Friday, July 29, 2005

more specifics on labeling

This note is in response to Tom's comment about looking up the regulations regarding labeling to see what's allowable.
[See the original post here]

27CFR§4.39(a)(1) is the TTB regulation which is most pertinent [scroll down to the appropriate spot]:
(1) Any statement that is false or untrue in any particular, or that, irrespective of falsity, directly, or by ambiguity, omission, or inference, or by the addition of irrelevant, scientific or technical matter, tends to create a misleading impression.
My claim would be that the use of the symbol is misleading. Still, it's not that convincing of an argument - at least not as far as the regulations are concerned...

In essence the TTB is mainly charged with protecting existing brands, and individuals & organizations from others copying them or implying that they endorse the wine (no use of a symbol or logo from a company not producing the product). Consumers are protected by prohibiton of false or misleading claims. The public is also protected from "obscene or indecent" labels...but apparently not labels which portray the product as poison. From 27CFR§4.39(a)(3) we see the prohibition of...
(3) Any statement, design, device, or representation which is obscene or indecent.

I get the feeling that the symbol was not rejected because it wasn't being used by some other company, or as a logo by anyone (who would, after all?).

But I still stand by my claim that the 'Poizin' dress is misleading, and there is a need to maintain international hazard symbols for just that - hazards - and stop diluting those symbols by using them for other mundane things...
I also think that the poizin dress would a) be a good target for a class action suit [a big liability for a winery which just spent a sizeable sum on a new facility], b) fail a "reasonable person" test as far as appropriateness, and c) appeals to the juvenile intellects of some adults in rather poor taste.

Thursday, July 28, 2005

Geography vs. style

A meeting took place in Napa Tuesday between representatives of some European wine regions and reps from Sonoma, Napa, plus Oregon and Washington as well . The topic was regional (geographical) names, and how they get used around the world to describe a style of wine – thus diluting the geographic name (read: appellation) of the original product.
Here’s a link to the
article on

The "Napa Declaration" - as they've named it - is a "beginning of a campaign to “fortify the sanctity” of the names used for their products "...
Sanctity? Am I the only one who thinks that's a little overboard?
Has the original Swiss cheese disappeared form the face of the earth because people in the Midwest started making cheese in the same style? Sanctity?!...get real, it's more like sanctimonious.

(And they can sign all the 'declarations' they want. These groups aren't the ones who need to sign - it's the smaller less known regions which are trying to trade on the more successful regions' reputation that need to be brought into line, right? Where's the economic incentive for them to change - or is it assumed these changes will be embraced by all, without any conflict?...)

The most obvious case for their point is the use of the term ‘champagne’ to describe sparkling wine.
Here in the States - some reports claim – more than half of the sparkling wine produced is mislabeled as ‘champagne’. Most (though certainly not all) of that probably carries the term ‘California Champagne’ on the label…which begs the question: did the term ‘champagne’ become synonymous with the style of the product, and not the geographical area of it’s origin? Hasn’t it been so associated for the last, say, century?

Certainly wines exist labeled as ‘sparkling wine’ with a ‘methode champenoise’ production statement on them, and I concede that this may be more politically correct – though tedious and tiresome - way to state what’s in the bottle. (Though that descriptor is helpful in that it distinguishes from products produced by the charmat bulk process…)

I mused on this matter when Fred Franzia lost the battle to continue using his Napa Ridge label for wines which weren’t from the Napa appellation.
And somehow it troubles me – when is protecting the name of your area more important than acknowledging that people have applied that moniker to an entire class, and not just currently, but historically? Isn’t there some point in time which the term becomes ‘grandfathered’ into the language through the assimilation process? Haven't XEROX ("photocopy"), Coke ("cola") and others who became so successful that their brand names became the ubiquitous terms used by millions for an entire type or class of product still manage to be profitable?
If that's not the case - then Gallo was right to sue the Chanti region of Tuscany, Italy, to stop them from using the ‘GalloNero’ (black rooster) on their wines in the US – just ‘cuz it had ‘gallo’ in the name...
Now, I don't agree that Gallo should have brought that case to court, but in the end I’m still torn on the matter. But I don’t really see the need for this topic to even come up if the product is prominently labeled with the region it was produced in: it would then be hard (if not downright stupid) to assume it was from any other region. Yet there are blatant occurrences where people have tried to pass off one product as another, which should not be allowed.

Examples where I don’t think it’s needed:
California Champagne [obviously refers to the style and is from ‘California’], California Port, Sherry, Marsala [same again]
California (or Wisconsin) Cheddar - yes it’s a food, but the same principle applies as it refers to a style of cheese, and no one’s really going to think it’s from Cheddar, England, are they? I mean if it says ‘California’ or ‘Wisconsin’ right on the label!? Duh…!

(read more on the EU "PDO" drive here...)

"Hearty Burgundy" will be forced to change...not that it would affect me, even though we all know it's not Burgundian.

Perhaps those changes will occur over time. After all, it’s been years since anyone sought out a wine labeled as ‘California Chablis’…and perhaps it will take a generation of wine drinkers to forget the transgressions of our forefathers and their labeling/marketing practices. In the end perhaps we could move away from it now & hope that someday everything will be politically correct.

But just to be fair…I hope the US contingent made sure the EU gang stops labeling their Primitivo as Zinfandel…
That’d show ‘em.

Tuesday, July 26, 2005

Aussies Climb the Great Wall

Although I have noted my concerns over the health of Australia's wine industry recently, it is refreshing to see that the ever-organized Aussies are working to establish an industry-wide marketing effort in China. This effort, in advance of an expected trade agreement with China is similar to the approach the Aussies have had since they established the AWBC (Australian Wine and Brandy Corporation) in 1981 which continues to serve the industry by providing enormous amounts of data on the Australian wine industry. This group has been essential in developing Australia's rapid growth in foreign markets (notably the US and the UK).

This article notes that "There are also plans to have a strategic memorandum of understanding with Austrade, Tourism Australia and other agencies, with the aim of building market awareness of Australian wine. The industry's peak body is also looking at rolling out China market information packages for the industry."

Credit the Aussies for quickly jumping on a significant growth opportunity early in the game. The potential of the Chinese market (and indeed the Indian market) is truly colossal and by identifying Australia with wine to the Chinese drinker, the Aussies have a leg up on the rest of the world. Kudos!

Friday, July 22, 2005

Zinfandel & cholesterol

This is an older link, but deserves more attention:
Zinfandel, cholesterol and sapponins

Speaking this week at the 226th meeting of the society, Andrew Waterhouse, professor of Oenology at the University of California, Davis said saponins could be just as important as the antioxidant resveratrol, a compound found in grapes linked to the so-called French Paradox — the association between red wine and decreased heart disease...

"Average dietary saponin intake has been estimated at 15 mg, while one glass of red [wine] has a total saponin concentration of about half that, making red wine a significant dietary source," said the researcher.

In general, Waterhouse found that red wine contains significantly higher saponin levels than white — about three to ten times as much. Among the red wines tested, red Zinfandel contained the highest levels. Syrah had the second highest, followed by Pinot noir and Cabernet Sauvignon, which had about the same amount. The white varieties tested, Sauvignon blanc and Chardonnay, contained much less.

Although Merlot was not analysed in this study, Waterhouse believes it contains significant amounts of saponins at levels comparable to the other red wines.

And best of all - some correllations between higher alcohol content and sapponin levels (so maybe all that extra "kick" isn't for naught):
The red Zinfandel tested, which contained the highest level of saponins among all the wines tested, also had the highest level of alcohol, at 16 per cent. "We think that alcohol may make the saponins more soluble in wine, but follow up studies are needed,"added Waterhouse.

Thursday, July 21, 2005

Tough Times Down Under

I previously described the decline in Australia's wine industry and it appears that the situation is getting worse. According to this article in The Australian, the oversupply of grapes and finished wine led many growers to not pick their grapes this year, even in a premium region like Barossa! This is as bad, or perhaps worse than the California wine industry's low point in 2002-2003. It is further impacted, however, by the continued consolidation in the Aussie supplier market (BRL-Hardy, Southcorp, and Lehmann have all been recently acquired) and the continued decline in the value per case of Aussie exports (driven by the consolidation and the success of Yellow Tail and Black Swan).

Australia's heavy reliance on its export markets makes the situation even worse. The still-low US dollar makes Aussie wines more expensive (or hurts margins for those who hold prices stable) and the UK market continues to be a bloodbath with chain stores treating suppliers like the proverbial red-headed stepchildren.

It would be a shame if a country with the quality and pride inherent in Australia's wines were to simply shrink into a producer of commodity based wines. Last weekend, I had a wonderful Rhone blend for Rusden, the 2002 "Driftsand", a blend of Grenache, Mataro (Mourvedre), and Shiraz. There are many more wines like this in Oz, but I fear we may be seeing fewer and fewer of them in our stores.

Wednesday, July 20, 2005

The Third Bottle

Regular visitors know that I don't do a lot of reviews or promo for wineries except when I find something that I really like. In this case, I really like "the 3rd Bottle" from Gustavo Thrace winery.

We've all been've opened two great wines with dinner for your guests, and then you open a third after you've already numbed your palates with your growing buzz. Encumbered by the bravado alcohol gives you, you reach for another great bottle from the cellar....why? Your guests won't be any more impressed, and frankly, by then they just want to keep the night going and anything north of inoffensive will do at this point.

"the 3rd Bottle" is another great example of how, with clever marketing and a lack of pretension, wine can be allowed to be fun and something we celebrate, not something we revere on a pedestal.

Nice job!

Tuesday, July 19, 2005

Catching up on the GMO debate

What debate? There doesn't seem to be much debating going on right now concerning the pending GMO ban which all of us will be able to vote on this November. Unfortunately, there was a radio interview on KSRO just this last week, but I missed it due to other commitments...

But as I mentioned in an earlier post, I find it odd that the anti-GMO proponents who claim to champion this measure to promote "a public decision, decided after rigorous, public scientific review and extensive public debate" as stated in §3(c) of the initiative, are so quiet...
To date I've seen little from them, save a quote here or there by Dave Solnit [Campaign Manager of the GE Free Sonoma County group (GEFSC)], and a single bumper sticker.

But wait!
Maybe that's why they want to shift the burden of proof of any proposed progressive GMO to the party that wants to use it...they don't have anything that even resembles rigorous public scientific fact most everything I've seen from it (proponents of the GMO ban) so far lacks any sort of substance, and is nothing more than anecdotal in nature.

Hoping to stoke up some discussion, here are a few letters to the editor (most appear against the initiative), and a few articles that have popped up recently:

Unjust GMO bans Santa Rosa Press Democrat Letters, 6/6/2005
Altered food " " 6/13/2005
Dangerous initiative " " 6/16/2005
Local farmers " " 6/17/2005
Patented crops " " 7/13/2005
Absurd initiative " " 7/15/2005
Flawed initiative " " 7/16/2005
Deemed safe " " 7/17/2005

GMO ban vote likely to get boost Santa Rosa Press Democrat 6/14/2005
Genetically engineered debate now next door 6/25/2005

One of my favorite bits of "bull" that I've heard so far is from a CBS interview with Dave Solnit (of GEFSC) :

"The only people who benefit from genetically engineering crops are the stock holders of Monsanto," Solnit said. "It really does nothing long-term for the farmer."
HA! What about all the people we feed now days with improved crop yields and improved nutrition from those crops. That statement flies in the face of the entire Green Revolution of the latter half of the 20th century...and is in stark disagreement with many farmers who have to apply less pesticides when growing GE crops. Farmers can grow more food, and do it in a way which is gentler to the environment.
BTW - that quote really doesn't sell their argument at all - in fact it just demonstrates how narrow minded they are.

Another one of the items cited by GEFSC in favor of their initiative is the "precautionary principle". Essentially, the "principle" is supposed to shift the burden of proving safety to the GMO corporations (or individuals) who wish to introduce them (which is where it already lays). Unfortunately, the standard of proof required by the anti-GMO groups is set impossibly high (items must be demonstrated to have "zero" harmful qualities), and rhetoric is used to whip up any minor doubts into full fledged "dangers"...

Witness this from the initiative's §4(c): "Any act in violation of...this Ordinance is declared to constitute an imminent endangerment of agricultural health and environmental health and as such is declared a public nuisance".

Let's hear that one again..."an imminent endangerment of agricultural health and environmental health"...and that's anything that's had any modification, regardless of whether it's a medicine, vaccine, etc. EVERYTHING must be avoided, condemned and destroyed. Where's the enlightened discourse on the merits of each individual proposal? EVERY application should be evaluated on it's own merits, not lumped together in this soup of fear the enviro-fundamentalists want to feed us. Even the EU has recently rethought it restrictions on GMO food research, as they've found that the number of research applications have dropped drastically and now are starting to fear they will be dependent on other nations for those products & technologies.

Are we really ready to throw the baby out with the bathwater? And because our hands will be tied by this new ordinance, so we'll only have 5 business days to start the eradication process of anything even accused of being GMO tainted - we can't be sure if perhaps there was some golden nugget of future technology which we'll squelch when it's thrown out with the rest of it.

What a witch hunt this could turn into!

It appears that any citizen could make the accusation that their neighbor is using tainted crops, then sue the Ag Commissioner to get an investigation. It also appears to be incumbent upon the accused grower & Ag Commissioner to then prove otherwise. What a rip off. And there's also a provision to allow for any and all individuals to file suit against the Agricultural Commissioner - see here, §8:

This Ordinance hereby creates and vests a right in all citizens of the County of Sonoma to sue the Agricultural Commissioner to compel compliance with this Ordinance. All actions shall be filed in the California Superior Court, County of Sonoma. Citizen-Plaintiffs shall provide written notice to the Agricultural Commissioner of their intent to sue, and shall give the Agricultural Commissioner five (5) business days to initiate the enforcement of this Ordinance...

Great. Wonderful. Brilliant. So now a bunch of suit-happy enviro-fundamentalists can run to the Superior Court every time their knickers get in a twist.

Where is the moderate approach to this issue? Where is the ability to differentiate between those organisms which provide enough potential benefits and low risks from any others which don't? This initiative isn't about giving the public a voice and choice over what goes on in Sonoma's about stripping any possible voice from the public and forcing them into a lock-step with some environmentalists who, quite frankly, have gone so far 'left' they've come full circle back around to the 'right'.

I foresee some serious gridlock in our courts if this initiative passes, as every 'armchair environmental expert' in Sonoma County takes a bead on the Ag Commissioner...

Monday, July 18, 2005

Home Winemaker Kits Available

Dowe chemical today announced the release of their new home winemaker kit, dubbed "Pimp My Wine". The product will be sold in a small cardboard box and will include 2.4 gallons of concord grape juice, 6 oz of powdered tannins, 4 oz of acid, and 12 oz oak dust. "This will allow wine lovers to create their own semi-unique blends of wine using the same tools winemakers use" said Jason Phillips, head of product development.
Phillips added that additional products were being developed that would include "essence of cow pie", cigar ash, pencil shavings, and a beret for those "garagistes" who wanted to pimp their wine, "French style".
An Australian option would include the basic kit, plus black pepper, some table sugar, and blank labels with cute animals on them.
The Napa version is the same as the basic kit, but costs 5 times more.
A South African kit was reportedly under development, but scrapped when Dowe was beaten to the punch.

In a related story, Europe sighed heavily today.

Sunday, July 17, 2005

Another anti GMO news article

CA county Bt ban backlash [click to link]
by: Daisy Nguyen, Associated Press

Los Angeles - Bans on genetically engineered crops and animals in three California counties have triggered a national backlash.

Since late last year, 14 states have passed bills that bar towns, cities and counties from regulating genetically engineered crops - a direct reaction to the California counties' first-in-the-nation bans on growing such plants.

Joseph Mendelson, legal director of the Washington, D.C.-based Center for Food Safety, said the debate over genetically engineered food is occurring in states, counties and cities because there is a lack of federal oversight on the issue.

"The federal government hasn't sufficiently addressed the (genetically engineered) food issue, and their negligence has really prompted local responses," Mendelson said.

An interesting claim, and one which is so oft repeated that it starts to gain a momentum of it's own. But look further in the article to see the following:

The U.S. Department of Agriculture has argued that the approved crops [soy, corn, papaya] are substantially equivalent to the naturally grown varieties and don't need further regulation.

This I think is more to the point - especially in light of the fact that there are 4 government bodies which have oversight of such GMO food items:

  • The USDA’s Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service (APHIS) regulates the field testing of genetically engineered plants and certain microorganisms.
  • The Department of Health and Human Service’s Food and Drug Administration (FDA) governs the safety and labeling of drugs and the nation’s food and feed supply, excluding meat and poultry.
  • The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) ensures the safety and safe use of pesticidal and herbicidal substances in the environment and for certain industrial uses of microbes in the environment.
  • The Department of Health and Human Service’s National Institutes of Health oversees guidelines for the laboratory use of genetically engineered organisms. They are generally voluntary, but are mandatory for any research conducted under federal grants. These are widely followed by academic and industrial scientists around the world.

(from Ohio State U., Biotech FAQ page)

And apparently the US American Medical Association (AMA) also has signed off on GMO technology (in general) as safe…so lets make that 4 agencies with oversight, and another associated body which have given their nod of approval.

A reasonable person may doubt such guidelines when one or perhaps two agencies certify and/or endorse them…but 4 to 5 agencies?
I don’t think that’s being reasonable anymore…I think it’s more along the lines of obstinate and paranoid…neither of which appeal to this reasonable person.

What exactly would be sufficient to address the GMO food issue in the eyes of these enviro-fundamentalists? A dozen different agencies? Two dozen? Seven dozen different agencies?

Something tells me that they would never be satisfied - hence the initiative to ban everything GMO...

A prudent measure would have allowed for individual applications for the use of GM organisms within the county, with a 2-year waiting period and evaluation process before they could be deployed, if accepted at all. But to ban everything?...FOR 10 YEARS?

Saturday, July 16, 2005

Global (over)supply to continue/increase

Just when you thought perhaps the industry was coming back into alignment,
  1. Australia had a bumper crop in '05
  2. France is poised for yet another big harvest this year
  3. California may be looking at a larger than average harvest as well

So what's going to happen?

I think the civil unrest of vignerons and problems in the south of France will continue, though many of the higher end producers will be relatively "ok", as they are now. The Aussies will continue to try cutting the bottom out of the import markets in the US & UK, and the US will continue in it's offerings of low priced wines.

To the consumer the good times will continue, with value offerings from all over. Not so much for the producers though, who will be looking to trim their costs and maximize their sales. And potentially, the growers in all three regions will be hit hard again as prices won't rebound as many were hoping.

Also expect to see more 'debates' about issues and practices such as 'hang time', which adversely affect the growers' bottom lines - especially since the growers only real way to feel as though they have some leverage is to take those discussions 'public'.

Friday, July 15, 2005

Viansa Sale Closes

The sale of Viansa to 360 Global Wine Co. closed Tuesday. What's notable about the press release is that 360 Global paid $31m for the Viansa business, but borrowed 110% of that! ($34.5m). Does this mean they screwed the Sebastianis? Not necessarily, more likely they were able to borrow heavily against the real estate assets and might intend to convert some of the debt to equity in the future. The 3-year term on the note indicates that they will probably need to do so or refinance as that's not a long time to turn something around in this business.

Thursday, July 14, 2005

Yes, 20-Somethings (Millenials) do Drink Wine

Confirmation, albeit anecdotal, from Chicago that wine is indeed attracting younger drinkers (do not read as "underage drinkers"). Note the emphasis on clever branding and packaging. - "They're not interested in the Lafite and Mouton Rothschild - they want something more hip that's still good" - this sentence is the key.

However, I don't know that Mr. Gillespie gets it: 'Experimentation and nuances of each bottle aside, the Wine Marketing Council's Gillespie said the new generation's attraction to wine is what's old about it.' I realize he's trying to reinforce the WMC's ad campaign (of which I'm not a
fan), but he completely contradicts the statements made above that young consmers are buying wines for the hip packaging (Rex Goliath and Red Truck are specifically mentioned, no doubt Yellow Tail, sorry [yellow tail] could be included as well).

Bottom line, wine marketers need to better understand and prepare for the millenial generation because they can single-handedly make or break the industry.

Monday, July 11, 2005

Flying high!

So, how many wineries do you remember advertising by air?

This is yet another avenue that's routinely ignored by US producers.

Perhaps It's another reason for their success? (thanks to Lisa for the photos)

Sunday, July 10, 2005

Heart of the matter...

The following quotes link to a rather well balanced, open and honest Western Farm Press report of the issues in the current “hang time” debate:

"Hang time is an issue of compensation. If the crop is hanging out in the vineyard losing weight, pay me for the lost weight. If it is hanging out there longer under the threat of bad weather damaging the crop, make sure I am covered," said DiBuduo, who heads the state’s largest wine grape marketing cooperative with 500 members statewide….

"I have no problem with wineries wanting to make better wine with hang time or whatever they think they need. We need to give the consumers what they want. But in doing that, the grower wants proper compensation," said DiBuduo.

And there it is, out in plain sight as I’d stated before: drop the whipped-up moral “save the vines” pretense, and the issues are reduced to money and control – not that those aren’t important or discussion worthy issues. But now, with the real issues acknowledged, they can get some serious discussions going. Perhaps the
November meeting will be more tangibly productive than the pervious meetings/seminars have been.

As for the article’s premise that a vineyard with 25°Brix fruit left on the vine to become 28°Brix losing 14% of the tonnage to dehydration is plain wrong. It would only take 11% loss in weight to produce the 28°Brix value – and that’s assuming the vines are no longer producing more sugar (e.g., only dehydration is in play)(and yes – I do feel that an 11% loss is rather significant, but I feel there’s already been enough exaggeration of claims to date, so we should try to get these figures right).

I do like how they left the issue, to wit:

“There is little disagreement that the delay of harvest in most cases has resulted in wines with better flavors. But at what expense to the grower. That’s the major part of the issue," [said Robert Wample, chairman of the California State University, Fresno department of viticulture and enology], echoing DiBuduo’s sentiment.

Friday, July 08, 2005

Wine Can't be Fun

You see, this is what I'm constantly railing against. Wine can't be fun, it can't be "coarse" and it can't be funny. It has to to serious and stodgy and adhere to certain standards. Oh no, its okay for other industries (fast food, cars, music, etc.) to appeal to "base" instincts, but not wine. Oh no!

Oddly, the writer favors Bonny Doon for its more tasteful labels, yet ignores BD's "
Bouteille Call" wine. Is it okay to be coarse in French?

Let's get wine down off its high horse, knock it off its pedestal, and crumble its ivory tower. This kind of elitist treatment only reinforces the preconceived notion that wine is stodgy and exclusively for special occasions.


Two days ago in Santa Rosa it was close to 100 °F.
Yesterday it was just below 80 °F.
Today it's supposed to be about 73 °F

Normally, this is exactly what the weather around here does, though the changes are usually driven solely by coastal fog coming in & out to various degrees. This weekend it seems a low pressure system will be lowering the daily temps, but isn't forecast to cause any foul weather for us...

That fog effect - the lowering or moderating of the daily temps - is what gives the North Coast of California it's long maturation time on the vine, and maintains the higher acid levels which provide a better balance for the finished wines. Nighttime temps are usually found in the 50's when the fog's hanging off the coast, and in the low 70's otherwise, which gives the vines a good break to recuperate from the daily highs. That's a nice variation which you won't see anywhere in the Central or San Joaquin Valleys.

Sometimes it's a bit confusing to go from a tank top & shorts one day to a sweater and long pants the next, but it's better than being stuck with nothing but heat.

Wednesday, July 06, 2005

A few notes

I don't really get into reviewing wines on this site, as there's plenty of other sites already doing that - and doing it well. But here are a few notes from the Johnson Family gathering this past weekend...

1995 Silver Oak Cab Sauv, Alexander Valley
YUM! Soft & silky tannins, rich ripe stone fruits, showing layers of anise and hints of black pepper spice, shifting to light dried rose petals during a intense and long Bordeaux-like finish. Multiple layers during the evolution, each one fantastic...this was the hands-down favorite of the weekend.
Drinking perfectly right now, soak it up if you have any, or if you can find a bottle somewhere.

1997 Rodney Strong "Symmetry" blend
Another Cab Sauv blend from Alexander Valley, and another favorite of the weekend, second only to the 1995 Silver Oak in overall intensity, composition, fruit and finish. Another excellent wine well worth the effort to find. It could go a few more years in the bottle, and I'd be interested in seeing this wine again in 2 to 3 years.

2001 Justin "Isosceles" Cab Sauv blend (unfiltered)
Good depth & complexity. Medium length finish, and though very pleasant fruit, it needed a wee bit more acid to really balance it out. The impression it left was that the vineyards sourced were a little too hot that year yielding a much softer wine than should have resulted. Drink early - I didn't really get the feeling that this wine will age too long.

2001 Viansa "Ossidiana" (red blend -mainly Cab Franc based)
Slightly acid balance, with some very nice fruit, and a medium length in the mouth. Overall it came across as good, though thin bodied from the firm acid level. Disappointing - but only in the fact that much more was expected for the price paid for the bottle.

2001 Bonny Doon "Le Cigare Volant"
Nice blend (as always) of Grenache, Cinsault, Mouvedre, Syrah in the Châteauneuf-du-Pape vein. Tends toward the acid side, but very drinkable with good food pairings possible.

Yalumba Tawny Port, "50 Years Old" (closer to 55+ years I think)
Again, an excellent choice. Rich and mouth filling, some vanilla and oak.
Wonderful long finish. Somewhat expensive at $50 and up per 375ml bottle, but good choice for those special occasions with really good friends.

Wines at the bottom of the list:

2001 Spring Mountain Red Meritage
Odd Brett infection aromas. Slightly medicinal phenolic profile which perfectly resembled - get this - Elmer's White paste aroma from grade school. Everyone who tasted it found it "off", with a few volunteering the "paste" descriptor, and universal "oh, yeah - that's it!" exclamations from the others present. It could also benefit by being more concentrated, and having riper fruit notes.
Hopefully it's due to bottle variation, and your experience is different, if you already have some in your collection.

2001 Benziger "Tribute" Cabernet Sav blend
80% Cab Sauv, ~12% Cab Franc, Petite Verdot and Merlot bringing up the balance. Shorter finish & slightly astringent, this wine was not one of the favorites. Tannins were somewhat flabby, as if the fruit had sat in the sun too long. Overall it was short and slightly unbalanced, though perhaps serviceable, and needed more acid to help the mid palate and finish.
The back label touts the "biodynamic farming" of the grapes, and how that provides "authenticity" one there really felt it was a good selling point after tasting the wine inside. (BioD became the running joke of the weekend...)


Tuesday, July 05, 2005

Over offering...

While thinking about how some smaller producers are getting bought & sold to larger companies (though not as often as larger wineries), I had some thoughts about how to make small wineries more profitable.

First, don't over offer wines.
One of the items that I think led to the Viansa sale was it's wide portfolio of varietals. It never managed to create an image of "specialist" like say Ravenswood or Ridge has for Zinfandel, Kistler has for Chard, or Silver Oak for Cabs.

Sure these wineries offer other wines, but they're disciplined in how they do it. At the end of the day when you think of these wineries, those varietals jump into your mind, even though you may have had another wine from them which was really good. And although the other offerings they have are good, the don't compete with their main seller. By gaining a reputation for a certain varietal or style, your winery can attain that niche crowd following that otherwise won't be drawn to you.

Second, don't dilute your image with endless bottlings of the same varietal.
Rosenblum would be the prime example here. I don't remember ever having a Rosenblum Zin I haven't enjoyed, but other than a handful of their vineyards, I can't recall too many of the names - sometimes there are just too many - I believe they have 55 total offerings! And while they're all good wines, it's hard to really see the reasoning behind having say 40 different Zinfandel offerings, when the winery would be served with a lot less, with limited production of showcase wines and two or three larger blends playing a supporting role.

Certainly there's a point to be made about demonstrating your creativity and abilities...but with Viansa it always seemed to distract from the ability to make a solid statement about who they were and how consumers identified with them (notwithstanding the whole problem with Cal-Ital wines).

In addition, its key for a small winery to develop a very strong wine club and retail sales business. These sales come at full price as opposed to the wholesale sales which are 50% of retail. Many small wineries actually lose money in the wholesale market but are convinced that they need to be in that side of the business. I don't think many of them need to be.

I think most of them would do best by working the direct (wine club and retail) end of the business harder, then they should next try selling direct to retailers in California (avoiding the wholesale pricing and instead getting about 75% of retail price), finally, they should sell in limited large markets outside of California (New York, Chicago, Miami, Dallas, etc.) through a broker in each state. Finally, as a last resort should they consider selling through wholesale distributors as this is usually only profitable for larger wineries or those who are able to maintain a dedicated sales force to sell their wines as distributors don't really perform that function any more. They have basically become "order takers" who charge 25%.....