This week’s wine news: Will wine bottles soon have a cigarette-like cancer warning? Plus teaching legal weed in college and the future of craft beer
• Wine causes cancer? The cyber-ether was ablaze last week with the news that federal authorities may soon add a cigarette-like cancer warning to wine bottles. “More likely, [the health warning] will include a warning with the word cancer – no matter how weak the link is between cancer and moderate wine consumption.” Which, has been noted here many times, is so weak as to be almost no link at all. The wine business, if this happens, will have no one to blame but itself. It’s so preoccupied with selling overpriced wine to aging baby boomers than it hasn’t paid attention to anything else.
• Call them budtenders: What do colleges in legal weed states do? Offer marijuana classes similar to the wine classes I taught at two colleges in the Dallas area, of course. Oakton College in suburban Chicago offers one of the classes, teaching its 100 students about molecular biology, drug laws and treating terminal illness. Says a student: “This is pretty intense.”
• The future of craft beer: And it’s not necessarily bright, says Imbibe magazine. Craft beer evolved in response to Big Beer, but as it has grown in popularity, it has become more Big Beer-like, and many craft brands are now part of the biggest booze companies in the world. The article is long and little inside baseball, but it makes the point we’ve learned in wine. Consumers are fickle. Do something they don’t like, and they’ll go somewhere else.
This week’s wine news: Fredericksburg’s Cabernet Grill honored for its commitment to Texas wine, plus trouble in legal weed land and do we really need more wine gadgets?
• True to its roots: Fredericksburg’s Cabernet Grill has been named one of “America’s 100 Best Wine Restaurants” by Wine Enthusiast magazine for the second year in a row. It’s an honor much deserved – chef-owner Ross Burtwell has had an all Texas wine list for years, and long before drink local was hip and trendy. The list has 145 wines from 45 wineries, demonstrating that local wine pairs with local food. That’s something I’ve been able to enjoy during several visits to the Hill Country.
• Trouble in legal weed land: Constellation Brands, which sold off its cheap wine brands to pursue a future selling legal weed, lost more than $800 million on its investment in the first quarter of this year. The story in the link, from Shanken News Daily, tries to put the high in that low, as trade news reporting often does, but one question remains: Does Constellation understand what it got itself into? The bizspeak in the article doesn’t help with that much, and it wouldn’t reassure me if I was a Constellation shareholder.
• No more gadgets: David Cobbold, writing on Les 5 du Vin, repeats a warning the Wine Curmudgeon has uttered many times: Buying wine instead of gadgets is the best investment almost every time. Cobbold reviews a wine aerator, and his conclusion: Buy good wine, and don’t “worry about useless and expensive gadgets like this!” It’s a sentiment marketers ignore at their own risk; the number of gadget emails I get has seemingly proliferated as wine sales flatten.
This week’s wine news: The many sides of legal weed and its effects – real, imagined, and anticipated – on the wine business
• Not really: Tim Hearden, writing in Western Farm Press, callas legal weed “a shiny new object” – but doesn’t see it hurting the wine business much. “But they’d have a long way to go to make a serious dent in California’s $1.53 billion wine industry, and I’m not yet convinced they’ll get there, at least in the near future.” His point is common among those I’ve interviewed over the past couple of months: “The nascent cannabis industry is sure to grow. Cannabis-infused beverage consumption rose by 61 percent last year in states where it’s legal. But I see it filling its own niche, not toppling – or threatening — California’s world famous wine empire.”
• Really? Legal cannabis use in Canada didn’t grow as quickly as anticipated after legalization, reports the Canadian government. In fact, the number of users barely changed since last October, when weed became legal. About 4.6 million, or 15 percent of Canadians aged 15 and older, reported using cannabis in the last three months, reported Statistics Canada. That’s the same number as reported in the third quarter and throughout 2018. The story doesn’t delve into reasons, but whatever the cause, few of the experts expected so little growth.
• Yes, really: Analysts expect a $600 million market for cannabis-infused beverages in the next several years – if someone can find a cost-effective infusion process. Bloomberg News reports that the the catch is a major one, since alcohol is water-soluble and cannabis is not. That means alcohol is absorbed into the bloodstream quickly, but cannabis takes far longer. So the trick with cannabis-infused drinks is to find a way for them to mimic alcohol’s affect on the drinker. And so far, no one has quite figured that out.
This week’s wine news: Are tasting notes the last refuge of wine snobs? Plus, a tragic end to one of the biggest wine thefts ever and Big Beer gets into legal weed.
• Wine snobs: Tim McKirdy, writing in VinePair, strikes a chord with anyone who has struggled with a tasting note: “But convoluted tasting notes inevitably alienate at least as many prospective consumers as they entice. It begs the question: Is it time to change the way we talk about wine?” The answer, of course, is yes, and if McKirdy sometimes writes as if he composing a university research paper, his points are well made. “If wine industry professionals truly want to make wine more open and accessible — besides providing free wine education for all.” he says, “sommeliers and critics should carefully consider when to use technical language. In wine, as in most things, it’s better to keep things simple.”
• Suicide: A man charged with stealing more than $1.2 million worth of rare wine from Goldman Sachs CEO David Solomon apparently killed himself last week while his lawyers waited for him in court. The BBC reported that Nicolas De-Meyer, who was Solomon’s personal assistant, fell from the 33rd floor of the Carlyle Hotel in New York. Police said De-Meyer had used the money from the sale of the stolen wines to fund a 14-month globe-trotting adventure. He was facing up to 10 years in prison.
• Big Beer and weed: One more multi-national booze company is getting into legal marijuana. Molson Coors Canada has foremed a joint venture with Canadian cannabis producer The Hydropothecary Corporation, or Hexo, to sell cannabis-infused drinks. Called Truss, the new company will develop non-alcoholic, cannabis-infused beverages for the Canadian market, following the country’s vote to legalize the recreational cannabis. This is at least the third deal between a leading alcohol producer and a Canadian company to get into the legal weed business.
• Scottish battle: A new stadium sponsor for a soccer team in Scotland’s top league is causing controversy, reports the BBC. The Hamilton Academical team has renamed its grounds HopeCBD Stadium after the company paid a “five-figure sum.” HopeCBD sells products containing cannabidiol, which is produced from marijuana plants. They’re sold in Britain as nutritional supplements, including oils, sprays, vapes, candies, and tea bags, and the company compares them to alcohol-free beer.
• Game of Thrones: If “Game of Thrones” wine wasn’t enough, how about Game of Thrones Scotch? British drinks giant Diageo release eight single-malt labels next year in time for the show’s final season. Each will come from a different distillery, and will be named for a different house or group from Westeros, the fictional land where much of the series is set. Apparently, Westeros uses the whisky spelling, just as Scotland does, and not the whiskey spelling we use in the U.S. No doubt there will be a blood spattering, head-splitting battle to decide which is more correct.
This week’s wine news: Remembering Virginia wine pioneer Dennis Horton, plus three-tier for legal weed and another Champagne controversy
• Dennis Horton’s legacy: Virginia’s Dennis Horton, who died in June, was one of the most important winemakers and winery owners in the U.S. That most people have never heard of him speaks to the way the wine world works. Dennis was one of the two or three people, along with New York’s Konstantin Frank, who never gave up on the idea of Drink Local, and is one of the people who helped us get to where we have wine in every state. To quote Virginia wine writer Frank Morgan: “I had the pleasure of sharing a few glasses of wine with Dennis in the early days of my wine journey. I remember him for his unique personality, wit, humor and the viticulture insights he shared.” Dennis was also famous for his dislike of the three-tier system; once, when I asked him about direct shipping, he told me he would ship wine to anyone anywhere, and he dared the states’ various liquor cops to try and stop him.
• Bring on the weed: The WSWA, the trade group that represents the wholesalers and distributors who make up the second tier of the three-tier system, will support marijuana legalization. The catch? That its members distribute legal weed, reports Shanken News Daily, and the “states agree to regulate cannabis as they do alcohol.” One has to admire the group’s consistency and its chutzpah, if nothing else. Much of the wine world is trying to get rid of three-tier for its antiquated inefficiencies, but that doesn’t bother the wholesalers in the least.
• A tussle in Champagne: The Wine Curmudgeon has long enjoyed watching the Champagne business run around in circles, and this bit fits that description perfectly. It’s not easy to decipher what’s going on, but it involves sparkling wine sold in the U.S. that is labeled as “Champagne,” an important French producer, Big Wine, and a variety of Gallic name calling (including one side accusing the other of “mad arroigance” and the other responding that it did not like being called an imbecile).
This 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.