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Winebits 310: Restaurant wine, wineries for sale, top grape growers

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Wine by the glass: Restaurant wine is one of the most frustrating of all the frustrating things in wine, what with high prices, poor selection, and indifferent service. And restaurant wine by the glass programs are even more frustrating. My pal Tim McNally offers an in-depth look at what’s wrong with wine by the glass and how it can be fixed: “Lack of product knowledge, lack of good business sense, lack of staff training and lack of desire to serve the customer’s needs all play a role in failed [wine by the glass] programs. … This is not rocket science. This is common sense with a profit reward at the end of the transaction.”

Want to buy a winery? Talk during the recession was that any number of California wineries were ready to go under, victims of what the economic slump did to sales. But none ever seemed to fold, and no one was sure if that was because their lenders didn’t want to forclose (what’s a bank going to do with a winery?), an influx of private cash, or very quiet purchases. Now, Shanken News Daily hints at what might have happened and is still going on: “But it’s an under-the-radar market. Plenty of wineries, faced with tough finances or generational change, are looking for buyers. But they’re not advertising the fact.” My guess is that this part of the structural change in the wine business that started during the recession and is continuing — more consolidation, the biggest multi-nationals getting bigger, and the appearance of mid-sized big companies  (for lack of a better term) like Foley Family Wines, which have been formed by combining a variety of producers who needed or wanted to sell.

The biggest grape growers: One of wine’s enduring myths is the artisanal harvest, where the grapes are picked with loving care by the people who own the winery. The truth, of course, is much different; grape harvests for most of the world are as mechanized as corn and soybeans. This was reinforced by a report in a farming trade magazine that detailed the biggest grape growers in the country; five of the top 10 wine grape farmers are cheap wine companies, led by Bronco (which makes Two-buck Chuck) at No. 1 and E&J Gallo at No. 3. That they control their grape supply, and don’t have to buy it elsehwere, is one reason why they can sell their wine for so little.

Winebits 292: Wine lists, Burgundy, torrontes

No, no, no: The Italian Wine Guy parses a new restaurant wine list and finds it lacking – for the same reasons so many restaurant wine lists fail. “What it all boils down to is this: making a commitment to being an ambassador for good tasting wines, whether they be from Italy or California or anywhere in the world. Forget what you think your clients are looking for. They are looking for a good time.” Why is it that so few restaurants, regardless of concept or price, understand this? Or, as I write in The Cheap Wine Book (maybe about a month away): “Restaurant bosses would never treat a chicken breast the way they treat a bottle of wine, because they know no one would eat an overpriced piece of poor quality chicken that has gone off. But they think nothing of doing this with wine.”

Poor, poor Burgundy: Who knew that the French wine region, home of some of the world’s best pinot noir and chardonnay, had something in common with west Texas? Violent hailstorms, which regularly devastate the Texas grape crop, reportedly caused catastrophic damage in parts of Burgundy this month, and as much as 90 percent of the vines were damaged. I wonder: Does this mean we’ll be seeing For Sale in Burgundy Only wines from the 2013 vintage? (Sorry. That’s a very wine geeky joke, but I couldn’t help myself. Explanation here.)

Argentina’s white grape: How important is torrontes, the often sweet white wine made with the grape of the same name, to the Argentine wine business? How about crucial? The country exports 99 percent of the torrontes it makes, according to a recent report, and exports increased 48 percent between 2009 and 2012. Amazingly, given the grape’s popularity in the U.S., it’s only the sixth best seller in Argentina, behind even syrah and muscat.

Macaroni Grill’s half-off wine promotion

Screenshot - 06132013 - 07:31:09 AMOr, how not to publicize something good that you’re doing for wine and your customers. Which makes me wonder: Does anyone in the popularly-priced restaurant business care about wine at all? And what does that attitude say about getting Americans to think of wine as something to drink every day?

Because this was supposed to be a glowing post about how smart and clever the new owners of the Romano’s Macaroni Grill Italian chain are. This summer, the company is selling wine at its some 200 stores in 36 states for half price. Given the restaurant business’ track record for wine pricing, this is not unlike giving free dinners to customers for no particular reason at all.

And the wine list isn’t bad. Yes, there is a lot of the usual junk but also Villa Maria, Emiliana, and 14 Hands (at half-price $13.50, practically retail) – and the Prunotto Barbaresco is a steal at half-price $33.

So you’d think the bosses at Ignite Restaurant Group would be eager and enthusiastic to talk about this, right? And you’d be wrong. More, after the jump:

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