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Tag Archives: three-tier system

Winebits 423: Kroger wine, direct shipping, Bordeaux

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kroger wineThe big get richer: The Wall Street Journal is reporting that Kroger wants to contract management of its wine and beer departments to Southern Wine & Spirits, the biggest distributor in the country, so that the grocer doesn’t have to worry about buying or stocking the shelves. If accurate, this represents another significant change in the way we buy wine and the choices we get when we do. For one thing, Kroger is one of the biggest wine retailers in the country, and has paid for political campaigns to allow supermarket wine sales in many states, including Texas. Second, Southern could favor its brands over those of other distributors, giving its products better shelf space. Third, and the story isn’t clear on this, producers would have to pay Southern for the privilege of having it manage the shelves, and how many small producers could afford to pay those fees? I’m going to follow this story, because if it happens, other big retailers will follow, and our wine-buying lives will get that much more difficult.

Rapid growth: The direct shipping market — wine sold to consumers directly from the winery and the only exception to the three-tier systemgrew eight percent last year, to almost $2 billion. Which is a lot, though some perspective is needed: the U.S. wine market totaled about $39 billion in sales in 2014, so direct shipping represents less than five percent of the total. In addition, direct sales are focused on consumers in just five states, and one of them is California, where shipping costs are less of a factor. Also, the cost of the average bottle sold directly is $38, which means most U.S. wine drinkers are priced out of the DTC market. (And a tip o’ the Curmdgeon’s fedora to Steve McIntosh at Winethropology for sending this my way.)

Cheap by whose standards? The Wine Curmudgeon has long advocated that Bordeaux’s sales problems in the U.S. are a function of price, and this gem from the Village Voice demonstrates that nothing has changed. It touts the value in the current vintages of Bordeaux, yet only one of the eight wines in the story costs less than $25, a $17 bottle from what’s called a satellite appellation — a lesser region of Bordeaux. To add insult to injury, the story says it’s difficult to find satellite appellation wines because they usually don’t have scores and you will have to consult a “Bordeaux connoisseur.”  Yeah, like most wine drinkers have a Bordeaux connoisseur in their phone. And aren’t we done with scores yet?

The 2015 Curmudgies

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2015 curmudgiesWelcome to the 2015 Curmudgies, the fourth time we’ve given the awards to the people and institutions that did their best over the previous 12 months to make sure wine remained confusing, difficult to understand, and reserved for only the haughtiest among us. This year’s winners:

Worst news release: Another banner year for releases that insulted my intelligence, committed any number of grammatical errors, and did nothing to promote the product. The winner is 24-Group PR & Marketing for a release for Three Hunters Vodka, which included this foolishness (and a hat tip to my pal Tim McNally, who sent it my way): “We live in a time when some of the most important choices we make come prepackaged and predetermined by companies who know nothing about us. The decisions we make about the things we put in our bodies are constantly manipulated by clever and misleading advertising, and misconceptions about nutrition and health.” Why would anyone write that about vodka? Also, it is a classic example of the pot calling the kettle black.

The regional wine award, or the more things change, the more they stay the same: To every restaurant in Dallas, and there are too many to list here, that doesn’t carry Texas wine. This is a disgrace given the improved quality and availability of Texas wine in the second decade of the 21st century, and speaks to the restaurant wine mentality that makes wine drinkers crazy. If Lucia can find a Texas wine to include on its otherwise all Italian list, so can the rest of you.

The three-tier system is our friend award: To the 200 Minnesota cities that, thanks to one of the oddest state liquor laws in the country, operate their own liquor stores. As the Star-Tribune newspaper reports in a solid piece of journalism, “In 2014, 34 Minnesota cities, all outstate, lost a total of $480,000 on their liquor outlets — money they had to backfill from their own coffers. Another 60 outstate cities saw sales drop from the previous year.” Given how much trouble so many cities, big and small, have doing basics like police and fire protection and garbage pickup, that some want to run liquor stores is mind boggling.

The Wine Spectator will always be the Wine Spectator: For James Laube’s February 2015 blog post, which included this: “If you want to save more and waste less [on wine], consider how much money you spend on wine that you don’t drink, and how many bottles of wine you opened last year that should have been opened sooner.” Wine that we don’t drink, huh? Wine that we let sit in the cellar too long? Wish I had those problems. That one of the Spectator’s top columnists wrote about it speaks to how little the magazine has to do with how almost all of us drink wine.

Would someone please listen to this person? The positive Curmudgie, given to someone who advances the cause of wine sensibility despite all of the obstacles in their way. The winner this year is Forbes’ Cathy Huyghe, who spent the month of November writing about the wine that most of us drink, and not what Forbes’ one percenters drink. “…[I]t has turned out to be one of the most eye-opening projects I’ve ever done. … The longer I’m a wine writer, the further away it’s possible to get from the wines that most people drink.”

For more Curmudgies
The 2014 Curmudgies
The 2013 Curmudgies
The 2012 Curmudgies

The Comet Lovejoy wine phenomenon

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comet lovejoy wine

But how do they get a bottling line up there?

Astronomers were surprised to find that some comets produce alcohol, as well as sugar, as they travel around the solar system “We found that comet Lovejoy was releasing as much alcohol as in at least 500 bottles of wine every second during its peak activity,” said Nicolas Biver of the Paris Observatory in France.

This is huge news, given that one theory supposes that comets crashing into the the Earth 3.8 billion years brought with them the carbon-based organic molecules, like alcohol and sugar, that may have jump-started life on our planet. Which is all well and good, but comet Lovejoy wine raises equally important questions for those of us who worry about those things:

• Do the comets know about the three-tier system? Lovejoy was producing the equivalent of 150,000 cases an hour, and we all know that the country’s distributors aren’t going to let that happen without them. They’ve paid entirely too much money to state legislators to let a comet ruin things. And I can only imagine the horror if Lovejoy passed anywhere near Pennsylvania, with its state store system.

• Will E&J Gallo, the Big Wine producer that has made hundreds of millions of dollars of acquisitions this year, buy the comet to add to its portfolio? A sweet Lovejoy red, since the comet threw off sugar, would slide in nicely next to Gallo brands like Apothic and Barefoot on grocery store shelves. And how could a back label that said “Comet Lovejoy wine — out of this world” miss?

• Can the Winestream Media adapt its tasting notes to comet-produced wine? Toasty and oaky, given how cold it is in space, just aren’t going to work. Maybe something like “hints of vacuum linger on the finish”? And how do you a score a comet wine? Does it get 92 points just because it’s from a comet? Or do you take points off for that, since outer space is not Napa Valley?

Photo courtesy of Adam Block Photos, using a Creative Commons license

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