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.


A “Vision” Worth Sharing

Sometimes simple words cannot do what confirming signs and wonders of the Universe can.  To the soul seeker, there is magic in the Pacific Northwest.  To wine nerds like myself, “winederlust” is real and the PNW is a “can’t miss” destination on your bucket list.   I recently had the good fortune to return to Seattle, Washington this summer.  A region known for its constant grey cover of rain and fog, I was invited to prance through the beautiful Puget Sound under warm golden sunshine and crisp, fresh air for the several days I spent there.

Washington state is known for producing beautiful white wines, but as far as reds go, Washington is coming up quick and fast like Kobe Bryant on the 3-point fade.  Surprising, especially since Washington is home to the Cascades and is the second largest wine producer in our nation, after California (Oregon, a delicious 3rd). It wasn’t until 1989 that Wine Spectator included Washington wine in its ‘Top 100″ list.   There are 13-appellations and over 750+ wineries in Washington.  During my visit, I had time for only two precious wine stops.  I went, I sniffed, I saw, I slurped, I purchased . . . . and now must wax poetic about the crafty, blended juice in my RIEDEL VITIS glass last night.  One of my souvenir wine(s) from this trip included a red blend from Columbia Winery,  a nearly sold out 2013 vintage named “Vision”.  And just like a well executed, smooth “Mamba-esque” Kobe Bryant signature approach to the net, Vision left me in awe with the “nothin but net” swoosh of the first sip.

Fruit forward in expression with a round mouthfeel, this wine is a Rhône-inspired blend, structured by a varietal content of Syrah, Mourvedre, Grenache and Petit Verdot.  It stands up medium-big and tall, and I was lucky to enjoy its spoils while noshing bites at a table of six industry friends and wine lovers alike at Columbia’s tasting room.  We came with clients, and we left with forever friends.  A great wine will always do that for you.  Especially when discovered for the first time in a tasting room that feels like your best friends living room, sitting in a fireplace and live music setting.  That my friends, is the Columbia tasting room experience.


Molto bene, friends!





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