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…

Which states drink the most wine?

map US wine consumption

Which state is the thirstiest for wine? It’s a question we’ve noodled before as Washington DC is the thirstiest non-state in the nation! The good folks at Business Insider have taken the initiative to produce this handy map showing comparative wine consumption data, which they also list in a table. (Since the data relate to wine sales as opposed to pulling corks, some states with friendly policies to wine sales–such as New Hampshire–or places with a good selection next to lousy places–such as DC and adjacent the Montgomery County, MD–skew the results somewhat.)

Wine is popular across the country today. And it’s a non-partisan imbibing as the appeal of cabernet and Champagne spans party lines. Yet, after the jump, check out how the map of wine consumption correlates with the 2012 electoral returns: Read more…

The trial of Olivier Cousin

olivier cousin horse

This week, Olivier Cousin went before a judge. The heinous crime of the pony-tailed vigneron? Truth in labeling.

Here’s the story (which we’ve mentioned before but it’s worth a recap): Cousin farms 12 acres organically–neigh, biodynamically for Cousin who tills his vineyards with horse-drawn plows. In those vineyards in the town of Anjou, he has a lot of cabernet franc, known locally as Breton. So he labeled his 100% cabernet franc wine grown in Anjou as “Anjou Pur Breton.” So far so good, right?

The only catch is that the appellation retains the right to the term Anjou on wine labels and wines bearing the term must meet their criteria, including a blind tasting by committee. And Cousin quit the AOC in 2005 telling journo-blogger Jim Budd, “I stopped because the AOC is for industrial wines as the rules permit everything: weedkillers, huge yields, additives etc.” So the appellation authorities have dropped the legal hammer (gavel?) on Cousin and brought him to court. Read more…

Parker’s putdowns

robert parker yao 2
Robert Parker (not Tony) standing with Yao Ming (Image removed–see update below)

Robert Parker’s “World Tour” of Asia continues. And while it may be hedonistic fruit bombs poured from the importer “partners” by day, Parker drops the chat room bombs late at night. Evidence #1, comments about the wines Eric Asimov (NYT) and Jon Bonne (SF Chronicle) presented at a panel entitled “Unexpected Napa Valley Wines”: Read more…

Vingarde Valise [infomercials]

Here’s a funny informercial for what may or may not be a good product: the Vingarde Valise, quote, luggage for wine geeks.

The campy video is kind of funny–who doesn’t like to see a case of wine kicked down a flight of stairs and live to tell the tale? Maybe he should take this to Shark Tank? I’m sure Lori, the “Queen of QVC,” would love it. (But the sharks always ask about sales, so he’d be advised to actually sell a few units first.)

Related: bringing wine home from abroad

AOC committee rejects a top Muscadet

ecu granite muscadet

Domaine de l’Ecu, a conscientious estate in Muscadet that makes some of the region’s best wines, has had one of their wines rejected by an approval committee.

To have the right to bear the appellation, a French wine must meet all the rules, which pertain to things like which vines can be planted in a delimited zone, maximum yields and so on. The final aspect of approval is a blind tasting by a committee, allegedly to assure “typicité” or that the wine tastes typical of the region. Usually this is a rubber stamp. But tasting committees, particularly in the Loire Valley where Muscadet lies on the western edge, have been showing a tendency to reject some wines. Paradoxically, those are often singular wines that strive for excellence. In so doing, the AOC system becomes more of an obstruction to quality than an institution to undergird it as it reinforces middling or bland wines.

The estate was founded by Guy Bossard. But it was Frédéric Niger Van Herck, a partner and the winemaker at Domaine de l’Ecu, posted the news that their “Expression de Granite” 2012, one of three bottlings that express the different soil types, has been denied the approval of the tasting committee. Here what he said on FB:

News of the day: Granite 2012 has just been rejected by the AOC tasting committee–and unanimously, no less… Promised for next year, full-on chemistry, mechanical harvesting, commercial yeasts, full use of enzymes, and sulphur galore… It should pass that way. icon smile

The worst thing is that everything is sold out and have nothing left… When will these official tastings end that turn the beautiful into standardized products? [my translation]

Long live the French wine!

He elaborated that the panel of five tasters judged his wine to be oxidized, adding “what a bunch of…”

Clearly the AOC has a problem: by rejecting wines from quality producers, they risk becoming a laughingstock by enshrining mediocrity. Read more…

Robert Parker, live

robert parker wine

“When I retire, I don’t want to see the wine writing profession wither away.”

That was one of the many provocative things that Robert Parker said before–get this–a room of wine writers (which prompted some chortles on twitter about new career paths). Granted, wine writing and journalism more generally have changed since Parker was at his peak. But the après-Parker era will not be one of silence; indeed, diversity of opinion is now the norm.

At any rate, Richard Jennings attended the talk and he posted key passages from Parker’s talk as well as the above picture. Here are some of the winning quotes: Read more…

Dry wine: How does the California drought affect the wine industry?

jason haas The rain in California falls mostly in the winter. I think that’s how it went in Pygmalion. At any rate, the rain has decidedly NOT been falling this off-season for the vines. While that doesn’t necessarily spell doom for California’s wine industry–some older vines have deep roots–it does mean less water to go around and and a descent into the politics of water scarcity. New vines and a lot of older vines in the Golden State rely on drip irrigation–it will be interesting if “dry farming,” which some claim produces wines that are more expressive of their terroirs then irrigated vines, catches on this season out of necessity. Also affected are increasingly popular “cover crops,” the nitrogen-rich plants that some vineyard managers sow between the vines to plow under and provide natural fertilization for the soil.

Jason Haas (right), of Tablas Creek in Paso Robles, one of the hardest hit areas in the state, told Bloomberg News that competition from overseas will limit how much California producers can pass drought costs on to consumers. Aquifers and wells may cover some of the shortfall, but, again, welcome to water politics, perhaps a dominant theme for this century in much of the country.

California produces 89% of American wine. The San Joaquin Valley alone cranks out 60%. The Central Valley also produces many of the country’s fruit, nuts and vegetables–America’s salad bowl, if you will, rather than its breadbasket. Mather Jones has a terrific infographic on how the California drought could affect you no matter where you live. (Btw, since it takes about 600 to 800 grapes to make a bottle of wine, they therefore claim it takes 180 – 240 gallons of water to make a bottle of wine. Vintners, winemakers: does that strike you as an exaggeration?)

On a somewhat optimistic note, rain is on the way. Randall Grahm, who makes his Bonny Doon wines on and around California’s central coast, tweeted today: “The fact that rain (and lots of it) is forecast for later this week is the best thing I’ve read in forever. #betterthan95ptsfromparker” Read more…


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