Friday, January 27, 2017

BRAMBLES: Taste This,...Maybe?

Winds of change in rural Sicily DOC
Looking back, we have left more than a few empty bottles behind in 2016.  There was that delicious wine holiday in Sicily, and some very important family events, which were all richer in part because we enjoyed them with a glass or two of good wine.  It was another year of growth and value exploration with our tasting groups, and the enriching opportunity to improve the experience of wine for hundreds of thirsty consumers.  It was also the year when I closed two tasting rooms.

They were small brands, to be sure, often described as craft, artisan or boutique.  None the less, they offered wine consumers a real choice, and for the savvy, a few authentic local values.  One of the rooms was a collective, that gathering of small producers with no brick & mortar location of their own.  As a result of that limitation(and others), they typically produced less than 3000 cases and swam at their peril in the premium wine shark tank. Each was a slightly different business model, but all had a vignerons' passion fanning their sails.  In the end, after more than 5 years at a prime commercial location, they could not generate enough foot traffic to keep it moving forward.

The other was a single artisan brand, the juicy love affair with a former "Winemaker of the Year", with a recognized name for the informed and a mentor to many in this industry.  This brands business model was different, as it had wholesale distribution contracts with many states wine suppliers, and a greater quantity of premium product to promote in more places.  It has a brand manager, and a marketing manager, and even a direct to consumer manager.  Ultimately, the operating cost of a physical retail location in a new commercial marketplace outweighed its local popularity.  It is a very tough market out there; sadly, the numbers did just not add-up for continued investment in a retail storefront.

By any measure, competition across the retail marketplace is increasing for California wineries, she who produces about 90% of all of American wine.  In Sonoma County AVA alone, the number of wineries has doubled from a generation ago, yet with agri-limits the counties premium growers only farm about 6% of its beautiful, rural landscape.
Winter pruning of vines in the Loire

According to a recent Nielsen survey, the State has held its own; showing a continuing and healthy growth rate in global retail sales. Danny Brager, senior vice president of the beverage alcohol practice at Nielsen announced at the recent Unified Wine and Grape Symposium, " I almost can't think of any other consumer category where there is such a huge choice today.  If (wine) consumers can't get something, they will find something else."

Imports from foreign wineries have also continued to increase in volume and value during the last measured calendar period.  Growth in the bottle marketplace increasingly results in consumers having more choice than ever before, and that is a delicious thing for the informed value hunter. In spite of the wealth of these cheaper, value imports and a growth in national competition, shipments of U.S. wines continue to grow in volume year, after year.  Furthermore, there is an indication that entry level consumers are 'trading up'; last year the average bottle price of a U.S. wine exceeded $10. a bottle for the first time in recorded history! 

Knowledge is power for todays wine consumer

A recently released annual industry $urvey from a prominent lender, the State of the Wine Industry Report, predicted marketplace growth in premium imports in the year ahead.  Additionally, millennial's are expected to move in greater numbers away from red blends and increasingly towards pricier wines(+$10).  The dark umbrella remains as labor issues in the vineyard are anticipated to continue to be of weighted concern for the wine industry, even as the survey predicts a strong sales year in premium wine categories.

Whether the long established cooperative business model, or a singular artisans' passion, or even a modest brand in a broad portfolio managed by a beverage behemoth, it remains a challenging industry even for the optimistic producer. After all, there is a new brand(domestic or foreign) available to domestic consumers almost everyday, a new flavor of the week as consumers follow a trend, new on-line retailers and discount brokers to tempt neophyte wine consumers.  That new favorite may come from Chile or the Santa Maria AVA, from sustainable Sicily or from Rattlesnake Hills AVA of Washington state. For consumers, informed choices make for better wine experiences, and better wines in comfortable price points will increase not only bottle sales, but the broad variety of global values available to new wine drinkers.  Maybe we just have to taste a little more and let the wine speak.

Tasting Values:
Leitz "Eins Zwei DRY"  2015 Rheingau Riesling Trocken(dry): Lemondrop, lemondrop!