Winebits 385: Whole Foods, Big Wine, Cameron Hughes

whole foods ? A new format: Whole Foods, the word’s most powerful natural grocery store chain, said last week it would launch a second, less expensive version aimed at 20-somethings who can’t afford to shop at the grocer. This is mind boggling, if only because no one has ever attempted it — like Walmart doing an upscale grocer to attract aging urban Baby Boomers who think Walmart is beneath them. It also probably won’t work, or else it would get a separate post, because Whole Foods Jr. could wreak havoc with the wine business. That’s because, assuming wine will be as important to Whole Foods Jr. as it is to the parent, the chain will have to stock cheaper wines without the noxious markups it currently uses, like Chateau Bonnet for $16. That means private label wine on the scale of Trader Joe’s, which Whole Foods Jr. sounds suspiciously like. And if that’s the case, all the gloom and doom about the end of the cheap wine business in California will be over. All that Whole Foods Jr. $5 wine will have to come from somewhere, and that’s what California’s Central Valley exists to do.

? No, no, Big Wine: The Wine Curmudgeon is finally and apparently not the only one who has noticed the role Big Wine plays. A group of northern California activists met last week to call for a halt to Big Wine’s growth in wine country. “They hire a chef before a wine-maker. This has to stop. We cannot let them pave over more of our ag land,” said one of the speakers. In this, the new group may be echoing what has happened in France over the past 20 years, with farmers and vineyard owners protesting Big Wine in its European guise of internationalization.

? Bankruptcy? The company that owns Cameron Hughes, the wine geek’s favorite discounter, has been forced into receivership and a sale or merger is possible, reports Lew Perdue at Wine Industry Insight. The bank holding Hughes’ debt forced the action, which is often part of a bankruptcy. In this case, though, says Perdue, that probably won’t happen, and the receivership appears to be part of tug of war between the company and its bank over unpaid loans. The Hughes parent company issued a statement saying it was trying to reach an agreement with the bank to restructure its debt and would continue in business.

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