North to Alaska: On the [Wine] Road for the World Affairs Council

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North to Alaska? No Ice Wine jokes, please!

I’m on the road this week, going north to Alaska to do programs for the World Affairs Council. I will be in Juneau  to talk about the global Wine Wars on February 11, 2015 at 5:00 pm at the KTOO studios. The talk is free and open to the public. I’d love to see all my Juneau friends there. I gave a talk about Globaloney there a few years ago and had a great time. 

Then it is north once more to Anchorage for a program for the Alaska World Affairs Council  It is a wine dinner event on February 12 with great food, interesting wines and some Extreme Wine stories to go with them.

The wine dinner is a fund-raiser for the World Affairs Council with tickets priced at $100 for AWAC members, $125 for non-members and $150 to sit at the VIP table with me.  I did a similar dinner in Seattle last year and it sold out and raised a lot of money for the World Affairs Council, so I have high hopes for Anchorage. I will also visit a high school in Anchorage to talk with the students about globalization and answer questions about global markets, globaloney, global wine and (wearing my professor hat) college studies.

I am a big fan of the work of local World Affairs Councils and have done several programs in the past for the groups in Seattle, Portland, Tacoma and Juneau. World Affairs Councils make that critical global-local connection, bringing global issues home and fostering international understanding. I’m proud to support their work in Alaska and across the country.

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Hope you enjoy the trailer from the 1960 film “North to Alaska.” I think my visit will be exciting, but in a different way from the film. Looking for that video I stumbled upon this. What do you think?

Cape Wine Auction Update: Groot Expectations for South Africa

capewineMy forthcoming book Money, Taste and Wine examines the tensions and trade-offs between and among the three things that make up the title — money, taste and wine — but the final chapter is a little different. It proposes that under the right circumstances money, taste and wine can come together to promote social change. The chapter is called “Groot Expectations” and it is set in South Africa.

Changing Times in South Africa – Wine Leads the Way

Once upon a time a concerned wine drinker might have avoided South African wine for ethical reasons — because of that country’s apartheid policies, which put a taint on all its many products. Now, the chapter argues, it is just the opposite — at least in the case of wine — because so many Cape Wineland producers are leveraging wine to promote equality and social progress.

The second annual AfrAsia Bank Cape Wine Auction, which takes place on February 13 and 14, 2015 is a great “Groot Expectations” project. The auction has identified a worthy set of local non-profits to support including the Pebbles Project. The inaugural 2014 auction raised about seven million Rand (about $600,000) for charity and the 2015 event aims to exceed that amount by a good deal. The auction packages are fantastic — click here to view the catalogue of wines and experiences that are available. Definitely the sort of project that wine lovers should support.

Paddles Up! On-line  Bidding is Open

The last time I looked tickets for the live auctions were nearly sold out. The good news is that on-line bidding is available and, with the Rand at a favorable exchange rate for those of you holding U.S. dollars, it is possible to do good and do well at the same time.

The auction packages are simply amazing — the donors have been exceptionally generous and creative. Some of the lots include entire barrels of wine bottled in the winner’s choice of format, which reminds me of the historic Hospices de Beaune auction. Here are a few examples of the packages to whet your appetite and maybe provoke you to make a bid. I have groot expectations about this!

 The Warwick Estate ‘Trilogy’ Lot

  • A one-of-a-kind vertical collection of three five litre Jereboams of Warwick Trilogy including the 2009, 2010 and 2011 vintages.
  • Presented in a custom wooden presentation box, signed and personalised for the winning bidder.
  • An incredible summer party for 100 friends at Warwick Wine Estate.
  • All food supplied with catering by Warwick’s Chef.
  • All wines for the event chosen and supplied by The Ratcliffe family.

Wait. Does that say “party for 100 friends?” Yes it does! Hmmm. And the Delaire Graff Estate lot is pure luxury.

The Delaire Graff Estate Lot

  • A helicopter flight from Cape Town to the beautiful Banhoek Valley in Stellenbosch.
  • A two-night stay for two people in Delaire Graff’s Luxury Lodges.
  • A private art tour hosted by Lionel Smit.
  • A specially commissioned set of Lionel Smit prints.
  • A dining experience at Indochine.
  • A vertical wine tasting.
  • A gift set of Delaire Graff Botmaskop Magnums.
  • A seasonal spa escape per guest.

I like “The Godfather” lot because it honors Dr. Cluver. He’s one of my heroes for all the contributions he has made to South Africa and the world.

‘The Godfather’ Lot by Paul Cluver

  • A combination of gorgeous experiences and wine from the parents of two of Paul’s god children.
  • An exceptional collection of 60 bottles of Paul Cluver Pinot Noir blended by Andries Burger.
  • An amazing week-long stay at an 18th century Chateau in the Loire for eight people.

There is an international celebrity element in this one: Sir Richard Branson.

Sir Richard Branson’s Mont Rochelle Lot

  • Three nights at Sir Richard Branson’s new vineyard Mont Rochelle.
  • A three-course dinner for two at Miko.
  • A private wine tasting and cellar tour.
  • A gourmet tasting in the Country Kitchen.
  • A 60-minute Cape Malay Spice Journey Spa treatment for two.
  • Three nights at Ulusaba. All meals and drinks included. A private dinner.
  • A 90 minute La Stone full body massage for two.
  • Flights and transfers included.

And for those of you who love big, really big bottles …

The Swartland Revolution Lot – The Balthazar Collection.

  • An incredible collection from the Swartland Revolution pioneers.
  • A never before bottled 12 liter Balthazar from each of Porseleinberg, Sadie Family Wines, AA Badenhorst and Mullineux and Leeu Family wines.
  • Never to be repeated, it is hard to imagine more of a collectors item.

This is only a sampling of what’s on offer — check out the online catalog for the complete menu.

Be sure to call me when you are ready to pop the cork on your Balthazar! The Cape Wine Auction lets you do well and do good. You know what to do!

A Bottle of White? 30th Anniversary of Kevin Zraly’s Wine Course

Kevin Zraly, Windows on the World Complete Wine Course 30th Anniversary Edition. Sterling Epicure, 2014

Pearls (traditional) or diamonds (modern practice) are the symbols associated with a 30th anniversary according to Hallmark and it would be easy to make a case for either as a suitable metaphor when it comes to the 30th anniversary of Kevin Zraly’s  wine guide.

The U.S. wine revolution is only about 50 years old. People like Kevin Zraly and books like this one took a budding wine culture and helped nurse it into full bloom.  The publication of this 30th anniversary edition of Zraly’s book is cause for celebration and, like a wedding anniversary,both  looking back and pondering the future.

The Commanding Heights

So it is both appropriate and  interesting that Zraly writes here about his personal journey through wine and about the famous Windows on the World restaurant (and wine school).  The restaurant and school were perched high atop the World Trade Center in New York City and from those commanding heights Zraly directed an ambitious wine education initiatuve until that fateful day — September 11, 2001 — when the building (but not the program) came crashing down.

Sue and I had the pleasure to dine at Windows on the World just once — in the company of her parents, Mike and Gert. I can remember everything about the view (the Statue of Liberty seemed like a toy down in harbor below us) and the company, but alas nothing in particular about the food. I’m pretty sure that the wine we drank was a relatively modest cru Beaujolais — a choice that Zraly (who probably put the wine on the list) would approve according to his restaurant wine advice here.

A Bottle of White? A Bottle of Red? 

Zraly has been an enormously successful wine educator. His approach as outlined in the book works so well because  he basically asks the student/reader to engage with wine as one would in a restaurant — doesn’t that make sense? Where many wine guides jump into geography, geology, variety and so forth in encyclopedic detail, Zraly more or less begins with the question, “A bottle of white? A bottle of red?” as you would in a restaurant.

So this is wine list 101 — simple, clear and useful — that empowers the reader through its easy approach but also provides enough depth and detail to draw her in. White wines come first as they often  do on the wine menu, with chapters on France, the U.S. and Germany. Then red wines: Burgundy and the Rhone, Bordeaux and California. Spain and Italy share a chapter as do Champagne, Sherry and Port. If Zraly was based in San Francisco instead of New York the Old World – New World order might be different, but I’m sure the basic approach would stay the same.

Finally we have the rest of Zraly’s world with a chapter than roams Austria, Hungary, Greece, Australia, New Zealand, South Africa, Chile, and Argentina. Obviously breadth takes precedence over depth here and in the book generally, but its a big wine world and Zraly has fewer than 400 pages to work with. This will frustrate the seasoned enthusiast looking for esoteric information, but if it does then maybe this book isn’t for you. And in any case, I found something to learn in each chapter when I drilled down. A final chapter looks at food and wine pairings and provides lists of best wines and best values under $30.

I applaud Zraly’s decision to look beyond the usual suspects in the U.S. wine industry, although I wish he’d go into more detail, especially about Washington and Oregon where I spend a good deal of my time. His discussion of California is detailed, as befits the largest producing state, followed by basic information about Washington, Oregon, New York, Virginia, Texas, Pennsylvania, Ohio, Michigan, Missouri, North Carolina and Illinois (sorry Idaho — maybe next time). Zraly played an indirect role in the spread of wine producton from coast to coast — good to honor that contribution here.

Sometimes More (Zraly) is More

Criticisms? There is a lot of interesting data here, but I couldn’t find  many sources, which was frustrating since some of the statistics are (inevitably) out of date . Ernie Loosen will be surprised to learn that he has “recently” entered into a partnership with Chateau Ste Michelle to make Eroica Riesling wine in Washingtong State, for example. The relationship goes back to 1999.

And as with the last edition I am disappointed with the “digital” elements. QR codes send you to web pages with very brief videos of Zraly in action, pronunciation guides and to an on-line store where you can purchase wines.

Zraly’s videos show why he has been such an influential teacher, but at about 2 minutes each they are too short to add very much. One video was mainly devoted to showing a chart that was printed on the page where the QR code was found, which seemed redundant to me. I think the videos are a good idea, but if Zraly is going to do them there needs to be more time and effort invested. My suggestion: instead of overviews why not pick a topic in the book and drill down in the video, taking full advantage of the opportunity of live action? Use the videos to add to the book in ways that text and tables cannot.

But these are small matters in the bigger context and not things that you want to dwell on when making a 30th anniversary toast (Champagne is best for this, we are advised, and I won’t argue even though I’m on a Prosecco kick these days). So cheers to Zraly and the book he has used to help guide us all these years. I hope both man and book enjoy many more years (and editions) and that the wine culture they have helped create will continue to bloom extravagantly.

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A bottle of white? A bottle of red? Sorry, I couldn’t resist a Billy Joel video. Cheers!

Vino 2105: Perspectives on the Italian Wine Renaissance in the U.S. Market

vino2015

Wine Economist readers who fall into the “trade and media” category should set their map-app coordinates for the Waldorf Astoria Hotel in New York City during the first week in February because that’s where Vino 2015 will happen. This celebration of the wines of Italy is being billed as the “grandest Italian wine event ever held outside of Italy!” Do I have your attention now?

Vino Italiano Renaissance

Italy is the number one source of imported wines in the U.S. market and sales are on the rise. I would call it an Italian Wine Renaissance except that many would counter that Italian wines have no need to be reborn in the U.S. — they have long been popular here. Still there is something to the Renaissance metaphor, starting with Prosecco, which I wrote about in 2014, and continuing up and down the boot-shaped peninsula.

Prosecco’s popularity has invigorated the whole sparkling wine category in the U.S. and is part of a growing interest in Italy beyond the usual suspects. There is much more to Italian wine than the famous names and best-selling styles and varieties, as important as they are, and Vino 2015 is coming to New York to tell that story.

I’ll be there to speak at about Italian wines in a rapidly changing U.S. market. Here’s the description of my session. Click on this link to see the entire agenda.

Trends in the World’s Largest Wine Market : US’s Growing Global Relevance

In 2013, the United States  became the world largest wine market, in terms of absolute consumption. Despite economic headwinds, the market grew again in 2014, and is expected to add to these gains in 2015. What segments of the U.S. market are doing especially well—even outperforming? What opportunities lie ahead for Italian wines in the U.S.? This is the ideal discussion with which to kick off Vino 2015.

Moderator:

  • Anthony Dias Blue, Editor-in-Chief, The Tasting Panel & The Sommelier Journal

Panelists:

  • Jon Fredrikson – Gomberg Fredrikson and Associates

  • Cristina Mariani-May –  Co-CEO, Banfi Vintners

  • Angelina Mondavi – Partner & Winemaker, Dark Matter Wines

  • Mike Veseth – Wine Economist and University of Puget Sound

Piazza Conversations

I was asked to write the Foreword to the printed program, which gave me an excuse to think about how the many parts of the event come together and what the trade and media attendees might take away from it all. There’s a lot to consider!

Start with the Grand Tasting “Italian Wine Exchange,” featuring over 200 Italian wineries. This, as the name suggests, is a traditional arena for tasting the wine, making contacts, doing deals, renewing relationships, seeing and being seen.

Trade tastings like this always remind me of when we lived in Bologna and would hang out at the Piazza Maggiore just a few steps from our apartment. Everyone came to the Piazza, or so it seemed, and you never knew what new opportunity would present itself through a mixture of purposeful design and simple fortune.

An ambitious series of seminars explores several broad themes. Wine business and economics comes first — the characteristics and dynamics of the U.S. market for Italian wine with its shifting demographics, and the state of the wine industry in Italy. The second theme examines the Italian South — Puglia, Sicily, Calabria and Campania. Italy is too big and diverse in terms of wine to focus on everything, so shining a spotlight on the South — as big and diverse as it is by itself — is a great strategy.

Other seminars take a compare and contrast approach to Italian sparkling wines and to rosés from different regions.  A final set of programs looks beyond wine to food (of course!), music and culture,  global climate change, Italian craft beers and more. As I explain in my Foreword, I think the formal program parts tie together very well. Lots to share, learn and discuss.

And of course that’s what is going to happen in the hallways, lunches, bars, cafes and so forth when everyone gathers to socialize, do a little business and talk about Italian wine. Just like the Piazza Maggiore!

Creative Tension

Years ago I wrote an essay about the economy of Renaissance Italy that was titled “The Creative Economy” and one element of creativity is tension. I will be interested to see how the many tensions in the wine market are addressed at Vino 2015. What kinds of tension? Some of the typical ones, I suppose. Old and new. Modern and traditional. Local and global. North and South (because this is Italy and regional identities are always important).

Add to the list particular tensions in the dynamic U.S. market. The strategies that have been successful for Italian wines in the past may not be the best plans for the future as new demographic groups become the focus of attention and as new parts of the country are targeted for growth. Add new competitors to the mix — new wine regions, new craft beers, spirits and cider rivals — and the situation becomes more complicated.

This tension between stability and change that was at the heart of the Creative Economy 500 years ago is central to the wine market today. I’m interested to see what my creative  Italian friends will do with it! Italian wine Renaissance? You be the judge. Ciao, everyone. See you in New York.

Wine Economist Short-Listed for Gourmand Blog Award

Just a quick note to tell you that The Wine Economist has been short-listed for a global blog award. The Gourmand International “Best in the World” awards will be announced on June 8 in Yantai, China.

I’ll copy the short list of blogs, magazines and “books of the year” (one finalist per country) in the “wine and drinks.” category. The Wine Economist is in good company, don’t you think? It’s an honor just to be nominated for this award and a double honor to make the list of finalists!

Thanks to Gourmand International for this recognition (and thanks to whoever nominated The Wine Economist for this award!).

Best Wine and Drinks Blog:

  • France- Cite des Civilisations du Vin
  • Singapore – The Wine Review, Ch’ng Poh Tiong
  • USA- The Wine Economist, Mike Veseth

Best Wine and Drinks Magazine:

  • Brazil- Vinho magazine
  • China- China Wine News
  • Iceland- Vinbladid
  • South Africa- Wine Mag
  • USA- Quarterly Review of Wine

Best Wine and Drinks Book of the Year

  • Australia- Barossa Shiraz, Thomas Girgensohn, ( Wakefield Press )
  • Brazil- Cachaca e Gastronomia 2014, Felipe Januzzi, Gabriela Bareto ( Mapa da Cachaca, Ministerio de Cultura- Destemperados )
  • France – Bordeaux et ses Vins 1814 – 2014 ( Feret)
  • Italy- Accidenti, malatti e parassite della vite ( Edizioni SUV )
  • Mexico – Bebiendo nuestra tierra, el vino mexicano, Pablo M.Aldrete,Maria Palau, Memo Garcia (MG )
  • Sweden- Whiskyns Landscap, Claes Grunsten ( Max Strom )
  • Switzerland- Vins Swiss Wines ( Vinea )
  • USA- The best white wine in the world, the Riesling, Stuart Piggott ( Stewart ,Tabori, Chang )

How Will the Rising Dollar Affect the U.S. Wine Market?

fxHow will the rising dollar affect the U.S. wine market? The answer, predictably, is that it’s complicated. Read on for analysis organized around three questions. Why has the dollar appreciated? What are the textbook effects of a rising dollar? How and why is the impact on U.S. wine likely to be different?

Why has the dollar appreciated?

The U.S. dollar has appreciated dramatically on foreign exchange markets, powered by several factors. Expectations of higher interest rates in the U.S. is a big part of the story as the reality of the end of the Federal Reserve’s asset purchase program sinks in. Add to this the fact that the Europoean Central Bank is finally close to beginning its own quantitative easing program, which will keep rates down on that side of the pond. This combination is a recipe for the sort of change you see in the graph above.

The relative strength of the U.S. economy, weakness of the E.U.with its potential “triple dip” recession and uncertainty regarding China and oil prices all contribute to the economic environment that has helped fuel the dollar’s recent rise. Where is money going to go in a risky world? Can you say USA? A lot of us have been impatiently waiting for the dollar to move higher for a couple of years. Now that it has happened, what should we expect?

What are the textbook effects of a rising dollar?

The classic textbook effect of a rising currency is that imports increase because they are relatively cheaper and exports decline because they are costlier to those holding foreign currencies. Imports up, exports down. That’s where the Econ 101 story often stops, but the situation is a little more complicated.

Prices adjust faster than quantities in most cases. Price effects (rising export costs, falling import prices) tend to happen quickly, but quantities take longer to change because of inventory lags, recognition lags, and contract lags. Basically, it takes time before the new exchange rate translates into real actions because existing inventories must be depleted before new orders are made, because it takes some time before economic actors feel certain that the change is sustained and not just a market blip, and because existing contracts often preclude immediate adjustments.

These lags create what economists call the “J curve” effect, with opposite short-term and long-term payments impacts. The Econ 101 results take longer to show up in significant amounts than you might think and even then will only appear if other intervening economic factors don’t offset them. So predicting the short term impact of an exchange rate change isn’t as simple as you might think even if you earned an “A” in Econ 101.

But price is a powerful force, and the fact that a rising dollar makes our exports more expensive to foreign purchasers (and imports cheaper for U.S. buyers) should not be ignored even if immediate run impacts are not obvious. Don’t expect everything to change at once.

One more complication is that although we like to talk about the dollar rising or falling, the overall trend conceals the fact that the dollar might be higher relative to one currency and still falling compared to another. During one recent period when the dollar was quite weak by some standards, for example, it still rose compared to some other currencies that were even weaker.

How and why is the impact on the U.S. wine markets likely to be different?

Given all this, it is instructive to read a 2012 report by Kym Anderson and Glyn Wittwer titled “Studying the impact of exchange rate movements on the world’s wine markets, 2007-2011” (a University of Adelaide Wine Economics Research Centre working paper — the link takes you to a pdf of the paper). The Anderson-Wittwer study examined the impact of exchange rates on wine trade during a period when the dollar was falling instead of rising and finds that the impact of exchange rates was different in different import markets and in different wine market segments. (I told you it was complicated!)

In the U.K. market, for example, the exchange rate impacts were pretty much what theory suggested both in terms of import effects and distribution among different wine exporting countries. A good textbook case.

But the U.S. was a different story, as you might expect given that we have a substantial domestic wine production base and that we both export and import wine with the two trade flows connected to a certain degree by the “wine drawback program”  (Click here to read a 2012 UC/Davis report on the drawback program.)

The wine drawback program allows a refund of 99% of import duties and excise taxes on wine for which the importer has matching exports of commercially “interchangeable” wine. Because per-unit import duty and excise tax rates are substantial compared to the price of bulk wine, use of the program is high for bulk wine imports, which compete with wine from low-price Central Valley grapes. Bulk wine exports dominated imports until 2009 and the program stimulated import growth. Now, with imports and exports roughly in balance, the program stimulates both exports and imports—leaving net trade in bulk wine roughly in balance.

– Summary of the U.C. Davis Report

The Anderson-Wittwer study found that the falling dollar had different effects on U.S. consumption of  Old World and New World wine imports during 2007-2011. Old World imports increased despite the dollar’s fall and New World imports fell.  Obviously the price effects were more strongly felt for New World wines than for Old World products (see Table 6 of the report) and although Australia accounted for much of the import decline and may be a special case in some ways, Argentina, Chile and South Africa were also negatively affected.

The study found differences by price category, too. Non-premium and commercial premium New World wines were the most affected by the exchange rate changes while super-premium wines showed less impact. This makes sense because the lower priced products are often part of the bulk wine trade, which has become highly efficient, facilitating ease of substitution from one country’s products to another. A small change in cost can have a big impact on the size and direction of trade. Textbook effects rule here.

More expensive products benefit from greater product differentiation. The power of an established brand acts as a shock absorber when costs increase, although there are obvious limits to this.

It’s Complicated

So if Old World imports increased and New World imports fell during the period when the dollar was slumping, can we expect just the reverse now that the dollar is soaring? It would be great if we could just take the Anderson-Wittwer numbers and change the signs from plus to minus and so forth, but life is more complicated than that. Anyone who has tried to sell wine can tell you that it is easier to lower a price than to increase it! It’s a kind of hysteresis in the sense that where you can go now depends on where you have been. You can’t just back out to where you started.

That said I think there are important insights to take away here, key among them is the idea that the impacts are likely to be different for bulk wine and packaged good trade and for Old and New World products.

Textbooks and research give us good guides to understanding the impacts, but there aren’t any simple answers. And the exchange rate isn’t the only thing that’s changing this time around. I know a number of New World producers who made big bets on the Russian market, for example. Seemed like a good idea at the time, but my how things have changed! They’ll be desperately  looking for markets for the wine they can’t sell to Moscow. And imports from Argentina may be more affected by that country’s domestic policies (and the upcoming elections) than exchange rates.

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It occurs to me that this column is a classic example of what Paul Krugman once called “up and down economics.” This goes up, that goes down, and so on. Made me think of the Winslow Homer painting “Right and Left” that you can see in the National Gallery in Washington D.C.

Not That Easy Being Green (Wine): Review of Two Books

Britt & Per Karlsson, Biodynamic, Organic and Natural Winemaking: Sustainable Viticulture and Viniculture. Floris Books, 2014.

John Kiger, A Vineyard Odyssey: The Organic Fight to Save Wine from the Ravages of Nature. Rowman & Littlefield, 2013.

It’s really not that easy being green if you are a winegrower or wine maker. For a long time green wines (organic, biodynamic, sustainable and so forth) were not a very dynamic category here in the U.S. You could find them, but they were tucked away in what I call the “green ghetto” neighborhood at the supermarket, close by de-alcoholized wines, half-bottles, and other sometimes slow-selling SKUs.

Some research actually suggested that consumers were not only unwilling to pay more for organic wines, as they often do with other organic products. They actually valued them less than other wines. So many people who made organic or biodynamic wines didn’t go out of their way to advertise the fact. Much different from Europe, where “bio” wines are a strong category.

This is changing and I expect to see green wine sales grow, albeit from its current small base. The dynamic is driven by both supply and demand. On the supply side, more and more wine grape growers and producers simply want to be green — they see it as the best way to do business, especially in the long run — and want to advertise that fact and develop the market category.

Jean-Guillaume Prats, chief of the wine group at LVMH, goes further. He told the Wine Vision 2014 audience that in considering vineyard investments, if you can’t grow the grapes organically, maybe you shouldn’t grow them at all! He’s obviously focused on the luxury wine segment, but the message resonates in other parts of the market.

On the demand side I see green wines as part of a bigger movement. A friend pointed out to me that consumers who shop at Whole Foods, Trader Joe’s and other upscale supermarkets simply expect that the products they find there will be organic — and are turned off if they are not. They look for organic certification everywhere else in the store. Why should wine be any different?

So things are changing, although it may take a while for the build-up of small ripples and waves to come crashing to shore. I think this is a good time to rethink green wines and the two books reviewed in this column are excellent places to begin.

Green Wine Primer

Britt and Per Karlsson write about wine from their base in Sweden and this book, which first appeared in Swedish in 2012, is a welcome green wine primer. Its scope is broad, including organic, biodynamic, sustainable and natural viticulture and winemaking.  The Karlssons provide good depth and detail, covering the science, economics and regulatory politics of green wine today. Theory and practice, just what you need.

I was especially interested in the curious politics of EU organic wine regulations. Because of the desire to have one set of rules for everyone from Greece to Latvia, the compromise results can seem illogical. The limits on copper use, for example, seem driven by the need to accommodate Burgundy in a particularly bad year and so are out of balance for other parts of the EU. A regional approach would seem to make better sense here as in many other instances, but I think some of the Eurocrats are suspicious of regionalism, so illogical compromise rules.

Although there is more detail about European practices and regulations than New World activities, I found plenty to work with and the contrast of regimes helped me understand them all much better.

The book is clearly written and organized and lavishly illustrated with color photos that are both beautiful and informative. I learned something new in every chapter, but I was especially interested in the biodynamics section. The combination of thorough research and personal interviews with growers and winemakers made this material come alive for me.

Sometimes the smallest points are the most satisfying, so I was pleased to learn the origin of the numbers that are used to identify the biodynamic preparations. These preparations often raise eyebrows because they seem to represent the “voodoo” side of biodynamics — manure stuffed in cow horns, buried in the vineyard and then made into a tea to spray on the vines, for example. Why are they identified with numbers not names? Numerology?

No, it’s more about politics. The numbers (cow horn manure is Preparation 500) may have come about when the Nazis in Germany banned biodynamic agriculture, the Karlssons report. Proponents learned to speak in a numbers code to avoid detection.  Who would have guessed?

The Karlssons present all this information objectively and openly question some of the most extreme claims of green wine proponents, but I don’t think you write a book like this unless you think there is something in the concept itself. In this regard I think they reflect both the times, which as I noted before now seems to favor organic products, and their location (Scandinavia is a good market for green wines).

This is a fine book and worth your attention.

Green Isn’t Easy at All

It really isn’t easy being green — not easy at all — and as much as the Karlssons give a strong sense of this in their survey, there is really nothing like a report from the front lines of the battle. John Kiger and his wife Deb own and operate Kiger Family Vineyard in Sonoma Valley, which is not a region where nature cuts the green winegrower any slack. Just the opposite in fact. At times it seems like being natural is a battle against nature itself.

Kiger’s book makes a nice pairing with the Karlssons’ because it is at once so similar in topic and yet so different in approach. Kiger’s book is clearly personal, for example. The author presents a first person account of the triumphs, failures and struggles. The book has heroes (including the Kigers and their allies) and villains, too, chief among them is oidium or powdery mildew, which  is a threat to vineyards everywhere and perhaps especially in cool-climate Sonoma Valley.

Kiger becomes obsessed with powdery mildew, by his own account, and so we learn a great deal about it. This intense focus is very helpful because an organic wine farmer necessarily becomes obsessed with all the harmful fungi and harmful insets and so forth and is driven to find natural ways to combat them.

The book’s first chapter is titled “If I’d Only Known Then What I Know Now,” which tells you that it really hasn’t been easy being green, and the last chapter is called “Truce.” which might suggest that the Kigers have come to terms with nature’s many sides. But I think it is really that they have accepted that  each new year starts a new cycle of natural challenges like powdery mildew and that this struggle has value in itself in addition to the grapes and wine that are produced.

These two books make a nice pairing for your wine economics bookshelf. File them alongside Caro Feely’s books on her struggles with organic and then biodynamic winegrowing in France. Follow this link to read my review of Feely’s books. Cheers to everyone who struggles to be green — we know it’s not easy!

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Here’s the obvious music for this column and the lyrics sort of apply to the green wine case, don’t you think?

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