Monday, March 28, 2011

BRAMBLES: Items from a Vines Spring

Discovery. That's what this journey is all about.  As I anxiously await Certified Wine Educator exam results, there has been a recent realization that this path of wine education is all about discovery. In the months before the test I felt the weighted pressure to study day after day, and the peaking anxiety as the test drew near was all about feeling the need to do so much more to be prepared.  What a relief it was to accept that I have already been teaching about wine in my chosen career, and that the challenge of the exam was simply a measure of my growing & summary wine knowledge.  That epiphany was a rebirth and offers a chance to grow forward.

A look outside and we are beginning to see the new growth of Spring bud break on our pruned grape vines. Perhaps this new seasonal vine growth is also reflected by our domestic retail wine sales. Based on numbers accumulated from 2010, the Nielsen Company has reported that wine consumers are beginning to trade up, with the largest growth in the +$10 market segments.

On the other end of the wine scale, Reuters reports that so far in 2011, leading wine auctions have sold over $46 million in ultra-premium collectibles. "I don't see prices going anywhere significantly except up", said John Kapon, head of auctions for New York's Acker, Merrall & Condit.

  • Three hundred and thirty million cases of wine, with a value estimated at over $30 billion, were consumed by Americans last year.  This benchmark makes the United States the worlds number one volume consumers of wine, surpassing the French for the first time in history! More than 105 million cases of that total(almost 1/3rd)  were produced in foreign lands and imported, according to newly released figures.  That volume makes the U.S. the biggest foreign wine marketplace in the world!
 The Wine Economist reports that the next big thing (TNBT?) in white grape varietals is going to be domestic Muscat and imported Torronte's from Argentina. Does that mean that imported and domestic Pinot Grigio/Gris has arched and is no longer the growth segment it once was? 
  • In the U.S Congress, an important new wine bill is currently making its way thru the legislative process.  HR1161 is the current version of last sessions HR5034, sponsored by the WSWA and  the National Beer Wholesalers Association, and takes aim to protect an individual states right to regulate alcohol under the 21st Amendment. If passed, this measure could reverse existing statutes and close many out of state markets to small wine and craft beer producers.

  • An appeal of the Fifth Circuit Court decision in Texas on the issue of direct interstate wine shipments was recently refused to be heard by the U.S. Supreme Court. The outcome appears to be a victory for controlling Texas distributors, and spokespersons for the Wine and Spirits Wholesalers of America have applauded the high court's decision.

  • As a rite of Spring, Maryland state politicos this week overwhelming approved bills in two legislative committees that would allow as many as 18 cases of wine shipped to the states consumers directly from wineries!  If passed into law, direct shipments of out of state wines here would align with approved statutes in neighboring Virginia and Washington, DC.  In summary, that's two(2) pending victories for large, monopolistic beverage distributors, and just one(1) for the little guys who need open markets to survive.  These and many more legal updates are always available at!

Heavy rains during the current harvest season in South Australia's Barossa and Clare Valleys are reported producing rampant fungus on the regions grape vines. What may be the worst rain-affected vintage ever is being fought by almost constant spraying in the vineyards, but the forecast is for more of the same. Australia's winegrape yields are as a result expected to be down by more than 20%.

  • More than 1000 miles to the East, New Zealand winegrowers anticipate a near record grape harvest, as much as 50,000 tons greater than last year. With a continued growth in its wine exports, at about 10% each year, grape oversupply may not become a pressing issue and consumers should still find value from Down Under.

With a reduced California grape crop yield reported for 2011 and fruit prices generally lower than last year, it has been reported that our states grape supply is in balance. Average per ton grape prices were down across the state, including the Napa Valley, with the notable exception being the Lodi Viticultural Area, where growers enjoyed a marginal per ton price increase in 2010.

As consumers we're drinking more domestic and imported wines than ever before, but there continues to be formidable clouds on the horizon that would limit our beverage selections. And, it appears that the rich keep getting richer in a sustained market and drinking richer top end wines. It may be an old song, but vineyard management is not for the meek As this market gradually appears to be moving into 'balance', for all of those who are passionate about farming, winegrape-growing continues to remain a voyage of discovery!

Five(5) wines for $40.!
  • Castano Monastrell 2009Yecla, Spain
  • Figaro Tinto (Red Wine) 2009, Calatayud, Spain
  • Chono Reserva Syrah 2008 Elqui Valley, Chile
  • la MaiaLina 2008 Chianti, Italy
  • Domaine Laurier Merlot, 2007 Sonoma County Reserve, CA

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