Tag Archives: Total Wine

Winebits 483: Chenin blanc, Two-buck Chuck, three-tier

chenin blancThis week’s wine news: Dry Creek releases its 45th consecutive vintage of chenin blanc, plus the history of Two-buck Chuck and a loss for three-tier

Keep it coming: Dry Creek Vineyard has released its 45th consecutive vintage of dry chenin blanc, which the winery says is a record for California. Given how little respect chenin blanc gets, and especially in California, that’s probably true. In fact, the Dry Creek chenin is a marvelous wine, a regular part of the $10 Hall of Fame, and an example to the rest of the wine world that you don’t have to make chardonnay, chardonnay, and more chardonnay. But what else would you expect from a winery that ends the news release about the chenin with this quote? “Instead of getting sucked into the increasing corporatization of the industry, we are bucking the trends and are an increasingly rare breed.” No wonder I like the wine so much.

Cheap wine: The Thrillist website recounts the history of Trader Joe’s Two-buck Chuck, the first ultra-cheap “premium” wine. The piece is mostly well done, and includes quotes from Chuck Shaw, who started the winery whose name – sold for $27,000 to Bronco Wine – was eventually used on the first $1.99 offering from Trader Joe’s. And, for the most part, the story confirms my most recent assessment of Two-buck Chuck: Where’s the antidote?

Three-tier takes a hit: The state’s supreme court has struck down a South Carolina law that said no one could own more than three liquor stores. The court ruled that the three-license law “limits are arbitrary and do not promote the health, safety or morals of the state, but merely provide economic protection for existing retail liquor store owners.” This matters not just for South Carolina, but in every state that limits the number of stores one person can own, which includes Texas. It’s not legally binding outside of South Carolina, but it does offer a precedent for judges to to use elsewhere. Also worth noting is that the suit was brought by the Total Wine chain, which has sued other states to overturn three-tier laws. Finally, if I may pat myself on the back, this appears to be part of a trend I wrote about last month, noting that a new generation of judges and regulators sees liquor law differently than their parents and grandparents did.

Winebits 477: Wine retailers edition

wine retailersThis week’s wine news: Wine retailers Walmart, Total Wine, BevMo are in the headlines

Pricing dispute: BevMo, the West Coast liquor chain, has accused Total Wine of unfair advertising. It claimed that the latter’s ad campaign — “Don’t Paymo at BevMo” – that said BevMo’s prices were higher than Total’s wasn’t true. BevMo brought its complaint to the National Advertising Division, a self-regulatory group set up by the ad business. Total declined to participate in the process, which it is allowed to do. What’s interesting here is that Total, which seems to spend as much time courtrooms as Perry Mason, wasn’t worried by the challenge, which was made by one of the biggest regional chains in the country.

Pricing dispute II: Total has also run afoul of the Massachusetts liquor cops, who have accused it of violating the state’s minimum pricing laws. The chain has sued the Alcoholic Beverages Control Commission for briefly suspending the licenses of two Total stores for allegedly selling vodka, rum, and other booze for $1 to $6 below cost. In the Total suit, the company said it assumes that local retailers turned the chain in to the state because they didn’t want to compete on price.

Election dispute: How deep are Walmart’s pockets? The retailer spent more than $4.8 million that helped pass a ballot measure to allow wine sales in Oklahoma grocery stores. That was some 90 percent of the money raised by the group supporting grocery store wine sales. And, because this is about booze sales, the results of the election have ended up in federal court. The state’s retail liquor trade group claims the measure is unconstitutional and wants it voided.

Winebits 455: Wine labels, Connecticut pricing, direct shipping

Cute labelsThis week’s wine news: Cute labels matter, plus more on the Connecticut pricing controversy and direct shipping in South Dakota

The cuter the better: Even in Japan, where the culture and the alphabet are far different than here, cute wine labels matter. Reports the Japan Times: “Wines produced in Chile, Australia and other New World regions are gaining popularity among consumers in Japan due to their reasonable prices and eye-catching animal logos.” The Wine Curmudgeon doesn’t know quite what to make of this, save to reiterate what I’ve written many times about cute labels, and to note that reasonable prices certainly matter regardless of culture and alphabet. One of the most popular Chilean brands, Condor, sells for about ¥580, a little less than US$6.

Joining the fray: A second liquor retailer has taken aim at Connecticut’s minimum pricing law, selling alcohol below the state mandated pricing. BevMax, 13 locations in Connecticut and New York, was advertising and selling liquor below the price set by wholesalers, an apparent violation of Connecticut law, reports the Hartford Courant newspaper. Says a BevMax official: “We feel that the law is unjust. It’s right to break an unjust law.” Last week, Total Wine sued the state to overturn the law, and has also been advertising its products for the state minimum. Late last week, the retailers said they would return to minimum pricing.

Even a small state: This story, about South Dakotans buying 1,158 cases of wine directly from the producer in the first year of direct sales in the state either speaks to the tremendous power of direct shipping or it doesn’t. That’s not a lot of wine, but consider that South Dakota has fewer than 900,000 people. But that still works out to about one-half bottle per legal age resident. So you tell me – is that a lot or not?

Winebits 438: Regional wine, wine bottles, Total Wine

regional wine• Even in Nova Scotia: The government in the Canadian province will spend C$3.5 (about US$2.7) to help vineyards and wineries, an almost unprecedented investment in a part of the world where one doesn’t think of wine. But the provincial government sees wine as a way to create create jobs and boost economic development, which is something progressive and far-sighted governments do (right, Texas?). In fact, there are 11 wineries in the province, and the modern Nova Scotia wine industry is 25 years old.

• More than just a bottle: Will wine drinkers ever accept anything other than wine in a 750-ml bottle? Can the wine industry meet that demand? This is a chicken and egg question, and particularly since experts and consultants insist wine drinkers want something else and consumers keep buying wine in the traditional bottle. The Wine Intelligence consultancy parses the issue, and realizes that “part of the issue remains one of cost. One [750-ml] bottle incurs less dry goods cost than four mini [187.5-ml] bottles, and price sensitive consumers have historically been reluctant to pay more (relatively) for less.” In other words, wine drinkers don’t want to pay more for convenience, and this doesn’t take into account that smaller sized bottles (as well as cans, boxes, and what have you) have usually been used for inferior wine.

• Total Wine changes: The man who runs the country’s biggest liquor chain is stepping down to go into politics. David Trone, who started Total Wine with his brother Robert and led it to almost $2 billion in sales and some 120 stores, is leaving to go into politics. He was an unsuccessful congressional candidate in Maryland this spring, and says he wants pursue a career in public service, which may include another congressional run or a presidential appointment. This is intriguing news, and not just because of politics. Trone, whom I have interviewed, is one of the smartest retailers I have met, and Total’s success owes much to he and his brother’s vision. If he isn’t there, can Total continue to grow?

Winebits 275: James Tidwell, Amazon, national chains

? Appreciating wine: James Tidwell, who works for the Four Seasons in suburban Dallas, is not only one of the most knowledgeable people in the wine business, but one of the nicest. So I'm particularly happy to note this interview with James, where he talks about what it's like to taste some of the world's great wines: "I knew food and wine went well together, but this transcended all conceptions of how they can be paired. It really has influenced my understanding of what can be done with food and wine."

? Making the Amazon model work: A rare look at how and what Amazon is doing with its wine marketplace, courtesy of Wines & Vines magazine. Peter Faricy, the executive in charge of the wine marketplace, wouldn't discuss sales or how many wineries are participating, but did note that the Internet giant is "super pleased with the reception so far. ? More importantly, he said, Amazon is working as fast as possible to add other states to the current lineup — 15 plus the District of Columbia, while ensuring complete compliance with the various local liquor regulations. It charges wineries 15 percent of the sales price to be part of the marketplace, but is waiving some fees.

? Want to be a national chain? Then offer better service, says the man in charge of Total Wine & More, whiich is agressively expanding across the U.S. ?If we can have the best people, we win. You ?re not going to find those people in Walmart or anywhere else, ? said president and co-owner David Trone. This is, of course, easier said than done, and I've heard it about a zillion times in the two-plus decades I've written about business. I once spent 40 minutes in a Dallas Total Wine without an employee even looking at me, and the one employee I watched wait on another customer didn't seem all that interested. But maybe that's a small sample size.

 

 

Private label wines, value, and quality

We ?re in the middle of a tremendous price war in Dallas, where retailers are selling some wines more or less at cost. Segura Viudas, one of my favorite cavas, is $6 ? about half of what it cost here a year ago (and about what it costs in Spain).

Yet the retailers don ?t seem especially concerned that they ?re giving away wine. Items like Segura Viudas are loss leaders to get customers into the store; once they ?re in, they can switch them to brands with better margins ? and, increasingly, these brands are private labels. In fact, private and store label wines, which are sold exclusively at one retailer, are perhaps the most important development on the retail side of the business over the past couple of years.

Some retailers, like Trader Joe ?s and Total Wine and More, focus almost exclusively on private label, but national grocery stores and regional chains are doing them as well, tucked onto the shelf next to the Kendall-Jackson, Yellow Tail, and Barefoot.

The question, then, is whether these private labels offer value and quality, or if they ?re just dodges to sell wine that consumers wouldn ?t normally buy. The answer, sadly, after the Wine Curmudgeon ?s recent private label experiment (unscientific, but worthwhile nonetheless) is that more and more, private labels are becoming the latter.

Consumers have long known that private label is not quite as good as the national brand ? the ketchup doesn ?t taste quite like Heinz and the peanut butter doesn ?t taste quite like Skippy. But they buy it anyway, because they ?re willing to trade quality for price, and the store brands are cheaper than the national brands.

In wine, the equation is more complicated. A traditional wine retailer ?s business is based on the premise that better wines are always more expensive, so any foray into private label sticks to that line. Kroger ?s private labels, for example, don ?t try to undercut the national brands, and you can’t even tell which are which on the shelf. However, more retailers are junking that approach in favor of ?this wine is cheaper and just as good ? or even better. ?

The most obvious example is Trader Joe ?s and Two-buck Chuck, which Two-buck Chuck ?s maker, Fred Franzia, insists is just as good as any bottle of pricey Napa wine. I ?m not quite sure anyone believes him (or that Franzia even believes it himself), but, as a marketing approach, it has been incredibly successful.

Total Wine, with 82 stores in 13 states, has taken this one step further. It identifies its private label wines as such, which almost no one else does, and displays them next to the comparable national brands ? complete with little cards under the wine, or shelf talkers, that say that its private labels are cheaper and better (or as much as it can without running afoul of federal regulations).

Are Total ?s private labels cheaper and better? Or is this just a cynical ploy to prey on consumers who can tell the difference between ketchups but who can ?t tell the difference between wines? I ?ve argued for years that the wine business is not as interested in educating consumers as it is in selling them wine, and it ?s easy to see how this could be part of that. Given how confusing wine is to most of us, our first instinct is to trust whatever the store says. They ?re not going to lie about their product, are they?

One distributor I asked, who doesn ?t have Total in his state, is convinced that the chain is counting on the consumer ?s ignorance. My experience, in the short time Total has been in Dallas, has been much the same. Their private labels are less expensive, but you can also taste the difference ? and not in a good way.

Case in point: Victoire Champagne Brut Prestige ($20, purchased), which the shelf talker claimed was half the price of branded Champagne and just as Champagne-y. I ?ve done this long enough to know that this is all but impossible, but I also pride myself on my open mind. Besides, what if it was just like Champagne at half the price?

The Victoire wasn ?t, and it wasn ?t even as well made as $20 cava or French cremant (or many $10 cavas, for that matter). The Big Guy tasted it with me; he took a couple of sips and asked if I had anything else to drink. The wine had little structure, and tasted more like apple juice mixed with club soda than sparkling wine.

No wonder it ?s easier to buy ketchup. Or that it ?s more popular than wine.