Category Archives: Master Of Wine Studies

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…

 

Wandering Through Germany: Part 3 – Mosel

Our final stop in Germany was, of course, the Mosel. None of the pictures prepared me for the sheer beauty of these vineyards. Steep slopes dug into rock with little but rock for soils in the best sites. Iconic German architecture reminiscent of Oktoberfest in quaint villages tucked along the stunning, swiftly flowing river was a sight to behold.

Website size Mosel Pic

Our first stop was to Weingut Willi Schafer, an unassuming building tucked away in a relatively residential looking villiage, where we were hosted by Andrea Schafer. We tasted several bottled wines first then toured the cellars afterwards to taste the most recent vintage.

2004 Graacher Domprobst Riesling Spätlese – Stone and Chalk

All flinty and minerally with a linear palate that is weighty and lean at the same time. Lemon lime fruit and a hint of white flowers with 70g/L residual sugar cut through with racing acidity.

2012 Graacher Domprobst Riesling Spätlese – Zesty and Fruity

Warmer fruit than the 2004 with fresh apricot, lime zest but continuing with minerality on the palate, 70 g/L residual sugar and racing acidity.

Andrea told us that the most recent vintage (2013) was more suited for the off-dry style due to a high level of botrytis influence. “We make the wines but nature decides what style we will make.” They try to interrupt the fermentation at the right time to achieve the proper balance in the wines. “When you have too much sugar you lose the elegance and the terrior.” We asked for her interpretation of the different styles of Riesling and she gave us the following.

Kabinett – Light and fresh in style with less richness than Spätlese.

Auslese – More honeyed notes and a very rich style.

Spätlese – A lighter more spritzy style than Auslese but with extra richness and depth above Kabinett.

There were two top highlights of my trip to Germany.  The first was an amazing dinner with Dr. Uli Fischer of the Neustadt Research Institute with awesome food and conversation that ranged far beyond wine to economics, philosophy, sports, politics, religion, and every other topic under the sun.

Our next stop in the Mosel was definitively the other top moment.  We were treated to a personal tour of Weingut Dr. Loosen with Ernie Loosen.Dr. Loosen Arch

 He first took us for a quick jaunt around their vineyards in his Range Rover. They own 10 hectares split into 184 different parcels, the smallest of which is 15 vines. This is of course thanks to the Napoleonic code that affected both Germany and Burgundy very similarly. The government in Germany, however, is trying to remedy the situation by introducing a “reorganization”. They are killing several birds with one stone in typically efficient German fashion. Each vineyard involved must have buy in by a majority of the owners of the vines. The owners agree to give up a maximum of 10% of their land to the government to build roads to traverse the steep slopes for machinery to be more easily moved about. The government builds the roads and regrades the slopes to allow for mechanization with crawlers. Each of the owners then gets a consolidated section of the slope equal to 90% of the number of vines they owned prior to the consolidation. The upside is the vines are now all together rather than spread out over the slope and are able to be mechanized to some extent. The un-reorganized slopestake 2-3,000 manhours per ha and the reorganized slopes take 1/3 of that time. The downside is that it is expensive costing $30-40,000 for the vines however the government is subsidizing this and offers the ability for the owners to pay the balance with a 10 year interest free note which is held by the government itself. With a labor shortage being the biggest problem in the Mosel any level of mechanization is helpful. It takes a single crew a full day to pick the equivalent of 1.5 acres because of the treacherous slopes. Standing on top of them I wondered why anyone would be willing to haul grapes up and down them.  Another downside? How can you be sure the vineyard will not be changed?  Ernie assures us that not all slopes will go through with this plan just for this reason but it is a huge undertaking for those that have.

Website size NC and Ernie Loosen

After our vineyard tour we went back to the tasting room and went through several amazing wines.

Dr Loosen 2012 Riesling Trocken Blauschiefer (Blue Slate) – Zesty and Fruity

Very elegant and fruity with a subtle minerality. Flavors of white peach and apple with zesty linear acid. Fermented with indigenous yeast in a 1000 Liter Füder with 12-24 months on lees.

Dr Loosen 2012 Riesling Troken Rotschiefer (Red Slate) – Zesty and Fruity

More spicy and floral, almost Gewurztraminer like with fresh acid and a rich palate balanced by a steely mineral backbone.

Ernie stated that these two wines needed lots of air to show their best and generally needed to be open for 3 days to fully experience the flavors.

He is also working on lots of different winemaking techniques in the winery such as extended lees contact as well as different types of fermentation vessels. He offered as an example where after the 3rd century the Romans switched to oak barrels for fermentation because they showed better quality than the amphoras. “We need to learn the old ways so we can make them better” when talking about reviewing ancient winemaking practices.

Erdener Pralat Wines

Dr Loosen 2011 Erdener Prälat Riesling Alte Reben Reserve– Unbelievably Unique

Fruit from 120 year old vines planted on a steep, rocky red slate filled, southern facing slope of the Mosel fermented in neutral oak and aged on lees for 12 months. This wine is highly complex with intense aromas of white flowers, peaches, and slate with a rich sweet profile with enough acid for a dry finish. The palate brings spiciness reminiscent of pepper and cinnamon with intense weight. GO FIND IT!!! It’s amazing and a wine which every winelover should experience once at least!

Dr Loosen 2011 Erdener Prälat Riesling Alte Reben – Zesty and Fruity

Restrained nose with flavors melon and tropical fruit with all the richness on the palate of the sweeter translation above. The finish brings more mineral characters and additional tropical fruit notes with slightly less spicy intensity than the reserve.

Dr Loosen 2012 Erdener Prälat Riesling Auslese (Gold Capsule) – Zesty and Fruity

Amazing intensity for fruit with pineapple, melon, grapefruit, and honey complemented by an equally intense rich palate which is weighty and long. It is sweet at 110g/L but is easily balanced by the zesty 9 g/L of acidity!

All in all it was an amazing day and a fitting end to a whirlwind trip through Germany’s three wine regions. I can’t wait to go back to spend more time getting to know the wines and the people who make them.

Mosel Vines Website size

Harvest 2014: Week 6 – Do or Do Not. There is No Try.

As you may have guessed from the title this week’s post is less about harvest and more about the significant weight that has been in the back of my mind for the past 3 months; awaiting the results of my Master of Wine exam from June.

We are receiving our last Pinot Noir today for the season.  So far the quality looks amazing.  My native ferment went dry last week and we have started pressing off the first tanks that we received a few weeks ago.  All in all it was an extremely smooth, although extremely early, Pinot harvest.  Chardonnay looks like it might be wrapped up in 2-2 1/2 weeks and the Bordeaux varieties are coming on so strong that people are starting to joke that harvest might be finished by October 1st!  The weather has been perfect for ripening.  Warm but not too hot days followed by cool, slightly chilly nights.  The acids are staying relatively high on the Cabernets which points to an exciting vintage so far.  It is still too early to say however.

But enough about harvest…

For those of you who know me (or those of you who have been following my blog for the past 4 1/2 years. Thank you by the way if so!) you are up to speed on my long struggle to pass the Master of Wine exam.  At the time of writing this blog post, I do not know if I passed or not.  I had considered writing two (a pass and a fail post) until I realized I would be saying much the same thing so I am writing this post prior to receiving any results to try to get all my thoughts down in writing prior to my emotions taking control once the results are announced.  If you would like to see my last three posts regarding MW exam results Fail 2, Fail 3 (on which I also passed theory so not entirely a fail), and Fail 4 click on the links.

This time is different.  There are only two options for me.  I passed and can move on to my research paper or I failed and am out of the MW program completely.  It makes me queasy at this point just thinking about it.  It is the feeling you get when you have 3 numbers of a mega millions lottery and are just waiting for another one to fall into place multiplied by 1000!  It’s excitement, dread, second-guessing, hopeful optimism, reasoned pessimism, self-doubt and confidence rolled all into one tangled ball of emotions.  At no point in the program did I ever, even for a second, allow myself to think that I would not make it.  That is until this past summer post exam.  At this point I felt that it would be mentally healthier to prepare for another fail than to maintain the hopeful optimism of a pass.  That way I could be pleasantly surprised when the results came out if a pass was what I received.  In the moments after I finished the last paper in June, I was struck by an acute sense of sadness.  I looked at my fellow students and realized that we would never again share the camaraderie that comes from studying for the MW.  I also realized that if I had not passed, I would also not be able to enjoy the company of my fellow students and the MW’s as much as I had over the past 6 years and I came to realize I would regret that more than not getting the initials if that were indeed what happened.  So in this post I would like to try and thank as many of the people that have helped and supported me to this point as I can.  It is by no means an exhaustive list but here it goes…

First of all, my amazing husband, Brian, for putting up with the crazy weekend tastings, my roller coaster of emotions over the past 6 years, financing a horribly high expenditure for wine every month not to mention the tuition and exam fees, and taking care of our son when I had to be at tastings, events, and the exam itself.

Secondly, to my extended family, my parents, and my in-laws, who have always been supportive of my pursuit even though I don’t think they understood what I was trying to do for the first 3 years.  They’ve figured it out now.

Thirdly, to an amazing list of friends and colleagues, without which  I know I would not be where I am today.  This is kind of in chronological order.

Chuck and Jen Van Fleet of Vino and Friends – for searching out a Hunter Valley Shiraz in Fresno so I could taste it and write an answer for it on my MW application

Mark De Vere, MW – For being my sponsor on my application.

Mark Ebaugh – My boss at Mission Bell who believed in me enough to fund my Diploma and my first year as an MW student.

Barbra Phillip, MW – My mentor for my first 5 years in the program.  Thank you for all your faith in me and for all the advice.  I hope I worked hard enough to make all your faith in me pay off.

Bob Betz, MW – For proving to me that winemakers can become MWs!

Mary Ewing-Mulligan, MW – For giving me “You have to be and MW to pass the MW” speech.  Also the “Yoda” speech.  You are my “Yoda” for the MW program! Thanks for all the philosophy.

Lisa Granik, MW – Thank you for being so real about the program.  You scared the crap out of me the first year and that made me want to work harder to reach the bar that you set for all of us.  Thank you as well for listening to all my dissertation ideas and guiding me to develop what I thought were two really good dissertation topics.  Hopefully I’ll get the chance to execute and submit the final one.

Joel Butler, MW – For being an all around great guy and always positive.

Peter Marks, MW – For always hosting tastings that were so much more tricky than the exam.  I always thought that if I was able to pass a tasting with you I would have no trouble on the exam.

Jean-Michel Valette, MW – Thank you for all your great lectures on the wine business.  I think I finally “got it” the 3rd lecture and it helped me pass Theory paper 3!

Siobhan Turner – For telling people to think if they needed to be in the exam prep group when it was over crowded.  I did.  I think half of that room probably didn’t need to be.  Thanks for all the support over the years.  I hope I can be as supportive for you on your journey now that you are the student.

Sheri Morano, MW – Thanks for all the “Mommy” advice and for the faith and support!

Ed Killian and the entire family at Asti Winery in Cloverdale, CA – Thank you for your emotional and financial support.  Without it, I would not have been able to get this far in the program.  You guys are an amazing team and I always knew you had my back!

My fellow students including Elaine Marshall, Maria Sinskey, JP Turgeon, Maureen Downey, Luiz Alberto, and Stacy Woods – Thanks for all the great times and good conversations. Elaine, thanks for your Bordeaux notes!!!

My fellow students who achieved the dream! – Adam Lapierre, MW and Liz Thach, MW

Louise Wilson- Thanks for sharing “baby mama” space with me during the seminar!

Eric Heimer, MS, MW – Thanks for the unwavering support and the friendly trade of Viticulture and Winemaking knowledge for practical tasting knowledge.

Robert Mondavi Winery and Constellation Team – Thank you for all your well wishes and support.  Hopefully I have good news for you but if not I really appreciate all the time and effort you have taken to help me out in the last two years of my pursuit. For the Constellation Europe Group – Thank you for an amazing trip to London and Germany.  I was able to glean so much tasting knowledge from that trip.

Martin Reyes – Thanks for keeping me company and navigating on our grand adventure in Germany! I really enjoyed our conversations and I wish you the best of luck in parenthood and the MW program!

Christian Seely and the entire AXA Millesimes group- For sponsoring such an amazing tour of Bordeaux, Sauternes and Burgundy.  Your generosity astounded me!

My fellow AXA scholarship winners – Anne Krebiehl (Freelance Wine Writer), Ray O’Connor (Commercial Manager for the International Wine Challenge), Patrick Schmitt (Editor at the Drinks Business), and Nigel Sneyd (Winemaker for E&J Gallo). You guys made that trip so much more amazing than it would have been on my own.  Anne- Special thanks for rooming with me in San Francisco this year.  I really enjoyed having the company and the shoulder to cry on.

My fellow Musketeers – Dave Forer and Matt Deller.  You guys made the journey so much fun.  All for one and one for all!  If you didn’t make it this year (and I hope you did!) you’ve got to keep at it.  Don’t give up!

Amy Christine, MW and Pat Farrell, MW – My mentors for my last year. Thanks for tag teaming me this past year and helping get me in the best tasting shape I have ever been in.  You guys are awesome!

Like I said above, this is not an exhaustive list but I hope everyone knows how critical they were in my success in the program.  Regardless of my results from the exam, I feel I have been successful.  I have grown, learned, and experienced far more than I could have ever done on my own without being involved in the program.  I am happy with my results regardless if the exam results say pass or fail.

Actual Results: FAIL. D, C, D. Worst grades I’ve had since my first exam. That means I’m out. Thank you all for reading.