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When Does A Winemaker’s Job End? (Touring The World’s Leading Synthetic Cork Operation)

Vinted on October 9, 2012 binned in commentary, on the road

“That was an interesting concept for me,” Jeff Slater, Nomacorc’s Marketing Director, told us as he presented research findings on alternative wine closures; “winemaking continuing after bottling.”

A few weeks ago, I and a small cadre of wine press toured Nomacorc’s Zebulon, North Carolina manufacturing facility as media guests, meeting with their upper brass and donning lab coats to see how their synthetic wine closures – the only ones in the business to offer specific oxygen transfer rates – are made.

And Slater (who has his own -  quite engaging – personal blog, by the way), had gotten me thinking with that comment. When does a winemaker’s job end? If you believe Nomacorc, that job – at least when it comes to any particular wine release – doesn’t stop when the bottle gets sealed.

Nomacorc might not be a household wine geek name, but in terms of numbers the odds are good that you’ve had your corkscrew in at least one of their products at some point. As of 2011, Nomacorc had around 70% of the synthetic cork market, and were the second-largest closure manufacturer in the world, topping off 13% of all still wines globally by market share. Thanks to deals with mega-producers Kendall-Jackson, Cupcake and Barefoot, nine out of every ten Chardonnay bottles in the U.S. are stopped with a Nomacorc closure.

Put another way, recycling has become a major concern and big priority for Nomacorc (according to CEO Lars von Kantzow), because they produce two billion (yes, with a “b”) closures per year: 1 in 5 of every wine in France, 1 in 4 for Germany, 1 in 3 for the U.S., by volume. They’ve churned out something like two corks for every human on Earth since they entered the market in 1999, when their founder, Belgian Gert Noel, got fed up with having one too many corked wines and worked with his son to develop an alternative.

So, yeah, you’ve seen one of these closures. And chances are good that you’ve not thought much about them, either. As Slater put it when he summarized a 2011 Merrill Research survey of about 600 wine consumers: “it’s like the laces in your shoes; you don’t think about it unless it breaks”

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Millennial Wine Marketing Misfire (Note To High-End Vino Producers: You Don’t Have An “Entry-Level” Wine)

Vinted on October 2, 2012 binned in commentary, wine buying

If you’re a wine producer and calling, say, your refreshing but probably overpriced (c’mon, let’s be honest) $35 Sauvignon Blanc an “entry level” wine, you might be missing the trick with both the older (now in the 30s) and younger (just reaching legal drinking age) Millennial generation.

That conclusion isn’t based on reams of hard data (believe me, I tried to find those reams, and no one has them… yet…), and so I will go ahead and do you the favor of substantially undermining my own argument here before I even start. But… there are some signs in the wine marketplace worth mentioning, signs that might be of concern to those vintners who offer “lower-priced” wines over $25 labeled as “entry level,” secondary products without as much focus as their high-end stuff. And they are signs that suggest that the target markets don’t consider those wines as much “entry level” (a term they most likely associate with “affordable”) as they do “splurge.”

Consider these tidbits:

Which means that your “entry level” wine is actually splurge material for most Millennials, and yet is probably marketed as an adjunct to your “real” wines (the more expensive ones) that most of them can’t afford even if they’re splurging. Hellooooo, mixed messages!…

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Have You Ever Had A 16 Percent ABV Wine That Was Really Balanced?

Vinted on September 25, 2012 binned in commentary

With all my talk recently about alcohol not being anywhere near as important factor in quality wine as overall balance, I asked myself a tough question in the wake of that talk, and I couldn’t come up with a good answer.

When was the last time you’ve had a wine that was over 16% alcohol that seemed balanced?

Personally, I drew a total blank.

There literally isn’t one dry, still wine (non-fortified… Ports for example are definitely not included in this mini-analysis) I can recall that clocked in above 16% abv that on the whole felt compellingly balanced to me.

Anyone? Buehler? Buehler???

Of course, part of the reason for this is likely due to the fact that I just don’t record abv when I review wines… but I might starting doing exactly that, if only for experimental and self-education purposes. And the number of 16%+ abv still wines out there probably isn’t all that large, the majority probably clocking in somewhere between 12% and 15% abv when you’re talking still, dry fine wines. But having said that…

While I’ve also had plenty of juice in the 15%+ range that were great – big wines, no doubt, but also damn good ones -  of the wines that I can recall that clocked in somewhere in 16%+ booziness range, none of them were great, balanced offerings. In fact, most of them were way off the mark when it comes to balance; boozy, raisined, overly pruney, and a chore to drink.

So I’m hereby amending my previous diatribe, adding that there may actually be logical limits to balance. And while I won’t ever go on record as saying that great, balanced still wines can’t be made in that abv range, I sure as hell think it makes the job of achieving greatness that much harder.

What about you? Have you had a dry wine over 16% abv that you thought was balanced? Shout ‘em out!

Cheers!

Getting Hip At The Washington Post, And Raiding The Wine Expense Account With Ornellaia At Playboy.com

Vinted on September 20, 2012 binned in commentary, kick-ass wines, Wined Down (Playboy.com)

A couple of weeks ago, I cropped up in two totally unrelated places on the “Global Interwebs” – Playboy.com (which you expected, right?) and The Washington Post (which, admit it, you didn’t expect).

The Washington Post article, titled Some wineries adding a little hip to swirl, sniff and sip routine, was one of those rare instances where I was interviewed for a wine piece and then was actually quoted in the finished work. The quotes I’ve given to reporters have been so… well, probably so damned odd that my contribution to most wine-related article interviews seem to hit the cutting room floor more often than they do any column space. [ UPDATE: the original WP article link is DOA, but looks like Yahoo! News also picked it up so changed links to point to that version. Sorry! ]

I thought it worth mentioning because this particular AP article focused on wineries that were bucking the status quo in order to make trips to their tasting rooms more fun (imagine! the audacity!); the author had nice things to say about recent efforts in that space by Raymond Vineyards, Judd’s Hill and Brooklyn Winery, and at one point quotes me:

“The wine world’s about eight years behind everything with the exception of bottling lines and production techniques,” he says with a laugh.

The thing is, I don’t really recall laughing about it (at least not on the inside); if I did, it was I-work-in-an-office-and-this-Dilbert-strip-is-funny-but-it-also-really-hurts-because-life-in-my-office-is-really-like-that funny. I honestly believe that the wine world generally functions that far behind most other industries, and as amazing as the wine biz is, that lag is one of the most painful things about trying to get anything moving in the biz.

Anyway… on to happier topics…

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