Tag Archives: wine news

Winebits 169: Fetzer sale, Yellow Tail lawsuit, women and wine lists

? Chilean winery buys Fetzer: Concha y Toro, a Chilean producer whose products range from grocery store wine to the the pricey stuff, will buy Fetzer Vineyards from Brown-Forman, best known for booze brands like Jack Daniels and Southern Comfort. Brown-Forman will get $238 million for Fetzer and a couple of other wine labels as it flees as quickly as it can from the wine business. The Louisville-based drinks giant is yet another multi-national that saw that wine was a little more difficult to manage than it thought, following Constellation and Diageo. At least Brown-Forman was moderately successful with Fetzer, where sales increased from 2 million to 3 million case in the 20 years that it owned the brand. And it apparently turned a profit on the sale, which is more than Constellation did when it sold its Australian brands.

? What's a kangaroo? Depends on who you ask. The Wall Street Journal reports that the company that owns Australian wine behemoth Yellow Tail is suing U.S. wine behemoth The Wine Group over the animal on the latter's Little Roo wines. Yellow Tail says the kangaroo on the Little Roo label looks too much like the wallaby on the Yellow Tail label, and is suing The Wine Group in federal court for trademark infringement. As noted elsewhere on the blog, does anyone really care about this stuff except the high pockets lawyers who are paying for their second homes with these lawsuits?

? Treat women better, please: This, from Lauren Shockey, a restaurant critic at the legendary Village Voice: "[S]everal recent dinners have irked me enough to rant about the way I'm treated when it comes to ordering wine. In short, sommeliers and waiters think that just because I'm a young woman, I'm incapable or don't possess enough knowledge to a) navigate a wine list b) order the wine and c) taste the wine. Which is downright insulting." And Shockey is absolutely correct. Too many waiters and sommeliers treat young women this way, which does seem kind of odd since women buy more wine than men. But, if it makes Shockey feel any better, too many of them treat the Wine Curmudgeon as if he is incapable of ordering wine, as well. I think this has as much to do with the general lack of wine skill that most restaurants expect from their employees.

Winebits 168: Airline wine, pinot noir, budget cuts

? Airline wine quality: Yes, flights are oversold, the overhead bins are crammed, and the seats are uncomfortable. But know what's worse? The wine is lousy, reports the Baltimore Sun, especially for those of us who fly in coach. Which, come to think of it, may be why the Wine Curmudgeon has not had a glass of wine on a plane in years. Typically, they're brands I've never heard of (or avoid because I have heard of them), and the article notes that many U.S. airlines don't much care about wine quality.

? Oregon pinot noir fight: What happens when one Oregon winery says it's the birthplace of pinot noir, the state's national grape? The other wineries that claim they're the birthplace take exception, and nasty fight develops. Oregon's News-Times newspaper has the details, in which the men who run Eyrie and Hillcrest wineries have taken exception to a marketing campaign that says what is now the David Hill winery was the pinot pioneer. This is as sad as it is predictable, a function of the way the wine business works. I've seen these kinds of squabbles in many other states, including Texas. What people lose sight of, said one Oregon winemaker, is that "Boasting about where Oregon pinot was born is really antithetical to the culture of how Oregon wineries sell our wine and educate people about the area."

? New York board will close?: New York's budget crisis could mean an end to the state's wine organization, which would be a huge mistake. The New York Wine and Grape Foundation saw its funding removed from the state's proposed budget, which means it would close in June. The foundation and president Jim Trezise have done miraculous work for New York wine — and for all of regional wine — and eliminating the organization will undo much of that success. It's difficult to believe that the state doesn't have $700,000, which the foundation spent last year, for the next budget.

Update: The Cristalino lawsuit

Cristalino lawsuit What do you call Cristalino, the Spanish sparkling wine, after a federal court judge says that you can’t call it Cristalino?

What happens if you run a picture of the old Cristalino bottle, like the one on the left, after a federal court judge says you shouldn’t?

Who would have thought that the Wine Curmudgeon needed an attorney to write about $10 wine? But that appears to be the case these days.

Regular visitors will remember that, last August, the company that owns Cristal (and which will never be mentioned on the blog) won a judgment in U.S. federal court in Minneapolis. Cristal’s owner said there was evidence that consumers could be confused between the two brands, even though Cristal sells for hundreds of dollars and Cristalino doesn’t, and they are rarely on sale in the same location. A federal court judge agreed, and ordered Cristalino to redesign and re-label its bottle, with a disclaimer that says Cristalino isn’t affiliated with Cristal or The Company That Will Not be Named.

Fast forward to last week, when I got a letter from Cristalino. It outlined the results of the lawsuit, and asked anyone writing about their wine to:

? Change all old references on their blogs and sites from Cristalino to the new name.

? Destroy any old bottle shots or labels that we might have.

? Replace any old bottle shots or labels with new bottle shots or labels.

You will have noticed that I did not list the new name. A friend of mine suggested that I start using the phrase, “Cristalino, a great little sparkling cava from Spain, not to be confused with Cristal, a vastly overpriced French Champagne.” Which has some merit.

I do know I’m not going to change any references or pictures on the blog. It irritates me no end that I’m being asked to waste my time so a company that sells over-priced wine can get richer. And I do have certain Constitutional rights when it comes to fair comment about news, based on several Supreme Court decisions, including New York Times v. Sullivan. But since it has been a few years since my media law class, I consulted an attorney.

It was actually two attorneys, who own perhaps my favorite wine shop in Dallas (though they asked not to be named, since this isn’t their area of practice — and they emphasized that they were not giving me legal advice). Their thoughts: That I was probably safe from retribution from either Cristalino or The Company That Will Not be Named. “However,” said one, “if you continue to just say ‘Cristalino’ and they decide to sue you for an injunction, you may well end up wishing you had complied with the attached letter. The odds of that happening? Pretty slim.”

In which case, I’ll have another blog post, no doubt asking for money for my legal defense fund.

Winebits 167: Patty Bogle, grape prices, Champagne sales

? Patty Bogle dies: Bogle, the matriarch of $10 wine powerhouse Bogle Vineyards, has died. She was 59. Patty Bogle and her late husband, Chris, built Bogle Vineyards from 18 acres of grapes into one of the best inexpensive wine producers in the world. The company ships more than 1.2 million cases of wine annually, and Wine Business Monthly ranked Bogle as the country's 14th-largest winery. She was diagnosed in 2007 with leukemia, which eventually killed her. She will be much missed by those of us who appreciate cheap wine.

? Grape prices below break-even? A followup to last week's item about the 2010 grape harvest and low grape prices: California producers say that although grape prices strengthened in 2010 from 2009, 2010 was not a good year and that many of the region ?s growers still face below break-even, especially those with expired contracts or grapes that aren't chardonnay or cabernet sauvignon. One analyst says he doesn't expect to see grape prices rebound until the 2012 harvest. Which means at least another two years of consumer-friendly wine prices.

? Champagne sales still flat: The recession hasn't ended for the champagne business, where sales are still 12 1/2 percent behind their 2007 peak and industry officials says they're still worried about the business and its immediate future. On the other hand, reports the just-drinks.com Web site, some producers may be finagling sales figures to prevent the industry officials from releasing excess inventory to the public, which would depress prices. The Wine Curmudgeon, of course, has a solution for champagne, which is too often overpriced. Stop acting like OPEC and let the market determine what your product is worth.

Winebits 166: State budgets, global warming, screwcaps

? Sunday booze as budget panacea: Since 2002, 14 states and numerous municipalities have repealed their blue laws banning Sunday alcohol sales in efforts to spur revenue growth for their governments. Now, 36 states allow such sales, and a host more want to end Sunday bans in an attempt to raise cash without raising taxes. The biggest hurdle the states have to clear? From liquor store owners, who like their legally mandated day off. The irony to all this is that adding an extra day of liquor sales doesn’t usually increase tax revenue in the long term. There’s a short term bump, but most people drink the same amount of wine, beer and liquor regardless of when it’s sold, so the only thing that changes are buying habits. If I drink a bottle of wine a week, I’ll buy it on Sunday instead of Saturday.

? Wine and global warming: Spain’s Pancho Campo, the country’s pre-eminent wine expert, says people who still doubting the existence of climate change are outdated, and points to changes to grape growing as one reason why. Campo says climate change could result in a change in grape quality, and that average temperatures in some wine growing regions have increased so much that grapes grown in particularly hot countries are too alcoholic, ripen oddly, and produce wines that lack aromatic complexity. During my trip to Spain last month, global warming was discussed several times, and winemakers and vineyard managers say they’ve seen significant changes to their grapes over the past 20 years.

? Jancis Robinson on screwcap quality: “While traditionalists may still be reluctant to embrace them, there is now plenty of scientific evidence that indicates money spent on wine sealed with anything but a screwcap is a game of risk” — or so says one of the most influential wine critics in the world. Which, frankly, I’m going to believe more than another news release or video from the cork producers. This article, from Robinson’s Web site, is as good an overview of the history of screwcaps that I’ve seen.

Winebits 165: U.S. wine market, Far Niente lawsuit, Andrew Lloyd Webber

? "Most lucrative in the world": Wonder why so many foreign producers want into the U.S. market (and send so much crummy wine over here in the process)? That's because we're "by far the most lucrative wine market in the world," reports Wines & Vines in its coverage of the Unified Wine & Grape Symposium. Said one analyst: "They all know how well New Zealand has done here with sauvignon blanc and how well Argentina has done with malbec. They will try to succeed, and they will keep coming relentlessly. That ?s the downside of having the most lucrative wine market in the world." What's even more interesting about this is that the weak dollar doesn't seem to be an obstacle; imagine how much more intense foreign efforts would be if foreign wine was less expensive here.

? Far Niente heir sues winery: Or, from the Department of Things Can Always Get Worse, Despite the Recession, Jeremy Nickel, son of Far Niente founder Gil Nickel, has filed a lawsuit against three members of the board of directors of his family ?s wine companies. The Wine Spectator reports that Jeremy says the board members misused company funds and gave themselves substantial raises at the expense of company shareholders. He wants at least $50 million in damages. Far Niente, of course, is a big-time Napa winery, and its holdings include Nickel & Nickel Vineyards, Far Niente Vineyards and Dolce Wines. The lawsuit doesn't name Jeremy Nickel's step-mother and cousin, who the company's co-owners, but the two said they support the current board. Sounds like lots of family fun, doesn't it?

? Wine collection goes for more than a song: Sorry — couldn't resist. Part of musical impresario Andrew Lloyd Webber ?s wine collection sold for $5.6 million in a Hong Kong auction. There were almost 9,000 bottles of French wine in the sale, including a case of 1982 Chateau Petrus, perhaps the trophiest of all tropy wines. It sold for $77,564, or about $6,500 a bottle. The sale exceeded expectations, and yes, that was because the Chinese still, apparently, have no limit on what they'll spend for rare French wine.

Winebits 161: Constellation sale, Chinese wine fraud, Pennsylvania wine laws

? Constellation exits Australia: The world's biggest wine company has sold its Australian labels as it continues to retrench in the wake of the recession. Constellation Brands is selling its 80 percent stake in a venture that includes Hardys and Banrock Station to an Australian private equity firm for about $230 million. After the sale, it will no longer be the biggest wine company in the world; that honor will go to E&J Gallo. The other catch? Constellation paid $1.1 billion for the Aussie brands when it bought them in 2003, and its timing was perfect — the Australian wine business was entering a slump which has only gotten worse. Which leads the Wine Curmudgeon to wonder: How does a company stay in business after it sells something for only 20 percent of what it paid for it?

? Tainted Chinese wine: Six people have been detained, several wineries shut down and bottles pulled from shelves in China after authorities found wine containing several chemical additives. An expose broadcast by state television found that that wineries were doctoring their products with sugar water, coloring agents and artificial flavorings, and then falsely using famous brand names. No wonder Chinese collectors are paying so much for high-end Bordeaux — at least it's really wine.

? Pennsylvania de-regulating booze? Pennsylvania is a control state, which means all alcohol is sold through state-owned stores and nowhere else. It's the poster child for the control system — but all that may be about to change. Says Philly.com: "But 2011 may usher in a different outcome for the state Liquor Control Board and the 620 wine and spirits stores it runs: Gov.-elect Tom Corbett appears committed to yanking state government out of the business of selling alcohol once and for all." We talk a lot here about government regulation and where it's headed, and there have been big doings over the past couple of years. But Pennsylvania getting out of the booze business? That would be the biggest news yet.