Tag Archives: Wine

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…

 

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!