New York Times wine club on ice

new_york_times_wine_clubMembers of the New York Times wine club residing in New York are not receiving wine–and shipments might not resume until July.

The Albany Times Union has a detailed account of the wrangling that has led to the suspension (indeed, on the NYT wine club site, New York is not even an option for sign-ups–the wine club continues in other states). The NYT wine club is run by a group called Global Wine Company and does not, as the Club’s web site states, make selections with the NYT wine critic or members of the newsroom. The Club offers six-bottle shipments for $90 or $180 on various monthly schedules. Global Wine Co also fulfills the club shipments for the Williams-Sonoma, the Washington Post and Food & Wine.

The Times Wine Club told its New York subscribers last week that it would have to suspend shipments until July because of uncertainty over New York’s rules and regs about shipping. However, the State Liquor Authority spokesperson told the Times Union that the Club’s local retailer had stopped doing business with them since Global Wine Co, based in California, had received cease-and-desist letters.

I’m not a huge fan of wine clubs in general–I’d opt for spending a monthly budget at a local store where the wine discussion is free and you have more choices to get exactly what you want. But there’s no reason that New York consumers should not be allowed to subscribe.

While this particular incident revolves around the Gray Lady, what consumers and businesses need is to get out of a gray area: hopefully the new head of the NY SLA will clear the air and issue understandable guidelines for businesses to ship into and out of the state.

The wine boom turns 21 – but is acting aged

wine_market_growth
When wine consumption shot higher in 1994, little did wine consumers know that they were uncorking one of the greatest bull markets in recent history. Every year since then, wine consumption has grown making the wine boom now 21 years old–old enough to buy itself a drink, legally, were it a human.

But the growth, which slowed in the wake of the recession, has lost steam but continued to edge higher. Last week in New York City, John Gillespie of the Wine Market Council, a non-profit trade association whose mission is to grow the wine market, presented data on the latest trends. From 1994 – 2007, only one year had less than 2% growth, the recession year of 2001. But since the Great Recession starting in 2008, although every year has seen growth, the growth has been slower with only one year exceeding 2%. Why is growth slowing and what does it portend?

These were the main questions behind the presentations. Growth is slowing because of the rise of craft beer (not exactly hard to see coming), but also, Danny Brager of Nielsen said, because some consumers are trading up, drinking less but more expensive wine. Brager also pointed out that beer consumption is in secular decline having fallen from 60% of the market share of alcoholic beverages in the US in 2000 to 52% last year–and much of the rise of craft beer is at the expense of big, boring beer. He also said that of the 125 packaged goods that Nielsen tracks, growth is sluggish across the board, so wine is outerforming 90% of them.

As to the future, John Gillespie wondered if the wine market is at a tipping point, which could spark a return to strong growth, or a turning point, which would point downward. While he didn’t come down on either side, the sinister organ music playing in the background, releasing a murder of crows into the auditorium and eerie sound of a creaking door slamming all led to a general impression. (Ed. note–dramatization.) We shall see what happens over the next year but if I had to guess, I’d predict more of the same slow growth.

Of course, the best way to really boost consumption would be to lower prices. And the only way that would happen is a legal change, such as eliminating the mandatory three-tier system and its layers of markups. Chance of that happening: infinitesimal.

See more stats from the presentations over on my Twitter feed.

Why is champagne getting drier?

peter_wasserman_175Champagnes seem to have been getting drier in recent years. What’s driving the trend? I put the question of declining Champagne dosage levels to Peter Wasserman today. Wasserman, along with his mother Becky, exports several grower champagnes including Godmé Pere et fils, José D’hondt, Camille Savès, and Vazart-Coquart.

Wasserman said there are three main reasons. First, climate change. As harvest gets longer, the pick dates get later meaning that the fruit is riper, as he put it being harvested at “optimum maturity. So there’s less searing acidity that needs balancing with the addition of the liqueur d’expedition.

Second, the wines are seeing more time on the lees. A decade ago, it was common for grower champagnes to give the wines two and a half years on the lees, spent yeast cells that imbue the wine with more flavor as it remains in contact with them. Now, three or four years is not uncommon. This depth of flavor also reduces the need to add sugar.

Third, the global sommelier culture is driving dosage levels lower. Sommeliers, he said, taste a lot of wines and especially value light and bright champagnes. They wield an outside influence today.

On that last point, I asked him if people talk dry and drink sweet? Absolutely, he said, modifying it to “drink rounder.” Even if somms like the drier style, not all of their customers do.

“Our three best selling champagnes all have 8 or 9 grams of residual sugar,” he said.

Steering away from an outright amount residual sugar, he said, “The Holy Grail is balance.”

Matthew McConaughey signs on to The Billionaire’s Vinegar

mcconaugheyWine may well be splashing on the silver screen with Matthew McConaughey in a starring role. Deadline reports that the star of Dallas Buyers Club and True Detective will headline the cinematic adaptation of the Billionaire’s Vinegar.

I’m glad the project is moving ahead. It’s based on the terrific book of the same name by Benjamin Wallace. Will Smith had reportedly picked up the rights to the project back in 2008; when I called Escape Artists Entertainment in 2012 for an update, I was told that there’s “No director. No talent. No new news.” Clearly the project has gained newfound momentum. Read more…

Spaetburgunder: German for pinot noir

german_pinot_noir
Germany has the third largest amount of pinot noir planted, trailing only France and the United States. In fact their total acreage eclipses both Australia and New Zealand’s pinot noir plantings combined. (The local name for the grape is Spätburgunder.)

Such is a factoid that I learned yesterday at ProWein, the annual wine trade megashow in Düsseldorf. The seminar was entitled “Germany’s Pinot Noir Miracle,” which probably could have been an awesome German compound word “Spätburgunderwunder” if it only existed. Anne Krebiehl, originally from Baden and now living in England led the session in full cry. “If you cut me, I will probably bleed Spätburgunder,” she said pinning her colors to the mast early. Read more…

File under classy: Southern wine reps taunt former supplier

Wine made Page Six! This should be good, right?

The NY director of sales and the district manager at Southern Wine & Spirits (SWS), one of the country’s behemoth wine and spirits distributors, hold the honor. According to the NY Post, they lost Laurent-Perrier champagnes from their portfolio. So they decided to go to a night club, The Hustler Club, order two bottles of the wine for $1,000, then be photographed dumping the wines out. Oh, and one of the pictures had a stripper fondling the sales director’s crotch.

Badda bing! Then they sent the pix to Sabine Lapatie of Laurent-Perrier. Keepin’ it classy! Small wonder Laurent-Perrier left Southern. See the pix over at nypost.com

Since the Post story, Southern says that the two have been suspended pending an investigation into what it called the “disturbing allegations.”

Eataly: a lot of pasta

eataly_pasta
Fast Company has a piece on Eataly, the enormous and enormously successful (grocery) store with restaurants inside it. For those who haven’t been, the stores have an innovative concept that harkens back to an olde tyme market with different vendors for fish, meat, and pasta, interspersed with fresh fruit and vegetables, dried pasta and olive oils, restaurants of various themes, a wine store (now back), a rooftop beergarden, a wine bar, an espresso bar, a gelateria, and a bookstore. My kids never want to leave when we’re there. Eataly NY is a collaboration with Mario Batali and Joe Bastianich’s B&B Hospitality Group.

No surprise, but it turns out that they’ve been doing very well: Nicola Farinetti, the 30-year-old CEO, tells the magazine that the New York City location has $85 million in revenues; the Chicago location will hit $50 million in sales. New locations in LA, Boston and a second NYC location in the World Trade Center are forthcoming. Eataly started in Italy in 2007 and now has 15 locations there and has 11 in Japan. London, Hong Kong, Moscow, Munich, Paris, São Paulo, Sydney, and Toronto all are in line to get locations.

That is a lot of pasta. Surely, even though the Fast Company story doesn’t mention it, after Shake Shack’s recent IPO, they have to be thinking of a public offering somewhere, sometime.

The drought files: Calera edition

california_drought

Drought has been wreaking havoc on all of California, including the wine industry. Producers have varied their responses to it, with some irrigating as much as they still can and others calling for “dry farming.”

jensen_caleraYesterday, Josh Jensen (right) of Calera Wine told a packed seminar at the In Pursuit of Balance tasting in New York about his approach. He irrigates his 84 acres of hillside vines in the Gabilan Mountains (south of the Santa Cruz Mountains). Initially, when water was more available, he watered three hours at a time, four times a year. Then the increased those durations to six-, 12-, 24-hour “sets” or dousing through the drip irrigation. He finally reached 48 hours, arguing that a prolonged watering saturated the vines to the deepest level, sending the root deeper down.

However, now, with water scarce, he has to truck water up to 1,200 feet to feed the drip lines. He said that for seven months last year, he sent five truckloads of water a day up to fill reservoir tanks to feed the irrigation lines. In total, Calera brought up 1.8 million gallons of water, sourced from a neighbor. And even with that, the vines eked out a yield of 0.6 tons per acre.


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