Editor's Letterby Jim Gordon
After two giant, devastating wildfires last year, Lake County, Calif., was due for some good news. Now the good news is coming, and from multiple directions.READ MORE
April is officially the oak alternatives issue, but this one could have also been titled the Grapegrowing Issue or the Yeast Issue. So if you’re not into oak chips like those on the cover—although we know many of you are—read on anyway.READ MORE
BETWEEN PRODUCTION OF THE FEBRUARY ISSUE and this one for March, our entire staff spent three days at the Unified Wine & Grape Symposium in Sacramento, Calif. It is quite possible we saw you there, too, among the 13,800 attendees.
Unified is always the best and biggest wine industry function of the year, as much for catching up with old friends as for seeing new products and equipment in the trade show. When you add in the conference sessions, there is no better place to get a sense of how our industry is doing.
So how is it doing? Answering that question was the goal of the State of the Industry session held Jan. 27 during Unified. Our editorial team covered that crowded meeting and posted our report online that day, along with three other news stories that detailed other aspects of the symposium. (Read them here.)
The State of the Industry is solid, according to the speakers, who variously study the global economy, grow grapes, buy and sell bulk wine, and collect wine shipment data.
Collectively they said grape and wine supply and demand is balanced, and wine sales continue to increase. Some things are not perfect, however, such as the decreasing demand for lower priced wines, troublesome competition from craft beer and unsettled economies worldwide.
It was also enlightening to hear in a smaller panel discussion the perspective of experts who are just outside the wine production tier looking in, including a vineyard real estate appraiser, Tony Correia of the Correia Co.; a banker, Charles Day of Rabobank; an institutional investor, Randall Pope of Westchester Group/TIAA-CREF; and a winery mergers and acquisitions facilitator, Mario Zepponi of Zepponi & Co. Their topic was an “Update on Capital Markets, Values and Investing,” and below I will paraphrase a few of their insights.
What are you most worried about?READ MORE
THE MAIN HEADLINE ON THE COVER of this issue is “Work Smarter in 2016.” We don’t mean to imply that you weren’t working smart in 2015, but with all the substantive new research and newly applied practices out there, you’re not yet done with your education.
The coverage in this special issue includes two stalwart reports that we run every January: the Unified Wine & Grape Symposium preview story and the continent-wide vintage report that examines the quantity and quality of the recent harvest region by region.
It’s smart to get a good look at the best products and services available to the industry at the Unified Symposium’s vast trade show, and hear from the most well-informed speakers in the many content sessions. See managing editor Kate Lavin’s preview story. The symposium runs Jan. 26-28 in Sacramento, Calif.READ MORE
In this space one year ago I wrote about the two biggest issues facing the North American wine industry, in my estimation: immigration and the West Coast drought. The drought in California was finishing its third year, and immigration was a hot topic in Washington, D.C., as president Barack Obama anticipated the arrival of a Republican-controlled Congress.
Let’s take a brief look at where those two issues stand now, and take a look at comparably big topics as 2015 rushes to a close. The immigration and drought problems definitely did not go away. The drought continued and caused more and more expense and stress for grapegrowers and their crops. The immigration issue was not resolved either, but I don’t think it stayed in the daily thoughts of most winery and vineyard owners and managers.READ MORE
THIS YEAR THE ANNUAL PERIOD of speculation about how big and how high quality the West Coast wine harvest will be began two weeks earlier than normal. Of course, that’s because the harvest was more than two weeks earlier than normal. So what’s the scoop? This issue’s Top Story by Paul Franson explains that the harvest quantity was estimated to be down from normal by as little as 5% in some places and as much as 50% in others.
The only person brave enough so far to state a concrete California-wide prediction was Nat DiBuduo, a data lover and president of the Allied Grape Growers association with members spread around the state. DiBuduo predicted the 2015 total will be just shy of 3.8 million tons once the official results are in, which won’t be until February, when the state releases its Preliminary Grape Crush Report.READ MORE
TWO MAJOR WILDFIRES raged through important California wine regions as this issue went to press Sept. 16. The Valley Fire in Lake County and the Butte Fire in Amador and Calaveras counties rushed right to the edges of vineyards, destroyed at least one winery and forced thousands of residents—including vineyard and winery employees—to flee their communities.
The Wines & Vines staff extends its thoughts and sympathies to everyone in those areas affected by the fires. We hope for a quick containment of the flames and a rapid recovery afterward.READ MORE
AS THIS ISSUE GOES TO THE PRINTER, the 2015 harvest has begun on the West Coast. Lots of grapes for sparkling wine have already been picked and pressed after one of the earliest starts in modern history. Aside from periods of humidity and unusual rain spells, it has been a very good growing season by most accounts. Check out our harvest news wrap up for more details.READ MORE
SINCE THIS IS THE ANNUAL TECHNOLOGY ISSUE of Wines & Vines, I’ve been thinking about differences between the hard and soft technologies that wineries use. Hard technology in this case is equipment and machinery mostly made of steel, and soft technology is basically computer software made of code.
Almost every winemaker likes the hard technology. Who wouldn’t want a set of gleaming new stainless steel tanks like those Andrew Adams writes about in the Product Focus featured on page 46? Somewhat different are the more traditional hard technologies such as concrete and oak fermentors. But most of you winemakers out there would buy all of these kinds of technology—if you had the money.
Soft technology is a different story. You don’t necessarily want it—in fact some of you might even pride yourselves on not using it. I remember visiting wineries in Woodinville, Wash., in early 2014 and meeting separately with two guys who used to work together at Chateau Ste. Michelle: Mike Januik of 10,000-case Novelty Hill-Januik Winery, and Bob Betz of 5,000-case Betz Family Winery.READ MORE
AS YOU OPEN THIS ISSUE,
The California Department of Food and Agriculture has extended the voting deadline until June 10 since the required participation had not reached the 40% mark needed for legitimacy by May 8. Small price to payREAD MORE
WHAT BETTER PLACE than the annual Packaging Issue to announce that the Wines & Vines Packaging Conference is coming back for a second year? Please mark your calendars now for Aug. 19 in Napa, Calif., where the second annual one-day conference and trade show focusing exclusively on wine packaging will convene.READ MORE
THE ASSESSMENT ON WINE GRAPES that was initially approved by California growers in 2001 to fight Pierce’s disease is up for renewal this month. By the time you read this, vineyard owners should have received their ballots in the mail, and now they have until April 28 to return them.READ MORE
IN THE GRAPEGROWING YEAR, March is the month with a clean slate. At least on the West Coast the vines have been pruned, and bud break is about to begin. Growers have counted up the successes and mistakes of the 2014 vintage, made notes about how to improve in 2015, and now it’s time to proceed.READ MORE
IN ANY CRAFT, there are certain indispensable, even timeless, tools. Some things work so well for so many fundamental reasons that they become integral and permanent.
I was thinking about this because in our house not long ago we bought a serious new frying pan. We already had an array of pans, from a heavy American cast iron skillet to a non-stick egg pan to a set of nice-looking and multi-layered sauté pans of different diameters. But then we got what my son dubbed “the totally awesome pan.” It’s an All-Clad copper-core 12-inch pan. It works beautifully for what we like to cook in our home. It heats up fast and evenly, food doesn’t stick to it, and somehow it doesn’t burn anything.READ MORE
THIS ISSUE CELEBRATES A NEW YEAR of winemaking and the 96th birthday of Wines & Vines with an updated graphic design. So in addition to filling 164 pages with great articles about everything from rainstorms to drought to the Unified Wine & Grape Symposium, the issue introduces a new logo, type fonts and other improvements to keep our pages up to date.READ MORE
The cover story for December takes a new approach to reviewing the past year in the wine industry. It’s our first Best of the Year report. In it, our editorial staff and the Wines Vines Analytics team crunch numbers to measure the Best of 2014 in terms of the best-selling wines, fastest-growing regions, most-read stories and more.READ MORE
Heading into the biggest wine-buying and wine-consuming time of year, the wine industry seems to be enjoying a victory lap as it savors the progress it made in the past five years. While many know that lean periods always follow fat ones, there’s nothing wrong with basking in the sunshine of success when you can.READ MORE
The cover headline of Wines & Vines’ September 2010 issue, “Lessons From Chile’s Quake,” stood over an almost incomprehensible photo of barrel stacks at a Colchagua Valley winery that had collapsed into a giant Jenga puzzle. The article by freelance writer Deborah Grossman, who was in Chile during the magnitude-8.8 earthquake there in early 2010, analyzed the damage to Chilean wineries and quoted experts’ advice about how wineries in Chile and around the world could avoid much of the damage next time around.
The earthquake that rocked southern Napa Valley and parts of Sonoma and Solano counties in California on Aug. 24 brought that issue to mind immediately when, within hours, we began seeing photos on Twitter of barrel room catastrophes that looked identical to those in Chile four years ago.READ MORE
This edition of the magazine contains our third annual wine industry finance report. A lot has changed since the first finance issue in 2012 presented a cautious optimism about wineries’ economic health.
While the wine industry accepted then that the recession was over—sales were growing and the supply-demand situation was balanced—the lending picture in 2012 was not so bright. The bigger banks were still recovering from the recession and were afraid of risk. The smaller banks were more actively seeking lenders but may not have been tuned to winery needs.READ MORE
Just two days before writing this column I saw my first glimpse of véraison for 2014. Berries on Pinot Noir vines along Henry Road in the Carneros district of Northern California were in that ephemeral moment when most berries remained green, a few had just turned gris, and one or two per bunch had progressed all the way to noir. For me, the first appearance of véraison always seems to come as a surprise.
This year it’s not my imagination, however. As Kate Lavin reports in Top Stories, the growing season in California vineyards got an early start, and the pace has continued ahead of average. Several observers, however, told her that they don’t think harvest will be as relatively early as bud break was.READ MORE
A good conference is like a magazine, but even better because it’s alive and kicking. Where a magazine depends on good writers and well-chosen topics, a conference requires good speakers and well-chosen topics. A well-balanced magazine provides readers with news and information, and it allows advertisers to reach the readers, too. At a conference and trade show, a similar exchange occurs, only it’s up close and personal.READ MORE
A certain amount of tension is built into the relationship between grapegrowers and the winemakers who buy their grapes. They both want to maximize the money to be made from their collaboration. Most of the time they both want to maximize the quality of the wine they are making together, too. But these goals don’t always line up.
Winemakers are notorious for asking growers to hang their fruit longer for riper flavors and show their obedience by dropping fruit to lower their yields. This has to be agonizing for growers, especially in the traditional arrangement where wineries pay them by the ton.READ MORE
A stampede of vineyard deals confirms that Washington state has arrived as a wine region. Northwest correspondent Peter Mitham pulls together the recent mergers and acquisitions in Washington and Oregon in the Top Stories section on page 14. But anyone who has visited Woodinville, Wash., in recent years already knows that wineries have sprouted thicker than Starbucks locations due to the fertile influence of affluent consumers in the Seattle area who are thirsty for wine.READ MORE
When the week I am writing this began, rain had been in the forecast for five days, due to arrive where I live in Napa, Calif., on Monday morning, March 10.
This would have been great: another nice boost for irrigation ponds and watersheds. We’d already had two rain events in the previous month. A third might mean that the previously declared drought of 2014 was just a scare.READ MORE
Two events showered long-delayed and much-needed benefits on the wine industry as our staff prepared this issue of Wines & Vines. First, a drenching five-day rainstorm seemed to answer the prayers of thousands of California grapegrowers facing a critical shortage of water for the 2014 growing season. And second, Congress passed a nearly trillion-dollar Farm Bill that addresses the needs of grape and wine producers to a degree never seen before on the federal level.READ MORE
February 2014This is the 10th annual Barrel Issue of Wines & Vines, but the first thing on my mind as I write this column Jan. 20 is California’s drought. Officials declared the past year the driest in the state’s recorded history, and here we sit with virtually no rain in months, during the winter season when we normally see about two-thirds of our annual rainfall.
This issue begins Wines & Vines’ 95th year of publishing. It also marks the 15th year that we’ve produced a special edition for the Unified Wine & Grape Symposium, which takes place Jan. 28-30 in Sacramento, Calif. “The Unified” is the biggest and most important conference and trade show for the North American wine industry.READ MORE
December 2013High alcohol and heavy oak flavors are not subjects that most California winemakers like to talk about, especially with wine writers. But the subjects are unavoidable with certain writers.READ MORE
November 2013The economic picture for most wineries and grapegrowers is very bright right now, as the second consecutive harvest with good quality and large quantity is about to be completed. Grape prices recovered earlier and held nearly steady this year, so vineyard owners are counting their winnings. The retail price of domestic wines rose 4% in off-premise sales, while revenue rose 7%, so wineries and the wine trade are counting their winnings, too.READ MORE
October 2013As I write this letter in mid-September, harvest and crush activities have slowly ramped up in the North Coast counties of California, where our magazine is based. Trucks and trailers stacked ridiculously high with half-ton bins—most of them still empty—criss-cross the areas I see on a weekly basis in Sonoma, Napa and Marin counties. Rigs of vineyard lighting for night harvesting are making their annual appearances. Spotting a polished Land Rover along with dusty white pickup trucks and worn 1980s sedans among the vines indicates that everyone from cult winery owners to vineyard foremen to seasonal laborers are paying close attention to the ripening grapes.READ MORE
September 2013The Napa County Farm Bureau celebrated its 100th anniversary in August with a wine reception and dinner outdoors at the Robert Mondavi Winery, including remarks by Warren Winiarski, founder of Stag’s Leap Wine Cellars, U.S. Rep. Mike Thompson and other dignitaries, and entertainment by a country-rock band flown in from Nashville, Tenn. It was a beautiful evening with civilized touches that contrasted sharply with what the first Farm Bureau gatherings must have looked like in 1913.READ MORE
August 2013If you care about the future of cooperative extension services for wine grape growers, don’t miss Cliff Ohmart’s “Vineyard View” column in this issue. Ohmart has produced a careful explanation of how severely California’s extension system has shrunk in recent years.READ MORE
July 2013The Treasury Department’s ruling May 28 that wine, beer and spirits makers may add “serving facts” to their packaging appears to give all three what they want. Those few producers who want to start posting details related to serving size, calories, protein and fat on their back labels can go ahead, and those who don’t want to don’t have to.READ MORE
June 2013The American Society for Enology and Viticulture has been promoting the wine industry’s health by supporting research and education for 64 years. That’s why this is our 64th annual Enology and Viticulture Issue, which coincides with the annual conference of the ASEV (see page 46 for more details about this month’s conference in Monterey, Calif.).READ MORE
May 2013You know the challenge: How do you get your wine brand noticed when 10s of thousands of other brands compete against yours? One way is to create a bold brand or line that combines an attention-getting taste profile with fresh packaging.READ MORE
February 2013The merger of Practical Winery & Vineyard into the organization and pages of Wines & Vines, announced in January, is big news for our company and big news for you as a reader. Here is the story behind the announcement.READ MORE
December 2012Wines & Vines is committed to professional news reporting. You can tell by the posting of original wine industry news articles written by our own editorial team every business day. We have reported 250 or more headline stories every year since 2007. What follows are what I believe to be the top 10 news stories or themes of 2012 in terms of their overall effect on our readers.READ MORE
November 2012The fire-engine red, four-wheel drive Ford F350 diesel pickup was pulling a trailer loaded with empty MacroBins and drawing unwanted attention on the otherwise quiet streets of Walla Walla, Wash. Unwanted, particularly since we were passing through a school zone guarded by a police officer leaning out the window of his cruiser with a radar gun.READ MORE
October 2012Are you better off than you were four years ago? That is a popular question in Mitt Romney’s campaign as the former Massachusetts governor attempts to unseat President Barack Obama in the Nov. 6 election. The Romney team apparently trusts that many people will say they are worse off than four years ago, based on the slowly growing economy and high unemployment rates.READ MORE
September 2012What is more vital to the wine industry economy than finance? Access to capital softens the unique financial tremors that come seasonally, annually and even generationally in the business of growing grapes and making wine. Moreover, capital makes growth possible, and most of our industry today is focused on growth.READ MORE
August 2012Regular readers of Wines & Vines will recognize headlines like this: Natural Cork TCA Incidence Drops; Synthetic Corks Most Consistent in Oxygen Transfer; Does Glass Make the Ultimate Closure?; Screwcaps Claim Low Carbon Footprint, etc.READ MORE
July 2012We’ve pulled together a really solid issue this month. Five articles deal with how to use technology and the latest research results in your cellar or vineyard. It makes good sense because this is the eighth annual Technology Issue. Three of these reports are in the feature “well,” as we call it, and two more are in the columns section nearer the back of the book.READ MORE
June 2012And they’re off! Is it just me, or are the vines growing faster than normal this year? Where I live in the southern Napa Valley, the vines bolted from the starting gate in mid-March, stumbled briefly during cold and damp weather in early April, then regained their footing and sprinted to the first wire. As I write this column in mid-May, Chardonnay and Pinot Noir shoots in Carneros have galloped to the second wire and begun flowering. (Also, the Kentucky Derby ran for the 138th time last weekend.)READ MORE
May 2012The world of politics makes room for both conservatives and liberals, and so does the world of wine. Since this is the 13th annual Packaging Issue of Wines & Vines, I am talking about conservative and liberal approaches to packaging, of course, not gun rights or gay rights.READ MORE
March 2012Something is missing from the still-simmering debate about how high-alcohol table wines came to be today’s standard bearers. Who or what is the responsible party? The 100-point scale? International winemaking consultants? Climate change?READ MORE
Now that the data are in for direct-to-consumer sales in 2011, and we can compare them to 2010, it’s time to share the good news coming from Wines & Vines' partnership with ShipCompliant, which makes valuable market research available to our readers.READ MORE
January 2012With the new year comes a chance to improve yourself, your winery and your vineyard. Let’s leave the “yourself” part to other magazines like Oprah and Men’s Health, and focus on the other two. I think the wine industry now lives in a world quite different from that of 2007, when the wine business was firing on all eight cylinders. Today’s wine economy has lots of good things going for it, but it’s a leaner, more efficient economy—not a V-8 anymore but a turbocharged 4-cylinder that averages 30 mpg city/highway.READ MORE
December 2011As I write this in early November, Oregon winemakers have just harvested the last of the latest-ripening Pinot Noir grapes ever. Pennsylvania winemakers are wondering what to do with newly fermented Vidal that didn’t reach 9% alcohol. Northern California winemakers are hoping that none of the botrytis they saw in their damp vineyards will be smelled in their wines.READ MORE
November 2011This month I want to dip into an issue that was raised for me by a prominent wine industry supplier: Are vineyards and wineries utilizing the same level of quality control and production efficiency practices that their suppliers and buyers are? Large suppliers and retailers frequently use quality-control certifications such as ISO and methodologies like Six Sigma to maximize the quality and consistency of their products and operations. Synthetic closure producer Nomacorc in Zebulon, N.C., is one of them.READ MORE
October 2011CLICK PHOTO TO PLAY VIDEO: Editor Jim Gordon discusses new CDC findings on the health benefits of moderate alcohol consumption.
The long-known but long-downplayed connection between wine and health has been validated again. This time it was confirmed by no less an authority than the federal government’s Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. The CDC recently published results of a study that stressed moderate alcohol consumption as one of four low-risk lifestyle behaviors that can have a very positive effect on people’s mortality—in other words, how long they live.READ MORE
September 2011I am writing this letter shortly after Congress raised the debt ceiling and Standard & Poors lowered its rating for U.S. government bonds from AAA to AA. As we all know, chaos broke out on Wall Street. The Dow Jones Industrial Average dove one day, rose the next, dove again, and so on for six days. Today, as this issue is going to press, it is rising again. Few expect The Dow to stay up, I suspect, and it’s likely that the stock market will remain unsettled for some time to come.CLICK PHOTO TO PLAY VIDEO: Editor Jim Gordon discusses the wine economy
It all seemed avoidable and unnecessary. Many winery and vineyard owners share the frustration of the U.S. business community in thinking that Congress blew its chance to calm the economic waters as the debt ceiling deadline approached. Instead of handling the challenge well in advance, Congress postured, delayed and bickered until the boat rocked wildly. Now we may all get wet.READ MORE
August 2011In this space one year ago I wrote that there is no single neat answer to the question of what is the best overall wine bottle closure. I still believe that. Corks are not going away any time soon, even though the less expensive alternatives—screwcaps and some types of synthetics—have proven their reliability.CLICK PHOTO TO PLAY VIDEO: Editor Jim Gordon discusses the future of natural corks
But what if I’m being way too conservative, and what’s really happening is that the transition to a new paradigm is occurring right now? We just don’t recognize it yet. What if screwcaps eventually take over the wine closures market? Then the wineries that stick with corks will be left behind, holding the bag of an outdated technology that consumers and the industry have dropped as they race down the path to the future.READ MORE
July 2011This is the seventh annual Technology Issue of Wines & Vines. Our team of writers stuffed it full of information about how to apply technology to your work whether you are a winemaker, grapegrower or wine marketer.READ MORE
June 2011The CARE Act is back in Congress this year, and Wines & Vines still doesn’t care for it. Wineries, brewers, distillers, retailers—even beverage importers—are speaking out against the cynically misnamed legislation that would give wholesalers much more influence over alcohol sales in individual states.READ MORE
May 2011I can’t remember the last time I saw so many journalists show up for a wine event. The wine media practically drowns in invitations to press conferences and tastings. They have to turn down the majority.READ MORE
April 2011When I returned to my routine in late February after the Symposium for Professional Wine Writers at Meadowood Napa Valley, I found myself thinking about what wine writers want. As a former full-time consumer wine writer and editor, I have a certain understanding of the craft that may help Wines & Vines readers see wine writers in a more accurate light.READ MORE
March 2011Wine is made in the vineyard, right? Rarely do the fermentation tanks sit between the rows, but the essence of this overused aphorism is true. Even with all their skills and technology, winemakers can’t make great wine from average grapes.READ MORE
The news in December leading up to press time for this issue carried very positive stories for wineries: An important segment of wine sales is up while teen drinking is down. Is there a connection?READ MORE
What news stories were most on the minds of North American winemakers and grapegrowers in 2010? Certainly the economy and the dramatic weather conditions during the growing season were big topics. What else caught our attention and yours during the year that’s now almost finished?READ MORE
November 2010It’s difficult for vintners and growers to be optimistic about the wine economy today with all the bad news circulating, at least on the West Coast. Yet positive signs are there for the discovering, and we’ve found a few powerful ones for this issue.READ MORE
When planning this first-ever Artisan Winemaking Issue of Wines & Vines, I thought I had a pretty good idea of what “artisan” meant—someone who applies artistry to their craft. We wanted an issue theme to appeal to smaller-sized vineyard and winery operations throughout North America, and particularly those working to produce wines of exceptional quality.READ MORE
September 2010In March of this year I flew to Germany to attend two big international wine shows. During the trip I had the pleasure of getting to know a fellow wine industry journalist, Eduardo Brethauer of Vitis magazine, from Chile.READ MORE
August 2010Until recently in winemaking history there was no debate about how to seal a bottle of high-quality wine. Cork had been the best choice for hundreds of years. Closures only became a hot topic when the suitability of cork was demonstrated to be an issue by the discovery of what causes “corked” bottles—2,4,6-trichloroanisole. Scientists learned how to measure this mold, and packaging companies subsequently rushed to develop alternative closures that were TCA-proof.READ MORE
Unless you flew to New Zealand for the 2010 harvest and are just now returning, you already know about House Resolution 5034, the so-called CARE act that would take really good care of alcohol wholesalers at the expense of producers. The innocently named bill, introduced by Rep. Bill Delahunt (D-Mass.), was written on behalf of the National Beer Wholesalers Association. The Wine & Spirits Wholesalers of America actively support it, too.READ MORE
June 2010Hope isn’t much of a strategy,” said Randy Luginbill, vice president of winery relations for Silverado Premium Properties as he introduced four speakers during May’s Vineyard Economics Seminar. His point was that the recession has hit many winegrape growers hard. Fewer have long-term contracts, many are expecting lower per-ton payments this season, and quite possibly more growers than last year will have no home at all for their grapes—unless they custom crush.READ MORE
May 2010Grapes and wine are your products. Information is our product. At Wines & Vines, we labor every day to bring you the most accurate and up-to-date information in our daily web Headlines and the print magazine’s monthly feature stories, columns and other departments. A portion of that information is originally collected and stored as data, which we then use in the Wines & Vines Directory & Buyer’s Guide, in the W&V Online Marketing System and in other diverse ways to serve you as a reader.READ MORE
April 2010It is time for California grapegrowers to renew their self-assessment to fund the ongoing fight against Pierce’s disease. At the current assessment rate of $1 per $1,000 of crop value, it has to be the world’s best bargain in disease prevention.READ MORE
March 2010Everybody loves the image of the little old vigneron trudging through his vineyard in the spring, beret on his head and hoe in his hand, sniffing the air for rain, making mental notes on the health of his vines, one by one, as he envisions the rich harvest to come in September.READ MORE
February 2010Do you as a winemaker hope that wine writers and trade buyers taste your wine blind? Do you want them to base their decisions on what’s in the tasting glass, or do you want them to carry along their prejudices against your AVA, your brand, your price-point or, God forbid, your personality?READ MORE
Could it be that the wine industry’s considerable effort to go green and then to communicate this movement to customers has failed? Even worse than that, could the whole thing be on the verge of backfiring and turning wine drinkers off the whole concept?READ MORE
At the beginning of this year I wrote perhaps the most pessimistic column of my life. Because of the great recession, enabled by the Bush administration and a debt-loving public, the second half of 2008 saw wine sales revenues plummet. Restaurants emptied, distributors stopped ordering and vintners checked their spreadsheets to see what revenue cuts in the neighborhood of 30% did to their bottom lines.READ MORE
At this time last year the great recession had just arrived. To address the developing disaster I wrote a piece in this space in the November 2008 issue titled “Thriving in a Slowing Economy,” passing on advice from experienced vintners and marketers.READ MORE
October 2009While grapegrowers and winemakers are laboring through the immediate, urgent challenges of the 2009 crush, their advocates in Washington, D.C., are facing less urgent, but no less important issues. One of those is an effort by the World Health Organization to write a "Global Strategy to Reduce Harmful Use of Alcohol."READ MORE
September 2009While wine marketers like to cultivate the image of the humble vintner who crafts wine with traditional tools, the people who grow the grapes and process the wine are concentrating on a different type of cultivation. They emphasize a strong and growing trend toward high-tech tools and services that put ever-finer points on grapegrowing and winemaking. This is a good thing for wine quality. Growers and winemakers now use an incredible array of tests and tools they didn't have a decade ago, and more come online every month.READ MORE
August 2009If, as you read this in early August, the 2009 winegrape crop is as big as expected in early July when I was writing this, then potentially a whole lot of growers will be facing tough decisions. Those left with uncommitted fruit will have to do one of three things: 1) Sell cheap. 2) Let it hang. 3) Make wine.READ MORE
As I write this in the first week of June, an unusual weather system brought rain showers--including thunder and lightning--to Northern California. Despite the area's need for water, the untimely weather was ominous for winegrape growers for multiple reasons. Varieties in some places hadn't finished bloom; high humidity and temperatures in the 70s increased mildew pressure; and possibly most ominous of all: The lightning suggested that last summer's wildfires were not a once-in-a-lifetime event.READ MORE
June 2009What the wine industry needs to remember about the current economic recession is that it won't last forever. It will run its course in due time, with the help of federal stimulus funds and new vintages. Vintners and growers need to be ready when the economic arrows start to point up again. They won't be ready for the recovery, however, if they're too focused on the arrows that still point down.READ MORE
May 2009Wines & Vines reported online in March that dozens if not hundreds of U.S. wineries could lose their ability to market their products in Europe if they continue to use certain common wine terms on their labels. A deadline set by the European Union years ago arrived, and EU officials now consider U.S. imports illegal if their labels carry such good old English terms as "vintage," "tawny," "ruby," and such widely recognized terms of French origin as "chateau," "clos" "sur lie."READ MORE
April 2009This month's column revisits a topic I first addressed here in March 2007. Then just a discussion of truth in labeling, now it has evolved into a concrete proposal that would rectify a very poorly conceived section of the federal rules on wine labeling. An interstate coalition of winegrape grower groups has now petitioned the Alcohol and Tobacco Tax & Trade Bureau (TTB) to revise the rules. We hope that petition will be accepted and opened for industry comments later this year.READ MORE
March 2009California grapegrowers and winemakers in the second week of February exhaled with relief upon hearing that no support materialized in the leadership of the state legislature for Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger's misnamed "Nickel-a-Drink" tax proposal. The state's budget crisis continued, but it was clear that the proposed tax increase of 640% on wine had no legs to stand on--at least for now.READ MORE
February 2009I feel for the unlucky winemakers who have to make barrel-buying decisions now for their 2009 harvests--and that's most of you out there. It's too early in the year to estimate the size of your crop, yet if you wait until late spring or early summer, when the fruit has set and you can make a rough estimate of yields, you may miss getting the barrels you want at reasonable prices.READ MORE
January 2009How morbidly appropriate that the wine business was rocked by a sales slump of historic proportions just as our staff prepared this 90th anniversary edition of Wines & Vines. No one in the business that I've spoken to can remember a more depressing period for sales than what happened in the second half of 2008.READ MORE
December 2008I am finishing this column Nov. 5, the day that this issue of Wines & Vines goes to the printer and the day after Barack Obama was elected president of the United States. It remains to be seen what the Obama administration will mean for the wine industry, but it's already clear that 2009 will begin with more clouds over the wine landscape than 2008 did. Three veteran observers of the wine economy share their outlooks in one of four articles in this issue that preview the Unified Wine & Grape Symposium (see Wines & Vines article).READ MORE
November 2008In the past month, news about the American economy has sunk from bad to worse. At the same time, many wineries confirmed that their sales are softening, if not dropping. As experts in government, banking and the stock market talked about the worst financial crisis since the Great Depression, it seemed like a good time to look around for anti-depression measures for the wine industry.READ MORE
October 2008The United States government took over Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac the weekend before this issue of Wines & Vines went to press. If anyone had been uncertain that a lending crisis was under way before then, the dramatic intervention by the Treasury Department at the two huge private/public lenders put that question to rest.READ MORE
September 2008Winemakers often take pride in the simplicity of their craft, and they should. How many times have you told your consumers or a journalist that to make the best wine, you simply take the best grapes and try not to screw them up? That's a truism, but you know better than your customers that it's not as simple as it sounds.READ MORE
August 2008It was another party marred by another bottle of corked wine. But it wasn't just any party. It was a reception for the 2008 Merit Award winner of the American Society for Enology and Viticulture. A couple of dozen ASEV members, friends and family members gathered in a hotel suite in Portland, Ore., to celebrate Bob Steinhauer's acceptance of the award, and his memorable address at the ASEV annual meeting (see "Robert Steinhauer Reflects").READ MORE
July 2008Those of us old enough to remember the first time organic wines came around need to get over ourselves. Twenty-five years ago the wines were mostly terrible; the vineyards were largely amateur-hour productions, and the public quickly turned away.READ MORE
June 2008Surplus and shortage cycles in the California wine business are well documented in the news media, because California still makes more than 90% of U.S. wine. An oversupply of California grapes and bulk wine has soaked the market since the freak-of-nature 2005 vintage. But the situation in many other states is not the same.READ MORE
May 2008It had been too long since I visited wine country in the central part of the continent, so I welcomed the opportunity to attend the "License to Steal" wine marketing conference on Lake Erie in early April (see Faces & Forums). We coastal dwellers tend to spend too much time talking among ourselves and not enough time discovering what's happening in between the coasts.READ MORE
April 2008The vitality of the Oregon wine industry struck me while spending a few days in Eugene recently. The No. 4 state in wine production has always hoed its own row, and now gets to enjoy the fruits of that hard labor.READ MORE
March 2008California's Grape Crush Report reminds me of the fable about a village in India inhabited by blind men, that has its first visit from an elephant. They perceive the elephant quite differently. You know, one touches the elephant's leg and says an elephant is like a pillar. Another touches the tail and says an elephant is like a rope. A third touches the pachyderm's side and says an elephant is like a giant boulder, and so on.READ MORE
February 2008If you've been to Europe in the last couple of years you know how little respect the dollar gets there. The traveler's rough math is: one euro equals one and a half dollars. So the 50-euro per day rental car is about $75 to you.READ MORE
January 2008The TTB took a little pressure off its proposed AVA regulation overhaul in December when it extended the comment period on two controversial notices until March 20, 2008. This was a good move. But it also extends the period of limbo for proposed AVAs seeking approval, which is not good for the growers and wineries involved. Still, the breathing space should help the industry and the feds to sort this out in a rational way.READ MORE
December 2007In this, the last issue of the year, our cover story is based on an idea I began thinking about seriously while writing my Editor's Letter for our first issue of the year. In "The AVF's Search for Answers" (January 2007) I was just coming to grips with an apparent deficit in scientific data that would help vineyard managers and winemakers do their jobs better--and consequently prosper.READ MORE
November 2007Is wine a food? Wine industry members generally believe that it is. Wine should be on the dinner table, sometimes on the lunch table, too. Wine should be a staple, consumed regularly. It's healthy, it tastes good, it even provides some nutrition.READ MORE
October 2007These are the good times for the wine industry. I interviewed half a dozen financial and managerial professionals in the industry to confirm it.READ MORE
September 2007As the longest-running success story in wine publishing, Wines & Vines has certain traditions to uphold, namely, covering wine industry issues in a timely and accurate manner and keeping the interests of grapegrowers and vintners as our first priority. But that doesn't mean we're stuck in the past.READ MORE
August 2007Just as the Wines & Vines staff was wrapping up this, the annual Closures Issue of the magazine, an advance review copy of a book on the same topic arrived in the mail. I spent several hours reading portions of it before this issue went to press, and believe that it will be essential reading for winemakers everywhere, and fascinating for anyone in the wine trade, too.READ MORE
July 2007During the last two years, while many American vintners began to celebrate a financial situation rosier than they'd seen since the beginning of the millennium, lots of growers, on the other hand, felt like they'd been turned away at the door to the party. Grape prices lived in the basement, pests seemed to be multiplying in the vineyards, and in the perverse logic of the farming business, the worst threat of all--large harvests of excellent quality--materialized.READ MORE
June 2007California's senior viticulture advisor, the man charged with outreach to growers around the state, believes that an infection currently spreading in vineyards is potentially a bigger problem than the phylloxera/rootstock fiasco of the 1990s. The infection is leafroll disease.READ MORE
May 2007Among at least a dozen good ideas for articles that I gathered at the UC Davis Wine Executive Program in March, one was particularly relevant to the main theme of this issue, which is packaging. The wine industry so far has been fortunate not to have to fret over packaging to the same extent as many other consumer product industries.READ MORE
April 2007It's time to bring oak alternatives further out in the open. Continuing to hide these very common winemaking tools invites the wine trade and the public to conclude that there is something wrong with barrel staves, oak chips, balls, spirals and sticks. But there is nothing inherently wrong. They're naturally grown, they're not carcinogenic, they're good for the environment and they can taste great, as Tina Caputo points out in her lead story for this issue (page 22).READ MORE
March 2007The issue of whether wines labeled as "American" should be allowed to contain 25% of wine from other countries has been simmering for two years, and now it's starting to boil. Currently, federal regulations include this loophole--which is big enough to sail a tanker full of Australian Shiraz through--and a number of American winegrape growers don't like it.READ MORE
February 2007I bought my first wine barrel from Mike Grgich 16 years ago. I had interviewed him for a magazine cover story at about that time, and I was impressed with how neat and clean the Grgich Hills cellar looked, and how meticulous the winery's regimen of tasting, racking, topping and sanitation was. So when I decided to up the ante in my fledgling amateur winemaking career from the 5 gallons I had fermented the previous year to a full barrel, he came to mind as a barrel supplier.READ MORE
January 2007"It seems to work for us, but we don't really know why. There's not enough science to base it on."
I lost track of how many times I heard this quote from winemakers and vineyard managers last year. The question that prompted it might have been, "What's better about native yeast?" or "Why do you drop so much fruit?" or "How do you know gravity flow is more gentle than pumping?" Too many decisions in the vineyard and the cellar are still based on tradition. The wine industry needs its traditions and folklore, true, but even more we need some answers.READ MORE
December 2006President Bush in October signed a Republican-backed bill to build a 700-mile fence along the U.S.--Mexican border. It was at best a dose of aspirin to temporarily reduce the fever over illegal immigration. The bill came too late to block the flow of migrant labor to the vineyards for this year's harvest, and because of the mid-term Congressional elections there wasn't enough conviction in Washington, D.C., to address definitively the whole issue of immigration reform. At least, not yet.READ MORE
November 2006Negociant Donny Sebastiani of Sonoma, Calif., was explaining to a crowd at the Wine Industry Financial Symposium how his company views the global wine competition. He projected a photo taken at a Mission Viejo, Calif., retailer. A woman shopper beams while holding a bottle of Smoking Loon wine in front of a floor stack of the same. "Smoking Loon is my favorite Australian Merlot," she said.READ MORE
October 2006Founded in 1919, Wines & Vines is the longest-running hit in the wine publishing field. It's not the magazine's age, however, that keeps it vital. I think it's our ability to effectively serve you, the reader, despite constant changes in the wine industry.READ MORE
September 2006Consumers don't buy wine like they do cell phones or digital cameras. They're not looking for the hottest new computer technology to enable them to view podcasts in their Pinot Noir or to obtain five-spot focus in their Fumé Blanc. So the application of high-tech tools and methods in the wine industry has remained largely out of the public's sight.READ MORE
August 2006I spent my first month as editor of Wines & Vines totally immersed in closures as we prepared this, the magazine's first Closures & Packaging Issue, for press. Six feature articles in these pages delve deeply into the twin topics. While I have reported on the merits of natural corks vs. alternative closures for 20 years, I was still surprised to find how dynamic, vital and highly charged the debate is for winemakers and marketers today.READ MORE
July 2006Want to talk about alternatives to oak barrels? Products like oak chips and tank staves? You may be in the minority. It seems that many winemakers--or more likely, the people in marketing--don't want to talk about oak alternatives. They seem to fear consumers will be put off.READ MORE
June 2006The American Society for Enology and Viticulture (ASEV) was established at UC Davis in 1950. The goal was to improve the quality of American wines by beginning in the vineyards and working through to the wine in the bottle. No one can doubt that in the 56 years since then, American wines have improved.READ MORE
May 2006There is a bar on the Plaza Mayor in Madrid that sells wine out of a traditional goatskin bag. Tourists must have taken a million pictures of the wine-filled goatskins in that bar. "Isn't that quaint? Here it is the 21st century and they are still selling wine out of goatskins, just like a thousand years ago."READ MORE
April 2006The use of new vineyard technology and related technical advances can make a huge difference to the wine in the bottle, that's common knowledge. But the impact may go beyond that. Some industry observers believe that the mind-boggling grape harvest of 2005 may be traced to technical advances in irrigation technology and trellis applications.READ MORE
March 2006It has become a wine public relations cliché that all great wine starts with the grower in the vineyard. But like many other clichés, it is based on solid reality.READ MORE
February 2006The production of barrels has come a long way since wine was shipped in palmwood casks from Armenia to Babylon thousands of years ago, B.C. In the following centuries, wooden barrels were used to transport wines in most areas of the winemaking world.READ MORE
January 2006Good grief!READ MORE