Archive for the 'business of wine' Category

Just how concentrated is the wine industry? [graphics]

wine industry graphic

Philip Howard, a professor at Michigan State specializing in food systems, has led a team to assemble a superb infographic that depicts just how big is Big Wine–and how few companies control choices at supermarkets.

He’s put the graphics on his web site. Now you can find out just which brands Gallo and Constellation own! (Not to pick nits, but it’s not clear why Pam Bay and W.J. Deutsch get separate boxes than two of the brands they import, Cavit and Yellow Tail, respectively.)

The US wine industry has been quite concentrated in much of the post-Prohibition era, especially compared to France or Italy, which are dotted with small vignerons. This corporate concentration is most on display at the drug stores (!) and grocery stores that the Michigan team visited (those store buyers buy from distributors–a graphic of wine distributor consolidation would be really fascinating and probably more enlightening about wine consumer choices.) Fortunately, even if Big Wine is pretty big, there is a tasty countermovement underway in California (and elsewhere) as new, small labels are popping up–one of my exciting trends to watch for 2013. The hardest part is finding the wines, which is where specialty wine shops are invaluable.

Click through and zoom to learn which wine brands Altria, the cigarette maker, owns. Also check out Howard’s graphics on beer and coffee industries!

Martine’s Wines, an importer, changes hands

martine saunier Martine Saunier started a wine import business in 1979 because she “couldn’t find anything exceptional to drink.” As of last week, she sold that company. Unlike another major transaction this month in the wine world, the buyers are identified and there’s a very professional press release.

Saunier, 78, built the business based in Novato, CA to include such venerable estates as Henri Jayer, Chateau Rayas, and Domaine Leroy. She has been hailed as a “rock star of the wine world” and an “importer extraordinaire.” She and many of her producers will be featured in a documentary entitled “A Year in Burgundy,” due out next year on DVD.

The buyers are Gregory Castells and Kate Laughlin. Castells had a career in wine service in restaurants, including as Head Sommelier at the French Laundry but has most recently been at Soutirage, a Napa-based wine retailer while Laughlin was in advertising and operations, most recently at Soutirage. As I said, the press release is very thorough (apparently, she started out in public relations). The company, also a distributor, will continue to be called Martine’s Wines.

Jon-David Headrick reconnects with Eric Solomon

jdh Jon-David Headrick Selections, an importer specializing in wines from the Loire Valley and beyond, is teaming up with Eric Solomon (European Cellars), which concentrates on southern France and Spain. Headrick, 39, was the general manager at European Cellars before starting his own import firm with stylistically different wines.

“Not really an acquisition but yes, European Cellars has been named as the US marketing agent and importer for the JDHS book,” Headrick tweeted to me when queried about the new relationship. “My producers deserve wider distribution and attention and EC has a great team to make that happen,” he continued. “My growers are excited to have more hands on deck. I’ll continue to source and manage the portfolio as before.”

Headrick’s wines include the crackling wines of Domaine Vacheron in Sancerre and the Saviennieres of Damien Laureau. (Find these wines) See the complete list.

Amazon wine, the less ambitious sequel

amazon wine While Amazon shoppers can click and add almost anything to their carts, one thing has eluded them: wine.

Amazon’s first foray into wine had the potential to change the way Americans buy wine, shaking up the archaic set of laws that limit wine choices and boost prices for consumers, particularly those in states that do not have a vibrant culture of wine retail and distribution.

But this sequel seems less than earth-shattering. While the details are still emerging, the Wall Street Journal builds on reporting from Wine Industry Insight to paint a picture of a glorified “marketplace” system. In it, Amazon will expose their enormous customer base to offers from wineries, which will fulfill the orders themselves with Amazon receiving a fee of 15%, according to the WSJ. There’s no mention of how much shipping will be, including whether the orders would qualify for Amazon’s “Prime” service that has free two-day shipping. If they do qualify, some wineries may turn to Amazon instead of flash sites to unload any surplus inventory.

Since wineries can ship to about three dozen states if they have the proper paperwork on file, this has the potential to affect a lot of consumers. But there are a lot of drawbacks too since consumers would apparently have to order from one winery at a time since there is no warehouse fulfilling the orders. Also, wines will likely be at a higher price to justify the shipping charges and there will be no imported wines available. (Retailers, by contrast, can only ship to about a dozen states legally.)

So while it is better than nothing, Amazon’s foray into wine this time seems less ambitious. That’s a pity since the retailer and logistics champion could have been the wine consumer’s greatest ally in the battle over interstate shipping. Perhaps one day…

What do you think–is this a big deal? Would you be more likely to order wine from California wineries via Amazon?

Related: “Amazon stops selling wine before it ever starts

SevenFifty drags the wine industry into the 21st century

sevenfifty Picture yourself at a wine trade tasting: there are hundreds of wines to taste but you have to juggle a bulky tasting notebook, a pen, and a wine glass while swirling, spitting and dodging fellow tasters who may be heading to the spit bucket. Wouldn’t it be so much easier if you could see the tasting book on your smart phone, sort by style or wine region, and take notes in a profile?

That’s what I did yesterday Read more…

If the Euro melts down, would euro wine go up?

Although markets have rallied this week, the collapse of the euro is the topic du jour. Mike Steinberger talked with some players in European wine and found that none had a particular plan for handling a collapse. Fair enough: such a cataclysmic event would hold lots of uncertainty and dislocation. And we all know what happens to the best laid plans of mice and men…

But that doesn’t stop us from armchair speculation! If Greece, Portugal, Spain or even Italy were to withdraw from or be bounced from the euro and revert to their national currencies, the theory goes that they would suffer a devaluation but that the cheaper goods would be more attractive on the world market. Assyrtiko, feta cheese and beach vacations would all be on sale and this would help kick start the economy.

Although on a much smaller scale, the wine world does have a recent example of devaluation: Argentina. Read more…

Why importer Jose Pastor says “no, gracias” to Wine Advocate scores

canary island wines This week, our “set of titanium corkscrews” award goes to Jose Pastor. The 30-year-old Bay Area resident has a difficult business life selling Americans on the virtues of wines from such little-known grapes as Listan Blanco, Baboso, or Mantonegro from the Canary Islands and Mallorca. And since 2009, he’s added another challenge: selling his wines without Wine Advocate scores.

Citing fatigue of “living by the rule of the trade,” he told me at the recent tasting of his wines in New York that he has not journeyed to Maryland to present his portfolio to the Wine Advocate for two years. It’s also a philosophical difference over scoring.

“Wine is an agricultural thing,” he said. “You can’t score a tomato.”

He added that spending 30 or 40 seconds tasting a wine failed to capture everything about it. “You have to have a respect for the work that has been done. That’s hard to do without being there, meeting the people and seeing the land.”

So how does he sell his wine? He says that good retailers care how the wine got to the glass, not just whats in it, he says. He works with retailers such as Chambers Street Wines in NYC and Terroir in SF as well as restaurants.

“Things are really changing. People in the trade want to know more first-hand, to visit, to learn, to taste. And consumers too.” He says that it’s easier to undersand wine talk when it is coming from a fellow consumer, who describes a wine with food–or even over food, sharing the wine together. Then there are no points, no “chocolate and vanilla” descriptors.

“Back in the day, there were only two or three guys with a voice. Now there are many. It’s great for wine!”

* * *

The diversity that he celebrates in wine appreciation is also evident in his wines that represent one of the most exciting Spanish portfolios available in the US today. Read more…

Joe Dressner, importer of “real” wines, dies at 60

louisdressner Whenever my wife sees that a wine’s back label is from importer Louis/Dressner, she gets excited about the wine to follow. Rightfully so: Louis/Dressner has a portfolio bursting with terrific wines, from vineyard owners making their own wines with few, if any, interventions in the cellar. While Joe Dressner touted this side of his wines, calling his portfolio one of “real” wines, one aspect that receives less attention is that the book of his wines includes some of the best values on the planet, particularly in the $12 – $20 range. Jean-Paul Brun. Marc Ollivier (Dom de la Pepiere). Bernard Baudry. The Puzelat brothers. These vignerons have brought me great joy at reasonable prices. Thus it is sad that Joe Dressner died over the weekend.

Since I was always a fan of his wines, it was hurtful when Joe started leaving caustic comments on this blog in late 2008, a practice that he continued for about a year. It bugged me–and my wife. During that time, his wines became less fun to us. Joe had a brain tumor at that time and used a blog, The Amazing Adventures of Captain Tumor Man, as a way to cope. Eventually, he did apologize to me on Twitter. I was sorry not to have been able to penetrate his prickly, irascible persona better since I know that he had a razor-sharp, irony-drenched wit and was a man of conviction.

He was a pioneer in popularizing natural wines in this country. I offer my condolences to his family and his business associates. I look forward to raising a glass in his honor tonight.

A remembrance at Diner’s Journal
Louis/Dressner


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