Tag Archives: wine news

Winebits 581: Wine humor, Cooper’s Hawk, wine palates

wine humorThis week’s wine news: Even The Onion can’t make wine humor funny, plus Cooper’s Hawk may be for sale and women may not have better palates than men

Still not funny: The Onion, which can make almost anything funny, can’t do it with wine. A recent effort mostly recycled the cliches that have bored millions for decades, including this: “MYTH: Red wine lowers blood pressure. FACT: It’s probably not great that you’re so eager to justify drinking poison.” The blog has long considered why so much wine humor isn’t funny, but to no avail. One would think that wine offers so many targets that it would make us laugh without any effort. But apparently not. One scholarly paper, without naming wine, does offer an explanation about how humor works, and wine doesn’t really fit into any of them. Could it be that wine is so boring and cliched that wine humor is an oxymoron?

On the market? Cooper’s Hawk, the Illinois-based winery and restaurant with 25 units in nine states, may be the next target for restaurant conglomerate Darden, which owns Olive Garden and LongHorn Steakhouse. Ron Ruggles of Nation’s Restaurant News reports that the chain fits “quite well with what Darden would ideally seek.” And the 325,000-member wine club and 30 percent annual sales growth probably don’t hurt, either. The Wine Curmudgeon once judged with Cooper’s Hawk founder Tim McEnery at the Indy International, and famously told him the concept didn’t sound like it would be too successful.

Wine palates: Do women have better palates than man? That has been accepted for as long as I’ve been writing about wine, but one study says it may not be true. Research using wine competition scores says men and women taste wine with equal precision, something that bothered me when I read it. That’s because wine judging isn’t exactly tasting. As one expert says in the story, judging “is not very good sensory [evaluation] …. The sheer number of wines they go through in that time frame is hugely fatiguing. There has been some interesting work that shows that wine judging is very inconsistent.” So more work needs to be done.

Winebits 579: Super Bowl, robot bartender, liquor museum

super bowlThis week’s wine news: The WC’s readers didn’t desert the blog during the Super Bowl, plus a grocery chain installs a robot bartender and a New York City booze museum

Thank you, readers: This year’s Super Bowl must have been as lackluster as the score indicated, since the blog didn’t suffer its usual 30 percent drop in traffic. In fact, visitors increased 21 percent over a typical Sunday, the second year in a row for better than average numbers during the game. I’m not sure why – maybe it was everyone avoiding the third successive Yellow Tail commercial. “It tastes like happy” was dumb, but it was still a marked improvement over two years of the Roo.

Do you tip it? Gelson’s Narkets, an upscale grocer in southern California, has added the Somabar robot bartender to a couple of its in-store wine bars. The machine – which loads containers of booze and mixes the cocktail in 10 seconds, uses lower-proof spirits to mirror almost two dozen drinks, including margaritas and cosmopolitans. This allows wine bars to skirt licensing issues that prevent them from serving drinks with full strength spirits.

Thousands of items: A house on Staten Island is home to the Booze History Museum, with more than 1,000 artifacts in two rooms – a jumble of signs and statuettes, hundreds of different Russian liquor labels, and 10 glass cases of booze-related bric-a-brac. Says its founder: ““When you’re talking about alcohol, it’s always just drunken driving or breaking up families. Nobody talks about how many people are getting relaxation, how many people are getting enjoyment from drinking alcohol, how many people are getting together because of alcohol.”

Big Wine 2019

Big Wine 2019Big Wine 2019: It still has a stranglehold on what we drink, but the biggest companies aren’t quite as big

A funny thing happened to Big Wine 2019: The three biggest companies didn’t dominate the market in 2018 the way they did in 2017. Neither did the top 10. But the top 50 still sell 90 percent of the wine made in the U.S., according to the 15th annual Wine Business News magazine survey,

In other words, it’s business as usual for Big Wine. They’ve just rearranged the profits.

Still, before you get too depressed, know that the magazine study acknowledged that the wine business is in trouble, citing the usual reasons – aging Baby Boomers, competition from craft beer and spirits, and the neo-Prohibitionists. Or, as the woman who runs the company that makes the ubiquitous Kendall Jackson chardonnay told the magazine: “It seems tougher this year and it probably will be tougher next year. It doesn’t seem like it’s as easy as it was.”

Which, hopefully, is good news for those of us who are tired of higher prices, declining quality, and more plonk on the shelves. If Big Wine sees the problem, maybe they’ll do something to fix it besides putting sugar in dry red wine.

Among the highlights

• Sales by volume were almost flat, from 403 million cases in 2017 to 408 million in 2018. That’s a 1.2 percent increase, far less than the growth in the legal drinking age population. Which means younger drinkers are drinking something else or aren’t drinking at all.

• The average price of a bottle of wine sold in 2018 was $14, which includes restaurant sales. Hence, the number is higher than the average usually cited for retail sales, $9 or $10 a bottle.

• Imports, as a share of U.S. wine sales, were only 23 percent. That’s also much lower than the numbers usually cited, which range from one-third to 40 percent of all the wine sold in the U.S.

• E&J Gallo controls 17 percent of U.S. sales, and its Barefoot brand accounts for almost 5 percent of all the wine sold in this country. Which succinctly describes the power of Big Wine.

• The share of the three biggest producers – Gallo, The Wine Group, and Constellation Brands – fell to 55 percent in 2018 from 60 percent in 2017. The share of the top 10 companies declined for the third year in a row, from 84 percent in 2016 to 81 percent in 2017 to 78 percent in 2018. Was this decline caused by premiumization, since these producers tend to have the least expensive wines? Or was the cause something more ominous, related to the decline in wine’s popularity?

• The magazine said there are 10,047 wineries in the U.S. Take out the top 50, and the other 9,997 sold 31.5 million cases in 2018, or about 3,150 cases each. The average Big Wine company sold almost 6 million cases – making it almost 2,000 times bigger. Which, regardless of any changes in the market share among the 50 producers, shows just how top heavy the U.S. wine business is.

More about Big Wine:
• Big Wine 2018
• Big Wine 2017
• Big Wine 2016

Winebits 576: Free delivery, Dry January, booze moderation

free deliveryThis week’s wine news: Direct-to-consumer wine must solve the free delivery problem, plus Dry January in an age of booze moderation

The problem of free delivery: The latest numbers show that direct-to consumer wine sales – from the winery to the wine drinker, without a retailer – have increased again in an otherwise flat market. Of course, direct to consumer still represents a tiny part of the wine market, in the low single digits. And what’s holding direct sales back? One study suggests it’s charging for delivery: Shoppers “increasingly expect free delivery of items they purchase on-line. … 75 percent of the roughly 3,000 U.S. adults polled want delivery to be free even on orders less than $50, up from 68 percent a year ago.” The story goes into fascinating detail about how expensive free shipping is for the retailer – it loses about $2 on every delivery – and that consumers will pay only $1.40 for delivery. The study doesn’t address wine specifically, but the points are well made.

Dry January: Booze drinkers who don’t imbibe for a living are increasingly taking the month of January off, a fascinating development in the wake of of the slowdown in worldwide alcohol consumption. The link, from Self magazine, notes that Dry January is an opportunity to “reevaluate your relationship with alcohol.” This is an equally fascinating turn of phrase, since it implies that even moderate drinkers may be drinking too much and will benefit from giving up booze. I’ve noticed it on the blog — visitor numbers are down about one-third this month. Which raises an even more fascinating question: How did we ever get to this point?

Marketing to non-drinkers: Ad Age reports that Dry January, as well as other trends toward less drinking, “is forcing bars, restaurants and alcohol brands to adapt. More low- and no-alcohol products are in development, and some, like Heineken’s new no-alcohol 0.0 beer, are already hitting store shelves. Drinking establishments, meanwhile, are adding fancier non-alcoholic cocktails, or mocktails, to their menus as they look to keep their drink revenues flowing.” Again, how did we get to this point? And why does no one in the wine business seem to notice?

Bud Light debuts new and improved ingredient labels

If Big Beer understands the need for ingredient labels, why is it so difficult for wine to do the same?

ingredient labelsBudweiser is beefing up the ingredient labels on its Bud Light beer. Yes, that Budweiser, whose marketing gurus think the above video is witty and whose product is seen by many as the reason for craft beer.

Yet, somehow, Bud and its parent, Anheuser-Busch, are smarter and more modern and more progressive then the wine business. Wine has  viewed nutrition and ingredient labels as the spawn of the devil since the end of the 20th century, despite their value in the fight against the neo-Prohibitonists. Is it any wonder I’m not the only one worried about the future of the wine business?

Writes the Associated Press: “Bud Light went with a big, black-and-white label, similar to the ones required by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration on packaged foods. … ‘We want to be transparent and give people the thing they are used to seeing,’ said Andy Goeler, vice president of marketing for Bud Light. … [He] said the brand’s research shows younger drinkers, in particular, want to know what’s in their beer.”

Shocking news, of course, to everyone but the wine business. I’ve been writing about nutrition and ingredient labels for wine since since my newspaper days, and the message has remained the same: Why ketchup and not wine? Why not transparency? What is wine trying to hide?

Or, as consumer advocates said in this 2009 story I did for Palate Press, the refusal to add ingredient labels ”puts the industry outside of the mainstream given developments in food labeling and consumer information. The goal, they say, is more information, not less. ‘It’s all about transparency,’ says dietitian Kathleen Talmadge, RMA, RD. ‘Any time the consumer gets more information, that’s a good thing. You want them to be knowledgeable about what they’re buying.’ ”

So Bud Light, one of the most simple and inexpensive alcohol products, has better ingredient labels than a $25 California wine. How much sense does that make?

2019 SVB wine report

2019 SVB wine report

SVB’s Rob McMillan: “The U.S. wine industry needs new direction and a changed focus.”

2019 SVB wine report says U.S. retail wine sales may decline this year, and the future  doesn’t look much better

Someone in the wine business may be more worried about its future than the Wine Curmudgeon. Consider these projections, from the 2019 SVB wine report that was released yesterday:

• How about a forecast that says retail wine sales in 2019, as measured by volume, could actually decline? This would be almost unprecedented in the post-1980s history of U.S. wine.

• Or that growth by value may be less than one percent, with even premiumization starting to slow?

• Or that younger wine drinkers, more interested in legal weed and paying off their student loans, aren’t showing any interest in picking up the slack left by the aging Baby Boomers?

Why does this matter to those of us who drink wine? Because Silicon Valley Bank’s Rob McMillan, the study’s author, is one of the smartest people in the wine business. How important has McMillan’s annual report become? This year, a vice president for Big Wine’s Constellation Brands participated, and the company doesn’t usually do those sorts of things.

So if McMillan says a slowdown is coming and the wine business needs to reexamine how it does business, then it had better. Or else we all suffer.

“This is probably the most important report we’ve ever put together,” McMillan said during Wednesday’s live videocast. “Starting now, wine has reached a tipping point. We’re not closing in on a tipping point, we’re feeling it.”

The videocast threw around a lot of jargon – I even heard psychographics – and several of the other panelists nitpicked about some of the conclusions.

But that didn’t change the hard news: Younger people don’t care about about wine the way their parents and grandparents did, They are focusing more on beer and spirits and legal weed, and they’re hampered by lower relative incomes and intimidated by the repeated attacks on wine drinking by the neo-Prohibitonists.

In other words, wine is too old, too Anglo, too snotty, and too out of touch with the younger consumers. So, said McMillan, “We have to look at what the wine industry is doing about it now and what can we do in the future to fix the problem.”

Also worth noting: McMillan, who invented the term premiumization to describe consumers trading up to more expensive wine, said he’s surprised to see it slow as it faces price resistance from consumers. Price resistance? What an amazing concept.

Finally, the Wine Curmudgeon’s suggestion to the wine industry: Sweetening dry wines and calling them dry ain’t going to do it. How about giving younger wine drinkers quality and value? I know — almost as revolutionary as the idea of price resistance.

Winebits 574: Restaurant wine, wine apps, mock wine cocktails

restaurant wineThis week’s wine news: One more example of restaurant wine’s inability to deal with reality, plus the failure of wine apps and wine drinkers should try booze free cocktails

Restaurant wine, yet again: That the Wine Curmudgeon can find so many of these restaurant wine pricing faux pas speaks to the problem: Those who price wine in restaurants aren’t living in the same world with the rest of us. A recent on-line story featured an up and coming sommelier bragging about his wine list: “These are my favorite things to pour for our guests: the wines that sell for $45 to $70 but completely knock it out of the park.” Given restaurant pricing, that means he looks for values among wines that cost $25 to $40 retail. Which misses the point of how much most of us actually pay for wine. A $40 bottle accounts for a couple of points of U.S. sales (if that much, depending on whose numbers you use). Hence, the sommelier is running his wine list for a tiny, tiny share of U.S. wine drinkers.

Waste of a download? Most of us use wine apps fewer than a dozen times and then discard them, writes Robert Joseph in Wine Business International. There are exceptions like Vivino, but most of us who “ downloaded the app did so because they were briefly attracted by the novelty of the technology. But that interest soon wore off; they seldom if ever feel the need to record their views of the red or white in their glass, or scan a bottle before buying it.” This matters because wine apps were supposed to making wine pricing more competitive, since consumers could compare prices on their phones. Apparently, though, that isn’t happening.

Bring on the mocktail: Do wine drinkers want to try booze-fee cocktails? Yes, says one of the leaders in devising mocktails that mimic their alcohol counterparts. “While it seems this may be only about soft cocktail recipes, the bigger picture is that it’s about connection, community, inclusion and taking good care of people,” she says. One suggestion for wine drinkers: spice mulled “wine,” made with apple cider and cranberry juice.