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Editor's Letter


Arm Yourself With Information

December 2008
by Jim Gordon
I 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).

If you haven't attended "the Unified" in recent years--or ever--this is the year to go. The four-day conference and trade show happening Jan. 27-30 in Sacramento, Calif., is the best, most all-encompassing annual wine industry event in North America. Wines & Vines wholeheartedly supports the Unified and will be there in force.

Register by Jan. 19 and you can attend one day of the trade show for as little as $30. Three-day registration starts at $295 for members of either of the two sponsoring groups, the American Society for Enology & Viticulture (ASEV) and the California Association of Winegrape Growers (CAWG). For anyone in the wine industry, inside or outside of California, it is still a good deal at the full-boat price of $1,080 for three days for non-members. A fourth day added this year requires a separate registration. Just be sure not to miss the Jan. 19 deadline, or the prices rise sharply.

Nothing helps more in the wine business than information, especially now. As 2009 begins, we face even more uncertainties than usual: the wine marketplace, the credit market, the real estate market and a new administration in Washington. The best way to face all those challenges, in my opinion, is to arm yourself with information. So, register and go to the Unified website.

Sizing up mobile bottling

It has become routine to see mobile bottling trailers parked at wineries, their machinery humming and bottles clinking down the lines into shippers. In this issue our production editor, Kate Lavin, finds out why and when wineries use mobile bottling outfits, how much their services cost and how big this phenomenon has grown.

She contacted every mobile bottling company that Wines & Vines tracks in North America, and asked about the scope of their businesses. She interviewed a variety of winemakers who use them and confirmed that the reasons more wineries outsource their bottling today include saving space, time and capital expenditures. If you're using a mobile bottler now, or are considering help in bottling for 2009, her report on Going Mobile will be valuable.

The forest, or the trees?

For a country that has long attached great importance and legislation to the location of its vineyards, France has done a rather sloppy job on its oak forests--not that French foresters have taken poor care of their oak patrimony. They've been "farming" trees meticulously for hundreds of years.

It's just that the provenance of the French oak staves that make the barrels is shaky. French authorities long ago wrote strict regulations on the origin of their wines, but the sources of their wine barrels remain relatively unprotected. While the barrels traditionally are stamped Allier, Vosges, Limousin, and so forth, most winemakers I know have long taken those terms with a few grains of salt.

We sent correspondent Alan Goldfarb to France to investigate the situation, and he reports (see Wines & Vines article) that many cooperages now admit that the name of the forest is not the best way to identify their barrels. Instead they look at the individual trees, by analyzing the physical and chemical properties of the stave wood from those trees. They prefer to tell their customers what type of wood grain and concentration of tannin is in the oak rather than where the wood came from. Please read Goldfarb's report for a preview of what you'll be hearing from the cooperages as you plan your barrel purchases for 2009.

To the new year

As we approach the holidays and the new year, here's hoping that your 2008 harvest was large and of high quality, your fermentations didn't stick, your malolactics are now complete and visitors continue to stream through your tasting room doors.
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