Good Reads 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.

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Consolidation in the wine business

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.

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Good Reads Wednesday

March 12th, 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.

In Pursuit of Balance Tasting: March 10, San Francisco

VINOGRAPHY: a wine blog

http://www.vinography.com/archives/2014/03/in_pursuit_of_balance_tasting.html

I’m not sure what to make of this post. I generally agree with the goal of this tasting, which is to taste wines that emphasize balance. They concentrate on Chardonnay and Pinot Noir, two wines that they consider in greatest need. In my book, balance is probably the most important thing a wine needs to have. But, as with everything when it comes to wine tasting, there is a huge amount of disagreement even on this point. This is kind of surprising to me since balance seems to me probably one of the easier aspects of winetasting that we should be able to agree on. After all, to a large extent balance is based on aspects of the wine that most people can agree on by taste (acid level, tannin level, alcohol level, etc.) and which can to a large extent be measured in the laboratory. I certainly agree that this sort of tasting, with a limited number of wines, makes way more sense than the mega tastings that take place at so many wine events, where, for the life of me, I can’t imagine anybody being able to taste through even a small percentage of the wines while maintaining a palate that can taste much of anything at all.

The Question of Land-Focused vs. Hand-Focused Wines

Fermentation

http://fermentationwineblog.com/2014/03/whats-better-wine-land-focused-vs-hand-focused/

With all the hype around the concept of terroir, it’s interesting to read somebody who is at least willing to consider the possibility that how a winemaker decides to craft this wine is worthy of at least as much attention as where the grapes came from and whether the winemaker is sufficiently “true” to the terroir from whence they came. Since terroir is a concept with a kernel of truth surrounded by a thick blanket of marketing hype, it’s good to see someone at least entertaining the possibility that something other than terroir is worthy of note.

Why French Wine Will Never Be as Interesting as American Wine

Fermentation

http://fermentationwineblog.com/2014/03/french-wine-will-never-interesting-american-wine/

Wark makes the point that the French, being so tied up with their regulations and their beliefs that they have already figured it all out when it comes to what works where, lack the inventiveness that we Americans possess.

Middle Aged Wine: The Good, Bad and Worst News

Fermentation

http://fermentationwineblog.com/2014/03/middle-aged-wine-good-bad-worst-news/

Wark bemoans the fact that there are virtually no reviews of wines that are more than a few years old. This means that wines in their prime are totally ignored.

Defining terroir, it’s a science not a myth

Wine Blog

http://www.wine-blog.org/index.php/2014/03/05/defining-terroir-science-myth/

This post focuses on a study which compared the amount of heat in Napa Valley versus Suisun Valley. I think it’s difficult to make generalities about this sort of thing, since the devil is in the details. There are certainly parts of Napa Valley that are hotter than parts of Suisun Valley. I think that, taken as a whole, Suisun Valley is the hotter of the two. But just as certainly Calistoga is hotter than the southern parts of Suisun. I also think that it is a mistake to say that one region is superior to another because it’s climate is cooler. It would be far fairer to say that one region can excel with one set of grapes, while another region can excel with another. I am not sure that Suisun Valley will ever produce a great Pinot. When it comes to the Rhône varieties, I think Suisun has the edge.

Guttarolo Primitivo, a remarkable amphora wine from Puglia

jamie goode’s wine blog

http://www.wineanorak.com/wineblog/italy/guttarolo-primitivo-a-remarkable-amphora-wine-from-puglia

I’ve always been curious about wines that are aged in amfora, a large clay container that is sealed closed to prevent oxygen infiltration. Though I have to assume oxygen gets in any way, which may be part of the style. Though I’ve been curious, I’ve never had a chance to try one, but hopefully someday I will.

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

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Joseph Swan 1993 Pinot Noir

March 10th, 2014

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

I’ve been trying to clear out a large number of older wines recently. My general advice for California wines is to drink them up within 10 years. In typical “do as I say, not as I do” fashion, I have a large number of wines from California that are definitely beyond the ten-year point.

And, in general, I should’ve followed my own advice. Most of these wines are hollow ghosts of their former selves. In many cases, they are totally over the hill, showing an unacceptable level of oxidation.

2014-03-05-104541

I know I have often made the case that California wines simply don’t age that well. And, in general, I think that that is a true statement of the state of affairs. But do California wines not age well because of some innate characteristic or because of how they are made?

Entering the fray on this question is a wine that I opened last night, the 1993 Joseph Swan Pinot Noir from Lone Redwood Ranch.

I can’t even remember when I bought this wine, but it was a really really long time ago. Even when young, this wine was, in my opinion, a wonderful example of what Pinot Noir should be. It was light in body, high in acidity. As all Pinot Noirs should be.

So how was it last night? Well, in a word, spectacular. It is one of the best Pinot Noirs I have ever had. Generally, we think of the best aging California wine as being Cabernet Sauvignon. Pinot doesn’t seem to last nearly as long. But this wine certainly put the lie to that generalization.

It is certainly the case that if you start with overripe grapes which are low in acid and tannin, and simply put them through the fermentation process without making adjustments, you’re probably going to end up with a wine that is not going to last terribly long.

If you start off with that same wine, but add a decent amount of acid, and maybe even some tannin, that wine should fare appreciably better.

If you start off with a wine that is not overripe, and maybe even a little underripe, with tons of acidity, it will do much better still. While tannins help, we know in general, and the Joseph Swan in particular, are not overly endowed with tannins. Certainly, when you think of what Pinot should be at its best, lots of tannin doesn’t factor into the equation. But this wine is certainly evidence that with enough acidity and being otherwise in balance, a California Pinot Noir can last a really really long time.

I’m not really sure how to describe this wine, since old Pinots tend to develop a nose which is unique unto itself. All of the usual descriptors that we apply to younger wines just don’t seem to have a place when talking about a wine of this age. I guess the best descriptor that I could give it is “old Pinot”.

So, if the question is whether California wines usually don’t age well because of innate characteristics or, instead, how they are made, this wine certainly comes down hard on the side of “how they are made”. I’m quite sure that these grapes were not picked too late, and I suspect that they naturally had plenty of acidity. It’s also possible that acid got added after harvest, though I tend to doubt this.

At any rate, this wine is simply glorious. It is everything an old wine should strive to be.

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Good Reads Wednesday

March 5th, 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.

Unfortunately, I could find absolutely nothing this week worth recommending. Sorry.

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

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