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Category Archives: Wine trends

Oregon and pinot noir

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oregon and pinot noirOr, how a state that everyone laughed at when it first started making wine has turned into one of the best regions in the world for pinot noir. That’s the subject of a story I wrote for the Wine Business International trade magazine. Given Oregon’s success over the past 30 years, and how little too many consumers still know about the state, and it’s worth noting the story’s highlights about Oregon and pinot noir:

 • Oregon’s lesson for other states that want to be something besides a winemaking curiosity? Don’t be afraid to zig when the rest of the wine world is zagging. In this case, it was growing pinot when everyone else said it couldn’t be done, and not accepting the conventional wisdom that said they should do what California did. “The people who came to Oregon in the first place were pioneers, not just because it was a new region, but because they had a different spirit,” says Thomas Houseman, the winemaker at the 15,000-case Anne Amie Vineyards, who worked for Ponzi Vineyards, one of the state’s first producers. “They really didn’t have an idea about what they wanted to do. They just figured it out as they went along. And that’s still part of Oregon.”

• Legend says that a group of growers smuggled the first pinot cuttings from Burgundy in France, home to the world’s greatest pinot noir, to get around federal regulations. Ask about the legend, and you get a lot of winks and grins.

• Pinot noir isn’t the only grape Oregon’s producers do well. Its pinot gris, fruit forward and crisp, puts most of the rest of the world to shame, and I have always enjoyed Oregon sparkling wine. Ironically, chardonnay has never fared well, despite the state’s favorable terroir, but producers are making another effort with the grape, and have enjoyed some success.

• Price is also an important part of Oregon and pinot noir. My pal Wayne Belding, MS, a wine educator and reformed retailer, says that “at $50 and $60 for the top-end wines, they provide value not seen with pinot noir anywhere else in the world. There’s a common style, delicacy and nuance. They aren’t trying to make powerhouse wines.”

Want Oregon wine suggestions? Use the search box on the right side of the page and type in Oregon.

The craft wine dilemma

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craft wine dilemma

Which is craft wine and which isn’t?

How do you describe a wine that isn’t made by a multi-national and that doesn’t sell millions of cases? Is craft wine the proper description? And, if it is, how do you prevent the multi-national from describing its product the same way?

That’s the craft wine dilemma, as producers try to find terms to separate their wine from mass-produced grocery store plonk — even if their wine isn’t all that different.

There is no legal definition of craft wine, and borrowing the term from beer doesn’t help. Craft beer, which is assumed to be made by small, independent producers, is driving what little growth there is in the beer business, but craft beer includes Shiner and its 6 million cases and Boston Beer’s Sam Adams and its $2.9 billion in sales. Both belong to the Brewers Association craft beer trade group, demonstrating how empty the term is. Consider (and allowing for a 24-can case of beer vs. a 12-bottle case of wine) that Shiner would be tied for 12th on Wine Business Monthly’s top 30 U.S. producers list, just ahead of Bogle, and Boston Beer would be among the top three or four biggest wine companies in the country by sales.

The Brewers Association trade group guidelines don’t help much either, offering lots of PR speak (“Craft brewers tend to be very involved in their communities through philanthropy”) and little else. Also complicating matters: The rash of lawsuits over the past year from disgruntled consumers suing craft brewers and distillers because their craft products don’t seem to be that much different from the products made by multi-nationals, save for higher prices. No wonder there was such a spirited discussion on Tom Wark’s Fermentation blog this summer about the subject, looking for the best way to describe what Wark calls wine made by a “small, hands-on, privately owned, high-quality oriented winery.”

The craft wine dilemma reminds me of Justice Potter Stewart’s famous definition of pornography: “I know it when I see it.” If an 8 million case producer like Delicato Family Winery uses the term hand-crafted for some of its wine, does hand-crafted have any meaning? On the other hand, can a producer that mostly fits Wark’s definition be called a craft winery if its idea of quality is to make an overoaked fruit bomb designed to get 98 points and cost $100?

Establishing legal (or even trade group-agreed) definitions for craft and similar terms is the obvious solution, but most of the wine business will burn down the blog and carry me off with pitchforks for suggesting it. Still, given that some plaintiffs have won their craft definition lawsuits, maybe that idea is worth considering. Otherwise, it will be a long time before anyone solves the craft wine dilemma.

 

The continuing grocery store wine revolution

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grocery store wine revolutionFirst, Nielsen reported that 42 percent of all wine sold in the U.S. is sold in supermarkets. Then IRI, which also also tracks consumer purchases, reported that wine was the seventh biggest selling item (in dollar terms) in U.S. supermarkets in 2014. Call it one more piece of evidence pointing to the grocery store wine revolution.

Yes, part of that sales ranking is because wine is more expensive than most grocery store merchandise. But even allowing for the higher prices, says my supermarket consultant, this is the kind of change that transforms an industry. The increase in sales in dollars was greater than the increase in the number of bottles sold, which means grocery store wine shoppers are buying the more expensive wine that they used to buy in liquor stores and wine shops. Given that wine sales in the U.S. have been flat for a couple of years, that should terrify every wine shop owner in the country.

More thoughts about the grocery store wine revolution:

• Wine was ranked ahead of cold cereal (No. 8), coffee (No. 11, and also relatively expensive), bacon (No. 17), dog food (No. 27), and diapers (No. 92).

• Keep in mind that wine did this well despite three tier’s sales restrictions — reduced hours for purchase in many states, and that it isn’t sold in supermarkets in key states like New York and Pennsylvania.

• Wine sales were 37th in the number of items sold, despite its higher prices. That may be the most mind boggling fact, given that wine in grocery stores was almost unheard of when I started drinking wine in the early 1980s.

• Wine sales increased 5 1/2 percent in dollar terms, also impressive given its higher price.

For more on grocery store wine:
How to by wine at the grocery store 
Why grocery stores love wine
Wine education: Four things you don’t needs to know about wine

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