Trends in Wine
Stuff the Wine World is talking about now
When you write about wine that means you read about wine. A lot. And I don’t mean reading tasting notes. Rather you read the wine press, other wine writers that you respect and you scour the internet for news about what stories or trends matter.
It’s a little bit like being a sportswriter. Sure, you may make note of the three point field goal percentage of a particular NBA player, or the batting average of the home team’s catcher or the number of times a trainer has had a horse test positive for an illegal substance. But it is the bigger picture, the “why,” that you are looking for. It is what those numbers signify that is important. In today’s NBA, winners shoot treys. Batting averages may be so low because of the “tackiness” of the game (MLBs league-wide batting average entering last Friday’s games was .237, the lowest mark since 1968), and the Kentucky Derby? We still don’t know the outcome. Those, not the stats, are the stories.
So, to give a little perspective, I thought I’d share a bit about what I am hearing and reading from the world of wine that is being covered with regularity in the national and global press. As we come out of a strange year-plus for all of us, there have been some changes in the world of wine worth noting.
There has been, and it looks like there will continue to be, an explosion in wines with celebrity connections. Some are very good (think Pitt and Jolie’s Miraval or the wines produced by Francis Ford Coppola). But do we need vegan wines from Carrie Bradshaw, er, Sarah Jessica Parker, or “natural” wines from Cameron Diaz? It seems like anyone with a name and some fame has attached same to a label or a range of wines. Kylie Minogue (you know, the singer) has her name on wines from around the globe. I’m pretty sure she has tasted them all. “Signature wines” is the nomenclature used to describe these products.
In March, the Duckhorn Wine Company became the first Napa wine company to begin publicly trading stock on the New York Stock Exchange this century. Then, last week, Vintage Wine Estates, which controls 50 wineries, including Clos Pegase in the Napa Valley and Washington/Oregon’s Owen Roe, began trading on the NASDAQ after completing a special purpose acquisition company deal with Bespoke Capital Acquisition Corp. I’m not sure what that means. But many in the industry are paying even more attention to the stocks than they are to Kylie Minogue.
It was amazing how quickly wine entities pivoted to virtual tasting platforms during the pandemic. They were born out of necessity when tasting rooms, like the rest of the gathered world, shuttered in March 2020. But wineries quickly began to launch ways to engage consumers with, first, wine tastings you could watch via Instagram, and almost instantly virtual tastings you could participate in with others via Zoom after having purchased bottles from wineries or via sales outlets like Wine.com. It was a silver lining for wineries and a wake-up call for marketing departments. Now you can have your winemaker host hundreds for a discussion of your wines. This is a trend that will continue to evolve.
Direct-to-consumer is the way the wine world describes the most profitable way to sell a bottle. There are no fees for distribution, the profits go directly to the producer. Instead of selling to stores or restaurants and bars at a discount, through the three-tier system a winery can go direct. Once again, the closures during the pandemic forced wineries to engage more directly with consumers than ever before. For wine drinkers, the big plus was the huge discounts in shipping costs provided as incentives. Plus, they are more connected with the wines they love.
The worlds of weed and wine are trying to figure out how to work together in California. In some places the relationships are already fraught with concerns. Napa has banned the cultivation of cannabis and Sonoma has put restrictions on the location and number of pot growing facilities. But in Santa Barbara’s wine-growing regions there have been a number of major cannabis growing facilities erected adjacent to vineyard land. Water issues, labor concerns and the effects on tourism are all still working themselves out. Wine Spectator devoted a special issue to the issue this month.
Sad news from Washington State this past week as Betz Family Winery, a premier producer of Syrah and Cabernet Sauvignon from fruit sourced on the eastern side of the state, announced they will not be releasing any wines from the 2020 vintage due to smoke taint from the fires of last fall. Smoke taint has been a significant worry for wineries up and down the West Coast and it was estimated that up to 8% of California vineyards suffered some loss due to smoke.
And now the region enters another hot and excessively dry period. Part of the problem is there are too few testing sites for the number of wineries that have seen smoke impact their vineyards. While climate change clearly is an existential concern for winemakers and those who grow wine grapes, the effect of smoke is a real life manifestation.
Diversity and Inclusion in the Wine Industry
While wine is simply one part of the American landscape, it may have an even deeper problem than the nation at large with diversity. The wine industry is overwhelmingly white. And overwhelmingly male. As America struggles to come to grips with diversity and inclusion issues, the wine industry is also beginning to look inward at systemic issues that have and do prevent inclusion. The Napa Valley Vintners Trade Association (NVV) took a step this past year, partnering with the United Negro College Fund (UNCF) to provide scholarship opportunities to encourage people of color to pursue college degrees and study subjects in the wine industry. It is a start and at least an acknowledgment of the problem. Expect this to be explored in depth in the coming years.
And the news that is most current is that the joyous experience of being able to toast, taste and gather is once again back at many if not most wineries, as tasting rooms begin to reopen. It has been a long 15 months and, at its very roots, the wine business is a hospitality business. Not having people be able to come, sit and learn about wines has been disheartening at best. On June 15, California dropped restrictions statewide and tastings are back.
If you visit California wine country, most wineries are asking that you make reservations for tasting. But it won’t be cheap. A recent survey by Silicon Valley Bank notes that the average tasting fee in Napa Valley was $58 for a standard wine flight. Sonoma had a $30 price tag for the standard flight pours. Oh, and prepare to be patient. Just like other hospitality industry outlets, wineries are having a hard time finding employees this summer. Want a job?
Alma Rosa 2017 St. Rita Hills Pinot Noir
I love this wine but I selected it because Alma Rosa hits a number of buttons from the above topics. It has a wonderful tasting room (now open), a female winemaker (Samra Morris) and a female general manager (Debra Eagle). Its vineyards are in the Sta. Rita Hills AVA, which has also been a hotbed for the conflicts between weed and wine. And they have hosted terrific virtual tasting experiences .
Oh, and on July 24th Alma Rosa is hosting “Peace of Mind: 10,000 Steps in the Right Direction,” a walk in their vineyards to support of mental health research and services. Last year the program raised over $140,000 for the beneficiaries. Donate or register at almarosawinery.com
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Former race-car driver, current Lewis Cellars winemaker Randy Lewis hosts Aspen dinner alongside chef Byron Gomez as part of the “Aspen Summer Supper Club Series” at 7908.