Tag Archives: wine sales

Winebits 647: Responsible drinking, wine sales, wine writing

responsible drinkingThis week’s wine news: We’re not boozing it up during the duration, plus what comes next as the country opens up and a wine writer discusses wine writing and objectivity

Not overindulging: You couldn’t tell from many of the medical warnings we’ve heard over the past couple of months, but a survey last week found that we’re not drinking more than normal during the coronavirus pandemic. Responsiblity.org, a group funded by some of the biggest alcohol companies int the world, says more than six out of 10 Americans are drinking the same or less as before the pandemic – and that includes 11 percent of us who say they’ve stopped drinking entirely. These studies can be unreliable, and that it was paid for by liquor companies gives another reason to wonder. Having said that, the numbers – 35 percent drinking the same, 28 percent less – jive with similar surveys from Nielsen.

What will it take? Nielsen reports that alcohol sales will have to continue to grow more than 20 percent to offset losses from closed restaurants during the pandemic. Which isn’t very good news for the wine business, if the Responsibility.org survey is correct. That means, as restaurants open at less than capacity, or don’t open at all, we’ll have to buy more from retail to make up the difference from what we bought in restaurants.

Hardly objective: Richard Hemming, MW, a Singapore-based wine writer, caused a stink in the cyber-ether last week when he wrote that most wine writers aren’t particularly objective and do consumers a disservice. “the wine media is frequently compromised by the close-knit nature of the trade. … The quick answer is money.” The industry has it, whether in samples or trips, and wine writers take those perks. It would be one thing for me to write this – which I do regularly – but that someone with initials after the name put this in print is mind-boggling. I’m trying to set up a podcast with Hemming to talk about this; as soon as we figure out a way to handle the time difference between Singapore and Dallas, I’ll post the podcast.

Winebits 641: The “Big Wine makes mega-deals” edition

international styleThis week’s wine news: Constellation Brands and E&J Gallo finalize their cheap wine blockbuster, plus Geyser Peak is sold again and Treasury wants to set Penfolds free

Finally done? Constellation Brands’ $1.1 billion sale of its low-price wine labels to E. & J. Gallo is expected to close by the end of June, despite the coronavirus pandemic, reports the Press-Democrat website. The deal will send almost all of Constellation’s $10 wines to Gallo, including Black Box, Ravenswood, Clos du Bois, and Mark West, as well as vineyards and wineries in California and New York. The original April 2019 deal, worth $1.7 billion, had to be revised after U.S. regulators objected.

Poor Geyser Peak: When I started writing the blog, Geyser Peak’s $10 sauvigngon blanc was one of the most dependable cheap wines on the market. But that was also several owners ago, and quality has never been the same. So it’s not necessarily bad news that the brand has been sold once again. The current owner, Australia’s Accolade Wines, will sell Geyser Peak, Atlas Peak, XYZin and Outlot to something called 2 Bears LLC. No word on who is behind 2 Bears.

Whither Penfolds? Australia’s Treasury Wine Estates, one of the two or three largest producers in the world, has been feuding with stock analysts for the past year or so, defending what the analysts have been calling the company’s poor performance. So Treasury may spin off Penfolds, one of the world’s great wine brands and home to the legendary Penfolds Grange (which I’ve been lucky enough to taste and so can attest to its greatness). Whether this pleases anyone in the shadow boxing world of financial analysis is anyone’s guess, but it points to the pressures Treasury faces in a world where people drink less wine and Big Wine companies are being urged to shed brands.

Winebits 640: Aussie booze rationing, restaurant closures, wine sales

booze rationing

Yes, that’s a line at an Australian liquor store as customers “stock up.”

This week’s wine news: Booze rationing, as only the Australians can do it, plus looking at restaurant closures and that pandemic-fueled spike in wine sales

How much do you buy otherwise? Australia’s top retailers are rationing booze purchases to prevent hoarding, which seems reasonable given all that is going on. But the limits are mind-boggling: two 24 beer-cases or pre-mixed drinks, 12 bottles of wine, or two bottles of spirits. And you can buy the limit in two of those categories. Even with pandemic-related pub closures, alcohol spending Down Under increased 34 percent in the 52 weeks to March 27. I wonder what the U.S. neo-Prohibitionists would say about that. The Reuters story did note that “one in six adults drinks more than the recommended daily maximum.”

Restaurant closures: More than one in 10 U.S. restaurants could be closed permanently by the end of the month, says a study from the National Restaurant Association. Restaurant Business reports that three percent have already closed, which translates to 30,000 locations around the country. If 11 percent close, which the study said was possible, that’s another 100,000 empty stores. Nationally, restaurant sales were down 47 percent between March 1 and March 22. “That’s a stunning decline for an industry that operates on a weak foundation of thin margins and excessive debt,” said the story.

Wine sales up: Some good news – wine sales in the U.S. were up 66 percent March 7 to March 14, far outpacing every other alcoholic beverage as Americans, to quote Nielsen, participated in “consumer pantry-loading time.” That phrase is even worse than social distancing and sheltering in place – shame on you, Nielsen. On-line sales, meanwhile, were up an unprecedented 243 percent. That figure is worth another post; look for it on Friday.

Winebits 639: Premiumization, Pennsylvania state stores, direct to consumer

cheap wine

“Premiumization never really bothered me.”

This week’s wine news: Will the pandemic finish off premiumization? Plus, turmoil in Pennsylvania’s state wine stores and the favorite DTC grapes

Is premiumization over? A top wine business analyst has told the industry that its drink less, but drink “better” mantra – premiumization – could be ending thanks to the coronavirus pandemic. Spiros Malandrakis, industry manager for alcoholic drinks at Euromonitor International, told the Harpers UK trade magazine that premiumization is at a crossroads: “What we saw in the recession of 2008 was that even if people that could afford more expensive wines or niche varietals, they didn’t buy them because it looked crass. The context has changed. I’m not saying the industry is over. What we know from history is that people will always continue drinking. It’s not the end of the world but it will be a different world to the one we’re used to.” In this, he’s not the first to predict premiumization’s end. But it is one more voice suggesting that the new normal in the new future could be $10 wine.

More fun in Pennsylvania: Pennsylvania’s state liquor store system has come in for much fun on the blog. And why not, given wine vending machines? But the decision to close the state stores during the pandemic has met with serious opposition, not the least of which is the loss of state tax revenue. Even in New York, the center of the U.S pandemic, liquor stores have remained open. Apparently, the state is reconsidering its decision, and may allow limited Internet alcohol sales. April 2 update: The state did reopen its online liquor sales system, but the system will be quite limited.

Favorite DTC grapes: This is a contradiction that seems difficult to explain: Why is chardonnay the best selling wine grape at retail, but cabernet sauvignon is the best seller when consumers buy directly from the winery? That’s the result from a recent SOVOS/Ship Compliant study (via Wine Industry Insight), where cabernet was the best seller with 17 percent of volume, almost twice as much as chardonnay. Typically, chardonnay accounts for about 20 percent of retail sales. Any thoughts would be much appreciated.

Wine trends 2020

wine trends 2020

I wonder: Can I fit White Claw into this gizmo?

Wine trends 2020: The wine business will ride premiumization until it dies, plus more wine-like products, more neo-Prohibitionism, and a tariff that could kill the wine business

Wine prices 2020

Premiumization will continue until it doesn’t. This approach is scarily similar to what happened to the newspaper business. In the late 1980s, many industry leaders knew that the days of throwing papers from cars at 6 a.m. were numbered. I was even told that in a meeting. But no one did anything about it, because newspapers were still obscenely profitable and the industry had so much money tied up in printing presses. The smart people in the wine business know premiumization is on its last legs, but they don’t have another plan and they’re still making money, so it’s easier not to worry about what’s next.

• More wine-like products – bourbon barrel wine, fruit-flavored wine, and the like. Because, of course, White Claw. The irony is that producers see White Claw-like products as their chance to attract younger wine drinkers, when White Claw’s success is about its cost and low alcohol. Which, of course, has nothing to do with wine. It’s also worth noting that White Claw and its ilk are hurting beer more than wine, and that not just younger people drink it.

• Neo-Prohibitionism becomes an accepted part of American life. In other words, this will be the year when we find out Dry January isn’t just a story in a woman’s magazine. The evidence has been there for a long time, not that anyone in the wine business paid much attention. But when designated drivers, mocktails, and all the rest are as common as smoking and drunk driving were when I was a teenager, then the world has changed significantly. And the wine business better figure that out, sooner rather than later.

• The tariff. Or tariffs, as the case may be, since the threat of a more inclusive 100 percent levy is hanging over our heads. I’ll go into more detail in Monday’s 2020 wine prices post. But know that as bad as the 25 percent tariff will be, the 100 percent tariff could destroy the European wine business and wreak havoc in the U.S. And, as I have noted many times before, spite is not a good enough reason to do either.

• More three-tier excitement. That’s because 2019 saw a couple of significant legal decisions, and 2020 promises even more. My best guess, after talking to attorneys who deal with this stuff, is that there is momentum for change in the way beer, wine, and spirits are sold in the U.S. So there’s a chance that Internet sales could eventually become legal. And there’s also a chance (though much smaller) that some states may eventually make it possible for wines to be sold at retail without a wholesaler. This would vastly increase choice. Having said that, those things won’t happen immediately, and what we could see in 2020 are more legal decisions that continue to chip away at three-tier.

Photo: “Modern wine tasting” by kellinahandbasket is licensed under CC BY 2.0 

Winebits 626: The Happy New Year edition

joy of cookingThis week’s wine news: The new Joy of Cooking does wine, plus bad news on the consumption front and the relationship between wine and God

The Joy of Wine: The new version of the iconic Joy of Cooking has a terrific section on wine. It’s an outstanding introductory guide to making sense of wine as it relates to cooking — simply written, without too much winespeak, and it doesn’t talk down to its readers. Plus, it strikes a blow for screwcaps. This is my third Joy, and it’s easily the best of the three when it comes to wine. And it remains an indispensable cookbook. Highly recommended..

More bad news: More of us are drinking spirits and fewer are drinking wine, and the difference between the two numbers is reaching historic levels. That’s according to a recent report by SipSource, which tracks wine and spirits sales by distributors. The report calls the difference “epic,” noting that “the divide is widening – the trend gap between wine and spirits has grown to +5.4 percent.” Even rose’s growth has slowed, something few of us expected.

In search of God? A California religious studies professor says wine may help people deepen their connection to something bigger than themselves, including God. Stephen Lloyd-Moffett’s book “The Spirit of Wine, Finding Religion in the Fruit of the Vine,” says wine is often associated with social activity, sharing, and feelings of gratitude and deep thinking — all qualities associated with religion. This is an intriguing approach, and it does help put Catholicism’s use of wine into some sort of context. But I do wonder what the neo-Prohibitionists would say.

Wine prices 2019 update: Are prices coming down despite premiumization?

wine prices 2019Way too many grapes and continuing flat demand may lead to lower wine prices 2019

At the end of the summer, I was talking to an official for one of the big grape grower trade groups. I asked what he thought wine prices would do through the end of the year, as well as into 2020.

“Wine prices are coming down,” he said. How can that be, I asked. Because, of course, premiumization — its reason for being that wine prices are never going down again.

He laughed. “That may be,” he said. “But when you have too many grapes, which we do, and flat demand, which we do, wine prices come down. There’s nothing premiumization can do about it.”

The trade group official was not alone in his take on wine prices 2019. Whenever I interview a retailer or producer, I always ask about business. And their responses over the past nine months have not been nearly as optimistic as the last couple of years – and certainly not as optimistic as the official wine business position: “Ever more wine sold at ever high prices!”

The consensus: Business may not be bad yet, but it’s certainly slowing. And, no, this isn’t a highly scientific survey process, and yes, it’s overwhelmingly anecdotal. But, like the Wine Curmudgeon Wine Sample Index, it rarely steers me wrong. Because other signs point to the same thing:

Reports one trade website: California “supply levels remain higher than ideal and therefore the market remains favourable to buyers, with wineries quoting the lowest bulk wine prices in 5 years.” In other words, lots of grapes in the supply chain, and not too many buyers, so lower grape prices.

And that’s because the 2018 harvest was record-breaking, and the 2019 harvest may be equally as gigantic.

• And we all know about flat demand. In 2018, about one-fifth of regular U.S. wine drinkers were older than 65, compared to 16 percent in 2015. But the youngest regular wine consumers, ages 21-24, are decreasing, dropping 13 percent from 2015.

• Canceled grape contracts. Large producers are refusing to buy grapes they agreed to buy, ostensibly because of smoke damage from the 2018 wine country wildfires. But there’s a suspicion that the wildfires had nothing to do with the cancellations; rather, it’s because the producers already have too many grapes and don’t need any more.

• Wholesale alcohol inventories, measured in dollars, are at an all-time high, according to the U.S. Census Bureau. This could be nothing more than a side effect of premiumization – the same amount of wine in warehouses, but since it costs more, its value is setting records. Or it could mean there is a lot of wine stacking up because no one wants to buy it.

Last week’s tariff news should only make things worse, since it will raise prices for many European wines, while most cheaper French and Spanish wines could disappear from U.S. shelves. Which will further cut demand and increase the overall supply.

If, in fact, wine prices are coming down, will it happen in time for the holidays? Probably not, though I’m willing to bet we could find terrific deals as producers, distributors, and wholesalers try to get rid of select wines they have too much of.

The real selloff may come at the beginning of next year, and especially if the holiday season is as slow as it looks like it will be. And then, finally, we could be able to see the beginning of the end of premiumization.

More abut wine prices 2019:
Wine prices 2019
2019 SVB wine report
The biggest factor in California wine prices

Photo: “Wine section of a supermarket” by piropiro3 is licensed under CC BY 2.0