Archive for the 'American wine' Category

State dinner wines for President Xi

state_dinner_wine_china2Tomorrow night, President and Mrs. Obama will host President Xi Jinping of China for a State Dinner at the White House. And we have been able to procure the menu for the “Autumn feast”–with the wine pairings!

The White House has a tradition of serving only American wines. This policy has been in place since the 1960s, though “Tricky Dick” Nixon was known to pour American wines for guests, while he had Chateau Margaux served to him from a bottle wrapped in a white cloth napkin.

Thus it seems odd that the first wine on the menu tomorrow night is listed as “Shaoxing wine.” Shaoxing wine is a traditional Chinese wine fermented from rice. While no vintage or producer is listed on the menu, one is left to assume that this is, in fact, a wine…from China! Is this a break from the tradition of serving only American wines? It turns out: no. A query to a White House staffer clarified that the rice wine from China is in fact only an *ingredient* in the soup and will not be served qua wine.

Even if it were served , it’s not necessarily a bad thing to pour a wine from the guest of honor’s country. In fact, it can be respectful to show the honored (American) guests to the country’s wines. But I’m fine with the all-American approach too. Earlier this year, there was a sake toast (after the domestic sparkler) for Japan’s PM Abe.

The last state dinner for a Chinese president, the White House served Read more…

Blue Apron adds wine delivery – and huge ambitions

blue_apron_wineAnother day, another company that wants to deliver wine to your home!

Today, it’s Blue Apron who is adding wine delivery. The Brooklyn startup offers “fresh ingredients, great recipes delivered weekly to your home.” Although I haven’t tried it, lots of people have since the company says they deliver three million meals-in-a-box per month now. Started in 2012, the company closed a $150 million round of funding at a $2 billion valuation.

They have just announced that wine will now be able to be delivered with the ingredient boxes. Sounds great! But which wines? They are mum on that. The only option is to sign up for the $65.99 monthly sampler, which includes six bottles. There’s a catch: the bottles are only 500ml, or two-thirds the size of a regular bottle. This unusual size means that they are not buying wines off the shelf but rather having a (domestic?) winery source the wine and put it in their unusual bottle size.

This particular arrangement could be a good thing–it could reduce prices to the consumer by some form of buying directly from wineries. But without knowing any producers going into the subscription, I’d be leery. Once bitten, twice shy–good thing you can cancel any time. An email to Blue Apron seeking further clarification of sourcing and how they are navigating the regulatory red tape was not returned.

But wait: The story is not over! In their piece on the news, Reuters quotes the Blue Apron CEO, Matt Salzberg, as saying “We think because we already have our large customer base already cooking meals with us on a regular weeknight basis, over time we can be the largest wine e-commerce company in the country.”

Wine e-commerce is mostly a snarl of red tape, and most companies in the space are private so it is hard to get information on revenues.’s CEO posted that they had $75 million in sales in 2013. Further, Amazon is testing wine delivery in several markets and they are a formidable competitor in any area. Fresh Direct sells and delivers wines now. Some wine stores do tens of millions of dollars of e-commerce business. So Salzberg must have had a double shot of ambition in his coffee this morning to think Blue Apron wine is going from $0 to $75 million+ with (possibly) unknown wines in 500ml bottles!

Have you gotten wines from them? If so, how are they? Hit the comments!

Why you don’t find winery restaurants in the US

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.

A lighter shade of Pinot

wrath_grapesThe stylistic clash happening in California has gotten attention in a couple of stories recently, both worth checking out.

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’s beef with American wine


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]

Wonk out with vineyard maps

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 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

The wine boom turns 21 – but is acting aged

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.

The drought files: Calera edition


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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