The Math and Market of Wine . . .

Mr. Erol Senel broadcasts one of my favorite podcasts right now, the “I Digress” podcast.  I listen to new releases on Mondays and find his love for wine is a common sentiment that he and I share, but beyond that we share an affinity for the motivational.  “I Digress” is focused on telling the stories of people who as Erol puts it, “get shit done”.  It was his insightful podcast about Dave Phinney, winemaker at Orin Swift which drew me in and left me wanting more.

In my online wine wanderings, after the podcast finished, I went looking for more on Dave and his somewhat accidental, runaway success that was his creation of  “The Prisoner” blend which he sold in 2010 to Huneeus Vitners.  I was aware of the sale to Huneeus and Dave’s respectable motives behind it, but Huneeus basically treated his creation like a real estate property flipper and sold to Constellation Brands for a whopping price tag.  I found myself suffering a bit of a mixed reaction.

“The move is the latest high-profile acquisition in a buying spree by Constellation. In November, the company purchased San Diego’s Ballast Point Brewing for $1 billion, three months after it bought Meiomi from Napa vintner Joe Wagner for $315 million.  As with the Meiomi purchase, the Prisoner Wine Company deal includes only a brand — no vineyards. These staggering brand prices suggest a significant departure from the model that has long dominated the wine industry, in which land carries the greatest capital.  “Our goal is to be a leader in the premium U.S. wine market and to continue to premium-ize our portfolio, and ‘super luxury’ is one of the fastest growing segments in the category,” said Bill Newlands, president of Constellation’s wine and spirits division.”

Link to SF Chronicle article found here.

Bravely, I share that The Constellation Brands model in my opinion is gravely sterilizing our restaurant wine options.  The delivery power of great wine to the masses is very important, and I appreciate that every story has two sides; a pro and con is always to be found.  But my frustration with this model comes from a heavy feeling that I can’t shake – I read the same wine list at so many +four star restaurants and don’t appreciate the lack of small producer representation, thanks to the umbrella brand of companies like Constellation. I treasure the wine programs at family owned dining rooms on Spring Street in Paso Robles, California or learning of tiny new labels while traversing the valley floor in Napa, prompting a pull to the side of a road because of the spotted gem of an unrecognizable vineyard.  It is hard for me to hate what Constellation Brands is doing, but it is easy to see these people aren’t winemakers, but money-making wine pimps from New York who don’t even hold a wine glass by its stem! They are bowl fondling businessman capitalizing our wine passions right to the bank, because those savages know this: there is money in it.  And like any market, the wine market is no different in that people buy for the brand, they don’t always buy to appreciate the creation.  When did a wine label become more valuable than the land the grapes are harvested on?

What pray tell, shall I do now with my concious?  How to … is it right to … enjoy it all?  Most people won’t care, but I have to.

To resolve this, I have reconciled myself to wine education and appreciation of history.  Understand what is family owned from the land to the label, and what is conglomerate owned.  Know what you are buying when you are buying it.  TRUST YOUR SOMMS.  TALK TO YOUR SOMMS.  Are you buying a bottle brand that is simply recognizable but you don’t know the story? Are you surprised that Paso Robles produces world-class Rhone style reds but you don’t see much of the Paso footprint in national wine programs?  Are you like me, constantly missing the taste of Washington wines unless you’re standing in Woodinville?  Please pay attention to the 750s coming out of regions other than the 16 AVAs in Napa or big label brands.  Seek the story, then buy your brand.  With that shift in approach, I suggest dear readers, that your entire wine experience will be in Technicolor.

 

The Chef’s Experience on Table 65

This one’s for my oenophiles.

Settled in the Rancho Bernardo hills of Southern California lies Avant inside the Rancho Bernardo Inn.

The Table 65 experience is a delightful option for those looking for an elevated dining experience, connected right to the action of a restaurant wine room and private kitchen.  I’ve just booked this table for an intimate, private wine dinner next month.  The Chef will design a custom menu in accordance to seasonal California fresh fare, and I am working with the restaurant to select options and pairings for my clients [translate: moonlighting in culinary, obviously].  Full experience and complete review with Avant Chef and Avant Sommelier is coming soon!  Stay tuned, friends.

Southbound to Austin, TX

The best part about being a wine-geek is [without a doubt] the ongoing set of new things you discover, taste, experience, and learn about on the journey to full-blown wine nerd.  I’ve lately become a huge fan of the history in Washington and the juicy, impressive wines the region is producing.  And, who’s with me on this – it’s just FUN to say Walla Walla.

On the topic of grape growing and in particular, Washington – I find the words of Karen MacNeil out of her 2nd edition Wine Bible especially on point, not to mention actually, very exciting:

 “Most of the world’s classic grapes can grow in lots of places, but each has a kind of spiritual home – a place (or sometimes places) where that grape can ascend beyond what is merely good and be transformed into stunning wine.  In the 1990s, Washington State, much to most wine drinkers’ surprise, emerged as one of the great spiritual homes of cabernet sauvignon and merlot.  The phenomenon was startling, for only a dozen or so years earlier most winemakers’ hopes were pinned on gewürztraminer, chardonnay, and other white grapes that filled the vineyards. As it turns out these grapes (still widely grown in Washington) make good wine there…. What you notice immediately about Washington Cabernets and Merlots is the concentration of the wines.  It almost seems as though, by some magical osmosis, they’ve been infused with the PRIMAL LUSH BERRYNESS of WILD NORTHWEST blackberries, boysenberries, raspberries and cherries.”

SWOON.

When I think Cabernet, especially top-tier cabernets, conventional wisdom immediately and almost always points me directly to Napa where 55% of the crop population is exactly that – Cabernet.  Then again, I admit my lack of formal knowledge and realize that as a new(er) region, Washington has so much to offer.

Being self-taught in any topic is going to present it challenges.  For me on this wine journey over the past several months, this has manifested into disorganized study which effect can be expressed in my failure of the modern-day colloquialism to “work smarter, not harder”.

With my readjusted timeline to pass level one before June of 2018, I’ve got no more time to waste and I need to study in a formal setting.

Enter Austin, Texas this November.  I’ll take my first wine Masterclass in an actual setting amongst my fellow Guild members.

In this masterclass, MS Chris Tanghe will lead a tour of the wine regions of his home state of Washington. In its relatively short history as a winemaking region, Washington has achieved success in a wide range of varieties and styles as the country’s second largest producer of vinifera wines.  The class will accompany tastings, of course, and hopefully lead me to an expanded network of wine students, or better yet as I seek my own, a new group of wine nerds.

 

The Major Reds, Major Whites

Allow me to introduce the stars of the show.  By collection of name only.  As I study each of these beauties, expect a fleshy blog post, devoting to each its own time in the spotlight.

Major White Grape Varieties:

  1. Albariño
  2. Assyrtiko
  3. Chardonnay
  4. Chenin Blanc
  5. Grüner Veltliner
  6. Gewurztraminer
  7. Marsanne
  8. Melon de Bourgogne
  9. Muscat Blanc à Petits Grains
  10. Pinot Grigio (Gris)
  11. Riesling
  12. Roussanne
  13. Sauvignon Blanc
  14. Sémillon
  15. Torrontés
  16. Viognier

Major Red Grape Varieties:

  1. Aglianico
  2. Barbera
  3. Cabernet Franc
  4. Cabernet Sauvignon
  5. Carmenère
  6. Corvina
  7. Gamay
  8. Grenache
  9. Malbec
  10. Merlot
  11. Mourvèdre
  12. Nebbiolo
  13. Pinot Noir
  14. Pinotage
  15. Sangiovese
  16. Syrah/Shiraz
  17. Tempranillo
  18. Zinfandel

 

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