensive Bordeaux to French grocery stores and pay a €7.8 million fine (about US$8.6 million). Eight people were fined or received suspended sentences for their roles in the fraud, including three winemakers who did the blending and the driver who drove the delivery truck. The producer said he will appeal, saying he was shocked at the severity of the sentence. What did he expect?

Legal weed: The wine business is anxiously watching today’s election results, where nine states hold marijuana elections. That’s because wine officials see dope as a direct challenge to their business, based on its amazing success in Colorado – where taxes from grass sales have passed taxes from wine sales in some parts of the state. California, Arizona, Nevada, Massachusetts and Maine, which already allow medical use, could join Oregon, Colorado, Washington and Alaska as states that also permit recreational use. Those nine states account for nearly a quarter of the U.S. population. Can the three-tier system be far behind?