Good morning. I dare say we all made it to the weekend, so cheers to that. What’s on deck for this week’s wine-news round up?
I’ll start with my selfish plug for my latest article for Wine Enthusiast, diving into the definition of ‘Microclimate.’
If you’ve never considered the implications of covid on wine storage, here’s an interesting perspective on that. And, how would you all define ‘natural wine?’ (Yes, I just asked the controversial question.) Also enjoying this round up on sustainability measures around the world.
In the blogs, I have to call out my gal Amber again, who says what we’re all (at least I am) thinking about wax seals. And please, people before you go bashing bloggers for inserting their opinions (especially pros like Amber) take a look at this post as well.
As I study for my Diploma D4, sparkling exam, I’m looking forward to listening to Matthew’s podcast on Cava. And for those with the MW pipe dreams like me—take a look at this past year’s exam questions and then read the reaction of a current MW candidate.
Loads more, per usual. So sit back, relax, scroll, read, learn, enjoy. And shoot me a note every once in awhile. Cheers.
Wine Enthusiast: What Does ‘Microclimate’ Mean?
“Microclimate is almost like a sub-AVA,” says Erica Stancliff about the roles these atmospheric conditions play in American Viticulture Areas (AVAs).
Stancliff, a winemaker at Trombetta Family Wines and Pfendler Vineyards on Sonoma Mountain in California, and president of the Petaluma Gap Winegrowers Alliance, defines a microclimate as “a small subset of an area with unique climatic differences from the surrounding areas.”
A microclimate can affect just a few acres or it can span several square miles. READ MORE…
Wine Industry Advisor: Climate Has Changed—How Global Wine Regions Are Responding
In August, the United Nations’ issued a report that U.N. Secretary-General António Guterres characterized as a “code red for humanity” regarding the current state and near future of the planet. Among their findings: global warming is nearing emergency levels, humans are “unequivocally” to blame, and while rapid action is necessary to ensure humanity’s future, certain weather patterns—including fatal heat waves, storms and droughts—are inevitable.
Though humans helped create this existential crisis, we are far from helpless in combatting it. According to a report on the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, almost one-third of the global emissions causing climate change are caused by agricultural activities, including the use of pesticides.
In California alone, the state applies more than 200 million pounds of agricultural pesticides annually according to the Department of Pesticide Regulation. Forty million of that 200 million are fumigants, which are 300 times more detrimental to the environment than carbon dioxide. In France, vineyards occupy just over 4 percent of France’s agricultural area, but use 15 percent of the pesticides, according to a 2019 report from the French Agricultural Ministry.
Considering what’s at stake, it may seem tasteless to mull the implications of climate change for the wine industry, but taken as a whole, the segment is expected to reach $434.6 billion by 2027. Millions of businesses, individuals, and entire regions depend on the continued ability to cultivate wine grapes for their survival, and grapes are some of the most notoriously delicate and vulnerable agricultural products on the planet. READ MORE…
VinePair: Without Endless Flavors and Variety Packs, Can Hard Seltzer Truly Survive?
Much like Frankenstein’s monster, hard seltzer is on a rampage. Strangely enough, the brand-new beverage category and misunderstood zombie have a lot in common: pieced together by innovative creators, jolted to life, and eventually evolved into a more mature invention that’s beginning to slow down a bit.
“The hard seltzer category is certainly volatile,” Maria Stipp, CEO of Stone Brewing in Escondido, Calif., says. Stone launched its Buenavida hard seltzer line earlier this year. “I think we all had to expect some amount of deceleration after such accelerated growth and loads of SKUs,” she says.
This slowdown hardly signals a death knell for the breakout beverage alcohol segment of 2020, despite much hand-wringing and ominous predictions of its inevitable collapse. Bart Watson, chief economist for the Brewers Association, said in a tweet thread on Aug. 27 that “hard seltzer is now essentially flat YoY [year-over-year] in scan data.” Basically, hard seltzer’s meteoric — and surprisingly long-lasting — growth was impressive, but impossible to sustain indefinitely. We’re just beginning to grasp what the future might look like for the bubbly booze. READ MORE…
Wine Spectator: Two Guys and an Unwanted Vineyard
The New Abruzzo, Part 1: How Binomio joined Italy’s elite
The first days of September in Italy can be pretty thrilling. As the weather cools to perfection, the sun shines on and the seas stay warm. It’s an ideal time to squeeze those last bits out of summer.
On the not-so-merry-go-round of COVID-19, Italy has been OK. Its vaccination rate blew past the U.S., and new cases have remained relatively low. If you overlook the masked waiters and the ubiquitous “Green Pass” needed to get into restaurants and public transport, things seem “normale.” The piazzas are once again full, handshaking and kissing are slowly coming back, and wine is flowing.
Personally, I’ve been eager to get back to exploring vineyards after the dog days. Last week, I hopped on a train heading southwest to the Adriatic coast and one of Italy’s least understood wine areas: Abruzzo. On the calf of the Italian boot opposite Rome, the Abruzzo hills are a stunning agricultural area that can rival anywhere else in Italy with its olive groves, wheat fields and vineyards that extend from the Apennine mountains to the blue-green sea. READ MORE…
Wine Industry Advisor: Consumers’ Thirst for Wine Fuels the Storage and Cellaring Business
The wine storage business experienced a measurable uptick during the pandemic-induced, wine-buying boom. Both at-home and off-site wine storage have reported sales increases between 15 and nearly 50 percent.
“Pre-pandemic, our business was growing 10 to 25 percent, depending on the year,” says Charles Malek, CEO of VintageView Wine Storage Systems in Denver. But starting in May of 2020, his company’s transactions were 48 percent higher than in previous months. “In 2019 they were $11.7 million; in 2020 they were $12.9 million; and in 2021, year-to-date, we are up about 35 percent—between $15.5 million to $17 million,” says Malek.
Malek comments that though VintageView had several residential clients pre-pandemic, the company’s largest purchases were made by restaurant owners. But today, “More consumers are getting into the wine storage game.” READ MORE…
Wine Enthusiast: With Massive Growth and Mixed Reviews, Scout & Cellar Cannot Be Ignored
On its website, Scout & Cellar, a wine club and retailer based in Dallas, Texas, makes repeated references to doing good.
“What makes us different?” reads one section, “It’s our commitment to doing the right thing. Every time.” Elsewhere, the company describes its commitment to its health mission as a matter of principle: “Why do we do this? Because we hold ourselves to a higher standard.”
Some aren’t so sure. While the company generated $20 million of sales in its first year and says it employs near 20,000 people nationwide, critics take aim against both its “clean” health claims and referral-based business practices.
So, is Scout & Cellar a benevolent corner of the notoriously exclusive wine industry? Or do its carefully phrased terms and conditions make the world of wine even more opaque? READ MORE…
Wine Industry Advisor—Opinion: Natural Winemaking Is the Most Natural Thing
I love natural style wines. In fact, I’m partial to them, and for good reason: Because wines made in this style give you the highest percentage chance of experiencing a wine that expresses the vineyard where it’s grown, or the appellation of its origin.
It’s not so much a matter of personal taste, it’s more about how I originally came into this industry when training to become a full-time sommelier, back in the late 1970s. In those days we learned, for instance, that Lafite is Lafite, which is different from Margaux, Haut-Brion, or Cheval Blanc. Why? Because they are different vineyards, reflecting completely different terroirs—naturally. This was as basic as A, B, C, and still is.
For the longest time, however, I could never understand why American wines couldn’t be understood, or appreciated, in the same way. It seems American wines have historically been made to fulfill expectations such as “varietal character,” or to reinforce sensory qualities associated with specific brands. That’s how many premium producers chalk up the “scores,” which drive wine sales.
Yet, in the US, vineyard or regional expressions, a sense of place, terroir—whatever you want to call it—typically takes a back seat. READ MORE…
Blogs Worth a Read
Taken from the list of Blogs and other media outlets 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 independent media to follow or want your outlet included on that list.
Dame Wine: Spanish Family Winery Survival Saves Century-Old Ungrafted Bush Vines
A secret garden of vineyards sit at 2,300 feet and beyond in elevation within a tiny wine region called Almansa in Spain, surrounded by limestone mountains called El Mugrón that protect the old, dry-farmed bush vines that are ungrafted as it is a place that is quite isolated from anything from the outside world. Ungrafted vines are always a remarkable sight in Europe considering that European vineyards were almost wiped out completely by an American pest called phylloxera, hence why many European grape vines are grafted onto American rootstocks to combat it. Almansa soils are mainly made up of limestone and they are poor in nutrients and the combination of having such a soil with an arid, cooler climate makes it difficult to grow anything besides cereals, olive and almond trees and vineyards that produce low yields. READ MORE…
Tim Atkin: White Stone and Sun
Brač is the largest island in the Croatian archipelago on the Dalmatian coast, and just eight kilometres (around an hour by catamaran) from the easily accessible and beautiful city of Split. Famous for its beach tourism (Zlatni Rat, a spit of gold on the south coast is frequently described as one of the best beaches in the world, and is familiar even to those who have never been there as its photo has been reproduced so many times), Brač is also known for its brilliant white limestone, largely quarried from Pučišća on the northern side of the island. This stone was employed in the construction of the Unesco World Heritage Diocletian’s palace in Split, and has been used in the thousands of years since for construction across the island and the world. There is even a much claimed tale that it was Pučišća stone used to face the White House in Washington, although there seems to be a degree of wishful thinking involved in this story. But stone, especially limestone, with its curious ability to be both water retentive and free-draining, is a perfect environment for the vine, and while Brač’s soils may not be as famous as Andalucia’s albariza does for Sherry, they are still pretty special.
Wine, of course, has long been a part of the rich culture of this part of the world, with its Roman, Venetian, Hungarian, Slavic and French periods all on display in the architecture, literature and cosmopolitan feel. READ MORE…
Young Gun of Wine: Thinking Outside the Box
Think of an iconic Australian invention, and you’ll likely go straight to the Hills Hoist, Victa lawn mower, Black Box or Vegemite. There is, however, another ‘Aussie’ invention that needs to be considered in the same iconic company – the wine cask, born in the 1960s when Thomas Angove, of Angove Family Winemakers, created a cost-effective, resealable plastic bag, packaged inside a cardboard box, designed as an alternative for the glass wine bottle. The low production costs of the cask gave the opportunity to make low-priced wine even more accessible. Within a decade, this led to an association of cask wine containing lesser-quality juice, and it soon became colloquially known as a ‘goon bag’ or, ironically, ‘Card-Bordeaux’.
Move forward to 2021 and Marcus Radny of Gonzo Vino is changing the game when it comes to cask wine. Gonzo Vino is looking transform the perception of cask wine by bringing it into the 21st century through a focus on quality, fun and sustainability. Radny started Gonzo Vino while working as head sommelier at Jackalope Hotel on Victoria’s Mornington Peninsula. He found himself faced with the conundrum of wine-thirsty guests lounging by the pool but being forbidden by OHS restrictions from having any glass objects in the vicinity. When looking for non-glass wine options that he would be proud to serve, Radny found ‘a whole lot of not much’ on the market – which he saw as an opportunity. READ MORE…
SpitBucket: Waxsplaining – Let’s make enjoying wine harder!
Last night I attempted to enjoy a bottle of wine at dinner with my wife.
I eventually succeeded and the wine, a super cool bottle of Old Vine Colombard from stellar South African producer Ian Naudé, was delicious. Lovely peach and citrus notes with a creamy, textured mouthful, lively acidity and a long stony finish. It went exquisitely well with the complex flavors of the Indian dishes we had.
Fabulous wine. But the only spoiler and what will keep me from buying this wine again was how much of an ordeal it was to open the damn bottle.
Because of blasted wax! READ MORE…
SpitBucket: The Ethos of This Blog
While I’ll remain steadfastly skeptical that I truly have the influence to really harm or damage anything, I’d like to make one thing clear.
I’m not here to sell your wine.
I don’t make a dime from this blog but then that’s never been my goal. There are plenty of consultants, marketers, PR firms and influencers who will gladly take wineries’s money to help them sell more wine. Please, seek them out as I’m sure they have a lot to offer.
The only thing that I’ve ever had to offer is just sincere and frank feedback. From my perspective as a consumer with how I shop for wine and spend my money through my experiences working in the retail trenches listening to customers and trying to share the stories of wineries big and small, it’s all there. Good, bad, ugly but honest.
That’s all I’ve ever promised with this blog and that’s all I’m ever going to give.
So if you don’t like the feedback, that’s fine. READ MORE…
The Wine Economist: Finding Growth in a Stagnant Market: What Can Wine Learn from Beer?
Although it is hard to pick out trends with confidence in the current topsy-turvy wine market environment, it is fair to say that there is growing concern that global wine consumption has reached a plateau. This is not a new phenomenon, as I wrote back in January 2019, when I pointed out “global wine’s lost decade.”
Where do you find growth in a stagnant market? One strategy, which I pointed out in a March 2019 column about Precept Brands success, is to take advantage of the fact that there are always some growing market segments. Flexible producers will follow the money, investing where the growth is. Trying to take market share from other beverage alcohol categories in another strategy, of course, but wine suffers a cost disadvantage here. Wine’s per-serving cost is higher in general that either beer or spirits.
So what is to be done? A recent Rabobank report about global beer provides food for thought about what’s ahead for global wine. Beer? What can wine learn from beer? Well, beer hit a global sales plateau first and so has had more time to develop strategies.
Rabobank’s Beer Quarterly Q3 2021: The Beer Wars analyzes the beer industry’s response to stagnant demand in terms of the different strategies adopted in Japan, the US, and Europe. READ MORE…
The Wine Gourd: How faithful are American value-wine drinkers?
For several years now, the USA has been named the “most attractive” wine market, by the Global Compass report. However, this does not mean that the USA does well across all wine categories, as a producer. For example, Michael Franz has recently commented on The scandalously poor performance of affordable American wine.
The scandal in American wine is, apparently, that: “the United States produces distressingly few globally competitive wines costing $20 or less.” This is in spite of the report that US wine reached an average of $10 per bottle for the first time back in 2017. That is: “Consumer thirst for higher-quality wine has pushed the average price for the equivalent of a standard-sized 750-milliliter bottle of wine sold by US retailers passed $10 a bottle.” READ MORE…
Jancis Robinson: 2021 MW exam questions – a student’s reaction
Purgatory is not a comfortable place. On 5 October I will receive the results of the S1A qualifying exams I sat on 4 August last, much delayed from its normal date in June. It has already been a long six weeks during which the glow of confidence I felt after finishing them has gradually and incessantly ebbed away into a messy, ankle-deep morass of fear and anxiety.
As I read through the year 2 questions and papers, the enormity of the task ahead is not lost on me, and the contrast with the S1A sharp. Tasting 12 mixed wines blind in one exam is little in comparison with tasting 36 over three: one flight of white, one of red and a third of just about anything. Answering two theory questions in two hours, relatively simple as opposed to thirteen or more in fifteen. The S1A appears in comparison an apéritif léger.
Over the last year or so, reviewing past practical papers, it has been nice to think I could have had a fairly decent stab at many. Indeed, in my S1A paper I felt my Rivesaltes Tuilé was a fairly decent effort at what turned out to be a 5-year-old Marsala (of which I have now tasted a life total of one); an inspired choice, but wrong. Hopefully, the logic will be justified.
And as I look through this list, the gaping holes in my knowledge – and perhaps more importantly my (lack of) immediate openness to every possibility of what a wine might be – are evident. Paper 1, question 4 seems particularly tricky kicking off with a Moscato. Who would automatically, or logically, conclude with Muscat from Sonoma? Even if you had reasonably spotted a ripe Californian Chardonnay following it? After all, Muscat and sun-kissed Chardonnays could equally hail from the Languedoc, for example. READ MORE…
Matthew’s World of Wine: The Identity of Cava
Cava is Spain’s answer to Champagne, but lacks both a reputation for quality and a sense of identity. But is that changing? This episode explores how producers are trying to improve the quality of the wines—although this has not been without controversy as some producers have formed their own breakaway organisations. Exciting times for the future of Cava LISTEN HERE…
These are some press releases I received this week that I actually thought were interesting…enjoy!
Wine Industry Network: 9th Annual Wine Industry Expo Conference Registration Opens
Wine Industry Network opened registration for the 9th annual North Coast Wine Industry Trade Show & Conference (WIN Expo), scheduled for Thursday, December 2nd, 2021, at the Sonoma County Fairgrounds and Event Center in Santa Rosa, CA. WIN Expo is both a buying show and educational conference. READ MORE…
The Institute of Masters of Wine: 2021 MW exam questions and wines revealed
The Institute of Masters of Wine has published the questions from the 2021 MW exam, including the list of wines for the practical (tasting) part of the exam.
The complete list of wines can be found here, along with the accompanying questions. The list also shows the questions from the theory component of the MW exam.
From 31 August to 3 September 106 students sat the theory and practical exams in Adelaide, Helsinki, London, Malaga, Napa, Ontario and Singapore. The exam, usually held in June each year, was postponed to September due to the pandemic.
The practical and theory exams form the second stage of the MW study programme. Over four days students had three 12-wine blind practical papers and five theory papers on the subjects of viticulture; vinification and pre-bottling procedures; handling of wines; the business of wine; and contemporary issues. READ MORE…
Hispanics in Wine: Hispanics in Wine Celebrates Its One-Year Anniversary with Exciting Initiatives and Announces the First-Ever “Latinx State of the Wine Industry” Summit
Hispanics in Wine, a social organization, is proud to celebrate its one-year anniversary, and the start of Hispanic Heritage Month, with the announcement of several exciting trade and consumer-focused initiatives, including a nationwide professional directory, strategic partnerships with key industry organizations such as Sippd, Shitty Wine Memes, and The Roots Fund; and the first-ever “LatinX State of the Wine Industry” Virtual Summit, in collaboration with Uncorked and Cultured, taking place virtually in October 2021. From a comprehensive directory of professionals, and digital partnerships, to an industry summit, scholarship opportunities, and more, Hispanics in Wine aims to connect, amplify and support the ever-growing Hispanic and Latinx community of wine entrepreneurs, professionals, and consumers.
Starting with the creation of the official Hispanics in Wine Directory, this network will act as a comprehensive resource for companies, brands, trade professionals, and consumers to find Latinx/Hispanic-owned businesses and talent. The directory will be launched later this month and updated frequently, so current and future professionals are welcome to apply, in English here and Spanish here. READ MORE…
BriscoeBites officially accepts samples as well as conducts on-site and online interviews. Want to have your wine, winery or tasting room featured? Please visit the Sample Policy page where you can contact me directly. Cheers!