Archive for the 'business of wine' Category

Sommeliers can be “surprisingly” highly paid

Bloomberg TV has a quick hit on five “surprisingly high-paying jobs.” Number five on their list is a “master sommelier,” who, they say, citing nobody in particular, can earn “up to $125,000 a year.”

But keep putting the nose to the limestone, somms: the piece says phone sex operators can earn $160k.

Would Amazon Drones give a lift to wine?

amazon_droneJeff Bezos had some crazy talk for Charlie Rose at the end of a 60 Minutes segment: Amazon is working to deliver some items in 30 minutes or less via unmanned, aerial drones.

It’s not April Fool’s Day; Amazon tweeted a link to a picture of the “octocopter” delivery vehicle and published this futuristic video on YouTube. Bezos did concede to Charlie Rose that the plan, possibly 4-5 years off, “requires more safety testing and FAA approvals.”

If Amazon drones were approved, this delivery method would have enormous implications. But since we’re a wine blog, we’ll focus on the wine angle here: getting wine in 30 minutes would give a lift to your Friday night. And since the Octocopter delivers to GPS coordinates, it could conceivably track your phone and deliver your whole picnic right to where you are. Hopefully, there will also be a robotic sommelier to pop and pour.

Or is it so futuristic, unworkably weather- and regulation-dependent, that the main triumph is just to give a lot of buzz (without rotors) during the busiest shopping time of the year?

Why do champagne prices decline during the holidays?

champagne pricesWhy do Champagne prices often decrease during the holidays? Economic logic might hold that as demand increases–a huge amount of bubbly is put away during the last few weeks of the year–that prices should also increase.

A recent article in the Times mounts a parallel quest in understanding why turkey prices fall as Thanksgiving approaches and rose prices rise into Valentine’s Day.

As with frozen turkeys supermarkets, well-known champagne brands can be used as a loss-leader. Come for the Veuve Clicquot and leave with a few bottles of malbec and other full-priced items for your party. And as with frozen turkeys, there’s a vast supply of champagne brands ready to fill sales channels for this busy time of the year. Also, as with the article’s example of low-priced tuna contributing to price compression of canned tuna during Lent, the presence of perfectly serviceable other sorts of lower-priced bubbles may act to compress the prices of champagne brands. Finally, a supermarket probably doesn’t want to devote space to frozen turkey after Thanksgiving so they might be inclined to cut prices to clear out inventory. Similarly, a large wine shop might want to reduce their stock of bubbly post-New Year’s Eve.

The article points out the different market dynamic with the price of roses at Valentine’s Day: with more demand, rose prices surge. There’s a limited supply of fresh roses and flower shops can’t benefit from a loss leader as the Valentine shopper wants only roses. In the wine world, a small shop may not stock big-label champagne, so may not have loss-leaders to flog in newspaper ads. Also, if the shop focuses on grower champagne, the supply, while not as limited as fresh roses at Valentine’s Day, is more limited than the grandes marques, which could lead to price stability at a time of discounting.

When it comes to champagne shopping this holiday season, think about are you getting a frozen turkey or a rose and shop accordingly.

Vineyard prices in Burgundy

How much does that vineyard cost? In the video of the day, Alex Gambal, American in Burgundy, discusses vineyard prices in Burgundy and why he and his investors paid $10 million/acre for a sliver of land in Batard-Montrachet.

“It’s a way to preserve capital…You’re buying Treasury bonds today at 2%. What would you rather buy, US treasury bonds or a piece of grand cru in Burgundy where you’re getting 1%–and the dividend is bottles of wine! So it’s not a bad deal!”

I get the scarcity argument but there certainly are carrying costs associated with this type of investment. And weather may wreak havoc with a vintage as parts of the Cote de Beaune saw so dramatically this year so it’s not without risks. What do you think: is he oversimplifying things? Does it make you cry a little bit on the inside to see Burgundy land discussed as a functional equivalent of Treasury bonds?

Chart: Where is wine venture capital flowing?

wine_venture_capitalThere has been a spate of articles about a new gadget for preserving wine called the Coravin. What’s not been widely commented on is the fact that the founders raised a lot of money, notably almost $11.5 million in the last round.

The company, based in Burlington, Massachusetts, raised these funds from 106 equity investors, including restaurateur Joe Bastianich who had tested the product–formerly known as the Wine Mosquito–at his restaurant, Del Posto. The CEO, Nicholas Lazaris, ran Keurig before and after it was sold to Green Mountain Coffee Rasters.

Where does that put Coravin in terms of recent rounds of wine venture capital in apps and gadgets? At the top.

Two days ago, the team behind the label-recognition app Delectable announced a $2 million placement with angel investors. According to, Club W has raised $3.1 million for their “personalized” wine club. The Danish company behind Vivino, also a label recognition app, has raised $10.3 million.

In previous non-winery M&A news, Lot18 raised $44 million though their last-completed round was in 2011. In December 2012, an anonymous group of investors from Singapore purchased a controlling stake in the Wine Advocate reportedly for $15 million.

NY Liquor Authority to Wine Library: “immediately cease and desist”

ny_liquor_authorityNew York law states prohibits wine shipments from New Jersey retailers to NYS residents. But you’d never know it since New Jersey is home to many wine shops that sell wine online to New York and beyond. One of the state’s highest profile retailers is Wine Library, popularized by Gary Vaynerchuk who once streamed 1,000+ videos from the store.

In a staggering change of direction, the New York State Liquor Authority has now decided to enforce the law on the books. In a letter dated 8/12/13 that has not been seen publicly even though it is on the SLA website, the SLA instructs Wine Library to “immediately cease and desist” sales to New York residents. Wine Library did not respond to a query for comment.

Over the past decade, New Jersey has turned into Read more…

The economics of wine and lobster


The past few summers, wholesale lobster prices have plunged lower than the ocean floor. Yet lobster prices in restaurants have remained unaffected, a disconnect I have pondered over many a lobster roll washed down by Chablis or Champagne.

Apparently, James Surowiecki, who writes the New Yorker’s The Financial Page, has also stared down the same disconnect but he has taken it one step farther: he has written this week’s column about it.

In short, he finds that commodity pricing doesn’t apply to lobster since it is entrenched as a luxury good in the food world; cut the price and people may actually be turned off as they think it’s inferior quality. In the world of luxury products, psychology matters more than than the cost of raw materials.

He also notes Simonson and Tversky’s work on context-dependent preferences and choices. They found that if consumers were presented with a low-priced and mid-priced object to choose between, the selections would be split. But if a third, higher-priced object was added to the product mix, then consumers chose the mid-priced item 40% more often.

Lobsternomics has some application to the wine world. If input prices were to fall for high-end grapes, it’s unlikely producers would cut wine prices for the similar psychological reasons (indeed, we saw this with the flash sales after 2008 instead of outright price cuts).

Also, Simonson and Tversky’s work is applicable to wine lists where the mere presence of DRC on a wine list may move more malbec. What do you think about the effect of relative pricing on wine lists (or stores)?

But one way that the law of supply and demand is not repealed in the world of wine is when the cost factors go up. Then, as when hail vastly reduces supply, the relative scarcity forces prices up; whether they fall again remains a matter for empirical research–and consumer psychology.

The Daily Show on raisin growers

The Daily Show’s Jason Jones heads California to examine the National Raisin Reserve.

I hope he also got a chance to tap into the nation’s wine reserve, while on location!


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