Wednesday, February 28, 2007

NAPA Sharpshooter alert!

This hasn't gotten nearly enough media attention:

By JULISSA McKINNON, Register Staff Writer
Saturday, February 24, 2007

"An agricultural inspector found an adult female glassy-winged sharpshooter on a batch of Orange County nursery plants arriving at a Napa nursery Thursday morning -- the first discovery of an adult specimen of the dreaded insect yet in Napa County, according to the Napa County Agricultural Commissioner's Office....

The adult sharpshooter discovered Thursday was not moving, probably due to the morning chill, when the inspector spotted it around 9 a.m. The insect requires a minimum temperature of 55-60 degrees to fly. Napa's high temperature for that day was about 53 degrees, reducing the chances that any other undetected sharpshooters flew offsite, according to the Agricultural Commissioner's report." (my italics, btw)

Phrases like
"reducing the chances that any other undetected sharpshooters flew offsite" aren't very reassuring...since no one can say for sure if one might have crawled off, or had dropped off when the doors were opened, etc.

Come On, people!
You'd better get your act together down there in Orange County, or don't bother sending anything up this way!
As far as I can see this was only picked up by Wine Spectator's RSS feed...and that's pretty sad.

Friday, February 23, 2007

My Only Comment on Wine X

Good article at Good Grape about the demise of Wine X. Frankly this is much of the reason why I wrote nothing about the demise of Wine X (until now). Like the magazine, it seemed like a non-event in the wine world.

Despite Mr. Roberts' assertions to the contrary, the wine industry is very successfully marketing to Millenials (those under 30). They are drinking more wine than any previous generation (at that age). Their consumption patterns have grown during Wine X's demise. This very fact speaks directly to Wine X's irrelevance in the industry, IMO, and the failure of Wine X, not the industry, to successfully market to this demographic. The industry hasn't ignored young people, it ignored Wine X.

I was a supporter, though I admit, not a subscriber. Perhaps therein lies the problem.


Wednesday, February 21, 2007

Chuck Wagner of Caymus on Napa Terroir

If you happen to have access to Wine Spectator's site (they charge for access to nearly everything now), you really should read Chuck Wagner's recent post (2/14/07) on vineyard designations and Napa terroir.

I don't think the folks at Appellation America will appreciate his thoughts as they run counter to AA's goals - in particular his preference for winemaking over terroir and his belief that Napa has just three "zones" - Carneros, valley floor and hillsides!

I've gotta say (and it probably comes as no surprise) that I agree completely. Talks of microclimates and the drawing of arbitrary AVA lines do little to inform and do more to confuse. Don't get caught up in the fairly "fruitless" exercise of looking for the unique characteristics of a sub-region (say, Pinot Noir from Carneros, for example) and just find a producer you like and stick with them. If, as Chuck says, they don't change with the times and make "classic" wines that you don't like, then find somebody else's wines to drink.

Some gems from Chuck's post:

"I think there are more than a few owners hoping in vain for distinctive character from their land."

"Some vintners are caught up in the theory that wineries should continue making 'classic by appellation' wines. The 'classic' they are talking about is based on the style of wine that some winemaker made during a previous period. Well, this is now, and now should be different. Winemakers need freedom to fight off making boring wines … and they should be given a loose leash."

"Our top wines have more to do with the grapes and the winemaker than with the terroir of a particular site or subappellation of our valley."

"I say 'No' to the mystifying number of microclimates, and 'Yes' to simplification."

Read the entire post if you can.


Sunday, February 18, 2007

Delusion or Fantasy

Got a chuckle out of today's Cost Plus ad which prominently displays 4 or 5 offerings from Sutter Home's recently acquired brand, Folie a Deux. The marketing hype that accompanies it says that the name refers to a "shared fantasy", so open a bottle and share the fantasy with someone....

The humor here is that Folie a Deux more accurately refers to a shared Delusion or even a Madness. The original owners of Folie a Deux knew that opening a winery can be a tricky exercise financially and that thinking it could be a maker of fortunes is a delusion, thus they shared that madness. They sold to Sutter Home a couple of years ago when they couldn't make ends meet. The whole thing comes full circle for me when Sutter Home and Cost Plus try to alter the translation slightly, perhaps trying to change the delusion....?

Tuesday, February 13, 2007

Land use scars (Rutherford)

Saw this the other day on Google Earth (click either pic to enlarge):

Of note is the vineyard in the lower left at the corner of Whitehall Lane & S. Whitehall lane. There's a diagonal line running NW to SE across the vine rows (which run roughly East~West).
The vineyard is just North of the Rubicon/Inglenook vineyard. Originally it was owned by Gustav Niebaum, later sold to the John Daniel family, and then sold to Hublien, which eventually portioned it off to other owners.
Click the close-up below for a bit more detail...

So why is it there, and what's it from? It's an old airstrip form decades ago...
John Daniel used to fly his plane into "Rutherford International" - as it was nicknamed - just North of their winery. The fascinating thing about it is that after all these years the compacted soil foundation of the strip is STILL visible to the naked eye, even though the hard surface was removed. The airfield can still be found on some old maps of the area.

Anyone wanna bet it produced at least a little variation in fruit set, ripeness, root depth, etc, when the vines were planted? Perhaps some of that variation still lingers today...

The vine rows are planted across the strip, and the only way to exclude it or vint it differently would be to pick around it, or possibly
that people would travel down most of the row picking, then pick the dozen-or-so vines into a separate bin and continue down the row to the end. Then turn down the next row & repeat...
Requests from winemakers to pick those portions above the old strip separate - although a valid request - might be what we call in the biz "anal", or less PC usage would be "a Bitch"...

Not all that easy on the pickers' or managers'
time, but something that could be done. Hopefully the vines above the strip don't have too much variation these days from the vines planted elsewhere in the vineyard, and they don't have to pick it separate.

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Friday, February 09, 2007

Screwcaps: Success Breeds Civility

As an interesting aside to my recent comments about the apparent desperation from cork producers, I note that screwcap promoters have decided to take the higher road. To wit:
“The burgeoning market for innovative closures is not about direct competition with natural cork,” said Poulos. “This is about diversification and convenience, creating new opportunities for the enjoyment of wine as an everyday beverage, and expanding the market. In the immediate future, we see traditional packaging continuing to thrive, with screw caps and other innovative closures seeing widespread consumer acceptance. This is a healthy market dynamic.”

Good for them.

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Thursday, February 08, 2007

KY's slippery slope (and wine)

No Sunshine, not the jelly...think "KY" as in "Kentucky", the state...and I'm referring to their position on internet and telephone sales...

This released by the Courier-Journal's online site:

"State regulators opened the door to shipments from small-farm wineries -- both inside and outside Kentucky -- when they unexpectedly decided to drop out of a federal lawsuit over the issue late last month.

The decision means that 43 licensed wineries in Kentucky are now able to ship wine to customers who place phone or online orders. Small wineries in other states will be eligible to do the same, but the state Office of Alcoholic Beverage Control hadn't received any applications for licenses as of yesterday [2/6/07]."

Now that's great news for Kentuckians, and great news for those small wineries within KY. And funny, too, that the KY Dept of Tourism [] only lists 22 wineries, not 43...maybe some of them aren't producing currently?

But overall it's still some bad news for KY as a state, as we see in the phrase used above "small wineries".

Why? The news item continues:

"To be considered for a shipping license, a winery must produce no more than 50,000 gallons of wine annually."

So it's bad news because all the big playa's (>50,000 gallons per year) with the deep pockets and departments full of tort-hungry attorneys can sue the state for not giving them equal access. So while they may have bought time by opting out of appeals of the current suit, they have much greater jeopardy to face when larger producers like a Gallo, or a Constellation, or ANYBODY for that matter producing more than 20,833 cases a year takes umbrage (I guess in this case size really does matter...). A larger-sized company would barely notice the costs of taking on the State of Kentucky. They're now out of the frying pan, and into the fire, so to speak.

As it is the Wine and Spirits Wholesalers of Kentucky (co-defendants in the case) are going to continue the fight, but won't seek to have shipping of the internet/phone sales blocked during the appeal of the judge's ruling back in December which declared the law unconstitutional - even though their pals at the state had argued that striking down the law would allow people in dry counties (good Lord - some still exist outside of Arkansas, Texas and Georgia?) and minors to skirt the law.

Sound like familiar arguments? Guess the State didn't think they had much of an appeal with just those tired points to be made again and again....

Too bad they didn't think far enough ahead to avoid opening themselves up to possible action from the Big Boys with Big Money. Maybe after they really get their pants sued off they'll realize that the access has to be across the board to all producers - regardless of production size.


Tuesday, February 06, 2007

Cork "Most Appropriate"

As I've posted before, I don't have a dog in this fight, but the skewed surveys from the cork producers are starting to make me sympathize with the alternative closure guys....

This latest bit of nonsense is brought to you by the Cork Quality Council. A quote from their press release:

"Another interesting survey result was the fact that while price was the first and most important factor for consumers purchasing wine under $8.00 a bottle, the second most important factor was having a natural cork. For consumers purchasing wine above $15.00 and on a frequent basis, natural cork was the single most important factor in their buying decision. "

Had they said "one of the most important" or "a very important" factor, I would have shrugged it off but "the single most important factor"? Come on! Consider for starters that capsules (except for those shortened types designed to do so) don't even allow one to see the cork. How does the $15+ consumer even know the cork is real before making a purchase!?! Not to mention that varietal, place of origin and label have all been shown to be more important in legitimate surveys.

One wonders what the cork producers are so afraid of if they can't fight fairly...

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Monday, February 05, 2007

More Riedel nonsense

This from an IPNC press release:

"After two years of research, comparative tastings, and evaluation of prototype glasses, Oregon winemakers and Georg Riedel have arrived at a new shape of wine glass designed especially for Oregon Pinot noir. What began as a wishful conversation between IPNC Executive Director Amy Wesselman and Georg Riedel has now been given form, literally, and the first shipment of the new tulip-shaped glass is currently on its way from Kufstein, Austria."

...and this lovely nugget...

"Ms. Wesselman shipped a selection of some of Oregon's best Pinot noirs to Austria for Mr. Riedel to work with in his own facility. Six months later, an answer was delivered in the form of a large-bowled, tulip-shaped glass that flares out gently at the top. This glass was presented along with 11 others in a workshop similar to the first. Tasters agreed that the slightly narrower opening of this glass seemed to focus aromas. Its flared lip reproduced the mouth-feel tasters had experienced with the Grand Cru Burgundy glass. Every single workshop participant agreed that the new glass offered Oregon Pinot [N]oir lovers the best of both worlds."

[sigh]...I've gone on record as pointing out that mouth-feel isn't affected by the shape of the glass, and I feel this is just more of the same "suggestibility" of the panel participants. But I agree that a slightly narrowed opening helps concentrate the aromas, and the tulip shape bowl for more surface area within the glass will also help on this point...

Now, did we really need this new glass?

Of course not, but it makes a great partnership for both Oregon Pinot Noir growers and the Riedel company - which could now have yet another region recommending those glasses to it's clients. And Mr. Riedel gets to be invited over to be the MC for the whole shebang as part of his reward (see the release).

"This is a significant development in the advancement of Oregon as a premier Pinot growing region," said Tony Rynders, winemaker at Domaine Serene. "It's all about having the right vehicle to show off our wines, and the group of winemakers and wine professionals involved in developing this glass unanimously agreed that it made an enormous difference."

Uhhhhm, right.... So now an appellation won't be complete or validated without a new creation by Riedel to showcase it...? And I suppose of course, that it WILL have to be varietal specific as well... (I think it's obvious from the tone of the quote that this is more of a marketing coup than necessity for the enjoyment of these wines...)

Perhaps next we'll see a Lodi Chenin Blanc glass being offered, or Chalk Hill Malbec glasses, or some other truly obscure wine/varietal pairing glasses showing up in the catalog...

Frankly, this is just another opportunity for the neophyte, uninformed or impressionable to be separated from their cash by buying yet another supposedly "necessary" piece of stemware.


Thursday, February 01, 2007

Wine investing goes Gen-X, Millenials

Not all cartoon shows will trigger Homeland Security exercises like the one yesterday in response to 5 magnetic marketing signs from Cartoon Network/Adult Swim in Boston. And, thankfully, not all cartoons are based on talking fast-food like Aqua Teen Hunger Force and its Mooninites from the planet Skyron in the galaxy of Andromeda...which is a really weird premise to start with.

But some other cartoons may actually help the wine industry, albeit in a round-about fashion.

I don't think that the future will see everyone investing in the wine futures market, or all out collecting, but the trends are pointing to an increase for the number of "common wine investors" - meaning those whom don't have a huge portfolio, but rather pick up a few cases of "collectible" wine here and there as speculation. Also, the concept is starting take hold in the next generations of wine drinkers: Millenials and Gen-Xr's...

I think this is obviously will be due to the good press that wine investing has received over the past few months, including the news that it is independent of the main market flux (and therefore the implication is that it is more secure, or at least a good choice for diversification). Also reported is the idea that prices for hardcore investors of those already hard-too-find vintage bottles will start to climb faster than before - which, while aggravating to some - should increase the overall value of the stash of collected bottles. Perhaps the smaller collectors (I should call them speculators, as they won't be into the market in a significant way) will pool their resources and form small groups to increase their buying power.
My advice for them: Buy what you can, and hold.
But beware of buying wines you wouldn't like to drink yourself though, even if they are valuable, just in case there isn't a market someday you can still get some enjoyment from your purchases.

Has it really gone mainstream? Perhaps not yet, but it's making some more significant inroads than in the past...
Even Japanese cartoons are now being written around the subject...the above still is from an episode of Ghost in the Shell: Stand Alone Complex (2004) called "Angel's Share", where the main characters are entangled in an attempted heist of a warehouse where wine collections are stored. One of the scenes shows a reflection of the female heroine (above) window shopping for a Laguiole
corkscrew and a bottle of Romanee-Conti wine (vintage unknown).

It's doubtful that many kids would be watching this cartoon, as it appears to be oriented towards more mature audiences, but there are many fans of the Japanese manga anime cartoons who may be more likely to invest in a bottle of the stuff after seeing the cartoon. And certainly in Japan the concept of wine collecting is also seen as a status symbol, much as it is here in the west.

Reportedly, the cartoon also repeats some of the old misleading myths about wine aging: that ALL wines increase in value when aged, that wines can age forever, and that all wines are improved by decades of aging...sadly they couldn't cull those old wives tales from the production.

Thanks to stuart for the email & screen-shot.

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