Category Archives: Musings

Premiere Napa Valley 2015

This past weekend was devoted to the 2015 Premiere Napa Valley.  It is always an amazing experience but this one was bittersweet for me because it is very likely the last for a very long time that I was involved with one of the lots.  Our lot for Robert Mondavi Winery was lot #13 made up of all 5 red Bordeaux varieties grown in Monastery Block in To Kalon.  The week’s celebration started off for me on Tuesday with hosting 3 writers at the “Down and Dirty” session of the Wine Writer’s symposium which was also held this week.  We took them through the winery and then showed them how to stir Chardonnay lees in one of our Reserve Chardonnay lots.

The next event that I attended was Friday afternoon at Far Niente where many of the wineries of Oakville came together to show off their wines to prospective bidders.  I was able to taste quite a few of these wines before the crowds showed up.  Harlan is always a favorite of mine as is Opus One.  Other lesser known favorites included the Detert Cabernet Franc and Franciscan’s Malbec based auction lot.   I was very happy with our lot as well and many tasters seemed to agree.  That night, my husband and I went over to Raymond Vineyards for the NapaGras party.  Brian works for Raymond and was able to introduce me to Jean Charles Boisset, the host and life of the party.  I was excited to go given the party’s reputation for being an experience to say the least and it completely lived up to the hype with good wines, fantastic food, off the wall performances, all set to a thumping, rhythmic beat of club music that mimicked one of my personal playlists very well.

 

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Saturday’s main event flew by quickly for me.  I didn’t arrive in the tasting hall until noon and at that point I only had 30 minutes to quickly taste around the room.  The highlights were Tim Mondavi’s Continuum, Brand (also from Prichard Hill), Stag’s Leap Winery, Hoopes Vineyard, and Corison Winery.  Unfortunately the Shafer was completely poured out by the time I arrived so I didn’t get the chance to taste that one.  I also tasted Spiriterra Vineyards Muscadine offering, a sweet, white wine in 375mL bottles that was one of the finest Muscadines that I have had the pleasure of tasting.  Having tasted quite a few awful ones, I feel I can speak with some authority on this.  After that round of speed tasting, I ran upstairs to grab lunch and settle in to the auction room for the short wait to the Mondavi lot auction.  By lot #9 my heart was pounding and my hands were shaking.  It’s the ultimate judgement of your wines and for me it feels like baring your soul for the masses.  It’s personal.  You spend so much time with these wines.  The 2013 vintage was my first and only Cabernet vintage from grape to bottle at the winery so I was very anxious to see how it would be received.  The auction felt like it took only seconds, it was over so quickly.  After the fall of the gavel our lot went for $60,000.  It is a very respectable sum and I’m happy people enjoyed it.

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This week, I’m off to Vancouver, British Columbia for the Vancouver International Wine Festival and the following week we pack up and leave for New York. Life goes on and it is busy!

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…

 

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Moving Back to the Finger Lakes

Happy New Year Everyone!  What is a new year without new changes?  This year is no different.

On June 21, 2006, my husband and I drove across the California state line on the final leg of our move from upstate New York to California. We will shortly be doing the reverse.

As of March 2015, I will be leaving my position at Robert Mondavi Winery and my family and I will be relocating back to the Finger Lakes region of New York State.  This was not a decision that was made on the spur of the moment but one that has been thought out carefully over the past few months.  I have started writing this blog post at least 10 times trying to figure out the best way to explain this decision which I’m sure may sound strange to many people.

The number one reason that we have decided to make this move has nothing to do with wine.  My husband and I feel that it is critical that we move back to be closer to our families which still all reside on the East Coast.  Nothing is more important in our lives than family and we want our son to be able to grow up knowing them and being able to see them without us being at the mercy of the ever more expensive airline companies.  The absolute freedom that comes with being able to drive to see family whenever we feel the need is one that we have missed over the 8 and a half years we have been in California and something that we are extremely excited to be able to experience again.

Secondly, I believe with every fiber of my being that the Finger Lakes has huge potential to become a world-class winemaking region and both my husband and I want to be a part of making that dream a reality.  It does not take long to fall in love with a region and a terroir.  After only a few months living there, my heart was lost to those dramatic expanses of water carved into Devonian era shale eons ago by ice.  Even the beauty of Napa could not compete for us against the lush green foliage and bright blue skies of a summer in the Finger Lakes.  It is not an easy place to make great wine.  The winters are one of the harshest for wine on the planet. The summers are humid and are breeding grounds for any number of fungal diseases that prefer to prey on grapevines.  The ground heaves stones every spring to snarl tractors. I am not under any illusions that it will be easy but I want a chance to try and make a difference.

I am very excited about moving back to the area that I was trained in.  I have learned so much from my time in California.  We have made friends that will be missed and we will be leaving teams of colleagues that we have enjoyed working with.  We will be leaving a house which has only just been finished, in a little town which had started to feel like home. For me, the hardest to swallow is that I will be leaving the opportunity to work with such amazing fruit from To Kalon, a vineyard which I have learned to become a part of so quickly.  However, while there is sadness in these things, I know the opportunities and the excitement of building a new life in a familiar area will prevail.  I am excited about my parents driving up to help us move in to our new house at the end of March.  Europe is only a 5 hour flight away! I can use my snowshoes again! We can hike waterfalls without having to drive very far away.  A world of opportunities that I could only dream of in California are now only a few short months away.

I’ve already signed up for the Wine Bloggers Conference which will be held in Corning, NY this August.  I fully intend to continue this blog and will chronicle our move in addition to continuing the coverage of winemaking and travel.  I’m looking forward to being part of the Finger Lakes community again! Come visit if you get the chance.  The area is one of the most breathtakingly beautiful on the planet (not that I’m biased) and was just named to the Top 10 Wine Destinations by Wine Enthusiast Magazine so I’m not alone in my love for the area.

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