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Tag Archives: Big Wine

Winebits 378: Box wine, South African wine, nutrition labels

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box wineBring on the cartons: Box wine, since it’s too awkward for most store shelves and because consumers are confused about its quality, has been little more than a niche product in the U.S. But all that may be about to change with the news that E&J Gallo will sell a $20, 3-liter box called Vin Vault, which works out to $5 a bottle for something that will be the quality equivalent of $10 grocery store merlot. If Gallo — perhaps the best judge of consumer sentiment among Big Wine producers — figures the time is right for box wine, it probably is (witness the success of Barefoot and Apothic). Look for big-time promotions and price cutting for Vin Vault when it debuts next month, which should also spur price-cutting for Black Box and Bota Box, the brands that dominate the better-quality box wine market.

Whatever happened to Sebeka? The $10 brand all but disappeared in the U.S. after Gallo gave up on it a couple of years ago, realizing how difficult it was to sell South African wine in the U.S. The wine itself was OK, but as the Wine Curmudgeon has noted many times, South African wines have many problems in this country that don’t include quality. But Sebeka’s new owner figures the time is right to try again, though I have my doubts given this assessment from a Sebeka official: “We don’t know what will be the next big thing but hopefully it’s chenin blanc or pinotage. It just needs that one breakthrough that everyone writes about.” I don’t know what the next thing will be either, though I do know it won’t be pinotage or that anyone in the Winestream Media will figure it out. They’re still unsure about sweet red wine.

Ingredient labels: The recent arsenic scare is about more than contaminated wine; my take is that it’s just one part of the long battle over ingredient labels for wine. So the news last week — and before we found out we’d all been poisoned by cheap wine — that Big Wine producer Diageo would add calorie and nutritional information to its wine is worth mentioning. The company, whose brands include Chalone, Rosenblum, and Sterling, said it wants consumers to know what they’re drinking. In this, reports the Harpers trade magazine, Diageo is the first drinks company to offer the labels. Would that more producers, large and small, had that attitude.

Winebits 373: Big Wine, Treasury, direct shipping

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Big Wine How big is big? One of the most difficult concepts to get consumers to understand is that their wine probably isn’t made by who they think it is. As noted here, Big Wine controls a majority of the U.S. market, and Big Wine includes many companies most of us have never heard of. Case in point: Trinchero Family Estates, a 20-million case producer that wants to be a 30-million case producer. And how many of us have heard of Trinchero, a California company? It’s best known for Menage a Trois and Sutter Home, but those are only a fraction of Trinchero’s production and its three dozen brands. If Trinchero makes it to 30 million cases, it will be as big as the entire U.S. wine business was in 1965.

Now they’ve figured it out: Regular visitors may remember the Wine Curmudgeon’s attempt to cash in on Treasury Wine Estate’s financial woes, which — not surprisingly — failed. One reason, aside from my lack of financial acumen, is that the people running Treasury were a little confused about how to sell cheap wine. Luckily for the company, that seems to have changed, and its results in the U.S. are much improved. Ironically, it seems this success came from a formula that I suggested when I wrote abut Treasury’s problems last year. Not that the company needs to give me credit — I’m used to saving really rich people lots of money.

The judges like their wine: Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg made a bit of news last week when she admitted she fell asleep during the State of the Union address in January because she had too much wine. This got giggles from many, but they missed the point, focusing on Ginsburg’s age, 81. Rather, it points to the real reason the court ruled in favor of direct shipping in 2005 in the landmark Granholm decision, which surprised many observers. Forget precedent and constitutional interpretation; the Supremes carved out an exception to the three-tier system because they liked wine and wanted to be able to have it shipped legally from their favorite California wineries. How else to explain that Ginsburg, Anthony Kennedy, and Antonin Scalia, all referred to in the BBC story in the first link, voted to allow direct shipping?

Winebits 363: CDC, lawsuits, Big Wine

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CDC excessive drinkingSaving us from ourselves: The Centers of Disease Control is at it again, reassuring those of us who drink too much that there is hope. Says the head of the health agency’s alcohol program: “Many people tend to equate excessive drinking with alcohol dependence. We need to think about other strategies to address these people who are drinking too much but who are not addicted to alcohol.” This strikes me like being sort of pregnant, but what really matters is that the CDC’s definition of excessive drinking is wine with dinner, and this fact doesn’t appear in the story. For which the Wine Curmudgeon must call out Tara Parker-Pope at the New York Times for repeating that assertion. Which, as near as I can tell after doing the reporting, is scientifically unfounded.

When is Champagne not Champagne? When it’s the name of a wine writer, reports Decanter, the British wine magazine. Hence the lawsuit filed by France’s Champagne trade association against Australian Rachel Jayne Powell, who goes by Champagne Jayne. Since Powell also writes about other sparkling wine, the Champagne group says her name violates European Union rules. Their logic? That Champagne can only come from the Champagne region of France, so a writer who uses Champagne as a name can only write about Champagne. The case is scheduled to go to trial next week in Melbourne, believe it or not, and Decanter reports that it could set precedents. The Wine Curmudgeon, whose aversion to silly lawsuits like this is well known, has a suggestion: Settle by letting Powell call herself champagne Jayne with a small C, since every wine geek knows Champagne only comes from Champagne with a capital C.

Yet another million case producer: One of my goals with the blog is to help consumers understand that most of the wine we drink doesn’t come from artisanal producers, but from Big Wine — the multi-million case producers who dominate the business. That’s why this two-part interview with someone I’ve barely heard of is worthwhile. In it, Vintage Point’s David Biggar talks about his company’s 17 brands, the best known of which is Layer Cake. In this, what the wines taste like barely comes up, though there is plenty of discussion about pricing, distribution and the three-tier system, and margins. Which is what the wine business really is, and not all that foolishness that the Winestream Media would have you believe.

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