Wine And Politics: A Clarification

image: Facebook.com

My friend, fellow wine competition judge, and colleague (sorry, bro!) Michael Cervin recently asked me to offer up a comment or two (I agreed to do so on the record) for a piece he was writing for The Tasting Panel magazine, focusing on how (or if) political leanings impacted the wine business.

Michael published a screenshot of his interesting and well-written piece, which includes quotes from other people that I know and respect in the wine industry, and so I am also including it here (above) under the assumption that it’s okay to share.

I am quoted in the article as basically saying that I don’t think about anyone’s politics when it comes to wine, and that I happen to fine wine-industry-types among the more level-headed and reasonable folk when it comes to debating politics in a civil manner. Reflecting back on it, this isn’t entirely accurate, so I felt that I should include a clarification (or two, or three, knowing me), because, well, we live in some heated times when it comes to all of this political sh*t…

While I am quite vocal about being a non-affiliated, informed U.S. voter, with fiscally conservative and socially progressive leanings, I generally keep politics out of wine reviews. I mean, if you vote for fiscally irresponsible policies, for example, and your wine is great, I am going to ignore your (in my opinion misguided) political bent, and focus on the great juice being made.

I have my limits, however.

If someone is making great wine but happens to espouse unabashedly bigoted, racist, misogynistic, fascist, and/or Nazi-esque views, I’m going to ignore your wine. And that’s because there is simply too much excellent wine being made by respectful, hardworking, good people – conservative, liberal, centrist, what-have-you – who, while they have varying political leanings, don’t ever devolve their beliefs or stances into hate. Simply put, the world can get along just fine without wine being made by people who are acting like assholes, and I think that there are, in fact, clear lines that delineate acceptable from non-acceptable behavior in that regard.

As I’ve said here previously on similar matters:

The wine business is competitive enough that no one in their right mind would buy a wine, regardless of how good it is, if it comes with a large side order of douchebagery.

Now, there is no doubt that, as of the time of this writing, the USA is in the throes of one of its greatest ever political crisis, in the form of rampant partisan posturing that has become the very definition of harum-scarum, internecine infighting, to the point that the general populace have ceased to matter much to their elected officials. The sad fact is that not enough of us are voting to outweigh the influence of lobbyists, who, coupled with a vocal, misinformed minority of constituents, are effectively forcing minority viewpoints into law.

There is, of course, a quite simple and easy remedy to this, thanks to the forethought of some rather clever individuals a couple of hundred years ago.

In the USA, our political system was founded by a group of true geniuses, who understood that the mechanisms of checks/balances, compromise, and argument would move our country forward (albeit in a zigzag) if we maintain our respect, and our beliefs in the republic and in those systems.

I retain those beliefs, and so, I would argue, should you (voting not just in the traditional sense, but also with your dollars, in a tolerant, understanding, and respectful way). NO one is coming to rescue you – that’s your job; you need to vote as if your future depends on it, because it quite literally does.

Cheers!

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Copyright © 2016. Originally at Wine And Politics: A Clarification from 1WineDude.com - for personal, non-commercial use only. Cheers!

Fumbling The Ball At Goal-line (Thoughts On The 2018 Lancet Alcohol Study)

Recently, an examination of a rather large data set of studies (we’re talking nearly 200 countries, and over 690 pieces of work involving millions of people) was published in Lancet, and most of my alcohol-loving friends just about lost their sh*t.

The reason for the theoretical emergency bowel-vacating stemmed from media coverage of one of the Lancet study’s late conclusions, and the one harpooned by the media and shared pretty much everywhere (emphasis mine):

“Alcohol use is a leading risk factor for disease burden worldwide, accounting for nearly 10% of global deaths among populations aged 15–49 years, and poses dire ramifications for future population health in the absence of policy action today. The widely held view of the health benefits of alcohol needs revising, particularly as improved methods and analyses continue to show how much alcohol use contributes to global death and disability. Our results show that the safest level of drinking is none.”

That pithy little emphasized sentence above is the scientific equivalent of constructing a late-game, come-from-behind, potentially-game-winning NFL drive that started on your team’s own ten-yard line, culminating in a 3rd-and-long breakout run during which your guys fumble the f*cking ball at the goal-line and emerge with a heartbreaking loss. This is because there is a wealth of health-related insight that could come out of the Lancet study, and they chose to focus on the one aspect that the data don’t actually support directly; that conclusion is controversial at best, and is only loosely inferred from the analysis, based on the facts and results cited in the very study itself.

Bear in mind that alcohol constitutes an inordinate amount of the professional and leisure portions of my existence on this planet, which is why instead of trying to make that case myself in my own (not-so-)potentially biased way, I’ll instead refer you to Vox, who have already (splendidly) done that for me

Vox’s Julia Belluz has executed a well-researched and thoughtfully-entertaining takedown of the recent Lancet study, and it’s well worth a read, especially if you’re among the paints-soiling numbers who kind of freaked out about not being able to drink ever again.

This quote in particular from the Vox article needs a spotlight, as it brings a statistical numbers focus to the results and effectively acts as the article’s TLDR summary:

“…statistician David Spiegelhalter estimated that 25,000 people would need to drink 400,000 bottles of gin to experience one extra health problem compared to non-drinkers, ‘which indicates a rather low level of harm in these occasional drinkers.’

…the difference in health risk between those who drink nothing and those who have one daily drink is tiny — and, given the weak observational research it’s based on, potentially not meaningful.”

My slightly longer, but still abbreviated take involves this little summary results graph from the Lancet study (again, emphasis is mine):

Jump to conclusions, much? (image: TheLancet.com)

As you can see above, the difference in cumulative relative health risks between having zero drinks and having one drink daily is reeeeeaaaalllly small. In fact, statistically it could be argued that the difference is within error margins; in other words, it’s almost zero.

Are you technically safer having no alcohol? Based on the Lancet study, yes, technically you are. Just like you’re technically safer not having any sun exposure whatsoever, never crossing the street, never driving a car, never taking a plane flight, never doing weed…

But if you want to play the statistical numbers, all things being equal health-wise you’re no worse off drinking in moderation than you are not drinking at all. And that conclusion is more-or-less just as valid based on the findings of the Lancet study as their conclusion that you should never drink if you want to reduce your overall health risk.

What this study does do a great job of underscoring, in my not-so-humble opinion, is the relative health danger of regular, immoderate/excessive drinking, which is undeniably a major worldwide issue right now and a substantial burden on our global economy and mental, social, and physical well-being. But focusing on moderate, responsible drinking as a problem – based on these data – is a bit like saying that we need to be careful about our water intake because too much of it can kill you…

Cheers!

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Copyright © 2016. Originally at Fumbling The Ball At Goal-line (Thoughts On The 2018 Lancet Alcohol Study) from 1WineDude.com - for personal, non-commercial use only. Cheers!

The Times They… Uhm… Have Changed, Actually (Intowine.com’s Top 100 Most Influential People In The US Wine Industry 2018)

Image: Intowine.com

Folks, we’re getting old.

It’s hard to believe that it’s been a full five years since my friend, fellow wine competition judge, all-around decent guy, and prolific author Michael Cervin assembled the last edition of the Top 100 Most Influential People in the US Wine Industry. So much has changed in those ensuing five revolutions around the Sun that it’s simply mind-boggling to consider the volume… wow, I’m only two minutes into penning this and I already need a drink…!

Intowine.com has recently published Michael’s 2018 version of that US wine biz influencer list, and as always the results are almost equal parts educational, seemingly-inevitable, and controversial (at least one of the names from this year’s list has been associated with infamous wine fraudster Rudy Kurniawan). While I don’t have detailed insight into how this list gets constructed, I do know that Michael has, in previous incarnations, canvased industry professionals of various stripes regarding who they see as helping to (directly or indirectly) move the markets when it comes to wine, and frequency of mention from those results was a key determinant for if and where names are placed on the list.

I think it’s worth unpacking the results of the 2018 influencer list, and so unpack them we shall…

From my vantage point, the newly revised list does a good job of encapsulating the state of the current US wine biz “union,” despite some questionable omissions (see this discussion as an example; I can also offer up Eric Orange as being at least as – or more – influential than a third of the people appearing on the 2018 list). Winemakers, who have at times been seen in a sort of Cult of Personality spotlight within wine appreciation circles, should probably be a bit humbled by the new list: they make up only about ten percent of it. Wine media seem to have a more dominant position, with writers, critics, show hosts, and the like (many of whom I know, consider to be friends, and are talented, dedicated, and hard-working people) taking up a large number of the 100 slots, and occupying 14 of the top 25 places.

But…

Perusing the top quartile of this list clearly suggests that the influence of wine media in general has waned – at least somewhat – in the last five years. The Age of Wine Industry Consolidation (whether perceived as “Golden” or “Dark” will depend largely, I suspect, on your view of corporate latitude, or maybe who writes your paycheck) is clearly upon us, and that state of affairs is well reflected in the 2018 list. Large conglomerates of wine brands, major regional alcohol distributors, and lead buyers for huge (and I do mean huge) store chains take up almost half of the top 25 spots this year; most notably, and probably quite tellingly, they occupy all of the top 3 positions.

This is all just reality being reflected, of course, but I hope Michael’s new list gives those in the wine biz some contemplative pause; is it healthy for the US wine industry as a whole if those entities become too big or too powerful? You already know the answer to that one; and we (wine brands and PR people, I’m looking at *you*) need to be careful that we don’t simply allow a power play substitution of one influencing group (media) for another (the downstream pipeline players of the USA’s incredibly outdated – and arguably anti-capitalist – three-tier alcohol distribution system).

Cheers!

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Copyright © 2016. Originally at The Times They… Uhm… Have Changed, Actually (Intowine.com’s Top 100 Most Influential People In The US Wine Industry 2018) from 1WineDude.com - for personal, non-commercial use only. Cheers!

Naked Wines And The Cult Of “Fake News”

One of the worst aspects of the current state of political “discourse” in the USA is the penchant of leaders in our government towards vocalizing complete and total falsehoods, whenever and however it furthers their individual and/or party agendas, with seemingly little consequence for their actions.

Where they deem it necessary, they also repeatedly use this tactic to undermine the credibility of any ideas or expert opinions that they find inconvenient to the forwarding of their agenda, even when those ideas and expert opinions are based on (as in the examples of climate change and global warming) data that are incontrovertible. One need not search far, wide, or for long to find examples of this, many of them technically qualifying as libel, slander, or defamation.

Just as the U.S. wine world is not immune from modern cultural and technological shifts, it is, alas, also not immune from this ridiculous embracing of falsehood over fact, or the downward spiral into the cult of “fake” news wherein “truthiness” trumps (pun intended) actual truth in a disgusting sociopathic display of partisan greed, good old fashioned idiocy, or (too often) both.

Interestingly, this trend may be more a factor of generational social shortcomings now that the Baby Boomers are more-or-less in charge of everything political in the USA (an argument made in a cogent and convincing – though albeit overly-opinionated and overly-lengthy – way by Bruce Cannon Gibney in his book A Generation of Sociopaths: How the Baby Boomers Betrayed America). Having said that, in my view, analyzing the reasons behind this worrying trend isn’t nearly as acute a need as is applying the disinfectant of attention. I.e., calling out and rejecting the behavior adamantly and quickly; consider it the intellectual and moral equivalent of weeding, or maybe playing Whack-a-Mole.

Thankfully, that’s just what happened recently when Naked Wines was more-or-less forced to apologize for going as low as the current U.S. political discourse in some of its most recent marketing efforts

It was author Jaime Goode who most prominently called attention to Naked Wine’s marketing snafu, which ultimately was answered with a mea culpa from CEO Rowan Gormley; here’s the exchange as reported via Twitter:

image: twitter.com

In their missive, Naked Wines 1) implies that wine competition results are bogus, and 2) states that wine critics both invent trends (this is almost certainly unprovable) and receive payment to push those trends and/or certain wines on to consumers (the latter is news to me… apparently I’ve been doing this wine critic thing ALL wrong, and am missing out on a lucrative income source!).

It’s not just that the accusations in the Naked Wines marketing material are likely demonstratively false, and possibly flirting with libel or defamation territory; it’s that they just didn’t bother to cite any sources for their claims. In the case of their comments on wine critics, that’s almost certainly because their claim is total bullshit. In the case of wine competition medals not meaning anything, that’s very likely corporate jealousy at play, since strong cases can be made for any differentiating recommendation (including wine competition medals) helpung to increase sales. Almost ironically in this case, their concluding assertion that real customer reviews are a good way to find wine recommendations is probably true, but not for the reasons that they imply.

Mad props to Goode for calling this crap out as, well, crap, and for doing it publicly and quickly. A nod to Gormley for fessing up, too.

But shame on Naked Wines for taking the low road in the first place.

Collectively, the wine biz is better than this, folks.

Cheers!

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Copyright © 2016. Originally at Naked Wines And The Cult Of “Fake News” from 1WineDude.com - for personal, non-commercial use only. Cheers!

Scores Still Kinda Suck – Now With More Better Science?

There’s been a good bit of discussion lately on the Global Interwebs over a recent blog post by the wine-data-focused David Morrison (to which I was alerted by intrepid friend-of-1WD Bob Henry).

In that post, Morrison puts the scores of two of Wine Spectator’s then-critics-both-named-James, James Laube and James Suckling, through the data-analysis wringer, focusing on scores they gave to wines as part of WS’s “Cabernet Challenge” of 1996.

Generally speaking, Morrison’s blog post, while enviably thorough, can justifiably be criticized as much ado about nothing, considering that no one in the right minds could draw any statistically relevant conclusions from such a small data set. The summary version is that he found a high level of disagreement in the scores that the two Jameses gave to the same wines. Morrison draws out some interesting suggestions from this finding, though, primarily about the use of numbers when evaluating wine quality; to wit (emphasis is mine):

“The formal explanation for the degree of disagreement is this: the tasters are not using the same scoring scheme to make their assessments, even though they are expressing those assessments using the same scale. This is not just a minor semantic distinction, but is instead a fundamental and important property of anything expressed mathematically. As an example, it means that when two tasters produce a score of 85 it does not necessarily imply that they have a similar opinion about the wine; and if one produces 85 points and the other 90 then they do not necessarily differ in their opinion.

So… where have we heard that before?

Oh, that’s right, we heard it right here on 1WD. Several times, actually…

Morrison gets to his point a different way than I did (and by that, I mean not only via data analysis, but also more eloquently and in about one-third as many words), but the point remains the same: specific numeric values are just a sucky way to talk about subjective experiences (something that the medical field has known for a long, long time), and wine criticism will always have large subjective elements baked into it.

Here’s a recap of my version of a similar conclusion (with newly-added emphasis):

“Wine ratings are most often presented via scales that imply scientific precision, however they are measuring something for which we have no scientifically reliable calibration: how people sense (mostly) qualitative aspects of wine. Yes, there may be objective qualities about a wine that can indeed be somewhat calibrated (the presence of faults, for example) but even with these we have varying thresholds of detection between critics. That’s important because it means that the objective (i.e., measurable) quantities of those elements are not perceived the same way by two different reviewers, and so their perception of the levels of those elements cannot reliable be calibrated.

But it’s the subjective stuff that really throws the money wrench into the works here. How we perceive those – and measure our enjoyment of them – will likely not be fully explainable in our lifetimes by science. That is because they are what is known as qualia: like happiness, depression, pain, and pleasure, those sensations can be described but cannot effectively be measured across individuals in any meaningful way scientifically.

Yes, we can come to pretty good agreement on a wine’s color, and on the fact that it smells like, say, strawberries. After that, the qualia perception gets pretty tricky, however: my perception on how vibrantly I perceive that strawberry aroma might be quite different from yours. Once that factors into how you and I would “rate” that wine’s aroma, we start to diverge, and potentially quite dramatically at that.”

Add to this quagmire the penchant of humans to treat numeric values as fungible (see Morrison article quote above), and you have a recipe for a not-so-great consumer experience when using specific numbers to rate a wine, and then comparing those specific numbers across critics, particularly when those numbers are stripped of their original context (which is, oh, just about every time they are presented…).

Cheers!

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Copyright © 2016. Originally at Scores Still Kinda Suck – Now With More Better Science? from 1WineDude.com - for personal, non-commercial use only. Cheers!

4th Generation Mondavis on the Rise

American wine as we know it doesn’t exist without the Mondavis. What two Italian immigrants, Cesare and Rosa Mondavi, started in Prohibition-era Napa has become one of the greatest success stories in not just wine but American history. Today, the story—which has always been about family, for better or worse—continues, with a formal announcement that the fourth generation Mondavis have taken on a more prominent role at CK Mondavi and Family, as shareholders, board members, and brand ambassadors.

Last month, I met with Riana Mondavi, one of the so-called G4, at a coffee shop in the Philadelphia suburbs. She was making the rounds with local media (and probably also paying a visit to her alma mater, Villanova, where I also attended and where she earned her bachelor of arts in marketing and international business).

Riana is the great granddaughter of Cesare Mondavi (pronounced chez-a-ray), the granddaughter of Peter Mondavi, and the daughter of Marc Mondavi, current co-proprietor with his brother, Peter Jr., of Charles Krug Winery and the CK Mondavi and Family brand. Joining Riana to form the G4 are her three sisters, Angelina, Alycia, and Giovanna, and her cousins Lucio and Lia. (Family tree.)

When we hear the name Mondavi, we think Robert, not Peter. However, both brothers made significant contributions to winemaking—winemaking lore, too, famously brawling over a mink coat in the family vineyard, a fight that was less about a garment and more a clash of ideals.

For twenty-three years, Robert and Peter worked side by side at Charles Krug, Napa’s oldest winery, which their father Cesare, at Robert’s urging, had purchased in 1943. As Robert would later write, “For years I clashed with Peter over the quality of our wines.” Robert’s ideal was of continuous improvement. “I went throughout the world to find out what my competition was. And then I stopped at nothing to improve what we are doing, to excel.” Peter’s ideals, on the other hand, seemed to align more with those of his father and Italian immigrants like him who treated wine as less exotic and more household staple.

In Robert’s son Tim’s estimation, “Robert had a vision. Peter had a vision too, but went at a slower pace; he was more introspective and methodical.”

So, the brothers went their separate ways.

I asked Riana if Mondavi family relations have normalized in the more than fifty years since the notorious schism. I forget her exact words, but she indicated that they had, and that the Peter and Robert lineages do cordially cross paths these days.

Before our meeting, I had known the basics of the Mondavi story, but Riana added quite a bit of color, especially to Peter’s side of things, and brought the human aspect to what was already compelling history. She told me about working in the family winery at ten year’s old alongside her siblings, a family tradition that included such tasks as cleaning dishes and the lab, all for twenty-five cents an hour. Riana told me the story behind her great grandfather Cesare’s transition from wine-grape shipping to winemaking. It was pure happenstance, really: Cesare couldn’t in good conscience allow a shipment of unusually wet grapes, due to be sent east, succumb to mold en route. So he made wine, the logical and most profit-saving solution.

The tone of reverence and appreciation with which Riana spoke about her relatives, along with all the looking back at Mondavi history I’ve done since our time together in the coffee shop, have given me a greater appreciation for some of the low- and mid-shelf selections I tend to ignore.

In joining CK Mondavi and Family, the G4 are taking up the Mondavi mantle, but it’s more Peter’s than Robert’s. The CK Mondavi portfolio features exactly the type of inexpensive, massively produced table wine that was foundational to Cesare’s success, then Peter’s, after Robert left, and then Marc’s and Peter Jr.’s, in their time.

4th Generation Mondavis on the RiseThe current CK Mondavi lineup includes a Chardonnay, Pinot Grigio, Sauvignon Blanc, Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot, and a Red Blend (Cab, Merlot, Petit Verdot, Cab Franc, Malbec). Each has a vintage (unusual for wine in this price point) and retails in the seven dollar range. I’ve found them to be exactly as advertised: balanced wines for casual, everyday drinking.

Many serious wine drinkers will shy away from brands like CK Mondavi. But as I said before, having acquired more of the story behind these screw-capped bottles with marketing-friendly labels—understanding that they hearken back with care and fidelity to the staples of the Italian table—I now have a greater appreciation.

In a curious plot twist, Riana and her three sisters are actually making their own wine under a label called Dark Matter, which is of a considerably different caliber than CK Mondavi. “It’s kind of my side hustle,” said Riana. Fruit is sourced from two vineyards on Howell Mountain. The first, the sisters own together—appropriately called Four Sisters and planted entirely to Zinfandel. The other, called Rocky Ridge, owned by their parents, Marc and Janice, provides the Cabernet Sauvignon.

Allocations are extremely limited for Dark Matter (120 cases each of the current two offerings). As hard as I tried, I couldn’t get a sample.

I like to think the sisters’ dual allegiance to the high craft of Dark Matter and the quality-for-the-quantity of CK Mondavi is appropriate homage to pay the family legacy. Even though Robert and Peter had their own way of doing things, both discovered that there’s room at the America table for a broad spectrum of wine, from Woodbridge “Bob Red” and CK Mondavi White Zin, to Opus One and Charles Krug Vintage Selection Cabernet.

Thoughts On Instant Pot “Wine”

Instant BAD idea in terms of fermentation vessels

A few of you intrepid 1WD readers have brought to my attention, in whoa-check-this-out-dude! fashion, the intrepid endeavors of foodie David Murphy, who recently blogged about using his popular-with-the-cool-kids Instant Pot to make wine from Welch’s Grape Juice.

I have some thoughts on this:

1. I admire the gumption, ingenuity, and persistence that Murphy displayed in making this Instant Pot wine thing actually happen. I mean, in a geeky, passionate, too-much-time-on-your-hands kind of way, this is brilliant and his tenacity and desire to learn and then put that learning into practice should be lauded.

2. No. Just… NO.

This is a bad idea for most wine lovers for many reasons, but for brevity’s sake I’m only going to focus on a couple of those reasons…

The process isn’t actually that simple.

Murphy’s instructions include what appear to be six-to-eight simple steps, but the steps are neither simple nor do they in reality number less than fifteen (that’s when I stopped counting). There are potentially serious safety implications involved in fermenting anything in a vessel (such as the Instant Pot) that isn’t built specifically for fermentation purposes (not to mention what this kind of activity would do to your device’s warranty). I mean, things can and do explode during fermentation (as someone who has previously home-brewed beer, I can attest to the potential dangers – and messes – associated with such activities).

The QPR on this activity is ridiculously, pathetically poor.

The ingredients you’ll need to make your own Instant Pot wine (not counting the Instant Pot itself, which will run you around $150) will cost you at least $25, without factoring in the cost in your personal effort (not an insane amount in this case) and time (quite a bit – check out how much waiting is involved as detailed in the instructions). Once effort and time come into the calculation, Instant Pot wine quickly loses its luster from a cost effectiveness standpoint. All of that work will net you about seven bottles of wine. Let’s be generous and say that your total cost in all of the above is something like $250. That comes out to just over $35 per bottle. You can buy a f*cking magical bottle of wine for that price point (that isn’t made from Welch’s).

Look, I’ve got nothing against the Instant Pot, and I admire the ingenuity and fun involved in this, but making wine in that thing should not be considered a viable alternative to buying quality wine.

I defy anyone reading this to produce Instant Pot wine that is better than a bottle of sub-$10 vino from Chile, Argentina, or Bulgaria. You go shopping for that stuff, and for your $200-$250, you’ll probably come home with at least two cases of decent juice for way less effort.

Cheers!

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Copyright © 2016. Originally at Thoughts On Instant Pot “Wine” from 1WineDude.com - for personal, non-commercial use only. Cheers!

And You Were Expecting What, Exactly? (Thoughts On The PA Pay-To-Play Scandal)

“The most endangered species –
The honest man”

-Rush, Natural Science

In the great room of my house, there are two 5″x7″ framed prints in Chinese script, each of which represents one of the two “house rules” of the home shared by me and my daughter (it’s generally too big of a space for the two of us, but she understandably – and emphatically – did not want to move after I filed for divorce).

And yeah, there really are only two house rules at Chateau Dude. One represents Integrity, the other Honesty.

And yeah, we really do believe in and live by them. The fact that I feel compelled to write that last sentence is, I think, indicative of just how far through the looking glass we have come, socially speaking, in the USA, even in my relatively short lifetime.

And yeah, this will eventually get to the topic of wine, but that’s not the crux of this article (you have been warned). To get to that, we’ll need to review a couple of articles by W. Blake Gray that were recently published on Wine-Searcher.com [ full disclosure: I utilize their affiliate program ]. The first of these, Pay-to-Play Scandal Exposed, detailed the fallout from illegal bribes (including several thousand dollars spent on “adult entertainment”) offered by the likes of mega-distributor Southern Glazer’s to the Pennsylvania Liquor Control Board to influence what alcoholic products were/weren’t carried on its state store shelves.

That story justifiably got a lot of traction. But it’s Gray’s follow-up story that, to me, is actually more important, and should have most of us outraged…

In that one, Digging Deeper in Pay-for-Play Scandal, Gray describes just how little justice has actually been served so far in this case (e.g., only four companies have paid fines to date, several PLCB staff potentially involved have not been charged, etc.). Not only is the lack of swift and meaningful justice not surprising, Gray sums up the collective thinking of the wine biz regarding this case – and the prevalence of illegal pay-to-play activity within the wine industry – near the end of his article:

“…most of this is probably happening in many spots around the country. We only know about Pennsylvania because wine and spirits are bought and sold there by a state monopoly.”

As wine lovers, industry folks, and just plain old humans who give a shit, we should be outraged at scandals like this. We should be pissed off that bribery and deceit are affecting (in secret) the choices of our favorite beverage in the Universe, in a supposedly free market.

But we’re not.

More likely, we’re just more f*cking exhausted than we are pissed off. I know that I am.

Look, I spent an embarrassingly long time having the wool pulled right over my eyes in my life, and while I’ve been called a good number of disparaging things in my time, “dumb” and “naive” has never been two of them. When I decided that enough was enough with the lies that were undermining my personal life, I was astonished at how flippantly people generally treated outright lying and deception. The attitude seemed to be “well, shit, everyone is lying all of the time anyway,” as if all lying were somehow equalized in scope, importance, and impact.

The problem is that attitudes like that one – enabling, cowardly attitudes of complacency – are cop-outs, and also happen to be dead wrong (e.g., see the Chateau Dude House Rules at the top of this article). Most people lie about something, usually when the stakes are small; but most good people do not actively deceive, especially when the stakes are large. When you do that, you’re probably an asshole, and from the looks of things, Southern Glazer’s and the PLCB have ample supplies of assholes, who were, in secret, determining to what beverages the people of PA should and should not have access.

The fact that we’re not surprised by any of this is a sad indicator of just how low our collective self-opinions and expectations regarding the truth have sunk (at least in the USA). No matter what your political stance, only a non-reasonable person would not recognize that we have recently elected one of the most publicly prolific liars in recent memory as President of the United States. One of the most popular, entertaining, and well-written wine websites at the moment consists not of investigative journalism or reviews, but is almost entirely insider-baseball style satire; while I love it, I’ve been unable to read it lately because it feels progressively less and less absurd compared to the absurdity that we accept around us daily.

The crux here, if there is one, is to demand better.

Not just from the wine business, though it would be great to have such a storied, enduring, fantastic, and civilized industry become an example of how above-board business can be successfully conducted in the USA. But also from ourselves; if you’re not angry, maybe it’s time that you did get a little angry. Not kick-the-dog angry, but just angry enough to clear out of the haze of complacency, and demand better conduct from both ourselves and the industry that we love.

Cheers!

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Copyright © 2016. Originally at And You Were Expecting What, Exactly? (Thoughts On The PA Pay-To-Play Scandal) from 1WineDude.com - for personal, non-commercial use only. Cheers!

Stay On Message (Talking Wine And PR At Boozehoundz)

Earlier this week, I was quoted by author, veteran wine competition judge, and personal friend Michael Cervin on his big, Boozehoundz. In that article, Michael included my now-exceedingly-repetitive advice on wine PR, along with much more helpful words from others far more versed in the wine PR field, regarding the value of public relations in helping wine brands to get their message out to their perspective customers/fans/consumers/etc.

Michael’s article has immensely insightful information on the how and why of communicating wine brands messages; what that article doesn’t discuss is how few wine brands have actually crafted a viable message in the first place, and therefore aren’t even in a position to use the helpful information therein.

I have become more acutely aware of this issue during 2016 and 2017, specifically and most vicerally during my travels to regional wine events and subsequent tours of those wine areas. It’s astounding how few of those regions have crafted anything close to resembling a message tailored to the markets that they wish to penetrate. In most cases, they don’t seem to have actually identified the specific markets to which they’d deliver a message if they even had one.

In more than one instance this year, I’ve attended regional panel discussions targeted to the press in which representatives from across the silos of those wine regions – farming, production, oversight, marketing – not only do not have a message about their region to pass on to the press, but use the platform to either engage in internecine arguments, or to ask people like me “what do YOU think our message should be?…”

My answer: “I think that your message should’ve been worked out before I got here, and that since I’ve only been in your region for a day or two, I’ve got no f*cking idea what your message should be. And if I did, that’s what I call ‘consulting,’ and I need to get paid for that.”

Incredibly – almost impossibly so – is that most of this insanity has transpired in wine regions that literally have centuries of viticultural history under their belts.

In my experience, one of the most significant issues plaguing the wine biz is that wine brands – be they specific labels, regions, etc. – lack defined goals for how they are going to handle what has become the most competitive marketplace in the many centuries worth of history of wine as a commercial product. That lack of specificity in turn leads to ambiguous ideas of where they sit in terms of their target markets (visibility, penetration, perception, whatever). Lacking an idea of what to measure, they end up not being able to improve, with scattershot marketing approaches sucking up their valuable PR budget dollars. They then have no real or concise message to give to the press, consumers, or customers.

To grow in today’s ultra-competitive fine wine market (there are about 8,000 wine brands in the USA alone, folks), brands and regions must a) have a very clear and very genuine idea about what makes them unique, and b) be able to summarize that idea in a message that takes five seconds or so to articulate.

Is true, as Michael quotes in his article, that the wine brands with the most friends is likely to win. It’s also true that it is a hell of a lot easier to make those friends when they can actually understand what you’re saying, and are easily reminded about why they want to be friends with you in the first place.

Cheers!

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Copyright © 2016. Originally at Stay On Message (Talking Wine And PR At Boozehoundz) from 1WineDude.com - for personal, non-commercial use only. Cheers!

Thoughts On The 2017 SVB Wine Report

(image: svb.com)

Each year, Silicon Valley Bank (SVB) releases their predictions for the U.S. wine biz for the coming year, and every year I have my (typically snarky) commentary on the report (which, I should add, I usually find to be insightful – the report, I mean, not necessarily my snarky commentary).

The SVB report is Northern-California-heavy, which makes sense, given their clientele. It often makes also contains predictions that one might generously call “favorably perceived” by that clientele; in the 2017 report, for example, we’re told that Millenial consumers will move from imbibing blends into imbibing varietal wines, and will also pay more for the privilege. Which probably has a lot of perennially under-compensated Millenial wine lovers saying, “ok, sure, with what, the money I make by selling my f*cking blood?!??”

What I want to focus on for 2017, however, are two aspects emphasized in the SVB report, one of which the U.S. wine biz seems to be on board with (albeit a bit late), and another with which the U.S. wine biz seems to be, well, not so on board…

First, the good news: the power of Direct to Consumer (DTC) sales seems have gotten through the figurative skulls of America’s wine industry.

Unsurprisingly, the smaller the production, the more likely the winery/brand is to leverage DTC as a sales tool, given that consolidation within the country’s alcohol distribution tier has made cracking into the traditional sales channels more difficult. The empowering thing, as long-time 1WD readers will already have heard ad nauseum, is that engaging the consumers most likely to spend the bucks DTC-wise has never been easier.

Thoughts On The 2017 SVB Wine Report

(image” svb.com)

I’m really happy to see this, and to see that smaller producers are increasingly leveraging online the sales king fu that they already have honed at with visitors at the cellar door.

Now, it wouldn’t be a 1WD commentary without tuf-luv style bad news, and so here it is – the wine biz probably isn’t well-poised to engage the next batch of consumers that they will need to woo if they want to remain solvent: my generation, the oft-unrecognized GenX-ers. According to the 2017 SVB report, “the Gen X cohort will surpass the baby boomers around 2021 to become the largest fine wine consumer demographic in the United States.”

Here are the numbers, starting with current trends, and then extrapolating that out to 2035:

Thoughts On The 2017 SVB Wine Report

(image: svb.com)

 

Thoughts On The 2017 SVB Wine Report

(image: svb.com)

U.S. fine wine sales, particularly in the premium tiers, is still an old (and probably mostly male… and maybe mostly white) game, at least as far as target marketing goes. But the shift needs to happen, and the phasing of marketing dollars to GenX consumers needs to be underway, lest some fine wine brands eventually find themselves without a cash-cow consumer base that pays the majority of the bills.

They’ve got their work cut out for them, too; the GenX generation has been largely ignored so long in marketing that we often don’t even know what to do with marketing attention when we do get it. Not only that, but even GenX-ers themselves don’t really know what defines our generation, so we have trouble articulating it in terms that marketers are used to using successfully with Baby Boomers.

In other words… best of luck, wine industry peeps! We’re pulling for you, but we probably won’t be of much help to you…

Cheers!

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Copyright © 2016. Originally at Thoughts On The 2017 SVB Wine Report from 1WineDude.com - for personal, non-commercial use only. Cheers!