Category Archives: Musings

Getting Ready for the Wine Blogger Conference 2015

At the end of this week is the biggest yearly event in wine bloggingdom (Yes, I did just make that word up!); The Wine Blogger Conference 2015.  By the end of the week, Wine Bloggers from around the world will have descended on Corning, NY located in the Southern Tier of the state!  It is hosted by the Finger Lakes which are to the north about 45 minutes to an hour.  I have only previously attended this event once, back in 2011 in Charlottesville, VA.  At that point, I was still in CA, had only been blogging a year or so, and came as a representative of a wine brand I was making at the time called Emma Pearl, complete with PR rep.

This year, I am going as a blogger only.  I am not representing a brand and while I am and will always be a winemaker, this is the first event where I’m not attending solely for that purpose.  I’m looking forward to the conference content.  I will definitely be attending the opening night reception on Thursday and the Key note speech by Karen MacNeil. After lunch it will be a toss up between the Banfi sponsored Fizziology 101 or the Ribera del Duero and Rueda session.  Spain is the front runner at this point!  The break out sessions on Saturday morning are going to be a game day decision but many look good.  Particularly the photo and video on smart phone session, since I do all of my website photography on my iPhone and need to do a video for China (I’ll get to that a bit later).

For the wine discovery sessions that afternoon, the dry wines of Alsace tasting looks exciting.   I don’t remember the conference before having such a great representation of international wines to taste!  It’s very exciting.  The live wine blogging should be interesting since I’ve only ever been on the presentation side of the table.  It’s a bit like speed dating with wine tasting.  When I presented the Emma Pearl wines back in 2011, I found myself talked extremely fast and hoping that I was making some sense to the tables to which I was presenting.  This year I’m going to be one of the ones sitting at the tables trying to listen to the winemakers and winery representatives telling their stories. We then will all be wandering over to the Corning museum of glass for a live glass demonstration and the awards banquet for the best bloggers of the year! Congrats to all who have won awards.  This is a tough media we are in and it is challenging to come up with quality posts frequently.  Those who have won awards represent the best of the best for the previous year.  After the presentations, we will head off to the various after parties of course! We’ll see how late I stay up!

The last morning there are two slightly ambiguous sessions; The secret to blogging success and the secret to writing success.  After 5 years of blogging, I’m not really sure what I would call blogging success.  I’m just enjoying having a weekly medium of interaction with those who are interested in interacting with me!  I’d love more on post comments though!  Feel free to share your thoughts.  Anyway, I’ll see everyone later this week!!!

Finally, on a completely different topic, I found out this week that I have been selected to be a part of the Ningxia Winemaker Challenge in Ningxia, China.  Sixty Winemakers from around the globe have been selected to participate.  At this point, I am one of five from the US (All 60 have yet to be announced publicly).  Starting in September of this year, I will be in China working on a single red wine which will be judged in 2017.  The great thing about this challenge is that I don’t have to relocate to China to accomplish it but will be traveling there several times a year to oversee the wine making and blending. I’ve always wanted to work an international harvest and this gives me the opportunity to do that as well as learn more about the Chinese culture.  I also get to work on my language skills while I’m there.   I’m so grateful that my family and Constellation are allowing me to take this opportunity.  We’ll see what I can come up with!  Wish me luck!

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.

The Five Whys of the Civil War and What We Can Learn From it in the Wine Industry

Hang on for the ride here folks…

For a full disclaimer, I am Southern. I’m proud to be Southern but the South has a dark stain on its past that no one should be celebrating or proud of. This is a post I have been thinking about for quite a while but it has become far more relevant in the past week with the tragic events in Charleston and the vast political rhetoric that followed it. Originally, the thought started to form in my mind when the Occupy movement started gaining steam all over the country during the Great Recession while we were living in Napa. Then we were only a short car ride away from two cities, Oakland and San Francisco, which had major camps of occupiers so I essentially had a front row seat for that.

Anyway…

For those of you not familiar with the Five Whys technique, it is an excellent way to get to the root cause of a problem. It is a SixSigma technique outlined on their website here.

According to the site the Five Whys, is most useful “when problems involve human factors or interactions.” There are few problems greater than the outbreak of war so be patient with me here as I explore the Five Whys of the Civil War. What does this have to do with the wine industry? To quote Elle Woods from the movie Legally Blonde, “I promise, I have a point.”

Why #1 – Why Did the Civil War Start?

On April 12, 1861 the first shots were fired which kicked off the Civil War. These shots were fired in Charleston, SC directed at Fort Sumter which was located in the Charleston Harbor. After secession, South Carolina and the newly formed Confederate States had asked the Union armies to abandon the forts in the Harbor and tensions were running high.

Why #2 – Why Did the States Secede?

If you read through the entire Declaration of Secession for South Carolina, the cause of the declaration is the idea that somehow the other states had broken the trust and agreements on which the United States were founded and they were upset that the central government now had the authority to mandate laws that would be beyond what they had originally agreed to. This is the state’s rights argument. Unfortunately for the South, the platform they chose to build the state’s rights argument on was Slavery.

Why #3 – Why did the Southern States Choose to Build a State’s Rights Case with Slavery?

Economics my dear Watson! Doesn’t it usually come down to money? Cornered and faced with the complete destruction of their economy, the Southern States did what most people would probably do in the face of imposed financial ruin. They fought back. USHistory.org puts it this way…

“The sudden end to the slave economy would have had a profound and killing economic impact in the South where reliance on slave labor was the foundation of their economy. The cotton economy would collapse. The tobacco crop would dry in the fields. Rice would cease being profitable.”

The institution was wrong. However it was the way it had always been done and the South didn’t see any other options.

Why #4 – Why Was Slavery so Important to the South’s Economy?

The majority of farming was accomplished with slaves. Once slavery was taken out of the picture there was no way to maintain the vast farms and plantations. Working the land personally was considered “beneath” the gentile way of life that the southern states had established for themselves. There was no one willing to work the land so they had slaves to do it for them. There also was no economic force for the south outside of the production of cash crops; Cotton, Tobacco, Indigo, and Rice mainly. It was nearly a monoculture with a single main industry and smaller sub industries supporting it. This led to a set up that was doomed to fail.

HA! It didn’t even take five whys to get the root causes of the Civil War.

This was the problem. It was an entire economy, built on one industry, relying on one type of worker to support the rest of the population of the area.

Here’s my point…

So let’s now fast forward 154 years to present day and take a good look at how the food industry in this country is set up, focusing mainly on the wine industry since that is the industry I’m most familiar with. Let me be very clear. I am not comparing the hideous institution of slavery to the immigrant labor force we have today. Just the dependence on this particular workforce with little viable alternative. I’m sure there are legal and illegal immigrants represented. I don’t want to pick on any particular area but for the purposes of this comparison, let’s take Napa County. Agriculture is the main industry of Napa County and of that Agriculture I think it is safe to say that it is mostly vineyards and wineries. The next industry is hospitality however the hospitality wouldn’t exist if the vineyards and wineries were not there. The vineyards and wineries are currently owned by a mix of different entities; private individuals who either have been in the valley for generations and inherited their land, wealthy new comers wanting a piece of the idyllic lifestyle, or corporations who specialize in the wine and beverage industry. All of this is possible because we are able to find semi-skilled immigrant labor who are willing to work hard, dirty, difficult jobs to make ends meet. Many are transient, living in farm labor camps during the season and following different crops around the state. Most are just barely making ends meet and living transitory lives to continue working as much as possible. Strawberries in the spring, Lettuce in the summer, grapes in the fall, etc…

Napa is an entire economy, built on one industry, relying on one type of worker to support the rest of the population of the area. Do you get why I’ve been thinking about this for a while?

During the Occupy movement when unemployment was at its highest, the vineyards and wineries struggled to find enough workers to accomplish the tasks needed to keep the vineyards in top shape. The labor contractors managing the crews were rumored to be leaving jobs if they heard that someone across the valley was paying slightly higher for the same work. Meanwhile, I was watching newscasts everyday of people camping in downtown Oakland and San Francisco, complaining about how they were out of work and couldn’t find work because the 1% was keeping them down. I couldn’t help but wonder why we didn’t send buses down to the cities to pick up these folks and solve two problems at once. One winery on the central coast actually went so far as to try to hire an “All-American” harvest crew.  John Salisbury posted ads to try to find additional help for the harvest. He had 80 inquiries for jobs. Forty came in to fill out applications. From that group 22 were selected for interviews and only 18 actually showed up. They hired all 18 and that dwindled quickly down to 7 who made it through the whole season plus they were 3 times as expensive as migrant labor and extra slow compared to the immigrant crews. He was back to hiring migrant crews after that.

Then we have the immigration debate to add to this mix. The proverbial governmental mandate that could radically change how we bring in immigrant labor to this country to work doing jobs that the domestic population has nearly zero interest or skill in doing. Depending on how it is handled it could have huge implications to the cost of our food supply chain throughout the country. Right now people are interested in purchasing cheap food and with cheap food comes the cheapest labor that the economy can deliver and at this time that is based on migrant labor.

Here comes my frustration with our current political atmosphere in which politicians are too busy rehashing and debating the rhetoric of a war that happened 150 years ago rather than focusing on a similar economic set up of our food industry today. I would love to tell them the same thing that I would tell a Southern redneck talking about the “War of Northern Aggression.” Get over it! We have bigger fish to fry in the here and now before history repeats itself. Hopefully it can be a more positive outcome this time.