Spot the spoof

Some wine news these days seems beyond parody because the headlines read as if they were ripped from The Onion. In honor of April Fool’s Day, here’s a smattering of recent wine stories–see if you can spot the wine spoof in our bluff the reader challenge.

A. The Wine Advocate is set to release new “luxury lifestyle” magazine entitled “100 Points by Robert Parker.”

B. James Suckling has a crystal wine glass marketed as “100 points.”

C. A “Miracle Machine” was touted, which would turn water into wine in three days.

D. The French Senate debated a motion to declare wine part of the national heritage.

E. An organic grape farmer in France may be jailed and fined for not using pesticides.

F. Hail has ruined the vintage at Hong Kong’s only vineyard.

G. The SF Chronicle ran a piece about the “eco-friendly” next generation of vintners who love deer hunting and Porsche racing.

H. There really is a line of wines branded as Wine for Dummies.

Eataly wined and fined & the three-tier system

eataly wine2
Eataly Wine will close for six months and its owners, including celebrity chef Mario Batali, will also pay a $500,000 fine per an agreement with New York state authorities yesterday. No date has been set for the start of the closing. The settlement resulted from the State Liquor Authority’s enforcement of a ban on “interlocking interests.” The SLA also claimed that the shop’s owners suppressed that information.

The turn of events is somewhat puzzling. It was no secret that Joe Bastianich sold wines that he made at his winery in the north of Italy. Indeed, the shop’s web site trumpeted the fact that he “returned to his roots in northeast Italy” where he is “creating wines” in Friuli. (That wording has now been removed.)

Crain’s NY reports that the issue came up at the time of the shop’s license renewal in 2012. At first, the owners disputed the charge but later relented. The penalty also includes the removal of Lidia Bastianich from Eataly Wine’s license.

The issue is what the “three-tier system,” which prevent vertical integration in the wine and spirits industry. This means that producers must sell to licensed wholesalers who, in turn, sell to retailers. (While there may be some gray area around this, the only clearly legal bypassing of this is where a producer can sell directly to retailers in the same state.) Thomas Pinney writes in A History of Wine in America, that this system came into effect after Prohibition because of the “deep suspicion” of the liquor trade at the time; further, states were determined not to allow the producers to control retailers, as they had in the old saloon system.

While societal “suspicion” of the industry may have diminished, for better or for worse, the ban on vertical integration remains, as the penalties on Batali & Bastianich reflect (for their retail operation; it will be interesting to see if Illinois authorities take a similar view of the Eataly Chicago wine shop.). However, methinks they will not become a cause célèbre for the reform of the system. Read more…

I’m so cool!

im so cool Colman Andrews, the much-lauded writer who co-founded Saveur and made the world hungry for Catalan cuisine, has compiled a list of “The 60 (Plus) Coolest People in Food and Drink” over on the website he now edits, the Daily Meal. On it, he naturally includes such legends as Thomas Keller, Daniel Boulud, Grant Achatz, Rick Bayless, Jim Clendenon, and also … me!

Um, did I miss something? I can’t believe I made anyone’s cool list, especially his with 59 (plus) amazing people. But it is an honor and shows that he is a man of discerning taste (but we already knew that from the way he spells his first name). Of course, nobody else on the list will mention it or post about it because they are all so cool, natch. But not me! I need to go wake the kids to let them know their dad is officially cool!

Check out the full list.

Batali and Bastianich group threatened with suspension

eataly wine
Can you imagine dining at Del Posto and not having a glass of vino?

That might be the case. The New York SLA (State Liquor Authority) has posted to their website a list of items on their March 25 meeting. On the agenda are several items relating to liquor licenses held by Batali and Bastianich Hospitality Group, for Eataly, Del Posto and other of their restaurants.

The item for Eataly states two charges: (1.) Read more…

Chateau Latour prices 2004 vintage 328% higher

latour label Two years ago, Chateau Latour announced they were no longer going to sell their wine en primeur, instead releasing them “when the wines are ready to drink.” Owned by billionaire Francois Pinault, the first growth decided to not pre-sell the vintage two years before delivery. The en primeur system of pre-selling a vintage has been widely criticized for a variety of reasons ranging from crass commercialism to selling an embryonic wine, one that hasn’t completed secondary fermentation and is literally years away from having a completed final blend.

In strictly economic terms, en primeur is selling the bearskin before catching the bear. Yes, that really is economics, with a bit of hunting: apparently, hunters would sell pre-sell bearskins when they thought the price of bearskins would decline in the future, thus locking in the higher price. Since this is a declining marketing, this is why down markets came to be called bear markets, at least accruing to a recent piece on Marketplace. In the case of wine, pre-selling a wine may be because sellers are bracing for a decline in the future. But it also helps cash flow, again, since they sell the wine two years before delivering the wine (in any format you want!). Either way, Latour clearly thinks prices are going up and they aren’t in need of short-term capital.

So, yesterday, they sold a slice of 2004 from their cellars. The price is about $600, which is about the market price today. But it is a far cry from the 110 euros the wine was sold for en primeur in 2005. In other words, Latour is getting 328% more today than they did in 2005 for the same wine (the S&P 500 was up 62% for the period). Not a bad return for the past ten years . And it certainly covers their storage costs.

Find 2004 Chateau Latour at retail

Crimea, California’s climate, Biodynamics – sipped & spit


Andrew Jefford has a long piece on the wine industry in the Crimea and how current events will impact it. Net: some growers are pleased to be rid of corruption and fees they experienced in Ukraine and welcome being part of the “richer and more diverse” Russian market. [Decanter.com]

“Excessive temperatures in Napa Valley make it a challenge for the wines to belong on a world class level.” Christian Moueix, owner of Dominus and a parter of Chateau Pétrus, comments about drip irrigation and more, summarized on jancisrobinson.com.

“[Rudolf Steiner] had no competence in agriculture – he was an archivist for the Goethe family.” So says the esteemed Frédéric Mugnier in a wide-ranging Q&A over on wine-searcher.com].

PSA: “The things you write on Twitter are public…This is not a bug in Twitter; it is a feature.” [Gawker]

Hungary kicks butts, dropping 3 and 4 Puttonyos Tokaji. [Decanter]

The James Beard Foundation announced the full list of nominees today including Ray Isle! Congratulations to all the nominees! [JBF] Here’s Ray’s story, “The Battle for America’s Oldest Vines,” at F&W.

Miracle Machine: a 500-million view hoax

miracle machine wine
If something sounds too good to be true, it probably is.

Such is the case with the so-called “Miracle Machine,” a $499 countertop appliance that claimed to make water into wine in three days. The story had legs and ran away faster than Usain Bolt since it was picked up by a huge number of media outlets: According to one account, 600 publications wrote about the machine and the articles were read 500 million times. Philip James was the public face of the project; previously, he headed Snooth and then Lot18, where he raised over $40 million from investors before closing various product lines, having staff reductions, and, ultimately, stepping down.

Now, James has admitted the project is a hoax. In a video on winetowater.org, he Read more…

Who will be the Elon Musk of the wine industry?

tesla model s

Elon Musk is an innovator–probably everyone who’s picked up the business pages recently knows that. Not that I’ve ever driven a Tesla, but I am a huge fan of everything he’s doing. While the gigafactory, the hyperloop and the electronic car that goes 0 – 60 in 5.6 seconds may have gotten most of the attention, he’s also taking on a lot of entrenched interests.

First and foremost is how cars get sold in America. States regulate the sale Read more…


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