Wednesday, December 29, 2004

Are Mid-Sized California Wineries Doomed?

When I look at the future of the California wine industry, I see a pretty grim reality for the mid-sized, family-owned winery (MSFOW - for discussion purposes, I'm going to define mid-sized as 50,000 cases and up). There are so many factors working against them right now that I can't help but think that many of them will fade into oblivion in the next 5 years. Why? here's a list of things you need to contend with, whether you're Groth (60,000 cases) or Bogle (600,000 cases) or somewhere in between:

  • Constellation, Diageo, Allied-Domecq, etc. are buying more wineries and growing the volumes of the ones they already own. Other big players, like Kendall-Jackson, Bronco, and Wine Group aren't buying wineries, but are steadily growing their own. The US wine market doesn't grow consumption fast enough (about 3% annually) to support growth from both the big guys and the little guys, I think the little guys are going to get squeezed out, either through pricing, portfolio leverage or distributor focus.

  • Foreign competition, principally Australia, New Zealand, South America and Spain, will continue to put price pressures on all domestic producers and the smaller wineries are less able to survive with lower margins. Its tough to make a small California winery work at $10 per bottle, and there's just too much good wine out there. If/when the dollar restrengthens, it will make it doubly hard for MSFOW's to compete.

  • On thing the Aussies and the 2002-2004 glut have taught us is that wine sold below $14 is pretty interchangeable (with respect to appellation) and can be made even more cheaply. Oak chips, micro-oxidation, fruit sourcing from the central valley, reduced hand labor in the vineyard, etc. have all allowed for cheaper production of sub $14 wines, particularly for those with 'scale', something MSFOW's don't have or are less likely to take advantage of.

  • The lack of progress in the direct shipping battle will have an impact as well. Even if the supreme court decides in favor of the wine industry, the decision will be too narrow to open up all 50 states to direct shipping. Some states, in fact, may close ALL winery shipping to consumers, even from wineries in-state.

  • Distributor consolidation is having tremendous impact on MSFOW's. In California, as in many states, the vast majority of wine is sold through two large wh0lesalers. If they already have 4 dry creek zins in their portfolio, why do they want to carry yours? This forces MSFOW's to push sales in their tasting room and wine club. Nice options, but loaded with hidden costs and sales usually come at another MSFOW's expense.

  • Last, the steep discounting we've seen recently will not go away quickly. Many MSFOW's have weathered 2002-2004 because they had healthy balance sheets and could take on more debt and inventory. These inventories won't go away quickly (like when you see somebody still selling a 2000 Merlot when everyone else is selling their 2001's or even 2002's). Consumers like the values they've gotten and will resist paying the prices they were paying in the pre-9/11 era.

Friday, December 24, 2004

Good observation Tom...

I thought I'd share a link to the Fermentations blog, as Tom has a good observation about those of us who blog about wine (at least for the most part!):
wine educators

It's generally true that wine bloggers all want to eliminate elitism in wine (there are a few boards where this doesn't hold true) and share our enthusiasm about the magic of wine.

Hopefully some of that message comes through these posts...

Good work Tom!

Wednesday, December 22, 2004

A toast to Robert Mondavi

Here's to you Bob. Tonight I'm going to go through the cellar for the best of your bottles and drink it in your honor. As I type this, the lawyers, investment bankers and other hangers-on are finishing up the paperwork to close the sale of your company tonight. So, in your honor I drink to the man who:

  • at nearly 60 years of age, left the easy life at his family's winery and struck out on his own to form one of the most recognizable wine brands in the world. How many self-made men make their fortune after age 60? Rembarkable.
  • gave us Fume Blanc. Whether you like oak in your Sauvignon Blanc or not, its these types of innovations that made the man a legend.
  • put premium California wines on the map by refusing to make anything less than the best
  • said "even if I was going to be a ditchdigger, I'd try to be the best ditch digger you ever saw"
  • said that after closing this latest chapter in his life, he just have to "start all over again"

And my favorite quote from Bob "all things in moderation, including moderation". Bob, tonight I drink to you, and in your honor, I vow to do it without moderation.

Cheers and good luck on your next venture, young man.

Tuesday, December 21, 2004

Sugar clarification

I had a conversation yesterday which brought a comment I made a short while ago back into focus. I had posted about the topic of adding water to wine to adjust higher sugars downward here in the US, and the person I was talking to wondered if I was taking a potshot at France’s reputation.

…Colder short harvest regions – like Long Island, or France for example – usually have the reverse problem…not enough sugar & too much acid. So they may have to add grape concentrate in the US, or ‘chaptalize’ with beet sugar in France instead.]”
(See the whole post
Water into Wine…)

I said that not to disparage France’s reputation, but rather as reality.

In California, much of the concentrate used in wine most likely comes from grapes of the
Thompson Seedless or French Colombard varieties (as well as the less expensive Chardonnay) from the Central & San Joaquin Valleys of California’s hot interior. Those are the least expensive grapes that would probably be used.
They are also the least acidic (due mostly to the heat of the region), and therefore won’t have much of an effect on the acidity of the finished wine (especially since the sugar will be fermented out in the scenario in question).

France – with it’s higher acidity from cooler growing conditions – doesn’t benefit from any further acid added, and does just fine with the increase in alcohol alone. Although it could benefit from an increase in fruit aromas & flavors (there's the potshot!), any concentrate made from the local grapes would have too high acidity (as the acid’s concentrated as well as the sugar) to make it useful to them.

Generally speaking, winemakers in California who have access to grape concentrate use it preferentially to sugar just by itself. There are two main reasons as I see it: First, a winery can state that it “never adds sugar” and this would be true as they add “concentrated must” instead (pacifying any purists out there); Second, concentrated grape must adds some flavor and aromas as well as sugar, and most winemakers would rather do that than just adding sugar to be turned into alcohol by itself.


Monday, December 20, 2004

Byron/Arrowood buyer

My earlier report as to the identity of the buyer of Byron and Arrowood was incorrect. The current buyer, if this new rumor is true, will not likely consummate the deal, if past performance is any indication. My bet is that Constellation will have to sell them off themselves.

Friday, December 17, 2004


While catching up with some of the other blogs, I came across a recent post by Tom at Fermentations and the response by Christian. While I don't disagree with the heavy-handed use of oak (I once heard a quote from a French winemaker that drinking California Chardonnay is like giving a blowjob to Pinocchio and I'll never get that image out of my head), I don't agree with the homogenization point....

The idea that making wine that consumers prefer will lead to homogenization has been oft repeated, but I have a hard time following it. Books, for example, are heavily edited and marketed toward certain demographics yet when I go into my local bookstore, I still see 1,000's of different books on the shelves, each with a different perspective and unique from the other. Movies are even test marketed before release to make sure they will do well, but there are still 1,000's of them released worldwide each year, with many gems that do well (like Sideways!). While making a product that involves some art (books, movies, wine) and gearing it toward an target market to maximize sales might lack pure artistic integrity, so too does the very notion of selling one's art for profit!

If you want to make wines of the purest expression of the grape, then do so and drink them with friends. If you can make a profit at the same time, however small or large, then more power to you. If, however, popular sentiment runs away from, shall we say, gangster movies, don't keep making gangster movies and lamenting the public's inability to appreciate your art.

Thursday, December 16, 2004

Ingredient labeling: Is there an Issue?

This article is just begging to be deconstructed...

Wine Labels: Decorative, Not Informative
By Roger Voss

Why should wine continue to escape the ingredient labeling that is obligatory for all other food products? The winemaker could be concocting a devil's brew or the nectar of the gods for all we know.

A few years ago, I made a study of the additives that are used in wine. They were products any wine lover would be familiar with - oak chips, acid, sugar, concentrated grape must, sulphur, coloring agents, oxygen. There was nothing illegal about any of them.
Okay - so what's the problem?

So why are American consumers not told about these additives? After all, they are told about sulphur (and almost every wine has some sulphur added somewhere along the line if only to keep the grapes clean when they are picked). But anything else that goes into the wine, apart from the grapes and the water, remains a mystery.
Sulfites (sulfur) are disclosed because there may be consumers with asthma, or otherwise sensitive to SO2 (sulfur dioxide) and sulfites who could have a life-threatening reaction to them. Some enzymes (proteins) are allowed under law, but these compounds shouldn't be in the final product at anything more than a trace level, if even detectable at all. In general, the balance of the other additives are naturally found in the fruit, it's just their concentration that's adjusted.

If producers are not required to admit to additives, it is almost like dispensing a license for them to practice underhanded activities. There was such an incident this past fall: South African Sauvignon Blanc producers, in an attempt to make their wines taste more like New Zealand Sauvignon Blanc, had illegally added gooseberry essence.
Reality check - it was already illegal before they made the additions. Another regulation for ingredient disclosure wouldn't have stopped these people; they obviously didn't give a damn about the law as it was. This is just a straw-man argument.

Why should wine continue to escape the ingredient labeling that is obligatory for all other food products? If there was such an obligation to list the contents, we would be able to make more informed judgments about a wine.
While I don't disagree with the notion that ingredient labeling would be interesting information to have, I feel I must point out that wine is not generally considered as a food (meaning a source of nutrition and energy).

Afterall, that's what the food labeling laws were designed to communicate to consumers - what the nutritive values of their foods were.

Some of the biggest-selling brands make use of the fact that sugar can hide cheap wine.
That's an easy claim to to name names? In the US, it is legal, and any sweetening of wine would have to be done in accordance with the Code of Federal Regulations. See these if you are interested:

Sugar defined 27CFR24.10
Chaptalization 27CFR24.177
Sweetening 27CFR24.179
Concentrate 27CFR24.180

The difference is that, if we care to read the small print, we can determine how much sugar is in the chips or the bun.
It would be useful if one was trying to find a certain level of sweetness or dryness to match with a certain occasion.
Other than that it may be of use to diabetics, or those watching their waistlines...
But let's be real about it, if you're consuming so much wine that you have to become concerned about it's caloric value, then I'd think you have a bigger problem at hand (e.g. liver failure)...

But a wine can be presented as dry, when it obviously is not.
Who's presenting it as dry? It's his assumption that it's sweet or dry if the label doesn't state it. Most products don't state that they're dry or sweet at all. And even then dryness is relative to the person who's tasting it, and can be rather subjective at the lower levels. (The wine industry generally considers a wine to be "dry" if it's sugar level is 2.0 ~ 3.0 grams per liter.)

It's not the practices I necessarily object to. I don't mind if oak chips are used instead of barrel aging if the taste of the wine works for me. I don't mind the addition of acidity, common in Australia, if the result is a wine that is bright and fresh at the end. What I do object to is the way winemakers want to give wine drinkers the impression that their beautiful product is as pure as driven snow, that it is just packed with fresh grapes and nothing else.
So, It's the prisitne image that he's really upset about.

There are welcome signs that the Alcohol and Tobacco Tax and Trade Bureau (shortened to Tax and Trade Bureau, or TTB), which regulates the labeling and advertising of wine, recognizes the need for more transparency, at least on the carbohydrate and caloric contents of wine. They have issued a ruling about caloric and carbohydrate claims on alcoholic beverages. And they are planning to allow a 'serving facts' panel on labels, which would cover serving sizes, servings per container, calories, fluid ounces of alcohol and grams of fat, carbohydrates and protein.
I believe the ruling would allow voluntary labeling, not mandatory labeling. It's a marketing tool, along the lines of the 'Atkins Diet' craze of a year ago (suddenly people were marketing 'reduced carbohydrate' products of every conceivable description - we'd just be subjected to advertising along the lines of the 'lite beer' producers).

But these regulations and proposals don't cover those pesky additives. They remain as secret as before. The signing into law this year of the Food Allergen and Consumer Protection Act, which will take effect in 2006, really does nothing to address the issue, unless any traces of egg white fining have to be identified.
Which begs the question - "Is there really an issue here?" Apparently, the lawmakers didn't see an issue there to address.

Finally, he finishes with the following:
Generally, wine producers have much less to hide than manufacturers of processed foods. Most wine is what we imagine it to be - fermented grape juice. Wine is more tightly controlled in its origins than any foodstuff. Yes, cheaper wines are often more 'manufactured' than more expensive ones. But I still believe that even inexpensive wine is more authentic, more genuine and purer than many of the contents of the supermarket freezer section.
And so I'm led back to my original query...

Okay - so what's the problem?


Huneeus thinks Constellation group will match Chalone offer

Augustin Huneeus Jr. was quoted in the St. Helena Star today, saying that "I imagine we'll counter,". I imagine they won't. I think Constellation has bigger fish to fry with finishing its acquisition of Robert Mondavi and making an offer on Ste. Michelle Wine Estates. Chalone is just to small for them to worry about, in my opinion. Huneeus, on the other hand just lost a very nice job running a large, ultra-premium wine company and wants his job back. Further, I think that Constellation offered a large premium to Chalone originally, and the new Diageo offer has driven Chalone's P/E ratio to nearly 600!!!! (average S&P is usually around 20). I think Diageo is grossly overpaying as a defensive strategy for its other ultra-premium lines (BV and Sterling) and that they won't be able to extract their cost in value from Chalone which has a collection of interesting, but hardly stunning wine brands.

Wednesday, December 15, 2004

Wine Spectator's Top 100

I don't say this very often, but kudos to Wine Spectator for naming a Chilean wine as their #2 of 2004. I haven't tasted Casa Lapostolle 2001, but its good to see a South American wine recognized so highly.

Tuesday, December 14, 2004

Buyer for Byron and Arrowood Identified

The buyer for Byron and Arrowood has been reported to be John Dyson of Millbrook Winery in New York. This company also owns Williams-Selyem and has vineyards in the central coast. I can't, for the life of me, figure out why he's paying a reported $37-38 million for these two properties, but maybe he sees value in bundling them with his other holdings....?

Monday, December 13, 2004

DBR outbid for Chalone!

I had heard that there was rumor of another bid, but I didn't expect it to be $13.75! Everyone is guessing Diageo, so I will too...

Micro-Oxidation: useful tool or the Devil's toy...

Let’s start with this excerpt from Vineyard & Winery Management’s ( 2004 article on Oak Alternatives:

“The used barrel market has gone to hell,” proclaims Scott McLeod, winemaker for Neibaum-Coppola, and an enthusiastic practitioner of oak alternatives. Like so many of his colleagues, McLeod is always looking for new ways to give Niebaum- Coppola customers quality wine at a good price, while expressing concern for the environment and the bottom line. So McLeod did a little research on growing and harvesting oak trees in France for wine barrel use, by contacting Tonnellerie St. Jacques. What he found was shocking.

"At harvest, the average oak tree in a protected French forest is between 100-120 years old with a trunk diameter of about 70 cm. Once the tree is felled, only an approximate 5-meter section of trunk is reserved for processing oak barrel staves. “After trimming and milling, coopers get enough staves, with a thickness of about 30mm, for only five to six barrels,” says McLeod. “After two years in use wine penetrates a stave only about 5mm, which means that approximately 80 percent of the oak barrel is for structure, while just 20 percent has an influence on the character and quality of the wine.” At $800 apiece, it's easy to see that wineries are paying a high price for barrel structure and integrity.

"Combine economics and environmental protection and you begin to see why McLeod is high on oak alternatives. “From the same five-meter section of French oak, you get 120 oak staves, of the same quality with the same toast level, that can be used as tank inserts,” he says. At Niebaum- Coppola, McLeod uses a combination of oak barrels and oak stave tank inserts for aging and maturing the Diamond Series Merlot, Pinot Noir, Claret, Zinfandel, Syrah and Chardonnay, priced at $14-$17 each. “Essentially what you're doing is purchasing an unassembled barrel and not paying for the packaging,” he says.

"McLeod buys his French oak staves with medium-plus toasting from StaVin and rotates them in the tank insert matrix about every three years. “On the economic side, you're not loosing six to seven percent of the wine to ullage as you would in barrels. And the use of oak stave inserts is much more environmentally friendly.”

From Wine Business Monthly’s article on
“Micro-Oxygenation in Wine” :

“…OenoDev has since manufactured and implemented thousands of micro-oxygenation units throughout the world where the technique is applied under the firm's guidance. France is the clear leader in micro-oxygenation, with about two thousand units in production. Italy is second with about a thousand units, followed by South Africa and Chile. There are about 25 wineries practicing micro-oxygenation in the U.S. Australia has just begun to venture into micro-oxygenation.”

Also see ~

Aussie perspective on the economics of barrel alternatives
tank stave product itself (link to images).
And from
Wine Business Monthly’s look at oak in wine (Nov 2001):

“One alternative for using barrels to age wine is a process called micro-oxygenation (see
"Micro-Oxygenation in Wine," page 56). While 86 percent of our respondents have heard of micro-oxygenation, only 14 percent have ever used it. This differed by size of winery, however, with large wineries much more likely than small wineries to have used micro-oxygenation (see chart 9). Of those who have not used micro-oxygenation, about 28 percent indicated they are considering using micro-oxygenation in the next two years. Large wineries were more likely than smaller wineries to be considering the use of micro-oxygenation (see chart 10).”

Now most of this information is several years old, and indicates that many larger wineries, as well as some mid & smaller wineries, have experimented with micro-oxidation. It’s perhaps easier to experiment with for bigger wineries as they’re better funded, and they also don’t have to risk as great a percentage of their vintage in a single experiment, as a micro-producer would.

Wait - what’s this?
Several years of experimentation and acceptance – and Armageddon hasn’t happened yet?
I mean Niebaum- Coppola’s hardly an industry pariah! Hell, they’re a brick & mortar establishment – in NAPA VALLEY no less!!
How many average consumers even are aware of the fact that they’re using oak alternatives?
Has either Jim Laube or Robert Parker snubbed them for their digression from the path of righteousness?

Now Niebaum- Coppola hasn’t stated that they use micro-ox, but that’s the next logical step. As they’re using oak alternatives, they’re getting less of the oxidative effects of barrels, and changing the way the wine matures…
Wouldn’t it make sense to start looking at ways to mimic the oxygen transfer that barrels impart?

Perhaps it’s not the mark of the Devil that the popular media’s trying to make it after all. Perhaps it’s yet another tool that winemakers can utilize to maximize their wine’s tannin & color potential.

Does it really threaten the established wine industry? Does it threaten to flood the market with wines that are cheaply made (read as “products lacking quality & integrity”)? Will it drive down quality, and elevate plonk instead?
I think that it would’ve been exposed for that in the last 13 years if indeed it was the case.

Sure it’s different than aging in a barrel, and the oak stave products I’ve seen still need some fine tuning on the issue of uniform toasting. As I’ve mentioned before, there’s also a potential issue with how the oaks’ compounds are extracted into the wine, as well as an issue of the lack of evaporation of the wine. But, having said that, if it’s supple mature wines that we’re supposed to be after, and if there’s a new way to get to that destination without giving up our quality drive, perhaps it should be embraced for what it is.

After all, weren’t telephones once maligned as the work of the Devil until everyone got used to the increased information flow and convenience?

And if traditionalists say that “these techniques were never applied to wines before” – I say “So what?”. The cooper in 1750 didn’t have access to the hydraulic ram that’s used to split French oak logs in France, while today that’s commonplace. If in fact some of the wines are changed by the use of micro-ox and barrel alternatives, so what? Can’t you still trust your own palate and buy what you like? Wouldn't the prevailing will of the consumer drive poor products out, or at least minimze them?
And c’mon already, if France - which is about as ‘traditional’ as it gets -uses Micro-ox and has started to allow oak chips, as well as Italy…

Perhaps the danger lies in someone actually liking a wine which has seen micro-ox, and not knowing it. Perhaps the danger is in our perception of what we should like, rather than what we do or can like

If the only end result is improved wines at reduced costs, where is the harm?
Perhaps it’s just an ugly knock to the ego…

Friday, December 10, 2004

Square barrels?!

I’m trying to envision these in the cellars of North America, but I’m having difficulties in stepping away (mentally) from the traditional round barrels…
Cybox website images
Square Wine Barrels PR story

On the one hand, I want to be progressive, and see some positive aspects of this new shape:

  1. they could stack rather well and eliminate the need for racks to stack the barrels
  2. potential added stability to stacked barrels (VERY important in California’s wine/earthquake country)
  3. possible reduction in staff costs = potentially lower priced wines

The downside as I see it:

  1. less oxygen transfer to the wine (slower maturation)
  2. increased lees contact (surface area) which is not always desired
  3. possible cleaning problems
  4. the need to invest in new equipment
  5. dramatic loss of “romance” in the wine industry’s image (at least among those using barrels)
  6. square barrels can’t roll – so different handling’s required

The press story also states that -
“75 per cent of mid-size wineries in the US use barrel alternatives, commonly stainless steel tanks containing oak staves and with micro-oxidisation.”

– I find that statement to be on the rather high side, and the implication is that those wineries are using ONLY barrel alternatives without any barrels. I don’t think so…

On a related note, Brown-Forman has announced it will be closing it’s Mendocino Cooperage due to increasing trends toward barrel alternatives and an inability to strike a good business model. (Part of the problem may lie in the rather useless website for the cooperage…it tells you nothing about what products they offer, sizes, cost range, etc.)

I would speculate that the business model is the culprit for the closure as Mendocino Cooperage has distributed barrel alternatives for at least the last 4 years. They should’ve been able to see this coming and expanded that aspect of their business. If indeed the American wine industry HAD shifted 75% of it’s production into barrel alternatives, they should’ve been able to pick up plenty of revenue.

Wednesday, December 08, 2004

US Supreme Court & direct shipping

Justices Pick Apart Ban on Wine Sales From State to State


WASHINGTON, Dec. 7 - If the Supreme Court argument Tuesday on interstate wine sales proves to be a reliable roadmap to the eventual decision, consumers who want to order wine directly from out-of-state wineries will soon be able to do so with the court's blessing.
Kathleen Sullivan, arguing for the 13 consumers who successfully challenged the Michigan law in the United States Court of Appeals for the Sixth Circuit, pointed out that Michigan permits its 40 in-state wineries and 7,500 liquor retailers to make home deliveries. That showed "a pattern of exceptions that belies any implication" that the state's real goal was to protect minors, she said.

Ms. Sullivan, a professor and former dean at the Stanford Law School, said several states that permit direct shipments from out-of-state wineries tracked the taxes owed by requiring the wineries to obtain permits and report monthly.

Her points made an impact, and Justice David H. Souter observed to Mr. Casey, Michigan's lawyer: "Your opponents argue that there are no clear countervailing interests here, so by process of elimination you get down to nothing but protectionism. What's your answer?"

The law really does enable the state to protect minors, Mr. Casey replied.
"You say that, but how?" Justice Souter persisted.

Mr. Casey's response that state regulators could punish a state-licensed business left Justice Souter clearly unsatisfied. (end quote)

Since Washington D.C. currently allows direct shipments, I think I'll send Justice Souter a case of California Sparkling wine for his very correct observation that minors can still buy from in-state producers and this protectionist law does nothing to prevent that. Its an utter Red Herring.

Let's just wait & see how the Distributors spin this one...

Tuesday, December 07, 2004

More on Ted Hall's bonus after Mondavi buyout

Good article by Jerry Hirsch in the L.A. Times (registration required):

"A nonexecutive chairman almost never gets a bonus of any size, let alone one that runs into the millions, said Paul Hodgson, senior researcher at the Corporate Library, a Portland, Maine-based corporate governance research firm.

Typically, Hodgson said, nonexecutive chairmen of Fortune 500 companies earn $250,000 annually and rarely are awarded bonuses.

With $468 million in annual sales, Mondavi is one-seventh the size of Newmont Mining Corp., the smallest company on the Fortune 500 list. (Newmont doesn't have a nonexecutive chairman.)"

Friday, December 03, 2004

Mondavi Chairman to Get $2.5 million Severance Package

Ted Hall, chairman of Mondavi for less than a year will reportedly receive $2.5 million as a severance package after Mondavi is acquired by Constellation. This is being given despite Hall's failed "breakup strategy" that would have separated the "lifestyle" from the "luxury" wine brands, a plan that was considered ludicrous by most of the industry. It is likely that this package was part of the terms of Hall's initial agreement to serve as chairman of the board, but one has to wonder what service he really performed other than creating what ultimately became a distress call that was answered by the buyout offer......

Thursday, December 02, 2004

University of Oklahoma bans alcohol

The University of Oklahoma has proposed banning alcohol on it's campus & fraternity houses.

" Several studies, including those by the National Institute of Health and Harvard University, found that students living in wet residences are four to five times more likely to binge drink, Boren said.
"There was such a clear correlation between binge drinking and wet residential settings that I simply did not feel it would be responsible not to take this action," he said. "
Read the full article here: Oklahoma Daily article 12/2/04

The move comes as a result of increasing numbers of students who are dying from alcohol overdoses. Two Colorado State & University of Colorado students died since the end of August 2004 in unrelated incidents, while U of Ok student Blake Adam Hammontree (19 yo) died Sept 30th from alcohol poisoning.
(link to CNN article on Hammontree)

While these moves will not eliminate the tragic deaths, they may curb them somewhat in the short term.

Prohibition usually fails in the long run, especially if those young people haven't been exposed & counseled in the effects and dangers of those items/drugs/behaviours being proscribed.
(See my post on Zero Tolerance here).

I hope that students and their families will use these tragedies as a springboard into some fruitful discussions regarding the acceptable use of alcohol, as that's where the real change will come from.


Wednesday, December 01, 2004

Good wine at a fair price

Subtitled: “Consistently tasty selections selling for $10 to $15”

The article from
Dan Berger (published 12/1/04 in the Press Democrat of Santa Rosa, Ca) makes some excellent points, and is worth reading in its entirety.

Unfortunately, I can’t seem to locate an online link to the article, so I’ll use excerpts here.

“You want a good bottle of wine, you want it to be cheap (meaning inexpensive /Huge), and you want to be able to find it.

“That is the question I get bombarded with most by readers of this column. And it’s seemingly impossible to answer for about 34 reasons, each of which entails a number of sub-reasons, corollaries and theorems.

“Well, for one thing, if I gave you the best lower-priced wines in each varietal category, it would have to be a wine that is made in large amounts. (This column appears in many newspapers.) Which generally means that such a wine comes from a large winery.

“And some readers believe that nothing great can ever come from a large winery.

“I have said this before, and can’t repeat it enough: some of the best wines in the world are made by giant wineries, and the main reason is consistency from bottling to bottling.

“Also, larger wineries are well funded, can buy the best equipment (such as barrels for aging and sophisticated bottling lines) and can pay for a consistent source of high quality grapes.

“One person’s bargain is another’s splurge, so I have decided to shoot for the mid-point, about $10 to $15. Here is a current list:”

(Tasting notes from the following have been truncated to fit my schedule, but it contains all of the wines he recommends. Please see his article for the notes /Huge)

  • Most consistent Chardonnay: Kendall-Jackson Vintner’s Reserve…
  • Most dramatic Sauvignon Blanc: Geyser peak…
  • Best Pinot Gris: Rancho Zabaco… (owned by E&J Gallo)
  • Most consistent Cabernet: Kendall-Jackson Vintner’s Reserve…(second place goes to Hess Selection)
  • Merlot: Pepi… (owned by Kendall-Jackson)
  • Syrah: Delicato…
  • Sweeter Riesling: Fetzer… (also notes Fetzer’s Gewurztraminer as being rather good /Huge)
  • Bargain red wine: a blend simply called "Reds” from Laurel Glen Vineyards
  • Pinot Noir: Firesteed (from Oregon)
  • Petite Sirah: Bogle
  • Zinfandel: Rancho Zabaco “Dancing Bull” (owned by E&J Gallo)


[MORAL: Familiarity breeds contempt, or so they say. Please don’t let yourself fall into the “Small artisan wineries will always be superior” pretense. Most of that BS stems from people trying to be "exclusive" or attempting to be the person to find the newest "garagiste" wineries. Large wineries can and DO produce good wines at good prices. Just watch out for large bottlings of plonk from the Central Valley, as that 1970's business model (just making huge insipid blends of jug wine without regard to quality) is where the 'large producer" reputation came from.

As I've said before, commercial success is not the enemy. Producers who grow large by ignoring their quality, while not dropping their prices are the enemy.

Those who expand their business while still paying due attention to their quality & reputation are OK by me. /Huge]