Archive for the ‘Uncategorized’ Category

Good Reads Wednesday

Wednesday, March 19th, 2014

jeff-smby Jeff Miller of Artisan Family of Wines (Seven Artisans, Sly Dog Cellars, Red Côte)

Every Wednesday I post my recommendations of the best of last week’s postings concerning wine, whether blogs or news. I list them in the order I read them, so you shouldn’t infer anything about the order in which I list these posts.

I’m not sure what’s going on here. The week before last, I had nothing to recommend. Then last week, there was a ton of stuff. This week is a goose egg again.

For keeping up to date with what’s going on the in wine world, the best all around source is http://winebusiness.com.

Consolidation in the wine business

Monday, March 17th, 2014

jeff-smby Jeff Miller of Artisan Family of Wines (Seven Artisans, Sly Dog Cellars, Red Côte)

An article appeared last week in the Wine Curmudgeon which highlighted the degree of consolidation in the wine business. I’m not going to repeat what appeared there, except to say that well over half the wine sales in America are made by just a few behemoth companies. The post is certainly worth reading and can be found at http://winecurmudgeon.com/big-wine-tightened-its-grip-on-the-u-s-market-in-2013/.

It’s not like there have never been big wine companies until recently. Going back as far as I can remember, there have always been big players. After all, Gallo didn’t appear yesterday. But there is no question that this trend has accelerated. But why?

There is no single cause, but the common factor in all the causes is that it has become more and more difficult for the smaller winery to compete effectively. And I think that although it is something that has been in the works for a long time, the Great Recession certainly pressed the pedal to the metal.

Marketing and distribution comes first to mind. The Great Recession was a disaster for the small distributor. As credit became more and more difficult to come by, the smaller distributors either went out of business or were gobbled up by larger rivals. The fact that consumers gravitated towards cheaper wines, at price points that the small winery (and distributor) could not meet, didn’t help matters either.

Larger distributors just don’t have the same level of interest in smaller wine brands. Distributors that need to move millions of cases of wine just don’t have the time, interest, or profit motive to handhold wineries whose sales are in the tens or hundreds of cases instead of in the thousands and tens of thousands or even hundreds of thousands of cases.

The same problems with credit that the small distributor experienced the small winery experienced as well. It’s a simple fact of life that it takes money to make money. If you already have money, then that may not be too much of a problem. But if you don’t, then you need to borrow it or find investors. The recession made either very, very difficult.

And finally, we are seeing in the wine business what we’re seeing in many other consumer industries as well. The ability to market trumps everything else. More and more, selling wine is akin to selling mouthwash. But marketing is very expensive. There is no way a small winery can make that kind of investment.

That’s not to say that there are not other ways that the small winery can compete. Social media and marketing by hitting the pavement are still available. But these alternatives mean that at best the small winery will be a niche player. They will not disappear, but market share will continue to decline.

Another factor which, I admit, is less important than the ones I’ve already discussed is that I think big wineries are making better wine than they used to. There was a point in my life where I thought few large wineries were making decent product. I think that’s still the case for many of them, but many others are doing a remarkably good job. The only reason that I don’t rank this factor higher is that I no longer think that the quality of what is in the bottle is the preeminent issue.

I don’t think that this trend is reversible. There will always be small wineries, but their market share will continue to decline. I would not be surprised to see even more consolidation of the larger brands. I hope we don’t one day end up with one Megawinery. Inc., as our source for most of what we drink.

Wine Blogging: The Good, the Bad, and the Ugly (Mostly Ugly)

Monday, December 2nd, 2013

jeff-smby Jeff Miller of Artisan Family of Wines (Seven Artisans, Sly Dog Cellars, Red Côte)

As you probably know, I publish every Wednesday my recommendations of those blogs from the prior week worth reading.  Last week, I could find nothing, and I do mean nothing, worth recommending.  In fact, even as I try to err on the side of inclusion, it seems my list of recommended reading is getting shorter and shorter.

Why is that?

First and foremost, it’s really hard to come up with interesting posts that aren’t just a rehash of what has been done a thousand times before, if not a lot more.

There are several types of posts that recur, and then recur again, and then, just for good measure…well, you get the point. What may have been worthy of a recommendation when it was new and vibrant, can’t be recommended the thousandths time around the block.

Vineyard photos. One of the staples of the wine blogosphere. Vineyards in the bright glare of a summer afternoon. Vineyards in the autumn fog. Vineyards covered with snow. Pardon me, but we’ve seen them all. That it’s a different summer afternoon, taken at a slightly different angle, at 2 instead of 3 in the afternoon, does not make for newness. It’s the same old, same old. No recommendations there.

Not that I’m opposed to pics. And there are pics that would be at least somewhat novel. But you don’t see them. How about the pictures of a tractor spraying sulfur? Or a winery laborer punching down a load of grapes in a macrobin? They are certainly every bit as worthy as showing how wine is really made. But they will never replace the vineyard pic because, true as they might be, they lack the romanticism that our industry seems to feel is its raison d’etre (or at least what the industry feels is its raison d’etre in the consumers’ mind).

When it’s getting late in the afternoon and you, the wine blogger, haven’t thought of anything to say, well, how about a review? “This (insert wine name here) exhibits cassis, along with dark fruit flavors, blueberry and boysenberry.” No news there, either. No recommendations.

Or the subject of wine ratings. The 100 point scale. If there’s something new to add to the discussion of the 100 point scale, I haven’t seen it in the last five years. To summarize everything that’s ever been said on the subject, “Totally worthless, but maybe better than any of the other alternatives despite that. Then again, maybe not.”

Tours of wine regions. Beautiful scenery. Winemakers committed to their craft. Making astounding new wines from some region no one had heard of a few years ago. Blah, blah, blah.

Even the most admirable become mind-numbing after repetition upon repetition. I agree with pretty much very thing Tom Wark has to say about the three-tier system. But no new recommendations there as my eyes glaze over his latest pronouncements on this subject. The state may change, the actors may change, but the gist of it remains the same.

Natural wines. Again, nothing new under the Sun. At least not until someone steps up to advocate the cause of unnatural wines—then there’d be something to write about. You would think that since wines are basically an unnatural product, there would arise a defender, but, alas…

At any rate, I’m hoping that this week there’ll be tons of good blogs to write up. We shall see.

Day off

Sunday, November 24th, 2013

jeff-smby Jeff Miller of Artisan Family of Wines (Seven Artisans, Sly Dog Cellars, Red Côte)

Too busy to post this week.  Back next week.

The government and unhealthy things

Monday, November 11th, 2013

jeff-smby Jeff Miller of Artisan Family of Wines (Seven Artisans, Sly Dog Cellars, Red Côte)

The FDA finally got around to doing something about trans fats. It’s been well known for a very long time that trans fats aren’t very good for you, but they have continued to be used nonetheless all with the blessing of our government.

In large part I think this is due to the fact that things that kill you right away are obviously poisons and the FDA will respond to those very quickly. But things that kill you over a period of time have generally gotten a free pass.

It’s not hard to fathom the main reason for this. If you drink a glass of hemlock and keel over, it’s pretty easy to figure out that maybe we shouldn’t allow hemlock in our food supply. But if you eat something with trans fat in it, you’re not going to keel over right away. In fact, most people won’t keel over at all (at least not from trans fat), though many will. So it’s harder to figure out that trans fats are, in essence, a slow-acting poison.

Rather than having the clear evidence of someone keeling over, you have the accumulation over time of scientific studies. Those studies are often in disagreement with each other, until finally a consensus develops.

In the case of trans fats, that consensus developed a long while ago. And yet trans fats continued to be legal. Why?

I think a large part of it is that in a political world, it’s hard when there are established and powerful vested interests that are opposed to the banning of something that is very useful to them. When it comes to shelf-life, trans fats are great. Maybe not so great when it comes to keeling over, but that’s someone else’s problem.

And if tobacco, which is a much more clearly a poison, can’t get itself outlawed, why should we expect things to be much better with trans fats which, as bad as they may be, kill in the ten of thousands rather than the millions?

This same process can take place in reverse. Case in point, alcohol. It’s very easy to see the downsides of alcohol. Someone drinks one (or more than one) too many, gets behind the wheel of a car, and kills someone. Pretty obvious. Or a chronic alcoholic destroys his liver. Only slightly less obvious, but still pretty obvious.

By contrast, the benefits of alcohol consumption in general, and wine consumption in particular, are of the less obvious sort. Like trans fats in reverse, you can only detect those benefits obliquely. A bunch of people drink a moderate amount of wine and generally, over decades, seem to somewhat better than a equal number of people who don’t imbibe.

The drunk driver tends to dominate the discussion. So wine, a product that really is, on balance, probably beneficial (or at worst neutral) gets lumped in with all sorts of products (e.g., tobacco) that are really, really bad for you.

But when you look at risk, you constantly find that low risks that are dramatic (Sandy Hook, Boston bombing) get more attention and response than high risks that are not. Think of the millions languishing away in hospitals from diseases that we devote relatively little resources to as compared to terrorists, who actually can do much less harm, but do it very dramatically.

At any rate, I’m happy the FDA has finally done something about trans fats. For very personal, admittedly self-centered, reasons, I would be happier still if they would lay off of the wine business, which really, on balance, does no harm, and probably a lot of benefit.