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The Future of Small Wineries in America…?

Vinted on June 6, 2008 binned in wine news, wine shipping, winemaking


Forbes.com ran an interesting (and sobering) article this week about the future of small to medium wineries in the U.S. (primarily CA, WA, & OR).

What this article says is that, due to the proliferation of wineries, wine brands, and distributors (5000+, 7000+, and 450+ respectively – in the U.S. alone), consolidation is inevitable. Throw in the escalating fight for retail shelf space (usually won by the largest players with the most retail muscle) and skyrocketing land value prices in those aforementioned states, and you have an industry almost ripe for the picking. According to the Forbes.com article, a recent study by Silicon Valley Bank estimates that over 1000 of wineries in those states may change ownership in the next 10 years.

This is not just a situation impacting the U.S. Global competition is creating large wine brand conglomerates with global reach. And rising land prices are certainly not unique to U.S. wine properties – just check out Noble Rot to see what land value and inheritance taxes are doing to the Bordeaux wine area prices, which eventually are driving smaller players out of the market (and ins some cases, out of their family properties) entirely.

With all of this going on, you’d think that Internet wine sales might help to level the playing field for these smaller players.

And you’d be wrong. Way wrong…

Why? Because antiquated wine shipping and alcohol sales laws, as well as unfair state licensing fees effectively prevent many smaller wineries from selling their products online.

Those wineries that do brave the insanity of interstate sales have a heady task in front of them – according to the Forbes.com article:

A winery shipping a single case to each state that allows direct sales (there are now 37) would have to submit 725 forms to conform with sales, excise and state income taxes.

That’s not a joke.

This totally sucks, on two counts.

  1. Wineries with amazing products can’t get those products to people who want to buy them – resulting in lost sales, and, as mentioned in the Forbes.com article “family-owned microbrands have seen their pricing power and ability to demand shelf space trickle away.” This is Bad for the U.S.’s ailing economy.
  2. The average wine consumer also gets screwed in the process – fewer players controlling the wine brands available to you, and fewer ways for you to get those wine brands. So you can’t spend your money even if you wanted to – also Bad for the ailing economy.

I’ve contacted the campaign centers for the presumptive 2008 U.S. Presidential nominees, Senators Obama and McCain, to find out where they stand on the issue of interstate commerce and wine sales.

So far, I’ve received nothing but canned responses… but I’ll keep trying in the hopes that they answer, because for a geek like me this issue is part of the larger problem of archaic bureaucracy negatively impacting the economics of U.S. citizens. Watch this space…

Cheers!

(images: autocrisis.com, ecu.edu)

In the News: Can Red Wine Keep You Young at Heart?

Vinted on June 4, 2008 binned in wine health, wine news

No doubt that a glass or two of red vino can awaken your youthful enthusiasm, under the right circumstances of course (dining with friends, during a hot date…).

But can red wine literally make you young at heart? As in, keeping your ticker from aging?

Apparently it might, according to this article released today by BBC News.

Actually, what the article states is that our old friend Resvertatrol, a compound found in red wines, appears to be able to do this – for mice.

Actually, what the article states is that Resveratrol in substantially larger quantities than can be safely delivered to your body through normal amounts of responsible red wine drinking, might have an anti-aging effect on heart genes.

When we hit a real health breakthrough with wine compounds that has a positive impact on humans, we’ll know it – because it will be much bigger news than any of these important (but inconclusive) lead-up studies.

If I sound skeptical, it’s not because I think this type of research isn’t valuable. It’s because the media oversells this research a bit, thereby fueling a specious supplement market. And because I like to skeptical. And cynical (I know… what a jerk!).

Don’t be too swayed by the media around this. When we hit a real health breakthrough with wine compounds that has a positive impact on humans, we’ll know it – because it will be much bigger news than any of these important (but inconclusive) lead-up studies.

In the meantime, if you want to get some health benefit from red wine, then enjoy a glass tonight and let the joy of connecting with that wine allow your hair to come down for a few minutes. It will probably do just as much good (maybe more) than the resveratrol that you’re consuming at the same time…

Cheers!

(images: thefavoriteplace.com)

Hail to the King, Baby (Robert Mondavi 1913 – 2008)

Vinted on May 19, 2008 binned in wine news, winemaking

Most of you reading this will have heard by now that Robert Mondavi, patriarch founder of the Robert Mondavi winery enterprise, died on Friday, May 16, at the age of 94.

By the time this article posts to the web, there will probably be hundreds of well-written obits. available on the Internet.

Most of them will talk about how Mondavi literally redefined the world of winemaking by taking his (at the time far-flung) vision of putting California on the map as a fine wine locale – and making it a reality.

Most of them will talk about his charitable giving, and focus in his later years on establishing vital centers for the progression of art, food, and wine, most of which is chronicled in the book Harvests of Joy.

But I don’t think too many will venture into the Dark Side of Mondavi. How he squandered the family enterprise, for example, or how his lavish giving my have contributed to the downfall of his family-run business empire.

And you know what? That is totally okay by me.

Why?…

Because for every single thing that Mondavi screwed up, he did about one thousand things right.

Mondavi’s place in the world wine lore of history would be solidified if he was remembered only for establishing one of the world’s most successful wine businesses. But when you factor in that he literally conceived of – and then implemented – the modern CA wine industry, taught the U.S. how to make low-cost, high-volume wine of consistent quality, actually made friends with the French, and almost single-handedly introduced wine into the lexicon of the idea of “fine living” in the U.S., you have something else on your hands entirely.

For every single thing that Mondavi screwed up, he did about one thousand things right.

You have a veritable doer of great deeds.

A legend. A titan.

A King of the U.S. wine industry.


Oh, by the way, he did all of that stuff after he was 50 years old. You know, when most people have stopped working and have moved onto perfecting their golf games.

Is there a downside to all of this Kingliness? Sure.

Just as George Lucas’ Star Wars changed movie-making forever for both good and bad, Mondavi’s influence will forever be felt in the world of wine – both in making decent wine accessible to the masses, and in influencing the Parker-ized fruit bomb clones that currently flood the wine market.

Would you take that trade off? I certainly would.

Seems to me a small price to pay for the wine Kingdom of plenty that Mondavi was able to establish. Now, to the best of my knowledge I’ve never changed the world. But I imagine if I did, that I wouldn’t necessarily be able to predict all of the minor negative ramifications of my good deeds. Can you fault the guy for not being a clairvoyant on top of being the King?

It’s never too late to do great things.

The chasing of Parker scores is peanuts worth of collateral damage compared to that.

If I had to boil it down, I’d say that the Mondavi era hasn’t really taught me anything – at least, not anything I didn’t already know from my experience with another “King” – King Lear.

In Shakespeare’s Lear, the title character redeems his humanity – but only in the moments before his death at a very old age.

The lesson?

It’s never too late to do great things.

All Kings die – even the ones that are larger-than-life. But great deeds? Well, those don’t slip away quite so easily.

Hail to the King, baby!

Cheers!

(images: media.sacbee.com, nytimes.com, timeout.com, hd.org)

A Nose is A Nose is Splendor: Why Winemaking is Still More Art than Science

Vinted on March 24, 2008 binned in wine news, winemaking

(images: weblogs.nrc.nl, gizmag.com.au)

The AP reported an interesting tidbit recently in the world of winemaking – interesting enough to be picked up by several other news sources, anyway:

Ilja Gort, the flamboyant Dutch owner of Bordeaux’s Chateau de la Garde, has insured his insured his nose (and sense of smell) with Lloyd’s of London, to the tune of 5 million euro (which my sources calculate to be close to $8 million USD – but by May could be more like $4.7 billion, if the U.S. dollar keeps dipping at its current nasty rate!).

Those of you who follow along with this blog even semi-regularly would likely deduce that the Dude here would be planning some blithe and pithy schnoz-related jokes about this topic, make you laugh a bit, and then be on his way.

Understandably so!

But you’d be way wrong…

Sure, it would be a blast to spend a page or two pointing out Gort’s insurance policy caveats that prevent him from doing some things that would look totally awesome on a resume (most notably, he is not permitted to be employed as a knife thrower’s assistant or as a fire-breather – two things that I would kill to be able to put in the hobbies section of my CV).

But I think it’s much more interesting to discuss what Gort’s policy represents in the grander scheme of the winemaking world.

To me, Gort’s actions highlight a interesting – and keenly relevant – fact: in a marketplace that seems obsessed recently with trying to scientifically quantify the components that make up a truly excellent wine, winemaking remains (more than ever) more Art than Science.

Sure, Gort is no stranger to publicity, but he’s no dummy either. Part of putting the value of his schnoz on such public display was to make the point that “his sense of smell is his wine taster asset.”

This is a stark contrast to non-human techno tasters that can supposedly distinguish a wine’s quality and origins, or to robots that can “taste” quality wine. Not to mention robot wine tasting machines with bee noses (ok, that one’s a stretch, but read the article and it will make a bit more sense…).

I found it refreshing that, in an industry where so many sciences are required to be mastered just to make a quality product (geography, geology, agriculture to name but a few), someone is calling attention to the fact that a winemaker’s nose and intuition are the simplest – and greatest – tools that she or he can bring to the tasting table.

That’s because the greatest machine ever constructed for the purpose of wine appreciation is all organic – it’s called the human.

Man vs. Machine?

Puh-leeeze. No contest!

My money’s on the guy with the real nose (all $8 million worth of it).

Cheers!

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