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.

 

Excerpt from “Secrets of the Sommeliers”

Inspiration

ON: BECOMING A SOMMELIER

“Much like their forebears, few of today’s top U.S. Sommeliers came into the restaurant business planning to do what they are currently doing. But a common factor binds them now: a passion for wine that almost defies description.  Both their professional lives and their personal lives are centered around wine.  Their friends are wine drinkers.  They base meals not around what’s in the refrigerator, but around what they want to drink that night [authors note: guilty of same, nearly 100% of my meal planning time].  They routinely talk with one another about wine and read wine magazines in their spare time.  They travel to wine-growing regions on their vacations and spend their own hard-earned money collecting the very bottles that they open and serve every night.  Thus, the first step toward becoming a sommelier is to identify your passion for wine.  It need not be a lifelong passion, but it must be driving.”

~ Rajat Parr, Master Sommelier, Winemaker, Wine Director for Mina Restaurant Group, Partner/Proprietor, Sandhi and Partner/Proprietor, Domaine de la Côte

I identify so strongly with this writing, and often worry that I bore those around me who don’t draw such joy and obsession from wine as I do.  Call me a nerd, consider my pursuits foolish, fail to understand, maybe judge from your vantage points and wine experience.  Validation exists for me the moment I am moved to do crazy things like write this blog, maintain this site, pursue Sommelier status while not working in the field, cite this work and identify it to my passion.  Consider me, thrilled.

Time to Nerd: April 7, 2018

Hello and happy new year, friends!

Looking back at ’17 and in the now of ’18, it is apparent that committing to patterns and habit setting in the fourth quarter of last year was an obvious personal challenge.  Accomplishing anything in the fourth quarter of the year seems like a good idea, and possible until work commitments, holiday pressures, last minute business travel, and the pop-up needs of family and friends take importance over the spend of your personal time.  I’m just trying to stay in my lane, y’all.

That said, authenticity and passion are like best friends.  Several weeks or months of time could eclipse and the very moment of reunion tells the truth that they’ve never left your side.  As I return to The Client Bar after a stint of silence, I am accompanied by the familiarity of enthusiasm and a sense of relief to be back on track.  I’ve missed hosting you very much and finally have something new to share, Client Bar!

April 07, 2018 is my official date for level 1 certification.  I’ll sit for the exam in Napa, but  between now and then will spend my nights and weekends [between yoga classes] completing 14-modules of online study and various mock exams to prepare myself with. The instructor led, in-class portion of study will provide me with the official course materials from London, nine wine tasting exercises, wine and food pairings, and other activities before the actual exam takes place at the culmination of a full day of classroom study.  I am excited to experience the classroom portion, and from it build new structure and organization around the foundation of my wine knowledge.  The exams are sent to London for grading, and if I pass, I will be awarded with the WSET Level 1 award in wines, accompanied by the iconic lapel pin.

Certification is an impossible magnet to avoid – so I’m relieved to have committed the enrollment cost and set the schedule for the remaining four months of study.  When starting this blog last year, I set the aggressive goal to achieve certification by December 31, but have given myself the grace to adjust that timeframe in order to stroll slowly through this journey, enjoying every view and perspective that is mine to obtain.  I hope in your endeavors you find the same mindfulness and strive for the same richness of your experiences.

Peace and love to you in your places,

Reyna J.

What I’ve learned so far. Or rather, not learned.

How about a little humble pie for Sunday morning brunch, say you?  I’ve just had a hot, steaming pile of it friends, and trust me – it’s not tasty.

The gap of passionately drinking, sharing and loving ALL things of the wine world versus becoming a student of wine in order to think and drink like a professional, is a proverbial Grand Canyon of distance that I’ve set myself out to cover.  Let me try my best to paint the picture of my current reality:

I’ve just spent the morning studying basic entry questions, completing a timed multiple choice format sample level one exam.  Some of the questions:

  • What year was the Judgement of Paris?
  • Assemble the following four AVAs as they appear from North to South
  • The Los Carneros AVA is split by which of the following two counties?
  • What is the most planted grape in the Willamette Valley?
  • Which type of wine is a Sauternes?
  • Which type of wine is a Châteauneuf-du-Pape?

Scoring barely 70% on the practice exam taught me this: what I have learned so far, is that I know nothing at all.  I need to study smarter and more in order to pass level one, and I am already behind the timeline due to an unavoidable delay into the world of essential oils.  A worthy digression for health and wellness issues, but I am back to my passion in wine study and feeling repentant for missed time. Wine study requires MOMENTUM.  Like muscle memory, your senses WILL get dull if you break pattern, which I did. Now I understand the flashcard bonfire that Brian McClintic had after passing Master in February of 2011.

“If you can’t explain it simply, you don’t understand it well enough.”  

~ Albert Einstein

Time to pull myself up by the wine stem and get back to the books.  Setting new targets for a Washington Masterclass in Austin, TX this November.  Should help with networking, confidence, and I could use the reality boost of getting out of my own mind and into the presence of working wine professionals.

In the wine world, if you do not have a passion, you will be left behind.  And while I can’t pass with 70% of academic performance, at least, there is that: I remain ignited!

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