? What wine companies think: We spend a lot of time on the blog talking about why wine producers do what they do, but we rarely get an inside look as revealing as this, an interview with the man who runs the company that owns Seghesio and Pine Ridge, among others. Says Erle Martin of Crimson Wine Group: "The recession has given consumers an opportunity to explore outside their comfort zone. If they used to fill the cart with $50 Napa Cabernet, now Argentine Malbecs are looking good, or Garnacha from Spain, or other full-bodied alternatives retailing at $10 or lower." The business jargon might slow the piece down a bit, but if you stay with it, you'll get a good sense of how these guys think and why they make the decisions they do.
? Gruet off the hook: A judge has ruled that New Mexico's Gruet Winery can't be included in the lawsuit to recover money from the the 2010 Cap*Rock bankruptcy auction debacle. That's when Laurent Gruet, whose family owns the winery, bid money he didn't have and won the auction to buy Cap*Rock. Walt Nett in the Lubbock Avalanche-Journal reports that the judge said the winery didn't actually participate in the auction and didn't give Laurent permission to bid on its behalf. The trial for damages is supposed to start Dec. 21. Who knew bankruptcy could be this much fun?
? Wine names and labels: An odd story in the New York Times detailing the trend towards cute wine labels and names, including several wines called Bitch. Why odd? Because this has been a trend for at least a decade, and there's nothing in the Times story that is especially new. And it fails to mention Randall Grahm, who pretty much invented this sort of thing. It's one of those stories that one reads and wonders why it was written; nothing in it is especially new. The cranky ex-newspaperman in me wonders if someone from the Times was wandering through a liquor store, saw a wine labeled Bitch, and thought it would make a good story — not knowing that it has been a good story for a long time.
Buy this book. "A Toast to Bargain Wines" may not be everything you need to know about cheap wine, but it's close enough. George Taber, the author of several acclaimed wine books, including the legendary "Judgment of Paris," has nailed cheap wine in a way few others have — or have cared to.
The one thing that has seemingly not slowed, despite the recession in the wine business, is the growth of wine clubs. Everyone, it seems, is offering them: Wineries, of course, but also newspapers and magazines, wine retailers, discounters, and even non-profits and charitable causes. Zagat, the restaurant guide, has a wine club, and a club even advertises on the blog. And, believe it or not, there are sites that rate wine clubs.
The Wine Curmudgeon did a post several years ago about what to look for in wine clubs, and most of that advice still holds. Clubs, by themselves, are neither good nor bad; it's up to the consumer to figure out whether they're getting a deal or not. Are the shipping charges fair? Do the wines seem to offer value? I miss the old Virtual Vineyards wine club, while there are several others that I don't want to even get junk mail from.
Most importantly, read the fine print. That's where you'll learn that the New York Times' wine club is run by another company, and doesn't really have anything to do with the newspaper or its wine critics. Or that the wine club rating site noted above may make recommendations based on whether it is "compensated" by the wine club it reviews.
Having said that, the growth of wine clubs raises a larger question. What's going on, and why is it going on now? More, after the jump:
? What makes a winery successful? It's not the quality of the wine, says a survey of winery owners. Instead, it's five factors that have more to do with controlling costs than anything else, according to a study done by two professors at Sonoma State University ?s Wine Business Institute. Winery owners are more concerned with things like selling wine directly to consumers and developing a strong business strategy. The first is especially interesting, since direct shipment is such a small part of the wine business — as little as one percent. And the lack of concern about quality? And the industry wonders why it's in such trouble.
? State stores mean higher prices: A Michigan think tank has found that liquor prices are higher in Michigan and in the 17 other states where government acts as a statewide liquor wholesaler — the so-called control states. The Mackinac Center report estimates that residents of those 18 states pay 6.3 percent more for booze than the rest of us. The language in the news release gets a little hysterical, and I'm not sure the methodology is as good as it could be, but the point is well taken. When there is no competition, prices are higher — and you get wine kiosks.
? Does cheap wine cause recessions? Australian newspaper columnist John Birmingham asks "whether the problem with the economy isn ?t structural or political but simply attitudinal. We ?ve talked ourselves into a funk. We ?re buying cheap wine, holding our dollars tight, because we ?ve convinced ourselves that ?s what we need to do." A couple of caveats: Birmingham is talking about the Aussie economy, which doesn't compare exactly to our faux-recession in the U.S., and lot of this is written with tongue firmly in cheek (and in Australian, which makes it difficult to decipher in several places). But his approach made me smile. Who knew that those of us who like quality and value had such a significant impact on the economy?
? Top regional chef dies: Deborah Whiting, a New York chef who was one of the leaders in that state's local food and local wine movements, died last week in an automobile accident. There were any number of eloquent tributes to Whiting, who ran the restaurant at Red Newt Cellars in upstate New York; her husband, David, runs the winery, and I can't begin to list them all. Know that Dave McIntyre at the Washington Post wrote that "David had become one of the Finger Lakes ? top winemakers and Debra the region ?s leading chef, championing the 'locavore' movement by featuring ingredients from nearby farms. She is widely credited with sparking the restaurant revolution in the Finger Lakes wine country, which had been dependent on fast food." McIntyre's post includes links to several other pieces about Whiting, all worth checking out.
? Too much attention for French wine? French wine has continued its downward sales trend in the U.S., yet it seems to be one of the stars of the wine cyber-ether. French wine, despite an almost 10 percent sales decline over the past year, generates what Nielsen calls a disproportionate share of buzz on the Internet through Twitter, Facebook, and the like. This is not surprising, given the incredibly overwhelming coverage on the Internet about Bordeaux. I have not see the Neilsen stats, but I doubt seriously that it's made up of coverage like mine, writing about $10 bottles. Instead, it's almost certainly from places eRobertParker.com, the Wine Spectator, and Decanter and their NFL-like coverage of anything related to Bordeaux. Also amusing: Nielsen reports that consumers don't trust alcohol advertising, and prefer to get recommendations from their friends. Which is a fitting segue to the next item.
? Shooting itself in the foot: Or, as The Italian Wine Guy says in a recent post: "[L]ately it seems like we are doing everything we can to kill the wine business in the world. Actively." Among the culprits are Bordeaux, which seems hell bent on destroying its traditional markets so it can all of its wine to China. Which, as the IWG points out, is probably not the smartest long-term strategy. He also takes on the Italian government and several other of the maroons who try to tell us what to drink when they really aren't interested in what we want.