Vol.1 No.24 …why bigger isn’t better…in beer OR wine…

In the last episode, TB unloaded on the AB ImBev-SAB/Miller buyout. Do you really think that is good for the industry? Consider this: TB went to lunch yesterday and on the list of craft beers was Stella Artois…at $8 the most expensive beer on tap. Hmmm, is it that good? It IS good, but with literally hundreds of craft beers springing up all over the country, their might be more competition than the behemoths think. There is a good profit in a craft beer and attempting to raise the price on Bud, Miller, or even Stella likely won’t fly as the closer they get in price to those fine craft beers being made virtually everywhere in the country, people might just revolt from the swill that passes as beer (oops, I exaggerate but you get the point).

Now let’s look at the BIG wineries…to satisfy their audience who most likely aren’t oenophiles, they strive for consistency from year to year. The also have to buy grapes from many growers and their profit margins aren’t that wide – the profit comes from volume. That is why a winery that produces 10,000-25,000 cases cannot charge less than $20 and frequently has to charge $25 to $35. But as TB has frequently noted: globally, good wine is forcing out bad…bad wine cannot be sold at any price. Last year, three million gallons of French wine were turned into ethanol. Think those winemakers got the point?

Some people who rant about wine prices blame it on fancy labeling, heavy bottles, and many more issues. The fact is that 80% of the cost of producing wine is labor. Now add in the investment in real estate, the cost of maintaining vineyards, stainless steel, oak barrels, and much more…and guess what? After all that, even if you do everything right, you can have a bad year. That is why the late winemaker Joe Heitz told me that people think wine is romantic…it’s agriculture…farming.

So, don’t you think those people deserve to make a profit? They are not faceless corn or wheat farmers, who people never consider when there is a drought, infestation, or a huge glut that drives prices down…and don’t forget farmers…and grape growers have big cash flow issues and have to borrow to match their revenues and expenditures. Did you stop to think of that?

Previously, TB said, drink your Two-Buck Chuck or whatever you like during the week then get adventurous on weekends. Spend some money on good wines you have never tried or like. One way to satisfy both conditions of value and quality is to go to restaurants associated with a wine shop. There, you buy the wine and bring it to the restaurant (usually next door), and they waive the corkage fee. Now you can buy a $30 wine and not pay $50 for it. I will list two that I know, one in Walnut Creek, California, PRIMA, a northern Italian restaurant, and one in Minnetonka, MN, called Spazzo, also Italian. But there are others and you can find them, if you look and ask around.

While we are on this topic, it appalls TB to see wine lists that take advantage of the customer. First, the markup in sparkling wines is outrageous…sometimes a common Prosecco can cost as much by the glass as an entire bottle. Then there are the wine list themselves. No self-respecting restaurateur – or a sommelier that works for one – should have the commonplace wines on their carte de vins that has a plethora of the most common names at double or even triple the price. Along with this goes the wine lists that you swear you have seen before. Most likely you have with a few changes. Distributors offer to print the wine lists for free and then pack them with their own wines and provide the pricing. That is one stupid move by a fledgling owner and says volumes about her care for the restaurant. If she does this with the wine, does she look for the best meats and vegetables or just the cheapest? On my last trip in a great restaurant in Genessee Depot, WI, that I bet none of you ever heard of, The Union House, built in 1864 (?), I had a wonderful wine dinner. It will be discussed in a blog most likely early next week. Folio Wines provided the pairings and the chef did wonders with them. The distributor who set up the dinner said he was originally a consultant to restaurants on their wines before becoming a distributor. The wine list here showed his expertise…who would have thought? By the way, as obscure as the restaurant sounds it is only about ten minutes off I-94 near Delafield, and coming from Minnesota about half an hour before you get to The Dells. A must!!!

On etiquette, other than the examples above, never go to the store and buy a current release wine and take it to a restaurant. It is bad form here and you will still have to pay the corkage fee, which nowadays can be as high as $20 a bottle (oh, and that is a 750ml bottle so don’t try sneaking in a magnum at the same price). You can bring in a treasured bottle but always ask when making the reservation…and here is a tip: sometimes offering the somme a taste of a memorable wine will result in the corkage fee being waived.  But note it is either bad form or not allowed to bring wine into a restaurant in Europe…think about that.

In Adventures on the Wine Route, Kermit Lynch describes going to the cellar of a vigneron in Burgundy and tasting some exquisite wines. The man then said lets go get something to eat and they went to a local truck stop (not a joke), where a carafe of the house wine was ordered. Kermit noted that it tasted like “shit”, and the man said it is worse than that, it is “shit de merde”. So why would a man with a great cellar at his disposal do this? He said to bring his own wine would insult the owner. More food for thought.

Now if TB hasn’t succeeded in hammering into your brain what wine is all about, you may as well stop reading because you don’t get it and never will. That is your prerogative. But if you want to see hard-working people make a living, and want to continue to drink their wines…show them some respect and support…please!

To those of you who want to hear about the trip and the names of some of the wineries, TB promises he will do it next week. It is a lot to organize…thank you for your patience.

TB

©Copyright 2015 TBOW, all rights reserved.

Vol. 1 No. 23 something wine and beer are increasingly having in common (adding mea culpa)

Mea Culpa: TB had details of the SAB/Miller – AB ImBev were wrong and have been corrected. In the same sectionit was Heineken, not Stella Artois that purchased 50% of Lagunitas Brewing. Mea maxima culpa.

Also note that TB welcomes your comments both positive and negative – just make them constructive.

The Management aka TB

First, let me make it clear that TB favors small wineries, especially family wineries. That is not to say that bigger ones are bad but the more people who become involved, the less the passion, and passion is a key element in doing everything to make a remarkable wine. What TB loathes is corporate ownership of wineries. You cannot run a winery like a typical division of a corporation, yet it is done all the time and there are different time horizons: longer term for a family owned winery; short-term for a corporation. In addition to wineries, I find similar comparisons with small wine shops (these focus mainly on wine although they may carry hard liquor too), and the chains which can be as big as Beverages & More, and Total Wines.

A new concern is online wine sellers. Why? Because they may be clearing out someones stale inventory and thus able to sell it at a low price, yet because they bought it at a distress price, make a very large profit…and don’t forget shipping costs! But the important thing is they sell either on a rating (with so many out there far too many are getting 90 ratings and even if it is deserved you might not like it). Remember, you are your own best wine critic! What Robert Parker or Trader Bill thinks is irrelevant…unless you are speculating in wine, something else TB loathes as it drives the cost up to you, the consumer.

Now I will give you three examples of family-owned contrasted to corporate-owned:

Taylor Wine Company, one of the oldest in the U.S. and located in Hammondsport, New York. Originally it used native American grapes such as Catawba and Concord. When other growers had success by bringing in the vinifera grapes from Europe, eventually they decided to do likewise. Then they were bought out by Coca-Cola, who apparently didn’t understand the lead time between planting new vines and getting the production from them to be profitable. In the end, Coke filed bankruptcy for the winery, one with a very long tradition even if you didn’t care for the style.

Robert Mondavi Winery, founded in 1966, became the benchmark for large producer California wines until it was surpassed by…yep…smaller family-owned vineyards. In addition to the joint venture on Opus with Baron Phillipe Rothschild, they began partnering and buying out old family owned wineries in Italy with great reputations for quality. Ironically, the film Mondovino showed them in a bad light, having deviated from their roots. Produced in 2004, it was about the time the Mondavi empire peaked and eventually was bought out by a corporation, Constellation Brands, now a powerhouse but before that famous for one wine My Wild Irish Rose…need TB say more?

TB is not gloating about what happened to Mondavi since it was the first winery he visited the year he and his wife were married, 1969. TB had a vertical collection of their Cabernet Sauvignon from inception, 1966, with at least two bottles from each year (the 1966 was purchased for $4.50!). After the sale, interest was lost and one vertical case was donated to the University of Nevada for an auction, and later the other sold at a Butterfield auction. Because of the corporate ownership, TB has not purchased a bottle from the winery since.

Lastly, what the title of the blog is about. How many of you remember the original Samuel Adams? A true craft beer, but IT grew until it and Yuengling became the two biggest selling craft beers in America…if you can still call them that…TB can’t, not at 4 million barrels a year each! Same goes for Stella Artois one of TB’s favorite’s and now available on tap in most restaurants and bars in America. Is that what a true beer drinker wants to see? By the way, if you want to read what one bar owner has to say about them go to Open letter to Sam Adams

Now to the point: do you recall when Miller Brewing was sold to SAB (Stella Artois), and later Anheuser-Busch was bought by the Dutch company AmBev? Frankly, I never cared much for either Miller or Bud, but they were very popular among the masses and that is what counts, right? Well, if you own the company it is.

A couple of months ago it was announced that Heineken bought a 50% interest in Lagunitas brewery, a beer TB thoroughly enjoyed and still likes, however, several people have said, and TB felt, that it doesn’t taste as good as it once did. Furthermore. both Heineken and Beck’s suffered when they began bottling in the U.S. and thus increased production. Big production will do that. But the big issue now is the AB ImBev – SAB/Miller buyout for $106 billion, yes, billion! In addition, the breakup premium is $3 billion, meaning if, for any reason, the deal doesn’t go through, AB ImBev is out that much! This smells to me like there is something assuring them that it will go through despite them being the #1 and #2 beer producers in the world. Some legislators here have voiced concerns or even dissent, but it is the EU that will decide. What this means for consumers should it happen, and TB will bet it does, is control over beer prices globally, something the Sherman-Antitrust Act was supposed to prevent and the EU has fined some of the large U.S. tech companies for their practices, yet here are two in their own backyard and hardly a peep.

This is what TB does not want to see in the wine industry, Gallo, and Franzia Wines (two-buck Chuck), have a huge monopoly on wines but not on premium wines. Fred Franzia says “never pay more than $10 for a bottle of wine.” Are we to take it that the price may go to somewhere above the $5 it is already at?

A local fellow blogger doesn’t believe you should pay more than $20 for a wine, and despite his self-admission that he has never taken a wine class, he rates them and then deducts for every dollar above ten. By that test, wouldn’t everyone buy a Chevy rather than a Porsche? TB’s just sayin’…

So here is what TB thinks: the aforementioned blogger is correct that people can not drink a $25, $30, or more every night of the week. So buy something cheap to drink during the week that you like. But be adventuresome on weekends and try some better wines…preferably with the help of a small wine shop that is knowledgeable and listens to what you like in a wine.

There is very little bad wine being sold today as good wine is forcing it out and people are becoming more aware of what they like. France, converted something like three million gallons of wine into ethanol last year. Why? Because they couldn’t sell it, obviously. There is a message there. TB’s message to you is if everyone tried to consume $10 wine, or even up to $20 and would never pay more, there would still be plenty of wine around, but the wines of character would be gone. At least you could just go and pick up any bottle as they would all taste the same. Fine…that is, if you don’t want a really good bottle of wine.

Perhaps it is like the younger generation: they have recording artists they love but they don’t pay for the music. See the similarity?

Off to have a glass of good wine…

TB

©Copyright 2015 TBOW, all rights reserved.

Vol. 1 No. 22 …back home again from NYC/Canada roadtrip…

(Readers note: when I began this blog I had planned to post at least once every two weeks. I did not want to waste my, or my readers, time ‘just to get something out there’. The problem with that is people forget and come back and see no updates – the last was on 9/24 shortly before I left on the wine trip. IF you like the blog, please add your email to follow and you will be notified when there is an update. You can, of course, unsubscribe at any time. Thank you, the management) 

…an incredible trip of 4,200 miles in 19 days…not as daunting as it sounds. Despite the fall colors, not that many tourists out there. Haven’t even tallied up the number of wineries I visited and was very impressed. Long Island, Hudson Valley, Finger Lakes, Niagara (mainly on Canadian side). DO NOT underestimate these wineries! Overall quality was very good and many were excellent!

Where to start…well…not where you might expect. Starting right here in Excelsior, MN, where we got home on Friday afternoon. I had two reasons for this: first, Total Wines here was having Gaia Gaja speaking on the Gaja wines – or so I thought. For $20 she spoke with a Q and A followed by a tasting of Gaja wines – some but not the very high end ones that cost more than $200. I then found out (and it made sense) this was a teleconference that could be viewed in any of their stores and having recently tasted the Gaja portfolio, I passed. Several years ago I visited the winery in Barbaresco, Piemonte, Italy. Some time later The Wine Club in San Francisco posted in their newsletter that she was interning at their store following one at Robert Mondavi. I went down and was privileged to meet a ‘cautious’ Gaia, who was charming and opened up once she realized I had been to the winery and met several of her friends in Barbaresco. As it turns out, she is now running the winery, having taken over from her father, Angelo. If I can connect with her again, it will be the subject of a later blog.

So, while that was a bust, the other reason I came back was for a tasting of Italian wines at The Wine Republic here in Excelsior, MN. Patti Berg and RJ Judalena (and their precious daughter, Orla), opened a specialty wine shop here a little over a year ago. Their niche is that they only carry wines that are either organic, sustainable, or biodynamic. Besides being environmentally friendly, these methods are growing in popularity…in California, mostly sustainable, and in Sonoma all wineries will be sustainable by 2020. I also saw on the trip of both sustainable and organic (only one certified organic), and one biodynamic which is also starting to catch on in California. Although it has been since sold, Justin winery in Paso Robles was doing it when they started.. Without getting technical (which I can’t because I don’t fully understand it), it involves planting by the phases of the moon and much more…think Farmers Almanac.

By carrying only these environmentally-friendly wines (along with some beers, ciders, and hard liquor that meet the criteria), it limits the number of wines so you don’t see a wall (which is what you will see at Total, Wine Club, or any large wine store), of confusing wines – some of which may have been standing for a year or more. Instead, you can browse or tell them what you like (isn’t that what TB has been trying to tell you here?), and they will show you their wines that might appeal to you.

But the other thing they do is host weekly tastings of wines they carry and sometimes very special tastings of wines. Cost of the regular tastings is $5 which can be applied to any purchase, while the special tastings cost $10 (so far at least) but due to the large number of wines tasted, can not be applied, but trust TB, they are worth it.

The first of these was France is for Lovers, featuring wines distributed by Berkeley, Ca. importer/distributor Kermit Lynch, who has done more than anyone to promote wines from the south of France which were previously obscure, and was the first to come up with the idea of temperature controlled shipping containers for all of his wines – especially important on the West Coast where they frequently travel through the Panama Canal. It took several years for another distributor to replicate this. He also is author of several wine books, the most enjoyable being Adventures Along the Wine Route, written more than 20 years ago and recently updated, which drove TB’s passion for wine. It is a thoroughly enjoyable read, even for wine novices or those just interested in French travel. The tasting included 25 of his wines and provided the taster with the ability to try wines they might never have the nerve or inclination to buy. It was very festive an even featured a beret-donned accordion player to set the mood!

Saturday’s was Italian Opera and Wine, featuring 22 wines from FIVE different Minnesota distributors, The quality was high and the prices blew me away – TB marked 11 as having exceptional value (range $16 to $30). Especially notable were four alternative whites including a Soave (Tamellini) – a wine I wrote of long ago; a Ca Lojera LuganaTrebbiano which blew me away; 47 Anno Domini Pinot Grigio (also a Prosecco that was fabulous), with a beautiful floral nose that finished very dry, an amazing PG that I had never seen before. Lastly, a deliciously sweet but very clean 47 Anno Domini Moscato – yummy. If you haven’t ever had any Malvira wines you are in for a surprise. Their Brachetto D’acqui Birbet is a beautiful, succulent red that seduces you. Note that Malvira’s Roero Arneis Sargietto is highlighted in 1000 Wines to Taste Before You Die. If you haven’t ever tasted an Arneis you will be surprised by the wonderful flavors. TB first tasted it at Vietti in Piemonte, on a private tour by founder Alfredo Corrado, then in his 80’s and recently deceased. Roero means wild and Arneis is the river that flows through Piedmont stretching past Asti and Alba. He was the Robert Mondavi of the Piedmont region, an unbelievably wonderful man. Caution: never buy an old Arneis…the one cited in the book was a 2004. They should be drunk young and not exposed to heat. Two of the reps/pourers (Marcus and Dustin) as well as a young lady sang opera spaced throughout the tasting adding to the experience.

Kudos to Patti and RJ for both of these events and there will no doubt be more to follow.

Okay, back to work on sorting out the trip. Several of the posts will be up over the next week or so. Hope you enjoyed this one. Au revoir, ciao, adios, friends. If you enjoy the site simply add your email – you can cancel it at any time.

TB

©Copyright 2015 TBOW, all rights reserved.