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Tag Archives: wine business

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.

Robert Parker, Parkerization, and the judgment of history

Dear Mr. Parker:

I smiled when I read details of your recent interview with the French wine magazine Terre des Vins, where you said you didn’t think Parkerization – the idea that wines should be richer, riper, and more alcoholic, a practice that has become de rigueur for many high-end producers in France and California – existed. It reminded me what Joan Baez once said: That she never wanted to be famous, just well known.

Yes, Parkerizaton exists (as even your wife has apparently noted). Why else would I get a sample of $50, 15.2 percent California pinot noir, other than to impress you? It’s not like anyone else would want to drink it.

Frankly, denying Parkerization is too Shakespeare – you are protesting too much. Instead, you should acknowledge the influence you had on the wine business over the past 20 years, when even the greatest French producers would accept your verdict as gospel. That’s pretty damned impressive.

Before Ernest Hemingway, everyone wrote like Henry James. After Hemingway, everyone wrote like Hemingway. Papa reveled in that, and never tired of reminding the world that he was behind it. See the scenes with F. Scott Fitzgerald in “A Moveable Feast” for evidence.

My guess, and it’s only a guess, because we’ve never met and I don’t know you (though I greatly respect your work) is that you were having a Baez-like moment. Could all the changes in the wine business and the way wine is made have really happened because of you? You were, all those years ago, just an attorney who loved wine. There’s no way you, one man, could have changed so much, is there?

Afraid so, and you only have a couple of choices now. Accept your role, like Hemingway (without the looniness, hopefully). There are an almost infinite number of wine writers who wish they were in that position. Or, if you really think Parkerization is wrong, say so. Say it forcefully and often. Look back at what you wrote and see where, maybe, you opted for unctuousness (one of your favorite terms) over subtlety. And did it happen more often than you remember?

Regardless, accept that most of us would not be doing this sort of thing if not for you. I, for one, am grateful for that.

Sincerely.

Jeff Siegel
The Wine Curmudgeon

Big Wine: 5 companies, 60 percent of sales, 200 brands

Call it serendipity. Shortly after my blog posts about Big Wine at the end of last year, a Michigan State study offered even more data about how Big Wine works and how it has changed the business.

The paper, “Concentration in the U.S. Wine Industry,” was compiled by Phil Howard, an associate professor who studies consolidation. After doing soft drinks and beer, he told me, wine was the next logical step.

“And even I was surprised by what I found,” Howard said. “Wine was much different than what I thought. If you go to the stores, it seems like you have all these choices, because the shared ownership is not very apparent. We wanted to help consumers understand what they were really buying.”

More, after the jump:

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