Tag Archives: wine rants

TV wine ad survey: Hochtaler box wine – even Canadians miss the point

Hochtaler box wine uses a “Cabaret” knockoff ad to sell its sweet white wine, which probably isn’t what the film had in mind

Film buffs know the social, cultural, and political significance of “Cabaret,” the 1972 musical starring Liza Minelli, Michael York, and Joel Grey. So why did Canada’s Hochtaler box wine use a “Cabaret”-themed ad to sell its products in the early 1980s?

Hochtaler, writes the blog’s official Canadian correspondent, has long been famous in Canada – call it the Franzia of the Great White North, boxed wine for cat ladies who say “eh.” In this, Hochtaler is local, made with Canadian grapes by a Canadian producer.

“It’s very sweet,” writes our correspondent. “I’m guessing it was a hit with young people new to wine and older wine drinkers who like the name, which sounds European, and how sweet it is.”

Nevertheless, the ad features a nightclub scene with a chanteuse doing her best Liza Minnelli, complete with German accent, top hat, and tails. It hardly seems appropriate for this kind of wine, but the ads were apparently quite popular.

And you can still buy Hochtaler – C$14.95 for a 1.5-liter bottle at your local Ontario provincial store.

Video courtesy of robatsea2009 via YouTube, using a Creative Commons license

More about TV wine ads:
TV wine ads: Almost 40 years of awful
TV wine ad survey: Richards Wild Irish Rose
TV wine ad survey: 1970s Boone’s Farm Wild Mountain

Can the cat wine demographic save the wine business?

The cat wine demographic is untapped and oh so 21st century, with memes, Instagram and even influencers

Dear wine business:

The Wine Curmudgeon has long been worried about the downturn in U.S. wine sales, what with the Baby Boomers cutting back as they age and the apparent lack of interest among younger consumers.

But I think I’ve found a solution: Cats.

This is an untapped market, save for a few novelty products, and it’s huge – almost 40 million U.S. households have cats. Better yet, cats are hip, with it, and oh so 21st century. How about cat memes? Or the cat channel on Instagram with 10.3 million followers (30 times the number of Wine Spectator followers)?

And there are even cat influencers – Grumpy Cat, called “the Internet’s most famous cat,” received worldwide publicity when he died last month. That included an obituary in the New York Times, and we know how snooty the Times can be.

Plus, the three-tier system is a natural for selling wine to cats. The pet drug supply chain isn’t all that different from three-tier, so vets would understand how to work with all of its legal complications. Why not a wine section next to the fancy collars and upscale treats at the local animal hospital?

And premiumization is spot on for cats. The “pets as part of the family” trend started a decade ago, and it’s still going strong. They get birthday and Christmas presents, they stay at pricey resorts, and they eat like never before. How about cat food made with organic braised chicken or wild-caught salmon? Both are a far cry from the tuna can junk cats used to eat. Given all this, how much trouble could it be to sell a cat a $50 bottle of Napa chardonnay to pair with the salmon? Or even a $75 bottle?

Now I can hear your objections. Cats don’t drink wine. Which is where you’re wrong, and why you should be glad that the Wine Curmudgeon is looking out for your interests.

As the video at the top of the post demonstrates, cats do drink wine. They just need a little encouragement to get them to drink more and to trade up from the box wine in the video. So let the marketing department loose — Cat Nips, a 4-pack of 375 ml cans to take advantage of the canned wine craze. Or, best yet,  an Instagram video featuring a cat influencer like Grumpy Cat sipping a cult Napa cab while lounging on a porch overlooking the winery’s vineyards. Can’t miss, can it?

Remember, if you ever need any more big ideas, I’m always here to help.

Your pal,

The Wine Curmudgeon

Video courtesy of Herman, via YouTube

 

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

Nutrition labels: What wine can learn from two packages of frozen onion rings

nutrition labelsIf wine doesn’t have nutrition labels, how will younger consumers know it’s not going to kill them?

Every time the Wine Curmudgeon writes about wine nutrition and ingredient labels, people cancel their email subscriptions to the blog. So get ready to press the cancel button, because you’re really not going to like this post: How nutrition and ingredient labels save us from making stupid food decisions, and what wine can learn from a package of onion rings.

Consider two packages of frozen onion rings – one traditional and one made with onions, cauliflower, and beans. Which do you think is the healthiest choice?

And you’d be wrong.

In fact, the faux rings, Farmrise veggie rings, have 220 calories per serving, with 15 percent of the USDA daily allowance of fat and 8 percent of the allowance of sodium. The onion rings, the Kroger house brand, have 180 calories, 10 percent of fat, and 7 percent of sodium. Plus, the real onion rings are about half the price. Click on each link and you’ll see the nutrition label for each product.

The difference in nutrition? The faux rings need the extra fat and salt because cauliflower has no flavor; the fat and salt goose up the Farmrise so it won’t taste like industrially steamed cauliflower. And the difference in price? That’s the healthy option premium, in which we’re supposed to pay more for stuff that’s better for us, even when it isn’t. Check out a can of so-called “healthy” soup, and the only difference between it and Campbell’s may be the price – each has massive amounts of sodium.

What does this have to do with wine? Wine refuses to join the 21st century by making this nutrition information easily available; it has been fighting labels with down to the last bullet determination for more than a decade. But that also means that the same younger consumers who would spot the onion ring contradiction in a second will continue to think wine has something to hide. This is opposed to their parents and grandparents, wine drinkers all, who trust in cauliflower and Big Food.

Because, to the younger consumer’s post-modern way of thinking, wine would have these labels unless there was something fishy going on (or eggy or sugary or industrial adhesive-y or any of the other 60-some ingredients legally allowed in wine that aren’t grapes).

And, as we are reminded here and elsewhere, and reminded over and over, younger consumers aren’t drinking wine the way their parents and grandparents did. Maybe this could be one of the reasons?

More about wine nutrition labels:
The final “nutrition and ingredient labels for wine are a good thing” post
Are we making progress in adding ingredient labels to wine?
Nutritional labels for booze

Asimov on Texas wine: Not quite right

asimov texas wineAsimov gives N.Y. Times readers skewed picture of Texas wine

Eric Asimov of the New York Times is probably the best wine writer in the United States, offering what a friend of mine calls a “thoughtful, balanced but personal approach to wine drinking.” He shows his passion and his joy for wine, he writes clearly and directly, and he doesn’t talk down to his readers. Would that more of my colleagues did that.

That’s why I was so disappointed by Asimov’s recent article about Texas wine — or, more specifically, about a Long Island winemaking couple, Regan and Carey Meador, who moved their Southold winery to the Hill Country. In the process, the story implied, they were bringing civilization and much needed progress to Texas winemaking. The article, displayed prominently on the cover of the paper’s Dining section, was everything that has always been wrong with regional wine reporting – not just condescending, but reinforcing the stereotype that those of us in the provinces can’t succeed without help from our betters.

It was the last thing that I expected from Asimov, and I do not write this lightly. In fact, it took me almost two weeks to decide to write anything. Who wants to be called petty and provincial?

Besides, I respect Asimov immensely (though we have never met) and have written very nice things about him on the blog and in the cheap wine book. And he has been a tremendous supporter of regional wine, helping to give New York the due it deserves. So the last thing I want to do is to get into a cyber-spat with someone who does what Asimov does as well as he does it. And this is not about the Meadors; people who want to make quality wine are always welcome.

Rather, it’s Asimov’s characterization of Texas winemaking that deserves to be called out. It was what those of us who have done journalism call “parachute reporting” – you parachute into a place with little knowledge beyond general stereotypes, do a little reporting and get airlifted out, stereotypes intact, and knowing almost nothing more about the subject than you did beforehand.

So, given what I do here and the blog’s reason for being, as well as my work over the past decade with Drink Local Wine and the regional wine movement, know this about Asimov’s Texas wine story:

• Yes, as Asimov writes, Texas produces lots of middling, mass market supermarket wine (and I’ve criticized the industry for this and taken my lumps). But so do California, France, and almost every other wine region in the world, including New York. I’m sure Asimov has run across Red Cat a time or two.

• Asimov writes that Texas’ move toward varietals more suited to its terroir, as well as the presence of more open and free-thinking winemakers like the Meadors, is a new development. This is untrue; those movements were underway at least a decade ago. We showcased both at our first Drink Local Wine conference in 2009 in Dallas. I wrote about the same subject in 2016, “The Texas Wine Revolution,” for Texas Journey magazine. If I may quote myself: “What is a new, especially in the past 10 years, is the acceptance that Texas wine is not California wine or French wine or Italian wine. It is Texas wine.”

• Hence, it was especially annoying to read that a New York winemaker had to come here to save the Texas wine business from itself.

• The Hill Country, which Asimov visited, is not the most important place in the Texas wine world. It gets the most tourists (think Red Cat again), but the High Plains near Lubbock produces 80 percent of the grapes and most of the best grapes. Because, among other reasons, Pierce’s Disease in the Hill Country — the grapevine version of the Black Death. So judging Texas wine off a visit to Fredericksburg is hardly the entire picture. And by the way, it’s not Hill Country, as the story referred to it, but the Hill Country, in the same way it’s Queens, and not the Queens.

• And since the Hill Country is not the center of the Texas wine business, Asimov apparently didn’t taste Brennan Vineyards’ viognier, always among the best in the country; McPherson Cellars’ Tre Colore, a red Rhone blend that speaks to terroir; and Haak Cellars’ amazing Madeira-style wine made with blanc du bois. None have anything to do with Fredericksburg. And it also seems that he missed Perdernales Cellars outside of Fredericksburg, with its terrific tempranillos.

So that’s a more complete picture, and one I wish Asimov had seen. He could have called Russ Kane, who probably knows more about this stuff than anyone, or Texas Monthly’s Jessica Dupuy. Either could have recommended Texas wine producers who would have been able to offer more perspective.

The old saying that any publicity is good publicity still rings true, but accurate publicity is even better.

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.

Follow-up: The foolishness of taxing European wine

taxing european wine

“Who needs this stuff? Let’s buy more expensive California wine, because that’s what the Americans say we should do.”

Taxing European wine, and the economic fallacy behind the Jackson Family Wines proposal

Know two things about the proposal by the man who runs Jackson Family Wines to put up a tariff wall to keep cheap European imports out of the U.S.:

First, Barbara Banke, the chairwoman of Jackson Family Wines, told Wine Business Monthly in February: The wine business “seems tougher this year and it probably will be tougher next year. It doesn’t seem like it’s as easy as it was.”

Second, the suggested retail price for the company’s flagship product, Kendall-Jackson chardonnay, is about $17. But you can find it for $10 or $12 without too much trouble, which no doubt causes much consternation at company headquarters.

Is a pattern emerging here?

The Jackson Family proposal for taxing European wine has nothing to do with free trade, the so-called “level playing field,” or any other political rhetoric. It has to do with profit – Jackson doesn’t want to sell $10 wine, so it doesn’t want anyone else to sell it, either.

Which I completely understand. I don’t agree with it, but I understand it. So why hide the company’s true intentions behind complaints about unfair trade? Because who would agree to tax $10 European wine to protect one company’s profits? Hardly anyone who doesn’t work for that company.

Which brings us to the Wine Curmudgeon’s wine supply and demand primer. California’s role in the world wine market is important certainly, accounting for about 280 million cases a year. But it’s not as important as Californians like to think.  The French, Spanish, and Italians combine for almost 1.8 billion cases a year, while the total production of Chile plus Argentina is some 11 percent higher than California’s.

So what makes anyone think that the so-called “level playing field” would change anything? The rest of the world already has plenty of wine of equal quality and that will probably still cost less, even without the offending tariffs and subsidies. Why would a European buy €15 or €20 California wine (assuming anyone in California could sell it for that little, given California’s pricing structure) when they could still buy €8 or €10 European wine in the supermarket?

And this assumes that California can somehow produce enough wine to export. Which, as I mentioned in the first post, it doesn’t. We drink almost all the wine made in the U.S. in the U.S., and that doesn’t look to change anytime soon. They’re pulling out vines in California, not planting new ones to sell cabernet sauvignon to France and sauvignon blanc to Chile.

So there may not be much demand in the rest of the world for California wine, even if there was enough supply to export it, tariffs or no. The Jackson Family proposal ignores those basics, because it doesn’t help their argument.

Fortunately for those of us who care about wine and not wine company profits, I’m here to make sure those basics aren’t ignored.

Photo of “IMAG0970”by thirstforwine is licensed under CC BY-NC 2.0