Tag Archives: wine news

Winebits 589: The world revolves around the three-tier system edition

three-tierThis week’s wine news: It’s all about three-tier — a merger called off because it would have raised pricers, the “unique” U.S. distribution system, and tussling in New Jersey

No deal: Breakthru Beverage Group and Republic National Distributing Company, which had announced a $12 billion merger in 2017, have called it off. The reason? The Federal Trade Commission, which oversees these deals, said it would have caused “likely anticompetitive harm.” An FTC official said the agency found that “this transaction likely would have resulted in higher prices and diminished service in the distribution of wine and spirits in several states.” The Wine Curmudgeon, who is not an attorney and doesn’t pretend to know anything about anti-trust law, has just one question. If this deal was anticompetitive, why did the FTC allow the 2016 Southern-Glazer’s merger, worth $16.5 billion, to go through? The new company controls one-quarter of the wholesale spirits and wine market, and is bigger than the next three companies combined.

Just a happy family: Who knew that alcohol distribution was just another family business? That’s the latest from the industry’s trade group, the Wine and Spirits Wholesalers Association, which wants the world to know the “story of wholesalers and the three-tier system while highlighting the value and uniqueness of America’s beverage alcohol system.” The Wine Curmudgeon, who does know how to read a news release, got a giggle out of this one. Unique indeed – so unique that almost no one but liquor law attorneys and wholesalers understand how the damned thing works. And yes, value, especially when the FTC doesn’t object.

Not in Jersey: New Jersey’s legislators are trying to decide if they should loosen the state’s direct shipping law, one of the most restrictive in the country. The article is exceptionally well written by Bloomberg.com reporter Stacie Sherman – easy to understand, direct, and almost devoid of winespeak and legalese. In other words, it’s everything almost all other mainstream media booze stories aren’t. My favorite part? Her description of three-tier: A “patchwork of laws that, as with those governing so many other industries, were ill-suited for the advent of e-commerce.”

Cigarettes, wine, and cancer

wine and cancerThe mainstream news media can’t report a story about wine and cancer correctly no matter how much I lecture them

Dear Mainstream News Media:

I realize this is the 21st century, and that journalism standards aren’t what they were when I was a young reporter. For one thing, the bosses don’t care any more, since caring costs too much money. For another, journalism education isn’t about getting the story right, but about marketing. Because, the money.

Still, your performance during the recent cigarettes, wine, and cancer cyber dust-up left much to be desired. It seemed like every headline and story thundered the news that anyone who drinks wine will die of cancer as surely as a three-pack-a-day smoker, wheezing and hacking to the grave. Or, as this epic screamed: “Put a Cork in It: Drinking a Bottle of Wine Per Week Is as Bad as Smoking 10 Cigarettes

Sigh.

I thought we had covered this ground twice before – during the Centers for Disease Control “wine with dinner is the equivalent of binge drinking” study and the “even one glass of wine is one glass too many” scare. Both times, as I noted, each study had its flaws and solid reporting should do more than parrot the results. Ask questions. Each time, I offered hard-earned wisdom about how to cover these kinds of stories.

Which you apparently ignored. So, one more time – how to parse a wine and cancer study before you write about it:

• Read more than the executive summary. Yes, I know wading through the technical stuff is boring, and that it’s often written to confuse those of us who aren’t scientists. But it is worthwhile, as I noted in the wine with dinner post linked to above.

• Pay attention to the math. I know this is also boring (and math is far from my best subject). But you’d be surprised what you can find, as my Starbucks pumpkin latte post shows.

• Look for the caveats, since every legitimate study will have them. Just like we did in the red wine study.

• Look for the biases, because too many studies have biases these days. The cigarettes, wine, and cancer report is British, part of a barrage of studies that have come out of that country over the past several years in the wake of Britain’s binge drinking crisis. So what else would you expect the study to find?

Because, as one reporter discovered at the end of an otherwise “We’re all going to die!” piece:

“The use of cigarette smoking as a measure of risk is clever, but somewhat misleading.” That’s the opinion of Larry Norton, MD, the deputy physician-in-chief for breast cancer programs at Memorial Sloan Kettering Cancer Center in New York City. “Association is not causation … On the other hand, we know for sure that smoking actually causes lung and other serious cancers. So putting it all together, the equating of tobacco with alcohol has some real flaws.”

See what I mean?

Your pal in better journalism,
The Wine Curmudgeon

Winebits 588: Constellation sells 30 wine brands, drunk shopping, drinking at home

constellationThis weeks’ news: Constellation Brands sells 30 wine and spirits labels to Gallo, plus drunk shoppers prefer Amazon and more younger people are staying home to drink

Constellation sale: The third-biggest wine company in the U.S. is washing its hands of cheap wine after selling a gaggle of less than $10 wines to No. 1 E&J Gallo last week. The brands include Black Box, Clos du Bois, Ravenswood, and Rex Goliath. Originally, Constellation asked for $3 billion and only wanted to sell some brands. But the analysts I talked to said there was so little interest in the sale from potential buyers that Constellation had to sweeten the pot and cut the price to get the deal done.

• Good old Amazon: Where do drunk shoppers go when they’re ready to spend but not remember what they did? Amazon, of course. Almost 90 percent of drunk shopping took place on the Internet retail giant last year, and shoppers spent an average of $444. Yes, that’s an impressive total, but Imagine how much more it might be if Amazon could sell wine the way it sells clothing and shoes (the top two drunk buying items).

Not in a restaurant or bar: Wine Industry Insight reports that more young consumers are staying home to drink. The reason, which will surprise no one except those in the restaurant business: “Drinking at home is cheaper.”

Wine business foolishness already underway as 2019 rose season draws near

2019 rose seasonExpect higher princes for 2019 rose season because that’s the way the system works

The 2019 rose season is barely underway, and the wine business foolishness is in full swing. How else to explain a $22 rose I saw in a top Dallas retailer the other day whose only claim to fame is that it’s named after one of the places the hipsters go to drink rose?

Or, as rose winemaker extraordinare Charles Bieler said during our podcast last month: Be wary – the wine business is going to do everything it can to screw up rose.

With that warning in mind, here are several things to keep in mind before the blog’s 12th annual rose extravaganza at the end of May:

• Expect to pay a little more this year, as much as $15 for quality pink. This isn’t as much premiumizaton as it is supply and demand, given rose’s increasing popularity. There is still plenty of top-notch rose for $8 and $10, but importers and distributors are going to try and take price increases where they can.

• Expect to see more very expensive rose – $50 and up – on the market. I talked to a Chicago sommelier for a magazine story about rose, and she said she can’t get enough of the pricey stuff. Apparently, high-end wine drinkers want trophy rose just like they want trophy red wine. Which defeats the purpose of rose, but that’s their problem.

• Expect to see the wine geeks lusting after Austrian rose. Yes, I know there is almost none of it and most of it don’t even know it exists (and especially if you don’t live on the east coast). But that’s why they’re wine geeks. California rose should also be trendy this season, as more mainstream wine drinkers decide to try rose but will only buy it if it comes from the same region they buy merlot and chardonnay.

Winebits 587: Grocery store wine, descriptors, wine and food pairings

 grocery store wineThis week’s wine news: Is there a chance of grocery store wine in New York state? Plus beer descriptors and wine and food pairings

Bring on the grocery store wine: New York is the most important state that doesn’t allow wine to be sold in grocery stores, but one prominent critic thinks it’s time to change change that. “About 35 states allow [wine in grocery stores]. New York should be one of them. It’s long overdue. … I have little patience for this debate.” The story does an excellent job of explaining the mess that is wine law in New York, and the powerful forces arrayed against letting residents buy a bottle at their local supermarket.

Sorry about that, beer: How sad is this? Wine descriptors, those adjectives used to describe wine like toasty and oak, have become so common in beer that someone write about beer descriptors to avoid. It’s not enough that wine descriptors make wine difficult to understand? Now they have to annoy beer drinkers, too?

White wine and beef: London’s Daily Telegraph, in a story about wine expert Tim Hanni, reminds us that “wine pairing is pseudo-science.” Hanni, who travels the world in his attempt to demystify wine, told an audience in New Zealand that there are no perfect wine and food pairings, and that lecturing wine drinkers about pairings does more harm than it does good.

Winebits 586: Regional wine, attack of the nutria, and wine and history

regional wine

“Wine grapes? They sound tasty.”

This week’s wine news: Regional wine hits the mainstream again, plus the nutria may invade wine country, and wine’s role in the beginning of civilization

Wine regions: One of the most important changes in wine has been the acceptance of local, which showed up again recently on a mainstream website called Culture CheatSheet. It lists 15 of what it calls “underrated” wine regions, and none of them are in California. But they are in New Mexico, Utah, and Iowa. “Many emerging wine countries have fewer crowds than Napa and more character than your average vacation spot,” it notes, and who am I to argue? If someone had told me, all those years ago, that our work with Drink Local would lead to this, I would have scoffed.

Watch out for the nutria: Years ago, when I was a young newspaperman in south Louisiana, someone wanted to make a science fiction movie, “The attack of the nutria.” Turns out the guy’s idea could turn into a horror story for some in California’s wine country. The nutria, which is a rodent the size of a beaver, has taken up residence in the state’s San Joaquin Valley. And, as you probably have guessed by now, it tears up everything in its path. “Within five years, the state estimates there could be nearly a quarter million nutria chewing up California’s endangered wetlands,” reports the story. The good news is that the valley is nowhere near the state’s leading wine regions. The bad news is the nutria likes to travel. Young nutria are edible, and I have a couple of recopies from my Louisiana days if anyone in California interested.

Wine and history: The author of a new book says wine was the “catalyst of the birth of Western civilization.” John Mahoney, in “Wine: The Source of Civilization,” suggests that at the end of the final Ice Age, humans got their first taste of wine in its crudest, natural form and were so taken with it that they gave up their nomadic lifestyle for farming. Recent analyses of Neolithic pottery dating to 6000 BC found residues of acids consistent with wine made from grapes.

Three reasons to be optimistic about the future of the wine business

wine business futureMaybe there are reasons not to be so doomy and gloomy about the future of the wine business

Mike Dunne, one of the most perceptive people I know in the wine business, left a comment recently that not all is doom and gloom with wine. The Wine Curmudgeon has been especially doomy and gloomy about wine’s future, and with good reason. Just when it seems like the news can’t get any worse, it does.  How does Constellation, one of the smartest companies in the business, overvalue assets it’s selling by a billion dollars?

Still, Mike being Mike, his comment made me ponder. Does he see something that I don’t? In one respect, Mike is completely correct – the wine business isn’t going to vanish tomorrow. And who knows? Maybe young people, who currently seem as interested in wine as I do in the Kardashians, will eventually change their minds. I’m always willing to admit I’m wrong — and hope I am, in this case.

So, given those two conditions, maybe there are three reasons for optimism that I have overlooked:

• The re-emergence of lower alcohol wines. We won the battle against 15 percent chardonnay and 16 percent cabernet sauvigon at the end of the recession, and most wines today are made with more or less normal alcohol levels. If wine drinkers can convince producers we don’t want our rose to kick like tequila, then maybe we can convince them that smooth and sweet isn’t a good idea, either.

• Rose’s success. When I started the blog, rose was a dirty word and difficult to find in shops, stores, and restaurants. The wine business told us to drink white zinfandel and lump it. Today, white zinfandel is an afterthought and even the biggest of Big Wine companies are scurrying to produce what they call dry rose. So we won that one, too.

• Reform in the three-tier system, which limits the wine we can buy and where we can buy it, and decides how much we pay for it. I recently exchanged emails with the blog’s unofficial liquor law attorney, and he was excited about a Connecticut three-tier case that upheld that state’s minimum pricing law. Why excited, since three-tier won the case? Because, said the attorney, the appeals court’s decision was so silly and went against so much precedent that it could be overturned by the Supreme Court. Throw in the Tennessee case currently in front of the Supreme Court, and we have a chance to fire two silver bullets into three-tier’s body.