Tag Archives: regional wine

Colorado Governor’s Cup 2019

Colorado Governor’s Cup 2019

So who’s the one running his mouth when almost everyone else is tasting or making notes?

Six things worth noting after judging the Colorado Governor’s Cup 2019

• 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?”

Photo by Alder Yarrow

Winebits 610: Local wine, wine writing, wine taxes

local wineThis 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,

Photo: “drinking wine” by “Boots McKenzie” is licensed under CC BY-NC-ND 2.0 

New study: We’ll happily pay a premium for wine when it comes to Drink Local

drink localHigher 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.

Again, an amazing development given all that Drink Local has had to overcome in the past couple of decades. It’s also not clear what’s driving this change in attitude. Lalwani says the study didn’t look at age or other demographics, but my guess is that the explanation lies in younger consumers and their distrust of multi-national brands and their preference for local.

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?

Photo courtesy of skeeze via Pixabay using a Creative Commons license

Winebits 609: Winery values, rose, Indiana wine

winery valuesThis 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.

Photo: “vineyards” by mal.entropy is licensed under CC BY-NC-SA 2.0 

Winebits 606: Bunny Becker, Ohio wine, alcohol preference

Bunny beckerThis 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?

Winebits 605: Wine bottles, wine theft, Swedish wine

wine bottlesThis week’s wine news: Tablas Creek embraces lighter wine bottles, plus wine thief gets 18 months and Sweden’s wine industry

Lighter bottles: Jason Haas of the Tablas Creek winery in Paso Robles asks a question that has always puzzled me: “So, given that lighter bottles cost less and people seem to like them more, why are there still wineries using the heavy bottles?” The post, discussing the winery’s almost decade long switch to lighter wine bottles, is well worth reading. It offers insight into how wineries make marketing decisions – or don’t, as the case may be. Haas says the lighter bottles, besides the positive environmental impact, have saved the winery untold amounts of money. So what’s the answer to his question? Apparently, heavy bottles still denote quality to retailers and producers, if not to all consumers.

Wine scam: William Holder, whose wine storage scam bilked wine collectors out of their wine and as much as $1.5 million, will spend 18 months in federal prison. He has also been ordered to make restitution. Holder charged collectors for storing their high-end wine, but then sold some of it to retailers and brokers around the country. Hence, when the customers came to collect their wine, it wasn’t there.

Even in Sweden: David Morrison at The Wine Gourd writes about Swedish wine: The “main limitation of Swedish wines at the moment is that they are not good value for money” because of “high production costs associated with the small volumes.” We’ve heard that before, haven’t we? Morrison says quality seems to be good among the three dozen or so Swedish producers, despite the price/value problems. This is especially impressive since the Swedes have to grow hybrids that can handle the colder climate, and hybrids are notoriously difficult to turn into quality wine.

Photo: “Don’t forget the wine” by Sergio Maistrello is licensed under CC BY-NC-ND 2.0 

Asimov on Texas wine: Not quite right

asimov texas wineAsimov gives N.Y. Times readers skewed picture of Texas wine

Eric Asimov of the New York Times is probably the best wine writer in the United States, offering what a friend of mine calls a “thoughtful, balanced but personal approach to wine drinking.” He shows his passion and his joy for wine, he writes clearly and directly, and he doesn’t talk down to his readers. Would that more of my colleagues did that.

That’s why I was so disappointed by Asimov’s recent article about Texas wine — or, more specifically, about a Long Island winemaking couple, Regan and Carey Meador, who moved their Southold winery to the Hill Country. In the process, the story implied, they were bringing civilization and much needed progress to Texas winemaking. The article, displayed prominently on the cover of the paper’s Dining section, was everything that has always been wrong with regional wine reporting – not just condescending, but reinforcing the stereotype that those of us in the provinces can’t succeed without help from our betters.

It was the last thing that I expected from Asimov, and I do not write this lightly. In fact, it took me almost two weeks to decide to write anything. Who wants to be called petty and provincial?

Besides, I respect Asimov immensely (though we have never met) and have written very nice things about him on the blog and in the cheap wine book. And he has been a tremendous supporter of regional wine, helping to give New York the due it deserves. So the last thing I want to do is to get into a cyber-spat with someone who does what Asimov does as well as he does it. And this is not about the Meadors; people who want to make quality wine are always welcome.

Rather, it’s Asimov’s characterization of Texas winemaking that deserves to be called out. It was what those of us who have done journalism call “parachute reporting” – you parachute into a place with little knowledge beyond general stereotypes, do a little reporting and get airlifted out, stereotypes intact, and knowing almost nothing more about the subject than you did beforehand.

So, given what I do here and the blog’s reason for being, as well as my work over the past decade with Drink Local Wine and the regional wine movement, know this about Asimov’s Texas wine story:

• Yes, as Asimov writes, Texas produces lots of middling, mass market supermarket wine (and I’ve criticized the industry for this and taken my lumps). But so do California, France, and almost every other wine region in the world, including New York. I’m sure Asimov has run across Red Cat a time or two.

• Asimov writes that Texas’ move toward varietals more suited to its terroir, as well as the presence of more open and free-thinking winemakers like the Meadors, is a new development. This is untrue; those movements were underway at least a decade ago. We showcased both at our first Drink Local Wine conference in 2009 in Dallas. I wrote about the same subject in 2016, “The Texas Wine Revolution,” for Texas Journey magazine. If I may quote myself: “What is a new, especially in the past 10 years, is the acceptance that Texas wine is not California wine or French wine or Italian wine. It is Texas wine.”

• Hence, it was especially annoying to read that a New York winemaker had to come here to save the Texas wine business from itself.

• The Hill Country, which Asimov visited, is not the most important place in the Texas wine world. It gets the most tourists (think Red Cat again), but the High Plains near Lubbock produces 80 percent of the grapes and most of the best grapes. Because, among other reasons, Pierce’s Disease in the Hill Country — the grapevine version of the Black Death. So judging Texas wine off a visit to Fredericksburg is hardly the entire picture. And by the way, it’s not Hill Country, as the story referred to it, but the Hill Country, in the same way it’s Queens, and not the Queens.

• And since the Hill Country is not the center of the Texas wine business, Asimov apparently didn’t taste Brennan Vineyards’ viognier, always among the best in the country; McPherson Cellars’ Tre Colore, a red Rhone blend that speaks to terroir; and Haak Cellars’ amazing Madeira-style wine made with blanc du bois. None have anything to do with Fredericksburg. And it also seems that he missed Perdernales Cellars outside of Fredericksburg, with its terrific tempranillos.

So that’s a more complete picture, and one I wish Asimov had seen. He could have called Russ Kane, who probably knows more about this stuff than anyone, or Texas Monthly’s Jessica Dupuy. Either could have recommended Texas wine producers who would have been able to offer more perspective.

The old saying that any publicity is good publicity still rings true, but accurate publicity is even better.