Category Archives: Wine news

Winebits 397: Label fraud, direct shipping, social media


label fraudHandmade wins one: A federal judge has ruled that Maker’s Mark can call its bourbon handmade, even though it isn’t, because a reasonable consumer would know it isn’t. The Wine Curmudgeon, having reported the opposite result in a similar label fraud case, marvels at the U.S. legal system. If this judge thinks it’s OK to call something handmade when it isn’t, invoking the concept of reasonableness, then why did another federal judge rule that a reasonable consumer would confuse $7 Spanish sparkling wine Cristalino with $200 Champagne Cristal? No wonder my mother wanted me to be a lawyer. It sounds much more exciting than wine writing.

The cost of delivery: Want to know why direct shipping is still such a tiny part of overall U.S. wine sales? This, from the Shipping Compliant consultancy, addresses the myriad laws and three-tier confusion that hamper direct sales, but also puts everything in perspective with one fact: “When a customer buys wine online, about 20 percent of every dollar they’re spending goes towards shipping. … In a world with services like Amazon Prime, customers hate spending money on shipping. …” Which means, even if three-tier disappeared tomorrow, direct shipping would still likely remain a tiny part of overall U.S. wine sales.

Kill all the wine writers? Because, apparently, we don’t need them. A study says U.S. adults 21 and older rely more on peer recommendations and social media than they do on traditional advertising when buying alcohol. Some of you may argue that wine writing isn’t advertising, but I’d point out you haven’t been paying attention. The report was conducted by a company that makes a social media platform and which queried its users, which is what should raise questions about the findings. Still, it claims four out of five consumers said they have bought alcohol they discovered on social media, and almost three-quarters use social media on their smartphone or mobile device when they’re buying booze. I guess I need to tweet more often.

The Wine Curmudgeon’s fall 2015 wine education extravaganza

wine education

Have Curmudgeon-mobile, will travel.

Take your pick. All provide wine education as only the Wine Curmudgeon can  — which means that if you’re stuffy, hung up on scores, or think wine is not supposed to be fun, you should probably look elsewhere:

• My wine class, also open to non-credit students, at Dallas’ El Centro College. We’ll cover the basics, including how to spit, the three-tier system, restaurant wine, and how wine is made, plus at least 10 tastings focusing on the world’s wine regions. Cost is $177, which is a great deal if only for the tastings. But you also get my incisive commentary and occasional rant, which means the school is practically giving the class away. We’ll meet 7-8:50 p.m. on Thursday between Sept. 3 and Dec. 17. Click the link for registration information.

• The annual Texas wine panel at the Kerrville fall food and wine festival, 3:30 p.m. on Sept. 5. This is always one of my favorite events, not just because I hear some terrific folk music, but because the audience appreciates Texas wine and wants it to be better.

• The southwest chapter meeting of the American Wine Society in Arizona, on the last weekend of October, where I’ll talk about U.S. regional wine.

• The American Wine Society’s national meeting Nov. 5-7 in suburban Washington, D.C., where I’ll give two seminars. Not coincidentally, conference registration begins this week. I’m doing “The Texas Revolution: How the Lone Star state learned to love grapes that weren’t chardonnay, cabernet, and merlot” at 4:45 p.m. on Nov. 6, and “Five U.S. wine regions you probably don’t know, but should,” at 11 a.m. Nov. 7. The latter will look at wine regions, including one in California, that deserve more attention than they get. 

And, perhaps the most fun part of all — the Wine Curmudgeon’s latest marketing effort, which will allow me to spread the gospel of cheap wine anywhere I drive. Yes, a personalized Texas license plate that says 10 WINE.

Winebits 396: Investing in wine, Scottish wine, Bill St. John


investing in wineTulips, anyone? The Wine Curmudgeon rarely passes up an opportunity to quote F. Scott Fitzgerald on one of his (and my) favorite subjects: “You know, the rich are different from you and me.” How else to explain this story about investing in wine from the New York Times? It talks about how the wealthy borrow money against their wine collections the way the rest of us do against our homes (assuming, of course, we even own one). Says the founder of one such lender: “Whether it’s real estate or wine, it doesn’t make sense to accumulate assets with pure cash. With wine, you can borrow and not put your home or some other important asset at risk. You can finance toys with toys.” And the tulip reference? The Dutch 17th century economic crash brought on by flower speculating — not that I’m making comparisons.

Not this vintage: Remember the Monty Python bit about the Scotsman who has to defend Wimbledon’s honor? It came to mind when I read this piece about what is apparently the first vintage ever of Scottish wine — admirable and a good try, but “undrinkable.” The wine, a white made with cold-hardy grapes, is apparently oxidized, a not uncommon problem for inexperienced regional winemakers working with odd grapes in untested climates. Still, if we can do it in Texas, there is hope.

One of the best: I only met Bill St. John a couple of times, but I read him regularly and appreciated his skill as a wine writer. Bill was someone who cared about quality and value, and he wrote for his readers in clear and concise language. He has retired from the Chicago Tribune, and his final column says it all: “By and large, we take wine and especially winemaking way too seriously. We’ve made of winemakers what we’ve made of chefs — superstars and entertainers. … We’ve let winemaking and so much folderol about wine — buying, storing, collecting and bloviating — get in the way of our wine.” Bill will be much missed.


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