Bonny Doon sold: Randall Grahm has sold Bonny Doon Vineyard to WarRoom Ventures, a young wine investment company. Grahm will stay on as winemaker and a partner with WarRoom. Grahm, who founded Bonny Doon in 1983, cites his struggles with the business side of the operation. Bonny Doon is currently a 35,000-case brand. [Wine Spectator]
Tariff hearings: Alder Yarrow reports on the tariff hearing conducted in DC on January 7. Those representing the government, he notes, had little idea how the alcohol business works in the US, from the three-tier system to barriers for DTC sales. He includes a link to the full transcripts of the hearing. [JancisRobinson.com]
Oversupply in wine: The new Silicon Valley Bank State of the Wine Industry report, released this week, points to oversupply as a major issue for the wine industry. Furthermore, consumer demand has slowed, particularly among younger drinkers. Use of data and new strategies for capturing young consumers will be key for wineries in the year ahead. [North Bay Business Journal]
Drop in consumption: A new report from IWSR shows that the volume of US wine purchases dropped for the first time since 1994. Americans, particularly Millennials, are drinking less overall, and products such as White Claw have taken up market share. However, the report also shows that the amount spent on wine increased last year. [Market Watch]
Accessible wine lists: Robert Joseph argues in Meininger’s that restaurants and sommeliers should make their wine lists more accessible, through descriptions or other means. He notes that while sommeliers can provide helpful guidance on wine lists, many guests—for a wide variety of reasons—won’t seek that help. [Meininger’s]
The wines of Uruguay: Amanda Barnes makes the case for Uruguay’s wines in SevenFifty Daily, describing key grapes and regions as well as new developments. With a mild, Atlantic climate, the country is unique among its wine-producing neighbors. A range of grapes are planted, but Tannat and Albariño are the stars. [SevenFifty Daily]
What do you think?
How do you think wine brands should respond to the oversupply problem?
What strategies do you think should be employed to reach a younger generation of drinkers?
What do you think is ahead for the wine business, considering these reports on last year's trends?
How do you make your wine list accessible? Do you think an average guest should be able to read it and choose a satisfactory bottle without help?
Have you had any standout bottles from Uruguay?
What else have you been reading this week?
I largely agree with the idea that wine lists should be made as accessible as possible. To me, that means making the following abundantly clear: variety, vintage, producer, price, and place of origin. At several of my restaurants, we use formatting (all caps, italics, bolding, etc.) to differentiate between some of those pieces of information when they could otherwise be confusing to non-professionals.Frankly, I don't understand the mentality that still pervades many restaurants, where the person who has designed the wine list seems to think that if they note that Vouvray is made from Chenin Blanc, they've somehow devalued their own list or denigrated their own wine knowledge. Sure, that may be common knowledge in our circles, but adding that bit of information helps all wine drinkers feel welcome.
Fantastic article on the tariff situation. Particularly loved:
"'Could you touch on any regulatory barriers that prohibit you from buying direct from US small wineries?’, asked Sarah Bonner, of the US Small Business Association.
Any barriers? How about the laws in every single US state?"
I feel that the ignorance of the three tier system is just another indication that there is likely no "master plan" here; if there were the naivety wouldn't be so apparent. Instead the wine/spirits/cheese market just got the bullet in the revolver while two giant corporations are playing Russian roulette.
In terms of reducing the oversupply problems, wine brands could diversify their portfolio by creating single-serve non-alcoholic beverages targetted towards though who are looking for a healthy lower sugar alternative. Doing so could target younger generations, along with those who are more health-conscious. Also, let's bring back splits. If Millennials/Gen-Zs are drinking less, let's give them an option to do that.
In reaching more youthful generations, I also foresee grassroots movements having the most impact. Coming from the rural Lake Wisconsin AVA, Wollersheim has an admirable following within at least a 45-mile radius. My family in Dubuque, IA, is new to drinking wine, but tend to prefer locally made non-Vitus-Vinifera products. Even last year at the National Restaurant Association food-show, Michigan had a 7-8 table arrangement showcasing their wine, reflecting the potential growth opportunities.
This isn't true 100% true in all states: in Washington at least both retail and restaurants can buy direct from wineries within the state, but it's obviously not a solution in any real sense, especially in states with little or no wine production.
The point is not the specificity of each individual state though... its the lack of understanding in how the system works
Is it just me or did Robert Joseph promote that he'd like see a list that doesn't provide a necessity for a sommelier in a restaurant. That the wine list is all a guest should need. He made some valid points about difficult lists and the challenges associated. I'll concede that as a whole, we can do better with those lists.
BUT, he does a great job at complementing sommelier knowledge and injecting a backhanded compliment like "sommeliers are the new gods of wine. That’s pretty much a given, now that traditional critics have seen their influence dissipate and wane" (critics, that sommeliers have often criticized, as if we've won the "war"). He then spoke to the myriad of guests who don't want to talk/be "sold" too anyway ....forget about the ones who genuinely are interested, engaged, and happy to talk to sommelier to enhance their dining experience.
He wraps up his article talking about the 20 books he's written and countless articles in newspapers and magazines, just before finishing with...
"I am sure the restaurant sommelier is capable and helpful. But, frankly, I don’t enjoy being in situations where I am forced to have conversations with people other than my dining companions. The place to offer a few words of explanation is on the wine list. It’s that simple." As if to say, I have all this knowledge and I don't need a sommelier to interrupt my dinner and neither should you.
.....Thank you for acknowledging we are "capable and friendly", but frankly, nobody is forcing you to have any conversation with someone you don't want to. We are here to offer assistance when requested, fill your water, deliver your food, buss your table, fold your napkin, take a food order, take a cocktail order, walk you to the restroom, decant that bottle you ordered, assist you to your table from the host stand, keep your wine list up to date, stock the bathroom when needed, polish silver and glassware and handle any guest complaints. No where in MY job description does it say "interrupt your dinner."
One idea for accessibility is an evolving Sommelier selected short list added as a page in the greater list. I like the idea in this case of the three word description for each wine, which is composed of the most notable and salient factors between flavor and structure. Three words can be tough but keeping the verbiage minimized to the extant you deem appropriate increases the impact of each word. It also allows people new to wine to translate the description into an expectation the wine is likely to meet.
Selection criteria can be based on a range of factors or combo thereof. A potential parameter is seasonal weather conditions (i.e. more robust & higher alc wines when if its snowing all month vs crisp & refreshing wines when it's hot & humid) given they could better offer physical and psychological comfort to the guest. Another idea is to choose based on what is likely to pair best with prominent seasonal ingredients and dishes on the list. Even if the wines aren't picture perfect pairings for a given dish (or dishes) but the structure aligns the thrust of the match well enough it may bring value for guests. A third concept could be the greatest value propositions. In many cases this may lead you to lesser known producers, varietals, regions and styles. It could also make certain supplier special offers more feasible as your sales pace on this emphasized short list should increase in theory-especially if you extend the savings to guests.
Depending on how many tables vs Sommeliers are working the floor and the tempo of service, this could be a way to make the beverage program more engaging. It may also help better keep your inventory breadth and depth by category better aligned with business needs.
If a pairing program is already offered this could cannibalize pairing sales, however, and of course every beverage program has its own needs.
I completely agree with bringing back splits!
It's challenging finding variety in the split bottle category- though I'd even go a step further and say better quality canned wine that's actually a serving size, slim slender cans as an option. Not only do you get the benefit of them being more economical for logistics (and better for the environment from a transportation and recycling standpoint), but serving sizes need to be communicated more clearly so people understand that a can 333ml wine is basically a half bottle of wine.
Splits still exist for the type of wines that were always in splits. Honestly, this need to be a can, though. The glass is expensive for producers (splits are roughly the same as a 750ml, when you can even get them- and many glass suppliers don't even stock this size), glass is heavy for transport (already a problem in an industry where shipping a heavy product around creates a tremendous carbon footprint), and it's a terrible vessel size for aging.