Tag Archives: wine news

Winebits 597: Bumble wine bar, pinotage, wine prices

bumble wine bar

Swipe right for a date at the Bumble wine bar.

This week’s wine news: On-line dating site Bumble is opening a wine bar, plus pinotage and its lack of respect and wine keeps getting more expensive

Wine for two: Internet dating site Bumble has solved your first date problems – the Bumble wine bar, called Bumble Brew. The bar will open in Manhattan’s trendy SoHo neighborhood in the fall, featuring 15 wines by the glass from $12 to $16 – not a bad price given the rents in that part of New York City. The Wine Curmudgeon wishes Bumble the best of luck, since its main users are 18- to 29-year-olds, the demographic that shows the least interest in wine. Maybe Bumble can rekindle interest in wine among younger consumers, doing something the wine business doesn’t seem to care much about.

Poor, poor pinotage: Pinotage is a red grape grown almost exclusively in South Africa, and it gets very little respect in most of the rest of the world. Greg Sherwood, writing in South Africa’s Wine Mag, says pinotage “and its rightful place at the vinous fine wine table is still subject to a lot of debate and conjecture by international wine buyers but perhaps less so now by end-consumers.” In other words, why do wine drinkers in South Africa enjoy the stuff, while most of the rest of the world goes out of its way to avoid it? Sherwood discusses the grape’s past, when pinotage wines smelled – charitably – like burnt rubber or hot road tar. He says winemakers have solved those problems, and the grape can now produce high-quality wine. The article isn’t the best written, but it’s worth reading to anyone who has ever tasted pinotage and wondered what was going on.

Pricier and pricier: Don Kavanagh, writing on Wine-Searcher.com, says expensive wine keeps getting more expensive, and that means all wine is getting more expensive. This apparently comes as a great shock to Kavanagh, even though he’s writing for the website that has helped fuel those higher prices with its gushing odes to expensive wine. Still, his point is well taken, and especially for regular visitors to the blog: “[B]ut a look at the big picture shows one incontrovertible truth about wine prices: the only way is up.”

Winebits 596: Tariffs, wine writing, wine prices

Wine pricingThis week’s wine news: The booze business has discovered it doesn’t want tariffs, either, plus wine writing’s unique demographics and expensive wine doesn’t guarantee quality

No tariffs, please: The Wine Curmudgeon is not the only one who understands that tariffs are a mug’s game. Most of the booze business’ leading trade groups, including the Wine Institute, have asked the federal government to drop plans to tax European Union products. The story, from Shanken News Daily, is a bit convoluted, but the gist is that even people who never agree about anything else agree about this: “Entry level, everyday products are going to be affected just as much as high-end imported products,” said the CEO of the group that represents wine and spirits wholesalers.

An exclusive club: Tom Natan, writing on the First Vine blog, discovers one of the wine business’ underlying truths, “the uniform racial makeup of the wine writing world. … at least the part I experience at meetings and conferences — seems to be populated almost exclusively by White people like me.” He parses some intriguing numbers, including that almost one-quarter of U.S. business owners and bosses are women, but that only 4 percent of wine and spirits businesses are owned or run by women. And only one-fifth of those 4 percent are women of color. This is in marked contrast to food writing, he writes, which is much more diverse. Natan looks for reasons why this is true, but misses something else: Does this lack of diversity explain why the wine business is so obsessed with expensive wines – the kind that are preferred by its older, wealthier demographics?

Not so fast, expensive wine: Dan Berger, writing in the Santa Rosa Pres-Democrat (in the heart of wine country, no less), warns us that “wine buyers willingly accept being fed a diet of misinformation — or no information at all. They continue to buy wines based on marketers’ fictions, accepting lies or faux facts, and believing high prices indicate high quality.” And, just to be sure we understand, Berger asks: “Can you imagine buying a car without first gaining specific details about its specifications, and without taking a test-drive? How about buying furniture off the web that doesn’t give measurements or the material from which it was made?” But, and as been mentioned here many times, wine drinkers do that regularly, because we assume that wine is different than cars or furniture.

Are the neo-Prohibitionists winning the debate about drinking?

neo-ProhibitionistsNew data shows neo-Prohibitionists campaign against drinking may be making headway

Are the neo-Prohibitionists winning the debate about drinking? New data, including a study about world alcohol consumption, shows fewer of us are drinking. Does this mean more people believe their argument that all booze is evil?

Worldwide alcohol consumption declined 1.6 percent in 2018, according to a report from IWSR, a London consultancy. And wine, which had increased in consumption globally the past several years, also declined 1.6 percent in 2018. That included leading markets like China, Italy, France, Germany and Spain; the U.S. market was flat.

In addition, reported IWSR, “Low- and no-alcohol brands are showing significant growth in key markets as consumers increasingly seek better-for-you products, and explore ways to reduce their alcohol intake.” Growth of no-alcohol wine is forecast at 13.5 percent, with low-alcohol wine at 5.6 percent. Those are impressive numbers to begin with, even acknowledging the small base, and it’s even more impressive given how few no- and low-alcohol wine products exist today.

Meanwhile, Australians – usually regarded as some of the world’s great drinkers – have cut their alcohol consumption significantly since 2014. No one was more surprised than the CEO of the research institute that did the study, who noted that booze is seen as having “a central role” in Australian life. But no more?

What’s going on here? Know that the IWSR study includes a variety of caveats about why consumption declined, and that it expects drinking to return to growth over the next several years. But when the study identifies Ethiopia as one of the top 10 growth markets in the world, something is much different than we’re used to.

In this, it’s almost certainly the idea that any kind of drinking is bad for us. The IWSR study hints at this, with the growth in no- and low-alcohol products, but so does something else. In the U.S. we’ve always faced a religious backlash against drinking, and it’s the main reason why so much of the country was dry until the 1990s.

But that backlash seems to have ended. A May 2019 Gallup poll found that 79 percent of Americans found drinking morally acceptable; only 19 percent said it was a sin. That makes booze as acceptable as divorce and more acceptable than non-marital sex, says Gallup.

So if more of us are drinking less, and that seems to be the case, then the neo-Prohibitionists’ scare tactics seem to be working. Hopefully, the wine business will eventually take notice and offer a compelling argument in favor of moderation. Its current hear no evil, see no evil, premiumization is the answer to everything policy might work in the short run, but doesn’t offer much for the future of wine drinking in the U.S.

More about the neo-Prohibitionists and drinking:
Health alert: Does the CDC know how dangerous Starbucks’ pumpkin spice latte is?
Cigarettes, wine, and cancer
The federal government’s three drink limit

Winebits 595: Andre Lurton, ancient yeast, Grocery Outlet

Andre Lurton

Andre Lurton

This week’s wine news: Andre Lurton, one of the leaders in great cheap wine, has died, plus an ancient yeast discovery and wine discounter Grocery Outlet may expand

Andre Lurton: Andre Lurton, whose skill and foresight gave us Chateau Bonnet, one of the world’s greatest cheap wines, has died at 94. The Lurton family are Bordeaux royalty, and their holdings include Cheval Blanc, one of the world’s great estates. But Andre Lurton “specialized in buying properties at their lowest value and nurturing them into valuable wine estates,” starting with the family’s Château Bonnet in 1953. It was in Bordeaux’s Entre-Deux-Mers region, then and now known for mostly poorly made supermarket wine. But Lurton understood how to improve wine quality and maintain the price, and today Chateau Bonnet produces $10 wine that shames almost all the other cheap wine in the world. As one French journalist wrote: “Andre defines himself as a peasant. He loves to count the hours he spent driving a tractor more than he loves to count the chateaus he owns.” What better epitaph could Lurton have?

5,000-year-old yeast: Israeli researchers have made beer using yeast extracted from 5,000-year-old Egyptian clay pots. Key to their work was Israel’s Kadma Winery, which makes wine in clay pots. Said one expert: “We are talking about a real breakthrough here. This is the first time we succeeded in producing ancient alcohol from ancient yeast. In other words, from the original substances from which alcohol was produced. This has never been done before.” And, reportedly, the beer wasn’t bad, either.

More Grocery Outlets? Good news for cheap wine drinkers – Grocery Outlet, the west coast cult discounter, wants to expand to other parts of the U.S. Supermarket News reports that the company wants to raise $100 million through a stock offering to open hundreds of stores adjacent to its locations in California, Idaho, Nevada, Oregon, and Washington (it also has stores in Pennsylvania, which has limited supermarket wine sales). Company officials say it could eventually reach 4,800 stores across the country. Grocery Outlet is famous for buying surplus products from wholesalers and manufacturers, including and especially wine, marking it down by as much as 40 to 70 percent.

Winebits 594: All rose, all the time

roseThis week’s wine news: All rose, all the time, to celebrate the blog’s 12th annual rose extravaganza

Under $15: The Refinery29 website lists 14 roses costing less than $15, and it’s mostly a good list – including a couple of canned pinks. Credit for sticking to affordable wines, which rarely happens with rose these days. Availability may be a problem, but there’s nothing new about that, is there? The biggest dud on the list is Aldi’s $8 Exquisite Collection Côtes de Provence, which wowed NBC’s Today show last year (and which underwhelmed me). This vintage, though, isn’t even that well made. I bought it last night, and it wasn’t really Provencal in style, had some sort of weird Jolly Rancher fruity sweetness, and was very disjointed. The bottle is still three-quarters full; that almost never happens in my house.

Rose beer: Because that’s what the world needs, right? MarketWatch reports that two Texas producers, Spoetzl Brewery and Kiepersol Winery in east Texas, have combined for a rose-flavored beer. The beer uses grape must and is aged in wine barrels, and is supposed to be made in a style ro accentuate the rose flavor. I’ll leave the verdict about whether it’s worth drinking to those much younger and much more hip than I.

25 best roses: VinePair lists its 2019 rose honor roll, and it’s proud that the “prices are reasonable” for the 25, since only two cost more than $30. Frankly, I’d rather drink three bottles of the Bieler Sabine than buy a $30 rose, but I may be too old and not hip enough to appreciate rose any more. Plus, save for the $10 Tortoise Creek from the great Mel Masters and the Sicilian Planeta pink, the list is missing a lot of top-notch roses, and especially from Spain.

Land, Kendall Jackson, land: The biggest factor in California wine prices

California wine prices

Jackson Family Estates doesn’t want to make $10 wine, but there it is.

Real estate, not foreign tariffs, determines California wine prices

Consider two wines: Both white Rhone-style blends, both from respected wineries, both speaking to varietal character and terroir, both well-made and enjoyable. One costs $24; the other costs $12. So what’s the difference?

Vineyard land prices in California. The $24 wine is Eberle’s Cotes de Robles Blanc from Paso Robles, where land goes for $30,000 to $35,000 an acre. The $12 wine is McPherson’s Les Copains White from Texas’ High Plains, where land goes for less than $5,000 an acre. Otherwise, save for a fancier screwcap on the Eberle, the wines are the same – mostly the same grapes, the same style, and the same flavors (some lime and stone fruit, very clean and crisp).

We’ve spent a lot of time on the blog over the past couple of weeks discussing the Jackson Family Estates proposal to raise a tariff wall to keep cheap imports out of the U.S. What we haven’t discussed is the role that the cost of California land plays in all of this.

More than anything, that’s why California wine prices are as high as they are. The land – even in the less famous regions like Paso Robles – can be some of the most expensive in the world. Equally as important, a lot of vineyard land in Europe — even quality land — was paid for decades ago, so the price of a bottle may not include the cost of the loan to buy the land. In some parts of California, the cost of the mortgage is the difference between a $50 and $60 bottle of wine.

And the more demand for California wine that there is, the more money people will pay for California vineyards. And higher land prices in California mean more expensive grapes and more expensive grapes mean more expensive wine. It’s that simple.

That’s because all else is mostly equal: The cost of labor, the cost of the bottle, the cost of shipping, and it doesn’t matter whether you’re in Texas, California, or France. In fact, California might have a slight edge in some production costs, since it’s the center of the U.S. wine business. So, in the end, the price of the land in determines California wine prices.

Jackson Family, like other big California producers, likes high land prices. High prices make the company more valuable. So when it says it can’t afford to make $10 wine, it’s being honest – but it’s also crying crocodile tears. It has decided premiumization is the future of wine, and it doesn’t want to make $10 wine. Smaller producers, faced with the same land price constraints, aren’t nearly as sanguine. Many have told me they see their wines being squeezed out of the market by companies like Jackson Family, who can work on smaller profit margins on an $18 bottle and undercut the smaller producers.

The irony? There’s plenty of cheap land in California to make $10 wine, which is where Barefoot, Two-buck Chuck, and much of the state’s cheap wine comes from. It’s in the Central Valley, where a ton of grapes can cost as little as $300, one-sixteenth of the price in Napa. And, in another irony, premiumization has made this land even cheaper – so cheap, in fact, that some farmers are replacing grape vines with almonds, which offer higher profits.

In other words, Jackson Family Estates could do what E&J Gallo (Barefoot), The Wine Group (Franzia), and Bronco (Two-buck Chuck) do – use Central Valley grapes to make $10 wine. But it’s easier to ask for a tariff wall and punish U.S. wine drinkers. Which should demonstrate exactly where Jackson’s interests lie, and it’s not with the wine drinkers.

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Rose celebration 2019 begins on Tuesday

rose celebration 2019Win four Luminarc wine glasses during the blog’s rose celebration 2019

The blog’s 12th annual rose extravaganza begins on Tuesday — rose celebration 2019. This is the third consecutive year we’ll devote most of the week to celebrate rose, perhaps the last bastion of great cheap wine.

Plus, of course, a giveaway — four Luminarc wine glasses on Thursday when I list the the best roses available this season. Plus, two more days of rose reviews, as well as rose news on Tuesday.