Last year, one of Australia’s leading wineries, Henschke Vineyards, branched out. The Henschkes opened Hill of Grace, a fine dining restaurant in downtown Adelaide at the Adelaide Oval, a place filled with tradition and lore as cricket test matches are played among various national teams. The restaurant’s wine list is centered on a Henschke wines but includes other Australian and imported wines. Wines from Henschke Hill of Grace, arguably Australia’s finest single-vineyard wine, are currently available back to 1990 and a glass of the 2010 can be yours for $125 US. When I spoke with Stephen Henschke recently in New York, he said the restaurant was doing very well and they were thrilled with the reception.
While that’s great for locals and tourists to Adelaide, it does leave the American wine mind wondering…why are there no winery restaurants away from wineries in America? Where’s the Screaming Eagle Nest at SF’s AT&T Park? Harlan Estates on Houston in Lower Manhattan? Franzia on Freeways?
The simple reason is that vertical integration is not allowed in the wine industry. In the aftermath of Prohibition, various state and federal authorities passed various regulations that split the industry into three tiers (producer, wholesaler, and retailer–or restaurant) and banned them from overlapping (with some exceptions that allow for one company to straddle two tiers). Tied-house laws, as they are called, go so far as prohibiting wineries from even providing incentives to retailers. On a related note, given that AB InBev seems intent on siphoning many beer brands–and even spirits with Diageo rumored as a target–into one giant keg, tied-house laws have thus far prevented the emergence of the Bud bar, Stella saloons, etc.
So, if you want a dine at a winery restaurant that’s not at a winery, you’re out of luck in America. Better hop on the plane(s) to Adelaide.
The first, “The Wrath of Grapes,” by Bruce Schoenfeld in the NYT magazine, provides an engaging summary of recent goings-on in the Golden State. His narrative follows Raj Parr, a co-founder of In Pursuit of Balance, a group of California producers overtly making wines that favor restraint and elegance over bombast and fruit. He contrasts this with the style of California wines that Robert Parker has championed and ventures to London to attend a tasting with Parker. It’s a good piece; I’ll be adding it to the syllabus of my next NYU wine class.
The second piece is a bit more wonky–get ready for a discussion of grape clones, Vertical Shoot Positioning (*not* something from the Kama Sutra), and yeasts getting more ferocious. In it, David Darlington asks in re: Russian River Valley Pinot Noir: “Why are so many so monstrous?” Good stuff–I won’t offer any spoilers here but he does survey several winemakers and a climate scientists. The story appears in the April issue of Wine & Spirits (available online).
Canada has a beef with the US. They’re pawing the ground and seeing red. Red wine, that is.
Such a dispute is rare for the two NAFTA countries that share the longest undefended border in the world.
The meat of the matter is, well, meat. Canada–and Mexico–complained last year to the World Trade Organization that US regulations were burdensome and discriminatory. The regs require that certain cuts of meat state on the label where the meat was raised (they are known as “country of origin labeling,” or COOL in the language of trade negotiators). They won last year and the US, as is our wont, appealed. Yesterday, the WTO ruled against the US.
This is where the wine comes in: if the US still doesn’t drop the labeling requirements, Canada will levy retaliatory tariffs! And they will be putting US wine in the bull’s eye of their targets! (Oh, and other things like potatoes, chickens and car parts.) Apparently, US wine sales in Canada amount to $1 billion retail according to one commentator–but given Canadian wine retail markups, that probably amounts to $200 million from US wineries. Still, the wine producers represented by the Wine Institute are fighting mad.
“In Canada it has taken decades to build the market for U.S. wine, and it could be irreparably harmed in an instant if Congress does not act [to repeal or amend COOL],” Robert P. Koch, president and CEO of the Wine Institute said in a press statement. Oh. Congress. Good luck with that.
Related on wine tariffs: “Shoppers Could Soon Have Difficulty Finding Meat’s Origin” [nytimes]
“Trade fight could raise tariffs on California wine” [pressdemocrat]
Appellate Body issues report on “United States — Country of origin labelling requirements” [WTO]
Have you ever wanted to check out exactly where your favorite domestic wines come from? You can take a look at aerial photos (exciting–grapes!), see block-by-block vineyard maps and get tons of geek-out info about vineyards on the site everyvine.com. Seriously, you can now impress your friends with not only the precise location, grape varieties, and topography, but also the growing degree days vs. the biologically effective growing degree days–oh my, you will be the life of the party!
I searched Rhys Skyline vineyard and found that everyvine even rates vineyards top vineyards with gold, silver and bronze medals–except for Skyline, which they rate platinum! Their algorithms even rate vineyard blocks. They don’t have every vineyard in America in there and I haven’t done a thorough analysis of how their rankings stack up. But it looks impressive and like something you could really get lost in for a few hours.
I read about it today in a post on Wired.com.
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.
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.”
Yesterday, 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.
Before wine enthusiasts get too excited, it’s worth noting that the beverage is more wine-arita than winery. Let’s break it down. Called Beatbox wines, it comes in a box styled as a beatbox. Nice! Two 5-liter boxes sell on their site for $64.99, which comes out to the equivalent of about $5 a bottle. So they’ve got the value pricing covered. And now, the content: this “wine-based” beverage with 11.1% alcohol comes in several flavors including Blue Razzberry Lemonade and Cranberry Limeade. Oh, and these serving instrux: “Try BeatBox on its own, with a mixer, in a cocktail, or as frozen BeatBoxicles!”
Billionaire Mark Cuban put it best on the show: “You’re not selling wine. You’re selling fun.”
Kevin O’Leary tasted it and proclaimed, “This tastes like S**t!” And then he bid on a slice of the company.
But it was Cuban who came out ahead, giving the Austin-based entrepreneurs five times the amount of money they were seeking for a third of the company’s equity–at a 50% higher valuation than they were seeking.
Given the myriad laws governing wine retail and distributing, here’s hoping that BeatBox doesn’t give Mark Cuban a $1 million hangover.
The signature characteristic for syrah from the Northern Rhone is an alluring savory character with a note of black olives. This Copain Syrah, “Tous Ensemble,” 2011, comes from three vineyards in Mendocino County and sees nine months in neutral oak. It’s in the Northern Rhone vein, favoring restraint instead of anything over the top–no “gobs” of anything here. It’s not that California syrah has to ape France; it’s just that Wells Guthrie of Copain favors that style, as do I.
I poured this wine at an event recently and it was very well received; I bought it again for $24 and it was a superb transition to fall with richer foods and cooler weather. And at $21.60 on the case, it is one heckuva a good wine for the price.