Category Archives: Wine news

Winebits 408: Diageo sale, wine imports, French wine


diageo saleTreasury gets Diageo wine: Get ready for more Big Wine news in the wake of Diageo selling its handful of wine brands to Australia’s Treasury Wine Estates. The $351 million deal gives Treasury four million cases worth of wine in the U.S., which may move it into the top five of U.S. producers. The key is what Treasury will do with the brands, which include Sterling: Will it keep all of them, or sell some it sees as too cheap for its new focus on wine costing more than $10? Also, the purchase was as much about getting Diageo’s infrastructure in the U.S., including its bottling lines. Finally, there is this great quote from Treasury boss Michael Clark: “We remain committed to our strategic road map of transitioning our business from an order-taking agricultural company to a brand-led and capital-light marketing organization.” If anyone can explain what that means, I’ll send you a copy of the cheap wine book.

It’s all about Italy: We can argue about what wine consumers want, but we can’t argue with the numbers. Hence, Italy’s continued success in selling wine in the U.S., accounting for one-third of all imported wine in dollar terms the first six months of this year. The big losers? Australia, still, as well as Chile and Argentina. Americans want pinot grigio and Prosecco, and Italy is happy to give it to us at mostly cheap prices. The Aussies, on the other hand have little that anyone wants, as sales fell seven percent in dollars and six percent in volume. How the mighty have fallen.

The French are drinking again: Decanter reports that a government survey found a six percent increase in “occasional wine drinkers,” who accounted for half of the respondents. This is important news in a country where wine consumption has declined steadily for decades. This group included younger drinkers and women, who say they were more likely to have one or two glasses of wine a week. To put this in perspective, that one or two glasses of wine a week is more than bottle a month, which means an occasional wine drinker in France drinks more than the average adult in the U.S.

Winebits 407: Locations rose, Big Wine, craft beer


Locations roseThis is how hip rose has become: California winemaker Dave Phinney’s Locations wines are huge critical and popular hits — wines made in different parts of the world (even Texas) with top-notch winemakers under Phinney’s supervision. They’re known for the big country initial on the label — F from France, I for Italy, and so forth, and as huge, alcoholic fruit bombs — not something I especially enjoy. So what’s the newest Locations wine? A 15 percent French Locations rose, because if the hipsters want brose, Phinney is going to give it to them. The wine lists for $17; given the price and the high alcohol, I couldn’t bring myself to buy it for a review. Even the Wine Curmudgeon has his limits. But if someone wants to write a review, I’ll be happy to run it on the blog, even if you like the wine.

The big get bigger — or something: Diageo, one of the biggest drinks companies in the world, has decided that wine isn’t big enough for them, and will probably sell the the handful of wine companies that it owns. That these are huge brands, like Sterling and Rosenblum, makes the decision even more intriguing, since Diageo is a top 10 wine company in the U.S. But Diageo, based in Britain, wants to boost its stock price and, as the financial types like to say, “reassure investors” that it wants to make more money. This has always baffled me; what company doesn’t want to make more money? If this happens, look for Sterling and its Diageo brethren to go to some sort of leveraged buyout company, which will cut costs and take the brands private.

Big Beer? It’s not enough that we’re probably going to have just one beer company accounting for one-third of the beer in the world, but now it looks like craft beer — much of which isn’t all that crafty anymore — could be bigger than the California wine business by the end of 2016. That’s according to figures compiled by Lew Perdue at Wine Industry Insight, who found that craft beer is growing three times as quickly as the California wine business. Given that growth, it would total more than $29 billion, about $1 billion more than California wine. So much for premiumization.

Winebits 407: Blue Apron wine, arsenic, airline wine


blue apron wineThe future of wine? Blue Apron, the home food delivery service, has added wine to what it does. This means that when the company sends you the recipe and ingredients for dinner, it will (for an additional charge) send wine to complement the meal. This is revolutionary, and could be the beginning of a change in the way Americans see wine — something several of my wine writing colleagues are hoping for, and have taken me to task for criticizing. Why so? Because Blue Apron sees an opportunity, despite the regulatory hurdles, to sell wine to food people, which has always been one of the sticking points in making wine more mainstream. Food people generally care more about kale — or whatever is au courant — than they do about wine, and if we can get them to see wine as part of the meal, we’ve made huge progress. I know someone using Blue Apron, and will report back after she does it for a while to see if we’re on to something here.

Wine in arsenic: The wine and arsenic lawsuit has not gone away, reports Wines & Vines magazine, and the plaintiffs have “tweaked [it] to seek billions of dollars in civil penalties, among other damages.” They are using a California state law designed to protect consumers from what the magazine calls noxious substances, and the amended lawsuit days that “just a glass or two of these arsenic-contaminated wines a day over time could result in dangerous arsenic toxicity to the consumer. …” Also worth nothing, and something I haven’t seen before: That most of the wines that the Denver lab tested that were the focus of the lawsuit “suggest that most wines meet the standard for drinking water, and all of the wines fell below 50 parts per billion, as did the beers that were the focus of similar concern in 2013.” Most international standards for arsenic start at 100 parts per billion. Was this, then, as many suspected, nothing more than ambulance chasing?

Flying the wine skies: Every year, there are rankings of the best airline wine, which somehow don’t include the little bottles that we all know and don’t get excited about. Instead, the rankings are for first- and business-class wine lists on airlines that most of us don’t fly. This year’s rankings feature Singapore and Emirates, which never seem to show up when I have to go to Denver to judge. So read it, marvel at the wines, and then stick your knees up under your chin because the slob in the row in front of you has pushed his seat all the way back, and the last thing you want is wine.

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