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Tag Archives: wine writing

Why the Wine Curmudgeon doesn’t like the Super Bowl

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super bowl

Am I the only one who thinks this pairing looks silly?

The Wine Curmudgeon doesn’t like the Super Bowl. This is not just because I was once a sportswriter and soon tired of sports’ hypocrisy, and especially the NFL’s obsession with money. And more money. And even more money.

Or that, living in Dallas, more people attend Cowboys games than usually vote in mayoral elections. Which always seems to annoy them when I bring it up.

Or that I get pathetic pitches from hard-up marketing and public relations types, desperate to turn the Super Bowl into a wine event. This week, someone wanted me to write about the Sea Hawks, which is an Errol Flynn movie and not a football team. The Super Bowl is a beer event. And a pizza event. But it’s as much about wine as St. Patrick’s Day is, and who ever heard of green-colored wine?

But mostly I don’t like the Super Bowl because no one reads the blog over Super Bowl weekend. I get more visitors on Christmas Day than I do during the Super Bowl, which shocked me the first time it happened and still makes me pause. What this says about the United States in the 21st century is something that I will leave to others more versed in the study of that sort of thing.

So enjoy the Super Bowl, and I’ll see you next week. I will spend Sunday messing around the house — maybe baking some bread, trying to get a few posts ahead on the blog, or working on my notes for my next wine class at El Centro. But I won’t watch the game, which I haven’t done since 1986. And somehow, my life has gone on.

Winebits 370: Wine writing ethics, Big Wine, beer sales

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wine writing ethicsFull disclosure: The Wine Curmudgeon stopped writing about wine writing a couple of years ago; it boosted the blog’s numbers, but didn’t advance the causes that the blog believes in, like wine education. But this item, from Australian wine writer Max Allen, does matter for anyone who wants to be able to trust what they read: “When a wine writer threatens to sue another wine writer for telling the truth, you know things are getting serious. … Advertorial is masquerading as editorial. And our readers — the people we’re meant to be writing for — are in the dark about it all.” This is something that has been bothering me for several years, and I touched on it in last fall’s birthday week essay. So Allen’s post is worth writing about, given its honest discussion about what’s going wrong — writers taking money from wineries; conflicts of interest that no one talks about because they’d have to stop doing them; and how content has changed in the digital age from something independently written to something written so it will sell something paid. Any wine drinker who cares about getting an honest assessment for wine they’re paying for should read it.

Fewer mergers? One of my wine trends for 2015 was the continuation of something that started at least a decade ago — Big Wine getting bigger, buying up smaller companies. Turns out I may have been wrong, and not just about this year. A study at FoodBev.com reports that wine acquisitions worldwide were down by a quarter worldwide in 2014. Still, before the mea culpas, it’s worth noting that wine tied for sixth on the list of food and drinks deals in 2014, an impressive showing given its smaller size relative to the rest of the food and drinks business, like packaging, soft drinks, and dairy.

No end to the slide: The beer business continues to slowly erode, which I cover on the blog because it ties into American drinking habits. SABMiller, one of the two companies that controls most of the world’s beer production, saw its North American sales decline two percent in the nine months ending in December. Which means the holiday season didn’t rescue the company. This is part of a long-term tend that has seen beer sales slowly decline since the beginning of the recession, as Americans shift away from beer, which has dominated alcohol sales in the U.S. for decades. So we shouldn’t be surprised by the growth in wine sales.

Wine trends in 2015

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wine trends in 2015Wine trends in 2015 will be similar to wine trends in 2014 — wine drinkers will see more wines they’ve never heard of and we’ll be able to buy those wines at more places than ever before, including and especially grocery stores. Along the way, Big Wine will continue to get bigger, and even wine writing could see significant changes, as those of us who don’t have money behind us will stop doing it.

More private labels. Retailers love private labels, like Trader Joe’s Two-buck Chuck or Costco’s Kirkland, because it gives them a product no one else has and because they make more money than with national brands. Case in point: The Total Wine chain sells many national brands at its cost, and makes its money on its Winery Direct private labels. We’ll see more private labels because retailers are desperate to boost margins at a time when they can’t, for whatever reason, raise prices. Nielsen reports (and I’m going to write more about this later this month) that private label wine sales were up 11 percent last year, compared to 3.5 percent for all wine.

More chains. There has never been a national wine retailer, which has made perfect sense given three-tier and that there are 50 booze laws for 50 states, including some that don’t allow chains. But these companies are expanding despite the legal obstacles. Total Wine expects to double its sales to $3 billion by 2019, opening 12 to 15 stores a year, and Canadian retailer Liquor Stores N.A. wants to add to stores and states to the 36 locations it has in Kentucky and Alaska. My guess? That the chains will slowly move into as many states as possible, changing the laws when necessary. Theu’ll offer better prices and force independents to get better, which is what happened in the pet business. Petco and PetSmart didn’t crush the independents when they opened 20 years ago; in fact, independents still account for about 90 percent of all pet stores, though only about one-third of sales.

More grocery stores selling wine. This will change the wine business as we know it, despite repeated failures to get grocery store sales in Pennsylvania and New York. Supermarkets want wine because it’s more expensive than most of what they sell, and it helps them offer one-stop shopping. Plus, they have the financial clout to change laws in states that forbid grocery store sales, most recently in Tennessee. Again, this will pressure independents, who won’t be able to compete on price and will have to redouble efforts to offer quality service.

Consolidation. Big Wine will continue to buy smaller companies and increase its market share, with deals like this. In this, it will solidify its hold on retailer shelves, making it more difficult for smaller wineries with limited distribution to be sold in all but the most progressive independents. I’d guess that as many as three-quarters of the wines in a typical grocery store come from the six biggest wine companies, and that percentage will only get bigger.

Internet wine writing shakeout. Last fall’s news that Vinous bought Stephen Tanzer’s International Wine Cellar is the biggest development in wine writing since the Internet. It means someone has figured out that the only way to make money with wine writing on the Internet is to target the five percent of Americans who buy wine that costs more than $20 and that the only way to target them is to get big to compete with the Wine Spectator and the Wine Advocate. That’s not good news for those of us who don’t target that audience and don’t have the deep pockets to get big. Think of it as the wine writing equivalent of what Big Wine is doing, and wonder how many independents who are on the Wine Web Power Index will be there in five years.

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