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Wine In The News


The Story that Changed the World of Wine

by Adam Strum

FrenchParadox Wine In The News

It was 19 years ago in  1991 : 60  Minutes correspondent Morley Safer  appeared on my television screen  with a bottle of wine on a table in front of him and a glass of wine in his hand . He elaborated in glowing terms about how the health and absence of heart disease in France is directly related to what was “found all in this wonderful glass of red wine , ” which he held out to the camera .  Chills went up and down my spine and I remember as if it were yesterday — wine’s “eureka”  moment had finally come and this “tipping point” was accelerated by this powerful ,  highly watched TV show and its cultured host.

Safer referred to this phenomenon as the French Paradox ,  which indicated that societies that have wine as part of their normal meal lead healthier lives and (probably happier ones as well) because of properties in wine that fight heart disease. This was regardless of the extremely rich diet filled with  cheese and other  highly caloric foodstuffs that the French generally consumed on a daily basis.  Hence the paradoxical aspect of the health of the general population in France.

I mentioned this story to a friend of mine who is a senior executive in the wine business and he recalled exactly where he was when the story ran as vividly as most baby boomers remember where they were when President Kennedy was assassinated.

My friend elaborated on how red wine had to be allocated after this broadcast and that the sales of red wine exploded in the ensuing weeks by more than 40% ,  a testament  to the power of network TV in those days and in particular 60  Minutes.

Do you remember where you were when the French  Paradox  segment  first aired?  Do you think there is anything that could happen on the internet that could  generate a sales explosion  comparable to the one  in the early 90’s  in the wake of the French Paradox story?


Wanna Start a Winery? Get Ready to Sweat

by Susan Kostrzewa

A friend sent me a YouTube link to a “Make Your Own Video” skit that hilariously tackles the myth and romance of starting one’s own winery and/or becoming a winemaker.

Once I stopped laughing, I started to really think about what it takes to be happy and successful in those endeavors (other than a ton of money in the case of starting a winery, incredible patience and a work ethic of steel). As the video spoofs, it’s not often about glam and glitter, but a serious, grass-roots devotion to creating an agricultural product that speaks of the place in which it’s grown and made. That’s no easy feat.

I turned to some sage voices in the wine business to ask them what kind of advice they would impart to a person seriously interested in pursuing a life as a winery owner or a winemaker. Here’s what they said:

“Winemakers and winery owners must have extreme passion and a huge connection to the wine. It’s a tête-à-tête relationship with a living organism, and like a human, it evolves over time. Through this personal, in-depth relationship, you’ll also get to know yourself better. Approach it artistically and do not cling too much to concrete objectives.” -Jean-Charles Boisset, owner, Boisset Family Estates

“Winery ownership is not easy. Pleasurable sometimes – but not always. Glamorous, maybe – but not as a rule. Winery owners are pretty hard. They like to go camping and sleep on the ground. They like spinach. They love young Cabernet Sauvignon. There is always a little pain to go with the pleasure. “ –Mike Ratcliffe, owner Warwick Wine Estate

“Vino is mother nature’s precious gift but to produce a beautiful wine is only one step in the process. The challenge is to get the fruit of your labor onto the tables of wine lovers across the globe. In a world full of great wine and thousands of labels, the focus is not on the wine you want to make but one that consumers will enjoy. Next, how to bring it to market with great value? Making and sharing wine is romantic but achieving distribution, brand building, marketing, and investing time, resources and finances is decidedly less so. Worth the ride? Yes, by the glassful!” –Cristina Mariani-May, owner, Banfi Vintners and Castello Banfi

“My advice to an aspiring winemaker? Know what you want. Are you interested in Chardonnay, Sangiovese, Pinot Noir or Verdelho? To make volumes of good wine; or small amounts of great wine? Do you want to incorporate both the vineyard and the winery? Go work at a winery doing what you aspire to do. And work overseas, too. To an aspiring winery owner: First, know how to sell the wines you want to make. Find the best site to make them. Focus on vineyards that can produce them. Use your capital carefully. Or, buy a winery that does what you want, and manage it carefully. For most, winery success requires persistance.” -Zelma Long, pioneering California winemaker and winemaker for Vilafonté Winery

“You must really love and be passionate about what you do, otherwise when the hours get long you will start to hate the job. It definitely is not a 9-5 job (more of a 5 -9 and that is on a good day in the harvest). Be prepared to put in many extra hours, not only during the vintage (6-8 weeks of the year) or when one needs to blend and bottle a wine, but when marketing and promoting your wines throughout the rest of the year. The upside of the job: all of the above if you love wine and live and breathe it, as well as the ability to travel for and with your wines. We have met wonderful people and made many friends through the common bond of wine. Wine is beautiful! –Cathy Jordan, Owner, Jordan (Jardin) Wines

What in your mind is the right approach for the aspiring winemaker or winery owner? Is it more grit than glamour, or a romantic ride?


Fear and Loathing in the Wine Store

by Lauren Buzzeo

shopping Wine In The News

There are not many negatives commonly associated with the job of wine reviewer. Sure, we often walk around with red wine-stained teeth, may develop terrible manners like spitting in front of just about anyone while tasting and perhaps could be a bit of a wine snob on occasion (you’re all thinking, “Me? A wine snob? Never!”… but you know deep down I’m right). But truthfully, the less-than-awesome aspects of the occupation are frequently far outweighed by the delicious, creative and immensely pleasurable task of tasting.

However, while receiving shipments of samples last week, I realized one significant downside that I have never noticed before… I fear that I have lost touch with being a wine consumer. Don’t get me wrong, I do my fair share of consuming, but I don’t buy wine the way that I used to out of sheer lack of necessity for it. Sure, I still buy the special bottle for cellaring here or there, and purchase specific labels for folks as gifts, but I don’t really shop the way that I used to. And I think, for me personally, I might be better off this way.

Wine marketing is something that never really made complete sense to me. It made me feel awkward inside, like a good episode of House or Twin Peaks or the concept of imaginary numbers in math (really… imaginary numbers??? How is that allowed in something as solid and fact-based as math!?!?!). Wine marketing, including packaging and labels, was something that always perplexed me and left me feeling confused and unsettled.

little black dress Wine In The NewsI mean, I get it, people are trying to sell specific products to a certain group of people, but whenever I looked at the products that I assumed I should be interested in, or were clearly directed at my demographic, it just turned me off more. It all just seemed so artificially forced. Take for instance Little Black Dress; the wine is absolutely solid and has even garnered some Best Buy awards from us, but the second I see the fem-centric label and dare to read the back blurb of women-centric verbiage, I can’t help but want to slam the bottle on the ground.

I know I’m not the only one who feels like this, but I also know that there are others who don’t share my nausea in such kitschy marketing. The wine still exists and sells well, right, so obviously people are buying it. But why? I wonder what turns people on to buying products like these; solely because the label says little black dress do women see it and think, “I own a little black dress, so I should like this wine”? Like the Sopranos wines, do people just purchase them because it bears the name of a show they liked? Or are they all just gangster wannabes, trying to get one step closer to being a part of the family and somehow this fulfilled that fantasy for them?

I also know sometimes clever works, because I have purchased those bottlesarrogant frog Wine In The News before as well. Arrogant Frog totally makes me laugh at myself for any time even the smallest part of me was behaving like a wine-snob, and at every other stuck-up wino out there too who wouldn’t even dream of drinking such a silly wine with an upright frog in a beret on it (too bad for them – an excellent value wine perfect for company and large dinners). There’s also the Goats do Roam Wine Co, whose adorable plays on words (like Goat-Rotie as opposed to Côte-Rotie and Bored Doe for Bordeaux) are just so fun and clever they make a great choice for gifts or hanging out with friends.

What do you think? What attracts you to purchasing one bottle over another when shopping for wine? Do you like those directed marketing campaigns, or does it more often than not leave you unsettled like me?

Indigenous vs. International

by Susan Kostrzewa

newsletter intro glass of wine on a map Wine In The News

Traveling to emerging wine regions such as South Africa, Greece and Cyprus and tasting wines in New York from everywhere from Hungary to Long Island, I’ve thought a lot about how an under-the-radar region can make its mark in a market flooded with wine choices. Consumers are already accustomed to finding good wines at reasonable prices, and from places they recognize. So how can a country or region perceived as exotic or “foreign” to Americans find a place on domestic tables?

To start, by perfecting and promoting their own unique varieties, and marketing them realistically. This sounds easy enough, but it’s quite a challenge on many levels. The first is financial: it’s tempting for wineries to plant familiar varieties like Cabernet or Chardonnay—wines they know sell in other markets—instead of upholding the indigenous tradition of a Pinotage or Furmint , no matter how noble or worthwhile an endeavor. In their minds, they know there’s a real chance those indigenous varieties won’t ever gain serious, bankable traction in the highly competitive international markets.

I would never fault a smaller winery for trying to make solid business decisions—money is a real issue for these producers and a few missteps could put them out of business quickly. But in general, I think it’s dangerous for emerging regions to jump into the huge pool that is international-style winemaking. I’m not denying that sometimes great mainstream wines come from unlikely places (just try a South African Chenin or Cypriot Syrah sometime) but the real strength of a rising star region lies in its native varieties.

These are the wines that are best suited to the soil and the climate of the region, that in many cases have been made for decades, even centuries, by local winemakers. Found nowhere else, they embody the essence of the place in which they are grown, offering a truly unique experience to wine drinkers often lost in a sea of commercial, homogenous-tasting wines.

Despite this cultural allure of the wines, how do wineries get the message out to the American public? That requires a difficult balance of “unique, but not too foreign.” Blending native wines with mainstream varieties is one way to introduce wine drinkers to an emerging region and its local grapes. Consumers are more likely to grab a bottle of Xinomavro and Merlot because at least one of those words is familiar to them and it feels less like a risk. Eventually, one hopes they will graduate to exploring single varietal Xinomavro and all of the diversity expert producers can offer, but let’s take it one step at a time.

Labeling is important too—the bottle should have character but be readable and distinguishable. And then of course there’s education—tastings at wine stores, articles in wine magazines like Wine Enthusiast, getting the wines on restaurant lists and inspiring servers to learn about them and promote them—all will help wine lovers embrace the unfamiliar. It’s not easy maintaining one’s cultural identity in a market so flooded with familiar, and in some ways easier, wine choices. But thinking strategically, producers can uphold the character and tradition of their own native wines, while at the same time staying in business. What do you think?

4 Responses to “Wine In The News”

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