Wine Vision 2014: Focus on the Future of the Global Wine Business

The preliminary agenda for Wine Vision 2014 has been announced and I am excited to be included in the list of presenters. The event will be in London from 17-19 November. Click here for more information and to receive updates about the event. You can view videos of Wine Vision 2013 here.

Wine Vision is meant to be an opportunity for members of the global wine business community to come together to think about the challenges and opportunities that the wine business faces today and consider how best to prepare for the changing future industry environment.

We speakers have been challenged to throw out ideas that will challenge the conventional wisdom, sharpen thinking and stimulate discussion. I have been asked to help set the scene by analyzing the state of the global industry today and, since the next speaker,  Jean-Guillaume Prats, President and CEO, Moët Hennessy Estates & Wines, will be talking about the future of wine I decided to look at the present from a slightly different angle that I hope will generate some interesting insights. Here’s the description of my talk — what do you think? (You can read more about my presentation here.)

An unlikely future? Today’s wine world – and the forces that shaped it

Fifty years ago it would have been hard to predict the world of wine we live in today. In this presentation one of the world’s most provocative commentators will consider both its most surprising characteristics and the historical forces that have shaped it. Mike will challenge conventional thinking and suggest new ways to predict the future based on a fresh interpretation of the past. He’ll shake up the way we see the wine world – both as it is today and might be tomorrow – with topics that include:

  • Redrawing the wine map – who makes it, buys it and drinks it, and why the market’s borders have shifted so dramatically
  • Lost in translation – the wine world’s lingua franca has changed dramatically, how did that happen and what are the implications?
  • Deconstructing disintermediation – how market structures have shifted and where power lies today
  • New friends, new foes – in a complex competitive landscape, who are the enemies and allies for today’s wine makers?

The program is still coming together — I’ll provide occasional updates as news is released. In the meantime, here is the current speaker/panelist list  and here is a link to the current agenda. Hope to see you in London!

Jean-Guillaume PratsPresident and CEO, Moët Hennessy Estates & Wines
Dan JagoUK and Group Wine Director, Tesco Stores PLC
Mike RatcliffeManaging Director, Warwick Wine Estate and co-founder and Managing Partner of Vilafonté
Kevin ShawFounder and CEO, Stranger & Stranger
Tyler BallietPresident and Founder, The Second Glass and Wine Riot
Mike VesethThe Wine Economist
Prof Charles SpenceHead of Crossmodal Lab, Oxford University
Prof Barry SmithDirector, Institute of Philosophy, University of London’s School of Advanced Study
Dominique PersooneThe ‘Shock-o-latier’, Founder, The Chocolate Line
David Schuemann, Owner and Creative Director, CF Napa Brand Design
Robin CopestickManaging Director, I heart wine – Copestick Murray
Jonny ForsythGlobal Drinks Analyst, Mintel
Barry ClarkThe Future Foundation
Mike Greenefounder of Him!, business mentor and author of ‘Into the Eye of the Storm’

Enthralled by Wine Wars! Jerry Lockspeiser’s Review

I was surprised to discover a nice review of my books Wine Wars and Extreme Wine penned by Jerry Lockspeiser when I checked the Harpers.co.uk website this morning.

The column is titled “Jerry Lockeiser is enthralled by the wine business insights of Mike Veseth.” Wow!

Thanks to Jerry for his kind words and gentle critique. Click on the link above to read the review.

 

Porto: Next Stop on the Wine Economist World Tour

The Wine Economist World Tour  is stopping in  Portugal this week (click on the link to see all the tour stops).

ACIBEV (Associação dos Comerciantes e Industriais de Bebidas Espirituosas e Vinhos or Portugal’s Association of Traders and Producers of Spirits and Wine) has invited me to give the keynote speech at their annual meeting, which is being held on February 28  in association with the big Portuguese wine festival called Essência Do Vinho at the historic Palacio dal Bolsa in Porto.

The title of the program is “Pode Portugal Ganhar a Guerra do Vinho?”  or “Can Portugal Win the Wine Wars” and I am calling my talk “Shifting Center, Rising Tide: Portugal in the Changing Global Wine Market.”

This will be my first visit to Portugal and I am looking forward to meeting everyone and learning all that I can about this fascinating country’s wine industry. And of course I look forward to sharing what I have learned both in researching Wine Wars and Extreme Wine and through my recent fieldwork in Australia, South Africa and here in the United States.

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We had a sellout crowd for the World Affairs Council of Seattle’s  Extreme Wine dinner and talk earlier this month. It was such fun to work with the WAC and Serafina/Cecchetti restaurant teams. I thought you might like to see the menu and pairings that we came up. I paired a story about the wine for each course and I think everyone came away excited about the World Affairs Council, impressed with the restaurant and its food, wine and service and of course ready to continue to explore the fascinating world of wine!

Thanks to Gilbert Cellars for supporting the WAC by donating their port-style wines for the cheese course!

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Wine Economist World Tour Update

Sue and I are in Stellenbosch, South Africa today meeting with winemakers and tasting the great wines we have found here — look for a full report on our adventures in a few weeks.

The Wine Economist World Tour is picking up steam — here are details of some upcoming events.

From One Hemisphere to Another

On Thursday January 23 we will be at the Lord Charles Hotel in Somerset West, South Africa to speak at the Nedbank VinPro Information Day, which is the South Africa’s annual wine industry gathering. Click here for details. I’m really pleased to be back in South Africa and to be able to meet everyone and learn more about the wine industry here.

Fast forward to Tuesday, January 28 and we will be in Sacramento, California to speak at the Unified Wine and Grape Symposium, which is the biggest wine industry gathering in the Western Hemisphere. I am moderating the panel on “Using Data for Better Decision-Making” at 2 pm on Tuesday and then joining Nat DiBuduo and Jon Fredrikson in surveying “The State of the Industry” at 8:3o am on Wednesday January 29.

I’m also doing a book signing on Wednesday afternoon at 2pm at the Wine Appreciation Guild’s booth in the Unified’s trade show section.

Global + Local

I’ll be back at my home base in February, with several interesting local events on tap.

Join us in Seattle for a special wine talk and dinner sponsored by the World Affairs Council of Seattle on February 4, 2014. Click on this link for details.  Serafina and Cicchetti are the hosting restaurants, so you know the food will be extremely good. And we have chosen a global selection of “Extreme Wines” to go with it. Great food and wine, great fun and an opportunity to support the World Affairs Council and its programs. Hope to see you there!

Even closer to home, I’ll be speaking and signing books at the iconic King’s Books in Tacoma at 7 pm on the evening of February 13, 2014.

You can join us for another book talk and signing the following week at the University Place branch of the Pierce County Library at 7 pm on Thursday February 20, 2014.

Finally, we are looking forward to seeing all our east side friends at a wine and book event at the University Bookstore in Bellevue at 6 pm on Thursday March 13, 2014. Click on this link for details.

Hope to see you at one of these events or somewhere else down the wine road. Cheers!

Wine Economist 2013 in Review

It’s the end of the year and time to take inventory. The Wine Economist blog has passed a number of milestones on its way to New Year’s Eve 2013.

  • Earlier this month we published the 400th post in our 6 years in residence at this address.
  • We blasted through the 800,000 total visit barrier with more than 200,00 visits in 2013. This is a tiny audience be the standards of the wine blogging icons (200,000 was probably a slow weekend’s total for Gary Vaynerchuck in his web wine video heyday), but it is quite a lot for a specialized wine business publication.
  • Email subscriptions have risen steadily to just under 1500 names.
  • The monthly number of visits has risen from just 92 in January 2008 to over 22,00 in January 2013, the current high.
  • 2013 also saw the publication of my new book Extreme Wine and research or speaking expeditions to Australia, California, Washington, Oregon, Idaho and Virginia. Great to see so many readers and meet so many nice folks!

Too Many Highlights!

There were too many personal and professional highlights to count this year, but one of my favorites was being interviewed by the journalist Christiane Amanpour! Click on the image below to view the video. You can see that we both had fun doing this piece!

Top Post Roadmap

Back to the blog — what did readers find most interesting? Well, most visitors headed straight for the website’s home page and so viewed the then-current post, but many (guided by emails, search engines or links on other web sites) clicked their ways to particular posts or pages. Here are the most visited specific pages this year. Gives you some idea of what brings people to this stop on the digital highway.

  1. Which Wine Magazine?
  2. Riesling: How Sweet It Is?
  3. Curse of the Blue Nun
  4. Wine’s Future: It’s in the Bag (in the Box)
  5. Costco and Global Wine
  6. Wine Wars
  7. Wine Distribution Bottleneck
  8. Extreme Wine
  9. New Year’s Resolution: De-Alcoholized Wine
  10. Blue Nun Gets a Makeover
  11. Mike Veseth
  12. Is Carmenere Chile’s Next Big Thing?
  13. Sizing Up Supermarket Wine
  14. [Yellow Tail] Tales
  15. No Wine Before Its Time
  16. Will Imports Take Half of the U.S. Wine Market in 2025?
 I’m looking forward to 2014 and passing the million visit milepost. Hope to see you there. Happy New Year, everyone!
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 I’d be remiss if I didn’t take this opportunity to thank everyone who contributed ideas for columns, left comments on the posts or helped in one way or another with this project. Special thanks to contributing editor Sue Veseth and to Mooch the Wine Economist cat.

Extreme Wines of the Year

Rebecca Gibb, my editor at Wine-Searcher.com, asked a few of us to nominate our “wines of the year” for 2013 and I was happy to add my voice to the chorus. My selection — the 2012 first vintage of Eroica Gold Riesling from the Columbia Valley, Washington — was complicated.

As you know, I don’t review individual wines or assign scores so, while sensory factors clearly matter, I decided to base my final choice on a wine’s potential to shape or shift the market, or at least a particular segment of it, as well as the obvious taste, aroma and texture aspects. (You can read all the Wine-Searcher selection here.)

A New Gold Standard?

That’s where Eroica Gold stands out for me. It is different from most of the other American Rieslings that are produced in sufficient volume to enjoy wide distribution and so represents a potential step forward in this rising marketplace.

Eroica Gold is made in the style of a German Gold Capsule Auslese Riesling. About a third of the grapes were Botrytis infected. Sweetness and acidity are nicely balanced and the orange marmalade aromas and luscious texture are memorable. This is Riesling for adults, that’s for sure, and my hope is that this joint venture between Chateau Ste Michelle and Dr. Loosen will open up a new market segment for Rieslings of this style.

Eroica Gold surprised me and working on the Wine-Searcher project got me thinking about other surprising or Extreme Wines (to engage in a bit of shameless self promotion for my new book of the same name). Herewith a quick accounting of some of the other wines that got my attention, focusing on Australia, which we visited back in September.

Head for the [Adelaide} Hills

The Adelaide Hills get less attention than some other Australian regions, but it provided three wines that made me stop and think. Two of them were made by Larry Jacobs at his Hahndorf Hills Winery. A medical doctor by training, Jacobs immigrated to Australia from South Africa where he founded Mulderbosch. He seems to think outside the box when it comes to wine — how else can you explain the Gruner Veltliner and Blaufrankisch (or Lemberger) that we tasted?

You might think that it was a simple typographic error (easy for auto-correct to mix up Austria and Australia), but it was obviously a carefully calculated move. The 2012 Gruner was in fact named the best wine of its type from outside Austria! Quite a distinction.

I love Rieslings and Pinot Noir and the Adelaide Hills boasts many fine examples of these wines (we especially enjoyed the wines of Ashton Hills). But it was an Adelaide Hills Shiraz that we tasted at Charles Melton in Barossa that made me stop and think. “Voice of Angels” it is called and it comes from a vineyard at Mt Pleasant.

A very cool site and a very distinctive wine made, I was told, by co-fermenting the Shiraz grapes with a bit of Riesling from the same vineyard.  Did I really hear that? Shiraz and Viognier, yes. Shiraz and Riesling? Maybe my memory is playing tricks on me, but in any case this was a wine to remember!

Big in Barossa

P1060519Sue and I were fortunate to be able to taste three of Australia’s most iconic Shiraz wines: Torbreck, Penfolds Grange and Henschke Hill of Grace. They were all memorable, but in different ways.

Our favorite Torbreck wine was a cool climate Eden Valley Shiraz called The Gask — just stunning — but I was stunned again by a sight not a taste when we toured the winery. There, hidden away, was a bin containing giant 18- and 27-liter bottles of The Laird (which sells for about $900 for 750 ml).

The idea of a 27 liter bottle of this wine — called a “Primat” according to one source and equivalent to 3 standard cases — floored me.  I think I was told that the glass bottle alone cost about $2000 and that once filled it might be worth as much as $40,000 to a collector. Quite a trophy! I’ve inserted Sue’s photo of the whale-sized bottles below.

Grange and Hill of Grace are particularly interesting to me because they are in some ways the ying and yang of top flight Australian Shiraz. Hill of Grace is a single vineyard wine and Grange is a multi-vineyard, multi-district blend. Year after year Hill of Grace comes from the same vines in the same valley (not a hill — the vineyard’s named for the church across the road) while Grange mixes things up a bit each vintage in the search for a particular style. Two different approaches to extreme wine-making.

Taste the Terroir

Listening to Stephen and Prue Henschke talk about their wine made me understand that while the Hill of Grace is a single vineyard in the way that we define these things, it is in fact a very complicated and varied site. The old vines there seem to be able to draw out the variations and the complex and distinctive blend results.

Both Grange and Hill of Grace were memorable, but I must admit to a preference for Hill of Grace. Maybe it is because I tasted more different vintages of this wine or perhaps it is because it comes from Eden Valley, a cool climate area.  Or maybe its the site and the power of those old vines. Can Australia produce terroir wines? No doubt about it!

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If I may permitted one more extreme wine for this column, I think it must be the Domaine A Cabernet Sauvignon from the Coal River Valley in Tasmania that we tasted with winemaker Peter Althaus on a drizzly foggy day. Tasmania is one Australian region that doesn’t have to worry about having a cool climate (at least for now). Althaus scoured the world for a chilly and distinctive site for his vineyard and moved here from Switzerland once he found it. Each of his wines breaks a barrier of some sort — the Pinot Noir perhaps most of all — and the Cabernet is quite an achievement. Another extreme and memorable experience! Can’t wait to see what 2014 has in store!

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Thanks to Kym and Bron Anderson for our tour of the Adelaide Hills. Thanks to Savour Australia for giving us the chance to taste so many vintages of so many extreme wines. Thanks to Dr Loosen and Chateau Ste Michelle for introducing us to Eroica Gold at Riesling Rendezvous. Thanks to Scott McDonald for the tasting and tour at Torbreck. Special thanks to Stephen and Prue Henschke for their hospitality in Adelaide.

Economist Report: Bacchus to the Future?

Wine Economist readers might want to check out the current (November 30, 2013) issue of the Economist newspaper to see what they have to say about the changing (and  not so changing) world of wine. I’m talking about an article called “Bacchus to the Future” that is featured in the Technology Quarterly section of the newspaper.

The story is about technological advances in what outsiders might consider a very traditional business. Please follow the link to read the entire article. I will insert a few quotes just to tease you a bit.

Few industries are more suspicious of change than winemaking.

True, but not universally true.  My reading of wine history shows that sometimes technology is  embraced (the Gallos and Robert Mondavi are on my list of noteworthy innovators) and sometimes stubbornly resisted. Europeans were in denial for decades after phylloxera hit them. How long did they resist grafting their vines onto American rootstocks?

“Technology has vastly improved the low end,” says Tim Keller, a former winemaker at Steltzner Vineyards in Napa. “There’s no longer an excuse for making a defective wine.”

So true. I discuss  this in the chapter of Extreme Wine about the best and worst wines. Inexpensive wines might not be to your taste, but they consistently achieve a commercial standard and are unlikely to be the worst wines you will ever taste. A warm embrace of technology is part of the explanation.

Because consumers remain seduced by the notion that wine should be made by humble farmers with as little intervention as possible, fine-wine labels still try to keep their experiments under wraps. But they are quietly deploying technology in a new way: not just to make bad wine decent, or to make good wine more cheaply, but to make already-great wines greater still.

The article talks about de-alcoholization as one of the hidden technological innovations and I think most of us agree that this useful (and sometimes necessary) tool is generally kept out of sight. Other examples of widely used but invisible wine technology?  Two words: Mega Purple!

France is the undisputed global leader in wine technology. As Mr Merritt notes, the country has a greater demand for mechanisation than America because its agricultural wages are higher. And France’s reputation means that its elite winemakers, unlike those in other countries, do not have to worry about criticism from elite French winemakers.

This is a point that I haven’t considered before. Sorta makes you think, doesn’t it. And I guess that’s the point. Check out the article to see what else it has to say.

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While you are thinking, you might give some thought to holiday gifts for your wine-loving friends. You can’t go wrong with my books, Wine Wars and Extreme Wine. Just a suggestion!

World Tour Update: VinPro and the Unified Sympoisium

The “Wine Economist World Tour” (my calendar of talks and book signings) is starting to fill up and the end of January 2014 looks like a particularly interesting couple of weeks. Lots of frequent flier miles — and maybe a bit of jet lag, too!

On January 23 I will be in Somerset West, South Africa to give the keynote at the Nedbank VinPro Information Day program. VinPro is a key service organization for 3,600 South African wine producer members. It strives to both represent the wine sector and to further its development. I’m pleased to be invited to speak to South African growers and producers at this important event.

Fast forward a few days and I will be in Sacramento, California at the Unified Wine and Grape Symposium, the western hemisphere’s largest wine industry gathering speaking in two of the sessions.

On Tuesday, January 28 I will be moderating an afternoon panel on “Using Data for Better Decision-Making.” The premise is that you can’t manage what you don’t measure and many in the wine industry would benefit from a more systematic approach. Here is the official description of session.

This session will explore how to use data to better understand and run your business. Presentations will include operating and financial benchmarking data and how these data can be applied to your business for improved decision making. Attendees will hear how benchmarking data are gathered and analyzed, and what it means. A winery and a grower representative will provide examples on how they started measuring various forms of data, what tools they acquired or developed, and lessons learned. They will also share best practices and identify the biggest problem areas for good data measurement and use. The session will end with key takeaways to consider in implementing better data tools for your business.

Then on Wednesday I will be one of three speakers, along with Jon Fredrikson of Gomberg, Fredrikson & Associates and Nat DiBuduo of Allied Grapegrowers of California, at the “State of the Industry” session (Extreme Wine readers will recall that I wrote about this event in Chapter 6).

The State of the Industry session will provide a comprehensive look at every aspect of the wine industry, from what’s being planted to what’s selling. This 2½ hour session features highly regarded speakers and delivers incredible value for attendees who need to understand the market dynamics of the past year and are seeking insight into the market trends that will define the year ahead.

My job will be to bring a global perspective to the discussion. It’s an honor to share the stage with Jon and Nat, who have both earned the respect of those of us in the industry. Looking forward to hearing their remarks!

Hope to see you in Cape Town or Sacramento or any of the other stops on the world tour!

Pawn Star Wine


It’s been a busy week so far. My new book Extreme Wine has just been released. Sue and I traveled to Portland, Oregon for the Pacific Northwest Booksellers Association trade show where I autographed 75 copies of Extreme Wine in 75 minutes before we ran out of books.

And now Wine-Searcher.com has published my latest column on fine wine investment. Click here to read the article, which is called “Pawn Shop Solutions for Wine Investors.”

My column has an unexpected “hook:” a 2010 episode of the U.S. television show “Pawn Stars” that featured a bottle of 1921 Dom Perignon. You’ll have to read the article to get the whole story, but basically I use this example as a way to talk about how investing in wine is different, in terms of financial economics, from other types of investments. It’s an unlikely approach, but I think it works.

We so often hear about the benefits of wine investments or the problems with it in only a very general way. I’m interested in doing more serious comparative analysis, while keeping the mood light. If you’ve seen the show “Pawn Stars” you know that you can actually learn a lot of history through its often funny “reality TV” stories. My column also comments and reports on some recent trends in wine investment.

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Hope you’ll check out my column. Here’s a photo from the Portland book event. Great to see all of independent booksellers (God bless them!), publishers, authors and volunteers (bless them, too) in Portland.

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Twenty Dollar Bill Wines

My new book Extreme Wine is now officially available and Wine-Searcher.com has just published an excerpt, so you can get a sense of the book’s style and content, both of which will be familiar to regular Wine Economist readers.

The editors at Wine-Searcher picked part of Chapter 4, which is titled “The Invisible Wine” and deals with wines that are for various reasons so scarce (or in some cases so ubiquitous) that they are nearly invisible. I probe a number of extremes in this chapter, but the editors asked to reprint the section on “Twenty Dollar Bill Wines.”  Here’s how the piece begins …

Twenty-dollar-bill wines don’t really cost twenty dollars, so you can put your wallet away. The name comes from a joke that is popular among economists and therefore essentially unknown to the rest of the world. The joke goes like this.

A non-economist walks into a bar and says excitedly to the bartender (who is an economist). ‘Wow, this is my lucky day! I just found a twenty-dollar bill on the sidewalk in front of your bar!’ The bartender takes a long look at the fellow, who is waving the bill in the air. ‘No, you didn’t,’ he says. ‘Yes, I did!’ replies the customer. ‘See, it’s right here!’ ‘Can’t be—you’re wrong,’ the economist-bartender coolly replies. ‘You’re ignoring rational economic theory. If there had been a twenty-dollar bill on the sidewalk, someone would have already picked it up. So it is logically impossible that you could have found one.’

‘But look—here it is!’ the customer exclaims. ‘Look, buddy,’ the bartender says, turning away, ‘What do you think I’m going to believe—your bill or my theory?’

The joke of course (sorry, but economists always explain jokes, even the obvious ones) is that economists tend to believe their theories even when they can clearly see refuting evidence with their own eyes. You would think that this makes economists different from regular folks, but in the case of rare wines, we are all pretty much the same.

There are many ‘cult’ wines that are famous for being impossible to buy. They are so scarce, the story goes, that they are all invisibly absorbed by the lucky few folks who years ago gained access to the wine-club distribution list. No one else ever gets a shot. They are as rare as rare can be. I call these the twenty-dollar-bill wines because if you saw one (at a wine shop or on a restaurant wine list), you would probably rub your eyes. Impossible! How could that be? Must be a mistake (or maybe a fake!). If they really had that wine for sale, they would already have sold it.

Now the dirty little secret of these wines is that they are sometimes quite reasonably available, but the myth of impossible scarcity is maintained because that’s how myths work and because no one can believe their eyes. …

Click here to go to Wine-Searcher.com to read the rest of the selection.

By the way, if you still think of Wine-Searcher only as a website that provides information on particular wines, their ratings, prices and availability (see this search for Opus One, for example), then you need to think again because the editors have created a really exciting website with news, features and a wide range of other wine enthusiast information.

There’s more to Wine-Searcher than the searcher part, so you should check it out. (And, yes, they do also publish my column on wine investment, so I have filed this post under “Shameless Self-Promotion.)

Thanks to Wine-Searcher for publishing the Twenty Dollar Bill wine excerpt. Enjoy!

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