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…

Trump winery: it’s yuuuge!

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Last night after winning the Michigan primary, Donald Trump gave a press conference more worthy of QVC than C-SPAN: he had on display a variety of his Trump-branded products, including Trump steaks (free ginsu knife set?) to Trump Water and Trump Wine.

At one point, Trump, an avowed teetotaler, launched into a discussion about Trump Wine saying that it was the biggest winery in the East coast! And one of the biggest in America! Somehow, he stopped short of exclaiming that it’s yuuuuge, but, as we all know, when it comes to bank accounts, hands, and polls, size matters with this fellow.

Let’s fact check this! Trump bought Kluge Estate Winery and 776 acres of adjoining land near Charlottesville in 2011. At the time, twitterati derieded this wondering if he would rename the wine “comb-over cuvée.” He then commented on the acquisition: “I’m really interested in good real estate, not so much in wine. This place had a $28 million mortgage on it, and I bought it for $6.2 million. It’s a Trump deal!”

On the winery web site, they state that the estate today has 1,300 acres with 200 acres of vines planted to vinifera. The winery is 50,000 sf with 100,000 gallon tank capacity. the site size nothing about relative size but modestly states that they are proud to be among the 260 wineries in Virginia today. And hidden under the “Legal” tab, there’s this nugget: “Trump Winery is a registered trade name of Eric Trump Wine Manufacturing LLC, which is not owned, managed or affiliated with Donald J. Trump, The Trump Organization or any of their affiliates.” Oops.

To say that it’s the largest winery on the East Coast is a bit like being the tallest in Lilliput: California makes 89% of American wine and some vineyards there, such as Fred Franzias, have tens of thousands of acres of vines planted.

And from a tourism perspective who would ever want to vineyard because it is the biggest? If that were the case, Modesto would be the epicenter of wine tourism, rather than places like Napa. Try googling “biggest vineyard in Finger Lakes” and you’ll see how wine people don’t care as much about size since the results are for the best wineries to visit. But for a real estate developer who doesn’t drink wine, I guess you can see how quantity is more important than quality.

What do your stats tell you–does this claim hold up? Have you tried the wine? I see they have a “fortified chardonnay…”

Value vino: Les Hexagonales, pinot noir, 2012

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This is a bright, cheery pinot noir with lots of varietal character. You won’t mistake it for a Pommard, but that misses the point: This is a lovely value wine that is better than 99% of domestic pinot noirs under $15. Pinot under $15 (nay, $20!) is a tough category but this one comports itself well with a harmonious balance of fruit and acidity. If only varietal “pinot noir” wines offered by the glass at various clubs and airport lounges could be half as good as this. Find this wine at retail

It hails from the Loire, which is somewhat amusing. Not amusing that a good pinot hails from the Loire, since if you haven’t tried a good red Sancerre, then you are missing out. No, amusing because the back label bills it as a wine of place, which I’m sure it is, but it just doesn’t say which place that is exactly. We do learn a bit more on the importer’s site, such as that it is made by the Mérieau family on their 85-acre estate in the Touraine.

Sparkling water, acidity, wine and teeth

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There was a scaaaary story circulating the internets recently: Sparkling water is not good for your teeth! Some variants of the story even compared it to soda! Eeegad–just when you thought you were doing the right thing by completely depriving yourself of any flavor…

Well, as with most scaaaaary headlines, there are some caveats. And these also will allay any fears about wine.

Sparkling water is a lower pH than regular water, which, as we all remember from chemistry class, should be 7.0 or neutral. Sparkling water is about 5.5. Why? Well, the bubbles come with carbonic acid, which reduces the pH (below 7.0 is more acidic). Is that catastrophically bad? No. But the author of the much-circulated piece admitted to drinking 144 ounces of seltzer water in a day, so, yeah, that perma-bath of acidity all day long could be a little destructive if repeated daily. (Btw, reverse osmosis water reduces the pH in its filtering process so if you carbonate RO water via a system such as Soda Stream, it will have an even lower pH than non-RO water.) Sodas can have a pH of 2.5 and have been shown to be many times more corrosive than sparkling water.

So what about wine? Well, even though wine has a lower pH than neutral water, it is not a beverage that most people drink 144 ounces of. If someone had a particularly good night at a dinner, a half a bottle is only 12 ounces of wine. Combine that with food for a “buffering effect,” and, yeah, not a big deal in the dental department.

But what can be harder is tasting a lot of low pH wines such as Riesling or Champagnes. These high-acid wines can have a pH of 2.8-3.3 range. Tastings of these wines can be harder on the teeth and gums than tastings with tannic red wines, which have their own side effects of teeth discoloration (A smile and “hi honey, I’m home” after one of these tastings is usually met with “red wine this time?”). One dentist suggested to me that brushing after a tasting would be better than before a tasting, which would remove build up that could protect the teeth.

Anyway, wine tasters can get some relief in the fact that Sensodyne toothpaste and a Philips Sonicare toothbrush is probably all you need at the end of the day to combat even the toughest Riesling tasting regimen. Regular dental checkups are also advised. 🙂

Quinta do Noval turns 300 – A tasting with Christian Seely

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Who cares about port? I scale waist-high snow mounds and leap slush puddles to attend a tasting of Noval ports yesterday. It was well worth it. Christian Seely (left) with Michael Quinttus of Vintus, who imports the wines.

Christian Seely, the erudite and affable managing director of Quinta do Noval since 1993 (and head of AXA Millesimes), flew into New York to lead a tasting at the new tasting spot, Journée. Available for the assembled scribes were three incredible groups of wines: Colheitas, vintage, and the Nacional, a vintage bottling from a select parcel of old, ungrafted vines that almost always makes the most coveted wines from Noval and from the region. The Quinta Read more…

Oil prices as champagne

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Modified chart via Ian Bremmer


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