Tuesday, July 31, 2007

A close-up of the "Gallic Syndrome"...

I posted on it a while back, warning of what I think are signs that point to a similar situation to take place here in California - most notably in Napa...though it could strike anywhere when a few top end wineries get astronomical prices and prestige while the vast majority of very good producers see a shrinking market price, perhaps even lessened market presence due to imports which offer more consumer satisfaction, all the while prices for cost of living, land and materiels continue to skyrocket...
[Gallic Syndrome post]

You can somewhat see what the effects are in Bordeaux in the following article: A tale of two Bordeaux (SFGate.com)
As they say in the intro to the piece, of key importance is the struggle of the everyday producer to remain relevant...

"Although the region's top names are still able to command stratospheric prices, many of their fellow vintners have been left in the dust...Peter M. F. Sichel, who has been a prominent figure in the Bordeaux trade for the last 40 years, believes that money has distorted the market. An increasingly wealthy upper class from around the world is pouring money into the market for top names and virtually ignoring smaller properties.

"There are really two Bordeaux now," Sichel says. "One hundred or so chateaus (less than 5 percent of all properties) are doing exceptionally well, and everyone else is struggling." "

How have they fallen flat?

By NOT simplifying their AOC system, adopting varietal labeling, and by NOT figuring a way to brand themselves as a group outside of the 1855 Classification system...

Meanwhile, the top end producers - a group smitten with the 2000% price increase in some of the top priced wines over the past decades - allow avarice to dictate wild prices even when the harvest is of lesser quality (as was 2006 vs 2005)...

This all ties into where Napa is headed. More castles, micro-cru producers with wads of cash from other sectors driving land prices thru the roof...all just to make their individual 500 cases of cult wine which the average Joe would never be able to purchase. And while we don't have many of the problems the French do have, the path into the same trap appears to be well under foot right now, and we - much like the French already have - seem to be embarking on a trek that will split the industry into those who can get $500/btl, and those who cannot...

As they say, the path to Hell is an easy one...

Of course, this will lead to bargain prices for those US companies which can import French
negociant wines (notably Pinot Noir) in bulk, bottle it here, and bring it to market for far less than the French producers can themselves...and...

...AND avoid the problem France faces by bottling it in a region where varietal labeling and branding are "old hat".

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Harvest started in central valley?

Word from one of my informants is that the '07 harvest has started in the lower portion of the Central Valley...which would make it the second earliest in the past decade - only behind the huge harvest of 1997...

Boonesdonny #3

Where we see the kids a bit down over the fact that nobody's flocking to their doorstep to shell out money for nothing... But they've got an angle: they just need a Hotshot Sales & Marketing team!!!

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Wednesday, July 25, 2007

EU subsidies...and reform thereof...

I've got to hand it to the social commentary of Berke Breathed's Bloom County back in the late 80's...still as acerbic and hypocritical as it was then.
( I believe the cartoon was penned when the massive Farm-Aid concerts were being put on all over the country...of course there's a subsequent panel where Opus accounts for all his expenditures and realizes he's spent $37.75 million dollars to produce "two pounds chemically fattened tomaters"[sic], one-half bushel of corn, and a yam, and then proudly exclaims "God help me, I'll NEVER give up this distinctly American way of life!"...yet another panel elapses and then the ridiculously excessive Gov't handouts arrive...).

Anyways, it seems we ALL love our subsidies regardless of where in the world we reside...and we ALL resist having any strings put on them via performance requirements, production quotas, legislation, etc...
We hate to see those subsidies stop so much that we sometimes find ways to try to keep collecting after we die! (MSNBC: Dead Farmers get $1.1 Billion from USDA)
Indeed, one of the biggest problems with any subsidy program is attempting to apply it with a semblance of equity, and then to ensure that those monies are no longer spent when relief's no longer needed.

For the EU there are tough times ahead given the need for reform and the position it finds itself in currently. Those choices they need to make and the sacrifices they will entail, while fairly obvious on the whole, are painful to all.
But do nothing, and you commit yourself to continually spending 1/3 of your collective budget to bail out the wine sector by distillation of surplus products when that money would be better spent on programs increasing quality or marketing. How does one assign areas to be "grubbed up" (removed) - look at yearly excesses? Look at the ratio of production to revenue, and keep only the vineyards with the best returns? Certainly, the vineyards with the least revenue and most yearly excess not turned to table wines would be candidates...but the vignerons with such are not REQUIRED to grub up, unless the vines planted are NOT of approved varietals for that area.
In fact they're trying to be a little too egalitarian in their approach: designate vineyards that produce little revenue (and absorb subsidy money), and leave them the option to grub-up or not, but cut off the subsidies if they choose not to after a short period.
The EU is looking to "grub-up" ~200,000 ha (~494,200 acres) in total.

And where would that leave whole regions like Spain, which produces ~25% of the EU product, but claims only ~8% of the EU revenue monies. See the problem here?
Many of the Spanish wines, sound but without the prestige of the French & Italians, don't garner the same amount of cash (which is good for consumers who continue to look to Spain for great bargains...).
Also unfortunate for Spain is that it just lost its place in the UK to Chilean wines, who can use newer fermentation methods than those allowed in Spain....
Hopefully, the Spanish will be behind the reforms and use those changes to help regain competitive position in the market.

Now, there are detractors to the plan within the EU -namely the biggest names in the game, who have some of the best reputations - and misinformation about the proposals abounds. Many articles I've read in the past few months claim the proposals will end chaptalization (adding sugar to must for alcohol & body).
In fact it will not end the practice of adding sugar in the form of must (up to 2% by volume for cooler areas, 1% for warmer areas in France, Spain, Italy, etc) ...so the vignerons will still have some relief for cooler years with less ripe fruit.
It WILL end the use of beet sugar (& other non-grape source sugar) for that purpose.
Many claim that it will lead to "a loss of tradition", which is dubious...I mean, if your "tradition" no longer garners you much respect in the marketplace, and your sales tank, then what's the point?
Besides, as I said back in September, 2004: tradition sometimes sucks!

The reforms look to help codify geographic place names along the lines of the WTO policies...something the well established AOC & DOC producers don't see as being needed (for them). [see this from the EU's website: Reform of the wine sector- Commission proposal]
Also, see this site from the EU with a summary fact sheet regarding the reforms.
Several variants of the proposals exist, and hopefully the member states of the EU will be able to get something together which serves their common interests.

Personally, if they don't get this reform going now, I feel they'll continually lose market share on the whole, and perhaps even be too far behind the curve to really catch up in the next decade - which is really scary.

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Friday, July 20, 2007

EU: crises in the making

I’ve been reading a good post for the past few days by Alder over at Vinography about the EU and the continuing struggle they are going through to try to modernize their OIV winemaking regulations…and it got me to thinking…how many of us even know what it is they’re trying to do?

I’ve posted on the topic several times in the past, both about how they’re trying to get people off of the “crisis distillation” crutch they’ve latched onto in recent years due to over production of “table wine”, and also about how they need to update their winemaking methods to remain competitive…

Firstly, I’ve got to say that Alder’s got a great handle on it:

”I am a firm believer in the market, in case you couldn't tell, and it's incredibly difficult for me to understand how some people (including many readers of this blog) think that by lifting, shifting, or changing restrictions and regulations to allow EU states to better compete in the world market, somehow all the good wine will go away. As if allowing vintners to add acid to their wines or use a higher percentage of Merlot will suddenly cause those winemakers who are making fantastic wine (that everyone wants to buy right now) completely change their practices to produce shite that tastes like it was churned out of a Star Trek synthesizer.”

Amen, Brother!

He’s right, the issue isn’t about destroying the small volume of great wines at the top of the production pyramid, but rather about allowing producers to practice a deeper bit of elevage on the large “table wine” sector which continues to pull everyone under the surface of the proverbial wine lake to drown with them. Yes, once placed into the Codex Alimentarius of the EU those practices will probably be available to all who wish to utilize them…but why on earth would the people already getting better than €100/btl bother with that? So they could improve their return from €96.40/btl to €97.00/btl, and risk losing that segment of the market which is so enamored with the tradition, the “soul” of wine if you will, which was willing to pay the €100/btl in the first place?

No, that’s not going to happen…not even at the €50/btl range, and for several good reasons…

Primarily among those restraining factors is the very fabric of the EU society, and its cognizance of where wine is within it’s own (EU) cultural context: wine is both a common and uncommon commodity to them. Common in the degree to which it is found, yet uncommon in how it is placed - nay “revered” is a better term – above almost any other product in terms of “nobility”, “aristocracy”, “purity”, “history”, etc.

And that is also the reason that even though these reforms have been introduced and discussed for the past 3~4years, there has been little in the way of headway for a firm acceptance by all member states.

The comments are heating up a bit at his site, and it's worth a read.

I'm drafting a post on the actual reforms to post this weekend with a bit deeper analysis...in the meantime: Go Alder! Go!

Wednesday, July 18, 2007

Rain this morning...no harm done

A light rain has been falling for the past two hours, but there's no danger to the vines and crop right now. We are well past flowering and set of the clusters in every varietal, and this will be a short weather system passing through. I had heard from friends yesterday evening that it was already raining in Eureka and Arcata, and that the system was dropping down through Mendocino County on its way to Sonoma and Napa Counties. I was kind of hoping this would happen and help sap some of the heat out of our previous weeks weather. Unfortunately, it won't be enough rain/moisture to alleviate the fire danger and drought conditions we're in right now (except for the actual day it's raining - the weekend will see us right back where we were in that respect).

Yet it is somewhat disturbing to have this happening again -while not entirely unheard of, as we do have a small amount of precipitation which falls in the summer - summer rain was/is a bit more frequent the past 3 harvests than it has been in the, say, last 15 years. While that's faaaar too short a time frame to be making any sweeping judgments, it is a little dismaying to those trying to get the crop into tip top shape. From years of experience I know we'll have plenty of sunshine & warmth following little showers like this to make it inconsequential in the long run, but even so, the farmer in me always cringes slightly when I hear the rain on the roof in the summer.

Now if this were a cold wet year, and the rain was falling at harvest, well then, things would be different...

Tuesday, July 10, 2007

Boonesdonny continues...

Another frame in the epic story of a boy in search of money from the gullible...
What a fun way to parody & satire BioD!
I should've thought of this years ago!!

Stay tuned for more fun in the coming weeks...

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Monday, July 09, 2007

About BioD...

Friday, July 06, 2007

Can't find wine? Try looking...

“…most of the world’s red wines have grown fatter, softer and ought to now be referred to as the couch potatoes of the wine world.”

Dan Berger 6/29/2007

Repeatedly over the last few years wine writers have railed against the “high alcohol fruit bombs”…a term which could use a bit better definition…

Last Friday, Dan Berger penned an article on “Red Wine and Fish”, where he revisits some food & wine suggestions he made a few decades ago – and while I don’t find problems with most of it, I do take exception to one point: wines with alcohol levels above 15% are NOT all that we are being offered these days…

As always, Dan’s suggestions are still worthy of consideration – take his “…fat of the lamb needs the tartness of the wine, and the assertive flavors of the dish need the fruit intensity of the wine…” when making a recommendation about why a Zinfandel would be appropriate for a leg of lamb seasoned with garlic & rosemary is still excellent advice.

EXCEPT…he then finished his paragraph with “[t]oday, such a wine is hard to find”

But is it?

Let’s take Zinfandel as an example since it seems to be the most targeted varietal when people take aim at “high alcohol fruit bombs”, and Dan brings it up as well…

To prove my point, I had a pal check out his local Safeway store to see what Zins he could find below 14% alcohol (I told him I wanted Zins below 14%, to make it a bit harder…), spending no more than 10 minutes on the mission. I figured that would be a fairly representative result & applicable to most consumers’ experiences as it didn’t involve a wine or spirits specialty store.

“Well then,” you might say, “what did he find?”
Plenty! With just that quick look there were 15 wines, 13 of which were @ 13.5% alcohol:

Ravenswood, 2005 Zinfandel, 13.5%

Fetzer, 2005 Zinfandel, 13.5%

Smoking Loon, 2005 Zinfandel, 13.5%

Blackstone, 2005 Zinfandel, 13.5%

BV Coastal, 2004 Zinfandel, 13.5%

Barefoot, Non-vintage Zinfandel, 13.5%

Sutter Home, 2005 Zinfandel (red, not white), 13.5%

Renwood, 2004 Zinfandel, 13.5%

Peachy Canyon, 2005 Zinfandel, 13.9%

Dancing Bull, 2005 Zinfandel, 13.9%

Sterling, 2005 Zinfandel, Vintner’s Collection, 13.5%

Clos Du Bois, 2004 Zinfandel, North Coast, 13.5%

Screw Kappa Napa, 2003 Zinfandel, Vintner’s Collection, 13.5%

Mondavi, 2005 Zinfandel, 13.5%

Those wines above represent about 40% of the offerings of Zin, and while Dan might claim victory since in the “old days” better than 95% of the offerings would be under 14%, I still say it’s not that hard for someone to find a Zin below 14%.

Perhaps Dan doesn’t shop stores where any of these wines are available?

Doubtful…these blends are all fairly large bottlings, and shouldn’t be too hard to find – especially for someone experienced like Dan, who’s in many wine sections, in many different stores.

(The parallel idea to his “fruit bomb” point is that the wines lack acid, which I would state is probably incorrect when looking at the wines on this list from cooler areas, where the acid levels remain higher…)