Freeze and flood: a rough start to the Burgundy 2016 vintage

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April frosts bring May floods?

Weather at harvest used to be dicey with rains. But now severe and unusual weather events are buffeting the Burgundy region throughout the growing season with shocking and disheartening regularity. Devastating hail storms pounded vintages 2012, 2013, and 2014.

Last month, there was some bitterly cold weather overnight on April 27, which led to frost damage. By the BIVB’s estimates, 46% of vineyards in the region were badly damaged. Jasper Morris, the Burgundy Director at London’s Berry Bros & Rudd, wrote about the frost damage on his blog:

The Beaune vineyard I partly own, Les Pertuisots, seems to have lost everything, as do neighbouring plots, while a few yards down the road the Clos des Mouches was much less affected, according to the Drouhins. There is no rhyme nor reason, and even vineyards which have not been affected in living memory, such as Le Montrachet, have been badly damaged this time round.

Bill Nanson writes this week on his blog:

Honestly the vines are ‘all over the place’ you can really see the lack of consistency when you walk in the vineyards; there are big sprouts of growth here-and-there, surrounded by a much smaller average growth of leaves. The first, larger shoots, are those who survived the frost, the latter is the new growth (recovery) from the previously dormant buds. I’ve never seen such higgledy-piggledy growth in the vines.

burgundy_2016_frostAnd then there is flooding and hail this week in Chablis, as seen in the photo above with more on Bill’s blog.

What does all this mean for the region? Well, a final judgement of the Burgundy 2016 vintage will be best rendered when tasting the wine in the glass–quality has been snatched from the jaws of defeat in several recent, difficult vintages. But it certainly looks as if yields will be down with the resulting wine volumes, which, of course, means…higher prices for consumers and possibly declining revenues for producers.

Some producers have recognized this double whammy and made long-term plans to diversify, buying properties in lower cost areas such as the Jura or some cru Beajolais.

Burgundy…a wine that can bring so much pleasure yet also so much pain–on consumers’ wallets and producers’ balance sheets.

The latest in consolidation: Copain sells to Jackson Family

Copain winery has been sold to Jackson Family Wines for an undisclosed sum the wineries announced today.

Copain has taken twists and turns to end up at the winery perched above the Russian River Valley floor. Co-founded in 1999 by Wells Guthrie as winemaker, Read more…

State dinner wines for the Nordics!

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Tonight at the White House, President and Michelle Obama will welcome not one Nordic leader–but all five! What will they be drinking out of horned helmets in the viking style? Actually, it will be out of crystal glasses but we have the deets for you on the Nordic state dinner wines. Read more…

Our robot overlords: Whole Foods store replaces wine specialists with iPads

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Algorithms: 1. Humans: 0.

So it will be in the wine aisle when the new 365 store by Whole Foods opens in two weeks. The store aims to target millennials by delivering foods in the Whole Foods ethos but with out the Whole Foods price tag (insert your own Whole Paycheck comment here). There will be fewer products in the stores and fewer employees. In an article in today’s NYT business section, the author compares the new 365 stores to Old Navy with Whole Foods being the Gap. No word on what that means for the wine section, but I’d bet on lower-priced offerings in a variety of formats.

The first 365 store will be opening in Silver Lake, ground zero for hipsters in LA (Moby has a vegetarian restaurant there). Hilariously, some Silver Lake residents had been hoping their neighborhood would be served by a “regular” Whole Foods and at some even mounted an online protest derisively calling the forthcoming 365 store “Half Foods.”

The NYT story provides more details on the store and its robots. There will be a tea-dispensing robot. But more to our purposes, the staff that linger in the wine aisle in Whole Foods that sell wine will be 86’d. In their place will be iPads.

The iPads will run an app developed specifically for 365 stores by the engineers and designers of Banquet and Delectable. Here’s how spokesperson Julia Weinberg put it in an email:

What we built for Whole Food’s new 365 stores draws upon the Banquet foundation, but is actually an independent product we are launching with them. It is an iPad-based in-store guide that is a hybrid of Banquet and Delectable. For their new 365 concept stores, Whole Foods approached us to help reinvent the way store guests experience and navigate the beer, wine and spirits section. The genesis of the project was the goal to find a better solution to the antiquated retail hang-tag model.

Since Banquet and Delectable have the ability to purchase wines from various retailers, that feature will not appear on the new 365 iPads, which will favor navigating the in-store inventory. Customers will also be able to scan any wine and info from the Delectable database will appear, including user reviews.

While the human touch is always nice for consumers, this approach actually sounds promising. I like Delectable, so the 365 team made an astute selection. The hardest thing may be actually getting the consumer to engage with the iPads instead of just judging wines by the label art, a common supermarket shopping strategy. Now all the store needs is a machine to spit out wine samples and the wine aisle will be the most happening spot in the store.

World’s best sommelier 2016: Arvid Rosengren

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As of yesterday, the world has a new “best sommelier”! The winner of the 2016 ASI World’s Best Sommelier competition in Argentina is Arvid Rosengren!

Rosengren is the popular sommelier at Charlie Bird in NYC. Although he lives in SoHo now, he studied nanotech engineering in his native Sweden before switching to hospitality school and eventually working for a number of years in restaurants in Copenhagen, both on the floor and as a buyer.

On his blog bio, he talks about this recent competition:

I have spent considerable effort and time bettering myself by competing as a sommelier, which involves hard theoretical study, blind tasting of wines, spirits and other beverages and practical tests. My next (and final) challenge is to compete for the title of Best Sommelier in the World in Mendoza, Argentina, a competition put on by ASI (Association de la Sommellerie Internationale) every three years. This year there will be 58 competitors, each having won the title of the best of their country.

He also wrote about the 2013 competition for Europe’s best sommelier on his blog.

While in Mendoza, his girlfriend Line “took over” his instagram to post updates. Very cute. Read more…

Who’s taking Constellation’s money now? Agustin Huneeus

prisoner_wineWord came out today that Constellation wines is buying The Prisoner wine(s) for a whopping $285 million. The seller was Agustin Huneeus who bought The Prisoner wine for $40 million in 2010.

And who said there’s no money in wine?

The Prisoner wine was started in 1998 by Orrin Swift and Dave Phinney as heady red blend. The wine became popular but I always find it too intense–a cold wine, if you will, because if you have a cold, the oopmh from this zinfandel-based blend varieties and 14+% alcohol will still penetrate your congested sinuses. But there’s no arguing with the market, where the wine sells for $35 and up. (find this wine at retail)

In 2010, Wine Spectator reported that Huneeus Vintners paid $40 million and production volume of The Prisoner was 70,000 cases. At the time, Agustin Huneeus, Jr. told Wine Spectator that in selling The Prisoner, Phinney “wanted someone with a larger sales organization and someone with experience with big brands, and I have that.” Saldo is one of five other labels included in the sale.

Agustin Huneeus, Sr, now 82, has had a career spanning several continents and bulk wine as well as boutique. He started out at Concha y Toro in his native Chile, then worked for Seagram, ultimately landing in California in 1977. In 1985, became partner/president at Franciscan Estates. He sold that to…wait for it…Constellation Brands in 1999 but retained a stake in one of their brands, Veramonte in Chile (later buying it outright). Huneeus Vintners now has many holdings in North America including Quintessa, which they founded in the Rutherford District of Napa Valley in 1990. They also own Faust and Illumination from Napa Valley and have a majority stake in Flowers Vineyards.

Last year, Constellation bought Meiomi for $315 million from Joe Wagner, then 33 years old and whose family is best known for Caymus and Conundrum.

Remember in the 90s tech scene, the game was to make start up and then be bought out by Microsoft? In the wine world now, I guess is it the similar, except sell to Constellation?

In separate news, Constellation reported earnings that delighted Wall Street with wine sales up 7% to $737.2 million in the most recent quarter. So the plan seems to be working for all parties.

Michel Rolland rants about the post-Parker world

Michel Rolland, the consultant wine maker based in Pomerol, really likes the 2015 Bordeaux vintage, which is currently being shown off en primeur in Bordeaux. When a journalist asked him if the vintage was an antidote to “Bordeaux bashing” it set him off. Here is his rant (my translation):

“There’s no antidote for stupidity. And it’s reaching monumental proportions. For me, 2015 is a superlative vintage. There are too many assholes to even see it. They realize it 10 years later, as usual. We’re in a world without balls, we live without balls. Full stop. There isn’t a journalist who would notice. Anyway, there isn’t a wine writer with enough weight in the world today. Wine writers are totally indifferent. This has nothing to do with the market. They talk, write and think as they wish [today] and nobody will give a flying fig in 2040! When they know that, they will start to become humble. Not become intelligent, mind you, because that would be difficult, but reasonably different.”

In related news, Robert Parker stopped reviewing Bordeaux futures last year.

State dinner wines for Justin Trudeau

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I had fun the other day when a new channel from Canada called. The reporter asked me which wines I would serve for tomorrow’s state dinner at the White House in honor of PM Justin Trudeau, the first state visit of a Canadian prime minister in 20 years.

Without knowing the menu, I recorded a quick video hit about my selections, playing fictional sommelier for a day. Since the piece may not make it online, here were my selections (BREAKING: the official wines chosen for the dinner have now been released and they follow below): Read more…


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