Hello and happy spring! Hope everyone is staying safe and healthy out there. I’ve got your weekly round up of wine-newsy content from the past week, including a piece by yours truly on the California wine grape crush report.
A few other highlights—the WSET holds its first virtual diploma graduation and plans to keep the format for the future as well (I personally hope that I will be able to travel to London for the in-person event if/when that time comes); the European wine industry is in the midst of one of the worst droughts in history; restaurants are opening up for indoor dining all over the country—but it’s still risky business for workers and patrons alike; and industry pros debate whether we need better labelling on wine bottles.
Those are just a few of the top stories, but scroll through—I’ve included some fun articles surrounding St. Patrick’s Day, there’s some great independent insight in the Blogs, and actually quite a few informative press releases.
Have fun. Stay safe. Stay healthy. And drink good wine.
Wine Enthusiast: California Crushes Lowest Total Tonnage in a Decade, Grape Prices also Down
The 2020 Preliminary Winegrape Crush Report for California, released by the National Agricultural Statistics Service, revealed the state’s lowest wine crop figures since 2011. Statewide, California crushed 3.404 million tons of grapes, down 13% (about 88 million gallons) from 2019.
The drastic decrease is a result of multiple factors: lighter than normal yields for the 2020 vintage; devastating wildfires that burned throughout the state, damaging vines and tainting fruit; and the pandemic, which shifted consumer interest toward less expensive wine purchases.
“Overall, we think the crop was off by about 10–15% (before wildfires),” says Jeff Bitter, president of Allied Grape Growers. “But the Crush Report is really a reflection of what happened due to fires and smoke that manifested almost exclusively in the coast.” READ MORE…
The Drinks Business: WSET Holds First Virtual Diploma Graduation
Due to coronavirus restrictions, the Wine & Spirit Education Trust (WSET) is holding its first virtual graduation ceremony today for recipients of its Level 4 Diploma.
The WSET will be recognising those who completed their Diploma in 2019/20 in a virtual ceremony hosted by WSET CEO Ian Harris and with addresses from last year’s Outstanding Alumni Award winner Ferran Centelles and new honorary president Paul Symington.
The ceremony will honour a total of 252 new Diploma graduates from 26 education centres across 30 countries. Numbers are “considerably smaller” than in previous years, owing to exam cancellations due to Covid restrictions.
There are now over 11,000 WSET alumni around the world.
Commenting on the event, CEO Ian Harris said virtual ceremonies would become a permanent part of proceedings. READ MORE…
Decanter: Europe seeing worst summer droughts for 2,000 years
Climate change has led to an ‘unprecedented’ era of summer droughts in recent years, says new research that could also have implications for wine.
Summer droughts in Europe since 2015 been more severe than at any period in the past 2,110 years, according to new research led by the University of Cambridge.
‘Human-caused climate change’ was likely the cause, said the study published in Nature Geoscience.
It reconstructed summer weather over two millennia by analysing the rings of living and dead oak trees in modern-day Czech Republic and southern Germany.
Although the data focused only on central Europe, the study’s findings add to a growing body of evidence surrounding the impact of climate change on communities across the continent.
In vineyards, a degree of water ‘stress’ during the growing season is seen as beneficial to varying degrees, but severe drought conditions can also impact harvest yields and influence how grapes ripen. READ MORE…
Eater: Restaurant Worker Vaccine Eligibility and Dining Room Reopenings by State
In most of the country, the percentage of the population that’s received the first round of vaccinations is still in the teens. States, territories and sovereign nations with over 20 percent of the population partially vaccinated are mostly those with low populations, such as Palau, American Samoa, and Alaska. Meanwhile, we must contend with newly emerged COVID variants, which is all to say that despite making progress, we’re not out of the woods yet. Until the majority of the population, or — at the very least — public-facing workers like servers and cashiers, are vaccinated, everyone should still be taking extreme precautions, like wearing masks and limiting exposure to people outside one’s household. READ MORE…
The Buyer: Why we need greater transparency on wine labelling
Where do you stand on providing more ingredient information on wine labelling? Ines Salpico is quite clear. The time has come for the wine industry to open up its ingredient information.
Clean wine’ was, quite infamously, one of the industry’s new catchphrases in 2020. Dismissed by most as a misleading marketing stunt devoid of substance or any understanding of the actual products it referred to, it perhaps catalysed a much-needed debate on standards, transparency and how the industry is communicating to consumers.
Wine has remained puzzlingly immune to the same strict labelling requirements of other foodstuffs. So far this might have been perceived as an achievement of defensive lobbying from industry stakeholders, but is it perhaps alienating a new generation of consumers that the industry desperately needs to engage with in order to survive. […]
The subject was brought to the forefront earlier this month at the ‘Labelling and Transparency’ webinar, hosted by the Institute of Master of Wine and moderated by Pedro Ballesteros Torres MW. A diverse panel shared views from multiple perspectives and shed some light on changes to come.
Jancis Robinson MW described her long-time bafflement at the opacity of wine labels and called for an urgent change in standard labelling practices. Richard Bampfield MW seconded her view. READ MORE…
Wine Searcher: Wine’s Aversion to Gossip Kills the Buzz
Wineries are great at telling carefully concocted marketing stories, but what about dishing the real dirt?
It must be hard for winemakers, never quite knowing which bits of intrigue – if any – they can share with journalists.
On our left is constant self-flagellation: typically about wine’s inability to emulate the food sector’s triumphant penetration of mass media. On our right is the industry’s bête noire: intense fear of any subject considered remotely controversial and, by extension, interesting. This is a business where any measure of openness is usually followed by suffocating regret.
Could there be a link? The case for a dressing down of this pathological disinclination to news isn’t as daft as it sounds.
At first, I thought wine’s aversion to sharing tittle-tattle and innuendo was quite charming. When I began scribbling in 2010, I quickly fell in love with the industry’s sincerity (I’m thinking bijou producer of Californian Syrah here) and commitment to this inimitable beverage. Wine folks are generally a hospitable bunch, and some of my fondest memories involve winemakers, old bottles and vineyards.
Occasionally, as that warm sense of inebriation spread across the room, tongues would loosen and the truth would inevitably spill out. By now, everyone is swaying, in the same way a monkey hangs on to a tree in a storm. Then, an explosive(ish) revelation. You’d stagger to bed with a great story and the beginnings of an almighty hangover.
The morning always brought regrets, and a swift retraction. Halfway through the coffee and cornflakes, the winemaker/PR commissar would grab you by the neck and explain that disclosure of last night’s conversation was verboten. READ MORE…
New York Times: Steven Spurrier, Who Upended Wine World With a Tasting, Dies at 79
In what came to be called the Judgment of Paris, he arranged for California and French wines to be compared in a blind tasting. The verdict was a shocker.
The world was paying little attention on May 24, 1976, when a small wine tasting was held in Paris at the Intercontinental Hotel. But the echoes of that tasting, later called the Judgment of Paris, have resounded for decades.
The instigator, Steven Spurrier, an Englishman who owned a wine shop and wine school in Paris, had set up a blind tasting of 20 wines — 10 white and 10 red — for nine French judges, including some of the top names in the French wine and food establishment.
Of the whites, all made from the chardonnay grape, six were from California, four from Burgundy. The reds, all made largely or entirely from cabernet sauvignon, included six from California and four from Bordeaux.
It was hardly thought to be a fair fight. As has been recounted countless times, the judges were thoroughly convinced that California wines were inferior. READ MORE…
Wine Spectator: The Passing of a Tuscan Gentleman
Chianti’s Barone Sonnino is taken by COVID in his wine prime
De Renzis Sonnino, the elegant, silver-haired and bearded Tuscan aristocrat who took over his family’s Castello Sonnino and its Chianti vineyards in Montespertoli more than 30 years ago, succumbed to COVID-19 at the beginning of this month. He was 64—still in his wine prime.
“It is a big loss for us, but also for the world of wine,” lamented Castello Sonnino enologist Renato Iaconi, who worked closely with the man many knew simply as “the Barone.” “He was the kind of figure who is disappearing from the world. A romantic figure who is not interested in business, but in caring for his estate as in the past.” READ MORE…
Wine Spectator: Duckhorn Debuts on New York Stock Exchange
Napa Valley’s Duckhorn Vineyards became a publicly traded company on the New York Stock Exchange today when it began offering 20 million shares of common stock at an initial asking price of $15 a share. It opened at $18.60 this morning. Its trading symbol is NAPA. Duckhorn’s IPO makes it the first major wine company to go public since the late 1990s, a move that potentially marks a new chapter in the history of California wine but also points out the challenges of such an endeavor.
“From somewhat humble beginnings it’s hard to believe where we are now,” said Duckhorn CEO and president Alex Ryan. He rang in trading on the exchange floor this morning, joined by founder Dan Duckhorn. Ryan, who first worked part-time at the winery while in high school, joined Duckhorn full-time in 1988 and took the management reins in 2005. He has seen the company’s ownership change from family and friends to private equity and now a public company. READ MORE…
Wine Enthusiast: Cognac, Bordeaux and Beyond—How Irish Immigrants Changed the Wine and Spirits Industry
[Ireland’s] modern winemaking lineage started with the Williamite-Jacobite War, fought in Ireland from 1688–1691. Irish Catholics battled alongside French King Louis XIV to put Britain’s deposed Catholic King James II back on the throne.
Irish Catholics hoped to end harsh religious persecution from Britain. Irish Protestants joined James’ usurper, William of Orange, and allies from the Netherlands and Denmark to keep England, Scotland and Ireland in Protestant control. It came to a head at the 1690 Battle of the Boyne, where the Catholic coalition was defeated.
Defeated soldiers and their families fled to continental Europe and became known as the Wild Geese, leading to a century of migration for Irish political dissidents who sought to escape Britain’s harsh rule.
They joined the armies of France and Spain, and then shipping companies across the continent. Their success led other Irish families, displaced by Britain’s penalties, to turn toward the French shipping industry.
Many of Ireland’s educated and well-connected “Wild Geese” merchant families ended up in Bordeaux. They were first drawn to the booming wine trade, then to production itself.
Two Irish houses were listed on the prestigious 1855 classification crus: Château Léoville Barton and Château Lynch-Bages. Thomas Lynch, whose father immigrated from Galway, inherited the property with his wife Elizabeth in 1749. The family eventually sold it, but their name remains. READ MORE…
Blogs Worth a Read
Taken from the list of Blogs I follow regularly, here are just a few posts from this past week I think are worth a read. Shoot me a note if you have suggestions of blogs to follow or want your blog included on that list.
Nielsen: What You See Isn’t What You Get—The Role of Media in Anti-Asian Racism
From attacks on Chinese laborers in 1885 to the more than 3,000 anti-Asian hate incidents in the last year, attacks against the Asian American community are not new. But while this is not the first time in U.S. history that the Asian community has been subjected to violence, recent research shows the quantity and context of inclusion on TV for an identity group plays a role in learning—and unlearning—racist stereotypes that harm Asian Americans.
One clear challenge to disrupting stereotypes is the exclusion of diverse Asian American experiences from U.S. television content. Add amid the disruption of production schedules during 2020, Gracenote Inclusion Analytics reveals that share of screen* for Asian American and Pacific Islanders (AAPI) remains limited. Particularly, East Asians and Southeast Asians appeared in leading roles on TV at a fraction of their presence in the U.S. population. READ MORE…
Jancis Robinson: Is sulphur dioxide really the villain?
Sophie’s research is a provocative investigation of one possible cause of wine intolerance, and it’s not SO2. More specifically it is a call to wine producers to understand the beneficial activity of SO2 in inhibiting another cause of intolerance. […]
She points out in her exhaustive review of existing scientific literature that ‘clinical studies have established that reactions to SO2 are almost exclusively respiratory, affecting 3–10% of the acute asthmatic population’ . She goes so far as to suggest that SO2, used in a timely and proportionate manner, could actually reduce the risk of wine intolerance.
Wine intolerance, usually resulting in headaches, nausea, rashes and flushing, is quite different from more severe allergenic reactions to wine but can be very unpleasant and may well put some people off drinking wine altogether. Such symptoms very closely resemble those potentially provoked by the ingestion above a certain level of biogenic amines (BAs), widely studied in relation to food and other beverages – from the perspective of quality as well as health. ‘The presence of BAs in wine has been abundantly researched yet on a practical level neither the industry nor consumers at large are aware of their relevance to health or to product quality.’ READ MORE…
BK Wine Magazine: Ornellaia 2018 launched, a graceful and elegant vintage
The theme for 2018 was the Italian word “grace”, a graceful vintage. This is how the wine is.
Despite all the beauty, the king of Tuscany’s grapes, sangiovese, does not thrive here. The area is better known for its French grape varieties, and references are often made to Bordeaux.
Bolgheri makes some of the world’s most famous wines, such as Sassicaia and Ornellaia. When new vintages are launched, there is great interest. So it was again this year when Ornellaia presented the famous Tenuta dell’Ornellaia 2018, Doc Bolgheri Superiore Rosso, with a professionally organized online tasting.
Ornellaia is owned since 2012 by the Frescobaldi family, one of Tuscany’s historic wineries. Each year, an artist is selected to make 111 specially designed labels on a specific theme that reflects the vintage. These are used for one salmanazar, ten imperiali and one hundred double magnums. 111 bottles. This year, the theme was the Italian word grace (grace, elegance, beauty), which is thought to reflect the 2018 vintage. The bottles have been designed by the Belgian artist and director Jan Fabre. He has dressed the bottles with sculptures made of coral. They will be sold through Christie’s, the auction company, to wine and art lovers around the world. Since the start of “vendemmia di artista” in 2009, 2 million euros have been raised and donated to various charities that work with art in various forms. READ MORE…
Deborah Parker Wong: France protects sensory heritage
A New Law Helps Protect Biodiversity in the French Countryside
An infamous rooster named Maurice and a gaggle of contented geese have helped ensure biodiversity in France. In the face of complaints about the noises and smells typical of the countryside, the French Parliament passed a law on January 21, 2021, protecting what it calls the “sensory heritage” of its rural areas.
While the primary intention of the ruling is to help local officials tasked with mediating disputes between vacationers and local residents (more on that later), it introduces sounds and smells into the French environmental code as recognized characteristics of natural spaces. In doing so, it’s able to protect them the same way it does the land, the quality of the air, and the biodiversity of plant and animal species. READ MORE…
The Wine Gourd: How much does the Wine Curmudgeon’s world overlap with mine?
The answer, surprisingly, seems to be: about one-third. Read on, to see how I arrived at this conclusion.
Jeff Siegel (the Wine Curmudgeon) has announced that he has now gone underground — as from today, his blog will forever be behind a subscriber-only paywall. Financially, one can hardly blame him, because a freely available web-site is no way to make a living.
Not unexpectedly, however, this move has engendered a few negative comments from some of his audience, giving various reasons for not paying up. The one that is particularly relevant to me is this:
Several readers noted they wouldn’t be moving to the paid version of the blog because it was difficult finding many of the wines I review.
Science & Wine: The Wine Influencers: Exploring a New Communication Model of Open Innovation on Social Networks
The Netnographic analysis highlighted five Key-findings (KF) occurred in all discussions of wine influencers’ profiles, that are: Advices from the Wine Influencer and generalized reciprocity in relationships (KF1); Structural and social bonds built based on the frequency of messages from regular followers (KF2); Peer-to-peer relationship development through recommendations (KF3); Relationships of trust built through online relationships (KF4); Wine influencer’s influence on his/her followers regarding everything he/she talks and tells people about (wines, wine territories, wine brands, wine events, etc.) (KF5). These Key-findings delineates the context of communication inside the wine influencers’ Instagram profiles and their activity of communication.
WSET: The changing face of Irish whiskey
Up until quite recently, many whiskey connoisseurs have tended to be slightly dismissive of Irish whiskey, pigeon-holing it as mostly light, smooth, and inoffensive. Some of these opinions may have had some merit, but now a resurgent Irish whiskey sector is enthusiastically pulling the rug out from under those old assumptions.
For those with an adventurous palate, Irish whiskey is beginning to offer an extraordinary range of styles and within the next few years, we can expect this category to take us to some very unusual places indeed.
You are probably familiar with the classic Irish blended whiskey style. Typically, a blend of grain whiskey and unpeated triple distilled malt and/or pot still whiskey. Often this is aged in ex-bourbon casks to produce that approachable, easy-drinking dram which has provided the salve to many a quiet night in and the lubricant to many more convivial nights out. But how did this style emerge? READ MORE…
Pedestrian: How To Fake Your Way Through A Wine Tasting So No One Knows You’re Just There For The Alcohol
If you haven’t yet been on a winery tasting because you feel like it will fly right over your head, let me just say that you’re missing out big time – you don’t have to be a grape juice aficionado to appreciate a decent winery. […] If the only thing that’s holding you back is your lack of wine knowledge, I’m here to act as your guide to bluffing your way through the day. It’s surprisingly simple to appear more knowledgeable than you actually are. READ MORE…
These are some press releases I received this week that I actually thought were interesting…enjoy!
Texas Wine Growers Alliance: Texas Wine Growers Supports the Filing of New Texas Wine Labeling Bill
Texas Wine Growers (TWG) applauds and fully supports the filing of House Bill 1957 by State Representative John Kuempel / Senate Bill 1402 by State Senator Dawn Buckingham today. This legislation will propel the Texas wine industry forward by requiring that in order to use a Texas AVA (American Viticultural Area), County or Vineyard designation on a wine label, 100% of the grapes must be grown in the state of Texas.
An AVA (American Viticultural Area) is a delineated grape-growing region with specific geographic or climatic features that distinguish it from the surrounding regions and affect how grapes grow there. With these new labeling requirements, the bill will allow wineries to more accurately protect and market the origin of their wines, and therefore educate consumers on the characteristics of the wines that come from certain places in the state. Currently, Texas does not hold state-level labeling standards in wine origin protection, unlike the largest and most prominent wine growing states across the U.S.: California, Oregon, Washington and New York. READ MORE…
Sovos ShipCompliant: Kentucky Removes Barriers to Direct Shipping
On March 12, Kentucky Governor Andy Beshear, signed HB 415 into effect, providing some very welcome updates to the state’s direct-to-consumer (DtC) alcohol shipping laws.
The biggest reform provided by the recently signed bill is the removal of a provision that previously prohibited DtC alcohol shippers from using third-party fulfillment houses to help with their shipping logistics needs. This change is a major shift for the state’s DtC alcohol shipping laws and should provide immediate relief to the many licensed DtC alcohol shippers, large and small, who rely on fulfillment houses to manage the complexities of readying packages with alcohol and bringing those packages to the designated carriers.
This change is also welcome in light of the ongoing debate about the value of fulfillment houses in the DtC alcohol shipping market and a bill proposed in Tennessee to prohibit their use. READ MORE…
Ciatti Company: California Report
As the first quarter of 2021 draws to a close, we can say California’s bulk wine and grape markets continue to be active following the supply adjustment brought about by last summer’s wildfires and the shorter 2020 crop – last month’s grape crush report confirming, at 3.4 million tons, the smallest crop since 2011.
We have moved to a much more balanced supply-demand position in most regions of the state, with 2018 and 2019 vintage wines now hard to find and a very active 2021 grape market in the Central Valley. As this better supplydemand equilibrium has been caused by less supply than the industry expected in, say, the middle of last year, rather than a growth in overall sales, we see the market as being in a ‘tenuous’ balance: For example, how resilient is this balance if the 2021 crop looks like it is coming in average-sized or larger?
Another question: Will the performance of consumer sales in the first few months of this year be strong enough that, if the 2021 crop looks like being another short one, the market will tighten further? Close attention is being paid both to early spring conditions in the vineyards and sales performance, projections of the latter particularly difficult to make with any sort of confidence right now. READ MORE…
Wine America: WineAmerica Releases 2021 Government Affairs Strategy
WineAmerica, the national association of American wineries, has released a document detailing its overall government affairs strategy and legislative agenda for 2021. The document includes an overview of the government affairs process, major achievements of 2020, the legislative priorities for 2021, and detailed position papers on the key issues.
“Growers produce grapes, wineries produce wine, and WineAmerica produces policy,” said WineAmerica President Jim Trezise. “Think of our industry as an incredibly strong three-legged stool which would collapse if any leg was missing. Since wine is a farm product, grape growers and winemakers are always discussing the natural climate while we at WineAmerica focus on the business climate for wine.” READ MORE…
Find the WineAmerica 2021 Government Affairs Book at https://wineamerica.org/government-affairs-2021/
Reciprocity Wines: Brand New Online Wine Retailer Reciprocity Wines Focuses on Promoting Independent Small Wine Producers
Having both worked for boutique wineries in Napa and Sonoma, co-founders Amanda Carder and AnnMarie Miller understand first hand the many challenges faced by small producers. As oenophiles themselves, they also know the frustration of discovering an intriguing wine only to find it difficult to obtain if not physically going to wineries and having a single bottle shipped to ‘try’ is simply not practical. With Reciprocity Wines they have created a solution for both small vintners and the consumers who appreciate these ‘hidden gems’. READ MORE…
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