Unified Recap 2015

Another Unified has come and gone.  This year’s talks were excellent and I found myself torn on several occasions trying to decide which to attend.  The Keynote speaker luncheon was extremely interesting from Kendall-Jackson Family President, Rick Tigner, who gave us all insight into how that company views it’s place in the wine world; “A Real Estate company who has wineries and makes wine to buy more real estate.”  His talk was a nice review of my past few years studying for the MW exam.  It was good to know that my observations were shared in the industry.

I ended up going to the Alcohol in Balance seminar although I also really wanted to go to the Marketing talk on “Content is King” at the same time.  As a winemaker, I felt I should attend at least one winemaking talk, right?  This talk covered the reasons behind the push towards lower alcohol wines including social responsibility, lower calories, and lower alcohol in general for serving size purposes. While certain critics who have given high marks to high alcohol wines were mentioned (no names being named of course), I found it interesting that the panelists avoided talking about the critics who praise the wineries that lean towards lower alcohol.  Some of the panelists were driven by market demand and others by philosophy to produce wines of more restraint and “freshness” as Steve Matthiasson, a Napa grower and winemaker, put it.  There was quite a discussion around vineyard yields and how they are not directly correlated to quality.  There also seemed to be a very vocal segment of the panel and audience that believe that Napa is currently undercropped as a whole, leading to vine imbalance, leading to needing increased sugars year after year to reach “ripe” flavors.

The State of the Industry was enlightening as always.  There was lots of speculation as to what the strengthening dollar will do to the industry as this makes American wines more expensive to purchase in other countries.  Mike Veseth pointed out the interesting correlation of “Gold, Black Gold, and Bordeaux” explaining that the Gold, Oil, and Bordeaux markets are very similar to each other and all three seem to be up or down together.  Being “Green” is still something to strive for and is becoming more important according to Veseth. The global wine market was discussed including the implosion of the UK “Monopsony” due to the rise in UK import duties on wines.  In the US, if your wine is above $12.00/ 750mL you are probably doing ok but below that times are tough.  It is the market of volume and small margins which is not doing very well and slowly losing market share to the upper tier wines.  Prosecco and Portugal have had good years in the US both showing excellent growth.

Jeff Bitter gave us an overview of the California grape supply which echoed what Veseth had highlighted with the price points.  If you are selling to wineries who sell above $12/750 you are probably ok, unless you are growing Merlot which is still having a tough time.  If you are selling to wineries making wines below $12 you are probably hurting, potentially thinking about pulling your vineyard, and eyeing alternative crops unless you are selling to Gallo’s Barefoot. Bitter highlighted this by saying nearly 2/3 of all vineyards pulled in California’s central valley are wine grapes and over the past 4 months over 22,000 acres have been pulled.  It is a trend he does not see slowing down anytime soon.  On vineyards being planted, the nurseries report that nearly 1/3 of all vineyards going in the ground are Cabernet Sauvignon.  Cabernet glut in the making anyone??  Pinot Gris is also making a run with projected increases in acres of up to 23% over the next three years.

Jon Fredrikson then came up to cover the US wine market.  He also preached the “tale of two markets” however his split was at $9.00; above is ok, below is hurting.  He also stated that 75% of wine by volume is in the “below $9″ range in the US market.  He said everyday wines are getting stiff competition from non-wine products and are suffering from changing demographics in the marketplace.  Craft beers sales surpassed sales of sub-$10 wines in 2012 and do not show any signs of slowing down according to Fredrikson.  The rise of “Craft” beers and spirits in addition to the lower domestic wine production due to the short 2010 and 2011 vintages have caused the sales of wines to flatten out in 2012 and 2013.  More and more restaurant beverage lists branch out to include beer pairings and specialty cocktails put together by “rockstar mixologists” and Cider is also skyrocketing, both of which are eating into the wine marketshare.  This talk finished with the announcement of DFV Wines being named Winery of the Year.  Congrats to them!

One of the more off the radar talks I attended was one covering Regulatory issues facing wineries from DTC, Social Media, and 3rd party sales channels.  I know, I know, not the most exciting stuff but the talk proved very enlightening.  The panel, made up of lawyers John Trinidad and Kristen Techel, TTB representative Theresa McCarthy, and Jeff Carroll of Ship Compliant, covered a wide range of legal issues, most of which I had never really contemplated.  The largest warning I can give from the information in this talk is to those of us personally involved in the wine industry.  MAKE SURE YOU HAVE A LEGAL DISCLAIMER ON ALL SOCIAL MEDIA AND/OR BLOGS DIFERINTIATING YOUR PERSONAL SITES FROM YOUR COMPANY.  Did I type that loud enough?? Mine is located on my “About Me” site if you need an example.  If you don’t have this protecting you and your company affiliation is listed or talked about in your profile, the TTB could treat your personal site as a company site which means it would fall under the TTB regulations for industry advertisements, tied house laws, and other issues.  Yes, its a stretch, and yes, likely small producers and obscure employees of even large wineries would be ok but do you really want to take that chance? I don’t!  There was tons of good info in this talk and I highly recommend trying to get a recording of it if you didn’t attend.  It was definitely the least attended of all the talks I went to however, it was eye-opening.

This year was fantastic and I can’t wait for next year!

 

Unified Symposium 2015: It’s All About Strategy

This Tuesday, the world of wine in the US all converges on Sacramento, CA for the annual Unified Wine and Grape Symposium. I haven’t personally been to Unified in several years. It, for some reason, ended up conflicting directly with the Master of Wine Residential seminar and (for those of you who have followed my journey through the MW) I’m sure you can guess what won. That being said if you plan to attend Unified this year, even if it is just the trade show portion I recommend coming with a strategy for navigating the show. It’s all about strategy.

I’m excited about this year’s programming. I’ve signed up for the entire show starting with the Keynote Speaker Luncheon on Tuesday given by the President of Jackson Family Wines, Rick Tigner. It looks like an incredibly fun talk going over important issues such as constraints of label growth, foreign market opportunities, and sustainability challenges and costs. After that I am torn between a Marketing/ PR session entitled “Content is King” and a Winemaking session focused on achieving quality in “Lower-Brix” wines. I sense that will be a game day decision.
Tuesday is the easy day to plan since the talks are not competing with the trade show. This by itself would take up the entirety of the remaining two days if you really needed to talk to a lot of the vendors who come to pedal there wares. It’s very much like an industry Bazar with unexpected treasures lurking around every corner. Need a new barrel washer? Why yes, maybe I do? A discounted subscription to Wine Business Monthly? Sign me up! A T-shirt that proclaims “I like to Wine” in sparkly rhinestones that would make any 80s bedazzler fan proud? They have that too. Tackling the trade show is all about strategy. Who do you want to see really? What are your top 2 things you need to look for? Add at least an hour and a half for talking with people you randomly run into and haven’t seen in years because that WILL happen.

Wednesday morning is dominated by the State of the Industry address. It is a not to be missed panel featuring what’s hot and what’s not in the industry right now. The afternoon is broken up into a series of very tempting talks and the ever present hum of the Trade Show ( You know, I really would like to see that Shaker Table!) after which comes a Regional Wine tasting because up until this point there really hasn’t been enough wine at this wine industry event. After that, of course, comes the ever popular Alumni and “Friends” gatherings of Fresno State and UC Davis. Oh, Cal Poly has joined the party as well! (Mental note to see if we can organize something for Cornell next year…)
Thursday tends to be more low key. Many of the suppliers start packing up early so if you want to go check out the latest in Stainless contraptions it’s best to go early but if you got all that done yesterday perhaps you want to listen to how to “Future Proof” your buisness. With a great panel of speakers covering a dire set of predictions (no water, no labor, high energy costs, earthquakes, fires, floods, freezes, locusts, plagues… Ok I added those last two) this could be very interesting.

After lunch I’m torn again between another marketing session focused on “Craft” and opportunities for the wine industry ( I sense an MW exam question in the making here) and Sustainability Certifications in a Global Market. (Darn you organizers! Why must you put so many intriguing topics all at the same time!!! Oh look, a new optical sorter! Shiny!!!)

You get the picture. It’s madness. It’s crowded. It’s fun. It’s educational. It’s where anyone remotely interested in wine should be this week. Just make sure you have a game plan, bring a back pack for all the random papers and pamphlets you’ll pick up and don’t get distracted by the shiny objects.

See you there!

Cold Soaks and Color Extraction: My Observations

When the blog “The Wine-o-scope” posted this post, “The value of cold soaks for red winemaking” last week I was intrigued.  Having done extensive phenolic analysis for several years with a few different red varieties, I always like to see what other people are finding.   When I say extensive, I mean extensive.  At my previous job, we would run phenolic analysis by Adams-Harbertson assay every day for EVERY high end red during fermentation.  This was mainly Cabernet Sauvignon but also included Merlot and Cabernet Franc.  We also looked at Pinot Noir just for the fun of it but we determined that the rules that govern phenolic extraction in Bordeaux varieties just don’t apply to Pinot Noir and left that sleeping dog lie.  The timing of anthocyanin and tannin extraction still applies in Pinot Noir but I’ve found through my experience that the best analysis of Pinot Noir is still tasting it frequently.

Here is the reality of things based on real world, non research based experience.  In Bordeaux varieties a cold soak absolutely increases color extraction, particularly with extensive cap management, vs tanks with little to no cold soak.  It does not increase tannin extraction because tannins don’t really start coming into the solution of the wine until a reasonable amount of alcohol has built up.

Take a look at this Cabernet Fermentation below… (My apologies upfront for not being able to figure out how to import an Excel graph into my post).
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You can see that at the point fermentation has started there is already close to 400 ppm of Anthocyanins extracted in the fermentation.  This is after a 6 day cold soak with significant cap management.  You’ll also notice that it is not until day 4 of fermentation (around 15 Brix) that we are able to detect any tannin extraction.  This could be ANY Bordeaux variety fermentation.  They all follow the same pattern.  Just for fun, here is a Merlot graph from the same vintage, same vineyard, and same general area of the vineyard with fermentation starting within a day of the Cab above.

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Aside from noticeably less anthocyanin and tannin content at dryness (because it is Merlot after all) the pattern of extraction is pretty much the same.  Cab Franc is the same pattern as well.

Once one looks at enough of these numbers daily one doesn’t really even need the graph anymore.  You just know what’s going on.

As far as the dangers of cold soak go, yes you do see an increase in other organisms and yes, you do occasionally get the random “wild” fermentation if you push the cold soak over 5 days.  Also, if the fruit is not clean coming in the risk increases so sorting is essential to a clean and healthy cold soak.  Dry Ice is your friend at this point and should be used liberally.

To me the true value of the cold soak is the period you are guaranteed to be extracting color without extracting tannin.  Can you extract the same amount of color without a cold soak?  Of course, but be prepared to have much higher tannin levels at dryness as well since you will be working the cap harder during the time of fermentation when both are extractable.

That’s just my opinion and again, this was not in a research but in real winery experience with no controls.  Take it for what it is worth.