Jay Bileti talks about the American Wine Society’s program to help its members Drink Local
The American Wine Society is one of the largest consumer wine groups in the country, so that it’s helping its members discover regional wine is one more victory for Drink Local. The AWS’ Jay Biletti, a long-time advocate for regional wine, discusses the chapter sharing program and how it works. And you don’t even have to belong to the group to participate.
This week’s wine news: Customer goes full-on wine critic at a California 7-Eleven, plus the success of Iowa wine and Brexit wine fears
• A unique approach to wine criticism: A customer was arrested last week after police say he “threw dozens of glass bottles onto the floor” and damaged several display cases at a California 7-Eleven. No word on the motive for the incident, which took place at 9 in the morning. Maybe it would have been easier to give the wines low scores than to get arrested?
• Show me the money: One more example of the success of Drink Local – one of Iowa’s preeminent wineries is for sale for $2.3 million, an unheard of sum when regional wine was little loved and less respected. The Des Moines Register reports that the two-decade old Summerset Winery is for sale at that price, which includes a 12-acre vineyard, a house and an inn. Summerset is the state’s largest winery, accounting for about 10 percent of Iowa’s production.
• Stockpiling Brexit wine: Booze companies across Britain have begun stockpiling beer, wine and spirits to keep the alcohol flowing at Christmas, more than six weeks earlier than normal. The Guardian newspaper reports that the importers and distributors don’t want to be caught short if a no-deal Brexit disrupts trade in and out of the country. Says an economist: ““It’s particularly wine from the EU. Companies have bought well ahead of Christmas this year, due to potential disruption at the ports and to try and avoid depreciation in the value of sterling against the euro.”
• The wines, though fewer in number than in years past, were almost all terrific. One of the difficulties in regional wine is getting past the plateau; that is, quality improves to a certain point and then seems to stall. This year, much of what we tasted had climbed past the plateau. In fact, the judges gave out so many gold medals that the best in show judging featured almost as many wines as we judged on the first day. That rarely happens.
• The highlights were the rieslings and the cabernet francs. The former should always be top notch given Colorado’s terroir, but have been maddeningly inconsistent over the past couple of years. The almost two dozen we tasted were varietally correct, balanced, and enjoyable. The cab francs, which should also do well here, may have been even better. They displayed restraint, one of the grape’s characteristics, but were not thin or dull.
• We discovered a new cold-hardy hybrid that is fruitier and less acidic than the usual suspects, called petite pearl. These grapes are bred to withstand freezing temperatures and to resist disease, but are often difficult to turn into quality wine. Petite pearl, though, seems much more wine-friendly than the others, and it may have the potential to make cold-hardy hybrids more popular. It tastes a bit like gamay, the grape used to make Beaujolais, but with more of a backbone,
• A tip o’ the WC’s fedora to my fellow judges, long-time Colorado wine expert Roberta Backland and Wine America president Jim Trezise. Anyone who can endure at my enthusiasm for grapes like petite pearl shows just how much they care about wine.
• Mike Dunne, one of the best wine writers in the country, no longer writes a column for the Sacramento Bee. The paper told him it was a luxury it couldn’t afford. So the third or fourth largest metro area in the country’s biggest wine producing state doesn’t have regular wine coverage. Is it any wonder. …
• “Metrics” are one way 21st century business “quantifies” customer service. Metrics allow companies to game the system so they can show they provide customer service even when they don’t. My flight to Denver was the usual post-modern mess – it left almost an hour late, the bags took almost 40 minutes to arrive, and so on and so forth. So of course I got an email asking me to rate the “flight experience.” The Wine Curmudgeon, being the Wine Curmudgeon, answered it with a comment: “Does anyone at the airline really care about my answers, or do you do this so you can phony up the metrics?”
This week’s wine news: Local wine and the chambourcin grape get a video shout out from the Winestream Media. Plus, tips about sounding less snotty when you write and wine taxes in Ireland – which aren’t pretty.
• Bring on the chambourcin: Madeline Puckette at Wine Folly offers a refreshing perspective on hybird grapes like chambourcin, complete with video: “So, instead of poo-pooing that so-called ‘foxy’ bottle of Marquette or Chambourcin, maybe give it a whirl. It might actually be good!” The point, of course, is not whether the grapes are good or bad, according to some critic’s perspective, but whether the winemaker can turn the grapes into a quality bottle of wine. Which, as I have tasted many times over the years, can be done. And it’s worth noting that I’ve had crummy bottles of wine made with so-called real grapes like cabernet sauvignon and chardonnay.
• Better wine writing: One of the Wine Curmudgeon’s crusades over the blog’s history is making wine writing easier to understand – less winespeak and more English, if nothing else. This post from Lifehacker’s Meghan Moravcik Walbert isn’t about wine writing specifically, but her suggestions apply: “[F]ancy words that make you sound like an ass are all around you. And it’s time you know so you can stop using them.” Written as only a cranky ex-newspaper employee would write, and oh so true. Her list of banned words includes “curate,” which makes me cringe, and “synergy,” which she reminds us “isn’t a real thing.”
• Very high taxes: The Irish pay some of the highest taxes on wine in the world – 54 percent of a standard €9 bottle of wine is tax. That works out to about US$3.50 a bottle on a $6 bottle of wine, a staggering sum – and one the neo-Prohibitionists would no doubt gladly agree to. Interestingly, despite the tax burden, the Irish drink about twice as much per capita as we do in the states. And our tax burden is just one-quarter to one-third of the Irish, depending on where you live,
Higher prices imply better quality for consumers who drink Drink Local
Don’t worry that local and regional wine tends to cost more than comparable national brands, which is something that has been hurting Drink Local’s growth. That’s because a 2019 study has found that consumers are happy to pay more for local wine, beer, and the like.
“We have not studied whether local wine and beer is now on a par with local food in terms of consumer acceptance,” says Ashok Lalwani, PhD, one of the report’s co-authors and an associate professor of marketing at Indiana University’s Kelley School of Business. “But, based on our results, I would speculate that consumers would be more likely to infer higher quality from higher priced wine and beer that is locally produced, but not as much for wine and beer that is positioned globally or not locally produced.”
This is huge news for Drink Local. First, it has always lagged behind local food in acceptance, the idea that it’s worth buying just because it’s local. Second, that consumers perceive a quality difference between local wine and Big Wine may be even more important, since Drink Local has been fighting the quality battle for as long as it has been around.
In fact, says Lalwani, the study results hint that consumers are less likely to associate price with quality for national brands, and are more likely to buy cheaper products since they all seem the same regardless of price. But the reverse seems to be true for local wine; that is, consumers equate higher price with better quality.
Finally, the study quotes several multi-national marketing executives, none in the alcohol business, who sort of see this local thing, but are baffled by it: The “executives considered local or global communities in their pricing decisions, [but] none knew when such strategies were effective or why.”
Who knew those of us who believe in Drink Local knew more than lots of people with MBAs?
This week’s wine news: Have winery values, once seemingly exempt from the laws economics, started to decline? Plus, rose as a lifestyle and Indiana’s Oliver winery.
• Declining values? Have California winery values, which seemed to be exempt from the laws of economics, started to decline? Silicon Valley Bank’s Rob McMillan thinks so, citing the changing economics around the wine business. “The short answer to the headline question for today is there are still plenty of buyers but overall they are being a little more selective, and your winery and vineyard are probably not worth more than they were last year,” he writes. “Without going into details on a long topic, we are presently oversupplied on grapes and bulk wine from most regions, and the upside to higher sales is for today more limited than the past. …” If McMillan is correct, and he usually is, then the situation is markedly different from almost anything in the past three decades. Napa Valley land prices, for example, didn’t lose value during the recession, even though the rest of the country saw land prices drop by double digits. There’s a lot of math and financial-speak in the post, but the sense is that we’re in a world no one expected to see.
• Rose as a way of life: Who knew that rose instilled a wine culture in the U.S.? That’s the gist of this Forbes blog post, which otherwise seems like a plug for rose from the French region of Provence. Which is not surprising, since the Provence rose trade group has one of wine world’s best marketing programs. It’s a also a plug for high-end rose, including one that costs $190 a bottle. Its producer describes it as “gastronomic rose” — no doubt to differentiate it from the $10 plonk the rest of us drink.
• Only in Indiana: Regional wine scores another victory with the Mainstream Media in this feature about Indiana’s Oliver Winery, “the largest winery in the Midwest, it’s perhaps the largest winery east of the Mississippi – or, at least one of the largest – and it’s the 44th largest winery in the United States.” The Wine Curmudgeon is always happy to see regional wine in the news, showing once again how far ahead of the curve we were with Drink Local Wine.
This week’s wine news: Bunny Becker, one of the grand dames of Texas wine, has died. Plus an Ohio winemaker sees a return to the glory days and wine continues its fall from favor
• Bunny Becker: Mary Clementine Ellison “Bunny” Becker, co-founder of her family’s Becker Vineyards in the Texas Hill Country, died last week at age 79. To quote Texas Monthly’s Jessica Dupuy, “Becker had a heart for making not only quality wine, but also quality connections with the people in her life.” She was always sweet whenever we met, and treated all she knew with kindness and respect. Becker played a key role with husband Richard, an MD, as their winery grew from a vacation home along Hwy. 290 outside of Fredericksburg to one of the two or three most important producers in the state.
• Glory days: The center of the U.S. wine business in the couple of decades before the Civil War was the Ohio River valley near Cincinnati, where Nicolas Longworth made world-acclaimed riesling-style and sparkling wines with the much maligned catawba grape. Winemaker Kate MacDonald, a Cincinnati wants to bring that back. She was a Napa winemaker who had a change of heart, starting the Skeleton Root winery in southern Ohio. “I think most winemakers and growers thought I was nuts,” she says. “But once I became aware of the legacy and read about the classical style of wines Longworth produced from American grapes, I was hooked. It became a calling of sorts to try to resurrect them.”
• Almost third: Not too long ago, I was getting news releases proclaiming the U.S. as the biggest wine drinking country in the world. These days, though, wine has fallen to almost third in popularity in the U.S., barely holding off spirits. Gallup reports that 30 percent of us say wine is our favorite alcoholic beverage, compared to the 29 percent who choose spirits. The poll’s margin of error is plus or minus three points, which means wine may well have dropped from first in 2006 to last in this survey. The Wine Curmudgeon would be remiss if he didn’t mention this decline coincides with premiumization, but what do I know?