Who Should Be The Voice of Wine Wars?

I’ve just learned that Audible.com is going to produce an audio book version of Wine Wars. They are interested in my opinion about who should read the book — what kind of voice would be best for Wine Wars?

I’m not sure, so I thought I would ask you, my readers. Should the voice be young or old? Male or female?  Should the reader have an accent of some sort — British, French, Spanish, Italian?  Is there a particular person’s voice that you’d like to hear?

Please use the comments section below to let me know what you think.  I don’t know if Audible.com will take your advice,  but if they respond to a particular comment I will send that person an autographed book (your choice of Wine Wars, Extreme Wine when it is published or Globaloney 2.0).

Ch-Ch-Ch Changes at The Wine Economist


Things are ch-ch-changing a little bit here at The Wine Economist: stepping down, moving up and shifting gears.

I’m stepping down from my “day job” as the Robert G Albertson Professor of International Political Economy at the University of Puget Sound and moving up to the title of Professor Emeritus . This will give me a bit more time to think, talk and write about the business of wine — shifting The Wine Economist project (this blog, my books and speaking engagements)  into a higher gear.

I’m not really retiring or even slowing down, just ch-ch-ch- … you know what I mean!

I’m going to miss my students of course — especially the wonderful young people in my popular course on The Idea of Wine. That show will go on without me, however, because my colleague and fellow wine economist Professor Pierre Ly is taking over and adding his own twist. Pierre and his partner Professor Cynthia Howson have started up a research project about industrial upgrading in the Chinese wine industry — look for “guest post” reports here later in the  year.

I couldn’t give up working with students entirely, of course, so I have agreed to continue as the faculty advisor to the university’s Matelich Scholarship for dynamic young leaders. And of course I have my treasured network of former students, many of whom have ended up in the wine industry where, ch-ch-changing places, they now teach me as I once taught them.

I plan to take advantage of my new flexibility to travel and speak during parts of the year when classes would have previously kept me close to home. The first big trip is to talk at Savour Australia 2013 in September. There are plans to return to South Africa in 2014 and then … who knows? Any suggestions?

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Thanks to everyone who sent me congratulatory cards and notes. Sue and I appreciate your good wishes and look forward to seeing you along the wine road soon!

Christiane Amanpour and Chinese Wine: The Wine Economist Interview

I was pleased to be interviewed the award-winning  journalist Christiane Amanpour earlier this week for her  “Around the World with Christiane Amanpour” report on ABC.com.  The original topic was set to be last week’s French wine auction, where odd lots and “too-expensive-to-serve” bottles from the Elysee Palace cellars were sold off to pay for more modestly priced wines to serve at state events  (with a bit left over to pay down the French national debt).

The auction was a success (buyers snapped up wines that became famous by the publicity surrounding the auction), but Ms. Amanpour, perhaps sensing that this had already become old news, shifted the conversation to another wine topic.  Click on the image below to view the interview.

china

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Thanks to Mary-Rose, David and of course Christiane Amanpour for their work on this interview.

Extreme Wine South Africa: VinPro Information Day 2014

I’m pleased to announce that I’ll be returning to South Africa early next year to speak at VinPro Information Day on January 23, 2014. (You can read the agenda for the 2013 Information Day program here.)

VinPro, the service organization for 3600 South African wine producer members, announced yesterday that it will merge with Wine Cellars South Africa, creating a unified wine industry organization.  I’m honored to be invited to speak at the first Information Day program for the combined group and I look forward to meeting everyone and sharing what I know about global market developments while learning more about the dynamic Cape wine sector.

My previous visit to South Africa (to attend Cape Wine 2012 and give the keynote at the Nederburg Auction) was eye-opening — my only regrets were that I didn’t have more time to visit and study the different regions and that Sue wasn’t able to join me. Both of these concerns will be addressed this time as we will spend a couple of weeks touring before Information Day. Still not enough time to do justice to the Cape Winelands, but a big improvement!

We are just beginning to plan our visit. Use the comments section below or write to Mike@WineEconomist.com if you have suggestions of where we should go and what we should do.

Thanks again to VinPro for this opportunity. Looking forward to seeing old friends and making new ones at VinPro Information Day 2014.

Books Covers, Best Sellers and Great News about Savour Australia 2013

The conventional wisdom disagrees, but I say what’s wrong with judging a book by its cover? People judge wines by their labels all the time!

OK, so maybe it is a bad idea as a general rule, but I encourage you to make an exception for my next book, Extreme Wine, which is sailing smoothly towards its October 2013 release date.

Check out the recently-finalized cover– pretty cool, huh? Hope readers will think that the book is as good as the cover that embraces it!

Best Sellers Are Made Not Born?

Since  Wines Wars was such a success, we naturally have high hopes for Extreme Wine.  Wine Wars in its three editions (hardcover, paperback and eBook) has consistently appeared in Amazon.com’s various specialized best seller lists (such as the top 100 globalization books, for example), but didn’t bust through to the really big New York Times kind of league tables. Tough to break into the really big leagues, I guess.

In reading about how the best seller lists work, I discovered that there are some techniques to “game” the best-seller rating system. Some unscrupulous authors and publishers, for example, have apparently purchased large volumes of their own books all at once — creating the sort of sales bump that pushes a book onto the big time lists — only to cancel the order or return the books after ratings have appeared. Mission accomplished, so to speak, and a phantom best-seller created.

Clever, I suppose. But not very ethical. I would never do anything like that (even if my credit card had enough head room to allow me to place such a big order).

A Not Entirely Unethical Experiment

But there’s another technique that is also strategic but not entirely unethical. It involves Amazon.com pre-orders. Apparently all of the pre-orders on Amazon are processed together on the day that a book is released — giving that same sales bump as the phantom strategy, but based upon actual orders, not fake ones. I guess that’s why some of my author friends encourage their readers to pre-order.

I wonder if it would work for Extreme Wine? If you’d like to participate in an experiment to find out, click here to visit the Amazon.com page for Extreme Wine  where you can pre-order the hardback (you’ll have to wait for the Kindle version). It’s just a social media experiment, you see, not really Shameless Self-Promotion as you are probably thinking!

Savour Australia 2013: Australia’s Global Wine Forum from Wine Australia on Vimeo.

Savour Australia 2013

Speaking of Shameless Self  Promotion, I’d like to announce that I’ve been invited to speak at Savour Australia 2013, Australia’s first global wine gathering, which will happen in Adelaide in mid-September.

You can learn about Savour Australia 2013 by clicking here or watching the video above. The purpose of the program, as I understand it, is to re-launch Brand Australia onto the global wine markets — to replace the down-market Yellow Tail sort of  image that evolved over the last dozen years with an up-beat, up-market narrative that connects Australian wine with its regions, food, culture, people, and links it all to wine tourism, which is the best way to have the complete experience.

I think the message is exactly the right one for Australia today and I am looking forward to being part in the discussion.

Here is Your Chance to Tell Me Where to Go!

Sue and I will be staying in Australia for a couple of weeks after Savour Australia 2013. Where should go and who should we visit? If you have suggestions please leave a comment below or email us at Mike@WineEconomist.com.

Looking forward to seeing you at Savour Australia 2013!

Extreme Wine Update and Wine Economist Milestones: Make My Day!

Extreme Wine Update

I only have time for a quick update this week — my next book Extreme Wine has gone into production, so I’m busy with the copy-edited manuscript and reviewing potential cover designs.  Those of you who simply can’t wait for this sequel to Wine Wars can already pre-order Extreme Wine  on Amazon.com — and be very sure to receive it on or before the October 16, 2013 official publication date!

Wine Economist Milestones

Meanwhile The Wine Economist blog has passed a few milestones, publishing its 350th post last week. That adds up to over 300,000 words or more than three book-length publications (a metric that makes sense because I sometimes use this blog to work out ideas for my books).

WordPress.com, the company that hosts this blog, reports that The Wine Economist has had more than 650,000 visits since the first post in May 2007. More than 1600 readers either subscribe to the blog or follow via the Facebook page.  Readership is up again this year, with an average of more than 20,000 visits per month so far in 2013.

Who Knew?

Who knew that so many people would find something to like in a blog about the economics of wine? Now if everyone would just pre-order a copy of Extreme Wine — that would really make my day!

The Scrooge Report: Holiday Wine Gifts

No wonder economics is called the “dismal science” — sometimes our rigorous analysis threatens to spoil everyone’s fun.

Take holiday gift-giving, for example. The conventional wisdom is that “it is better to give than to receive” and while there is some merit in this if everyone gives (so that everyone receives), I think you can probably see the collective action problem here. Only an economist (or maybe an excitable child) would point out that, strictly from a material accumulation point of view, there are real advantages in being on the receiving end!

A Badly Flawed Process

But it gets worse because some economists suggest that it may be better not to bother with gifts at all. Don’t give gifts, give cash. Or, better yet, keep the cash and spend it on yourself. Gift-giving itself is a badly flawed process. This Scroogish sentiment is in part the result of Joel Waldfogel’s famous article on “The Deadweight Loss of Christmas.” Waldfogel concluded that Christmas, for all its merriment, was actually welfare-reducing because recipients do not generally place a value on gifts that is as high as their cost. They end up receiving stuff they would never have purchased with their own money.

The cost of giving gifts exceeds the benefits, so gift giving is an economic drain. Dismal, huh?  Here’s how it works.

Your aunt paid $50 for the sweater that she gave you. How much would you have paid for it? $50? $45? $40? Well, the fact is that you had the option of buying it for $50 and didn’t, therefore you must not have valued it at the full amount. So its value to you is probably  less than what your aunt paid. But how much less?

Economists seem to agree that the best case scenario is that there is about a 10 percent average loss in gift-giving, which I call the “Santa Tax,” although the “yield” as reported by survey respondents varies a good deal. The National Retail Federation estimates that Americans will spend more than $550 billion on holiday gifts in 2012. If the deadweight loss rate is just 10 percent, that would be a $50+ billion Santa Tax this year. Yikes!

There are many problems with this way of calculating holiday giving gains and losses. It is pleasing to give gifts, of course, and this should be taken into account. But how much would you be willing to pay for the pleasure?  And would your pleasure have been less if you had just given cash? The efficiency loss might be less with a cash gift, but perhaps the pleasure of giving (and thus the incentive to give) would be diminished, too.

Santa Tax Wine Edition

Then we can argue about the size of the Santa Tax. Is 10 percent about right … or do you suspect (as I do) that it might be much higher, especially when you are buying gifts for people who are much older or younger or who have very different tastes or needs from your own? Have you ever received a gift that was 100 percent deadweight loss? If you are honest you probably have. But it’s the thought that counts, isn’t it? How big a Santa tax is too much?

Which brings us to the wine part of the problem. Doesn’t it seem like the Santa tax is probably even larger for wine gifts than for many other things? Most of us have experienced the deadweight loss when a bottle of wine that we’ve paid good money for doesn’t turn out to be worth what we’ve spent. So it is no surprise that the loss rate might be even worse when other people are doing the buying (and giving) for us.

Giving wine as a gift is risky (unless it is someone you know very well) because there are so many different choices and individual tastes differ so much. There are lots and lots of good wine  gift choices, of course, but it is easy to get caught in the Santa tax trap. I’m sure that a lot of holiday wine gifts miss the mark badly.

Maybe that’s why wine enthusiasts receive so many “wine gizmo” gifts instead of wine — but those gadgets are subject to the Santa Tax, too.  The New York Times‘s William Grimes recently complained about this problem.

Across the land, Christmas trees spread their fragrant branches over packages containing monogrammed Slankets, electric golf-ball polishers and toasters that emblazon bread slices with the logo of your favorite N.F.L. team.

But for some reason, the culture of wine and spirits provides especially fertile ground for misbegotten concepts like these. Year after year, it yields a bumper crop of inane but highly giftable innovations like wineglass holders that clip onto party plates, leather beer holsters and octobongs, the most efficient method yet devised for eight college students to consume a keg’s worth of beer simultaneously.

Tyler Colman, writing on his Dr Vino blog, singled out gifts of fancy automated corkscrews for particular criticism. You can probably think of some high Santa tax wine paraphernalia that you’ve either given or received yourself.

Beyond the Octobong: Wine Economist Gift Guide

OK, I suppose the octobong is out, but some of the wine gizmos that Grimes reviews in the article are sort of weirdly fascinating. I guess I can see why they are given as gifts (even though you might never spend your own money on them). So where does that leave us when it comes to wine gifts?

My first bit of advice is simple: don’t give a bottle of wine to friends or relations, share it with them. There is something about a shared experience that transcends a simple commodity transfer. (From a technical economics standpoint, I think sharing adds  some “public goods” elements to the deadweight loss equation that can cushion the Santa Tax loss). Trust me, from an economic theory standpoint, sharing is the way to go.

In fact the more I think about it the more I believe that sharing rather than giving is the key. Sharing a bottle of wine rather than just giving it may seem a bit selfish and is certainly more expensive (since time as well as money are involved), but sharing changes the game from transaction to relationship and this seems to me to be the essence of both the holidays themselves and wine, too.

More Gift Advice (and Shameless Self-Promotion)

Back to giving and receiving. Best gift to give a wine enthusiast? A copy of the new paperback edition of Wine Wars, of course. (Shameless self-promotion never takes a holiday).

Best wine gift to receive? It’s gotta be Wine Grapes by Jancis Robinson, Julia Harding and Jose Vouillamoz — the brilliant 1242 page survey of 1368 wine grape varieties. So many grapes, so much information, such beautiful illustrations. This jeroboam-sized book will provide years of detailed research use (including very cool DNA analysis of wine grape origins!) and hours and hours of simple browsing pleasure for any curious wine geek.

Weight? Yes, quite a lot of it; 6.8 pounds shipping weight according to Amazon.com (although my copy feels light for its size). Deadweight loss? Forget about it!

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Click here to view a pdf of Waldfogel’s original article, which appeared in the December (of course) 1993 issue of the American Economic Review. The illustration is of a certain Mr. Grinch, who may or may not have been an economist.  Happy holidays everyone!

Wine Wars Paperback: Smaller, Lighter, Cheaper

The motto of the Olympic Games is Citius, Altius, Fortius (Faster, Higher Stronger). I think the motto of the new paperback edition of Wine Wars, which has just been released, must be Smaller, Lighter, Cheaper. That makes it a poor fit for the Olympics, but maybe a good fit for your pocketbook (and an interesting option for tasting room and book store sales).

Wine Wars Hardback Wine Wars Paperback Wine Wars Kindle
Size: 9” x 6.3” x 1” Size: 8.9” x 6.1” x 0.8” 439 KB
Weight:  16.1 oz Weight: 14.6 oz 0
List Price: $24.95 List Price: $16.95 Amazon.com $9.99

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The book is modestly smaller in its physical dimensions as any paperback would be compared with the hardback original. Incredibly, there is actually a little bit more content crammed in. I took advantage of the new edition to correct a couple of typos and then to add brief “tasting notes” at the end of several chapters. The notes update important events and comment on what how trends of changed or developed since the hardback came out in June 2011.

Cheaper is the factor that will probably get the most attention. The list price is $16.95 compared with the hardback’s $24.95 suggested price. Amazon is selling the Kindle version for a mere $9.99, which is a great price, but of course you have to buy a Kindle to read it (or download the free Kindle software or App and read it on your tablet or personal computer).

New and Improved? Well, yes — but that’s not the point (or the only point). I hope the lower price will encourage more readers to read the book or give it to their wine-loving friends.

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I’m in Cape Town, South Africa this week to participate in Cape Wine 2012 and give the keynote at the Nederburg Auction. Look for my first report next week.

Better in paper? You be the judge!

Boom Varietal: Film Festival Update

Boom Varietal: The Rise of Argentine Malbec, a documentary film produced by Kirk Ermisch and directed by Sky Pinnick, had its world premier last fall and has been on the independent film festival circuit since then, where it has earned several awards.

Boom Varietal is coming to the Seattle-Tacoma area in October as part of the Tacoma Film Festival. Local wine enthusiasts should make plans to attend the screening at 2pm on Saturday October 6 at the grand old Grand Cinema in Tacoma.

Boom Varietal is one of those films that seems to stimulate all your senses (and Kirk aims to make this literally true with a Malbec tasting and discussion after the film). It is certainly visually stunning with a beautiful soundtrack by Franchot Tone. And the story line should appeal to Wine Economist readers, too.

The tale of Malbec’s rise is about nature, history, people, passion and of course business — and that’s where I come in. I appear at several points in the film to sort of connect the dots. I was quite surprised by the amount of screen time I had when I first saw the film, but I guess it is an indication of how important economics is the world of wine today and how money connects people almost as well as wine!

I’ll be at the screening on October 6 — hope to see you there! Cheers!

Watch for Boom Varietal at these upcoming film festivals

Montana CINE International Film Festival 10/17-23
Rivers Edge International Film Festival 11/1-4
Napa Valley Film Festival 11/7-11

Wine Wars in South Africa: Nederburg Auction Keynote

I’m pleased to announce that I’ll be giving the keynote address at this year’s Nederburg Auction in Paarl, South Africa. I was already planning to attend Cape Wine 2012 as a guest of Wines of South Africa, so I was delighted to receive an invitation from the Nederburg Auction organizers to extend my visit by a day or two in order to address their international audience.

About the Nederberg Auction

A premier event on Cape Town’s wine calendar, the Nederburg Auction serves to showcase the spectrum of award-winning wines and rare Cape finds created by the country’s most talented winemakers. Since its beginnings in 1975 with the ‘famous five’ founding participants; Delheim, Groot Constantia, Overgaauw, Simonsig and of course Nederburg, and an offering of just 15 wines, the Auction has evolved into an international event where major local and overseas wine buyers bid for a stringently selected range of the finest wines created by South Africa’s most talented winemakers.This year marks the 38th year of this prestigious event.


Here’s a video about the 2011 Nederburg Auction.

The Press Release

Guests at this year’s prestigious Nederburg Auction won’t want to miss the keynote address by best-selling US author and wine expert Mike Veseth on Saturday 29 September at Nederburg in Paarl.

With the state of the global economy crisis posing many challenges to the wine world and the South African wine industry in particular, this acclaimed US economics professor and “wine economist” will bring his considerable expertise to the speaker platform, tailoring his keynote address around the subject of how South Africa can win the Wine Wars. This aptly follows the fresh insight presented by last year’s speaker, David White, into the changing wine landscape and the future implications for the industry and consumers.

He will discuss the market trends that are redrawing the world wine map and the terroirists (those focused on a wine’s terroir or place of origin) who resist them. Veseth believes that wine businesses are at a critical crossroads, shaped by the powerful forces of globalisation, corporate branding and the exploration of new markets.

As a professor in international political economy at the University of Puget Sound in Tacoma, Washington, Veseth is regarded as an authority on the political economy of globalisation and the global wine market, applying his sharp and astute mind to analyse and understand the complex dynamics of the international wine world.

Nederburg Auction Business Manager Dalene Steyn says: “While believing in preserving the essence and the soul of wine, Mike is also well-versed on breaking into new markets in China, Australia, France and the US. With this combination of a love for wine along with extensive business and economic acumen, we believe he will inspire and motivate wine lovers in South Africa – just like he has done elsewhere in the world.”

The editor of The Wine Economist blog and author of more than a dozen books has won critical praise for his recent book“Wine Wars: The Curse of the Blue Nun, the Miracle of Two Buck Chuck and the Revenge of the Terroirists (2011)”, which draws remarkable conclusions on the market forces that drive the wine industry. The book has won several awards and prizes, including being selected as Best American Wine History Book 2011 by Gourmand International and a Wine Book of the Year by JancisRobinson.com.

Mike Veseth will address guests of the Nederburg Auction at 09:00 on Saturday 29 September in the Graue Hall, prior to the start of the day’s bidding session. For further information visit http://www.nederburgauction.co.za. The Nederburg Auction is sponsored by Nederburg.

I’m honored to be asked to give this keynote address and pleased to be associated with such a prestigious event.

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