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Winebits 356: Big Wine edition

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wine news big wineBecause it’s always worth knowing what the six companies that control 60 percent of the U.S. wine business, plus their biggest competitors, are up to:

The biggest producer you’ve never heard of: Delicato Family Vineyards makes 5 million cases of wine a year, almost all of it Great Wall of Grocery store stuff, and almost all of it in anonymity. You might have heard of some of its brands, like Bota Box and Gnarly Head, but the winery itself is perfectly happy to be little known. That’s why this two-part interview (here and here) with Delicato president and CEO Chris Indelicato, conducted by the Shanken News Service is worthwhile. Indelicato talked about wine prices and that another big harvest in California this year will mean lower margins for producers, if not lower prices for consumers; that we’ll see more cheap pinot noir that doesn’t exactly taste like pinot noir because consumers want it; and that consumers are smarter than they used to be. Which doesn’t exactly jibe with doing Bota Box pinot noir and what Indelicato calls the consumer’s demand for soft — i.e., sweet — red, but who am I to argue with a 5 million case producer?

• Big companies, big results: Each year, the Impact trade magazine names its Blue Chip Brands, which have to meet growth and profit targets. Not surprisingly (at least for those of us paying attention), one of the Big Six, Constellation Brands, and Diageo, in the top 15, account for nearly one-third of the 2014  of Blue Chip Brands for beer, spirits, and wine. Constellation’s wines included Woodbridge, Black Box, Estancia, Ruffino, Kim Crawford, and Simi, though Diageo’s brands were all beer and spirits. I’d also mention that all but one of the Constellation wines cost $10 or less, but that would probably be preaching to the choir.

Big and getting bigger: The news release itself is close to useless, full of jargon and terms most of us don’t understand. But the gist is what matters: That Chile’s Concha y Toro, the biggest Latin American wine producer with $950 million in sales, is growing at a rate of 18 percent a year. That makes it one of the 15 biggest wine companies in the U.S. market, with more market share here than Diageo.  Again, this is a company that most wine drinkers don’t know (though they have likely heard of Fetzer, which Concha bought in 2011). In this, it’s another example of how the biggest companies continue to tighten their grip on the market.

Big Wine tightened its grip on the U.S. market in 2013

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Big Wine tightened its grip on the U.S. market

So how many smaller wine companies should we buy this year?

Big Wine tightened its grip on the U.S market in 2013, with new figures showing that three companies accounted for more than half of all the wine produced during those 12 months. E&J Gallo, The Wine Group, and Constellation Wines totalled some 187.5 million cases of the 370 million produced.

Throw in the next three biggest companies — Bronco, home of Two-buck Chuck; Trinchero Family Estates; and Treasury — and that total rises to 241.4 million cases — about two-thirds of the wine made in the U.S. The top 30 by themselves account for some 90 percent; in other words, all the wine that those of us who write about wine love to write about? Hardly anyone drinks it. No wonder availability is such an issue.

More, after the jump:

Winebits 324: WC favorites edition

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Winebits 324: WC favorites edition

Will empty tables force restaurants to change the way they approach wine?

Because the things that fascinate me about wine and that consumers need to know — and which rarely include toasty and oaky — keep making news:

Distributor clout, once again: When in doubt, they get out the checkbooks, reports an Ohio newspaper group. The state’s beer and wine wholesalers donated $146,000 to Buckeye state lawmakers around the time the Ohio legislature passed a bill — apparently, without anyone knowing — that made it illegal for the world’s biggest brewer to buy more distributorships in the state. In addition, said the story, “both Republicans and Democrats benefited from the wholesalers’ cash. And donations sometimes rose noticeably around the time a key vote was scheduled.” My favorite part of the article is the quote that says the distributors, who have a constitutionally-protected monopoly that all but guarantees them profits, were saving Ohioans from the nefarious actions of an evil multi-national beer company. Talk about the pot calling the kettle black.

Restaurant sales still slow: The restaurant business continues to struggle, says this story from Nation’s Restaurant News, and no one is quite sure why. Is it the result of the worst winter in 40 years? Is it a hangover from the recession, which never really ended for all but the most high-end restaurants? Is it a fundamental shift in the way Americans eat? The restaurant business matters in wine, as regular visitors here know, because restaurants go out of their way to hurt wine. And the slump in restaurant sales, which has lasted more than five years, may force changes in the way restaurants deal with wine, which means better quality and lower prices. Or so some very smart analysts have told me.

The biggest wine companies: Mike Veseth at the Wine Economist looks at disintermediation, an economic term that refers to the specialization of labor. In this case, it’s about the number of employees needed to to make a case of wine. Not surprisingly, the formula is not as simple as it sounds, and speaks to the way post-modern business works — outsourcing, contractors, and the like. Many of the biggest wine companies don’t own vineyards or even wineries; one company, Castle Rock, produced 550,000 cases with just nine employees. “With product chain disintermediation, the number of people actually employed by a winery can be surprisingly small with that tiny workforce specializing  in coordinating the various firms and contractors that make up the links in the chain,” wrote Veseth. What this means for consumers? Less expensive wine, of course, since disintermediation lowers the cost of production.

Image courtesy of Berenika, via stock.xchng, using a Creative Commons license

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