If You Read Anything This Week: Wine News 11/8/2019

Kincade Fire contained: The Kincade Fire in Sonoma County is now contained, after burning through nearly 78,000 acres since it started on October 23. There are no known fatalities. At least 374 structures were destroyed, including 174 homes, and 190,000 people were evacuated. While undoubtedly tragic, the damage is far less than during the 2017 fires, when over 5,000 structures were destroyed. Most grapes were already picked when the fires began, though some producers lost wine left vulnerable during power outages and/or exposed to smoke. [Wine Spectator]

Remembering Jean Gautreau: Jean Gautreau, owner of Bordeaux's Château Sociando-Mallet, has died at age 92. Born in the Médoc but not from a winemaking family, he was a négociant first and discovered the 5-hectare château while looking for an estate for a client. Today, Sociando-Mallet is 83 hectares and produces 450,000 bottles annually. [Decanter]

Vineyard labor in 2019: Many on the West Coast experienced the effects of the declining labor market during the 2019 harvest. Other crops have lured away workers, as have opportunities for construction work in urban areas. Accommodations are expensive, the risks for undocumented laborers are increasingly high, and solutions such as the H-2A program are often economically prohibitive for many employers. [SevenFifty Daily]

US market trend: The emerging trend in the US wine market seems to mirror what happened in France, where consumption began to fall and the industry responded by focusing on quality improvements and building up the appellation system—rather than the consumer base. The same appears to be happening in the US today, argues Damien Wilson. [Meininger’s Wine Business International]

Focus on Lodi: The San Francisco Chronicle’s The Press focuses on Lodi, often overlooked on the California wine landscape despite being the most productive AVA in the state, with vineyards across over 110,000 acres. Most of Lodi’s grapes have historically been used in bulk wines, but its 90 wineries are generally small and family owned. [The Press]

Argentine Malbec: The latest Wine School considers Argentine Malbec, with examples of a slightly higher quality and price than the “cheap and cheerful” bottles best known in the US. While some readers balked at the idea of choosing more expensive wines when cheaper alternatives were available, others found them interesting. But it seems the prices were a hard sell for many. [NYT]

What do you think?

If you are in or near Sonoma, what has been your experience during and after the Kincade Fire?

What have you observed or heard about labor this harvest? What potential solutions do you see?

Do you think the wine industry is indeed focusing on quality and “premiumization” rather than reaching new customers? How might the focus be shifted?

Have you had much experience with Lodi wines? Any favorite producers or wines?

What do your guests think of Malbec? Do you have more expensive bottles on your list or shelves? Are these higher quality, and higher priced, examples a hard sell with customers?

What else have you been reading this week?

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  • Coming from a Midwestern family, who for most of my life did not drink wine, I think Damien makes a valid point in saying, "With the local wine sector showing a desire to follow in Europe’s footsteps, there is a real risk that the focus on pushing pricing upwards will only end in the market’s downward spiral."  

    My 26-year-old sister, who lives comfortably as an RN (in CA), shares her excitement about finding a wine for less than $5 at Trader Joe's. Outside of Madison (45 min), my rural friends and their families, that do drink wine, mostly drink E&J Gallo's Burgundy jugs, boxed wine, and Sutter Home. 

    Like local beer, local wine under $15 appears to be taking off, even if people do not recognize that most of the grapes are from somewhere else. In my area, the Lake Wisconsin AVA, I hear people talk about how they love Wollersheim that has RS (with grapes sourced out of NY) but do not like most wines. 

    My Dubuque family, with aunts 55+, my mom 54, my cousins 26-30 and my grandma 84, do not seem to like grape-based wines; all rave about non-grape based wines coming out of a local Winery. I did have my mom try a glass of Moscato the other day, and she loved it, but I might as well have just called it bug juice. 

  • A lot to unpack in that for sure.

    My two cents (not that anyone asked):

    Working in a small wine region (Applegate/Rogue Valley) I see lots of consumers reaching for 25-35 dollar wines from the local area. This is not to say that 8 dollar wines at the supermarket lack success; but rather that being in a wine region might skew that data a bit as the local tribalism is far more evident.

    On that point I host local tastings where I pit S. Oregon wines against more classic regions. The intent is twofold. First, to justify the rising successes of producers in the area. But second, and possibly more importantly, is to open wine drinkers to regions/producers/styles that they might otherwise be unfamiliar with. In every tasting the local drinkers tend to like the local wine the "most." But they are buying the Italian, German, French...etc. Que the "I am doing my part" starship troopers meme!

    Also I am interested in how the economic gap and millennial market are influencing this trend. My wine fridge might have a few $200 bottles but I am an enthusiast/professional who likely spends too much on wine (jury is still out) considering my pay. Bottom line is that many people in, what should be, the target demographic might not be able to afford 1er Cru / Grand Cru. This would explain the rising age of those who are buying bottles of that caliber and the justify the caution of premiumisation.

    Either way I am excited to be a long for the ride!

  • Really enjoyed the points made in the article as well.  Wine does have a few saving graces this go-around, compared to the French die-off experienced a few decades ago.  Firstly, equivalent quality craft beer is getting pretty expensive.  I regularly see $13-$20 4pks, so the savings compared to wine just isn't there any more.  Secondly, craft spirits and allocated/limited production spirits (namely Bourbon) can be frustrating to track down and the proliferation of brands kind of makes it hard to take a gamble for the novice spirits drinker.  I wholeheartedly think that the hard seltzer drinker will turn to wine once they realize that wine is also gluten free and about the same calories as hard seltzer (but more "bang for the buck" in the alcohol content department).  So, unless we see a sustained trend of people just not wanting to get intoxicated, wine still holds a certain appeal to the alcohol consumer.