Ending the Aesthetic Fallacy of Heavy Bottles


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Wine producers the world over invest in unusually thick, heavy wine bottles for the sake of impressive brand aesthetics. But thanks to their weight, these bottles (and their transportation around the world) represent the single largest portion of the wine industry’s carbon footprint and contribution to global warming.

It’s time for us to tear down the aesthetic fallacy of the heavy wine bottle. It won’t be easy, but it is most surely possible, because we’ve done this sort of thing before.

Once upon a time here in the United States, pretty much everyone chose the vehicles we drove merely by the intersection of what we could afford and our sense of self image. In a pre-9/11 world, the logical extension of this principle gave rise to big, expensive cars with bad gas mileage that were followed by bigger more expensive cars with even lousier gas mileage that were eventually all …

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#KeepWineAlive: Deals From Wineries in Trying Times


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This article could be about any number of sectors of the economy. But around here we’re focused on wine. So let’s talk about how to support the wine industry during these trying times. Last week I wrote about How to Buy Wine While Self-Isolating. One of the primary tips there was to purchase wine directly from individual wineries.

In service of that idea, here is a list that I will endeavor to keep updated in the days to come of the different deals that I’m aware of from individual wineries. Most are offering free shipping (not a small thing when it can easily run $30-60 depending on where you are) and many are offering additional discounts and specials. I’ll group them by region, but I have a feeling this is going to be an unusually long list.

[Five hours later…]

Holy cow. I clearly need to be careful what …

How to Buy Wine While Self-Isolating


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We’re all going to be stuck at home for a while. That means we will need wine. And lots of it. For those of you who don’t have more than a couple of bottles squirreled away, that means you’ll need to order some. And so, at the risk of teaching my grandmother to suck eggs, I present to you the basic tips on how to get yourself some good wine during your self-isolation, sheltering in place, pseudo-quarantine.

There are basically two places to start when it comes to getting wine delivered. Do you know what you want to drink, or do you want suggestions?

IF YOU KNOW WHAT YOU WANT
Step 1: Open your web browser.

Step 2 – Option 1: If it’s domestic wine, go to the web site of the winery whose wine you want and buy wine from them directly. Lather, rinse, repeat. If it’s foreign …

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How the Government (and You) Can Save the Wine Industry From Coronavirus


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Those that have been paying attention know by now that the American wine and food industries are facing an existential threat unlike any they have faced since Prohibition. In the days and weeks to come, urban centers across America will be shut down, just as San Francisco, Seattle, New York and many others have been. Bars and restaurants will be shuttered, as will all “non-essential” businesses.

Some restaurants have quickly moved to offering take-out and delivery services, demonstrating admirable flexibility and courage, not to mention a commitment to keeping their employees working and earning. The online food magazine Eater has been doing a bang-up job of creating lists of such restaurants and emphasizing the importance of continuing to patronize them in these trying times.

The wine industry is in a similar bind. Here in California, winery tasting rooms were among the first things to be shut down by official order …

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Too Many Grapes in CA and WA


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America’s two most important winegrowing states are suffering serious over-supply while demand slackens.

One of the most hotly anticipated press conferences in the wine world each year (if ever such an event could be said to be eagerly awaited) has long been the release of Rob McMillan’s annual State of the Wine Industry Report. An executive and founder of the wine division at Silicon Valley Bank, McMillan oversees one of the primary sources of lending capital for the California (and Oregon and Washington) wine industries. As a service to his customers, McMillan conducts an annual survey of the wine industry and shares the results as well as his economic analysis of the industry in an annual report made free to the public.

This year’s report began with a particularly appropriate quote from the year 1894, delivered at the 18th annual Convention of Fruit Growers in Fresno, California: ‘We must not …

Threat of 100% Wine Tariff Lifted – For Now


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The US wine industry just received a bittersweet Valentine. On 14 February, the Office of the United States Trade Representative announced the decision to refrain from applying tariffs of up to 100% on wine and hundreds of other EU goods in response to illegal aircraft subsidies in Europe. (For some background, see Inside the US wine tariffs hearing and Alder’s subsequent explanation of the two separate US trade disputes threatening the wine industry.)

The reprieve, buried on page 5 of a notice issued by the USTR on Friday, reads as follows: ‘As of this time, the Trade Representative has decided not to increase the rate of additional duties above the additional 25 percent currently being applied to nonaircraft products.’

With those 28 words, the USTR (led by Robert E. Lighthizer, shown above seated in front of President Donald Trump and next to EU representatives) backed away from the …

I’m Calling Bullshit on Drone Wine Delivery


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Most of us have been watching the Coronavirus disaster unfold like a slow moving train wreck around the world. It’s horrifying despite the (relatively yet) low death toll, and somewhat unbelievable when it comes to the crazy situations provoked by efforts to contain the virus.

Which brings us to the Diamond Princess cruise liner that has been quarantined in the Bay of Japan off Yokohama all week while they wait for the infection rate to drop to zero. It’s hard to imagine what it must be like to be in the 5th week of your one week cruise. It’s even harder to imagine that without any wine (supposedly all bars and restaurants on the ship have been closed and no alcohol is available as part of quarantine).

Which is why, like the rest of the world, I was quite tickled to see a news headline about an ingenious couple who …

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Sorry, But Wine Tariffs Are Still a HUGE Problem


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A couple of weeks ago, I penned my usual monthly column for Jancis Robinson, focusing on the dire threat to the US wine industry posed by a set of proposed tariffs on European wine. That article covered a hearing in Washington, DC in which many members of the wine industry spoke with passion and conviction about the damage the proposed tariffs would do to their livelihoods and the industry in general.

Eight days after that article was published, news broke that Trump and Macron had reached something of a detente, and that the tariff question was postponed to at least 2021.

There was a huge sigh of relief around the world, and both the news media and members of the wine industry began to publish stories and social media posts about how the wine industry dodged a bullet, and how we can now rest easy.

There’s only one problem. …

Inside the US Wine Tariffs Hearing


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So what happened last week when the American wine trade met US government officials to argue against a 100% tariff on imports from Europe?

A clamour in the American wine media reached fever pitch last week, after several weeks of increasing consternation. The hubbub surrounds two separate tariff proposals by the Trump administration. The first, announced 2 December in response to France’s imposition of a Digital Sales Tax (DST) on tech giants such as Apple, Google and Amazon, would impose tariffs of up to 100% on champagne as well as French cheese, handbags and various other goods. The second, announced 11 December, would levy a 100% tariff on all European wines in response to EU subsidies for Airbus that have long been violating World Trade Organisation rules. This additional tariff proposal comes on the heels of an initial action in response to the Airbus subsidies: a 25% tariff on French, …

Your Duty as a Wine-Loving Citizen: Oppose the Proposed Wine Tariffs


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Dear United States Trade Representative,

My name is Alder Yarrow, and I am a wine consumer living in Piedmont, California. I am writing to implore you to refrain from levying tariffs against European foodstuffs, wines, and alcohol in response to both the Digital Services Tax and the Large Civil Aircraft Dispute – Dockets No. USTR-2019-0009: Determination and Request for Comment Concerning Action Pursuant to Section 301: France’s Digital Services Tax and No. USTR2019-0003: Enforcement of US WTO Rights in Large Aircraft Dispute.

These tariffs will force me to pay higher prices for wine and will simply destroy the business of dozens, even hundreds of small, family-owned, American businesses who make their living (not to mention create jobs and pay a large amount of taxes) by importing and distributing alcohol and the other food products listed for consideration under these proposed tariffs.

While these proposed tariffs may penalize our European trading …

Tariffs Curb US-China Bottle Swap


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The US-China trade war has had far-reaching effects on the California wine industry, not least in its choice of bottles.

In the latest episode of what has been a multi-year saga of escalation and antipathy, China confirmed on Friday 13 December that it had reached a tentative trade agreement with the United States. This followed promises of a similar sort from President Donald J Trump on Twitter the day before that sent financial markets rallying, and had the California wine industry tentatively breathing sighs of relief.

In 2018, fulfilling a promise he made to address the trade deficit while campaigning for President, Trump announced a series of tariffs on Chinese goods and raw materials, beginning a tit-for-tat exchange of trade sanctions that would continue for the next 18 months. These tariffs currently cover more than $300 billion-worth of Chinese products imported to the United States, ranging from raw steel and …

The 2019 Vinography Gift Guide for Wine Lovers


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Giving gifts to wine lovers during the holidays can be anxiety inducing. Especially if your recipient tends to have many of the basics covered when it comes to wine. And forget about what a hassle that people like me tend to be. I’m one of those wine lovers who already has most of the gear that he wants, and has very strong opinions about everything else. Sound like anyone you know?

I’ve said before that buying wine for your favorite wine lover can be an exercise fraught with peril. Many wine lovers I know would much rather choose their own wine than have someone buy a bottle for them. Many of you know what I’m talking about when I describe the pang of guilt we feel when someone has clearly bought a pricey bottle of wine that we would pass over quickly in a wine store if we were looking …

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The Phenomenal Rise of Canned Wine


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I distinctly remember the first time I saw wine in a can. I was visiting the Francis Ford Coppola winery, probably around 2004. At the time, the wine-loving film director had been producing his sweetish Sofia sparkling wine for a few years, and after searching for a way to sell single servings of the wine, eventually settled on 187 ml cans. I remember seeing these cans, collected neatly in a pink hexagonal box of four, with straws included, and thinking to myself, ‘That’s pretty neat. I wonder if it will ever catch on?’

It took about 15 years, but wine in a can has progressed from Coppola’s quirky (and intuitively brilliant) experiment to the next big thing in wine packaging. More than 600 individual canned wine products have entered the market in the last 10 years. According to Nielsen data reported in Wine & Spirits Daily, canned wine sales …

Much Ado about AVAs


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Winemakers in America are increasingly running foul of regulations that have kept pace neither with the march of technology nor with the evolving ingenuity of business. Some of the latest controversies in American wine have to do with trying to decide what criteria should be used to determine where a wine is from. This seemingly simple question doesn’t have an easy answer, thanks to America’s complex and antiquated laws governing alcohol sales and, more importantly, alcohol labelling.

Place of origin has seemingly been a crucial component of wine since the earliest days of winemaking, perhaps reaching its apotheosis in the well-known climats of Burgundy that have defined origin with unmatched precision for centuries. Today, a given wine’s origins are not only statements of geography but, thanks to wine laws around the world, also statements of quality, composition, winemaking practices and legal status. Any wine region of reasonable maturity around the …

California’s Volatile Spring


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Grapevines are notoriously hardy organisms. I was recently reminded of this while driving through the back roads of Chile’s Itata region, where, thanks to the golden hues of their autumn leaves, it was easy to see decades- perhaps even centuries-old vines of País growing seemingly everywhere along the roadside and through the surrounding forests, surviving against the considerable odds of neglect and natural competition for resources.

But the conditions for mere survival may be some distance from the tolerances generally considered optimal for the production of fine wine. Indeed, at certain times of the year, Vitis vinifera can be quite a delicate plant as far as winegrowing is concerned. Which is why farmers in California have been gritting their teeth for the past few weeks as heavy late-season rains followed hard by multiple days of sweltering heat arrived just as many vines in California began flowering.

The state of California …

Wine Critic Robert M. Parker, Jr. Officially Retires


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It’s the end of an era. Today, wine critic and founder of the Wine Advocate, Robert M. Parker, Jr announced his retirement. Of course, to anyone paying attention, the end of his reign as tastemaker and singular force in the wine world happened when he sold a majority stake in the Wine Advocate to a Singapore-based investment group in 2012.

As in many such corporate acquisitions, especially when the founder is inextricably linked to the brand, Parker stuck around and did his part to provide the impression that the status was quo while attending expensive wine dinners and speaking engagements. But with Lisa Perotti-Brown taking over as editor and the addition of new staff, followed by the acquisition of a 40% stake by Michelin in 2017, Parker’s nominal contributions to his publication slowed to a trickle and eventually stopped.

With Parker’s traditional beats (California and Bordeaux) covered by other …

California is Fizzing Again


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I’ve been having something of an unnerving experience of late. Receiving unsolicited wine samples from all over the world is a regular ‘hazard’ of my wine-writing life. A majority, as you might expect, are California wines, more often than not from producers of whom I know or have heard. Opening a box to find wines from an unknown California producer is always a treat, especially when the wines are worth writing about. Recently, however, I’ve been opening the constant barrage of boxes to discover an increasing number of bottles of unknown-to-me California sparkling wine. While many are not spectacular, most are competently made wines which, out of sheer numbers, suggest that California may have entered a new era of sparkling winemaking.

Benjamin Wilson likely produced the first sparkling wine in California in 1856 from his vineyards outside of Los Angeles, followed by the Sainsevain brothers in 1857 and 1858. But …

California Drought Over, For Now


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It’s spring in California wine country.

‘As the vines break bud and come out of dormancy closer to a normal time this year, they’re finding that the fields are fully saturated with water’, says Napa winemaker Aaron Pott of Pott Wines. ‘We have been cutting the tall grass in the vineyard rows and breaking out the weed eaters to get under the vine. The grass is taller than the vines in many areas. With ample water in the soils the growth should be quite fierce this year in the early season.’

From Santa Barbara to Mendocino, birds are chirping, new leaves are unfurling on the vines and we can now say that the state is finally, officially, completely out of its drought. That doesn’t mean scientists have stopped worrying about water in California, however.

‘There are dozens of different definitions of drought and therefore lots of different ways of …

BC – Sparkling With Confidence


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While this column in both name and purpose focuses on the American wine scene, I find it difficult not to pay some attention to happenings only a stone’s throw across the border. The wine industry in Canada’s province of British Columbia has been developing in earnest for only about the last 30 years, but recently it seems to have shifted into another gear entirely, both in terms of quality and sophistication as an industry.

When I wrote ‘a stone’s throw’ a moment ago, that was not merely a figure of speech. If one were to walk east along the US-Canada border from the most northerly point in Washington state, for most of the next 700 km (435 miles) a single step off the border to the north would land you in BC wine country. Sitting between the 49th and 50th northern parallels, the region sprawls east from Vancouver Island, but …

The Era of the Brand Ambassador


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Selling wine in America is difficult, and getting more so. Leaving aside the highly constrained ability for wine producers to ship directly to consumers, getting one’s wine into shops and restaurants requires the assistance of a distributor licensed to sell wine in each individual target state. Since 1995, while the number of wineries in America has tripled to more than 9,000 and the volume of wine imports has more than doubled, the number of distributors available to deliver all that wine has dropped from more than 3,000 to fewer than 1,200, as company after company either goes out of business or is acquired by bigger fish. Today, two of those fish alone, Southern Glazers and Breakthru, control more than 60% of the wine distribution in the country.

Distributor consolidation has had wide-ranging impacts on the wine trade as a whole, but they can all can be summed up as: fewer …