Tag Archives: Wine Industry

Watching a California AVA Change its Identity

lodi_native_logo_288

There is a small group of pioneering winemakers taking the leap of faith (with some encouragement) to embrace a different approach to Lodi winemaking. They offer limited production premium wines and are fashioning a new identity for the region.

The brilliance of the vision is in the marketing. Wine collectors and enthusiasts follow winemakers and vineyards… it is the dirty secret most wineries would rather not acknowledge. Strong distribution, labels, shelf-talkers, shelf space and displays draw the average consumer. So, when you talk premium wine, what describes successful marketing? …Rock Star winemakers and masterfully managed vineyards. Examples on the vineyard side: I am always looking for single vineyard designate wines from Beckstoffer, Bien Nacido and Stolpman vineyard sites at below market prices. Same applies to winemakers like: Foley, Hobbs, Grahm, Lindquist, Smith, Ramey, Petroski, etc. (too many favorites to list). I am always looking…

The Lodi Native Project

This project was the original brain-child of Randy Caparoso (see bio here: Randy Caparoso), but it’s success depended on the execution of a group of winemakers who embraced the challenge. At its core, the project represents a winemaking philosophy, but the goal is much broader and ambitious. It includes a group of winemakers (Layne Montgomery-M2, Stuart Spencer-St. Amant, Ryan Sherman-Fields Family, Mike McCay-McCay Cellars, Tim Holdener-Macchia and Chad Joseph-Maley Brothers) that individually agreed to release 100-250 cases per vintage of Lodi AVA vineyard designate wines under a set of rules that require non-interventionist winemaking. The parameters include: all natural wild yeast (no inoculation), no additives (i.e. acidification), no filtering, all neutral oak in aging, etc. The heritage vineyard sites (see historic vineyards here: Heritage Vineyard Society) include: Marian’s Vineyard, Schmiedt Ranch Vineyard, Soucie Vineyard, Stampede Vineyard, TruLux Vineyard and Wegat Vineyard. These are all “Old Vine” vineyard sites (see Lodi Native vineyard info here: Lodi Native About).

Why is this Special?

This project represents the re-making of an AVA. There will always be bulk fruit and wine produced out of Lodi AVA, but this effort is showcasing why/how Lodi can be different and have at least a small footprint on the premium wine scene. What does Lodi Native bring to the wine world we do not already have? These are quality, terroir-driven, food friendly Zinfandel based wines at reasonable prices. I have not tasted other Zins quite like these. The previously recognized quality Zin producers, like Seghesio and Ridge are very different. Go Lodi Native! Your team has added diversity to the world of wine…

The Impact

Lodi has a large number of Heritage designate Old Vine Vineyard sites. Many were planted with their own root system (not spliced onto alternative root stock). Lodi is fortunate to have sandy-loam soils at some sites where phyloxera cannot survive. The native root systems on these 90-120 year old vines do seem to have an effect on the character of the wine. Many of these vineyards yield only 2-3 tons of fruit per acre, without intervention. These self-regulating vines seem to have “learned” how to contribute to yield management on their own.

These sites represent a valuable asset to the local wine community, having as much to do with quality winemaking, as the historical significance they hold. The importance of these vineyards was not recognized until roughly ten years ago, but it was Randy’s vision that made them commercially viable, and it was the winemakers’ commitment to showcasing the uniqueness that brought the project together.

Lodi Native has given a voice to the different nature of this AVA. Maybe Randy guessed at what could happen if the winemakers pulled it off, but I don’t think any of them understood what it would mean to building a local wine identity… beyond bulk wine grape production. These wines are very good in a serious classic sense and are terroir driven. They offer structure and balance, something missing from much of the rest of the AVA and they definitely belong in the category of premium wines. They offer a delicate finesse, focusing on soft mouth-feel, floral nose/palate and age-ability.

Value

If you are a wine enthusiast, you owe it to yourself to seek out these wines. They are the beginning of the emergence of the classic Lodi AVA and the value is solid.

More on Lodi Native Wines to come…

 

2 Comments

Filed under Lodi, U.S. Wines by Region, Wine Education, Wine Industry, Wine Tasting, Winemaker Interview

Winery Profits, Vineyard Management and Winemaking

success

Future of Lodi AVA

This has been an illuminating couple of days at #WBC16. I think I have an initial feel for a few of the major issues facing the Lodi AVA. First, the wine industry potential here has no limit. The terroir is capable of producing interesting enough wines to support a solid run at the premium wines category, but the local farming culture is actively impeding progress.

Multi-generational wine growing families dominate large swathes of the region, bringing a focus on farming science to the local wine industry identity. I spoke with a large sampling of wineries here and almost all ownership either originally started as growers, still have a fruit supply contract, or have a family history in farming. This is an AVA where large production wineries dominate the local economy with bulk wine and large production labels in the $10-20/btl price range. There is a clear local perception of Lodi’s current market position, but a few have a vision for the future and entry into the premium and ultra-premium categories… where double digit growth in the industry lies. The cost per ton of bulk wine grapes sold for volume production has been stagnant here, whereas the cost of quality fruit for small production labels has been rising. Some here with a head for business and a marketing sensibility, see the profit potential in a change of approach.

These factors are just the background for the Lodi discussion. The real issue is the identity crisis being caused by conflict between farming science and premium winemaking philosophies. Fruit production concerns here, not the winemakers approach, are driving the final product. Napa, Sonoma and parts of the Central Coast have already moved past this barrier. These other regions have developed production environments where the winemaker’s vision is effectively incorporated into the vineyard management strategy. This evolution has not reached Lodi yet and the battle for the identity of Lodi AVA is solidly underway.

Winemaking Strategies and Vineyard Management

I attended a short panel discussion during the conference that was focused on viticulture in the area. The ideas expressed… were hard to believe. In a world where Lodi is striving to be relevant in the premium wine category, this one discussion put the region back a decade. The panel asserted that quality wine could be produced from vineyards managed to deliver 10-12 tons of fruit per acre. One of the individuals on the panel was adamant! I wrote an article last year related to a similar topic that applies: Is a Trained Palate Necessary to Produce Fine Wine? I was referring to winemakers in the piece, but it can also apply to vineyard managers as well. I have tasted wines comparatively from fruit harvested at 2 tons, 4 tons and 6 tons/acre. There is a very noticeable difference. As a common theme across all Napa/Sonoma winemakers I have interviewed – none of these wineries sourced fruit from vineyards producing over 5 tons/acre. So, this panel is telling me Lodi vineyards can produce quality fruit at 10-12 tons/acre… AND dropping fruit does not increase concentration of flavors?

Team Commitment to Quality

In the premium and ultra-premium categories today there are many techniques in use that have an impact on vineyard management strategy. The goal is to enhance structure, balance and complexity in the final product. Here are a few:

  • Multi-Pass and Small Block Harvesting
  • Small Lot Fermentation and Blending
  • Extended COLD – Soak, Maceration and Fermentation.

I explained some of these techniques in a previous blog post at: Why Do Wines Taste So Different? These represent winemaker driven strategies and are the hallmark of an ultra-premium mindset. Very few of these techniques are in use currently in Lodi. The changes required in vineyard operations to adopt these methods is not consistent with a farming driven approach to wine growing. If winery operations teams can’t move thinking in this direction, bulk wine growing will continue to dominate the region.

Profitability and Perceptions of Success

How do Lodi wine professionals measure success in the wine industry? Does that vision conflict with profitability?

It is clear to me, many of these Lodi wine growers measure their success by their ability to produce reasonable quality at the highest yields. Profitably producing fruit under a 10 year contract with Gallo at $600-800/ton is the picture of that success. My imagination is just not captured by what it takes to be profitable producing 500,000 cases of wine. There is definitely more than one approach to running a profitable winery, but from the wine service perspective, achieving high quality and acclaim is the definition. That quality has typically come from single vineyard designate, estate wine production. I think there are many students of winery operations that could deliver quality at 3-5,000 cases… and struggle to make a profit. What is truly impressive is a 10-25,000 case winery developing demand at a premium price point and driving healthy profits! Notable success in the Wine Industry should be measured by producing highly acclaimed premium and ultra-premium wines, while delivering a serious return on investment.

Is Change Necessary in Lodi?

Is the agricultural flavor of the local area what defines Lodi? Yes. Can the local industry be profitable with offering fruit by the ton, bulk wine and $10-20/btl wines? Yes. Will the area draw attention from the wine trade around the world and move producers here into the premium and ultra-premium categories? Resoundingly – no. What is the future of Lodi wine production? I guess, we will all wait and see…

Comments Off on Winery Profits, Vineyard Management and Winemaking

Filed under Business, Wine Education, Wine Industry

The Legacy of Fine Wine Culture

Is there a “Right” Atmosphere to Enjoy Wine?

I received my Somm training from a mentor that still firmly believed a profession in wine was a “calling”. I have worked hard to train my palate and learn the wine regions of the world to pass that crazy test. After all the work though, I still can’t agree with the formal atmosphere surrounding much of the fine dining wine service industry. Is the defining U.S. wine experience a stuffy, formal affair? Why is there social stigma, or a nervousness regarding wine selection in restaurants? Wine knowledge in the trade should be a tool that facilitates the comfort and enjoyment of clients… instead of a blunt instrument that adds to the discomfort.

julia-louis-dreyfus-wine

Seen the Mollydooker Shake?

I was having dinner with business associates at an Italian restaurant last month and I was asked to order a bottle for the table with a budget of around $60. Unfortunately, the restaurant had a poor Italian wine selection, so I chose the 2014 Beringer Knight’s Valley Cabernet, usually a pretty solid selection (quality vineyard and a track record for value). This vintage was not as easy drinking as past releases, so I asked everyone to bear with me and I put my thumb over the top of the bottle and proceeded to give it a vigorous shake! Everyone got a kick out of it and we proceeded to drink a moderately softer wine. WARNING I am about to suggest a completely inappropriate wine faux pas… (if this will torture your sensibilities, please skip to the next paragraph) …say you run up against a tightly wound Chianti, or young red Bordeaux, or maybe a 100% Petit Verdot… picture pouring the bottle into a blender. I suggested this approach at the restaurant and everyone immediately started laughing and vowed to do this the next time they had guests over. (Disclaimer here: this is NOT meant for fine wine. It would be better to age these wines for another few years, rather than throw them in the blender). Check out this link: Mollydooker Shake. Young Mollydooker wines can be very high in tannin. A nice stiff shake can do wonders to soften any highly structured wine.

Is Wine Fun?

Several years ago, my wife and I were invited to a wine enthusiast’s home for a wine dinner with four other couples. Very expensive, quality aged wines were being served. Out of the blue, one guest suggests we go around the table and have each person share an impromptu personal tasting note for each wine being served. Really? Afterwards, I overhear comments about a previous wine party my wife and I hosted and the numerous wine-ignorant guests in attendance. That day I made myself a promise, I would always try to help others relax around wine and make the experience comfortable and unpretentious. I have become a reverse wine snob.

I am thoroughly embarrassed by trained professionals in the industry who feel it is necessary to overwhelm a client with their wine knowledge and lecture on the importance of selecting… just the right wine. When an attendant at a winery tasting room, or a Somm at a fine dining restaurant approaches me, I am usually faced with one of two types:

  • An under-trained wine steward who has not tasted their own wine inventory
  • A pretentious jerk, who wants to tell me which wines I should prefer

I am not sure which is worse? I hate to tell people I am formally trained… then, they either get defensive, or are intimidated and clam-up. When I am dining out at an establishment with a large cellar, I always search the lesser known “nooks-and-crannies” for the best value. Most of the time, I get annoyed looks, but all with me have a great time. I was at Cowboy Ciao (Scottsdale, AZ) dining with an associate last year (GREAT wine cellar, by the way). From previous discussions, I knew he preferred big, highly structured Napa Cabs. I asked him if he had ever tried Aglianico? I suggested to him, I could find a really enjoyable bottle of Aglianico there for under $40/btl. I got a serious look of disbelief. We proceeded to run the waitress ragged… I selected three different bottles that had spent time in their cellar – one was a 2006, I believe. It took our server 20 minutes working with the wine steward to track down one of these bottles (she was a good sport)! I had them decant the wine… AND he thoroughly enjoyed it! Fine wine doesn’t have to cost $125/btl and be called Caymus, or Silver Oak. Servers should encourage more discovery. Their clients would enjoy the broader wine experience.

Who decided that wine was not supposed to be fun?

Next Wine Vacation

I hope at least some of you have tried a wine vacation. If you haven’t, you should. Very few experiences provide better food and drink, more inviting scenery, or more romantic atmosphere… but they can be fun too! Napa is always the ultimate U.S. wine experience, but it is expensive and can be a bit stuffy. For something on the more fun side, try the Central California Coast, Oregon, or East Washington state. Ask around once you arrive and seek out the less pretentious, relaxed tasting venues. If you want an interesting experience, try Tobin James Cellars in Paso Robles, CA. Hit them during one of their events in particular and be prepared to have a rockin’ good time!

Comments Off on The Legacy of Fine Wine Culture

Filed under Restaurant, Sommelier, Wine Cellar, Wine Education, Wine Industry, Wine Tasting, Wine Travel

Why Holding a Bottle of Wine is Worth the Wait…

Wait

How Long Does the Average Person Hold a Bottle of Wine?

There is a significant amount of conflicting survey data on this topic, but erring on the side of caution… well over 90% of all wine in the U.S. is drunk within a week of purchase. Since more red wine is drunk than white in the U.S. and Cabernet Sauvignon is the most popular varietal, it is a shame more wine enthusiasts don’t experiment with aging at least a few bottles.

I have seen other figures thrown around that affect this thinking, i.e. 95% of all wine is made to drink within a year of purchase. As a percentage of all wine produced, this may be close to the truth, but as a percentage of all wine labels, it is significantly off the mark. As usual, the 80/20 rule roughly applies here… much less than 20% of the companies producing wine in the U.S. produce over 80% of the wine by volume, but this still leaves plenty of room for the many thousands of wineries producing under 10,000 cases per year that comprise a large percentage of the selection we see at the local wine shop, or grocery store.

So, many of the red wine labels you see at your local wine retailer over (let’s say) $15 USD/btl are likely to be candidates for at least 3-5 years of bottle age.

The Dividing Line

Why should wine consumers care? Who should be holding wine? Think of it these ways:

  • If you are a foodie, drink wine with meals and prefer wine that accompanies a dish well…
  • If you pay attention to different varietals, vintages and/or wine regions, you obviously recognize and appreciate different wine profiles…
  • If you recognize structure in wine (tannin, acidity, phenolics)…
  • If poorly balanced, bad wine gives you a headache and you try to be aware…
  • If texture (mouth-feel) in wine (silky, soft, plush, velvetty characteristics) is something you seek out…

You should own at least a 30 bottle wine fridge!

What Makes Aged Wines More Enjoyable

When the appropriate wines are chosen, age improves wine. Which wines are appropriate for aging? Any wine with multiple structural components… enough tannin (cotton feeling on gums), acidity (stimulates saliva) , phenolics (depth of flavor), fruit and/or sweetness (sugar) is a potential candidate. Most of us can usually identify these general categories. Though, the additional analysis that can make a significant difference is the balance between these components. Here is a brief look at how each of these components may evolve in an aged wine:

Sweetness (sugar)

  • Can add a nutty character to aged whites such as Sauternes, or Sparkling and an apricot character to German Riesling
  • Improve viscosity (richness/thickness) in all sweet wines

Alcohol

Percentage of alcohol never changes in the life of a bottle of wine, but it can become more integrated and less noticeable. Although, I have rarely seen it.

Phenolics (depth of flavor)

Working with wines that are heavily extracted, or made from over-ripe fruit is hit, or miss for a winemaker. This is an area where age can have a dramatic effect, sometimes adding layers of textures or flavors. A higher level of phenolics often accompanies over-ripe fruit, which can be lower in acidity. This lower level can effect the “vibrancy” of the wine, in other words – eliminating freshness, allowing candied flavors and eliminating “bite”.

Fruit

In reasonably balanced wines (get into that later), fruit flavors almost always diminish over time. Most of the exceptions to this rule have come from California in my experience, but in general, this rule does apply. I drank a 1993 Beringer Reserve Cab Sauv last year that was wonderfully fruit-forward after 22 years in the bottle!

Acidity

High acidity in a wine is critical to successful aging, but winemakers walk a fine line with this component:

  • Too much acidity and the wine is sharp, unpleasant and feels like it is burning a hole in your stomach
  • Too little and wine tastes “flabby”, grape-juice-like and will not pair with food

Tannin

This is the astringent character found in red wines and the primary change agent. Tannin can be harsh, grainy, fine, mouth-filling, etc. The character of tannin in wine can be affected by varietal type, terroir, vintage variation, the amount of stems and skins used in the maceration stage and more. Red wines with no tannin rarely age well and the maturing of this component is the key to enjoying soft, silky, round, or velvetty red wines when aged.

“Balance”

Determining balance is one of the KEY evaluations made by a wine professional. Evaluating young, fine wines upon release for potential ageability requires experience to determine whether to expect greatness, or just another so-so vintage… but that shouldn’t stop the average wine enthusiast. The average consumer rarely has the opportunity to evaluate $100 – $1,000 USD/btl wine. The decision should be simply: do you think this wine will taste better in five years? Often, when faced with this simpler evaluation, my answer is YES!

The most common, but misguided statement in the wine industry is: “Give this wine time in the bottle. It will come together!” This is rarely the case.  A wine may “close”, or “open” over time (release, or hide its character), but if it is too sweet, or has too much acidity upon release, time in the bottle is unlikely to change that. The one exception is tannin, which will always soften over time. This is due to a chemical reaction that creates a sediment in the bottle that can be filtered out when poured. Always filter, when pouring a red wine older than five years. The sediment resulting from resolved tannin is not pleasant to drink.

My Wine Cellar and Yours

I store over 500 bottles of wine in environmentally controlled cellars. I rarely drink wine younger than five years, unless I am dining out. I now find it difficult to drink both:

  • Harsh, young wines
  • Easy drinking – flabby, no tannin, no acid wines

Try setting aside a few better bottles for special occasions. Use the information above to choose the right wines and enjoy unique, amazing wines. As you gain experience, you will find age can improve wine you never considered for aging, like Riesling, Chardonnay, Sauternes and many sparkling wines (especially Champagne).

I wish you much good wine shared with many good friends!

“Age appears best in four things: old wood to burn, old wine to drink, old friends to trust and old authors to read.” ― Francis Bacon

1 Comment

Filed under Wine Cellar, Wine Collecting, Wine Education, Wine Tasting

Old World Wine Producers and the “Mystery” of New World Flavor Profiles

Wine Old-New

Last night I joined a group of consumers for a tasting of wines from Spain & Portugal. Roughly twenty wines were presented at price points from $10/btl to $25/btl. Tasting through the wines, all I could think was: “This is the most ridiculous tasting I have ever attended”! Not that the venue was awful. or that the attendants were rude, but it was the wine itself that had me shaking my head.

What is going on? Virtually all of these wines were from Spanish & Portuguese producers trying to make New World style blends. The classic regions were represented: Ribiero del Duero, Rioja, Toro, Duoro for reds and Rias Baixas and Vinho Verde for whites. Granted, I did not recognize these producers, but if classic Old World regions are going to embark on such a strange path, they need some help. There were all sorts of blends with the traditional Tempranillo, Grenache, Mourvedre (Monastrell) and Albarino mixed with Cab Sauv, Merlot, Cab Franc, Alicante, Macabeo, etc. Ugh! These producers need to import wine consultants from the Rhone, where blends are their forte! What junk!

Spanish Wine Classifications

Then out of curiosity, I looked for the DO (Denominacion de Origen) – printed right there on the label! The issue here is not that they were blended wines, it is the amazingly poor winemaking in play here, BECAUSE they were trying to copy New World styles. Oh God, please don’t tell me wineries in Europe are going to start trying to guess at the American palate and alter their classic wine styles to appeal to our market! I don’t want all wine to taste alike AND these traditional Old World wine styles are made that way for a reason: to accompany local cuisine. Local foods always pair well with local wines in Europe. Think about it. They have had generations to get it right.

Shouldn’t Wine Taste Good?

OK, I am done with my rant. This wine Op-Ed piece was not just about wine styles really… if these wineries are going to start making unconventional blends, how about they make them taste good?

1 Comment

Filed under Wine Industry, Wine Tasting, Wine Tasting Notes, Wines from Spain

Changing U.S. Wine Landscape: Will producers, distributors & retailers pivot?

Big-Data_-cartoon

2015 wine consumer data is revealing new pressures on the U.S. wine industry. These trends will create business opportunities and confuse brand strategy for years to come. We are already seeing several of these changes beginning and I believe the others are inevitable:

The strong dollar is affecting currency exchange and making it easier for European producers to compete in the U.S.

Climate change is altering micro-climates in many regions around the U.S.

Demand is slowly migrating from table towards premium wines.

Major growth in the sale of sparkling wines for every day consumption.

Changing state wine distribution laws are making it easier for Direct-to-Consumer (DtC) business models to reach the consumer… and consumers are showing a DtC preference.

The Millenial Generation (born 1977-1995) has become the largest wine consuming age group, just surpassing Baby Boomers and bringing with it changes in demand and buying behavior.

U.S. off-site wine purchases are continuing to grow, driving greater sophistication in the wine buying community and increasing demand for wine education.

On-site beverage revenue growth is likely to follow and bring a more demanding clientele with it.

The expected growth in on-site beverage revenue (as a percentage) will increase the need for improved business skill-sets at smaller venues and individual outlets.

Sources:

Ship Compliant ™ & Wines & Vines ™ – 2016 Direct to Consumer Wine Shipping Report

USDA Foreign Agricultural Service, Global Agricultural Information Report – EU27 Wine Annual Report and Statistics 2015, February 24, 2015, GAIN Report Number: IT1512

Rampant Misconceptions

Premium wine sellers are focusing on the Baby Boomer age group, mistakenly thinking it is still the largest wine consuming demographic. This oversight will generate a window for new business opportunities with producers, distributors, off-site and on-site marketers who understand the changing demographic within the wine drinking community. In the next decade, the dominance of Millenials in the wine consuming public will grow (demographic data has shown – as we age, per capita wine consumption rises). In order to understand these changes. it is important to understand how Millenials buying habits differ from Baby Boomers.

Millenials tend to:

Be more adventurous in trying: unfamiliar grape varieties, labels and experiment with imports.

Drink sparkling wines daily, rather than just on special occasions.

Be less single varietal focused and prefer blends.

Be willing to spend more per bottle of wine when they drink, but prefer craft beer and cider.

More per bottle spending, means likely more discerning palates.

Sources:

  1. U.S. Wine Marketing Council – October 19, 2015, “MEDIA ADVISORY –
    Wine Market Council Releases Latest Research on the Online Wine Shopping
    Behaviors of Wine Consumers”
  2. U.S. Wine Market Council – March 24, 2016, “U.S. Wine Marketing Council stands by their 2016 Consumer Research on Millennial Wine Consumption Habits”

Crystal Ball?

So what to make of all this data? I believe:

  1. Distributors will have to make choices: add more value than simple logistics (education, more direct marketing, etc.), spend more money on lobbying to influence state beverage laws, or downsize.
  2. Producers will be able to dramatically improve profitability through establishing and growing the DtC channel. Producers will need to change focus to blended wines (similar to Europe). This should enhance AVA focused labeling and marketing.
  3. Current small volume markets will grow. Over 50% of DtC wine shipments are to 5 states. Huge opportunity for producers to develop new markets.
  4. Off-site re-sellers like grocery stores and on-site re-sellers like restaurants will become EVEN MORE focused on beverage as a percentage of their revenue.
  5. Demand for wine educators and trained wait staff will continue to grow.
  6. Growth in the premium segment will increase economic pressure on the largest wine producers… bringing EVEN MORE consolidation.
  7. Increasingly educated buyers will be more willing to shop at warehouse stores with larger selections and less personalized service.
  8. Changing climates will drive big swings from vintage to vintage in production. Examples:
  • 2015 Sonoma County: 36% drop in pinot noir crop.
  • 2015 Washington State: 8% drop in cool-climate Riesling crop, with 12% increase in warm-climate Cab Sauv… causing a net 2% growth in Washington State wine fruit production.

These vintage to vintage changes in available fruit will add volatility to pricing and may make it difficult to capture year-to-year fluctuations in fruit costs. Source: Wines and Vines, 02.10.2016 – “California Wine Grape Tonnage Falls” at: http://www.winesandvines.com/template.cfm?section=news&content=164654

May You Live in Interesting Times!

The ancient Chinese curse may be very apropos here. Growth in both successes and failures are on the horizon for the wine business. No, it will not be overnight, but the next 5-10 years could drastically change the landscape.  I am quite curious to see where all this change will take us…

Many of these ideas represent my personal conclusions drawn from a wealth of new marketing data released this year. I hope you enjoy my crystal ball!

Comments Off on Changing U.S. Wine Landscape: Will producers, distributors & retailers pivot?

Filed under Business, Restaurant, Wine Education, Wine Industry

Predicting the Future of Wine Programs and the Restaurant Trade?

outdated

Why is a cartoon commenting on the impact of changing technology showing up on a wine blog… I selected it, because a changing landscape is all too familiar where technology is concerned. Wine consumption is changing in the U.S.. Can the industry adapt?

Predicting the Future of Wine Service

I have been meaning to write this post for a couple of weeks now, since Shanken News Daily published some interesting data. It appears a changing U.S. consumer profile is transforming the wine industry. Shanken recently published information from the U.S. Wine Market Council. It holds some fascinating insights into the challenges coming for wine marketing in the very near future…

  • Frequent drinkers (>1/week) are now 13% of all U.S. wine drinkers and 35% of all wine sales.
  • Millennials now comprise 36% of all U.S. wine drinkers nationwide compared with Baby Boomers at 34%.
  • High-end wine buyers (defined as those regularly purchasing bottles above $20 retail) now account for 36% of frequent drinkers, compared with just 21% five years ago.
  • Frequent drinkers are consuming 18% more wine now than they were two years ago, while occasional drinkers are consuming 8% less.

These are trends to note and they carry a clear message ( I believe):

  • Millennial consumer data shows them to be more adventurous and willing to explore wine more thoroughly (previous Shanken News data).
  • Frequent drinkers now comprise more than 1/3 of the market.
  • Frequent drinkers are spending more per per bottle.

Looks like a recipe for major change…

Can On-Premise Food & Beverage Adapt?

Mark Norman (industry consultant)  recently wrote a nice piece (link: Sales at Restaurants Plummeting?) regarding this and it had me thinking. Restaurants will definitely be hurt. Per site beverage revenue must increase to support lower margins and increased inventory. There will be no other choice, if they wish to maintain a successful beverage service. This changing consumer demographic is a clear indication: wine distribution’s typical approach to restaurant sales will need to change AND restaurateurs will need more training and knowledge to cater to this new group of consumers. The pressure will be on and it won’t just be about improving wine knowledge and acquiring a broader cellar with a more diverse price offering. The more important differentiator is likely to be business skills. Better marketing, inventory management, ROI and cash flow analysis will be key indicators of quality restaurant wine programs. Interesting times are coming!

Future of the Certified Sommelier

I don’t have a crystal ball, but I don’t think it is too far-fetched to think we will be seeing CS, MBA on biz cards in the coming decade. Somm exams should start including more business related content. As this new group of consumers starts driving larger restaurant wine inventories, more sales volume and lower profit margins, it will justify the need for improving business operations and accounting skill-sets. I like where this is going…

3 Comments

Filed under Business, Restaurant, Sommelier, Wine Education, Wine Industry, Wine Tasting

Winemaker Interview – Billo Naravane of Rasa Vineyards

Please follow my winemaker interview series! You can find this and other interviews at the following link:

 

Winemaker Interview Series – Billo Naravane

 

Comments Off on Winemaker Interview – Billo Naravane of Rasa Vineyards

Filed under Cool Climate Wine, Walla Walla Valley, Wine Industry, Wine Tasting, Winemaker Interview

Is There a Standard for Quality in the #Wine Industry?

enjoy pic

Many wine consumers and industry professionals would assert that a “good” wine is any wine you enjoy. So, with a product where individual taste influences demand so heavily, is the concept of “quality” relevant? As I hear from consumers quite often, “I like, what I like”… I read and hear this point discussed often, but in direct contradiction, both the industry and consumers generally accept the role wine critics play as the arbiters of quality. The question has to be asked, if there is no generally accepted criteria with which to make that judgement, is attempting to assess wine quality a complete waste of time? Is there any value in professionals establishing standards for quality in the industry?

Is Measuring Quality Necessary?

There are three major sources* in the world wine industry for education: Wine Critics/Writers, The Court of Master Sommeliers and well-respected University Degree Programs (i.e. UC-Davis). By definition, in order for these sources to write, serve and teach wine, they must clearly establish generally accepted ideas defining quality and recognize trends in the industry supporting it. Are established quality standards really necessary, or even appropriate? I see so much vehement commentary on discussion boards regarding this topic – the idea of general consumer preference versus professional palates driving the industry…

slope

My recent posts have generated comments from within the industry suggesting I am on a slippery slope in asserting that one producer makes better wine than another. I don’t agree. Wine Critics do this everyday. Although effectively, this can only be justified if you establish a consistent, understandable criteria. Somm training does define a generally accepted wine profile for quality. This is based on an important premise: “in an assessment, it is not possible for one wine to taste better than another, but it is possible to be of higher quality**.” Learning to recognize and emphasize structure and balance as the major components of wine quality is emphasized over and over again.

On a personal level, I do enjoy wines that show these characteristics. You could argue that the training influenced by wine service professionals has fashioned my palate, or it may be that as my palate became more experienced, it naturally turned to these types of wines. In the industry, we have a responsibility to bring perspective, educate and in-turn help enrich the wine experience for wine enthusiasts newer to the calling. So, being a passionate wine enthusiast and having some professional training under my belt, I feel a responsibility to act as an industry ambassador in this regard.

There is so much variability and diversity in wine that there can be no absolutes. Consumers can and should drink what they enjoy, but there must also be a generally agreed upon model for quality that the industry can aspire to. Is it fair that Critics, Somm training organizations and Universities establish that model for the general public? I suppose it would depend on your point of view… Although, if personal preference were the only criteria, there would be no common point of reference.

I would be in favor of exploring another model, but I would hope demand would not establish that criteria. So, until we find another way, please don’t kill the messenger… Some wines simply ARE of higher quality than others, regardless of whether they have a large following, or not.

Fairness and Perspective

In deference and respect for all the hard work and commitment from everyone in the industry… I always attempt to be even-handed and often do agonize over fairness. All types of wine should be made for all the different palates in the world and my perspective on wine quality is simple: please, just offer a vision that is true to your product.

(* In the U.S. there is a fourth recognized source: The Society of Wine Educators.)

(** My effort to paraphrase an important principal in formal wine training)

Footnote: I find it fun and interesting that recent opinions expressed on this blog have rubbed a few people the wrong way. In response – I am not willing to assess wine like a kid’s soccer tournament… where win, or lose, everyone receives a trophy. I am offering the following disclaimer for those who want to believe I presume to be a formal authority on the wine industry… No, I am not an MS, but I certainly have received more formal training than many wine critics I have met. This website reflects MY study, personal thoughts, opinions and experiences regarding wine. I hope you enjoy my perspective…

Comments Off on Is There a Standard for Quality in the #Wine Industry?

Filed under Wine Critics, Wine Education, Wine Industry, Wine Tasting

Is a Trained Palate Necessary to Produce Fine Wine?

old-new world

Old World Wine Styles

I have been doing interviews and visiting with several Washington State wineries this week and the discussion struck a chord, providing an interesting personal realization… not all Owners, Winemakers and Growers have developed a broad understanding of world wine styles. Over the last several years writing about wine along the West Coast, I had assumed I was speaking with professionals that had all spent time developing  a palate and tasting styles from around the world. I now understand, this is not a formal requirement for a degree in Enology and the Somm training I received is really quite a different area of study. This week brought the issue to light for me and helped me to understand why being familiar with world wine styles can be an important element in producing quality premium wines.

There are very specific reasons why different Old World regions in France, Germany, Italy, Spain (etc.) have developed these famous regional styles. The obvious one is to produce wines that pair properly with local foods, but I wanted to explore one other in particular more carefully:

  • The 100’s of years of trial and error with local varietals, learning to accommodate local growing conditions and make the best wine possible.

This is the reason why the world views the best expression of Syrah to come from the Rhone, or the best expression of Nebbiolo from Barolo / Barbaresco, Chenin Blanc from Vouvray, Riesling from the Mosel, etc. These varietals have been produced in these regions for generations and for the wine enthusiasts out there who have not taken the time to explore them, start now! Your imagination will be awakened and you will discover whole new horizons you never realized existed. (back on topic though) Take a minute to think about how this issue should impact domestic wine production… you can present the argument that New World wineries are pioneers, working in new regions and developing their own unique styles, but since when is this done in a vacuum?

The best analogy is fine cuisine. Chefs travel all over the world to taste different styles and then return to the U.S. to introduce what the industry calls “fusion” cuisine. These chefs forge entirely new dishes by taking classic styles from around the world and “fusing” them to create new, unique dishes all their own. Understanding the “classic” wine styles of the world is equally as important… to compare and contrast how our New World terroir can be the same, or different, and to blend the best of both worlds to achieve the best expression from each of our domestic wine regions.

the-different-types-of-wine-by-style-and-taste

Is Wine Style Important?

Having interviewed quite a few winemakers over the last couple of years, I have come to understand how important wine style really is. Having a working understanding of tasting fruit in the field and selecting a style of wine that best complements that vintage is critical to producing a quality product. I tasted a Mosel style Riesling on this Washington trip from a winemaker who obviously understood how that should taste and how to achieve it. Has he traveled to the Mosel and studied with winemakers in the region? No. Does this winemaker have a large cellar, a trained palate and have regular exposure to taste aged wines from around the world? Yes.

Terroir Influence

The new Rocks AVA here was made famous by Christophe Baron and his Cayuse label. He persevered through the jeers and disbelief of local winemakers when he planted these vineyards, because he recognized enough similarities between this appellation and the Northern Rhone region to fuel his certainty that this area would produce world class wine. The local industry has come around to his thinking slowly, but the results have been hard to ignore. Tasting other local wines from this AVA, it strikes me as amazing that some of these wineries are not producing wines that express the interesting terroir of this place. Why else make wine here? I wonder, have they not taken the time to train their palates to recognize the Northern Rhone profile this area can produce? Or, is it they haven’t taken the time to research the winemaking techniques that can help to achieve it? Or, will it require the generations of wine experience (like in Europe) to realize it fully? On the other hand, maybe it is a simple lack of belief that this style of wine can sell out every year… Most of these Rocks AVA Syrah’s have a funky, meaty background that enhances the rich fruit-forward character of the wine. I realize this is not for everyone, but I would venture to say, a small AVA like this could never produce enough of this style of wine to exceed the world-wide demand for it.

Conclusion

I am thoroughly convinced, having a winemaker with a BS in Enology is not enough alone to make premium wines. All the involved parties (Owners, Growers, Winemakers) should be able to taste the impact of regional vineyard management and winemaking techniques in the wine. Tasting that impact is a start. It can help to hone a palate. The next critical step is the commitment to study and compare similar wines produced in their classic region of origin. Each and every vintage (warm, cold, or moderate year) has to start in the vineyard tasting the fruit and fine-tuning the vision for the style of wine that will be made. The revelation here is:

  • To make premium wine, it requires more than just enthusiastic commitment to its production. You must have a passion for its consumption!

3 Comments

Filed under Wine Education, Wine Industry, Wine Tasting, Wine Travel