Wine Wars is Now Well Read


Well Read is a weekly book program on TVW, which is Washington State’s version of C-SPAN. Terry Tazioli is the host and Seattle Times book editor Mary Ann Gwinn is a regular contributor. I was pleased to be invited to tape an interview with Terry last month and the program goes live today both on the cable channel and streaming on the web. Click on the video image above to watch the discussion.

I enjoyed making the program. Terry is a great interviewer and Mary Ann’s suggestions for further reading are on the money. What would I do different if I could do it again? Well, I guess I wouldn’t fumble so much at the end before recommending that the viewers run out and buy Washington wines (d’uh!).

And I wish I’d brought a bottle of wine with  me to share with Terry, Mary Ann and the video crew. I almost did, but for some reason I hesitated at the last minute, uncertain if it would be appropriate.  I should have just done it. What could be better than wine and a wine interview! Maybe you can correct my mistake by pouring yourself a glass to sip while you watch the interview.

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The posts are likely to be a bit shorter on The Wine Economist for the next several weeks. I’m busy working on the first draft of Extreme Wine. Thanks to everyone who sent me suggestions for extreme people, places and wine things. Now it’s up t o me to get it written.

Wine Wars: Wine Press NW Interview, Eataly NY & More

[Click here if a video does not appear above.]

I’ve been on the road quite a bit recently, speaking at the Unified Wine & Grape Symposium in Sacramento, the Washington Association of Wine Grape Growers meetings in Eastern Washington and many other places. Andy Perdue of Wine Press Northwest managed to slow me down long enough to do this interview, which I think captures very well my enthusiasm for the opportunity to speak at these events and work with such great people.

World Tour Update: Eataly NYC

The Wine Wars World Tour continues next month (see schedule at the end of this post) with trips to New York, Washington DC and Hawai’i. Most of the scheduled events are for University of Puget Sound alumni, but I’m doing a class on March 13 at Eataly in New York City that is open to the public (for a fee, of course, but read on and you’ll understand why).

I’ll be talking about Wine Wars, Dan Amatuzzi (Eataly’s Wine Director) will lead a tasting of five Italian terroirist wines and Patrick Lacey (Executive Chef of Eataly’s La Scuola) will prepare regional food pairings (tasting notes and adapted recipes will be provided). What fun! Here’s a listing of the wines and foods. Wow!  What great choices!

Wines

Monastero Suore Cistercensi “Coenobium Rusticum” 2009, Lazio
Giacomo Borgogno Barolo Riserva 1999, Piemonte
Antinori Brunello di Montalcino “Pian delle Vigne” 2006, Toscana
Argiolas “Turriga” 2006, Sardinia
Tenute Rubino Aleatico Amabile 2007 (500ml), Puglia

Menu
Puntarelle in Salsa
Due Crostini – Piemontese & Toscani
Malloreddus con Salsiccia

Wine Wars at Raymond Vineyards

We did a Puget Sound alumni event at Raymond Vineyards in Napa Valley during our California trip and I thought you might be interested in Sue’s photos of the event, which try to capture the drama of the Raymond experience.  I did a book signing in the absolutely fabulous Red Room and then an alumni luncheon talk in the Crystal Cellar room. It was quite an feeling to have nearly 100 alumni seated at one long mirrored table with candlelight the only illumination, eating a fabulous meal along with great Raymond Vineyards wines.

Setting up for the luncheon

Lowering the lights

Alumni and guests dining by candelight

Book signing in the Red Room

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Thanks to Patrick Egan and his boss, Jean-Charles Boisset, for their hospitality at Raymond Vineyards and to Svetlana Matt for organizing the event. Thanks to Andy Perdue for the great interview. Thanks to Dan and Cristina at Eataly for making the New York event possible. Thanks to Sue for the photos. Thanks to you for reading The Wine Economist!

Here is the Wine Wars World Tour schedule for next month.

March 2012

Ants, Elephants and Washington Wine

I’m just back from the Washington Association of Wine Grape Growers annual meetings where I gave a talk about Wine Wars and its implications for Washington wine. Wine Wars focuses on global wine markets and the forces that are shaping them — what insights can it offer for Washington wine growers?

The Confidence Game

Wine Wars argues that reputation (and the value of  your brand) is an increasingly important factor in today’s crowded and competitive marketplace. No one has to buy your wine (or to buy wine at all given the many liquid alternatives). You have to stand for something (your reputation) and your brand has to reflect and effectively communicate that to break through the market noise. I call it The Confidence Game and reputation is a key strategy. That my friends is the Miracle of Two Buck Chuck that I talk about in Wine Wars.

But reputation and brands are complicated — a pretty obvious lesson that I only really learned a couple of weeks ago when I was at the Unified Wine & Grape Symposium in Sacramento.  My session (on The State of the Industry) examined the wine market from the global, international, national and California perspectives. After the session I was talking with a friend who has a 50,000+ case winery in Napa Valley. I think my business is important, he told me, but I today I felt like an ant in a room full of elephants.

Life in Ant-Ville

The U.S. wine industry is very large (and California dominates it, of course) but Napa Valley is just a thin stripe at the  bottom of the wine production bar graph (compared to the bigger producers elsewhere in the state) and my friend’s winery is only a small part of that. That’s ant-ville — nearly invisible — compared with elephant-land, the domain of the large scale producers and bulk wine trade (although 50,000+ cases is not at all insignificant in an absolute sense).

Washington is ant-town, too, I told my audience. (No offence intended! Ants are great creatures. They can carry many times their own weight. A colony of ants can probably strip an elephant carcass in a few hours. Ants are powerful collectively. But individually they are pretty don’t have much clout.)

Wine world ants need all the help they can get to get their brand or reputation out there. They need to have a strong private brand, of course, but they also need a strong regional brand (Napa Valley, for example) to create a reputational wave that the winery brand can ride. That’s one reason my friend’s winery is successful, even if it is just an ant in a crowded room.

Why Elephants are Different

Elephants are different these days — and it is not entirely by choice. Elephants (wineries that produce millions of cases) need strong brands, too, but increasingly they are being forced to distance themselves from regional brands such as AVAs and rely more and more on their own reputations. The reason? The emerging wine shortages that are forcing them to search far and wide for grapes and wine to fill their massive pipelines.

Years of stagnant vineyard expansion combined with rising demand have created a growing structural shortage of certain types of wine (bad news for those of us who have gotten used to deep wine discounts in the surplus years).

This is why so many wines that used to carry regional appellations are now forced to identify themselves as “California” wines. They need to blend wine from all over the state to fill their orders. Take a look at $8-$12 Zinfandels the next time you are in the supermarket and you will see what I mean.

The Logic of American Wine

“California” is a pretty broad appellation, but I am hearing rumbles from elephant land that increased use of the previously rare “American” appellation is in the cards. And expect more bulk wine imports (legally labeled to be sure) to make their way into bottles of wines you might reasonable suppose to hold All-American wine.

Is this a good thing? Well I’m not sure that it is good or bad — it’s just necessity. And I suppose it helps the ants with their stronger regional associations to differentiate themselves from the more generic elephants. But, on the other hand, the elephants’ promotion of regional brands in the past probably strengthened them, unintentionally benefiting local ants.

Since Washington wine is a teeming ant colony, it follows that it would benefit from a stronger regional brand. What is Brand Washington? Good question. (Paul Gregutt recently suggested how Brand Washington might be better promoted — click here to read his  column.)

[At this point my talk veered into a discussion of Brand Washington compared to Oregon, Napa Valley, Argentina and Chile. This part of the talk will have to wait for future Wine Economist post.]

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Another speaker joked that Ste Michelle Wine Estates (SMWE), which is by far Washington’s largest wine producer, is the state’s only elephant, but CEO Ted Baseler objected, citing the Wine Wars description of SMWE’s “string of pearls” (or chain-of-ants?) structure.

Who am I to disagree with Ted, especially since he was on the program to announce an exceptionally generous $1 million donation to help create a Wine Science Center on the Washington State University campus in wine country!

Thanks to WAWGG for inviting me to speak and special thanks to all the Wine Wars and Wine Economist readers I met at the conference.

Book of the Year, Wine Wars Tour & Top Posts of 2011

Happy New Year, everyone! Herewith brief reports on the top Wine Economist posts of 2011, the next stops on the Wine Wars World Tour and an unexpected book of the year award.

Wine Book of the Year

I’m very pleased (and more than a little suprised)  to report that Wine Wars and Benjamin Lewin’s terrific In Search of Pinot Noir have been named wine books of the year 2011 by Paul O’Doherty, the book reviewer at JancisRobinson.com.  He writes that

From the get-go you just don’t want to put this book down, slaloming as it does informatively through economic and social history, the wine industry, the future, and observations setting the scene for the great battle between the market forces redrawing the world wine map and, as Veseth puts it, ‘the terroirists who are trying to stop them’.

O’Doherty makes the fair criticism that, like the college professor that I am, I tend to go off on occasional tangents and not always get to the point as quickly as you might like. But he spins this into a rather charming compliment:

 However, in his defence, there’s a kindly lecturing sweep to his narrative so that, if you were listening to him at the back of his economics class in college, you’d just want him to keep talking forever.

Not sure my students would vote for “forever,” although I suspect it seems like forever to them on some days. He concludes that

This is undoubtedly a fascinating read that will be a treat to most tastes and is, along with Benjamin Lewin’s In Search of Pinot Noir, one of the books of the year.

Thanks for the kind words. I am flattered by the praise and honored to be on any list that includes a book by Benjamin Lewin.

Looking Ahead: Wine Wars Tour Continues

I’m excited to see what 2012 will bring. I know I will meet more interesting people as the Wine Wars World Tour continues to unfold. Here is my current schedule for January and February.

January 2012

February 2012

Looking Back: Top Posts

2011 was a big year for the Wine Economist blog, with about 190,000 hits for an average of about 525 per day. About 1000 people “follow” the Wine Economist either through email updates that are sent out whenever a new post goes live or via the Wine Economist FaceBook page. These are small numbers compared to the most popular wine websites, but they suggest that there is a surprisingly large audience for wine economics analysis.

I thought you might be interested in the most frequently visited Wine Economist posts for the year. Here is the league table as compiled by WordPress, based on which posts on the entire Wine Economist site received the most hits.

Year’s Most Popular Wine Economist Blog Posts 2007-2011

  1. Wine’s Future: It’s in the Bag (in the Box)
  2. Cracking the Chinese Wine Market
  3. Costco and Global Wine
  4. Curse of the Blue Nun
  5. Olive Garden and the Future of American Wine
  6. What’s The Next Big Thing in Wine?
  7. Wine Distribution Bottleneck
  8. The World’s Best Wine Magazine?
  9. Argentinean Wine: A SWOT Analysis
  10. Riesling: How Sweet It Is?

The picture changes a bit when you look at number of hits for posts first published during 2011 (excluding those from previous years).

Year’s Most Popular 2011 Wine Economist posts

  1. What’s The Next Big Thing in Wine?
  2. Argentinean Wine: A SWOT Analysis
  3. It’s Official! The Wine Wars Have Begun
  4. Extreme Wine: O Canada Ice Wine
  5. The Forbes Interview: Wineries that “Get It”
  6. Sizing Up Supermarket Wine
  7. The BRICs: Russian Wine Market Report
  8. The BRICs: Surprising Wines of India
  9. The BRICs: Misunderstanding Brazilian Wine
  10. Liquid Assets: Fine Wine versus Crude Oil

At first glance it is difficult to pick out a common thread from among these posts, since they cover so many individual topics (both a strength and a weakness of this blog, I suppose). But, stepping back a ways, I think I do see a theme: change. Most of these posts examine ways that the wine world is changing, shedding old traditions, embracing new technologies, opening new markets. Certainly economics is a driving force for innovation and change in wine, so perhaps this makes sense.

On that note I wish you a Happy 2012. Can’t wait to see what happens next!

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I’d like to take this opportunity to thank everyone who helped me with The Wine Economist and Wine Wars in 2011, especially during our fieldwork expeditions in Argentina and Italy. Special thanks to my university students, Patrick (“the wine guy”), research assistants Janice & Scott, Nancy & Michael, Ron & Mary, and of course #1 research assistant Sue.

What’s Red, White & Green? Wine Packaging Greens Up

What’s red and white and green all over? Wine, naturally. And naturally Oregon wineries are in the green forefront — a fact that was reinforced at a recent Wine Wars book talk.

The Difference Between Water and Wine

Forty-eight  alumni came out on a beautiful August evening to attend an event at the Boedecker Cellars winery near downtown Portland.  That’s a testament to the old saying “Water keeps people apart, wine brings them together.” Urban wineries are a growing trend and Steward Boedecker and Athena Pappas have located theirs in a cool 1950s building across the street from the Pyramid Ales brewery. (Stewart is a Puget Sound alumnus, so Boedecker is on my growing list of  alumni wineries.)

Because I was asked to talk about Wine Wars with particular attention to Chapter 14’s topic, wine and the environment, I titled my presentation “What’s Red and White and Green All Over.” Portland is a good place to give a talk like this because it is so close to the wine country and its citizens are so environmentally minded. Green wine is big in these parts.

Green wine is made in the vineyard, of course (the organic or biodynamic viticulture choice), and part of it is made in the cellar (especially regarding water use and re-use, which is a significant issue almost everywhere). I’ve seen estimates that it can take as much as 120 liters of water to produce a single glass of wine if you follow the product chain from start to finish. Wow! That’s a big environmental factor.

And finally there’s green wine packaging.

Weighing the packaging options: Jen, Allison, Mike and Brad.

The Weigh In

With the help of two volunteers, Jen and Brad, I demonstrated some green and no-so-green wine packaging options.  The differences in size, weight and perceived quality were astonishing. Here is the tale of the scale.

  • Standard 750ml bottle filled 1320 grams
  • Standard bottle empty 578 grams
  • Prestige bottle empty 844 grams (46% heavier than standard bottle)
  • Eco bottle empty 476 grams (82% of the weight of standard bottle)
  • Ultra-eco bottle empty 444 grams (the blue bottle in the photo — 77% of standard bottle weight)
  • PET bottle empty 56 grams (the yellow bottle in the photo — less than 10% of the standard bottle weight)
  • Tetra-Pak 1 liter container empty 40 grams (less than 8% of standard bottle weight)

The Tetra-Pak is more efficiently produced and recycled and saves over 90 percent of shipping weight compared with the standard bottle, an amazing saving of resources all along the product chain.

I predict that much of the wine we drink every day will eventually be delivered in eco-containers. Just as many consumers seem to have gotten over their prejudice against screw caps, I think we’ll come to accept eco-packaging as an appropriate delivery system for the ordinary everyday wines that make up more than half of all wine sales.

Animated winemakers: Athena Pappas and Stewart Boedecker

Fine Wine versus Vin du Jour

But what about fine wine? Well before my visit to Boedecker my answer was that the eco packaging choices were pretty limited – lightweight glass was about all I could recommend since the most extreme eco choices (Tetra-Pak, for example), are not appropriate for medium- or long-term storage. They are for vins du jour – the wines you buy at 3pm and open at 5pm (which make up the bulk of total wine sales, of course).

But Stewart surprised me by explaining that he had found some innovative ways to cut Boedecker’s environmental footprint without sacrificing the quality of the delivered product.

How about re-using wine bottles the way we used to collect and reuse soda bottles? The idea of recycled wine bottles is very appealing, but the practical problems of collecting used bottles, cleaning, sorting and distributing them are hard to overcome. But Stewart told me about a California firm (I think he was talking about Wine Bottle Renew) that has tackled this project with success, using high tech scanners to sort the bottles (a key and previously prohibitively labor intensive process).

The money and resources saved by not having to melt down and recast the glass are considerable, Stewart said, and the delivered glass is both cheaper than new, it is also actually cleaner (an obvious concern).  He’s sold on recycled bottles and it is easy to see why – a trend to follow for sure.

Riding the Keg Wine Wave

Boedecker is also riding the keg wine wave, which is another eco-packaging movement. Wineries deliver 20-25-liter kegs to restaurants and other “on-premises” establishments to fill “wine by the glass” orders with no waste. It makes a lot of sense to eliminate as much of the packaging as possible for wine that will move so quickly from barrel to glass.

But keg wine is currently mostly a local phenomenon because of the logistics of recycling and reusing the kegs, which is the key to the whole enterprise. So I was surprised to learn that Stewart was selling Boedecker wine kegs in New York City.  They ship the wine in bulk to New York where a local partner handles the keg operation.

What a great idea! It opens up a distant market, is good for the environment and is good for the wine, too.  Kym Anderson recently explained to me that shipping in bulk versus shipping in bottles can actually result in better wine because the liquid mass of the wine (up to 25,000 liters in the case of ocean container shipments) is more temperature stable than cases of wine in bottles. Cheaper, greener, better quality — a winemaking trifecta!

Bulk shipping and local “bottling” into kegs is kind of a return to U.S. wine market practices in the 1930s, where California winemakers would ship bulk wine across the country in railroad tank cars. Local bottlers would market the wine, usually under their own brands rather than the name of the wine producer. This practice ended in World War II when the Army commandeered the tank cars and wineries were forced to bottle (and brand) themselves and ship cases of wine in box cars.

Will keg wine take off and take us back to the future of wine? Stay tuned.

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Thanks to Stewart and Athena for hosting the alumni event at their winery. Thanks as well to Brad Boyl, Rainier Aliment, Renee Kurdzos and Allison Cannady-Smith for all they did to make this event a success.

At Last: Wine Wars for Kindle

I know that some of you have been waiting patiently (and some not-so-patiently) for July 16, 2011 — the day that Amazon.com releases Wine Wars in its proprietary Kindle e-book format (and the Nook and other electronic formats are released, too).

Well, you can stop waiting and start reading: today’s the big day. I’d love to hear what Kindle readers (and e-book readers generally) have to say about Wine Wars. And don’t forget to leave a review on the Amazon.com site if you like it!

E-books are hot and I think it’s possible that more people will read Wine Wars on e-books than in the hardback version. One problem: how do I autograph an e-book? (Using a Sharpie on the screen seems like a bad idea.) Let me know if you have a solution!

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