The Era of the Brand Ambassador

Selling wine in America is difficult, and getting more so. Leaving aside the highly constrained ability for wine producers to ship directly to consumers, getting one's wine into shops and restaurants requires the assistance of a distributor licensed to sell wine in each individual target state. Since 1995, while the number of wineries in America has tripled to more than 9,000 and the volume of wine imports has more than doubled, the number of distributors available to deliver all that wine has dropped from more than 3,000 to fewer than 1,200, as company after company either goes out of business or is acquired by bigger fish. Today, two of those fish alone, Southern Glazers and Breakthru, control more than 60% of the wine distribution in the country.

Distributor consolidation has had wide-ranging impacts on the wine trade as a whole, but they can all can be summed up as: fewer wine salespeople, with an exponentially larger set of products to sell and therefore almost no time to devote to the promotion of any one brand. Whether you're the smallest boutique winery or one of the best-known wine brands on the planet, chances are that the very people who can help get your wine into shops and restaurants aren't spending much time thinking, let alone talking, about your products.

So how does a winery or a wine region get people talking about their products in the face of such institutionalised indifference? Enter the brand ambassador.

'My job is to be the face for the brand', says Wendy Shoemaker (pictured above in a photo by Josue Castro), who recently took a job as one of two brand ambassadors for Champagne Ruinart, part of the Moët-Hennessy portfolio. 'What I do is education. I set up events, private-client dinners, staff trainings - my job is to connect with people.'

Read the rest of the story on JancisRobinson.Com.

This article is my monthly column at JancisRobinson.Com, Alder on America, and is available only to subscribers of her web site. If you're not familiar with the site, I urge you to give it a try. It's only £8.50 a month or £85 per year ($11/mo or $111 a year for you Americans) and well worth the cost, especially considering you basically get free, searchable access to the Oxford Companion to Wine ($65) and the World Atlas of Wine ($50) as part of the subscription costs. Click here to sign up.

Photo of Wendy Shoemaker by Josue Castro.

Where (Else) Wine Geeks Gather

One of the most essential of wine's gifts has long been its ability to bring people together. This truth expresses itself in the world of wine in two distinct ways. We share wine among those with whom we gather, in joy and celebration of our shared humanity. Equally, though, when wine becomes the subject of our passion, we gather together in pursuit of deepening that enjoyment. Wine geeks love to talk wine. And for the past decade, thousands have been doing so on an oddly named website that most of the wine world has never heard of, but which continues to have an increasingly influential role in the world of wine.

Todd French was a music geek before he was a wine geek. French studied cello performance at Wesleyan University in Illinois and then went on to get his masters in musicology at the University of Southern California while also beginning his career as a performer with the Los Angeles Opera. In the course of his degree, he noted that all of the major global auction houses had musical instrument departments save one, the house known at the time as Butterfields. French approached the company and convinced them to hire him.

It was around this time, as he spent his days contemplating the fine craftsmanship of instruments, and his nights alternating between writing his master's thesis and playing at the opera, that French became interested in wine.

'Like quite a few people, I had one of those wine epiphany moments', says French. 'I remember going to this fancy restaurant, Napa Rose, at Disneyland. They had a Master Sommelier and every waiter was supposed to be a sommelier too, or something like that. I was there for a birthday and I had a wine pairing menu and the light bulb went on. I knew nothing about wine, but I decided that needed to change.'

French, however, wasn't one for formal wine education. 'I'm the type of person who instead of reading the book or going to class, I just jump in and immerse myself in as much information about a topic as possible and see what sticks. Being ADHD [Attention Deficit Hyperactive Disorder] as I am, it works for me.'

For a budding American wine lover in 2006, there was really only one place to go online for such immersion, and that was a website known as the Mark Squires Bulletin Board, an online forum that Robert Parker partnered with in 2000 upon the launch of At that time, the Squires Board, as it was known, hosted a thriving community of a few thousand wine consumers who spent time engaged in wide-ranging discussions about wine and (often, but not always) related subjects.

Read the rest of the story on JancisRobinson.Com.

This article is my monthly column at JancisRobinson.Com, Alder on America, and is available only to subscribers of her web site. If you're not familiar with the site, I urge you to give it a try. It's only £8.50 a month or £85 per year ($11/mo or $111 a year for you Americans) and well worth the cost, especially considering you basically get free, searchable access to the Oxford Companion to Wine ($65) and the World Atlas of Wine ($50) as part of the subscription costs. Click here to sign up.

The Holiday Gift Guide for Wine Lovers Who (Already) Have Everything

Giving gifts to wine lovers during the holidays can be anxiety inducing. Especially if your recipient tends to have many of the basics covered when it comes to wine. And forget about what a hassle that people like me tend to be. I'm one of those wine lovers who already has most of the gear that he wants, and has very strong opinions about everything else. Sound like anyone you know?

I've said before that buying wine for your favorite wine lover can be an exercise fraught with peril. Many wine lovers I know would much rather choose their own wine than have someone buy something for them. Many of you know what I'm talking about when I describe the pang of guilt we feel when someone has clearly bought a pricey bottle of wine that we would pass over quickly in a wine store if we were looking for something to buy ourselves.

And don't get me started on the complete waste of money that most wine aerators and other gadgets represent. Or those fancy crystal decanters that weigh 10 pounds and you can't even get your hand into to clean properly with a sponge? Ridiculous.

Have no fear, friends and family of wine lovers, I'm here to help you find something that even the pickiest, over-opinionated wine lover like me would enjoy (provided we don't already have one). Whether you're looking for a stocking stuffer or something seriously substantial that will earn you heartfelt and damp-eyed thanks, I've got you covered.

The Holiday Gift Guide for Wine Lovers Who (Already) Have EverythingThe Essence of Wine Book
This is a fantastic book. How do I know? I wrote it. A coffee table book of photographs and essays about the many flavors and aromas of wine, it is a collaboration between yours truly and award-winning food photographer Leigh Beisch and her art director Sara Slavin. The photographs are stunningly gorgeous, and the essays aren't half bad either. For each of the 46 different aromas profiled in the book, I offer wine recommendations that you can seek out to experience that particular flavor or aroma. The book won The Chairman's Award at the 2015 Louis Roederer International Wine Writers Awards, and even the New York Times said nice things about it. If your favorite foodie or wine lover doesn't have a copy yet, it's a sure fire gift that's bound to please. $75 plus shipping. Buy it from me directly.

The Holiday Gift Guide for Wine Lovers Who (Already) Have Everything
Words About Wine and Life
The other book I would recommend this year is the newly released musings of one of the best wine writers out there who doesn't make his money writing about wine. Importer Terry Theise has always had a way with words, and his latest volume, What Makes a Wine Worth Drinking: In Praise of the Sublime will charm any wine lover with a thoughtful or intellectual bent. Theise's impassioned and erudite writing inspires as well as instructs, and most certainly complements the complexity of your favorite wine. $16.51 in hardcover. Buy it on Amazon.Com

The Holiday Gift Guide for Wine Lovers Who (Already) Have EverythingThe Durand
If you're dealing with a serious wine lover, especially one who regularly opens older bottles of wine, you can't find a better gift for them than The Durand wine tool. Specifically designed to deal with the most fragile of corks, this handy little tool is an awesome piece of wine equipment. $125. Available from

The Holiday Gift Guide for Wine Lovers Who (Already) Have Everything
Vintage Wine Posters
Win advertising hasn't been the same since about 1895. No seriously, the big illustrated posters advertising wines around the turn of the century represent a high point in marketing, in my opinion. These days, they're collectors items and an original vintage print will set you back a couple of thousand dollars. But they're beautiful, and make wonderful additions to dining rooms, living rooms, studies, and yes, wine cellars, provided you've got one big enough to hang out in, let alone with wall space for one of these beauties. There are lots of places to buy such posters online, for various four digit price tags, such as Spencer Weisz Galleries in Chicago.

The Holiday Gift Guide for Wine Lovers Who (Already) Have EverythingCode 38 Wine Key
Know someone who opens a ton of wine and would appreciate the difference between an ordinary corkscrew and the Tesla of corkscrews?. If you're really looking to impress someone, or if your recipient happens to be a wine professional, they will certainly love using the Code 38 Wine Key, which brings precision engineering and fantastic modern styling to the simple corkscrew. Extravagant? Yes. Totally swanky? Definitely. The basic model starts at $225, and the most tricked-out Titanium version tops well above $500. Available from

The Holiday Gift Guide for Wine Lovers Who (Already) Have EverythingThe Coravin II Wine Access System
The Coravin has quickly revolutionized the wine world in its own small way, by allowing us all to have a glass of wine from any (non-sparkling) wine without removing the cork. It's now been more than 2 years since the launch of the tool, and it has literally transformed by-the-glass wine lists around the world, not to mention changed the way that many people drink their wines. The company recently released an improved second version of the tool (Coravin II) which I reviewed when it came out, but suffice it to say, this is a pretty astonishing and handy invention. $295. Available from Amazon.

The Holiday Gift Guide for Wine Lovers Who (Already) Have EverythingGoVino Plastic Wine Glasses
Sometimes you just don't want to mess with breakable wine glasses, but who wants to drink wine out of a Red SOLO cup? That's where GoVino glasses come in. If you want to sip a nice glass of wine by the pool without worries, these handy little reusable plastic wine glasses are all you need. They even have a little spot to rest your thumb. While they won't provide you quite the same aesthetic experience as a lovely crystal glass, they will certainly allow you to swirl, sniff, sip, and enjoy the full aromas and flavors of your wine. $29.99 for a set of eight. Buy on Insider secret - they'll go on sale during weekends (Fri-Mon) through the holidays.

The Holiday Gift Guide for Wine Lovers Who (Already) Have EverythingThe Best Everyday Wine Glasses
You know all that talk about the different wine glasses you need for different grape varieties? It's all hogwash. You need only one glass for red, white, and sparkling wines, and for most people this Schott Zwiesel Tritan is it. Titanium crystal is the sturdiest stuff on the market, and this glass is both visually elegant, modern in style, and perfectly shaped for wine. It also happens to be quite reasonably priced for a top-quality wine stem. This is what I drink from at home when I'm not drinking from my precious set of Zaltos (see below). $77.28 for a set of six. Buy on

The Holiday Gift Guide for Wine Lovers Who (Already) Have EverythingThe Best Wine Glasses Money Can Buy
There are wine glasses, and then there are Zaltos. Most people only need to pick up one of these gorgeously hand-blown works of art to understand instantly what they are all about. Fantastically light, delicate, and so finely wrought they seem effortless to use. Drinking from a Zalto stem represents the most luxurious way to appreciate any wine. While Zaltos come in several shapes, their Universal glass is just that -- perfect for anything. If money is no object and you're looking for a treat to give your favorite wine lover, there are few things that will impress as much as these glasses. Lead-free, handblown crystal from Austria. $59 each or $354 for a set of six. Buy them at

The Holiday Gift Guide for Wine Lovers Who (Already) Have EverythingThe Irony of Wine: Hipster T-Shirt Edition
How do you know someone is a badass wine insider? They show up to a party wearing one of Andre Mack's t-shirts under their Hugo Boss sport coat. Mack is a superstar sommelier-turned-winemaker, as well as one heck of a t-shirt designer. Most people I know in the wine business have at least one of his shirts. My favorites include the Oscar Jayer (My Bourgogne has a second name, it's J-A-Y-E-R), and Barolo King.

The shirts run $25 apiece and you can check out the full selection of delicious logo jokes and other wine ironies at

The Holiday Gift Guide for Wine Lovers Who (Already) Have EverythingA Subscription to The World of Fine Wine
Easily the best wine periodical in the world, each hefty, quarterly issue of The World of Fine Wine is more like a book than a magazine. Filled with great photography, fantastic writing, and top quality wine criticism, this magazine will appeal to anyone who brings a bit of an intellectual bent to their wine appreciation. I like to think of it as Granta for wine, if that analogy works for you. The World of Fine Wine is where some of the best wine writing is being done today. $157 per year for a US Subscription printed on dead trees.

You can also get digital subscriptions as well through their handy iPhone and iPad app, which may be preferable for those who don't want to have these big thick magazine stack up around the house (as beautiful as they are, they do really take up a lot of shelf-space after a few years). Digital subscriptions will run you $112 per year.

Purchase a gift subscription at

The Holiday Gift Guide for Wine Lovers Who (Already) Have Everything
A License to Chill
Like many accessories made specifically for wine lovers, the standard ice bucket can certainly be done without, or replaced by much more utilitarian alternatives, such as stock pots, paint buckets, salad bowls, etc. But there are times when you either want to make a statement, or times when you want a little more aesthetic pleasure from the things you use. So perhaps you want a fancier ice bucket? And if you're going to have a fancy ice bucket, then it better have room for two bottles of Champagne. This classy affair designed by Ralph Lauren will do the trick if you want to chill with style. $295, and available at Bloomingdales.

The Holiday Gift Guide for Wine Lovers Who (Already) Have EverythingMini Oak Barrel for Vinegar Making
Even the most die-hard wine lovers occasionally have a little wine left over. And most wine lovers I know also happen to be foodies, and appreciate the difference between good vinegar and bad vinegar. So help them make their own! This custom-made 5-liter oak barrel from Tuthilltown Barrels is the perfect way to make and age your own wine vinegar. Just simply add a little high quality vinegar to start, and then gradually fill up the barrel with unused, good quality wine, and violá. $96 for the 5L version. Other sizes available. Buy at

The Holiday Gift Guide for Wine Lovers Who (Already) Have EverythingBUILT wine bags
There are fancy wine carrying devices, and then there are useful wine carrying devices. These neoprene wine bags are most definitely the latter. I've got several, and they are how I end up toting most of my wine around to restaurants, parties, and anywhere I'm bringing a couple of bottles. They're nicely designed, insulating, and provide good enough padding that you don't have to worry about knocking over a bottle when it is snugly fitted inside. I can't live without mine. A 2 bottle tote costs $14.52. Buy it at

The Holiday Gift Guide for Wine Lovers Who (Already) Have Everything
Full Grain Leather Wine Tote
OK, so useful not good enough? Then go classy. Only the vegans among us would not want to tote their wine around in this gorgeous leather wine tote from JW Hulme, which is available with a monogram for that personal touch. Understated, elegant, and durable enough to leave to your children in all likelihood (especially if they have the same initials). And yes, it's priced like a family heirloom, too. $295 at

The Holiday Gift Guide for Wine Lovers Who (Already) Have EverythingSparkling Bottle Stoppers
Now, finishing a bottle of Champagne or sparkling wine, once opened, should not be a problem, but every once in a while, that third or fourth bottle in my house doesn't get finished. While there are some folks who would never let this happen, the reality is that sometimes you want to save the last of that bubbly for another day. That's where these handy little gizmos come in. You could shove a regular wine cork into that bottle, but there's no guarantee it will fit, or if it does, that it will seal very well. These guys snap on with a satisfying "clack" and make sure that there's a tight seal on the bottle so there's the best chance of preserving the bubbles. Every bubbly lover should have at least one. A great stocking stuffer at $19.99 for a set of three. Buy them at

The Holiday Gift Guide for Wine Lovers Who (Already) Have EverythingThe Best Stemware Cleaning Device
Washing your nice wine glasses is always an exercise in gentle deliberate movements. But that's invariably when most delicate glasses are broken (other than being accidentally knocked onto the floor). You have to be careful when washing stemware, but on the other hand, sometimes they can be a royal pain to clean, especially if, like me, you have slightly larger hands that don't always fit along with that brush into the bowl of the glass. This inexpensive little device, then, is your savior. Wonderfully soft and shaped perfectly for wine glasses, it makes quick work of cleaning any glass. $5.99. Available at

The Holiday Gift Guide for Wine Lovers Who (Already) Have Everything
Wine Glass Marking Pens
Also in the stocking stuffer category.... Wine glass charms are so 2002. These days when you invite a bunch of people over for a glass of wine (or five) its easier and more fun to just write people's names on the sides of the glasses. That way after the sixth glass of wine, no arguments break out about whether you had the piece of cheese wine charm or the bunch of grapes wine charm. The writing wipes off easily and is non-toxic. And of course, it comes in a whole rainbow of metallic colors so either host or guest can get creative. $8.99. Available at Amazon.Com

The Holiday Gift Guide for Wine Lovers Who (Already) Have EverythingGift Certificates for Wine
If all else fails, I don't know a single wine lover who wouldn't love a gift certificate to their local wine store. Not all wine stores offer gift certificates, but I'm sure you can find one in your area. I recommend:

K&L Wines in San Francisco, Redwood City, and Hollywood - Buy a Gift Certificate
JJ Buckley in Oakland - Buy a Gift Certificate

* * *

Best of luck in your holiday shopping, and remember, a glass or two of wine will make this whole process a lot easier. Happy holidays and happy drinking!!

Disclosures: In case you care, I receive affiliate fees from any Amazon links.

Image of wine glasses with holiday decorations and gift card courtesy of Bigstock.

Vineyard Labour – Deportations vs. Deposits

Amid a tide of animosity focused on people of Mexican and Latin American descent in the US, the vineyard workers of the West Coast have recently brought in another harvest. Occasional labour shortages have had a perhaps surprising cause. Rather than dodging ICE (Immigration and Customs Enforcement) raids, vineyard workers in Napa and Sonoma in particular are desperately seeking somewhere affordable to live.

Anti-immigrant rhetoric hit fever pitch just before our mid-term elections, as President Trump and the Republican party fixated upon a caravan of Central American migrants making their way north from Honduras, Guatemala and El Salvador towards the American border. Trump and his political allies decided to use these asylum seekers as an opportunity to rail against the state of US immigration policy and the ideology of their political rivals in the hope of affecting election outcomes.

Even though this 'dangerous' migrant 'invasion' has hardly been mentioned by the President since the election, 5,200 military troops have been sent to the border with Mexico to assist with border security, which is tighter and more punitive than it has been in decades. The Washington Post reported on 9 November that October saw 23,121 arrests at the US-Mexico border, up 39% from the previous month and the highest monthly number in the country's recorded history.

This border-focused enforcement has also been accompanied by enforcement efforts in communities around the country, especially in California, which has come into direct and open conflict with the federal government for its refusal to detain and prosecute immigrants simply because of their lack of documentation.

Read the rest of the story on JancisRobinson.Com.

This article is my monthly column at JancisRobinson.Com, Alder on America, and is available only to subscribers of her web site. If you're not familiar with the site, I urge you to give it a try. It's only £8.50 a month or £85 per year ($11/mo or $111 a year for you Americans) and well worth the cost, especially considering you basically get free, searchable access to the Oxford Companion to Wine ($65) and the World Atlas of Wine ($50) as part of the subscription costs. Click here to sign up.

Image of a harvest worker courtesy of George Rose.

Help Fund a Lawyer’s Highest Calling

What's the best thing a lawyer can do with your $20? Sounds like the beginning of a joke, right? But for right now, the answer is quite seriously this: try to convince the U.S. Supreme Court to let you buy wine when and how you'd like to.

For the first time in years, a case has made its way to the Supreme Court that deals with the (totally screwed up, antiquated, uncompetitive, inefficient, unfair and bullshit) laws that govern shipping wines to consumers across state lines.

These laws, put in place after the repeal of Prohibition, are byzantine relics of another age, one in which organized crime dominated the liquor business, and the moral compass of America was heavily anti-alcohol. Ratified on 5 December 1933, the Twenty-First Amendment to the United States Constitution contained the following statement: 'The transportation or importation into any State, Territory, or possession of the United States for delivery or use therein of intoxicating liquors, in violation of the laws thereof, is hereby prohibited.' Odd language, is it not, for an amendment that was re-legalizing liquor?

In that convoluted sentence, the Congress of the United States put the power to regulate the commerce of alcohol completely into the hands of the individual states, and paved the way for the complete nightmare that is America's Three-Tier System.

How much of a nightmare? Well for 25% of America, it's currently easier to order a gun over the internet than it is a bottle of wine? To buy wine in many states, you have to to make your way to a liquor store run by the state government, submit your state driver's license for a background check, and in at least one state's grocery stores, take a breathalyzer test before having the chance to shop a selection driven more by bureaucracy and the whims of distributors than by any sense of what you might want. In Connecticut, you can't order more than 20 bottles of wine within a two month period, and in Arizona, you can't have a winery ship you a bottle of their wine unless the winery can prove to the government that you've physically visited that winery first. These are just some of the ridiculous laws that vary across all 50 of our states, and force wineries, retailers, and consumers to spend millions and millions of dollars that they really shouldn't have to spend.

Sure, we believe in the "free market" here in America. But when it comes to alcohol we are the land of subsidies, forced monopolies, and sweetheart deals. Thanks to the 21st Amendment, 19 states have a direct financial interest in, and control of, wine sales within their borders beyond the basic taxes that all states levy on alcohol sales. This control can range from a complete monopoly on wine sales via state-run stores such as in Montana, Utah and Alabama, to laws (in 12 states and several more specific cities) that prevent consumers from getting their wine shipped to them from retailers or wineries, even if the shipper is in the same state. In any other industry, the level of collusion between state governments and alcohol wholesalers, and the fiercely anti-competitive arrangements they put into place, would clearly violate federal anti-trust laws. But not so with state laws governing liquor.

Unsurprisingly, these laws remain fiercely defended by those who profit mightily from their existence - state governments and liquor wholesalers - even in the face of rising consumer outrage. The Wine and Spirits Wholesalers of America (WSWA) has spent hundreds of millions of dollars successfully convincing many state legislatures that allowing wineries and retailers to ship wine across state borders would be tantamount to selling wine in toy stores, or handing it out free to teenagers on their way home from high school.

But let's get back to the Supreme Court. It has recently agreed to hear a case known as Byrd v. Tennessee, which is essentially a challenge to the laws in Tennessee that say out of state retailers can't sell wine to Tennessee residents. Or more specifically in this case, that Total Wine and More can't set up shop in Tennessee without being a resident (presumably they mean the executives of the business) of the state for at least NINE years. While this is the specific point of contention in the case, the various court rulings that have thrown it all the way up to the Supreme court make it clear that this case is an opportunity to clarify what the Commerce Clause (which says that the Federal Government can regulate commerce among the states) means in the context of the 21st Amendment (which says, specifically, that the commerce of alcohol is to be regulated by the states).

As you may or may not know, when the Supreme Court hears a case, anyone can file an amicus brief, which is a legal document filed by someone not party to the case, but who may have a strong interest in the case. An amicus brief is filed to make the court aware of that strong interest, as well as to bring relevant information to light that the outside party believes is relevant to the case.

Which is why the National Association of Wine Retailers and the Wine Freedom advocacy organizations have started a GoFundMe campaign to raise a little bit of money to file such a brief. This is your opportunity to help make the voices of wine consumers throughout the nation heard by the highest court in the land.

Stand up for fair commerce. Stand up for wineries, wine retailers, and wine consumers, all of whom benefit from the free market working the way it is supposed to. Donate today.

How to Properly Design a Wine List

When we talk about the design of a wine list, what is it that we're talking about? Most of the time, we're talking about the careful curation of choices for what wines go on the list.

But I'd like to talk about the other meaning of designing a wine list. Yes, I'm talking about literally what that list looks like -- the choices that were made in deciding how the carefully curated selection of wines should actually appear to the guest.

This conversation is going to be about aesthetics and the fundamentals of graphic design; about organization and readability; about context and creativity.

Wine list design, I must say, from the standpoint of someone who designs things for a living and pays lots of people who do, too, is almost universally awful.

For the past four years, I have been a judge for the global World's Best Wine Lists Awards put on by the World of Fine Wine magazine. Which means for the past four years I have read literally hundreds and hundreds of wine lists from around the world. And they suffer from the same flaws that you might find in any randomly selected corporate PowerPoint presentation, or homemade poster on the wall of a community center.

In short, they're not designed so much as just "put together." But it's surprising to me how often the wine list seems even less considered from a design perspective than the humble menu in a restaurant.

Granted, wine lists can be daunting things to contemplate putting to paper. After all, they're often long lists of similar looking combinations of words. But that is precisely why they benefit from (and much more than menus, really REQUIRE) the application of proper graphic design principles.

In an effort to improve the standards of judging for the World's Best Wine Lists in 2018, I personally reviewed every single wine list submitted to the awards. Thousands upon thousands of them. I can say with great authority, then, that the state of wine list design is universally deplorable around the world. In many cases there were literally only a handful of lists that were truly worthy of consideration for the award of Best Designed Wine List.

But the good news is that a few simple principles, thoughtfully employed, can really make a big difference. So without further ado, here's my point of view on what makes for a really nicely designed wine list, purely from a visual, organizational, and experiential perspective. Don't forget to put some great wines on it, too!

This is the first thing that anyone will notice about a wine list, and you'd be surprised at how many wine lists get even this basic, forehead-slapping principle wrong. And many get it so, so wrong. Cramming too many wines on a page; not distinguishing between the name of the producer versus the name of the wine; choosing fonts that are tough to read; putting images in the background of the list; the mistakes are myriad. And that's not even including some of the more egregious errors of data -- missing vintage dates, inconsistent reference to the wine's place of origin, even missing prices (unforgivable).

The best wine lists are easy to read, to scan and to browse. Human beings have been printing things since the 15th Century, and only shortly thereafter did we realize that there were some things we had to to in order to make it easy for people to read the things we printed.

The Blue Hill at Stone Barns wine list is beautifully and elegantly readable.

How to Properly Design a Wine List
The list from The Mozaic restaurant in Bali, on the other hand, doesn't make for easy reading.

When you're going to put a bunch of text on the page, you have to make choices. How much text are you going to put on the page? How wide will your margins be? Will you have big titles at the top of your page? Will there be page numbers? Where will those page numbers go? These are just a few of the dozens of choices that should be consciously made as one designs the pages of a wine list, and these choices should be informed by both the content itself (length of the list) and the style and sensibility of the dining establishment. The layout of a wine list despite often consisting simply of text on the page, remains a visual exercise, one that is capable of expressing the restaurant's brand and personality (though some people go too far in trying to give their lists personality from a visual perspective)

The best wine lists don't crowd too much onto each page, leaving enough whitespace to make things easy to read, and to distinguish the various elements of the page.

How to Properly Design a Wine List

Hakkasan's many wine lists around the globe have a very considered design that utilizes whitespace, justification and columns to nice effect.

How to Properly Design a Wine List
As much as I like the list for what it has on it, the Cowboy Ciao wine list is a train wreck from a layout (not to mention a typographical) perspective.

Organizational Structure
As distinct from the choices of how to place text on the page, this principle is really about how someone has decided to structure the entire list. What are the top level categories, and how have those categories been further broken down into sub-categories, and sub-sub categories, and so on. This may seem trivial to the uninitiated, but there is a real art in deciding what the structure of the list will be. Will you organize it by country first? Or by grape variety first? Or by style? And once someone has selected one of those categories, how will the wines within that category be further subdivided? These choices depend, of course on the depth and breadth of the list itself, but also on the vision and strategy of the wine list's author.

The best wine lists are carefully structured and ordered presenting wines in hierarchical groups that are understandable and consistent.

How to Properly Design a Wine List

The list from the Restaurant at Meadowood is beautifully organized and categorized with clear labels and sections.

How to Properly Design a Wine List
The Black Swan in York, England is, unfortunately trying too hard when it comes to organizing the list. It has become a cipher.

Browseability / Navigation
This, of course, is closely related to the aforementioned principle of organization. The browseability and navigational cues built into the design of a wine list should, in fact, reflect the organizational choices that have been made throughout the list. Customers should be able to understand and recognize where they find themselves in the wine list through cues provided on the page. These can be as basic as a page number and a title at the top of the page that reads "Red Wines," for a list that might just have two categories (i.e. Red and White) but they should frequently offer much more, especially for lists that run to many multiple pages. These bits of information or other visual cues, known as affordances, can help orient the customer to where they are, where they might have come from, what it is they are looking at, and where they can go from here.

The best wine lists have clear ways of indicating the differences between groups of wines, which group of wines the customer is looking at, where those groups sit in the larger hierarchy of wines, and more.

How to Properly Design a Wine List

At Hellenika, a Greek Restaurant on Australia's Gold Coast, the wine list is eminently navigable.

How to Properly Design a Wine List
Apicus, in Tokyo, on the other hand has forced you to read almost every line to find what you're looking for.

Typographic Style
The fundamental principles of typography remain a mystery to most people, thanks largely to the magic of word processing. The most that many of us might approach typographic principles would be the debate over whether a period should be followed by one space or two before the next sentence begins (the answer, despite what your grade school teachers drilled into you, is one). In the context of any text on a page, typography involves the choice of the actual font, of course, but also many other subtle, yet powerful decisions that have both practical and aesthetic implications. Decisions such as how much space appears between lines of text, or whether text is centered on the page or aligned in columns all affect the readability or scannability of the list. Other decisions such as which words to capitalize, whether to use bold or italic type, and what kinds of punctuation to employ not only affect readability, but also make an aesthetic statement in themselves.

The best wine lists select readable fonts, and utilize the various elements of typography to create readability, visual hierarchy, and distinction between elements on the page. Because wine lists are mostly text, and I can't emphasize this enough, typography plays an outsized role in the effectiveness and aesthetics of a wine list.

How to Properly Design a Wine List

The wine list at The Barn at Blackberry Farm in Tennessee is a triumph of typographic design. Note the use of different fonts, italics for the wine name and small caps for the producer name.

How to Properly Design a Wine List
La Chaumiere in Calgary has not only failed to use type to assist the reader, they've eschewed any visual organization altogether, making for a supremely unpleasant scanning or reading experience.

Visual Elements
On the whole, apart from the content (i.e. the wines) which excite only the geekiest amongst us, most wine lists are right up there with phone books on the scale of reading material capable of holding the interest of the average person. In short, they ain't very interesting to look at. Very few wine lists attempt to offer any visual interest beyond the choice of font (which, if selected for that reason, is usually a major mistake). Quite surprisingly, this even extends to the use of color, which despite no longer being particularly cost prohibitive in this age of cheap laser and inkjet printing, nearly always seems to be overlooked as a tool by those designing lists. Some wine lists however, choose to adorn their wine lists with elements of visual interest, ranging from purely aesthetic curlicues, to grid and separation lines for organization, to actual illustrations (most often in the form of maps, and to a lesser extent, imagery of wine labels). Such elements more often detract from the experience than add to it, but done well, they can enhance the experience of perusing the list as well as convey the personality of the restaurant.

The best wine lists use visual elements, from color to illustrations, to decorations or other adornments to complement or supplement the text on the page, rather than distracting from the content of the list.

How to Properly Design a Wine List

Acanto in Chicago not only has an occasionally humorous sketch adorning their list, they're actually one of the few wine lists around the world using color well.

How to Properly Design a Wine List
Unfortunately there are far too many lists in the world like this one, from La Villa in Vietnam, where poor graphics are not only useless, they detract from the experience.

So who's really doing it right? Well, this year, our choice for the Best Designed Wine List in the World went to The Barn at Blackberry Farm, which is truly a joy to read, not to mention being a phenomenal collection of wines. Anyone would do well to (figuratively speaking) take a page from their book when it came to use of type, browseability, and overall layout. But that's just one of many ways to design a wine list well. If you're a wine director or a restaurateur, why not take a little time to make your wine list better? Can't afford to pay a designer to do it? I can tell you that there are almost certainly students of graphic design in your city who would doubtless give it a shot just for the chance to say they'd done it, or perhaps in exchange for a nice meal or two.

As with every interaction with the guest, the wine list has an opportunity to tell the story of your brand. Make it a good one. Or at the very least, make it understandable.

The Highs and Lows of Vintage 2018

In preparing to summarise the state of the 2018 vintage in some of America's top wine regions this week, I found myself relieved that the highlights did not include winemakers contending with raging wildfires, earthquakes or other natural disasters. Of course, this past year has not been completely free from fires in California and Oregon (and there was an ill-timed hurricane on the east coast) but these examples of force majeure thankfully weren't raging around the ears of wine producers as they brought in their grapes at the end of the season. That said, not everyone had an easy time of it in 2018.

Perhaps the toughest vintage stories this year come from America's east coast, where unusual and rather persistent summer rains made for an extremely soggy harvest in some places and, unfortunately, no harvest at all in a few unlucky cases.

'In general bud break was late, flowering was wet, and veraison was normal', said Jeff White, winemaker at Glen Manor Vineyards in Front Royal, Virginia. 'The big story of 2018 was the unrelenting rain. With the exception of about two weeks in late June we had non-stop rain and clouds throughout the growing season and then into the harvest season. The soils never dried out. The vines began to shut down early, thus not fully ripening the grapes.'

White didn't make any red wines in 2018, but has hopes that his whites and rosé will be 'very nice'.

Out on the North Fork of New York's Long Island, rain was more sporadic, and sunshine in slightly greater supply than in Virginia, according to Richard Olsen-Harbich, the winemaker at Bedell Cellars in Cutchogue, New York.

'Summer was slow to come but when it did we had a lot of heat and sun. The fruit really ripened quickly through a very hot and dry August and slowed down once September hit with sporadic rains', said Harbich. 'We've had lots of challenges this fall dancing between rain events, but we know how to deal with it. It's not our first rodeo.'

Read the rest of the story on JancisRobinson.Com.

This article is my monthly column at JancisRobinson.Com, Alder on America, and is available only to subscribers of her web site. If you're not familiar with the site, I urge you to give it a try. It's only £8.50 a month or £85 per year ($11/mo or $111 a year for you Americans) and well worth the cost, especially considering you basically get free, searchable access to the Oxford Companion to Wine ($65) and the World Atlas of Wine ($50) as part of the subscription costs. Click here to sign up.

Image of an early morning Pinot Noir pick courtesy of Brittan Vineyards.

Elevating Colorado Wine

What's the ultimate sign that an emerging American wine region has finally broken out of obscurity? An influx of winemakers from Napa or Sonoma eager to try their hand in the area? Showing up regularly on grocery-store shelves in other wine regions? Getting featured as one of the best wine regions you've never heard of in Vogue magazine? Having wines that regularly score more than 90 points in a major wine publication? The establishment of subappellations and stricter geographic labelling requirements by the government?

Many such milestones measure the path towards a wine region's greater prominence, but marking the inflection point of a wine region's ascendancy seems possible only in retrospect. Nonetheless, I recently found myself trying to gauge the trajectory of Colorado's wine industry, which has recently experienced every single one of these milestones, on my way to judge that state's annual Governor's Cup wine competition along with some very high-profile fellow judges.

While it beats digging ditches (and garners little sympathy from those who have yet to experience the sensation of tasting their 150th wine of the day), wine judging is, in fact, fairly thankless work. Which is why the world's largest wine competitions spend a good portion of their budgets compensating the judges who spend multiple days in windowless rooms courting splitting headaches while sorting through 100 glasses of mostly mediocre Syrah.

Read the rest of the story on JancisRobinson.Com.

This article is my monthly column at JancisRobinson.Com, Alder on America, and is available only to subscribers of her web site. If you're not familiar with the site, I urge you to give it a try. It's only £8.50 a month or £85 per year ($11/mo or $111 a year for you Americans) and well worth the cost, especially considering you basically get free, searchable access to the Oxford Companion to Wine ($65) and the World Atlas of Wine ($50) as part of the subscription costs. Click here to sign up.

Image of the Grand Valley AVA courtesy of the Colorado Wine Board.

Wine and Weed

Elton John sang of needing 'Three days on a diet of cocaine and wine, and a little weed just to level me sometime.'

Lowell George of the band Little Feat crooned 'And if you'll give me weed, whites and wine, and you show me a sign, I'll be willin'.'

The fruits of the vine and the blossoms of the cannabis plant have been enjoyed together for much longer than the two have appeared in popular song lyrics. But they've only recently become business bedfellows in America.

On 15 August, just 13 days after the second annual Wine and Weed Symposium was held in Santa Rosa, California, Constellation Brands announced it was investing $4 billion in Canopy Growth Corporation, a Canadian medical marijuana purveyor. Constellation, in addition to being the largest beer importer in the world, is also one of the world's largest wine companies, owning brands such as Robert Mondavi, Kim Crawford, Ravenswood and more.

In California, public sale of marijuana began in January this year, making it the ninth US state to fully legalise recreational cannabis, after several years of being one of 29 states with medical marijuana laws on the books. On 26 June, Oklahoma became the thirtieth such state. For those states who have taken the plunge, legalisation has begun to have sometimes dramatic effects on their economies, from influxes of tourism, spiking real-estate prices and, of course, millions of dollars of tax revenues.

In California, where the wine tourism business already makes a $4 billion contribution to the economy, legalisation hasn't meant that wineries throughout California have suddenly started putting on wine and weed pairing events. Quite the contrary, in fact. Proposition 65, which decriminalised marijuana in California, explicitly forbids almost any possible commercial pursuit involving marijuana and alcohol, just as similar laws do in the other states that have legalised pot.

Read the rest of the story on JancisRobinson.Com.

This article is my monthly column at JancisRobinson.Com, Alder on America, and is available only to subscribers of her web site. If you're not familiar with the site, I urge you to give it a try. It's only £8.50 a month or £85 per year ($11/mo or $111 a year for you Americans) and well worth the cost, especially considering you basically get free, searchable access to the Oxford Companion to Wine ($65) and the World Atlas of Wine ($50) as part of the subscription costs. Click here to sign up.

Image courtesy of the Wine Industry Network and the Wine and Weed Symposium.

What’s Happening to Zinfandel?

These days, wine festivals abound across America, especially those featuring Pinot Noir, which seem to be popping up by the handful in every major wine market in the country. There was a time, however, when wine festivals dedicated to a single grape were few and far between. Ten years ago, the hottest ticket in public wine-tasting events took place once a year in San Francisco. Consumers (and the trade) would line up hours in advance for the sold-out event, held in not one, but two massive event pavilions, and by its conclusion, the event would resemble less of a public wine tasting and more of a fraternity party gone wrong.

The Zinfandel Advocates and Producers festival, ZAP for short, was simply the biggest wine party thrown in San Francisco each year, showcasing over 200 producers' wines to literally thousands of eager, even fanatical wine drinkers.

A decade later, California Zinfandel production has dropped 16% from its height in 2008. ZAP has been downsized to a smaller, more intimate event, and a grape that was something of a darling among consumers seems less part of the national wine dialogue than it has ever been. So I set out to find out what's been happening to what many consider to be California's, if not America's, signature grape variety.

Zinfandel, an ancient variety known as Crljenak Kaštelanscki or Tribidrag in its native Croatia, made its way first, in the early nineteenth century, to New England, where it was popular as a table grape. Soon after, it became the choice of many an immigrant pioneer heading to California, where the Gold Rush fuelled an explosion in cultivation. The grape's dominance in California winemaking prior to (and even during, thanks to healthy home winemaking) Prohibition, coupled with its lack of 'noble French' origin led to Zinfandel being considered something of an American original - if not a native variety, then certainly a wine defined and perfected in its new home - something of the viticultural equivalent to the immigrant experience itself.

Read the rest of the story on JancisRobinson.Com.

This article is my monthly column at JancisRobinson.Com, Alder on America, and is available only to subscribers of her web site. If you're not familiar with the site, I urge you to give it a try. It's only £8.50 a month or £85 per year ($11/mo or $111 a year for you Americans) and well worth the cost, especially considering you basically get free, searchable access to the Oxford Companion to Wine ($65) and the World Atlas of Wine ($50) as part of the subscription costs. Click here to sign up.

Image of Soucie Vineyard Zinfandel in Lodi by Randy Caparoso.