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Big Wine growth 2016

Three sets of numbers — two public, one passed to me by my source in Big Wine — show just how dominant Big Wine continues to be, and how Big Wine growth Read More »

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Wine of the week: Kenwood Sauvignon Blanc 2014

Big Wine’s increasing domination of the marketplace brings with it the idea that brands don’t matter the way they used to. If a brand doesn’t perform the way its owner thinks it Read More »

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Winebits 424: Scottish wine, domain names, crowdfunding

 • Too much rain: Scotland’s hopes for its own wine, which never seemed possible because the climate was too cold and too went, have been dashed once again. The drinks business reports Read More »

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Can it be? Was that affordable red Bordeaux I tasted?

The Wine Curmudgeon grew up when French wine ruled the world, and I have watched with sadness as the French — and especially in Bordeaux — have done everything they can to Read More »

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Once more into the Super Bowl breach

One of the biggest shocks in the 8 1/2 year history of the blog is that Super Bowl Sunday is the worst day for visitors every year. It’s worse than Christmas and Read More »

Big Wine growth 2016

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Big Wine growthThree sets of numbers — two public, one passed to me by my source in Big Wine — show just how dominant Big Wine continues to be, and how Big Wine growth will affect everything we drink.

The first public chart, reproduced here, was compiled by Lew Perdue at Wine Industry Insight, and shows that the three biggest companies — E&J Gallo, Constellation, and The Wine Group — control almost half of the U.S. wine market. In this, the eight biggest companies sell 60 percent of the wine in this country, which leaves more than 7,500 wineries to fight over the other 40 percent.

Those are almost the same numbers in the second public study, the annual Wine Business Monthly top 30 producers list, which are similar to the finding in the magazine’s 2014 report, when Gallo, Constellation, and The Wine Group controlled half the U.S. market. Meanwhile, the top 30 companies in the 2016 report accounted for 74 percent of all the wine sold in the U.S. Interestingly, that’s less than they reported in 2014, when the top 30 sold 90 percent of the wine; chalk that up to bigger companies, like Diageo, selling their brands to smaller companies.

The three biggest companies (again, Gallo, Constellation, and The Wine Group) controlled about half the U.S. market in the landmark 2011 Big Wine study conducted by Phil Howard at Michigan State.  

It’s important to understand how big big is. First, the Wine Business Monthly top 30 total just .04 percent of all U.S. wineries, which makes the infamous One Percent look like an all-inclusive kumbaya sing-along. Second, Jackson Family, which makes Kendall Jackson and is about as close to a national brand as wine has, isn’t one of the half-dozen biggest producers in the U.S. It’s eighth in the Wine Industry Insight chart and ninth in Wine Business Monthly’s rankings with almost six million cases. That’s still big, but the biggest companies are so gigantic that even some of their brands, like Gallo’s Barefoot, sell more than all of the Jackson Family portfolio.

In other words, every time we buy wine, the odds are better than not that we’re buying a Big Wine product even if we don’t want to. My colleagues in the Winestream Media pooh pooh this whenever I write it, arguing that wine drinkers have more choice than that. What about those other 7,500 wineries? The catch, and what they don’t understand, is that most of us don’t shop in places that sell wine from the other 7,500. We shop at Costco and Walmart and grocery stores, and those retailers account for almost half the wine sold in the U.S.

Case in point: Sales statistics for 2015 that my source in Big Wine passed to me for 10 U.S. states (none of which are California), and where Big Wine (defined as a company that appears in either the Howard study or the Wine Business Monthly top 30) dominates at all prices:

• 9 of the 15 best-selling wines between $15 and $20 are from Big Wine, including La Crema (Jackson Family), Louis Martini (Gallo), and Meomi (Constellation).

• 12 of the 20 best-selling wines between $12 and $15 are from Big Wine, including Wild Horse (Constellation), Kendall Jackson (Jackson Family), and Chateau Ste. Michelle (Altria). And I didn’t include Hess and Rodney Strong, both on the Wine Business Monthly Top 30 list but family run.

• All of the 20 best-selling wines between $9 and $12 are from Big Wine, including Menage a Trois (Trinchero), Cupcake (The Wine Group), and Apothic (Gallo).

 

Wine of the week: Kenwood Sauvignon Blanc 2014

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Kenwood Sauvignon BlancBig Wine’s increasing domination of the marketplace brings with it the idea that brands don’t matter the way they used to. If a brand doesn’t perform the way its owner thinks it should, it gets dumped or sold or ignored, and Kenwood is a prime example. It started as an independent, was bought by the same $100 million company that owns Korbel sparkling wine, and then sold to the $9 billion Pernod Ricard conglomerate a couple of years ago.

Along the way, and especially after Korbel bought it, quality suffered. Production was almost doubled and what had been a decent grocery store brand became the kind of wine I write cranky things about. Fortunately, Pernod Richard saw something that Korbel didn’t, and this vintage of the Kenwood sauvignon blanc ($12, sample, 13.5%) shows progress toward returning the brand to cheap wine quality.

The Kenwood sauvignon blanc tastes like it should, which I didn’t expect. Look for California grassiness, some citrus and tropical fruit, and a finish that is almost unpleasant but that ends so quickly that it doesn’t get in the way. Hopefully, more improvement will follow, and Kenwood will once again become the kind of wine you can buy in a grocery store without a second thought. It should also be around $10 in most supermarkets, another bonus.

One sign, though, that Big Wine will always be Big Wine: The back label suggests pairing the Kenwood sauvignon blanc with “spring roasted vegetable salad and herb-roasted fish.” My question? If I’m buying $10 wine in the grocery store, will I roast vegetables or fish (and especially fish)? I realize those pairings are there to give a cheap wine an upmarket cache, but do they really think they’re fooling anyone?

Winebits 424: Scottish wine, domain names, crowdfunding

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Scottish wine

A Scottish wine story requires a picture of haggis, the Scottish national dish.

 • Too much rain: Scotland’s hopes for its own wine, which never seemed possible because the climate was too cold and too went, have been dashed once again. The drinks business reports that persistent rain in eastern Scotland has prevented Aberdeen’s Christopher Trotter, a chef and food writer, from producing anything commercially viable. He wasn’t able to bottle any wine in 2015, and the 2014 vintage yielded just 10 bottles — which critics called “undrinkable.” The Wine Curmudgeon feels Trotter’s pain. Regional wine, no matter where the region, is always more difficult than you think it will be, and there are always problems you never imagined. And I’ve tasted plenty of undrinkable regional wine.

Bring on .wine: Want to brand your website as definitely wine? Then you can buy the .wine and .vin domain names, two so-called not-coms that are finally available. There was concern from some legally protected wine regions, like our friends in Champagne, that the .wine and .vin names would be used to abuse their place names, but they bought Champagne.wine and solved the problem. The Wine Curmudgeon probably won’t buy winecurmudgoen.wine or .vin — not sure it would make much different to my brand, and winecurmudgeon.wine sounds stupid, anyway.

Kickstarting a winery: Recent changes in federal investment law allow businesses like wineries to use crowdfunding sites like Kickstarter and Indiegogo to raise $1 million in any 12-month period from friends, followers, customers and community as long as the sites meet federal guidelines. This is a significant change to current law, though not everyone is sure it’s a good idea. It’s one thing to raise money for a wine book on Kickstarter; it’s another to raise millions to expand a winery. Regardless of anything else, writes Jesse Debban in the North Bay Business Journal, the new regulations mean “the public — including your competitors and customers — will have access to sensitive information about your business.”  Which may be OK in the tech business, but is something completely different in the highly private wine business.

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