? Bring on the booze? The economy is picking up, so we're getting ready to spend more money on wine, says a study from business advisory firm AlixPartners. Almost 9 out of 10 of us — up from 7 of 10 last year — will spend the same or more on alcoholic drinks in the coming 12 months. We'll do it in bars and restaurants, says the study, though there was one note of caution. Said an Alix official: "When consumers were feeling more of the full frontal assault of the financial crisis and the recession, more of them were likely to say they were going to spend less in total. Fewer consumers are saying 'I'm going to spend less,' but they haven't swung over to say 'I'm going to spend a lot more.' "
? Another merger that didn't work: Australia's Fosters Group, which spent A$7 billion to put together a wine and beer company over the past decade, has decided that the combination wasn't such a good idea after all. It has spun off the wine division, which includes Beringer and Penfolds, to a separate company. But that may not be enough to save the company, reports the Economist. All told, Fosters may taken a A$4.3 billion loss in the deal, which is the second massive wine unraveling this year. Constellation Brands sold its Aussie labels for A$230 million in February; they had cost the company A$1.85 billion.
? Surgeons shouldn't drink and cut: Yes, we have a study. Researchers in Ireland have found that drinking too much alcohol appears to interfere with a surgeon ?s skills, even the day after. As regular visitors know, the Wine Curmudgeon announced an embargo on wine and health news in 2009; the studies and claims had just gotten too silly. But this story deserved mention, if only because it's difficult to believe that someone had to study the effect of a hangover on someone who cuts into people's bodies with a sharp object.
? Premium wine sales increasing? That's the forecast from the Silicon Valley Bank, which lends money to the wine business. It says sales of wine costing more than $20 a bottle could increase as much as 12 percent in 2011 over 2010 and that consumers seem to be ready to stop trading down. It also notes, as so many others don't, that the increase is just the first step in regaining ground lost during the recession. Expect continued discounting through the third quarter this year, and wines that cost $50 or more won't do as well.
? Bring on the lawsuits: Just when you thought that a bruised and battered wine business couldn't afford any more silly lawsuits — or could come up with any silly lawsuits — we have dueling legal challenges between MommyJuice, a Clos La Chance label introduced last fall, and Mommy ?s Time Out, an Italian brand. Wines & Vines notes that the two sides are accusing each other of various trademark improprieties, and there is even a bit of a discussion about the controversy surrounding mommy wines.
? Pairing wine and doughnuts: Or, as the Santa Cruz Sentinel reports, "Poetic Cellars, a winery tucked in the hills of Soquel, was the site Saturday for the filming of a proposed reality television pilot that matches wines of different varieties with doughnuts chock-full of sugars and jellies." What's next? Scores for doughnuts? Please save us from that: "88, with hints of caramelized sugar, day-old frying grease, and toasting cream filling."
? Protesting Canadian liquor laws: A former Mountie and broadcaster will launch a Canadian-wide convoy around May 4, in which he will carry wine across provincial lines, to protest what he says are his country's archaic liquor laws. The Vancouver Sun reports that Terry David Mulligan says he is even willing to go to jail to overturn the 83-year-old Importation of Intoxicating Liquors Act, which makes it illegal for anyone to bring wine (or beer or spirits, for that matter) into another province. As someone who knows a bit about these kinds of liquor laws, the Wine Curmudgeon would like to warn Mulligan to be very careful. Those liquor cops mean business.
? Letting wine age: Or any of a thousand other bad jokes (many of which seem be in the story from Britain's Daily Mail). Two Chinese bronze containers, made to hold wine some 3,000 years ago, valued for an auction next month at almost 2 million, or about US$3.25 million. And, in the finest tradition of this sort of story, the bottles cost their owners about 1,000 each when they bought them in the 1960s. Though this probably doesn't mean that it's time to start saving your wine bottles on the off chance something might develop.
? New French vintage is great: Just in case anyone is wondering, but the 2010 Bordeauxs are a "great vintage ?a lucky continuation of a stunning succession, 2001, 2003, 2005, 2007, 2009." And the best wines? Chateau Margaux, Latour, Lafite and Cheval Blanc — which, for those of you who don't follow these things, are pretty much always among the best wines. If anyone has a couple of 3,000-year-old Chinese wine bottles, we can sell them and probably afford to buy a bottle or two of the 2010s.
Regional wine notes this week, in honor of DrinkLocalWine.com’s third annual conference this weekend — DLW 2011: Missouri, April 2-3 in St. Louis. A few tickets are still available, through the DLW website.
? Ohio college wine degrees: Kent State will offer a two-year degree in enology and viticulture, becoming the first college in Ohio to offer a wine-related degree program. Don’t be surprised — the Buckeye state has 151 wineries, putting it among the top 10 regional states in the country.
? Montana wine country? Yes, someone wants to help the state, with just 13 wineries, become a wine destination. Wines & Vines reports that Montana State extension agent Pat McGlynn, who grew up in New York ?s Finger Lakes, wants to see if cold climate hybrids like marquette and frontenac can form the basis of a Montana wine industry. She says response has been good: “People are already calling to say ?Test at my farm. ? The wine industry is sexy. Lots of people are already doing it as a hobby, and it would be a nice fit for our tourism.”
? Yes, rkatsiteli: Jacob Harkins, on the Sipping Colorado blog, offers his thoughts about grapes that might do well in Colorado, including rkatsiteli, native to the republic of Georgia on the Black Sea: “But since trying a few versions of Rkatsitli … I ?ve been sold on this grape as being one that can produce some of the best wines in Colorado, bar none.” Dr. Frank in upstate New York does a nice rkatsiteli — a dry white similar to a gewurtztraminer that likes cold weather.
? Has Jess Jackson retired? Apparently so, reports Forbes magazine. Jackson's wine empire, which includes Kendall-Jackson and more than a dozen other brands, is making do without its founder. The Press Democrat of Santa Rosa fills in the story: "Jackson, 81, the only resident of Sonoma County to make the Forbes list of billionaires, was missing from its latest roster … for the first time in a decade. Jackson's family informed Forbes in January that the self-made billionaire no longer owns a stake in Kendall-Jackson or its parent company, Jackson Family Wines, said Clare O'Connor, a reporter with Forbes." Jackson, said the paper, is reportedly battling cancer.
? U.S. drinks the most wine: We passed France as the world's most prodigious wine drinking country in 2010, says the Wine Institute. Americans downed almost 330 million cases of wine, up two percent from 2009. Impressive? Depends on how you look at it. The French, with 63 million people, drank about 321 million cases last year, so their per capita consumption is still about four times ours. On the other hand, considering that only about one-third of Americans say they drink wine regularly, those of us do drink wine are more even with the French — 3 1/2 cases per person for U.S. drinkers compared to 5 for the French.
? No coupons in Massachusetts: The Bay State's liquor cops say the state's bars and restaurants can't use popular Internet coupons like Groupon. They're in violation of the several state regulations, and the Massachusetts Alcoholic Beverages Control Commission ios going to go after establishments that honored the coupons. The coupon process, says the ABCC, ?unlawfully transfers ? an interest in the restaurant ?s liquor license. For its part, Groupon was circumspect (instead of reaching for a lawsuit). Said a spokesman: "Since we are pioneering a new industry, issues arise within our space that we must evaluate in the best interest of our merchants and customers."
? 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.
? 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.