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Winebits 327: Pennsylvania, wine prices, women winemakers

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Winebits 327: Pennsylvania, wine prices, women winemakersThe wine notes that usually appear on Tuesday are posting today because tomorrow is April 1 — and that’s time for the blog’s annual April Fools’ Day post.

More screwed up than ever: Pennsylvania has been trying to reform its horribly messed up state store system — where the state owns the liquor stores — since as long as I have been writing the blog. Nothing has been done, despite widespread political and consumer support, and the latest proposal shows just how corrupt the system is. Supermarkets would be able to sell wine under the proposed law, but only four bottles per customer per visit. Nevertheless, a spirits trade group immediately denounced the plan, claiming that those four bottles would give the wine business an unfair advantage, since spirit sales would still be limited to state stores. It’s almost impossible to understand what’s going on here, other than to note that this is just another example of the many failings of the three-tier system.

Britain’s wine pricing: Jamie Goode at the Wine Anorak has an excellent account of the wine pricing controversy in Britain, where most retailers substantially discount wine. And then don’t. And then discount it again. This must seem odd to those of us in the U.S., where discounting is accepted as a normal part of doing business, and where savvy consumers are eager to buy wine when it’s on sale. But British consumer advocates see this as nefarious — “[T]hese fake promotions are bad for wine, and a bad deal for customers, and I won’t stop talking about them until supermarkets do the right thing and stop them,” writes Goode — and have spent the past couple of years fighting the biggest retailers over the practice.

You’ve come a long way, baby: Jordan Salcito at The Daily Beast has discovered that women have broken through the glass ceiling and are now important winemakers. I’ll try not to be too cranky about this, but Salcito is about a decade late with this revelation. I wrote the same story for the American Airlines in-flight magazine in 2006, quoting many of the same women she quotes in her story. She also focuses on celebrity women winemakers, and misses the more important change, that Big Wine did most of the glass ceiling work, hiring women where they had never been hired before. Barefoot’s Jennifer Wall is responsible for 13 million cases of wine a year, which may make her the most important woman winemaker in the business. And her boss is Gina Gallo, whose company makes 80 million cases a year. Also, if Salcito doesn’t mind some writing advice, never, ever use a phrase like “pushing the envelope.” I expect more from the Beast.

Winebits 326: Why I’ve always wanted to be a consultant edition

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Winebits 326: Why I've always wanted to be a consultant editionBecause getting paid for writing some of the things that consultants write sounds like a posh gig:

Do this, or the opposite: Which is the advice the Rabobank Group has for the Spanish wine industry. To be successful, Spain has two choices: Make more wine with “international” varietals like cabernet sauvingon and chardonnay, which have established export markets, or work to establish export markets for wine made with its traditional grapes, like tempranillo and garnacha. Nothing like covering all possibilities, is there? I love this sentence, too, for wonderfully stating the obvious and doing it in consultant-speak: “Improving the ability of suppliers in Spain’s main production region of Castilla-La Mancha to develop strong brands with demand beyond the EU markets will have an important positive impact on the wine industry in Spain, but also in the rest of the EU.”

We can’t call it cheap, can we? Impact Databank is part of the company that owns the Wine Spectator, and it releases an annual Hot Brands wine list, identifying wines that record sizable sale increases over the past year. Most of these brands cost $10 or less, and the bosses at Impact apparently felt uncomfortable calling the wines cheap. This isn’t unusual (you should see winemakers and PR types cringe when I use the word cheap), but this solution is one of the “best” I’ve ever seen — calling the wines “accessibly priced.” Maybe I should start using the term, too. How does “The Wine Curmudgeon’s Guide to Accessibly Priced Wine” sound? Or “the accessibly priced wine expert”?

Why didn’t anyone else think of this? Did you know that the increasing popularity of wine has led to the increasing popularity of wine bars? Hard to believe, I know, but that’s the conclusion in this report from the IBISWorld consultancy, “where knowledge is power.” And, something to know in case you want to open a wine bar: “Changes in household preferences, disposable incomes and consumer spending also influence demand. …” Wow. Who knew?

Winebits 325: Corks, Mateus, wine sales

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Winebits 325: Corks, Mateus, wine sales

Everyone knows the cool kids only drink wine with corks.

When in doubt, a poll: The cork business announced last week that more than 9 out of 10 wine drinkers associate natural cork with higher quality wine. Which is about as surprising as the Wine Curmudgeon announcing that he wrote a book about cheap wine. We can question poll methodology, who paid for it (and the release is very vague about that), and the like, but none of that is as important as the way the results are phrased. It doesn’t say that wine closed with cork is “better.” It says: “Consumers associate higher quality wine with cork.” Of course they do. What else would we expect, given that most wine drinkers still make screwcap jokes? Even “experts” who are supposed to know about wine are still writing that junk. No wonder I’m so cranky so much of the time.

What happened to the bottle? Periodically, someone will announce they’ve re-marketing a Baby Boomer wine brand, figuring that people in their 50s and 60s will get a kick out of drinking the same wine they did when they were in their 20s. Mateus, which accounted for one-third of Portugal’s wine exports in the 1980s, is doing just that in the United Kingdom, releasing four new wines that are nothing like the rose the Boomers grew up. A Portugeuse zinfandel blend, anyone? Or a chardonnay and Maria Gomes blend? They’re spending £2 million (about US$3.3 million) on the effort, too, which seems like a lot of money for wine no one will be especially interested in.

Wine sales growth slows: And the reason may have been craft beer and flavored spirits, reports the Technomics consultancy. “The sluggish economy is creating ever more intense competition for adult beverage occasions,” says the report. “And today’s consumers — especially Millennials — have a broad drink portfolio that involves drink spirits, wine and beer, with flavor and occasion as key factors in the what-to-drink decision. Never before has the battle for share of glass been so intense.” Share of glass, indeed. The good news for wine, though growth was only 1.6 percent in 2013, is that total adult beverage volume declined 0.9 percent. Take that, beer.

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