Viewpointby Jim Law
Starting from scratch: Life's circumstances led me to Virginia in 1981. I was hired to expand an existing vineyard and start up a winery in the Shenandoah Valley. It didn't take long for me to realize that I wanted to set my own roots here. I had a background in wine consumption and in farming, but only a couple years of vineyard and winemaking experience. With family support, I was eventually able to put a down payment on an old abandoned apple orchard in the Blue Ridge Mountains. Hardscrabble Vineyard was born in 1985 with an 8-acre plant-ing.READ MORE
As we at Foursight Wines wrap up our first decade as wine business owners, I’ve been thinking quite a lot about the lessons I’ve learned over the years. What would I distill and pass along from our first 10? In that spirit, here is a (slightly salty) list of the top 10 things I’ve learned from a decade of running our own wine business. This could also be entitled: “The best advice I have for someone starting their own brand.”READ MORE
Every day, it seems the world is trending more and more toward organics. Sales of organic food are skyrocketing. England’s Prince Charles announced that’s he’s joining a new initiative to keep more of the world’s carbon in soils through organic farming techniques. And around the globe, organically grown wine is one of the fastest growing categories.
Reverse osmosis machine sales are suddenly going crazy—up an order of magnitude from past years. Three decades after the introduction of reverse osmosis (RO), wineries are now prosperous enough to afford their own machines, and they are at last getting hip to the technology’s many quality-enhancing powers.
Editor’s note: The following is an excerpt from Dr. Bruce Zoecklein’s Extension Distinction Award presentation, which took place June 29, during the 67th annual conference of the American Society for Enology & Viticulture in Monterey, Calif.READ MORE
If I had to pick a byword for the ninth International Cool Climate Wine Symposium in Brighton, England, it would simply be “change.” Changes in climate, in grape cultivars, in wine styles, in consumer markets—the transitory nature of cool-climate wine was addressed in venues ranging from technical scientific talks to hands-on digital marketing techniques to comparative tastings of wine styles and varietals during the conference held May 26-28.READ MORE
Editor’s note: The following excerpt, with certain modifications, is from a new book by Richard Mendelson, Appellation Napa Valley: Building and Protecting an American Treasure (Val de Grace Books 2016). In his book, Mendelson, who managed the legal work for many appellations in California and elsewhere, tells a detailed story of the birth, definition, personalities and protection of the Napa Valley. In so doing, he offers insights into the establishment of American Viticultural Areas and the future of vineyard designations in the United States. Mendelson’s book is available for purchase at appellationnapavalley.com.
In 1978, the United States adopted a formal wine appellation system with a new category of American Viticultural Areas (AVAs). Since then, more than 225 AVAs have been established in 32 states. And while some AVAs have been wildly successful and are recognized today around the world, others have “died on the vine.”
From 2007 to 2011, the U.S. Alcohol and Tobacco Tax and Trade Bureau (TTB) conducted a thorough reassessment of the AVA program. While this review was welcome, it was an opportunity lost. As I learned after more than 30 years of battles over the establishment and protection of AVAs, the appellation program is in need of change. With the benefit of hindsight and with the recognition that our AVAs now compete on the world stage, I believe that the TTB can—and must—take steps to enhance the credibility of U.S. appellations.
TTB expertiseREAD MORE
We’ve all heard this over and over again: Great wine is born in the vineyard. Now, after attending the 2016 Vintage Perspective Tasting hosted by the Napa Valley Vintners, I believe that it’s also coming from the corners of the room.READ MORE
The stage for 2016 is set: The U.S. economy continues to expand; capital markets are relatively strong; U.S. wine consumption continues to rise, and consumers’ purchase patterns increasingly favor more expensive wines. Wine sales have increased during the past 16 years at an average of 3.4% per year, reaching 375 million cases (or approximately 2.8 gallons per capita) in 2014. As of 2013, the U.S. became the largest wine market in the world, with plenty of room for continued growth in per-capita consumption.Source: Gomberg, Fredrikson & Associates
The ongoing growth and attractiveness of the U.S. wine industry has created a fertile environment for merger and acquisition (M&A) activity. Established players as well as new entrants are likely to continue using acquisitions to stake out or strengthen their competitive positions.
2015 retrospectiveREAD MORE
December 2015Would you invest your entire retirement account in one stock that you thought would do better than any other? No, of course not. You might take a “flier” on that one stock, but you would—I hope—stay diversified with bonds, cash, funds that contain hundreds or thousands of stocks and maybe even some alternative assets or real estate. Why? To reduce the risk of catastrophic market fluctuations.Whitehall Lane replanted this block of Millennium Vineyard in 2008 to match the soil profile in the spot.
Now, let’s say you are going to plant a vineyard in Napa, Calif. What is your first thought as to what to plant? Cabernet Sauvignon. How much of your vineyard should be planted to it? The answer I keep hearing is 100%. Across the state, we’ve seen a move toward monovarietal regions, and this is increasing both systemic risk for the industry and financial risk for individual entities.READ MORE
Winemaking inherently depends on the land and the environment, so it makes sense that we as an industry would want to give back to the planet. Plus, the benefits of sustainable wine production aren’t just for the environment: Consumers are increasingly seeking out sustainably produced wine, and saving resources can also help to keep cash in your coffers.
With the right planning, sustainable practices can be a great boon to winemakers, consumers and Mother Earth. Here’s how to reduce, reuse and recycle at your winemaking operation—from setting water consumption key performance indicators to finding your inner artist.READ MORE
The timely piece that Dong Li wrote for the July 2015 issue of Wines & Vines asked a question that could be of significant commercial relevance for California vintners: Which wines will China be drinking in 10 years?
While China may not have a wine culture we westerners recognize, how many Americans are aware that this Asian powerhouse is already the globe’s largest market for red wines and second only to Spain in vineyard surface area with nearly 2 million acres?
China seems very familiar to U.S. consumers, but that is largely because “Product of China” appears on innumerable items. In truth, we outsiders—especially in the West—are woefully ignorant of this ancient land. This is understandable given the historical isolation of the Middle Kingdom, and considering the political barriers that have made access quite difficult. By some calculations, China is already—or soon will be—the largest economy in the world. We depend upon China’s manufacturing prowess for cell phones, refrigerators, computers, air conditioners and so much else. Now consider a possibility that seems far-fetched at the moment: In 10 years, wine drinkers in the United States just might be consuming Chinese wines as well.READ MORE
If you’re like me, you went into wine production with idyllic images of yourself traipsing through vineyards, picking grapes right off the stem and sampling wine all day. Who wouldn’t want that as a day job?
While viticulture has its glamour and perks, there’s also a real management side to the industry. To grow your vineyard into a wine haven, you must align the conflicting business priorities of the marketing and production teams, which are infamous for collaborative tension. In the wine industry, marketing is tasked with keeping a pulse on consumer trends, while production might struggle to put its personal tastes aside.READ MORE
The current rule that forbids the use of AVAs on labels in non-contiguous states is an unnecessary hindrance to wineries and prevents consumers from knowing where a wine really came from. This law impacts us here at Brooklyn Winery quite a bit, so I wanted to explain the extent of the impact and make the case for changes in the rules to allow accurate and complete information on bottles of wine made from out-of-state grapes.READ MORE
There is a saying that suggests, “You can’t sell a refrigerator to an Eskimo.” Unfortunately, many wine importers find themselves in similar situations in China’s wine market, where there is no historical culture of wine consumption over thousands of years, and 70% of the Chinese population has minimal or no wine knowledge.
Most attempts to decode China’s wine market focus on socioeconomic factors such as GDP and disposable income, given that “price and label” are still the most predominant purchasing triggers. Yet the evolution from “price and label” to “quality and taste” is happening, accelerated by many factors including thriving wine education institutes and the Chinese government’s anti-corruption movement.READ MORE
Grapevine certification programs are based on the premise that the foundation planting stocks propagated by nursery growers have been tested and shown to be free of pathogens of concern to the industry. Pathogen testing saves growers millions of dollars by providing a good (though not perfect) level of protection from pathogens that shorten the productive life of vineyards and reduce productivity and grape quality.
There are three basic methods of verifying that grapevines are free of harmful viral pathogens: 1) inoculating indicator plants (mostly herbaceous ones) with tissue from the grapevine being tested; 2) a process called “woody indexing,” which involves grafting buds on to a grapevine variety that expresses symptoms; and 3) laboratory testing.READ MORE
Winegrowers in well-regarded appellations have been neglecting to make the best investment they can: the amortization of their vineyard’s appellation value. When a grower purchases a vineyard, he purchases not only the land and the vineyard planted on it, but also an intangible asset—the right for his grapes to be bottled and labeled with the name of the American Viticutural Area (AVA).
This distinction is important, as land cannot be depreciated as an expense against income. The intangible asset’s value, however, can be amortized over the course of 15 years. This rule applies to any vineyards purchased after 1993. It only applies to vineyards whose appellation actually creates value beyond what the land itself creates. For instance, vineyard land does not sell for a premium because it is in the Madera AVA, but it does sell at a premium because it is in the Oakville AVA. The former has no AVA value to appraise and amortize; the latter most certainly does.READ MORE
Editor’s Note: The Coalition for Free Trade (CFT), established by vintners in 1995 as a nonprofit organization seeking judicial relief from laws prohibiting direct-to-consumer (DtC) shipments, announced Nov. 24 that it had ended all activities after achieving significant victories for wineries and wine lovers alike.
Think back to the 1980s and 1990s. Selling wine directly to people who wanted it seemed so simple. Commerce between producers and consumers was like any other product; they ordered, and we shipped. No one noticed, and seemingly no one cared.READ MORE
Publication of draft General Waste Discharge Requirements (WDRs) for vineyards in the Napa River and Sonoma Creek watersheds is tentatively scheduled for January-May 2015, according to Mike Napolitano, engineering geologist with the San Francisco Bay Regional Water Quality Control Board (RWQCB).
The General WDRs will take the place of the Waiver of Waste Discharge Requirements regulatory arrangement that the RWQCB offered to the growers in 2013. It was rejected by growers and environmental groups alike.
This is an issue because a long-established program of water quality assessment, set out for all bodies of water in the United States in the Clean Water Act of 1972, has found the Napa River and Sonoma Creek watersheds to be impaired due to excessive sedimentation. Wine grape vineyards are among the potential sediment sources that are drawing increased scrutiny. The General WDRs would regulate discharges in order to achieve the performance standards for sediment and storm runoff set forth in the sediment Total Maximum Daily Loads (TMDLs) for Napa River and Sonoma Creek, with the overarching goals of reducing nonpoint source pollutant discharges from vineyards and protecting and enhancing beneficial uses including the protection of anadromous fish habitat.
The proposed General WDRs would regulate discharges from vineyards in the Napa River and Sonoma Creek watersheds. The General WDRs would apply to a group of new and existing vineyards (including replants) based on eligibility criteria described in the notice of preparation and initial study. The eligible vineyards would, in general, be required to:
1. Submit a Notice of Intent to comply,
2. Prepare a Farm Water Quality Plan that identifies potential sediment sources and management practices to reduce those discharges,
3. Implement the chosen management practices,
4. Submit an annual compliance report that would identify what actions were taken to control sediment discharges.
A public California Environmental Quality Act (CEQA) scoping meeting for the proposed new regulation was held July 23, 2014, in Napa and provided the opportunity for the RWQCB to update the community on how the issue is progressing.
RWQCB is anticipating a publication date for the draft general permit in early 2015, and that the EIR for the project would probably be released at the same time. This would be followed by a 45-day comment period, which would be the time for the regulated community to make their concerns known in writing.
Here are some of the specific features of these new draft regulations:
• Vineyards smaller than 5 acres would not be required to seek coverage under the General WDRs.
• Stream setback requirements would generally be 35 feet.
• County-approved erosion control plans (ECPs) would meet standards.
• General WDRs would involve inspections of the covered vineyard properties by the RWQCB staff at irregular intervals. They would be looking at roads in particular.
• Annual self-reporting to the RWQCB regarding effectiveness of erosion control measures would be required. There would be some sort of template for this report, and these reports would be public information.
• No individual water quality sampling would be required.
• The RWQCB would be sampling within the watersheds to monitor sedimentation in the gravel beds that anadromous fish use for egg laying.
• Individual site farm plans would be required. They would be kept onsite and not submitted to any public agency nor made public information.
According to the admittedly fast-tracked proposed project schedule, the general WDRs would go to the full RWQCB Board during the second half of 2015 for adoption. A major justification for the accelerated schedule is that virtually all of the CEQA environmental review that was completed for the WDR waiver process is felt to be applicable to the General WDRs covering the same activities.
The way things stand now, concerned parties will have only the 45 days following the release of the Draft WDRs next year to review the proposed regulation and submit comments.
Comments can be sent to firstname.lastname@example.org or:READ MORE
Wineries and distributors exert little or no control over what restaurants charge for their wines, resulting in large price disparities from wine list to wine list. The phenomenon is potentially damaging to a wine brand, as customers may blame the winery rather than the restaurant for an overpriced wine.READ MORE
December 2013Nearly seven years after it was submitted, we received news in late September that the petition to establish 11 American Viticultural Areas (AVAs) within the current Paso Robles AVA has been published for comments. This is the critical step at which the U.S. Alcohol and Tobacco Tax and Trade Bureau (TTB) has reviewed all the geological, climatological and historical information presented in the petitions and determined that they pass muster. It’s an important validation of the proposed AVAs and boundaries, and the last step before final approval.READ MORE
November 2013When the U.S. Department of Justice announced in late August that it would not preempt state laws legalizing the regulated recreational use of cannabis, residents of Colorado and Washington state suddenly were transported to 1933. Now as then, states scramble toward regulatory control of a product still seen by many as taboo, clouded in stereotypes of abuse and criminality.READ MORE
September 2013Over the years, I’ve attended a few individual sessions of the University of California, Davis, Wine Executive Program and found them very interesting. This year I got a chance to immerse myself in the whole program. Although it was a big time commitment, I jumped at the chance.READ MORE
April 2013Consumers are increasingly seeking out natural food products, a trend that stems from a growing suspicion of additives and chemical preservatives. Because natural foods are commonly linked to good health and being better for the environment, products marketed in this way are often priced at a premium. Within the wine industry, these marketing campaigns are sometimes manifested through the fast-growing organic sector that, among other things, forgoes the use of added sulfites.READ MORE
February 2013Today, 39 states representing 89.5% of the wine market allow for legal, regulated direct shipping of wine from wineries to consumers—but not Massachusetts. In fact, the Bay State holds a special place in our rankings of states on this issue.READ MORE
November 2012Compared to the standards of some universities, Dr. Ralph Kunkee was a failure. After all, he did not bring in multimillion-dollar research contracts, nor did he publish five or more original research articles per year during his long tenure as an enology professor at the University of California, Davis. But if Dr. Kunkee was a failure, then why have so many people attended tribute events that honor him? What did he really accomplish?READ MORE
October 2012The number most closely related to cork closures for wine bottles is three. Natural corks can taint a wine with TCA, and for most consumers it’s apparent (when measured in parts per trillion) at 3 ppm. At the wine competitions I coordinate, the percentage of TCA-tainted wines in cork-sealed bottles is also about three. At my company Riverside International, some 20,000 bottles were opened during the past decade, and we calculated that 3% were corked.READ MORE
May 2012At age 10, Aaron Pott made the decision to become a winemaker. It was on the heels of a trip to Europe with his parents, when a French waiter told him, “Milk is for babies” and offered him a watered down red wine instead. His curiosity piqued, Pott says he began conducting fermentation experiments in the garage, making use of yeast and grape juice concentrate.READ MORE
April 2012Wine is a subject obscured by myths, and in “Myths Challenge Industry Growth” (Wines & Vines February 2012 issue), Paul Franson provides a very useful service by highlighting several egregious examples. The suggestion that “the wine business” is the guilty party is itself a myth—or, at the very least, an oversimplification of a far more complex phenomenon. The origins of the myths Mr. Franson rightly decries are far more nuanced, and many involve perceptions and actions of trade and consumer alike. Journalists as well should plead mea culpa for endorsing certain myths.READ MORE
In many industries, the term “government regulation” is almost a swear word. But the wine industry got a chance recently to imagine life without the TTB, and many found it dark and uncomfortable.READ MORE
February 2012Many years ago, California winemakers convinced wine lovers that fine wines come in bottles and use corks. That campaign has come to hamper efforts to reduce costs, widen the market and even arguably improve some wines as increasing evidence demonstrates that inexpensive screwcaps are at least the equal of expensive corks for sealing wines.READ MORE
December 2011At this year’s fifth International Conference on Polyphenols and Health in Sitges, Spain, the words “antioxidant” and “wine” were hardly mentioned by the 700 participants from 47 different countries. This modern resurgence of interest in polyphenols was launched by the antioxidant hypothesis from the University of California, Davis, which proposed to explain the French Paradox, how wine could prevent cardiovascular disease, back in 1993. But today’s cutting-edge work has moved beyond the general concept of antioxidants, now finding exactly which biological pathways are affected, and instead of wine, the foods studied are olive oil, tea, juice and supplements, among others.READ MORE
November 2011The instrument was new, but the lyrics were familiar: California vintners aren’t making high-value wines, which is to say wines of individuality and authority, for $12 or so.READ MORE
October 2011In his Editor’s Letter “U.S. Economy vs. Wine Economy,” (Wines & Vines, September 2011), Jim Gordon conveyed some of the upbeat news for the U.S. wine business. While it’s true that things are better than they were, it doesn’t mean things are good. That applies with special force to small businesses in general and small wineries in particular. The recession created a perfect storm for the small winery, one that can’t help but change the landscape of the wine business. In fact, it already has.READ MORE
September 2011As I eyed the elegantly dressed table and my glass of 1990 Château Lafite Rothschild, I felt like a guest at Buckingham Palace—only with better wine. A few months ago in Pauillac, France, dinner at Château Lafite Rothschild progressed into a most memorable evening.READ MORE
July 2011The highly competitive state of the wine market has producers from every region of the globe searching for their own varietal niche. For Oregon it’s Pinot Noir. In Napa Valley, Cabernet Sauvignon. New Zealand, Sauvignon Blanc. For a growing region as diverse as Washington’s Columbia Valley, hanging our collective hat on a single varietal is a challenging and questionable proposition. Some industry insiders have criticized Washington for not being identified with a single variety (“Washington Wines Seek Identity,” winesandvines.com Headline, March 30), but they miss the point. Washington’s strength is its diversity, not its specialization.READ MORE
June 2011As a wine educator, I spend a lot of time on winery websites researching wines for classes and private tastings. Some websites are quite good; too many are almost worthless. I realize winery websites are not created for the benefit of wine educators; however, the more educators know about a winery’s wares, the better equipped they are to form partnerships with that winery and introduce its wines to the public.READ MORE
May 2011Today’s U.S. wineries face constant challenges to compete in a mature market against an onslaught of domestic and foreign competition.READ MORE
April 2011The subject of standardized units must be one of the driest and most tiresome topics in the wine industry. Or so it would seem, until a winery experiences a dramatic and expensive unit-related misunderstanding such as a massive over addition of SO2, refermentation in bottles of “dry” wine or unanticipated spoilage in the barrel room. These situations are extraordinarily common, and repeatedly hearing these stories can produce unit-standardizing activists and advocates.READ MORE
March 2011Direct shipping will almost certainly come to Maryland consumers in 2011. However, the bigger story out of the Old Line State is the Direct Wine Shipment Report released by the comptroller Dec. 31, 2010. Peter Franchot’s comprehensive 257-page report will have a lasting (and for wineries, favorable) impact on the industry for years to come.READ MORE
February 2011The Third Circuit Court of Appeals in Philadelphia recently issued a decision, Freeman v. Corzine, which represents a substantial threat to the status quo for state winery tasting room, self-distribution, event, festival, restaurant, farmers market and other local winery privileges. As a representative of wineries in 48 states, and knowing how central these privileges are to thousands of successful businesses, I find Freeman more than a little disappointing. Whether the decision ultimately proves the law of the land will depend largely on the industry’s ability to articulate why the decision is wrong.READ MORE
January 2011Osgood is my alter ego. He comes with me wherever I go just in case one of us has a bright idea that needs debating.READ MORE
December 2010Most followers of wine are aware that Syrah faces a challenging marketplace. Even articles that are complimentary of Syrah (as nearly all of them are) feel compelled to begin with a story about how hard the wines are to sell. A recent article by Eric Asimov in The New York Times began, “There’s a joke going around West Coast wine circles: What’s the difference between a case of Syrah and a case of pneumonia? You can get rid of the pneumonia.”READ MORE
November 2010As the clock ticks, Napa Valley’s Cabernet Sauvignon wines will become increasingly susceptible to commoditization. A commodity is a product for which there is demand, but it is bought and sold without qualitative differentiation.READ MORE
October 2010A bill on the California ballot in November will challenge the populace either to make a logical decision or an emotional one. The focus of Proposition 23 is Assembly Bill 32 (AB 32), a law passed in 2006 that established anti-greenhouse gas standards. Starting in 2012, AB 32 requires that emissions be reduced to 1990 levels by 2020. If Proposition 23 passes, it temporarily will suspend AB 32 until California businesses can afford the cost.READ MORE
September 2010Randall Grahm of Bonny Doon Vineyard told me this: “What’s the difference between a case of the crabs and a case of Syrah? The crabs go away.”READ MORE
August 2010If California does not provide an adequate water supply at a reasonable cost to its agriculture industry, competition from globalization will soon turn the state into a third-world country.READ MORE
July 2010I have always wanted to be an artist. I greatly admire talent that can morph a concept into visual allegory, or capture a natural detail and evoke emotion and wonder for days on end. I don’t have a favorite medium (OK, maybe sculpture, photography and literature), but I thoroughly enjoy pieces that seem to delve into the depths of human nature. However, early in adulthood I realized this talent evaded me. It’s OK, you can’t be everything.READ MORE
June 2010On May 16, 2005, the Supreme Court of the United States issued an opinion in the case of Granholm vs. Heald that significantly altered the way state laws are created and challenged. By concluding that the states of Michigan and New York could not discriminate by allowing in-state wineries to ship directly to consumers while prohibiting out-of-state wineries from doing the same, the court affirmed that the “dormant” part of the Commerce Clause trumps the 21st Amendment to the Constitution. In other words, states have every ability to regulate alcoholic beverages within their borders, but only if the laws treat in-state and out-of-state suppliers evenhandedly.
Exactly five years after the landmark Granholm ruling, the industry is grappling with what could be another seismic shift. HR 5034, crafted by the National Beer Wholesalers Association (NBWA) and supported by the Wine and Spirits Wholesalers of America (WSWA), would “reaffirm and protect the primary authority of states to regulate alcoholic beverages.”READ MORE
May 2010In response to lobbying by the National Beer Wholesalers Association (NBWA), a Congressional subcommittee held a hearing March 18 to receive testimony about “Legal Issues Concerning State Alcohol Regulation.” The purpose was ostensibly to decide whether federal courts should have the power to prevent states from enforcing protectionist and discriminatory state alcohol laws. There was virtually no advance notice of the hearing, which made it extremely difficult to respond to the complex issues under consideration.READ MORE
April 2010In the northwest corner of Mexico, Baja California is home to nearly 40 wineries, but even international enophiles seem largely unaware of the region’s rapidly emerging wine industry. In 1521, Mexico became the first country in the New World to be planted to grapes. Despite the nation’s early start in viticulture, the industry laid dormant until the late 1800s and early 1900s, when James Concannon and Antonio Perrelli-Minetti introduced several French varieties, as well as Zinfandel.READ MORE
March 2010A winery might have plenty of reasons to use a vintage date on an “American” or other country appellation wine. But under longstanding federal regulations, wineries don’t have the option, since country appellation wines are prohibited from bearing a vintage date. As with many technical rules in the wine business, it’s a case where the purpose of a once-coherent policy restriction has been lost through a combination of market and regulatory changes. It is time for the federal Alcohol & Tobacco Tax & Trade Bureau (TTB) to revise its policy.
Having grown from 1,600 wineries in 1990 to more than 6,000 today, the U.S. wine industry has evolved at a rapid rate. Regulatory policy has gradually adapted along with it, slowly improving with a lot of hard work by our industry’s dedicated policy minders. In a general sense, the regulatory environment for wineries is pretty good. But there’s significant room for improvement, particularly in areas where outmoded policy hinders winery marketing and development.READ MORE
February 2010Sans soufre. Without sulfur. Everything sounds more profound in French. The average consumer has a vague fear of sulfites anyway, along with nitrates and MSG. Winemakers always point out that some sulfur is produced naturally during fermentation, but we all get nervous when free sulfur dips below 25 ppm. A little at the crusher keeps bad bugs away, while reductively made whites swallow hundreds of grams per ton. Sulfur is the most important additive in preserving wine quality. It is predictable and benign. Is it even worth debating?READ MORE
In early November, I sat on an industry panel in Paso Robles, Calif., to share ideas about the possibilities of social networking. The three of us on the panel were chosen because we were early adopters of blogs, Facebook, and/or Twitter. An hour-long discussion included a flurry of statistics showing the seismic shift in marketing away from traditional media toward social networking sites and lots of “best practices” tips.READ MORE
As a kid trolling the Atlantic City boardwalk, I’d pause at the huckster’s spiel on vegetable slicers. In those pre-Martha days, I was mesmerized by the pitch for the bonus radish flower-maker, a nifty implement destined for back-of-drawer uselessness.READ MORE
At Astor Wine & Spirits in Manhattan’s Greenwich Village, boxed wines from the Rhône, Bordeaux and Argentina are nestled next to bottles on the shelf. “There’s a slew of great offerings in larger alternative formats,” says head buyer Lorena Ascencios. And consumers are seeking them out—if not always in droves at Astor, certainly out of curiosity, she says. More generally, year-over-year sales of premium box wines have increased nearly 30%, according to IRI Scan Data.READ MORE
October 2009Two years ago, I embarked upon the goal at Hahn Family Wines of becoming the wine industry's leader in social media marketing and viral marketing. We invested in training regarding blogs, Twitter, I Flips (Integrated Flight Prediction Systems), Facebook, Flickr and many other programs and ideas too numerous to mention. In the beginning, many were skeptical of the direction I was pursuing.READ MORE
September 2009In today's web-driven world, customers have more power than ever. Thanks to "consumer-generated media"--blogs, social networking pages, message boards, product review sites and now Twitter--even a single customer can broadcast his brand testimonials or complaints to millions.READ MORE
August 2009One thing I can say about screwcaps without fear of contradiction: They're much easier to handle than corks.READ MORE
Varietal is the spice of life. I know; it should be: Variety is the spice of life. Judging by the way the wine industry uses the term varietal, you would think the term variety has outlived its usefulness. At the risk of bringing back unpleasant memories of your high school English teacher, I have a bone to pick with the wine industry.READ MORE
May 2009If the current economic downturn has demonstrated any one key point, it is that good economic times mask the shackling effect that archaic regulations have on commercial activity.READ MORE
'Great wines are associated with particular vineyards,' Tom Jordan told me in 1976. I agree. When I was a student at the University of California, Davis, my enology professor, Dr. Harold Berg, suggested that 85% of the quality of a wine is associated with grape origin.READ MORE
March 2009All the economic forecasts I read for a global turnaround vary from eight months to 18 months or more. The wine industry is showing that it is not immune to the impacts of this recession. While we all tend to get wrapped up in the operations of our businesses, now more than ever it is important to step back and take key actions to grow cash. Understanding how to protect and enhance your cash position will give you the flexibility to ride out this downturn. On the brighter side, when the turnaround comes, you'll be in a better position to take advantage of the rebound. Here are a few of my thoughts on this:
How to grow cash and equity
Run a new profit scenario that forecasts volume down from last year. You can decide the decrease, but I recommend down 30%-50%. If this sounds doomsday-ish, that's my intent. Scenario planning will give you an idea of just how bad the bad news could really be.READ MORE
February 2009What happens when you put five gods of green on one panel to talk about business? At the Green Wine Summit in December, you got a standing-room-only audience, unexpected humor and a reality check about the famous triple bottom line of sustainability. It was inspiring in unanticipated ways.READ MORE
January 2009The surplus of winegrapes in California appears to be over. Due to drought, frost, spring winds and heat spells, the 2008 winegrape crop is estimated to be smaller than 2007's statewide. I expect the 2008 crop will come in below 3 million tons--significantly lower than the 3.4 million tons estimated by California Agricultural Statistic Service. This drop should complete the market-balancing trend needed since the bumper crop of 2005. The crop size can be categorized as a below-average crop overall, with the interior regions producing slightly below average, and the coastal regions producing well below average.READ MORE
December 2008On April 16, 1917, President Woodrow Wilson asked Congress to declare war on Germany. A vital part of Wilson's plan was a food control bill designed to direct vital food materials to aid in the war effort. The Anti-Saloon League and temperance movement that had been agitating against alcohol for decades saw an opportunity. Because hard liquor production required grain, sugar and other items, they used strong patriotic arguments to push legislation against liquor.READ MORE
November 2008Consumers find wine at their local retail shops by varietal, flavor intensity, price, country of origin and food pairing. Some retailers group wine in an indiscernible way that leaves consumers muttering, "I have no clue how to find anything here."READ MORE
October 2008The Granholm v. Heald decision in 2005 sparked impromptu consumer celebrations around the country, stories in national media about how the Supreme Court had sided with wine lovers and struck down restrictions on interstate wine shipment, and general euphoria among small and medium-sized wineries that rely on direct shipping. Slightly more than three years later, more people in more places can receive wines direct from wineries, but the impacts have been far from uniformly positive for wineries and their customers.READ MORE
September 2008This June, the French government's Agronomic Research Institute (INRA) hosted the Oxygen Management in Wines Conference at its Montpellier, France, campus. The one-day meeting was organized to help winemakers better understand how to control oxygen in winemaking.READ MORE
August 2008The battle pitting corks, screwcaps, plastic corks and glass stoppers against each other continues. In fact, recently in a wine store in Connecticut I even saw a bottle of Austrian Grüner Veltliner with a crown cap!READ MORE
July 2008I recently dug into some recommended reading published in ASEV's summer/fall 2007 "Platform" newsletter, written by Dr. G. Stanley Howell, recipient of the 2007 ASEV Merit Award. In the article, Howell remarks about the value of grasping the difference between "unanswered questions versus unquestioned answers." Howell points out: "We are more hindered in the pursuit of understanding by the 'unquestioned answers' than its alternative."READ MORE
June 2008Son, you need to get a job.
I applied at Starbucks. They don't need help right now.READ MORE
May 2008I just finished reading the March 2008 Wines & Vines article, "Anyone Remember GWSS?" While the glassy-winged sharpshooter has dropped from the headlines, few winegrape growers need reminders that GWSS is still a threat to California's grape and wine industry. Although the article was pretty complete, it's important to look at two other related issues.READ MORE
April 2008The Tax and Trade Bureau of the Treasury Department (TTB) is currently reviewing comments on a rulemaking proposal to mandate a "serving facts" information panel on all alcohol beverage labels, in type larger than two millimeters, set off in a box, and specifying alcohol content by volume, calorie and nutrient information (carbohydrate, fat and protein).READ MORE
March 2008People love the phrase "in vino veritas"--in wine there is truth. But I wonder sometimes whether "in vino scientia" holds as well. Is there any true knowledge with wine?READ MORE
February 2008I'll get this out of the way right up front: Direct-to-consumer wine packaging is lame. Minimalist. Underwhelming. Thoughtless. Cheap.READ MORE
January 2008If I want to read a book, I don't pick up a bottle of wine, but so many labels nowadays carry elaborate narratives and back-stories that are supposed to make the wine more "interesting" or "enticing" or "hip" (especially hip) that buying wine is like reading the back of the cereal box at breakfast. I mean, isn't the idea of marketing the quick sale, rather than bogging down a potential consumer with a chapter of War and Peace printed in teeny-weeny type?READ MORE
December 2007The ongoing debate over direct shipment recently took an interesting turn in Ohio. Beginning Oct. 1, direct shipment from wineries to consumers became legal, but only as long as the winery in question produced less than 150,000 gallons of wine annually. The new regulations are ostensibly non-discriminatory, in the sense that they apply to both in-state and out-of-state wine producers. As a matter of fact, however, the overwhelming majority of Ohio wine producers fall well below the 150,000-gallon cap, so in practical terms, the law clearly discriminates against out-of-state producers.READ MORE
November 2007While single life has its advantages--none come to mind--it was time for me to start dating again. It was a warm Friday night back in July. I showered, shaved, put on a pair of big-boy pants, and hit the town like it had never been hit before. My destination was a new seafood restaurant near the courthouse called Squid Pro Quo. With any luck I would meet the woman of my dreams--a woman with low self-esteem looking to settle.READ MORE
October 2007I am a winegrape grower--a proud California farmer producing the raw product going into the state's most recognized agricultural treasure: California wine! The buyers of my crops, my many vintner friends, transform my grapes into wine, thus preserving that which my land has provided.READ MORE
September 2007During a recent seminar on high elevation winegrowing, a marketing panel sparked a lively, interactive discussion on a topic that seems to be front and center in the wine world: high alcohol wines. Why is this such an issue? Is it because of health factors? Does it come under the heading of eating and drinking lighter? Is it just about taste? Or is it just plain uncool to enjoy drinking big, robust wines?READ MORE
August 2007When Willamette Valley Vineyards (WVV) in Oregon became the world's first winery to commit to using cork from a cork forest certified by the Forest Stewardship Council and the Rainforest Alliance, it didn't make much of a splash in the wine press.READ MORE
July 2007ML: Doc, I feel like a three-legged dog in a four-legged world.READ MORE
June 2007Remember Rhine wine, Mountain Chablis and Hearty Burgundy? When all fizz was Champagne, and Sherry and Madeira could be found in the cooking aisle?READ MORE
May 2007His cellar was new. From the vintages, it looked like he had collected wine for about a decade. I spied a couple of my wines on the rack, so I commented facetiously, "It's obvious your wines are well chosen." Missing my drift, he replied, "Yes, every wine in this cellar has at least 95 points from either the Wine Advocate or the Wine Spectator." To this collector, it was all about points.READ MORE
April 2007"Bless me, Father, for I have sinned. It has been 40 years since my last confession."READ MORE
March 2007If the U.S. government gets its way, wine bottles could well have four information labels imposed on them--and one of them would be a fraud.READ MORE
February 2007A dialogue between PR pro and prospective client.READ MORE
January 2007In the September issue of W&V, I read a thought-provoking editorial by Bryan Garbutt, "Getting Past The Millennial Gatekeepers." In a nutshell, Garbutt argued that many of the young sommeliers and wine buyers, 21-29 years of age, are basically too adventurous in their selections of wines and out of the loop about the concept of brand loyalty. In short, it was a fascinating market-driven opinion, but also very one-sided.READ MORE
I love the 100-point scale. Of course, it hasn't always been that way. Years ago, when I wore the hat of a retailer (plaid propeller beanie), I hated the system and the publications that supported it.READ MORE
November 2006The "new paradigm" Bryan Garbutt described in his October "Opinion/Analysis" piece is certainly not new to this retired industry veteran. The "gatekeepers" are not new, just younger. For more than four decades, what I ran into went something like this:READ MORE
October 2006I'm going to make a prediction. I reckon the next battleground in the wine world will be the controversial use of genetically modified (GM) yeasts in winemaking. Plenty of these genetically modified strains already exist in laboratories around the globe, but they haven't previously been commercialized because of the negative reactions of consumers to GM food products. Scientists are engineering beneficial traits into wine yeasts, even though they know they won't be useful for commercial winemaking for the foreseeable future, for two reasons. First, they're betting that public opposition to GM technology will one day recede, at which point they'll be in a good position to move. Second, they can learn a lot of useful information from using these introduced genes, which will then inform conventional breeding and selection programs.READ MORE
September 2006The fine dining industry is possessed of a small but powerful group of wine buyers--gatekeepers if you will--who control access to some of the most prestigious wine-list real estate in America. These are wine lists that any maker of world-class wine would love to be a part of; wine lists that can make a defining statement about quality, prestige, discriminating taste and current fashion among wine labels.READ MORE
August 2006If ever there were an admission that something's rotten in Denmark (and a lot of other countries as well), it was the statement a few weeks ago by a European Union official that proposed a radical change in the way European wine is made.READ MORE
July 2006Not too long ago, I crawled between my sheets with some exciting reading material--the new wine regulations for the United States branch of Demeter Association. I was particularly struck to learn that Demeter owns the trademark for the word "biodynamic" in the U.S. So, unless your winery is Demeter-certified, "biodynamic" cannot appear on your label. Getting deeper into the reading, I underlined furiously and then got out of bed and blogged.READ MORE
June 2006The international conference on terroir held earlier this year at UC Davis was a stimulating and, at times, provocative meeting.READ MORE
May 2006Like so many of the wines being produced today, wine terms themselves are becoming homogenized and, as a result, obsolete. The term "boutique" is a great example.READ MORE
April 2006Many states, such as New York, Missouri and Illinois, still have "closed" yearly wine competitions that out-of-state wineries are barred from entering. This is in sharp contrast to states such as Indiana, where the competition is "open" and entries are encouraged from all 50 states and foreign countries. Indiana's competition has become one of the largest and most highly respected in the nation, with 3,685 entries in 2005. Wineries winning medals there boast of them in the national media.READ MORE
March 2006The optimism was so thick in the aisles of the Unified Wine & Grape Symposium in Sacramento a few weeks ago that you could scoop it onto your apple pie and have Good News du Jour a la Mode.READ MORE
February 2006Be it fashion, cars or food, American consumers are seemingly obsessed with fads, and the wine trade is no exception. Each and every year sees the emergence of a darling new buzz word that's bandied about by our nation's retailers, restaurateurs, distributors and wine press. Canopy management, terroir, brettanomyces and TCA have all had their day in the sun. Last year gave rise to yet another--pardon the pun-- hot topic: alcohol content.READ MORE
January 2006The possible introduction of genetically modified (GM) grapevines into California vineyards is currently causing heated debate. At one extreme, scientists are so familiar with the use of genetic modification as a research technique, they can't see what all the fuss is about. At the other extreme, tree-hugging environmentalists see GM crops as a threat to be resisted at all costs.READ MORE