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.
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2 thoughts on “Vol.1 No.24 …why bigger isn’t better…in beer OR wine…”
American beers are awful. In France Stella Artois (Belgium) is a good but fairly cheap label; the Stella draught is excellent. Heineken (Dutch) is very popular because of price. I like the French brand Pelforth, “1664” (Kronenbourg) is a big seller here too. The Belgians make the best beer in my opinion. Sipping a 50 cl mug of Affligem draught (pression) on a summer’s afternoon sitting at an outdoor café along the banks of the River Nive ,and watching the “gonzesses” stroll along the sidewalk showing off their suntans is a quite a pleasant way to spend one’s retirement years!
Only the commercial beers are ‘awful’. There are some great craft beers.