Tag Archives: premiumization

Wine premiumization and the Winestream Media

wine premiumization

“Reportin’? We don’t need no stinkin’ reportin’.”

Wine premiumization may be ending, but you wouldn’t know it by reading the Winestream Media

By most measures, the end of premiumization is underway. Wine drinkers have been opting for less expensive wine over the past six months, and, depending on which expert is talking, the trend will continue and perhaps even accelerate. In other words, lower wine prices and better quality cheap wine.

But it would be difficult to know this from reading the Winestream Media.

I don’t write this to be snarky (well, maybe, just a little), but to point out how difficult it is to tell what’s going on in wine from its most important media outlets. Wine-searcher.com somehow managed to run these two stories almost at the same time – “Premium wine falls victim to the coronavirus” and “Wine sales defy doom and gloom.” And this doesn’t include the site’s regular roundup of all things high priced – “Bordeaux’s most expensive wine,” “Napa’s most expensive wine,” and (my favorite), “Brunello 2015: Another perfect vintage.”

At the Wine Enthusiast, meanwhile, one writer was salivating over $40 California gamay, which is about as premiumized as wine gets that isn’t cabernet sauvignon. And the Wine Spectator has reassured us that it will continue to cover the 2019 Bordeaux futures market, despite what the magazine’s Bordeaux reviewer called the pandemic’s “rude interruption.”

So, why?

Why is the Winestream Media treating this almost unprecedented moment in world history – and with all of the changes it looks like it will bring to wine – as just another minor sales blip?

• Because that’s what it does, and to expect more of it is expecting more than it is capable of. Yes, it may well be fiddling while Rome burns, but it doesn’t understand that Rome can burn. Rome is eternal, just like wine scores and $300 Napa cabernet.

Because it doesn’t want to see what’s going on, as Richard Hemming, MW, explained to us last week. If wine writers write things the wine business doesn’t want written, there’s a good chance the wine writers will find themselves persona non grata. As Hemming said, there’s no reason consumers should necessarily trust wine writers.

• Because there aren’t really any good numbers to describe what’s going on, even if a wine writer wanted to write about it. We’ve noted this on the blog many times, and another example came up last week. David Morrison at the Wine Gourd has made a specialty of parsing wine industry statistics, whether sales or scores, and noted last week about one sales study: “The conclusions seem to vary from quite accurate to wildly exaggerated.”

So what’s a consumer to do? Buy wine you like, be willing to try something else, and wait to see what prices will do. We’ll almost certainly see prices drop before the Winestream Media discovers most of us aren’t all that interested in $40 California gamay.

Winebits 639: Premiumization, Pennsylvania state stores, direct to consumer

cheap wine

“Premiumization never really bothered me.”

This week’s wine news: Will the pandemic finish off premiumization? Plus, turmoil in Pennsylvania’s state wine stores and the favorite DTC grapes

Is premiumization over? A top wine business analyst has told the industry that its drink less, but drink “better” mantra – premiumization – could be ending thanks to the coronavirus pandemic. Spiros Malandrakis, industry manager for alcoholic drinks at Euromonitor International, told the Harpers UK trade magazine that premiumization is at a crossroads: “What we saw in the recession of 2008 was that even if people that could afford more expensive wines or niche varietals, they didn’t buy them because it looked crass. The context has changed. I’m not saying the industry is over. What we know from history is that people will always continue drinking. It’s not the end of the world but it will be a different world to the one we’re used to.” In this, he’s not the first to predict premiumization’s end. But it is one more voice suggesting that the new normal in the new future could be $10 wine.

More fun in Pennsylvania: Pennsylvania’s state liquor store system has come in for much fun on the blog. And why not, given wine vending machines? But the decision to close the state stores during the pandemic has met with serious opposition, not the least of which is the loss of state tax revenue. Even in New York, the center of the U.S pandemic, liquor stores have remained open. Apparently, the state is reconsidering its decision, and may allow limited Internet alcohol sales. April 2 update: The state did reopen its online liquor sales system, but the system will be quite limited.

Favorite DTC grapes: This is a contradiction that seems difficult to explain: Why is chardonnay the best selling wine grape at retail, but cabernet sauvignon is the best seller when consumers buy directly from the winery? That’s the result from a recent SOVOS/Ship Compliant study (via Wine Industry Insight), where cabernet was the best seller with 17 percent of volume, almost twice as much as chardonnay. Typically, chardonnay accounts for about 20 percent of retail sales. Any thoughts would be much appreciated.

Winebits 621: 1 Wine Dude rant, grape glut, Robert Parker

1 wine dude

Joe Roberts: “Some of us have been sounding warnings for almost an entire decade.”

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.

How do you write about quality cheap wine when the system is rigged against it?

Look out! They’re shelling us with premiumization and the wine tariff!

You keep a stiff upper lip, try to ignore the frustrations and complications, and soldier on – because quality cheap wine is worth it

How do you write about quality cheap wine when the wine industry and the federal government have gone out of their way to make quality cheap wine an anachronism?

Because, as we celebrate the blog’s 12th birthday, that’s the situation I find myself in. Premiumization and the 25 percent European wine tariff have made it all but impossible to find the kind of $10 and $12 wine that’s worth writing about. I feel like a character in one of those British Raj movies where the garrison is stranded in a fort on a remote hilltop and we’re being picked off one by one and we know the relief column isn’t going to arrive in time.

Yes, there is still plenty of cheap wine on store shelves, but just because a wine is cheap doesn’t mean it’s worth drinking.

So what’s the Wine Curmudgeon to do? Carry on, of course. What else is a stiff upper lip for?

The irony here is that I seriously considered ending the blog after this final birthday week post (with a Hall of Fame wrap-up in January). And if I had known about the wine tariff when I was pondering the blog’s fate this summer, it would have been that much easier to close it after 12 years.

Changing my mind

But two things happened to make me change my mind: First, and most practically, the site’s hosting company charged me for another year in August. So, if I closed the blog with this post, I would have been stuck paying for nine months of service I didn’t use. Second, four people whose opinions I admire and respect pointed out that if I didn’t keep doing this, who would? And that despite my frustration with the blog, there is and will be a need for it.

For the frustrations have been endless. These days, it’s not just about paying homage to our overlords at Google or dealing with out-of-touch producers and distributors and too many incompetent marketers. Or fending off the sponsored content and the fluff pieces that so many others in the wine writing business have turned to in an attempt to make money at something where there is little money to be made.

These days, it’s about making sense of a business that is divorced from reality. Which, frankly, makes me feel like I’m using a croquet mallet to comb my hair.

Consider just these two items: A group of Washington state wine producers, faced with declining sales, say they aren’t worried since the wine they are selling is more expensive. Meanwhile, Italian pinot grigio producers, also faced with declining sales, want to know how to sell more expensive wine to make up the difference.

Making money the hard way

Am I missing something here? Aren’t declining sales a bad thing? Shouldn’t an industry do something to reverse the decline, instead of furthering it by raising prices?

But not, apparently, if it’s the wine business in the second decade of the 21st century. Because, of course, premiumization. I’ve probably written entirely too much about the subject, but mostly because I can’t believe anyone in wine still takes it seriously. Though, and this is welcome news, there are others who are beginning to question its validity. Damien Wilson, PhD, who chairs the wine business program at Sonoma State University, is blunt: Premiumization can be a path to ruin, since sales decline and higher prices scare off new wine drinkers.

The less said about the tariff the better. It’s as counterproductive as premiumization, and its adherents are blinded by politics to economic reality. That the tariff could forever wreak havoc on U.S. wine consumption is beyond their comprehension.

So let me shepherd my ammunition, keep my head low, and hope against hope that the relief column gets through. And keep a very stiff upper lip.

More Birthday Week perspective on the wine business:
Have we reached the end of wine criticism?
• 10 years writing about cheap wine on the Internet
• Premiumization, crappy wine, and what we drink

Winebits 619: Premiumization, presidential wine, alcohol consumption

premiumizationThis week’s wine news: Another expert says premiumization is hurting wine, plus wine for world leaders and U.S. alcohol consumption

• “Doom loop:” Who knew a big-time market analyst would agree with the Wine Curmudgeon? Sonoma State’s Damien Wilson says premiumization “can be a path to ruin.” He even has charts and statistics to prove his point. Wilson, writing for Wine Business International, says “European wine market history shows that failing to recruit new wine consumers is the last thing the U.S. wine sector should be doing right now. As the number of wine consumers in the U.S. has stalled in recent years, the local wine sector should avoid profiteering in favour of new market investment. Here is where the US wine sector’s global leadership in business practices can come to the fore.” In other words, higher prices for the sake of higher prices scare off new wine drinkers and then demand slows. And we’re where we are today – flat growth and overpriced wine.

• World power wine: What does one serve the president of France and the Chinese premier at a leading international trade show? High-end French wine, of course. France’s Emmanuel Macron and China’s Xi Jinping sampled three amazing bottles – Louis Latour’s Corton Grancey Grand Cru 2010, Gérard Bertrand’s Château L’Hospitalet 2016, and the Cheval Blanc 2006. That’s about $900 worth of wine, though the Bertrand is a comparatively inexpensive $35.

U.S. booze consumption: The typical U.S. resident drinks the equivalent of about a case of wine a year, according to the OECD, an international group that tracks a variety of economic indicators. The agency’s 2019 report on beer, wine, and spirits consumption shows that the U.S. is not only exactly average for the 36 countries in the survey, but that consumption is almost unchanged from 2007. So it becomes even less clear what the neo-Prohibitionists are complaining about.

Photo: “Modern wine tasting” by kellinahandbasket is licensed under CC BY 2.0 

Wine prices 2019 update: Are prices coming down despite premiumization?

wine prices 2019Way too many grapes and continuing flat demand may lead to lower wine prices 2019

At the end of the summer, I was talking to an official for one of the big grape grower trade groups. I asked what he thought wine prices would do through the end of the year, as well as into 2020.

“Wine prices are coming down,” he said. How can that be, I asked. Because, of course, premiumization — its reason for being that wine prices are never going down again.

He laughed. “That may be,” he said. “But when you have too many grapes, which we do, and flat demand, which we do, wine prices come down. There’s nothing premiumization can do about it.”

The trade group official was not alone in his take on wine prices 2019. Whenever I interview a retailer or producer, I always ask about business. And their responses over the past nine months have not been nearly as optimistic as the last couple of years – and certainly not as optimistic as the official wine business position: “Ever more wine sold at ever high prices!”

The consensus: Business may not be bad yet, but it’s certainly slowing. And, no, this isn’t a highly scientific survey process, and yes, it’s overwhelmingly anecdotal. But, like the Wine Curmudgeon Wine Sample Index, it rarely steers me wrong. Because other signs point to the same thing:

Reports one trade website: California “supply levels remain higher than ideal and therefore the market remains favourable to buyers, with wineries quoting the lowest bulk wine prices in 5 years.” In other words, lots of grapes in the supply chain, and not too many buyers, so lower grape prices.

And that’s because the 2018 harvest was record-breaking, and the 2019 harvest may be equally as gigantic.

• And we all know about flat demand. In 2018, about one-fifth of regular U.S. wine drinkers were older than 65, compared to 16 percent in 2015. But the youngest regular wine consumers, ages 21-24, are decreasing, dropping 13 percent from 2015.

• Canceled grape contracts. Large producers are refusing to buy grapes they agreed to buy, ostensibly because of smoke damage from the 2018 wine country wildfires. But there’s a suspicion that the wildfires had nothing to do with the cancellations; rather, it’s because the producers already have too many grapes and don’t need any more.

• Wholesale alcohol inventories, measured in dollars, are at an all-time high, according to the U.S. Census Bureau. This could be nothing more than a side effect of premiumization – the same amount of wine in warehouses, but since it costs more, its value is setting records. Or it could mean there is a lot of wine stacking up because no one wants to buy it.

Last week’s tariff news should only make things worse, since it will raise prices for many European wines, while most cheaper French and Spanish wines could disappear from U.S. shelves. Which will further cut demand and increase the overall supply.

If, in fact, wine prices are coming down, will it happen in time for the holidays? Probably not, though I’m willing to bet we could find terrific deals as producers, distributors, and wholesalers try to get rid of select wines they have too much of.

The real selloff may come at the beginning of next year, and especially if the holiday season is as slow as it looks like it will be. And then, finally, we could be able to see the beginning of the end of premiumization.

More abut wine prices 2019:
Wine prices 2019
2019 SVB wine report
The biggest factor in California wine prices

Photo: “Wine section of a supermarket” by piropiro3 is licensed under CC BY 2.0 

Premiumization be damned: $139.36 for 14 ½ bottles of cheap wine

cheap wine

Look at all those bargains at Jimmy’s just waiting for us to buy.

It’s still possible to buy quality cheap wine for $10 a bottle

So what if the cheap wine news these days is about failure? The Wine Curmudgeon, undaunted by the obstacles of premiumization, perseveres. The result? 14 ½ bottles of quality cheap wine for less than $10 a bottle.

How is this possible? I followed the blog’s cheap wine checklist. It’s even more valuable today, when $15 plonk is passed off as inexpensive. So look for wine from less pricey parts of the world, wine made with less common grapes, and shop at an independent retailer who cares about long term success and not short term markups.

The retailer was Jimmy’s, Dallas’ top-notch Italian grocer – so the wines are all Italian. Here are the highlights of what I bought for less than $140, which includes a case discount but doesn’t include sales tax.

• A couple of bottles of the Falesco Est Est Est, $10 each. This white blend used to be $7 or $8, but it’s still a value at $10.

• A 350 ml can of the Tiamo rose for $5 – hence, the half bottle in the headline. There wouldn’t be an onus about canned wine if all canned wine was this well done, . Highly recommended.

• Banfi’s Centine red Tuscan blend, $10. The Centines (there is also a white and rose) are some of the best values in the world. This vintage, the 2017, was a little softer than I like, but still well worth $10.

Principi di Butera’s Sicilian nero d’avola, $10. This was the 2016, but it was still dark and plummy and earthy, the way Sicilian nero should be. Highly recommended.

• A couple of roses – a corvina blend from Recchia, $8, and the Bertani Bertarose, a $15 wine marked down to $8. Because who is going to buy a $15 Italian rose made with molinara and merlot? They were in similar in style – fresh and clean, with varying degrees of cherry fruit.

More about buying cheap wine:
Cheap wine checklist: $82.67 for a case of wine
Once more: A case of quality wine for less than $10 a bottle
Nine bottles of wine for $96.91