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