Call for Papers: American Association of Wine Economists Mendoza, Argentina Meetings May 26-30, 2015

The American Association of Wine Economists will meet in Mendoza, Argentina on May 26-30, 2015. The National University of Cuyo, Mendoza is hosting the gathering.

The organizers have issued a “Call for Papers” on subjects related to wine economics and business including analyses in statistics, history, psychology, law, viticulture and enology. They are also open to papers related to beer and food.

Details can be found on the AAWE’s website. Those interested in participating should send a 500-word abstract to aawe@wine-economics.org by January 20, 2015.

Sababay Wines of Bali: New Latitudes, New Flavors, New Frontiers

BottlesThe Wine Economist’s chief Hanoi correspondent Ali Hoover recently visited Bali, Indonesia and volunteered to investigate the local wine sector, focusing on Sababay wine. Here is her report.

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A decade ago, one of my personal favorite wine celebrities, Jancis Robinson, wrote about a new breed of wine emerging on the market – New Latitude Wines. Joining existing wine region categories of Old World and New World, New Latitude’s name suggests it all: these alternate regions seek to break out from the +/- 30 to 50 degree latitude belt considered the bookends of quality viticulture, due in part to climate change, but also enabled through increasing human understanding of how and when vines grow and advancements in refrigeration and irrigation techniques. Jancis ended her article with hesitation, though, admitting “I still find it hard to believe that New Latitude Wines will ever be seriously good, but then that’s what was said about New World Wines not that long ago.”

Since then, wine has begun to pour into the international market from a myriad of unexpected places. I certainly didn’t think Kenya, Azerbaijan, or Thailand were producing wine, and apparently I’m not alone; the Wine Explorers estimates 80% of wine producing countries are poorly known to the general public.

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Among the surprisingly extensive list of non-traditional wine producing countries is equatorial Indonesia, and Bali in particular. After my visit to Bali last month, I’m happy to report it deserves the overuse of the word “paradise” in reference. Despite a confluence of tourists and a disproportionate amount of surfer types, Bali has preserved much of its cultural essence. The crowd favorite ‘homestay’ accommodation looks more like a new-purposed temple, replete with impressive stonework, koi ponds covered in lotus flowers, and breakfast served on sunny patios in the morning. Crystal blue water, lush green vegetation, infamous coffee shops, yoga retreats, and small boutiques have created a getaway nothing short of idyllic. The abundance of fresh fish and produce, coupled with the laid-back attitude and stunning views lends itself all to easily to a crisp glass of wine, but producing local wine posed its own difficult set of challenges.

The Sababay Project

At a mere -8 degrees latitude, low-quality grapes considered unfit for consumption flood the Balinese market, destined for the omnipresent sidewalk religious offering (pictured below). But it turns out climate wasn’t the biggest barrier to quality wine – education in farming sustainability and viticulture standards was. Seeking to use these advances in modern technology to contribute to their native homeland, Evy Gozali and her mother founded Sababay Winery and the Asteroid Vineyards Partnership. In exchange for agricultural & technical support, Northern Balinese grape farmers commit their yields exclusively to Sababay—the 175 farmers currently producing have experienced yield increases of up to 50% in the first year alone with the new viticulture practices, and some have even reported a ten-fold annual profit increase since engaging in the partnership.

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What struck me most was Sababay’s strong Indonesian identity, a true achievement in an industry with a constant tug of war between terroir and global appeal. Beyond their tangible contributions to local agriculture, Sababay produces wine to match the cultural preferences and local flavors. Marketing wine to the largest Muslim country by population in the world is no small feat, but the demand is growing, and Sababay provides an alternative to these new consumers who’re looking for a twist-top wine that tastes good with dinner. The resulting wines, designed to be poured young, are sweet, with low alcohol content, and are a perfect pair for the complex, spicy flavors of Indonesian dishes.

Think Global, Act Local

Sababay does not currently export its wines – they’re 100% focused on local consumers. In keeping with advancements in technology and understanding, they have machinery imported from all over the world and a French winemaker to make the magic happen, but in all other facets of their operation they maximize Indonesian involvement in their leadership, staff, production, branding, and promotion. Sababay’s focus is a wine for the people, as opposed to an award winning wine – though they’ve incidentally done that as well! Their sparkling Moscato d’Bali (my personal favorite) recently won the silver award at the WSA Wine Challenge 2014 in Singapore.

As wine expands its boundaries, both in terms of production and consumption, I believe local identity and alternative branding will play a critical role in New Latitude’s potential success. There are untapped demographics with unique preferences and flavors, and New Latitude presents an opportunity to break out not only from geographic constraints, but traditional flavor profiles as well. In our increasingly global world, it seems the time is right to engage these regions and step outside our delimiting 30/50. Rather than expecting New Latitude to produce “seriously good” wines by our preexisting standards, I think we ought to encourage them to create “seriously relevant and unique” wines that appeal to emerging demographics and engage local consumers. So keep your eye out for these intriguing New Latitude wines on your next vacation, it’s bound to shake up your wine experience and add an extra dimension to your cultural experience.

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Update: All of the Sababay wines entered in the Chine Wine & Spirits Awards competition have received medals.  The Sababay Pink Blossom received a double gold! Congratulations to Sababay on this international recognition. To see the details click on the awards link and search for Sababay.

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Thanks to Ali for her report. Here is a photo of Ali (red blouse) and the Sababay team.

I’m also impressed by the Sababay wines and also by the values they embody. Here is the winery’s mission statement (taken from the website):

Our mission is to elaborate local products of international standard that are accessible to all to enjoy and to give back to the land and to the local community.

  • Developing a diversified and performing agriculture in Indonesia with reduced impact on the land.

  • Recycling solid and liquid wastes at every steps of the production.

  • Social responsibility in the local community by creating jobs.

  • Constant training of the work force.

  • Harmonious relationship with trading partners and consumers.

 

Wine Wars Now Available as Audiobook

The audiobook version of Wine Wars has just be released by Audible.com.  Click on the book cover image to go to the Amazon.com page where you can listen to an excerpt, purchase the audiobook or get it free with a with a 30-day free trial of Audible.com.

Wine Wars is my first audiobook and I am interested to see how paper translates into an audio file.  It turns out that 261 pages of text take 8 hours and 31 minutes to read! Veteran narrator Clinton Wade is the reader and I think he does a great job.

Many of you who know me or have heard me speak have commented that you can almost hear my voice when you read the book, so I wonder if that holds up with the audiobook format?

If you have a chance, I’d appreciate it if you’d click on the image and listen to the audio sample for a few minutes. Use the comments section below to let me know if you think the book’s voice comes through effectively.

Plans are in the works for an audiobook edition of Extreme Wine, too. Watch this space for details.

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!

Global Wine Markets, 1961 to 2009: A Statistical Compendium

There really nothing that The Wine Economist loves more than data about global wine markets. Solid information about price, quantity and production, consumption and trade flows is critical to an understanding of how the world of wine is changing.

But consistent detailed world market data are difficult to find and sometimes expensive to access.

One of my favorite data sources over the years has been the Global Wine Markets Statistical Compendium series published by the Wine Economics Research Centre at the University of Adelaide. Only two problems: it hasn’t been updated for a while … and the last time I bought a copy it wasn’t exactly free.

So I want to pass on this great news: a new volume co-authored by Kym Anderson and Signe Nilgen has just been released in two forms: a relatively inexpensive paperback (AUD35) and a free downloadable pdf.

The price is right and the data is well organized and incredibly interesting. An essential resource!  Click here to download the pdf. Thanks to the Wine Economics Research Centre for making this resource available.

Wine Politics

Tyler Colman, Wine Politics: How Governments, Environmentalists, Mobsters and Critics Influence the Wines We Drink. University of California Press, 2008.

The French have a word for it: assemblage. It is the act of blending wine from different barrels and when it works the result is full and round, delicious. Tyler Colman (a.k.a. the internet’s Dr Vino www.drvino.com) has assembled stories about the social forces that affect wine in order to round out our understanding and appreciation of this glorious  product.  It is a very readable revision of Colman’s Ph.D. dissertation on the politics of wine and I think it’s a blend that will appeal to a lot of wine enthusiasts.

The contrasts between the Old World (France, especially Bordeaux) and the New World (California, especially Napa Valley) form the book’s main axis.  Alexis de Tocqueville famously noted that a distinguishing characteristic of the young United States was the unexpected vitality of its voluntary associations. Americans didn’t look always to the state, he wrote, they worked together to solve collective  problems.  Nothing like it in France, with its strong state controls.  But wine is different, Colman explains.  Regional wine associations (like the groups behind the appellations d’origine contrôlée system ) play a strong role in France while the heavy hand of the state (the French call it dirigisme) is seen in America’s rigid regulation of wine (and alcoholic beverages in general) and the complex and cumbersome three-tier distribution system that makes it all but impossible for some wine enthusiasts to legally purchase products that are readily available just across the state line. Colman’s history of the political process that brought us to this situation makes good reading.

Green power politics is part of the blend, too, as Colman contrasts the influence of environmentalists in California with the biodynamic movement in Europe.  The politics of the palate – and the influence of wine multinationals and critics  like Robert Parker (and Dr. Vino himself?) — rounds out the final product,  Colman concludes on a upbeat note:  the relationship between wine and society here in the United States is complicated, a mixture of politics and economics, wealth and power, science, tradition, religion and environmentalism and there are a lot of problems to be solved, but he’s optimistic – we have more and better choices and a growing wine boom to push the process along.

It’s not really surprising that I would like this book.  It’s called Wine Politics but there’s a lot of wine economics here, too. You have to be a little bit of a wine nerd to want to study the political economy of wine when you could just spend your time and money sniffing, swirling and slurping and I guess I fit that profile.  The broad themes are important and there are plenty of interesting historical tidbits that you can work into conversation at your next wine tasting party.  Now, for example, I know why Two Buck Chuck, which costs $1.99 in California, sells for about a dollar more here in Washington.

Thinking critically, I would have appreciated a bit more depth on some of the topics (many of the chapters are strings of short blog-length entries) and I wish that there was a stronger central theme.  Yes, wine is affected by many social forces.  Well, so what?  A long memorable finish is something I look for in a wine … and a wine book.

Congratulations, Dr. Vino, on a successful first cuvée.  I’m looking forward to your next book, which is due out this fall.

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