Quotulatiousness

August 6, 2017

The allure of fine wines

Filed under: France, Wine — Tags: , , — Nicholas @ 05:00

Dan Rosenheck recounts his first encounter with one of those mysterious Premier Cru wines:

If it sounds too good to be true, it probably is. So say those who have never had a whiff of 1998 Château Lafite Rothschild. In late 2011 I had been an aspiring wine connoisseur for about a year, long enough to have learned the names of the world’s most exalted beverages, but not to have tried more than a handful. Like many novices, I started out on Bordeaux, memorising the 1855 classification of the region’s reds into price tiers – called crus, or “growths” – and developing a childlike reverence for the premiers crus (“first growths”) at the top. Although there were no sub-rankings within each class, Lafite was listed first because it was the most expensive tipple in the France of Napoleon III, and my drinking buddies told me it was still considered the premier premier cru today. Chinese drinkers certainly thought so: they had bid it up at auctions to stratospheric heights after deciding, for still-obscure reasons, that Lafite and only Lafite made for an impressive gift – perhaps because its name was easy to pronounce in Mandarin, or because the estate had stuck the character for the lucky number eight on the label of its 2008 vintage.

So when a friend in the wine trade snuck me into Wine Spectator magazine’s “Grand Tasting” in New York that November, I made a beeline for the Lafite table. They were pouring the 1998: a middling harvest overall for Cabernet Sauvignon, which Messieurs Primi Inter Pares had nonetheless turned into a masterpiece. As a Frenchwoman doing her best to smile sprinkled her elixir among the parched mob, I made off with a couple of thimblefuls, and scurried to the corner of the room to stand watch over my booty.

The perfume wafted into my nostrils before I had time to lift my glass. “zomfg,” began my tasting note. (The “o”, “m” and “g” stand for “oh my God”, you can guess what the “f” is, and the “z” comes out when exuberance makes you miss the shift key.) The scents were so intense, so focused, so easy to distinguish: ripe blackcurrants quivering on the branch; cedar that conjured up a Lebanese hillside; tobacco or thyme leaves floating on the wind. How could a wine be this powerful and yet this elegant? At the tender age of 13, the 1998 Lafite did not yet offer much complexity, and its firm, astringent tannins left me puckering after every sip – the punishment a fine young Bordeaux inflicts on impatient drinkers who disturb its slumber prematurely. But oh…that smell. “I smelled this across the room,” I wrote. “I smelled this at the bar afterwards. I smelled this even when I was shoving pizza down my throat at 3am. And then I smelled it in my dream.”

My first experience of a premier cru was at an LCBO tasting in downtown Toronto. I had developed an interest in wine a few years before, so I was very excited to try some of the well-known wines for the first time. Here’s what I wrote on the old blog (no longer online) in 2008: “That’s not wine … it’s an ostentatious status symbol”

At some point, an expensive bottle of wine stops being just wine and starts being primarily a status symbol. Case in point:

    Staff were delighted at the sale and the three customers were eager to taste the £18,000 magnum of Pétrus 1961 — one of the greatest vintages of one of the greatest wines in the world — which they had reserved from the cellars several weeks before.

    Unfortunately, the guests at Zafferano in Knightsbridge proved to be a little too discerning.

    As the magnum was uncorked, they declared it to be a fake, refused to touch the bottle and sent it back.

I enjoy wine, and I’m usually able to appreciate the extra quality that goes with a higher price tag … up to a limit. The most expensive wine I’ve tasted was a $400 Chateau Margaux, which was excellent, but (to my taste anyway) not as good as a $95 bottle I sampled on the same evening (a Gevry-Chambertin). Wine is certainly subjective, so my experiences can’t be easily generalized, but I think it would be safe to say that the vast majority of wine drinkers would find that their actual appreciation of the wine tapers off beyond a certain price point.

If you normally drink $15-20 bottles of wine, you’ll certainly find that the $30-40 range will taste better and have more depth and complexity of flavour. Jumping up to the $150-200 range will probably have the same relative effect, but you’ve gone to 10 times the price for perhaps 2-4 times the perceived quality. Perhaps I’m wrong, and the $1,000+ wines have transcendental qualities that peasants like me can’t even imagine, but I strongly doubt it. Any wine over $500 has passed the “quality” level and is from that point onwards really a “prestige” thing.

Update: A commenter at Fark.com offered this link as counter-evidence:

    “Contrary to the basic assumptions of economics, several studies have provided behavioral evidence that marketing actions can successfully affect experienced pleasantness by manipulating non-intrinsic attributes of goods. For example, knowledge of a beer’s ingredients and brand can affect reported taste quality, and the reported enjoyment of a film is influenced by expectations about its quality,” the researchers said. “Even more intriguingly, changing the price at which an energy drink is purchased can influence the ability to solve puzzles.”

This is why wines are generally tasted blind for comparative purposes (that is, with no indication of the wine’s identity provided). It’s a well-known phenomena that people expect to enjoy more expensive things than cheaper equivalents.

You can try this one for yourself: next time you’re pouring a beer or a wine for a guest, hide the container and tell them that what you’re pouring is much more rare/expensive/unusual than what it really is. Most people, either from politeness (they don’t want to be rude) or fear of being thought ignorant (that they can’t actually perceive this wonderful quality) or genuine belief in what you’ve said, will go along with the host’s deception and praise the drink as being so much better than whatever they normally drink.

Human beings are wonderful at rationalizing … and self-deception.

H/T to Colby Cosh for the original link.

July 20, 2017

Latest warnings about climate change to mean higher wine prices … maybe

Filed under: Environment, Europe, France, Wine — Tags: , , , — Nicholas @ 06:00

London’s local Metro newspaper recently published a scary article about rising temperatures in wine regions across the world and the likelihood of driving wine prices much higher. Colour me skeptical, frankly. Also of a doubting disposition, Paul Austin Murphy indulges in a good, old-fashioned fisking of the alarmist article:

Now here, in all its glory, is a supremely tangential link (found in a Metro article called ‘Global warming is now messing with wine, so can you PLEASE STOP WRECKING THE WORLD‘):

    Global warming is “going to up the price of wine across the board”.

Readers may want to know the details about this fatal connection between man-created global warming and the high price of wine. Though — it must be said straight away — this can’t always the case at present. It must surely depend on which wines you like and where you buy your wine from.

Anyway, this is the hard science bit; so pay attention and put your white coats on. Here goes:

    “Researchers have suggested that rising temperatures in Europe are likely to increase the cost of labour in vineyards, noting that as heat rises in August, a month when a significant amount of the harvest is brought in, there’s a 15% drop in the amount of time labourers are able to work.

    “There’s also a drop in productivity, slowing down the wine production process.”

That’s odd. On average heat always rises in August in most European countries. Metro doesn’t really make it clear if these natural — as well as annual — increases have themselves increased. It also says that “[r]esearchers have suggested”. Yes, they’ve suggested. That’s a very loose word. Though it’s obviously a very precise and important word if you like your wine and you’re also against man-caused global warming.

It’s also the case that in several European wine-producing countries, cold weather is much more of a problem for the wine industry than hot weather (France, in particular). A “hot” vintage in France is very often associated with extremely high quality wine from that vintage.

Another study has admitted that this catastrophic effect on wine production hasn’t been replicated elsewhere. Metro says:

    “Andreas Flouris of the School of Exercise Science at the University of Thessaly reckons that the results of the small-scale study could easily repeat in California, across Europe, and in Australia — so all our wine could be set to hike up in price.”

Now if this wine catastrophe hasn’t yet happened in “California, across Europe, and in Australia” — then where, exactly, has it happened? The initial study mentioned that “most European countries” have been effected by it. (Which ones?) This other study says that it hasn’t yet occurred “across Europe.” How do we make sense of these two seemingly contradictory phrases?

It’s not just about cost. (Though, for Metro, it’s mainly about the cost!) This is also about taste. Metro tells us that

    “[i]ncreased heat is also affecting the taste of wine, damaging the quality of grapes across Europe and shortening the growing season”.

All this — if true — will also affect prices. Shorter growing seasons will certainly affect the price of wine — or at least certain wines from certain countries. This is strange. One main reason why the United Kingdom doesn’t produce much wine is its shortage of warm weather. (British wine makes up 1% of the domestic market.) Yet if temperatures keep on increasing, then surely more wine will be produced in England. That will also have a positive effect on the price of wine! Why doesn’t Metro mention that?

Now what’s all this going to do to London’s dinner-party circuit? I mean Metropolitans are already suffering from severe “austerity”. Add 50 pence (or less) to a bottle of wine and then what have you got? Massive poverty among London’s professional political Pharisees (who also like wine).

It’s fascinating that the Metro author tries to imply that hot weather in (parts of) Europe will somehow have a knock-on effect in California and Australia, isn’t it? The two latter wine-producers are known for their consistency between vintages, because they are warm-weather regions where the grapes are generally able to mature to full ripeness every year almost without fail. Cool climate regions (like Ontario, for example) have much greater variation from vintage to vintage because the local weather varies significantly and the grapes are not always able to fully ripen before they have to be picked (this is more true of red than white grapes, which tend to ripen sooner and can be picked earlier than the red grapes).

July 17, 2017

Debunking some myths about sulfites in wine

Filed under: Health, Science, Wine — Tags: , — Nicholas @ 05:00

By way of Scientific American, here’s a bit of clarity from Monica Reinagel about the issue of sulfites in both red and white wine and what relationship it has to wine headaches:

Myth #1: Organic or bio-dynamic wines are sulfite free.

In order to be certified organic, a wine must not contain added sulfites. However, sulfites are produced naturally during the fermentation process as a by-product of yeast metabolism. Even though no sulfites are added, organic wine may contain between 10-40 ppm sulfites.

You may also see wines labeled as being made from organic grapes, which is not the same as organic wine. Wine made from organic grapes may contain up to 100 ppm sulfites.

If you do get a hold of wine made without sulfites, I don’t suggest keeping it in the cellar very long. Wine made without sulfites—especially white wine — is much more prone to oxidation and spoilage.

Myth #2: Red wine is higher in sulfites than white wine

Ironically, the exact opposite is likely to be true. Red wines tend to be higher in tannins than white wines. Tannins are polyphenols found in the skins, seeds, and stems of the grapes. They also act as antioxidants and preservatives so less sulfite is needed.

In fact, while European regulations allow up to 210 ppm sulfites in white wine, the limit for red wine is only 160 ppm.

Other factors that affect how much sulfite is needed are the residual sugar and the acidity of the wine. Dryer wines with more acid will tend to be lower in sulfites. Sweet wines and dessert wines, on the other hand, tend to be quite high in sulfites.

Myth #3: Sulfites in wine cause headaches

The so-called “red wine headache” is definitely a real thing. But it’s probably not due to sulfites. For one thing, white wine is higher in sulfites than red wine but less likely to cause a headache. That suggests that it’s probably something else in red wine that’s responsible for the notorious red wine headache. Other candidates include histamines, tyramine, tannins, not to mention the alcohol itself!

May 12, 2017

“Maybe this is creeping privatization after all. It’s certainly worth a shot”

Filed under: Business, Cancon, Wine — Tags: , , , , — Nicholas @ 03:00

Chris Selley on the neither one thing nor the other state of alcohol retailing in Ontario:

On Tuesday the government enumerated 76 new Ontario supermarkets where, by Canada Day, you will be able to buy beer. That will make a total of 206 Ontario supermarkets where you can buy beer — an artificially limited selection of beer, only in six packs and singles and only during the same bankers’ hours as the LCBO and Beer Store. But still. That’s about one-third as many supermarkets selling beer as there are LCBO outlets selling beer; add in the 212 rural agency stores that sell wine, liquor and beer, and you’ve got almost two-thirds as many private enterprises selling beer as you have government bottle shops.

This could help prove several useful concepts that deserve much wider acceptance in Ontario. One is that it’s very easy for the government to make money off liquor sales without retailing liquor itself. Indeed, it’s easier; that’s why so many governments do it. The supermarkets buy the beer wholesale from the LCBO; the LCBO doesn’t have to worry about paying civil servants to sell that beer or running the stores.

Another is that the private sector can be counted on to keep liquor out of children’s hands. Indeed, with inspections and draconian fines in place, it can probably be trusted more. My observations suggest LCBO employees certainly card everyone who should be carded, but it’s nothing like it is in the U.S. I’m almost 41, not in especially good nick, and I still get asked about half the time.

Might Ontarians develop a taste for all this convenience? The hard cap on beer-in-supermarket licences is 450; having doled them all out, including agency stores, that would mean about half the liquor outlets in Ontario were privately run. And people might start to notice the bizarre inconsistencies: why can the Walmart on Bayfield Street in Barrie sell only beer, and only in six packs, while the Walmart on Hays Boulevard in Oakville can sell beer and wine, and meanwhile Hope’s Foodland in Novar, Mac’s Milk in Craigleith, Redden’s campground in Longbow Lake and Lac des Mille Lacs Bait and Tackle in Upsala can sell beer, wine and hard liquor — and smokes and fireworks and beef jerky and bread and eggs? Why can scores of convenience stores sell everything alcoholic as agency stores, but other convenience stores aren’t even eligible to apply for the new wine and beer licences?

April 5, 2017

What your wine choice says about you

Filed under: Humour, Wine — Tags: — Nicholas @ 03:00

Posted on the Facebook Four Sisters Wine page, H/T to Jessica Brisbane for the link.

March 24, 2017

The LCBO “phones in” their Ontario VIP selections

Filed under: Business, Cancon, Wine — Tags: , , — Nicholas @ 03:00

Michael Pinkus on the odd choices of wines to celebrate some Ontario wine luminaries:

Let’s be honest, the LCBO is lackadaisical, at best, when it comes to promoting Ontario wines, and they do it with such a blasé attitude it is embarrassing in the way they continue to absolutely fail the people of Ontario … let me explain and expand.

The main feature of the April 1, 2017 release is “Visionaries, Innovators and Pioneers” (VIP) – on a global scale – here you’ll see names you recognize and wineries that are household names (or one’s that should be) – people like Angelo Gaja (Italy), Ben Glaetzer (Australia), Ken Forrester (South Africa), Michel Chapoutier (France) and Nicolas Catena (Argentina) and for each they pair a wine to go along with them … I question the wine selection for these iconic wine luminaries, but what the hey, sometimes those iconic wines are sold out (icon wines do that) and you then have to go for secondary wines by those producers.

Then I reached the part with our local VIPs: Moray Tawse (true, a more recent member of the VIP club and in my opinion kind of an easy choice by the LCBO), even more lazy are the wines selected, far from what I would call his “iconic” ones; but that seems to be par-for-the-course in this release. Tawse makes single vineyard / single block wines that are “the bomb”, yet the LCBO chose a “Growers Blend” and a “Sketches” wine, seriously?

But the one that incensed me the most was Chateau des Charmes, not for the man they named, Paul Bosc Sr., who is a Visionary, Pioneer AND Innovator in Ontario, but the wine that was chosen to represent him: Cabernet Icewine? When I saw that, you could have knocked me over with a feather; what happened to Gamay Noir Droit? Single vineyard varietal offerings? Sparkling wine? Or even Equuleus? But instead of showing off these iconic / original table wines the LCBO goes for the easy layup of Icewine; which isn’t even what Bosc is known for (though he makes excellent versions of it), that honour should have gone to Inniskillin (Donald Ziraldo and Karl Kaiser)

February 9, 2017

“Natural” wine

Filed under: Business, Wine — Tags: — Nicholas @ 03:00

Brendan McKenna linked to this Hugh Johnson article in Decanter discussing so-called “Natural” wine:

‘Natural’ doesn’t come into it; these are works of craftsmanship; even, occasionally, art. Does a winemaker, then, have the right to sell me something that ignores, or flouts, the winemaking conventions that I rely on?

Is ‘natural’ a self-justifying word to cover any sort of accident? Or is ‘alternative’ a more accurate description?

Of course, the producer may have a lab and state-of-the art chemistry and simply choose not to intervene. There are highly reputed (and very expensive) ‘orange’ wines.

But I’ve also tasted ‘natural’ wines that remind me of Italy 50 years ago. Tipping grapes in the tub on the ox cart, breaking them up with a cudgel on the way back to the farm and leaving the rest to nature rarely had good results.

The sales pitch for ‘natural’ wines usually tells you that conventional wines contain a lot of non-grape juice gunk. Fish guts: horror. Egg whites: poison. Sulphites: allergens. Colouring: dishonest. Sugar: cheating.

There seems to be a high ground – is it moral, ethical, fashionable, hygienic? – shared by ‘naturalists’ and vegans. Then again, if you read the list of preservatives and allergens on any supermarket packet, you may want to give up eating altogether.

I’ve long since given up reading any of the wine magazines, so I wasn’t aware that on top of the oh-so-precious-and-superior “organic” and “biodynamic” categories (where quite ordinary wines get a few extra dollars on the price tag) we now also have a bunch of even-more-precious-and-ecologically-correct “natural” wines. I don’t object to winemakers persuading a few gullible punters to pay more for otherwise indifferent plonk, but I object to the quasi-religious preaching that always seems to accompany it.

February 6, 2017

The “beer before bread” theory gains strength

Filed under: History, Wine — Tags: , , , — Nicholas @ 04:00

The received wisdom about the transition from hunter-gatherer to agrarian societies is that clans or tribes stopped being nomadic in order to grow crops and secure their food supply more consistently … that growing grain for bread was one of the strongest underlying reasons for the change in lifestyle. That theory is being challenged by researchers who believe the real reason was to produce grains for brewing instead:

The story of humanity’s love affair with alcohol goes back to a time before farming — to a time before humans, in fact. Our taste for tipple may be a hardwired evolutionary trait that distinguishes us from most other animals.

The active ingredient common to all alcoholic beverages is made by yeasts: microscopic, single-celled organisms that eat sugar and excrete carbon dioxide and ethanol, the only potable alcohol. That’s a form of fermentation. Most modern makers of beer, wine, or sake use cultivated varieties of a single yeast genus called Saccharomyces (the most common is S. cerevisiae, from the Latin word for “beer,” cerevisia). But yeasts are diverse and ubiquitous, and they’ve likely been fermenting ripe wild fruit for about 120 million years, ever since the first fruits appeared on Earth.

From our modern point of view, ethanol has one very compelling property: It makes us feel good. Ethanol helps release serotonin, dopamine, and endorphins in the brain, chemicals that make us happy and less anxious.

To our fruit-eating primate ancestors swinging through the trees, however, the ethanol in rotting fruit would have had three other appealing characteristics. First, it has a strong, distinctive smell that makes the fruit easy to locate. Second, it’s easier to digest, allowing animals to get more of a commodity that was precious back then: calories. Third, its antiseptic qualities repel microbes that might sicken a primate. Millions of years ago one of them developed a taste for fruit that had fallen from the tree. “Our ape ancestors started eating fermented fruits on the forest floor, and that made all the difference,” says Nathaniel Dominy, a biological anthropologist at Dartmouth College. “We’re preadapted for consuming alcohol.”

[…]

Flash forward millions of years to a parched plateau in southeastern Turkey, not far from the Syrian border. Archaeologists there are exploring another momentous transition in human prehistory, and a tantalizing possibility: Did alcohol lubricate the Neolithic revolution? Did beer help persuade Stone Age hunter-gatherers to give up their nomadic ways, settle down, and begin to farm?

The ancient site, Göbekli Tepe, consists of circular and rectangular stone enclosures and mysterious T-shaped pillars that, at 11,600 years old, may be the world’s oldest known temples. Since the site was discovered two decades ago, it has upended the traditional idea that religion was a luxury made possible by settlement and farming. Instead the archaeologists excavating Göbekli Tepe think it was the other way around: Hunter-gatherers congregated here for religious ceremonies and were driven to settle down in order to worship more regularly.

H/T to Tamara Keel for the link.

December 5, 2016

QotD: Wine merchants using alarmist tactics to sell wine

Filed under: Business, Health, Quotations, Wine — Tags: , — Nicholas @ 01:00

I’m a mom of three young kids. That means I like to have a glass of wine with breakfast, lunch, and dinner now and then. And since my kids seem to grow out of their clothes and shoes seconds after I’ve purchased them, I like to get a good deal on a box bottle or two. Luckily for me, there is stiff competition in the wine industry, which means I can get wines from around the world at prices I can afford.

Yet with competition comes increased need to attract customers. And some companies are resorting to a new strategy: Alarmism.

Consider the recent suggestion by some wine companies that some corks are not just inferior, but dangerous. That might seem silly to some or just a lousy marketing stunt to others, but it’s a familiar and all-too-effective tactic used on moms who are constantly encouraged to police their homes for threats to their families.

Julie Gunlock, “Wine Alarmists Should Stick a Cork In It: Stop whining about the non-existent dangers of certain wine corks, and start drinking”, The Federalist, 2015-05-19.

November 4, 2016

Blend your own favourite wines right at your kitchen table

Filed under: Technology, Wine — Tags: — Nicholas @ 02:00

In the Economist, a look at a very different kind of wine appliance:

vinfusion-machineTo create a new wine the customer manipulates three sliders on a touch screen attached to the machine. One moves between the extremes of “light” and “full-bodied”. A second runs from “soft”, via “mellow” to “fiery”. The third goes from “sweet” to “dry”. No confusing descriptions like “strawberry notes with a nutty aftertaste” are needed.

The desired glass is then mixed from tanks of each of the four primaries, hidden inside the machine’s plinth. The requisite quantities are pumped into a transparent cone-shaped mixing vessel on top of the plinth. Added air bubbles ensure a good, swirling mix and flashing light-emitting diodes give a suitably theatrical display.

Traditionalists may be appalled by all this, but they should not be. In Mr Wimalaratne’s mind, the function of the Vinfusion system is in principle little different from the blending of grape varieties that goes on in many vineyards, to produce wines more interesting than those based on a single variety. Moreover, if Vinfusion works as intended, it will let people experiment with oenological flavours in a way that is currently impossible and which lets them discover what appeals. A decent sommelier ought then to be able to recommend wines vinified in the conventional way that will taste similar.

In the longer run, recording and collating the requests made to a group of Vinfusion machines might even help restaurants and bars stock bottles that people will like, rather than merely tolerate. And if all this happens, the snobbery and mystique surrounding wine—whether blended in the vineyard or the restaurant—may disappear for good.

The selected “component” wines are chosen for their vintage-to-vintage consistency, so that there’s a lower variability in the wines used to blend your personal selection. This almost certainly wouldn’t work as well with wines from cool climate areas (like Ontario).

October 29, 2016

Is there a bright side to the sale of Constellation Brands for Ontario wine drinkers?

Filed under: Business, Cancon, Wine — Tags: , , — Nicholas @ 02:00

Michael Pinkus gets an uncharacteristic rush of optimism over the sale of Constellation Brands:

[W]hile it’s nice to see Canada’s Inniskillin and Jackson-Triggs back in Canadian hands what does all this say about the selling of wine in Canada? When the world’s largest holder of wine companies/brands decides to throw in the towel here and sell off their Canadian division, yet still holds the remainder of the wineries and brands they acquired with their 2006 purchase of Vincor to me speaks volumes. Now I’m just speculating here, as I do in many of my commentaries, but could it be that Constellation sees the writing on the wall: that making money in Canada (in general) and in Ontario specifically, will not be as easy as it once was under the Liberal’s new proposed “sharing the retail space plan”. Let’s face it, the real selling feature of Vincor’s Canadian holdings were those Ontario money makers: those off-site stores that were a license to print money in the province … and now if the world’s largest can’t figure it out how in the world are the rest of Ontario’s wineries supposed to do it? Are we about to embark down another rabbit hole of when it comes to the sale of booze in this province?

[…] Just last week, I was asked for my thoughts and I immediately went to the pessimistic side of things: “does not bode well for the selling of wine here in Ontario”; but then after some careful thought I decided there still might be room for optimism, especially if you look at the purchaser. At one point in the process it was rumoured that Peller was in the mix of buyers to take over the Constellation Canadian holdings, but in the end it was the Teachers’ Pension Plan that took it for $1.03 billion. Many on social media lamented that if the teachers do for booze what they did for Toronto sports teams we’re all in big trouble. But I thought of a better angle: Nobody is better at lobbying and twisting the arm of the provincial government to get what they want than the Teachers’ Union … and once they learn how difficult selling wine is, and the antiquated laws we have surrounding it, here in Ontario, they’ll set their sights on making changes, and while the fairly ineffectual Wine Council of Ontario seems to be a mouse nipping at the heels of the governmental elephant, the Teachers’ Union and their Pension Plan will seem like a pack of wolves and hyenas working together to wrestle the elephant to the ground. So while Peller (had they succeeded in their purchase efforts) would have become the largest Canadian winery by far, they would not have been any more effective at invoking change to the system; on the other hand, the Teachers’ Union could play a large and important role at getting laws passed that will loosen up our repressive and antiquated system up; because who is in more need of a drink at the end of the day than a teacher, and it should be easier for them to get it and sell it..

September 18, 2016

When you’re a monopoly, what’s your attitude to customers? “Sod the proles!”

Filed under: Business, Cancon, Wine — Tags: , , , — Nicholas @ 04:00

Rick VanSickle vents about the LCBO’s amazingly tone-deaf marketing:

Sorry, LCBO, but I don’t get you. Such a lame-o release on the birthday of our great country July 1, with paltry few Canadian wines released to celebrate our big day, and presumably a few folks out there looking to party with local wines, and then suddenly in the middle of September, you drop the big one.

What up with that? I mean, the Sept. 17 issue of the Vintages mag, with pages and pages of features on Ontario wines and the biggest selection of local wines of the year — am I missing something? Is this some sort of key date for us in Ontario and Canada?

I want to be there during your obviously very detailed board meetings to listen in on the thinking behind your planning. When you get to, say, July 1, does anyone go: “Hey, that’s Canada Day, let’s flood the aisles with great Canadian wine. It’s what the people want, the people who pay for our largesse, the people we work for.” Well, no, of course not, that’s ridiculous.

Instead, as they count down the calendar, they go: “OK, what do we have for the week of Sept. 17? Why, there’s absolutely nothing going on, so let’s make it the biggest Ontario wine release of the year! Yes, perfect!”

Of course, what does it matter anyway? It’s not like the guy down the street is doing any better because there is no guy down the street. It’s the beauty of a monopoly — guilt-free decisions because there is no wrong decision if you are the only game in town.

For example (stay with me here, we’ll get to the wine), if the government decided it was going to force a shoe-store monopoly on its populace and came to the conclusion at a big swanky retreat where such decisions are made (pure speculation) that it would be so cool to put out a big display of Converse runners at all their stores on the first day of winter. No winter boots, no mukluks, just running shoes and sandals. Wouldn’t that be hilarious? lol.

It’s funny but not really funny. We just accept that it’s wrong and carry on like a monopoly is beyond reproach, beyond accountability.

For the record, the Canada Day Vintages release featured a cover story called: South Side Story: Wines of Southern France with 12 pages of spectacular photography and enticing bottles of French wine proudly displayed with glowing reviews and effusive praise for all.

August 2, 2016

The Old Third Vineyards wins their appeal against the VQA

Filed under: Bureaucracy, Cancon, Wine — Tags: , , , — Nicholas @ 02:00

The Ontario government granted the Vintner’s Quality Alliance (VQA) some regulatory power to police the marketing and labelling of wines made in Ontario, including (the VQA thought) the rights to restrict the use of certain geographical designators like “Ontario” and “Prince Edward County” to VQA-compliant wineries. In a recent decision, a non-VQA winery located in Prince Edward County won an appeal against the VQA’s over-restrictive order:

Yesterday (July 28, 2016) was a big day for The Old Third Vineyards, a small, boutique winery located in Prince Edward County. The Licence Appeal Tribunal ruled in their favour against the Vintner’s Quality Alliance Ontario (VQAO) compliance order that they remove “Prince Edward County” from The Old Third website.

The Old Third Vineyard is located in Prince Edward County. It is owned and operated by winemaker Bruno François and Jens Korberg. They make Pinot Noir and Cabernet Franc wines, sold from their estates. Their wines have received ratings of 90 points or higher by esteemed wine experts Jamie Goode, John Szabo and Quench’s own Rick VanSickle. Each vintage – only one per year per variety – is bottled with a wine label that reads “Product of Canada”.

However, their website has a heading tagline that reads “Producers of fine wine and cider in Prince Edward County.” This is an issue for the VQA.

On February 3, 2016, VQA compliance officer Susan Piovesan emailed The Old Third with regards to the use of the geographic designation “Prince Edward County” on their website.

In other words, the VQA wanted to prevent the Old Third Vineyards from even revealing where in the country they were located because the legal designator for that area is also a restricted term for use by the VQA’s own wineries on wine bottle labels. Old Third wasn’t using it on a label, but as any common sense interpretation would agree, they have to indicate where customers can find them if they want to sell much of their wine … and they’re physically located in Prince Edward County, and said that on their website.

The VQA argued that The Old Third are trying to monopolize on the value the VQA has added to the term “Prince Edward County” by making it an official wine designation. The Tribunal disagreed: “The information conveyed in the banner … locates it geographically. Giving the words, in context, their ordinary meaning, they do not convey that the Appellant produces a Prince Edward County wine.”

The Tribunal’s ruling in favour of The Old Third shows that, even if an organization that regulates wine believes they own a term or regional name, it doesn’t mean they have the right to enforce their designations on those wineries that don’t wish to buy into the designation. The Old Third is a small vineyard in Prince Edward County and it will most likely remain that way.

And it’s these small wineries that first put Prince Edward County on the wine scene – there wouldn’t be a VQA designation for Prince Edward County if it weren’t for the wineries and estates that were producing quality wines long before the VQA came around in 2007: Waupoos Winery, The Grange of Prince Edward Vineyards and Winery, Casa-Dea Estates Winery, By Chadsey’s Cairns Winery, Sandbanks Estates Winery… the list goes on (and on).

July 17, 2016

QotD: Regulating Napa County

Filed under: Bureaucracy, Business, Quotations, USA, Wine — Tags: , , , — Nicholas @ 01:00

… at each tour we typically got the whole backstory of the business. And the consistent theme that ran through all of these discussions was the simply incredible level of regulation of the wine business that goes on in Napa. I have no idea what the public justification of all these rules and laws are, but the consistent theme of them is that they all serve to make it very hard for small competitors or new entrants to do business in the county. There is a board, likely populated by the largest and most powerful entrenched wine makers, that seems to control the whole regulatory structure, making this a classic case of an industry where you have to ask permission of your competitors to compete against them. There are minimum sizes, in acres, one must have to start a new winery, and this size keeps increasing. Recently, large winemakers have started trying to substantially raise this number again to a size greater than the acreage of any possible available parcel of land, effectively ending all new entrants for good. I forget the exact numbers, but one has to have something like 40 acres of land as a minimum to build a structure on the land, and one must have over 300 acres to build a second structure. You want to buy ten acres and build a small house and winery to try your hand at winemaking? — forget it in Napa.

It took a couple of days and a bunch of questions to put this together. Time and again the guide would say that the (wealthy) owners had to look and wait for a long time to find a piece of land with a house on it. I couldn’t figure out why the hell this was a criteria — if you are paying millions for the land, why are you scared to build a house? But it turned out that they couldn’t build a house. We were at this beautiful little place called Gargiulo and they said they bought their land sight-unseen on 3 hours notice for millions of dollars because it had a house AND a separate barn on it grandfathered. Today, it was impossible to get acreage of the size they have and build two structures on it, but since they had the barn, they could add on to it (about 10x the original size of the barn) to build the winery and still have a separate house to live in.

This is why the Napa Valley, to my eye, has become a weird museum of rich people. It seems to be dominated by billionaires who create just fantastically lovely showplaces that produce a few thousand cases of wine that is sold on allocation for 100+ dollars a bottle to other rich people. It is spectacularly beautiful to visit — seriously, each tasting room and vineyard is like a post card, in large part because the owners are rich enough to care nothing about return on capital invested in their vineyards. The vineyards in Napa seem to have some sort of social signalling value which I don’t fully understand, but it is fun to visit for a few days. But in this set-piece, the last thing the folks who control the county want is for grubby little middle-class startups to mess up their carefully crafted stage, so they are effectively excluded.

I know zero about wines, but from other industries this seems to be a recipe for senescence. It would surprise me not at all to see articles get written 10 years from now about how Napa wines have fallen behind other, more innovative areas. I have never been there, but my friends say newer areas like Paso Robles has an entirely different vibe, with working owners on small plots trying to a) actually make a viable business of it and b) innovate and try new approaches.

Warren Meyer, “My Nomination for Corporate State of the Year: Napa County, California”, Coyote Blog, 2016-07-08.

June 20, 2016

AL STEWART TOUR in NYC interview w/PAVLINA

Filed under: Britain, Media, Wine — Tags: , , — Nicholas @ 04:00

Published on 18 Jun 2016

Hey! I’m with Folk Singer/Songwriter AL STEWART in NYC at THE CITY WINERY! We talk greatest hits like the iconic YEAR OF THE CAT song, JOHN LENNON, todays world and happenings, his singing style, working with ALAN PARSONS, and MORE! Check out Al’s site for latest info and albums:) The Pavlina Show airs on radio stations across the nation:)

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