More than five years ago, I wrote in these pages that “dry rosés are increasing in popularity not only among open-minded wine drinkers but also among California winemakers.”
If I could write these words today they’d make me look like a pretty savvy wine economist. Dry rosé wines have experienced a boom in recent years and not everyone was convinced back in 2018 that the pink wave was real.
But I didn’t write this sentence. Mark Bittman did in an article titled “The Perfect Summer Wine?” that appeared in the August 1998 issue of Cook’s Illustrated magazine. (This issue sort of fell into our hands when Sue found it in the Little Free Library down the street. Someone in the neighborhood must be cleaning magazines out of the basement.)
You might be surprised to know that dry rosé was fashionable back in 1998, but actually that’s not the point that Bittman makes in this article. You see way back in 1993, Bittman’s tasting panel found lots of dry rosés that pleased them. But by 1998 things were going downhill, he writes. Too many of the wines they tasted were sweet, not dry. “Tutti fruity” one tasting note reads. “Just drier than black cherry soda, not unlike it,” says another.
That’s not to say that Bittman’s team couldn’t find delicioous dry rosés for the 1998 tasting. The thing that struck them was that most of them came from France and only a few from California. Three out of four of the “not recommended” wines were California products. Not exactly a Judgement of Paris result.
All but one of the “recommended” and “highly recommended” wines came from France. The sole California selection? Heitz Cellars Napa Valley Grignolino Rosé!
The Curse of the White Zinfandel?
I wonder if this was a “white Zin” effect? There was a time when sweetish pink California wines were very popular and the leader of the pack was White Zinfandel. Do you suppose that the popularity of that style of wine influenced Calfifornia rosé wines generally the way that the success of Kendall-Jackson Private Reserve Chandronnay influenced a lot of California Chardonnay producers?
The sweet/dry cleavage isn’t the only one that Bittman’s article highlights. There is also pale and dark to consider.
The top rosé wine, according to the tasting panel, was the same in both 1993 and 1998: Chateau de Trinquevedel Tavel. Younger readers may wonder in what part of Provence is Tavel found? This is a trick question because Tavel is in the Rhone valley and the wines are dark and full-bodied. I have always thought of them, in my simplistic way, as pink wines for red wine drinkers. Pale Provencal wines (like the #2 wine in 1998: Domaine de la Gautiere en Provence) are, by contast, pinks that appeal a bit more to those who like white wine.
Delightful and Affordable
The wines were not especially cheap in 1998: $15 for the Tavel and $8 for Provence. That is much more than Beringer White Zin in those days, but worth every penny, Bittman assures us, and I am sure he was right. The most expensive wine reviewed cost $22 in 1998 prices, which was a lot for a rosé back then. But what a wine: Domaine Tempier Bandol 1996.
Dry rosé is back with the French in the vanguard. But darker rosés like the Tavel are hard to find (Tavel wines are very hard in my local market). Everyone tells me that consumers strongly prefer pale pink to dark pink, even though the experts say that color and hue don’t determine flavor and aroma. If the conventional wisdom is correct in this case, then I feel a certain loss. Those Tavel rosés and wines like them deserve more attention.
Mark Bittman concluded his 1998 Cook’s Illustrated article saying
I wish I could write, as I did in 1993, that this was a “group of delightful, affordable wines.” But there are some delightful and affordable wines in the group; you just have to be a little more picky than you did a few years ago.
I wonder what he’d write today? Certainly there are many more rosé wines and a lot of them are surely delightful (how affordable they are is a matter of judgement I leave to you, but the majority seem affordable by the standards of the 1998 tasting). You probably still need to be a bit picky, however, to find what you want.
The Lonely Planet Guide folks have released a new guide to global wine trails. The big book (320 pages, 2.4 pounds) lays out itineraries for 52 potential weekend wine country visits. It is a colorful book, full of maps and photos, and worthy of consideration if you are planning trips, interested in how wine tourism has developed, or just want to make imaginary vineyard visits.
Each chapter is organized according to a set structure, starting with an overview and map followed by brief profiles of six or seven wineries (a reasonable number to think about for a weekend trip). Accommodations? A couple of options are provided along with three dining choices and some ideas for non-wine things to do. Just enough to get you started.
Sue and I have visited many of these regions and, in general, I’d give the Lonely Planet itineraries solid marks. They might not always be the wineries we would choose to visit or the hotels and restaurants we’d pick, but they would certainly steer a first-time visitor in good directions. This is not a surprise, since the wine tourism chapters were written by an international team of experts.
Creating a big book like this is an exercise in choice. What do you put in? What do you leave out? You can’t possibly include everything in 300+ pages. Something has to give! This fact became apparently to me some years ago when I was asked to edit a book for a New York Times series. I was given the entire 20th century of New York Times content (all 100 years) and tasked with telling the story of globalization. What I learned was that you have to begin with a story and build around that, which is sort of a top-down approach that prioritizes the narrative. A bottom-up approach, which relies upon the facts to form their own images, is fiendishly difficult to pull off.
The decisions when looking at wine tourism begin with the question of what regions to include. Fifty-two is a big number, but there are many more wine trails around the world. When a French wine periodical published a list of the 35 best wine tourism destinations back in 2012, they found that 29 of them were in France. Zut alors! That’s not much for the rest of the wine world.
The Lonely Planet guide lists eight French itineraries including the “greatest hits” of Burgundy, Bordeaux, and Champagne. Italy and Spain get seven entries each, including the most famous and most-visited regions. So far just as you might expect. But while Australia has seven entries, big-name Barrossa is not one of them. And Napa is not anywhere on the USA list, which takes you from the Finger Lakes of New York, through Pennsylvania wine country, to Grand Valley, Colorado, and on to Walla Walla, the Willamette Valley, Sonoma, and Santa Ynez.
Other parts of the wine world receive less space. Argentina, Canada, Chile, England, Georgia, Germany, Greece, Lebanon, Portugal, Romania, and Slovenia get one entry each. New Zealand and South Africa get two entries each.
At first this inconsistent treatment of famous regions versus the rest bothered me, but I’ve decided that it is probably OK within the context of this book. Reading about the charms of Colorado wine country, for example, might encourage someone to look beyond the big name appellations when visiting France or Italy. And that would be a good thing.
This method of mixing the famous with the lesser-known continues within the chapters in terms of the winery choices presented, accommodation options, and dining recommendations. Some of the choices left me scratching my head (why list hotels and restaurants in Portland, for example, when there are so many good choices in the Willamette Valley wine country itself?), but in general I’ve decided that the Lonely Planet guide is quite useful. It gives readers the basics and invites them to explore.
Readers who don’t go beyond the recommendations here will have a good time. Curious types who use this as a springboard to dive deeper into the wine tourism pool will have even more fun because when it comes to wine the wines, wineries, restaurants, etc. that you discover yourself are often the most satisfying.
What do you think of when you think of Colorado? Chances are that Colorado wine isn’t the first image that comes to mind, but it should be somewhere on your radar screen. Wine is both old and new in this Rocky Mountain state.
Peaks and Valleys
Wine was first produced in 1890 from grapes grown on 60 acres of vineyard and orchard land on Rapid Creek above Palisade along the Colorado River. The decades since these first wines were made have been full of peaks and valleys for Colorado wine and Sue and I have had sort of a rocky road experience ourselves with these wines.
We’ve had several chances to taste Colorado wines over the years, especially when I spoke at the state’s annual VinCO Conference in 2018. While we’ve been impressed by some of the wines, we were disappointed by others.
Peaks and valleys. This uneven experience is a problem because you seldom get a second chance to make a first impression when people taste your wine. But it is also understandable. Honestly, I don’t know any wine region that doesn’t have its share of peaks and valleys.
Climbing to the Heights
It is also understandable because, although the Colorado wine industry is surprisingly old, it is also unexpectedly young. You see, Colorado citizens embraced Prohibition even before the national policy was enacted and the vines were ripped out more than 100 years ago. Wine really didn’t restore its foothold in Colorado until the 1970s (Warren Winniarski, of Judgment of Paris fame, made some of those early wines). The industry has charted an upward path since then, but the road has remained rocky.
Sue and I were delighted when offered the opportunity to taste Colorado wines from The Ordinary Fellow winery, a project of the winemaker Ben Parsons and located in the old United Fruit Growers COOP peach packing shed in Palisade. I don’t know Parsons personally, but his career path reminds me of Randall Grahm. Grahm is a brilliant brand-builder who is also a committed terroirist. Both land and brand, if you know what I mean. I think Parsons might be the same.
Parsons achieved brand-building fame with The Infinite Monkey Theorem winery. He started out making wine in a quonset hut in Denver, far from the vineyards but up close to the urban customer base. He set out to be different, which drew him to keg wine and then to cans. Infinite Monkey Theorem became a canned wine phenomenon to such a degree that at one point a second winery was opened in Austin. Parsons and the Infinite Monkey Theorem brand were way ahead of the curve in terms of cans and creating an image and environment that appeals to younger consumers.
Parsons left Infinite Monkey Theorem in 2019 to found The Ordinary Fellow (named for a favorite pub in England), making wine in Palisade from grapes grown on two high-elevation vineyards in southwest Colorado.
More Than Mile High
We tasted three of the Colorado wines. Our favorite was a 2021 Riesling ($18) from the Box Bar vineyard, elevation 6200 feet. It had intense Riesling character and developed nicely in the glass with dinner. We also enjoyed the 2021 Cabernet Sauvignon ($25) from the same vineyard. Can you taste high elevation? I wonder. This wine reminded me of some high-elevation Malbecs from Salta in Argentina. The acidity really lifted the and balanced the tannins. Was it really an elevation effect? Probably the power of suggestion, but very interesting.
The 2021 Pinot Noir ($25) from the 6800-foot Hawk’s Nest vineyard struck us as a work in progress, but one we’d be interested to follow in the years to come. What a beautiful light color and nice nose! But Sue thought it tasted more like a Grenache than Pinot Noir, which is not necessarily a bad thing. Me? I’m just amazed that Pinot Noir can be grown in Colorado, but I guess I need to reimagine what’s possible in Colorado. Overall I would say these wines are a “peak” experience for sure. I hope we have a chance to visit the winery in Palisade somewhere down the road.
Parons produces about 2500 cases of wine these days with plans to grow to 5000 cases. He’s working hard to develop the vineyards and to make wine that reflects their particular terroir.
Rocky Road Ahead?
Colorado has 163 wineries according to Wine Business Monthly’s annual survey, which puts it just ahead of Missouri and just behind of North Carolina (two important wine producers) on the list. A WineAmerica economic impact study suggests wine is an important driver of jobs and income.
I asked my friend Doug Caskey, who is executive director of the Colorado Wine Industry Development Board, about the road ahead for the state’s wine industry and he provided a very realistic assessment. On the plus side, innovation is rising, including new sparkling wines that expand the state’s wine menu. But scale (and therefore economies of scale) is limited by several factors including water availability, the risk of severe winter weather, and the cost of vineyard lands.
Colorado recently expanded wine sales from specialized shops to include supermarkets and convenience stores and this change introduces a big question mark for Colorado wines. On one hand, wine will be more readily available for the state’s shoppers, which is likely to increase wine sales. But will it increase Colorado wine sales, or will those supermarket shelves be filled with bigger-volume wines from California and elsewhere? Lots of uncertainty.
Will the rising tide lift all wine boats? Maybe. Supermarkets like to demonstrate their commitment to local products and producers. What could be more local in Colorado than Colorado wine? However, based on what we’ve seen in other states, it’s a tough problem to solve.
Sue and I are glad we had this opportunity to revisit Colorado wine and look forward to learning more about this state’s evolving wine industry in the future.
As you probably already guessed, The Ordinary Fellow wine isn’t ordinary at all. Its exceptionalism begins with the colorful labels, which are actually more complicated and interactive than they appear in the photos. There are two parts to the label. The first is a very colorful inner label that reminds me a little of the Beatles’ “Yellow Submarine” type of art, then a plain white outer label that rotates to reveal different aspects of the inner art. Kinda psychedelic! Not ordinary at all.
The setting is the fantastic Castello San Salvatore in Susegana. The program features conversations with noteworthy wine writers interwoven with focused wine masterclasses. All the senses will be stimulated, especially the imagination.
Here is an excerpt from the (auto-translated) press release with the details.
Wine is an integral part of our culture; an ancient drink whose production over the millennia has been improved thanks to the study, experimentation and research of man. The cultivation of the vine has forged landscapes, created local cultures, defined communities and projected Italy into the world. During Co(u)ltura Conegliano Valdobbiadene guests will be welcomed in a space designed to allow them to deepen the many aspects that the wine world offers to its enthusiasts and to the increasingly numerous curious.
“With Co(u)ltura Conegliano Valdobbiadene we want to propose a wider and more engaging way of proposing our product” announces Elvira Bortolomiol president of the Protection Consortium “It is an event inspired by the presentation of the last vintage of Conegliano Valdobbiadene Prosecco Superiore DOCG to lead the visitor on an exciting journey into the world of wine. Through meetings with authors and their books, with the producers of Conegliano Valdobbiadene, with images, which we will use in various ways to tell the many facets, visitors will have the opportunity to be surprised by the many insights and entertainment that we are sure will involve them “.
“Co(u)ltura is an extraordinary opportunity to experience wine in its best dimension, the cultural one” comments Alessandro Torcoli, director of Civiltà del bere. “It is the first time that a Consortium has decided to go beyond the promotional dimension of its wine to give back to the public opportunities for authorial reflection, thanks to the meeting with writers, journalists and essayists of clear fame. Visitors will be able to alternate tasting sessions with presentations of books on food and wine, to come out enriched not only in the senses, but also in the intellect. On the other hand, we are convinced that the best weapon against prohibitionist campaigns is that of culture, which teaches to drink with the head”.
Visitors and wine lovers will be able to spend an entire weekend meeting with the most authoritative names in Italian oenology such as the agronomist Attilio Scienza and Luigi Moio, president of the OIV; the most famous critics such as Daniele Cernilli. We will not neglect the marketing aspects with Slwaska Scarso nor the most evocative names and faces of the sector such as Sandro Boscaini. For those who want a complete overview of the product, its origin, its territory, it will be possible to register for in-depth masterclasses on Conegliano Valdobbiadene, also proposed “in combination” with a book that in various ways will address the territory: from the verses of Andrea Zanzotto to the studies on soils of the Director of the Consortium Diego Tomasi. The journalist and expert on the global wine market, Mike Veseth, will also be involved who, interviewed by Susan Gordon, will broaden our horizons beyond national borders. Finally, Gad Lerner will talk with Alberto Grandi about the origin of the denominations.
The books and their authors together with experts in the sector, the producers of Conegliano Valdobbiadene Prosecco Superiore DOCG will be the expedient to make Italian and foreign consumers discover that wine is not just a product that we consume but cultural expression in a broad sense, passion, effort, joy, sharing. For this reason, the event is also enriched by two exhibitions, one dedicated to advertising posters in the sector that tells how wine was promoted until the first half of the ‘900 and an immersive exhibition that will unfold in some rooms of the Castle from 21 pm on Saturday 6 May, in which the visitor will be literally immersed in the rows and stories of the territory.
Finally, the protagonist of the evening of Saturday 6 May will be the video mapping projected in the magnificent courtyard of the San Salvatore Castle, for a story of the history of the Protection Consortium, which winds between enchanted of the past and dream of the future.
The Wine Economist column was provoked by a conversation with some California growers at this year’s Unified Wine & Grape Symposium and connected the dots linking their observations with Vinpro data presented a few weeks earlier for South Africa. Only 9 percent of South African winegrowers earn a sustainable return on their vineyard investment. A little more than half break even or earn small nominal profits, but not enough to sustain continuing investment. And almost 40 percent reported losses. And the margin gap is getting wider.
My California grower friends said their situation was not much different from the South Africans and, indeed, this is a problem I have seen around the world, although not typically backed by the sort of data that Vinpro collects for the South African industry.
The two simple strategies to claw back margins are to reduce yields to try to raise quality and therefore price or to reduce unit cost by increasing yields. South African growers have found it difficult to raise prices enough to make the first strategy work, so many are focusing on higher yields. But it is not as simple as that, the California growers told me, because sometimes buyers won’t allow higher yields and, in any case, some older vineyards just aren’t set up to make high yields possible.
Losing in Lodi
W. Blake Gray’s article digs deeper into the California situation, specifically for District 11, the San Joaquin Valley North, which includes Lodi. He quotes Aaron Lange of Lange Twins Family Winery and Vineyards in Lodi, for example, who explains that average grape prices are lower now than they were 25 years ago (despite higher costs throughout the production chain). Lodi Cabernet Sauvignon, for example, sold for an average of $695 per ton in 2022 according to the UDSA grape crush report. It sold for an average of $794 in 1997. The figures for Chardonnay grapes are $627 in 2022 versus $774 in 1997. That, my friends, is a big squeeze.
Is it possible to increase yields enough to break out of the big squeeze? Gray provides data from a 2021 UC/Davis study of the District 11 situation that suggests that higher yields can sometimes, but not always, solve the problem. At a price of $650 per ton (which is close to the average current Chardonnay and Cabernet prices), for example, the Davis study calculates a $156 per acre profit at 12 tons per ace and a $780 per acre product at a yield of 13 tons, but losses at lower per-acre yields.
The situation is only a little different at a price of $750 per ton. Profits ($633 per acre) appear at a yield of 11 tons per acre, rising to $2080 at a yield of 13 tons. But yields below 11 tons per acre still generate red ink even with the higher price.
Lower prices make things much worse. At a price of $550 per ton, no level of yield between 7 tons and 13 tons generates a profit. It’s red ink all the way down.
These data and reports make me wonder if winegrape growing is economically sustainable for many producers in District 11 and similar regions and these doubts are heightened by Gray’s interview with Jeff Bitter, the President of Allied Grape Growers (and a grower himself). Bitter notes that the economics of winegrape growing have made it difficult or impossible to focus solely on grape production.
Why continue to farm grapes? Some farm winegrapes because it is what they want to do (a “lifestyle” choice), Bitter suggests at one point, or because the alternatives are unattractive. There are a lot of factors that define the situation, including market conditions in different regions (Central Valley, Central Coast, North Coast) and farm size. There is money to be made in winegrapes under the right circumstances, but there are plenty of losses, too, and it is easy to understand why generational transitiions among growers are often in doubt.
When we talk about sustainable winegrowing, we usually focus on the environmental impacts, but Gray’s article suggests that we need to take the issue of economic sustainably more seriously, too.
Thanks to Wine Business Monthly for all the great articles in this issue and to W. Blake Gray for his focused report on the vineyard margin problem and the economic issues facing growers generally.
The American wine scene is incredibly deep and wide. There are thousands of wineries (more than 11,000 in 2023, according to Wine Business Monthly) producing tens of thousands of different wines with prices ranging from two bucks to several hundred dollars. Wine is produced in every state and the District of Columbia, too.
Spoiled for Choice
This explosion of American wine is noteworthy for many reasons, especially in the context of history. Don’t forget that commercial sales of wine were illegal during Prohibition and are still heavily taxed, regulated, and often discouraged in many parts of the country.
The widespread production of wine is also challenged by what the economist Robert H. Frank called The Winner-Take-All Society in his book of the same name. When consumers have a choice (and wine consumers have an incredible abundance of choice), it is natural for them to begin to look for the best choice and to focus on that once it is identified. (Wine critic numerical scores reinforce this process, of course). Add in the band-wagon effect as transmitted through the internet (think Yelp rankings of winery visits) and pretty sonon attention is firmly focused on a relatively small number of favorites with most of the rest left behind.
It was easy to see the Winner-Take-All effect when Frank’s book was published in 1995. It is easy to see it now, too, and it represents one of several powerful forces for consolidation in the wine industry. There may be more than 11,000 wineries all across America, but most of the wine is made by a small number of large wineries in California. The winner doesn’t take it all in terms of market share, but lots of smaller wineries struggle a bit for market traction and attention.
Think Local. Drink Local.
Sue and I try to seek out local wine producers when we travel and we are fascinated by what we discover. A recent Wine Economist column on Arizona Wine Revisited has inspired us to highlight Mendocino County, California. It isn’t a new wine region — quite the opposite! But, sitting just north of the bright lights shining on the Napa and Sonoma valleys, Mendocino has suffered from the downside of the winner-take-all situation.
Jancis Robinson and Linda Murphy summed up one part of the Mendocino story in their 2013 book on American Wine.
Only in the last two decades has Mendocino County won acclaim for its wines; previously it was known for selling its grapes outside the county. In the early 1900s Mendocino didn’t have railroads or river systems with which to deliver finished wines to San Francisco, where they could be sold. So growers transported their fruit by wagon to the Italian Swiss Colony co-op in Asti (Sonoma County), where they were ” lost” in large, inexpensive blends. … Those discouraging days are finally over.
Some of those early Italian Swiss Colony wines cited Sonoma, Napa, and Mendocino (great billing!) as the source of the grapes. But that, I think, was before the advent of American Viticultural Areas and their regulations. Soon these wines were designated “California” and Mendocino sort of fell off both the label and the consumer radar. The wine wars became brand wars and brand Mendocino struggled.
But, as American Wine notes, Mendocino is back. Although lots of Mendo grapes are still “exported” to other parts of California to make popular wines, home-grown producers are getting recognition, too.
Sue and I sampled wines from three Mendocino producers during a pair of “Mendocino weeks” at our house: Husch Vineyards, Graziano Family of Wines, and Ettore Winery. Although this only scratches the surface of Mendocino wine, these wines show some of the many faces of the region.
Both Sides Now: Husch Vineyards.
Husch Vineyards dates from 1968 and became the first bonded winery in Mendocino’s Anderson Valley in 1971. The Oswald family purchased the operation in 1979 and it has stayed in the family ever since.
Husch wines show two distinctly different faces of Mendocino County. The Anderson Valley’s cooler climate yields elegant Pinot Noir, Chardonnay, and a Dry Gewurtztraminer with a loyal following. Warmer inland vineyards produce Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot, Old Vine Zinfandel, and Chenin Blanc grapes among others.
The wines are impressive, but the Dry Gewurtztraminer, off-dry Chenin Blanc, and Old Vines Heritage red wine blend of Petite Sirah, Zinfandel, and Carignane from the historic Garzini Ranch vineyard, are special favorites. We are fans.
All in the Family: Graziano Family of Wines
If Husch Vineyards is old by contemporary California standards, Graziano, founded in 1918, is positively historic and makes a point to honor its history in its wines. After 70 years as growers, Greg Graziano started making wine, too, in 1988. I think he realized his grapes were too good to let them disappear into other wineries’ big vats. The wine family today includes four labels: Saint Gregory, Monte Volpe, Enotria, and Graziano.
The Saint Gregory wines exploit cooler vineyard sites and include Pinot Noir and Pinot Meunier. The Graziano wines, on the other hand, highlight the old vines planted by the family in warmer spots, including the California classic trinity of Zinfandel, Petite Sirah, and Carignane, plus a lovely Chenin Blanc.
The Monte Volpe and Enotria labels honor the family’s Italian heritage with wines made from traditional Italian grape varieties such as Sangiovese, Vermentino, Negroamaro, and Aglianico (Monte Volpe) and Arneis, Dolcetto, and Barbera (Enotria).
Obviously, the wines are very different from one another, but they share a certain undeniable family resemblance that I characterize as “Italian sensibility.” What do I mean by that? Well, Italian wines are just different, with their lifted acidity and the way they call for food to pair with them. Greg Graziano is the dean of Mendocino winemakers and I think the winery and its distinctive sensibility is likely to stay “all in the family” for decades to come.
Fresh Faces: The Ettore Winery
Mendocino continues to attract and inspire winemakers. Ettore Biraghi is one of the fresh faces on the scene. Born in Lombardy, Ettore began his winemaking career in the Italian-speaking Swiss canton of Ticino. He owns, with business partner Franco Bruni, Tenuta Agricola Luigina winery in Stabio, Switzerland. Ettore visited California in 2015 to learn about its vineyard regions and discovered Mendocino. His winery opened in 2019 and the first organic wines were released a year later.
We have tasted two of Ettore’s wines. The Cabernet Sauvignon, from Sanel Valley Vineyards vines of 21 to 29 years of age, would compete very well in a lineup with Napa Valley Cabs of twice the price (Mendocino wines in general are very good value for quality). We also sampled the Chardonnay “Zero,” which is made without added sulfites using a process called “Purovino.” I thought it was a bit weird and didn’t much remind me of Chardonnay, but Sue thought it was interesting. More research required.
Mendocino has a long history and, I think, a bright future. As noted above, we have just scratched the surface, but it is a start and we encourage you to pick up where we left off.
Watch for a series of occasional columns about America’s wine regions. Colorado and Michigan are next on our agenda.
The brief introduction defines wine studies and provides informative facts and figures on different types of wine jobs, and average salaries in each. The “Big Five” chapter offers the most detailed program descriptions because it is dedicated to the most famous and highly sought-after trade certifications, like The Court of Master Sommeliers (CMS) and the Wine and Spirit Education Trust (WSET). Beyond these, throughout the book, I found the presentation of each program concise yet detailed enough for readers to assess content, rigor and learning outcomes, so they can decide whether a course is worth exploring further. Many readers, especially those with a more casual interest or professionals on a budget, will be interested in chapter 7, which focuses on free online programs. The author even suggests excellent curriculum ideas to take these courses in an organized way as if you were in school.
While the comprehensive coverage of all types of wine programs alone makes the book worth buying, I was impressed with the author’s treatment of diversity, equity and inclusion in wine education, to discuss issues like bias, racism and sexism. This is important because criticisms of the insularity and lack of diverse representation in the wine industry have gained more visibility in recent years. I appreciated that the author did not include this as part of program descriptions, but instead used it as a framework, encouraging readers to “be aware of any program’s historical background and biases.” These are systemic issues that are not limited to problems affecting a single program, such as the recent CMS scandals, which the author also discusses.
I would recommend that users of this guide take the time to look at chapters 1, 2 and 9, before using the table of contents to explore the specific programs they are interested in. Chapter 1’s history of wine studies offers a concise, yet thorough comparison of different wine education providers’ backgrounds and agendas, as well as reflections on the insularity of the wine trade and its continued lack of diverse representation. As the author notes, this is not to take away from the high value-added of their programs, but to help readers understand the issues they might face if they enter them. Interested readers can go deeper by exploring Leary’s references like wine writers Elaine Chukan Brown and Julia Coney.
Both chapter 2’s presentation of scholarships, and chapter 9’s coverage of mentorship programs, include several organizations focused on increasing BIPOC and women’s representation in the industry, like Bâtonnage, Vinequity, and Wine Unify. Finally, chapter 9 is addressed to wine education professionals as a starting point to reflect on their work to become more inclusive, and to incorporate more discussion of environmental and social issues in their curricula. For the past decade, I have been teaching a college course that Mike Veseth invented, The Idea of Wine, that invites students not just to know more about the product, but also to see how wine can help us understand big picture societal questions. It is aimed at college seniors, most of whom come with almost zero knowledge of wine. While students are excited about vineyard and wine production knowledge, what catches their attention in the end is the bigger picture. In chapter 9, Leary discusses wine’s connection to topics like climate change, the slave trade, fair labor practices and racism, and suggests they could be incorporated in wine education.
Chapter 4’s coverage of other international programs is excellent, if necessarily limited so as not to make the book over a thousand pages long. Given the importance of China (a very important market for WSET), more programs could be included. To make the book more useful for Chinese readers, it would be useful to mention other options, notably university degrees offered by the School of Enology at Northwest Agriculture and Forestry University near Xi’an, and at the University of Ningxia. The School of Enology (which, besides viticulture and enology, offers wine appreciation and wine business courses) is important enough to be included among degree programs in chapter 5 or 6.
The book is written in English, so it includes more programs taught in that language. However, the author did include some programs in other languages, but they are difficult to locate. It would be helpful if future editions of the book could include a list of non-English language programs, organized by language and page number, either at the beginning of the book or in an appendix. Additionally, it would be great if there was interest in translating the book to cater to local interests. Finally, while the issue of program costs is discussed at length in chapter 2 (which is about scholarships), it would be beneficial to include a column in program summary tables throughout the book that shows the prices of the programs.
Overall, Leary’s Global Wineology provides not only a comprehensive guide to just about anyone interested in wine education, from those seeking basic consumer knowledge, to advanced wine professionals looking to boost their credentials. Perhaps any knowledgeable person could have compiled such a list. But what makes the book stand out is the author’s thought-provoking coverage of wine education’s current and future, and its critical eye toward areas for growth, making the book relevant to wine educators as well. Highly recommended for wine enthusiasts and professionals alike.
Our first trip was based out of Tuscon, near the main vineyard areas in the southeast of the state. This time we traveled up north to scenic Sedona to explore Arizona’s newest AVA, the Verde Valley. Our visit was interrupted by that big winter storm that swept across the country last month and threatened to block our way home. But all’s well that ends well — we were able to start our fieldwork in Sedona and end it in Old Town Scottsdale, which is home to many tasting rooms.
Here is our report, starting with some broad facts about Arizona wine and then drilling down a bit into specifics.
Bigger and Smaller
The Arizona wine industry is both bigger than you think and smaller than you might imagine. Arizona now has 108 wineries according to the January 2023 issue of Wine Business Monthly. That includes 90 bonded wineries and 18 “virtual” wineries. Virtual wineries? Yes, this is a growing trend. These are wine brands without vineyards or their own winemaking facilities. About 1000 of California’s nearly 5000 wineries are virtual operations. And virtual wineries account for almost 300 of the 900 total wineries in Oregon.
Arizona ranks #17 among U.S. states based on the number of wineries — bigger than you might have guessed. But the individual wineries tend to be small. Arizona Stronghold Vineyards, for example, is the largest winery in the state with an annual production of about 20,000 cases. Total production for the state is about 350,000 cases a year, we were told. If that’s correct, that means all Arizona wineries taken together make about as much wine as Daou Family Estates or JUSTIN Vineyards and Winery (data from Wine Business Monthly).
Lattitude versus Elevation
One reason you might not expect Arizona to be a wine state is its latitude. It can indeed be very hot in Arizona, which is why snowbirds flock there in the winter. But elevation compensates for latitude in Arizona much as it does in Mendoza, Argentina.
Wine grapes grow well in Arizona at elevations between 3500 and 6000 feet. Most of the vineyards are in the southeast near Willcox and about 75% to 80% of the grapes are grown there. But other parts of the state have active winegrowing, too, including the Verde Valley near Sedona.
Arizona wine is a premium product — there is no such thing as Arizona Two Buck Chuck. Lack of scale is one cause of higher cost, of course, but basic supply and demand play an important role. The amount of vineyard acreage has not increased as fast as the number of wineries seeking grapes. So grape prices have risen and wine prices along with them. We heard several people talk about $3000 per ton grape prices, for example, and that means $30+ bottle prices.
The vineyards are smaller than you will find in many regions and tend to be planted with many different grape varieties, further limiting economies of scale. I don’t think Arizona has a “signature” wine grape variety, although Syrah and GSM-style blends seem to be on every tasting room list. One reason for the kaleidoscope of grape varieties is just that Arizona is a young industry still in the experimentation stage.
Free to Choose
Another factor, however, is probably that making wine in Arizona means being free to do what you like to a certain extent. In Napa Valley buyers expect to find Cabernet Sauvignon. Ditto Malbec in Mendoza. In Cottonwood or Jerome, on the other hand, you can follow your personal preferences.
One source of this freedom is the fact that a lot of Arizona wines are hand-sold direct-to-consumer. Arizona wine sales regulations allow small wineries greater freedom for direct sales, so many focus on tasting rooms and wine clubs. Several wineries, for example, have tasting rooms in Willcox, Scottsdale, and Cottonwood. Scottsdale is a big tourist destination and Cottonwood is just a short drive from popular Sedona.
Local Market Focus
In part because of the scale issues and local regulations, most Arizona wineries focus on in-state sales through their direct channels. There is a lot of work to do to make Arizona wines more visible within Arizona before taking on bigger markets. Sue and I thought that on-premise sales might be a good way to spread the word, but neither Sedona restaurant we tried had Arizona wines on their list.
One manager shrugged when we asked about the situation. Too costly, he said. I can appreciate that problem. Once you apply restaurant markups to Arizona wine that visiting diners might not have heard of, it could be a tough sell.
But not impossible, as we discovered at lunch at a great Mexican restaurant in Scottsdale. They featured Chateau Tumbleweed wines in their by-the-glass program to support local producers. We tried a Mourvedre-forward GSM blend called Dr. Ron Bot and it was terrific with our meals. We appreciated that the Arabella Hotel where we stayed in Sedona featured Arizona wine tastings for guests.
We enjoyed our brief visit to this part of Arizona wine country. Highlights included …
Arizona’s largest winery is small (by California standards) but mighty. The wines we sampled were delicious and we were very impressed with the entrepreneurial spirit. Arizona wines are relatively expensive for the reasons noted above, but somehow Arizona Stronghold manages to produce a good-value line of wines called Provisioner that includes “Float Tripper Sipper” canned sparkling wines that are a perfect complement to the Arizona outdoor lifestyle. Very impressive.
Page Spring Cellars
The Verde Valley is a great spot for outdoor activities and for wine tourists, too, with several wineries and even more tasting rooms. But with most of the vineyards down south in the Willcox area, there are not many classic destination wineries with vineyards, cellars, and tasting rooms. Page Spring Cellars has it all plus an outstanding restaurant. No wonder it attracts thousands of visitors each year for the wine, the food, and the experience.
Carlson Creek Vineyards
A winter storm prevented us from visiting the tasting room in Cottonwood, but we learned a lot about Carlson Creek Vineyards in an hour spent at the Old Town Scottsdale tasting room. The place was really buzzing on a weekday afternoon and the wines were among our favorites of this visit. If you visit Phoenix and don’t check out the wine scene in Old Town Scottsdale you are missing a bet!
Caduceus Cellars / Merkin Vineyards
Caduceus Cellars and Merkin Vineyards are projects of Maynard James Keenan, the frontman for rock groups including Tool. Some celebrity wineries are vanity projects or over-hyped branding exercises, but wine clearly is the central element here. We weren’t able to visit the winery in Jerome, but the Merkin tasting room in Old Town Scottsdale is a popular stop for both food and wine. Sue and I shared the signature charcuterie platter perfectly paired with Caduceus Nagual del Agostina, a white wine made from 80% Vermentino and 20% Malvasia Bianca from the Agostina block vineyard in the Verde Valley’s Cornville district. That’s a blend of grapes you might not expect to find in Arizona, or anywhere else, but it really worked. Arizona is full of surprises like this!
Cove Mesa Vineyard
Cove Mesa’s tasting room is in Cornville, with newly planted vineyards nearby. Cove Mesa is another example of a winery trying lots of different grapes, including a new planting of Assyrtiko.
The Arizona wine industry has come a long way in the 15 years since our first visit. It will be interesting see what the future holds. In the meantime, keep Arizona wine on your radar!
Thanks to the wineries, hotels, and restaurants that hosted us or helped us with our research. Special thanks to Melissa Rein Lively for organizing our visit.
Arizona Stronghold (tasting rooms in Scottsdale and Cottonwood and a working winery near Cottonwood)
One of the highlights of our visit to the Catena winery near Mendoza a few years ago was the opportunity to spend a few minutes in Nicolas Catena’s private study. Catena was an economics professor before he returned to the family wine business to guide it through the turbulent wine markets of the time and I was interested to see what was in his library (and on his mind) from those days.
As I scanned the bookshelves I was struck by the fact that, back in the late 1970s and early 1980s, Catena and I were following the same news reports and reading the same research, including books such as Charles P. Kindleberger’s classic Manias, Panics and Crashes: A History of Financial Crises. Relevant reading then and now, too, don’t you think?
This Time is Different?
It is easy to imagine that financial instability, including manias, panics, and crashes, is something that happens in other places to other people at other times, but the recent banking crisis in the United States (and elsewhere) brings the problem clearly to our attention, especially given the involvement of Silicon Valley Bank (SVB), an important part of the U.S. wine industry’s financial ecosystem,
It has always been the case that financial instability potentially affects all types of businesses and, as Professor Catena understood all too well, the wine business. But, as I argued in my book about the global financial crisis, it is easy to ignore risks, forget the lessons of crises of the past, or to simply conclude that “this time is different.”
Financial instability is baked into the cake, as they say. Crises are a durable feature of modern capitalism so businesses are unwise to ignore potential risks, both direct (the risk that someone who owes you money can’t pay) and counter-part risk (the risk that someone who owes money to someone who owes you money can’t pay).
Wine’s Minsky Moment
It is possible to argue that the four most relevant economists of the 20th century were Schumpeter, Keynes, Friedman, and Minsky. Joseph Schumpeter studied growth. John Maynard Keynes helped us understand unemployment. Milton Friedman’s ideas of money and inflation are very important. Schumpeter, Keynes, Friedman — these are names you might know. What about the fourth, Hyman P. Minsky?
This is a Minsky moment because his work examined instability and crisis, which he thought were an inherent part of the financial system. I first studied Minsky when I was writing my book Selling Globalization. Using Minsky’s analysis, I argued that globalization was more fragile than most scholars believed because it was built, fundamentally, on the unstable foundation of global finance. People thought I was crazy as I worked through my ideas … and then the Asian Financial Crisis hit!
How do financial crises start? And how do they end? Like Tolstoy’s unhappy families, each is different in the details, but Minsky established a general seven-stage pattern that is a good guide. I will paste an excerpt from my book Globaloney 2.0 below so that those of you interested in the details can follow along. Pay particular attention to the distress, revulsion, and contagion stages and see if they sound familiar.
Try to Remember …
So how should the wine industry react to financial crises like the one we are experiencing today? It would be easy to say that crises are a finance problem, not a wine industry problem. Wine just happened to get caught in the cross-hairs this time because of the SVB’s particular pattern of business. What are the odds of that happening again? That’s a fair point. Wine loans had nothing to do with the bank’s collapse.
My view is a little different. Financial crises are a wine problem because wine is a business and businesses are necessarily disrupted by unstable finance. Businesses need to take their financial risks more explicitly into account. That goes for wine businesses, too.
I don’t think that wineries in Argentina have forgotten this lesson, mainly because they have suffered repeated and severe crises (the current 100+ percent inflation rate suggests another crisis in on the cards).
The wineries who found their accounts at SVB frozen for a few days (because they exceeded the $250,000 limit to FDIC insurance that applied at the time) will not quickly forget this lesson, although I wouldn’t be surprised if the memory eventually fades once “normal” operations are fully restored. That’s one of the reasons why Minsky moments like this return.
The leading authority on the theory of financial crises is Hyman P. Minsky, an economist who never received the respect he deserved within the profession because his theories challenged the orthodoxy that markets are generally quite stable (I will have more to say about this later).i Every financial crisis is different in the details (and not all bubbles or potential bubbles actually burst), but there is a family resemblance that Minsky explains as the seven stages to a financial crisis.ii
The first stage is called Displacement and it represents a change in expectations. It could be a new invention, discovery or government policy or it could be simply a change in expectations about the future. Whatever it is, Displacement creates a new object of speculation and at least some insiders rush in to take advance of the news.
Displacement happens all the time, of course. That’s why the stock markets go up and down every day and every hour of the day and every minute of every hour. People constantly react to real news, fake news and changing expectations. So there are a million little potential financial bubbles filling the market like fizz in a glass of Champagne, rising up and popping all the time. But some of them are a bit more substantial and gather the attention of both insiders and outsiders. It is hard to predict in advance when it will happen, but when it does a speculative bubble starts to form.
Minsky’s second stage is called Expansion. More and more money begins to focus on the speculative object, whatever it is – gold, silver, real estate or even tulip bulbs. The market can expand in several different dimensions. The most obvious, of course, is through money creation. When central bankers expand the money supply, as they sometimes do, they may expect that new funds will flow pretty much everywhere, but sometimes they are disproportionately diverted to particular investments fueling bubbles.
Leverage is another source of expansion. Leverage refers to the use of borrowed funds (other people’s money) to increase the return on your money. Suppose you have $1000 and you believe that XYZ Corporation’s stock will double in the value in the next month. You could invest your $1000 and, if you are correct, earn a $1000 profit, a 100% return. Or you could take your $1000 and borrow $9000 to invest $10,000 in total. This would be a leverage ratio of nine to one. If your expectations are fulfilled, the profit would be $10,000 on your $1000 investment (minus whatever interest costs you had to pay). Instead of a 100% return you would receive something approaching a 1000% return. Leverage is a wonderful thing when it works, but it is of course very risky. Just as you can earn much more than your initial stake you can also lose much more.
Expansion also takes place as the population of potential investors grows. Insiders (people with specialized investment knowledge) are joined by well-informed amateurs and then rank amateurs who sometimes just follow the herd based on what they read on the internet or hear from friends and co-workers. Water-cooler investors, I guess you could call them. The movement from professionally managed employee pension funds to individually managed 401k and similar retirement instruments has facilitated this sort of expansion in many countries. It is easy to belittle the ill-informed financial decisions that “blind capital” makes, but highly paid geniuses do not always out-performed them.iii
Finally, expansion can occur if the speculative object draws the attention of international or even global investment markets. Interconnected global financial markets are capable of focusing enormous sums on particular speculative objects, with predictable results. It is as if a giant magnifying glass focused the full power of the sun on some object or creature. Destruction seems assured, but first comes the heat.
Expansion does not always produce a crisis because investors can be fickle. There is always something new to consider, always a million different things to displace expectations and the funds that fuel expansion now can quickly withdraw and move on. The markets can achieve a state that Minsky calls Euphoria, however, if attention remains focus and expansion sustained. Euphoria produces a sense that investors can do no wrong. It is impossible to make a bad decision, since the general rise of the market covers any poor individual choices.
Economic logic simply evaporates in the Euphoria stage. Logic warns to buy less as price rises. Euphoria whispers that rising prices today are harbingers of even higher prices now – time to buy! And buy even more as those future price increases appear. The buying binge and the higher prices they produced are indeed self-fulfilling prophecies, which are the best kind. Sometimes Euphoria just fizzles out, but sometimes it can be sustained, especially if expansion from whatever source is maintained.
Distress comes next in the classic seven stage scenario. Distress is the moment when insiders begin to believe that the market cannot be sustained. Doubts creep in and alternative scenarios are reviewed. The market may pause or slow or the collapse could begin.
Revulsion follows as some investors begin to act upon their doubts. Insiders head for the door first, often leaving with substantial profits in their pockets. Others follow, causing the Crisis stage. The self-fulfilling rising price prophecy of Euphoria is reversed as lower prices trigger sell-offs that drive prices even further down. Everyone wants cash in this market, but it is hard to come buy. Who will lend in a falling market? Who will buy when prices are falling to fast? Someone does, obviously, but at much lower prices.
Crisis is often accompanied by the seventh stage, Contagion. The crisis in one market spreads to others. Contagion can happen in several ways. Sometimes the bubble in one market expands to others and all collapse at once. This was the case with the Peso Crisis of the 1990s. Unlucky investors, drawn to Mexico by the prospect of NAFTA gains, ended up putting money into many Latin American markets, all of which surged and then collapsed together. They called it the “Tequila Hangover” effect.
Leverage creates another contagion vector. As prices fall, leveraged investments go “under water” and speculators are required to put up additional funds. Since credit is hard to come by in the crisis stage, there is often little choice but to sell off good investments to cover losses on increasingly bad ones. Thus the Russian financial crisis of 1998 triggered contagion in Brazil as speculators sold off Brazilian investments to cover their rouble losses.
Finally, contagion can take place as credit markets freeze up generally. Businesses that are accustomed to ready access to credit (for themselves or their customers) are shocked as liquidity disappears. Economic misery spreads from the financial sector to the so-called real economy as declining wealth and restricted credit affect change buyer and seller behavior.
This is how a classic financial crisis unfolds. Not every crisis goes full term, of course, and the damage when they do is not always substantial. But as Kindleberger explained 30 years ago and Reinhart and Rogoff’s study has more recently confirmed, major damaging financial crises happen often enough to be considered a common feature of international finance. So no one should be surprised when these markets behave as they so frequently do.
i John Kenneth Galbraith is another economist whose status outside the profession was much higher than within it due to his failure to his unorthodox views.
ii See chapter 2 of Kindleberger Manias, Panics, and Crashes.
iii Walter Bagehot coined the term “blind capital” to refer to uninformed but enthusiastic amateur investors who are drawn into speculative bubbles.
Italian Wine Unplugged 2.0 is a key part of Vinitaly International Academy’s program to draw attention to Italian wine’s wonders through education. As Stevie Kim writes in the Foreword, the idea is to take wine enthusiasts and help them become experts and, I think, also ambassadors for Italian wine to the world.
It is a big job and so this is a big book. More than half the 450+ pages are devoted to “must-know” profiles of the wine grape varieties native or traditional to Italy. We begin with the most well-known families of grapes and move to important regional varieties and, finally to brief profiles of lesser-known grape varieties from Abrostine and Abrusco to Wildbacher and rare varieties from Abbuoto to Zanelo There is a lot of fascinating information here. Not as comprehensive as Ian D’Agata’s Native Wine Grapes of Italy, but clear, useful, and complete
A smaller section provides overviews of each region, linking denominations with associated grape varieties. A section titled “Science” features a major essay by Professor Attilio Scienza on the origins and evolution of Italian wine grapes. Prof. Scienza’s analysis is noteworthy for its interdisciplinary approach, blending DNA data, for example, with information distilled from ancient myths. It is a detailed study — you’ll need to put your smartphone away and concentrate — but very interesting.
I especially enjoyed reading Sarah Heller MW’s brief essay on “How to Taste Italian Wine.” Heller argues that Italian wines are misunderstood or underrated because they are simply different from the wines of Bordeaux and the Napa and Barossa Valleys that have shaped wine-tasting standards and expectations.
“This state of affairs is largely the result of the global hegemony of two wine value systems that poorly suit Italian wine.” One system is based upon the virtues British critics see in the best Bordeaux wines. The other derives more from characteristics of New World wines (I suppose we might associate this with Robert Parker’s influence, but I think it is more than that).
Italian wines are easy to overlook because they don’t fit either of these taste profiles. Italy is an exception and Heller proposes that “Italian Exceptionalism” be embraced and promoted by focusing on an appropriate value system. Fascinating.
Italy for Food Lovers is also Italy for Wine Lovers. Why? Well, it is hard to think of Italy or Italian food without the wine that naturally goes with it. Wine is food in Italy, don’t you think?
But there is also this: the core of this book, co-authored by Rick Steves and Fred Plotkin, is Plotkin’s classic 700+ page guide to Italy for the Gourmet Traveler, which takes Italian food and wine very seriously indeed.
The idea is to take Plotkin’s book, first published in 1997, which has not been revised in almost a decade, and both update and streamline it for today’s Italy-loving audience. Plotkin knows Italian food and wine like the back of his hand. Rick Steves knows Italy, too, offering his list of 100 favorite restaurants alongside Plotkin’s list of fifty. Steves is especially good at helping people take the first step, gaining confidence along the way so that they can learn and love the journey.
Wine is pretty much everywhere here. There’s a chapter on wine, of course, and major sections on local wines in each of the regional profiles. The treatment is not nearly as comprehensive as in Plotkin’s classic guide or — obviously — as Italian Wine Unplugged 2.0. But that’s not what this volume is about. This book is all about getting started in some cases or taking the next step in others. It will help travelers to Italy embrace local wines with unfamiliar names and appreciate the whole experience.
If you already know the wines of Italy very well, you might not learn much here, but you will probably still find it interesting. If you don’t know Italian wines, well here’s a fun place to start. Either way, this is a good gift idea if you have family or friends heading off to Italy for the first time.