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Winebits 377: Wine rant, direct shipping, wine police

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stuart piggott There’s ranting, and then there’s ranting: Stuart Piggott, an English wine writer who lives in Germany and champions riesling, has had quite enough of overoaked, high alcohol chardonnay, thank you very much. His screed takes on Kistler, one of the most popular (and expensive) of those wines; imagine Monty Python meeting GoodFellas. It’s funny, spot on, and contains a couple of words we don’t use on the blog for those of you who worry about those things. Most importantly, Piggott doesn’t dismiss all chardonnay because of some, but points out that chardonnay that’s varietally correct is still one of the great wines in the world.

A long way to go: ShipCompliant, which helps wineries with the maze that are federal and state liquor laws. notes that we still have a long to go before out-of-state retailers can ship wine to most consumers. Currently, only 14 states allow retailer shipping, and that doesn’t include the biggest markets in the country, like New York, Pennsylvania, Texas, Illinois, and Florida. The Wine Curmudgeon, who has often been accused of disparaging direct shipping, mentions this not for that reason, but to note that until three-tier changes, most of us will not be able to legally order wine from an out of state retailer, no matter what the hype.

Turn it into bio-fuel: How out of touch with reality are liquor cops and health officials? Consider this, from South Africa, where cheap pinotage has been accused of causing one region’s drinking problems. The Western Cape premier wants producers to turn their grapes into bio-fuel instead of wine as one way to combat the problem, but apparently failing to note that there is no feasible method to do that and that other booze, like ale, is substantially cheaper than wine. Said a wine industry spokesman: “We accept that alcohol abuse is a very big problem in the Western Cape, but we believe that there should be a focus on illegal traders and [unlicensed bars] — some of whom even sell alcohol on credit.”

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?

“Our panel of experts:” Irony and non-winery wine clubs

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wine club expertsThird-party wine clubs — those that aren’t part of wineries — have always made the Wine Curmudgeon smile. How about the the website that rates wine clubs, and that also rates the wine clubs that the site operates? Or the wine club that offers “first-class” cabernet sauvignon from Spain, a concept that makes as much sense as coming here to find cult wine recommendations from Napa Valley.

Typically, most third-party wine clubs don’t tell you the wines you’re going to get or how they pick the wines you’re going to get. They trade on the group’s name, but are otherwise separate; hence a  newspaper wine club is a marketing tool that has nothing to do with the newspaper’s wine reporting. Mostly, there’s flowery language — “small-batch wines of real flair and value,” which means absolutely nothing when you try to parse it — and lots of promises about how good the wines are. Plus tasting notes, because all wine needs tasting notes, doesn’t it?

Which makes me wonder: Most of us wouldn’t buy shoes this way, sight unseen and trusting to someone else’s judgement. So why would we buy wine this way?

My newest smile is Global Wine Company, which runs the New York Times and Washington Post wine clubs plus those for retailer Williams-Sonoma, More and Food & Wine magazines, and celebrity chef Michael Mina. Check out the people who run the company — accountants and bankers, and a woman who helped make the PowerBar famous. There is no mention of the “panel of experts” who pick the wines, and about the only wine-related information I could find was this: “GWC handles all global wine sourcing, state compliance, and customer fulfillment, which enable partners to expand their brands into wine and drive recurring revenue.”

Mmmm, drive recurring revenue. How yummy does that sound?

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