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Winebits 399: Wine packaging, craft wine, vinho verde

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wine packaging

Stack those bottles: The Wine Curmudgeon rarely gets to offer advice to big-time financial reporters, but Charles Passy at the MarketWatch website should check out this post about wine packaging. Or this one. Consumers aren’t much interested in wine that comes in containers that aren’t 750-milliliter bottles. That should temper his enthusiasm for something called XO G wines, four 187-milliliter bottles that come stacked on top of each other. He waxes poetic about the packaging, even though there has traditionally been little interest in this kind of bottle. Interestingly, Passy says it doesn’t matter that XO G can best be described as “not horribly offensive,” since wine drinkers will buy the product because the packaging is clever. I wonder: Would he have written that sentence about any other consumer packaged good, advising us to buy not horribly offensive ketchup because the bottle was cute?

Do grapes matter? A Tennessee craft spirits producer whose motto is “booze for badasses” will expand into wine, so perhaps they should read Friday’s post about craft wine. It’s one thing to buy grain to make whiskey; it’s something completely different to buy grapes from California to make wine in Tennessee (to say nothing of the difference in production techniques). As the line gets blurred between craft products, expect to see more of this happen. How successful these endeavors will be will depend on whether the companies are serious about it, or whether they see it as as nothing more than marketing. In which case they’ll be stuck with a lot of unsold Tennessee chardonnay made with California grapes.

Lots of green wine: Vinho verde, the cheap and simple and often satisfying Portuguese wine, sold more than one-half million cases in the U.S. last year, an amazing total for a product with no marketing, little brand recognition, and limited distribution. The story doesn’t seem to know why this is happening, though it does make an effort to include premiumization in the explanation even though most vinho verde costs less than $10. That people are buying vinho verde because it isn’t expensive, tastes slightly different from white wine at that price, and is fun to drink has apparently escaped them.

Why don’t these wines have screwcaps?

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scewcapsThe Wine Curmudgeon has been tasting mostly red wine this month, and especially cabernet sauvignon, in an effort to get more wines that I don’t normally drink on the blog. Quality, even around $10, has been surprisingly good, but there has been one major disappointment. Not only do most of the wines have corks instead of screwcaps, but they come in heavy, old-fashioned bottles.

Which raises the question, which I’ve raised before and which is worth raising again: Why don’t these popularly-priced wines use screwcaps and come in lighter bottles? That would make the wines less expensive to produce, lower their carbon footprint, increase profit, and even possibly lower cost. And neither would affect quality.

Consider: The bottle for a 2003 white Burgundy — about as high end as wine gets — weighs 22 ounces and is closed with a cork. The bottle for the $5 Rene Barbier wines, closed with a screwcap, weighs 14 ounces. Yet most of the producers whose wines I’ve tasted use some kind of cork and unnecessarily heavy bottles, often closer to the white Burgundy than the Barbier. Some examples:

• The $11 Pigmentum malbec from France, 19 ounces, artificial cork.

• The $12 Errazauriz cabernet sauvignon from Chile, 15 ounces, screwcap. Ironically, the producer recently changed bottles, cutting the weight by 12 1/2 percent. Otherwise, it would be 17 ounces.

• The $12 Josh Cellars cabernet sauvignon from California, 22 ounces, natural cork.

• The $16 Bonterra zinfandel from California, 23 ounces, artificial cork. The irony? That Bonterra is one of the best selling green wine brands in the country.

• The $17 Downton Abbey claret from France, 19 ounces, natural cork.

In these cases, sadly, appearance is all. The Downton Abbey is the most obvious example, but even the others work from the assumption that consumers expect quality wine to come in heavy bottles with some kind of cork. We can argue forever about screwcaps vs. corks, but the one thing that isn’t in debate is that screwcaps are perfectly acceptable for most of the wine we drink. And there is absolutely no debate about the bottle. This isn’t 1890, when bottle weight mattered, protecting the wine from the perils of 19th century shipping. Lighter weight, given today’s bottle technology, is just as effective. Fifty million cases of Two-buck Chuck are proof of that.

Obviously, what’s in the bottle matters most. At some point, though, the bottle and closure itself is going to matter, whether producers believe it or not.

Winebits 317: Kickstarter, cheap wine, wine packaging

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Winebits 317: Kickstarter, cheap wine, wine packaging

How would this look in your back yard?

Don’t we all need a tasting room? Kickstarter is one of the good things the Internet made possible, and I’d say that even if I didn’t raise money for the cheap wine book that way. Consider this: The WinePort portable tasting room for your back yard, devised by Annette Orban of Phoenix. She needs to raise $5,248 by the end of the month, but isn’t very far along despite the idea’s genius (and my $25 pledge). The WinePort measures 200 square feet and is made of recycled materials. Her target audience is wineries, but I don’t see why it wouldn’t work for wine drinkers who live in more hospitable summer climates than mine. Click on the link to pledge; you won’t be charged unless she reaches her goal.

A toast to Korbel: The California winery’s sparkling rose that is, which was a sweepstakes winner in the 2014 San Francisco Chronicle Wine Competition, one of the most prestigious in the country. The cost? $11, which means it will be showing up a review here sooner rather than later. A $12 rose, from Washington’s Barnard Griffin, was also a sweepstakes winner, though I doubt there is much availability. Korbel isn’t always a favorite of the Winestream Media; I wonder if there will be a backlash against it, as there was for Two-buck Chuck when it won double golds at another big-time California competition.

Bring on the wine in a box: The always curious Mike Veseth at The Wine Economist visits Kroger to see if wine in something other than bottles is making any headway. His conclusion? There was an alternative packages section in the wine department, which “makes sense generally, I think, because wine has moved beyond the standard 750-milliliter and 1.5-liter glass bottles to include many other containers. The fact that there is a separate wall of these wines suggests that the customer who comes shopping for alternatives is a bit different from the glass bottle buyer.” In this, Veseth has almost certainly identified one of the biggest — and least understood — changes in the wine business: the growing divide between older and more typical wine drinkers and younger and less traditional wine drinkers.

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