Category Archives: Master Of Wine Studies

Bottle + glass

But Why is the Wine Gone? Part 1 – Prosecco

Several weeks ago there was an article by the Drinks Business proclaiming that a Prosecco shortage was nigh.  This sparked off a number of news outlets to cover the story.  Given that Prosecco is one of the hottest drinks on the market right now this was grave news indeed.  The UK’s Guardian, The Drinks Business as well as the Telegraph put the increase of sales of Prosecco anywhere between 39% and 74%.  For the US, the Italian bubbly is enjoying a meteoric rise as well with The Wall Street Journal quoting 39% and 75% for Shanken News Daily.

Then, shortly after the publication of the article I received a PR release in my inbox directly from the Prosecco DOC Consortium stating the following…

“The Prosecco DOC Consortium (Consorzio di Tutela della DOC Prosecco)—the institution charged with protecting, upholding and promoting the standards of Prosecco DOC— announced that there will not be a shortage of Prosecco in the coming months. The news that was published last week in the UK press outlet, ‘The Drinks Business’ on May 20th, was misleading, according to the Consortium.

The harvest of 2014 was hit with some harsh weather and had an average of over 9% less than the maximum yield. According to the Consortium, this resulted in a total certified production of 17.9% more than the previous harvest, to reaching far beyond the target yield put out by forecasters. The Consortium has also ruled out any significant price increase during the summer. Any small increase will only concern ‘entry level’ productions among lower priced products.

Now comprising 18.5% of total exports, the United States is the third-largest market for Prosecco DOC sales behind the United Kingdom and Germany, respectively. The global demand highlights an increasing interest and demand in Italian sparkling wine with which the Consortium’s productions are prepared to keep up.”

That’s interesting.  I wanted to get some additional information on how the perceived “shortage” came about so I reached out the Consortium and was able to speak with Stefano Zanette, president of The Prosecco DOC Consortium to clarify some of the issues brought up in the original article.  My interview with him is below.

NC: According to your press release the 2014 harvest was actually 17.9% higher than the previous vintage.  Where do you think the misconception came from that the harvest was 50% down in some places?

SZ: In some cases, there very well may have been losses of even more than 50% because of hail or disease, but what we have to look at is the data related to the denomination as a whole, which correspond to that which we have provided. I believe that the need to look at particular details and not at the denomination as a whole is the result of individual wineries’ internal company needs.

NC: The Drinks Business article references negociants playing a large role in determining the shortage.  How big of an influence to negociants have on the Prosecco industry? 

SZ: I don’t think negociants have any particular responsibility in this matter. Obviously, if it is discovered that available volume is less than expected, they had to move accordingly too.

NC: The article also references brokers “holding onto” Prosecco stock.  Since one of the virtues of Prosecco is its fresh youthful style, how much stock to you reasonably think brokers could be holding onto?  It seems that would be very risky for the broker.

SZ:  If people were holding on to stock, that will not be able to last longer than the beginning of the next harvest, which we hope will be more bountiful than last year’s.

NC: What is your opinion on the claim that many of the growing areas of the DOC were “newly planted… and yields were down by half in some cases”?  What would you estimate is the area that has been recently planted or replanted in the DOC?

SZ: The issue of the lower yield generally affected the entire denomination and in a haphazard way in a few territories in particular with no correlation between new and old vineyards. The recently planted or replanted vineyards make up approximately 5%.

NC: Do you also share the opinion that “people love Prosecco because it is uncomplicated and quaffable” and that it shouldn’t be taken too seriously?

SZ: I agree that Prosecco “is uncomplicated” and that it “is quaffable,” but I also believe that it is a product that “must be taken seriously” – 306,000,000 bottles is no joke!

So there you have it folks! We can remain calm on the issue of Prosecco for now.  New Zealand on the other hand might deserve some panic and will be the subject of Part 2 of Why is the Wine Gone? Stay tuned!

 

Header Photo courtesy of the Prosecco DOC Consortium.

Master of Wine Exam Week 2015

This week, many students from around the world will converge on three cities to sit the rigorous 4 day long exam for the Master of Wine. I have mixed feelings this week. This is the first time in 6 years that I haven’t been prepping to sit myself. I have numerous friends who will be there yet I will not. There have been several key learnings that helped me in my quest that I though would be good to share with those sitting this week.

1) Don’t overthink the question and don’t get bogged down in the weeds.

2) Make a point then argue the counterpoint to make your point stronger.

3) Don’t volunteer more than the question asks.

4) Don’t forget, it is possible to be correct but inappropriate. (Calling Viura “Macabeo” is correct  but not for Rioja) Don’t make my same mistake!

5) Remember, when you are trying to overcome the panic of not knowing what the wines are, start writing. Much of the exam can be answered by tasting the wine but not knowing the origin and most of the time you figure the wine out as you go along.

6) It is wine. We are not curing cancer or doing brain surgery. When you get stressed, just remember that.

7) Compartmentalize! When the two hours and 15 minutes is up for Practical paper 1, forget it and turn your mental strength to viticulture (Theory Paper 1). When that is over, forget it and start thinking about the next part.

8) Stay away from toxic people.

9) Don’t change your plans at the last minute. Your technique has gotten you this far. Trust it.

10) Don’t listen to past MW students lament about when they were in the program…Oops. Too late for you if you are reading this.

Best of luck to everyone sitting! Go crush it! Most of all, enjoy the feeling of possibilities in the three months between the end of the exam and the results coming out. That was always the toughest time for me. This year, however, I am waiting for something that I haven’t waited for in a long time. I’m waiting for the applications to come out to get back into the program. I have some unfinished business with the exam and a year from now, I plan to be sitting the exam yet another time. Hopefully for the last time.

Is Wine Losing its Prestige Image?

While I was at Unified two weeks ago, during the State of the Industry talk, Jon Fredrickson of Gomberg, Frederickson, and Associates was giving his Wine Market Update.  I wrote down one sentence that didn’t really strike a chord with me until I was typing up all my notes from the sessions I had attended, earlier last week.  There, buried as the fifth and last bullet point under the justifications as to why wine is dropping placements on- premise was this sentence…

  • Wine is losing its prestige image.

As I retyped this sentence into my document, the MW student side of my brain took over.  This would be a great Contemporary Issues question for the MW theory exam when changed to this…

  • Wine is losing its prestige image. Discuss.

Now obviously this is not a question since there is no question mark.  That is the tricky thing about MW exam questions. There is often what I like to call “hidden questions”.  Questions within questions and unless one can figure out how many questions you are REALLY answering one does not have a chance at passing.  There are three hidden questions in the statement above.

  1. What is a Prestige Image?
  2. Does wine have a Prestige Image?
  3. Is wine losing whatever Prestige Image it does have?

One could also add a fourth question to answer as well.  4) Is this a bad thing for the wine industry?  The general opinion I gathered is that Frederickson seemed to think it was.  Now customers going to restaurants and bars have other options to choose from such as craft beers and spirits.  Wine listings by the bottle are down 16% year over year and by the glass options are down 12% according to research done by Charles Gill of Winemetrics in Fairfield, CT. However, later in his talk Frederikson eludes that the decline seems to be focused on the low end of the market (wines below $9.00) and that above that, the premium category is still growing.

Which brings me back to the questions above.

  1. What is a Prestige Image?

There are two definitions that one must consider here both from Webster’s Dictionary.

Prestige = Widespread respect and admiration felt for someone or something on the basis of a perception of their achievements or quality.

Image = a representation of the external form of a person or thing.

Therefore it is safe to conclude that a Prestige Image is defined as widespread respect and admiration felt for a representation of something on the basis of a perception of their achievements or quality

        2. Does wine have a Prestige Image?

Among wine industry folks I would have to say that it does.  However, we are not the majority of the population that we would like to think that we are.  Again, according to Frederikson’s talk 40% of the population of the US doesn’t drink any alcohol, at all.  I would venture a guess that among the 60% that ARE drinkers the predominant drink of choice is likely to be beer or spirits just based on the cultural significance of these beverages which is greater in the US than the cultural significance of wine.  Now there is plenty of evidence that wine DOES have a prestige image in our culture if one looks at wine’s placement in movies, television, and books.  In these Medias, it is generally highlighted as the drink of choice for the influential and wealthy. In turn, this makes it an aspirational drink for those who may not live the lives that are highlighted in these vignettes.  It turns wine into the drink for special occasions and celebrations rather than the everyday luxury that wine marketers would love.

3.  Is wine losing whatever Prestige Image it does have?

Wait? Isn’t this what marketers have been wanting for years?  For customers to become more comfortable choosing wine off of a wine list for their casual date night or to bring home for dinner with friends.  The picnic wines or wines at the beach meant for wide accessibility with creative packaging that are meant to compete against beer and wine coolers.  Now we are surprised when craft beers and ciders have decided to use the wine model but position themselves at a more budget friendly price point?  The very fact that sales of wines above $9.00 continue to grow is evidence that wine is NOT losing the prestige image that it holds in the minds of consumers.  The issue is that craft beers and ciders have been able to also don the cloak of a prestige image and have ended up being far more accessible to the everyday consumer.  Budweiser even took aim at this philosophy during their Super Bowl commercial recently (See it Here if you missed it) trying to distance themselves from the craft beer movement by positioning craft beers in a “snobbish” light.  Paste Magazine breaks down this ad in spectacular fashion here if you are interested including pointing out that AB-Inbev actually owns craft breweries.

Awkward…

Anyway, the underlying issue is not that wine in general is losing a prestige image.  It is that wines sub $9.00 are losing market share by customers are turning to other beverages in the same price points that are perceived as slightly more prestigious.

     4.  Is this a bad thing for the wine industry?

Not really.

For makers and marketers of wines above $9.00/ 750mL, congratulations!  According to Charles Caleb Colton , imitation is the sincerest form of flattery so continue doing what you’re doing but just be aware that other beverages are starting to imitate your “terroir” focused marketing and authentic story by highlighting the people behind the “craft” so to speak.  Don’t get comfortable.  It’s only a matter of time, particularly at the lower end of this price zone, before craft takes aim at you if it hasn’t already.

For makers and marketers of wines below $9.00/ 750mL, consider this your warning shot!  You can no longer think of your competitive set as wines only.  You are making a beverage.  You have consumers that consider if they should have a casual glass of wine, a craft beer, or a cocktail with dinner.  However, this shouldn’t be depressing.  It is an opportunity to embrace new technologies, innovative packaging, and a history of an industry that was the “Original craft beverage”.  So interlace your fingers, crack your knuckles, and get a nose to the creative grindstone.  This segment of the market just got a whole lot bigger so these brands are going to have to fight harder for attention.

This is just my two cents…  I would love to get other opinions on this!

  • Wine is losing its prestige image. Discuss…