The 16th century Benandanti fought the good fight – with fennel, no less – to protect Italy’s Fruili wine region
The 21st century wine business, what with tariffs, pandemics, and younger people who don’t like wine, has its full share of problems. But it doesn’t have anything on the 16th century wine business, when evil witches in northern Italy wanted to turn wineries into outhouses.
That’s one of the highlights (one of the many highlights, I might add) of a freelance piece I wrote for Meininger’s Wine Business Intentional: The battle between the Benandanti, good witches, to protect winemakers and wine drinkers in Italy’s Fruili region from a group of bad witches. The latter’s goal? To defecate and urinate in wine barrels, wine bottles, and wine glasses.
And a tip o’ the WC’s fedora to Jennifer Billock, the source for the story, and to my editor at Meininger’s, Felicity Carter. She has been urging me to find a good witch and wine story since the end of last year, and I was much glad I did.
This week’s wine news: Another winemaker says corks are outdated, plus more silly wine trends and wine gadgets
• One more for our side: Cork is “a completely outdated“ technology, says a top Australian winemaker. Thedrinksbusiness website reports that Kym Milne, chief winemaker at Bird in Hand in the Adelaide Hills, told the London Wine Fair that “As wines age cork gives enormous variability – try 12 bottles from the same case and you’ll have 12 different wines. There’s too much variation from putting a piece of wood in the end of a bottle.” Needless to say, all of the wines at Bird in Hand – including the US$70 Nest Egg shiraz – use screwcaps.
• Who knew? Who says sommeliers can be stuffy and are out of touch with ordinary wine drinkers? That certainly isn’t the case for the trio of wine professionals who appeared in this Food & Wine article about wine trends, which included the dreaded blue wine. They didn’t exactly hate blue wine, which surprised me, but I was impressed with this: “The trend of making wine for people who hate wine confounds me.” Welcome to the wine business, pal, where that seems to be the goal entirely too often.
• Who is kidding who? How do you not get drunk? Don’t drink too much wine. Unless, of course, you’re an entrepreneur in Dallas who says you should put his magic wand in your booze. Read the story at the link at your peril; I don’t have the energy to comment on it. What I do know is that I have many better things to do with $25 – or even $70 – that the gizmo costs. Many, many, many better things.
Can the idea that canned wine is the next big thing in wine packaging
People who are supposed to know these things insist that wine packaging is about to undergo a revolution – specifically, that canned wine is the next big thing and will sooner rather than later compete with bottles as the package of choice.
In this, they are wrong. Wine packaging has remained the same for centuries – a bottle with a cork – and there is absolutely no reason to believe that canned wine’s future is any different than screwcaps or boxes. It will occupy a niche, and lots of people will like it. But most of us won’t even notice it. The wine business in the U.S. has spent almost 100 years teaching us that we have to buy wine in a 750 ml bottle with a cork, and you don’t undo that overnight.
So why the enthusiasm for canned wine? First, because it has grown exponentially over the past couple of years, up 125 percent in the year through the middle of 2016. Second, it’s something that should appeal to the two generations of wine drinkers younger than the Baby Boomers, who grew up on canned soft drinks and juice boxes and who aren’t supposed to be as fussy about bottles as the rest of us. Third, because the people who do trend analysis wouldn’t have anything to write about if they didn’t find a trend, and it isn’t easy to find trends in an industry as old-fashioned as wine.
In fact, here’s what the prognosticators don’t tell you about canned wine:
• “After years of packaging innovations, the traditional 750 ml wine bottle is more important to the domestic wine industry than ever.” The number of 750ml bottles sold increased 41 percent from 2010 to 2014, which is the same period that overall wine sales in the U.S., as measured by bottles sold, was up just 11 percent. This is premiumization’s work; who is going to pay $25 for a bottle of wine in can or box? Meanwhile, sales have fallen dramatically for the very cheapest wines, which lend themselves best to cans.
• That 125 percent growth was from a very tiny base. All told, canned wine accounted for $6.4 million in a $55 billion business, or about one-tenth of one percent.
• Retailers don’t like canned wine. Store shelves are designed to sell 750 ml bottles, and canned wine doesn’t fit on the shelves. That’s what happened to boxed wine, which was supposed to be the next big thing a decade ago. Retailers could never figure out how to display it, and so they shoved it to the back of the store.
• Canned wine hasn’t solved the value/price problem. Much of it is more expensive than bottled wine, since we’re paying for convenience. But the quality of the wine usually isn’t worth the added cost. Much of the canned wine I’ve tasted was junk that would cost $4 or $5 for a 25-ounce bottle, not $5 for a 12-ounce can. Compare this to boxed wine, which has improved in quality and does offer value – and still remains a small part of the market, about three percent.
In the end, know that screw caps, which offer as much convenience as a can without any added cost to the consumer, have been around for decades. And they still account for just 20 percent of the market. How are cans going to do better than that?