? Too many grapes? During the wine price panic a couple of years ago, the wise guys kept mumbling that there weren ?t enough wine grapes planted in California, and that, psst, I ?ve got a deal for you if you want to buy some vineyard land. That wasn ?t necessarily the case then, and it ?s probably not today, either. The president of one of the biggest grape grower trade groups says the number of acres in production could be 25 percent higher than the official figures. If true, this would explain why prices never took off, even after the so-called short harvests in 2010 and 2011. And it would also explain why production rebounded so quickly to a record in 2012. And, for those of us who care about wine prices, it also means they aren ?t going up any time soon.
? Do we really need glass? No less than the pre-eminent British wine writer Jancis Robinson asks this question, wondering ?why we need a material as heavy, fragile and resources-hungry as glass for everyday wine, wine that is consumed within months of being bottled. ? Why not juice boxes and pouches? Good questions all, but ones that overlook the role of tradition in the wine business. Screwcaps are not new, and are cheaper and more efficient than corks. But most wine is still closed with corks, and for no other reason than that ?s the way it has always been done.
? Rot those teeth: The Wine Curmudgeon does not drink soft drinks, dating from my days as a young reporter who wrote a story and learned that Coke, Pepsi, and the rest are among the most nutritionally bankrupt foods on the planet. So I was not surprised to see this study, which claims that diet soft drinks rot teeth like cocaine and meth. The story that describes the study doesn ?t go into much detail about how it was conducted, and I ?m curious why only a handful of women were studied, but it does make great reading and something to point out to those who tell me I drink too much wine. And why my teeth are in such good shape.
? Back up the truck: I spent a considerable amount of time as a young newspaper reporter writing about crime, and one learned certain truths. One of which was that thieves like simple ? simple to carry off, simple to fence. So how to explain this wine theft, the second in the last six months? This report says hundreds of thousands of dollars worth of wine were taken from a San Francisco area warehouse; the difference between this and the previous heist (love those crime writing terms!) was volume ? this was only seven cases of wine, as opposed to most of a warehouse. Still, how does one fence wine? It ?s not like many pawn shops will take it.
? Tons and tons and tons of grapes: Think California had a bountiful harvest in 2012? Then get ready for the harvest in Australia ?s Riverina, where much of the country ?s cheap wine, including YellowTail, comes from. The harvest was near record, not a good thing when the Aussies are trying to cut production. One local official said that despite the near-record year, one-half of growers had not met the basic costs of production for 2013.
? Who tells you what to drink? Robert Joseph at the Joseph Report offers a spot-on analysis of the sweet wine trend, noting the differences between the way sweet red and moscato are marketed in the U.S. and Europe. ?In the U.S., the wine industry takes the view that making money out of giving consumers what they like is an entirely legitimate thing to do. It’s only fair to point out that the wider acceptance of this attitude goes a long way to explaining the success of supersized burgers and some pretty dreadful movies, not to mention a fairly widespread market for firearms. On the other hand, would it really be such a bad thing if the people who are currently drinking flavourless Pinot Grigio and Merlot had the chance to buy the kinds of grapey Moscato and ?velvety ? red that are giving such satisfaction on the other side of the Atlantic
? How tasting rooms work: Ever wonder why wineries have tasting rooms? Or if they make a lot of money? Or why a wine in the tasting room is often more expensive than in a store? Rob McMillan at the SVB blog goes a long way towards answering those questions, and asks one of his own: Do too many wineries use the tasting room to make money at the expense of the tasting room ?s ability to market the winery? This is the sort of analysis the wine business needs more of, and something that consumers need to know, too. It ?s one more advantage to know how the business works when it comes to buying wine.
? Breaking records: Remember that California grape shortage? Long gone, and probably not to be seen for a while. The official numbers are in, and the 2012 harvest set records. The crush totaled 4.4 million tons, up 13 percent from 2011 and 1 percent more than the previous high in 2005. Also significant: Red grapes accounted for more than half of that total, part of what may be a long-term trend toward red wine among consumers. Prices were also up quite a bit, in the double digits for many varieties, as producers were making up losses from the less bountiful 2010 and 2011 harvests.
? He was there: I ?ve never asked George Taber about the 1976 Judgment of Paris, probably the most important moment in the history of modern California wine. George, who worked for Time, was the only journalist present, and saw California wines best French wines in a blind tasting. You ?d think, as nosy as I am, I would have annoyed him about it over and over. Now I don ?t have to, thanks to this interview, which covers the event thoroughly: ?The story about the Paris tasting in Time magazine was only four paragraphs long. It was a secondary story in the Modern Living section, the filler. Nobody in the world except me will remember what was the first and more important story: It was about a new theme park in Atlanta ?. ?
There is a titter of joy running through the California wine business as the 2011 harvest ends, and it's not because the quality of the harvest is particularly good. It's because, for the first time in several years, California growers are picking fewer grapes — by some estimates, as much as 10 percent less than last year.
This means that grape prices are expected to go up, which means that wine prices are expected to go up. Which means, after several years of flat and even decreasing wine prices, growers and producers see dollar signs on the horizon.