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Thursday, January 31, 2013

OMG, a voice of reason in Pennsylavania!

From the state that has bureaucrats sell you alcohol on their terms. And the state that attempted wine vending machines. Now the governor wants to privatize like, you know, everybody else. The head of the union for the state workers who sell booze says, "Why would we want to be like all the other states when we are already so much better."  Huh? Can you imagine choice? Price competition?

Time to join the 20th century--only a little late.

News article

Wednesday, January 30, 2013

Wine is healthier than Coke

So ha!

The Huffington Post's, um, Addiction Expert says moderate consumption of alcohol is better for you than too much soda. Diabetes, obesity, and all that. Well, duh. The moderate intake of most anything is better than too much of something by definition.  It's all about figuring out the line you don't want to cross.

Look at it as "added sugars" vs. "natural sugars fermented to alcohol."

Anyway, here's the article

Monday, January 28, 2013

Guy Fieri Wines

Okay, I don't know what he's going to call the wine, but Mr. Diners, Drive-ins, and Dives has bought a small vineyard in the Russian River Valley of Sonoma County. He's a local boy as this is where it all began over 15 years ago. Guy has a couple restaurants in Santa Rosa that were started before he got famous.

He has applied for permits to open a tasting room and hold events on his new vineyard property. I only hope Rachael Ray shows up.

We already have Raymond Burr and Francis Ford Coppola. That seems like enough wine entertainment already. Burr's place isn't "Hollywood tacky," but Coppola's is definitely a tourist trap although a well-done one.

A few months ago Lady Gaga visited raising speculation that she was vineyard shopping. Maybe Gaga and Fieri could get together and .... oh, never mind.

Saturday, January 26, 2013

Consolidation in the Wine Industry

Wineries get bought and sold like any other small business, but it seems most of the selling is being done by the smaller guys and the buying by the big guys.

When you look at wine on a store shelf you see lots of brands from lots of different places. So there are many independent American wine brands, right? Well, yes there are a lot of small independents--mostly folks you never heard of or at least will never see on a store shelf east of California.

The big boys own a huge share of the American wine market. Gallo has over 50 labels and you won't see the word "Gallo" on most. They have almost one quarter of the market with their different brands. Even locally here in Sonoma County in many stores or restaurants where wine isn't a key part of their business the majority of the wines are often Gallo brands. Gallo owns André, Barefoot, Tisdale, Turning Leaf, and many, many others.

The other big players are The Wine Group (Inglenook, Almaden, Franzia, others) and Constellation Brands (Mondavi, Woodbridge, Clos du Bois, others). Next in the market are Treasury Wine Estates (Beringer, etc), Trinchero (Sutter Home, etc), and Bronco (Charles Shaw, etc).
Yes, it's Gallo
Image from

Gallo, The Wine Group, Constellation, Treasury, Trinchero, and Bronco together own about two-thirds of the market. And there are still other big names in that last third of the pie, like Kendall-Jackson and Diageo.

The question that arises when there is a concentration of owners in an type of business is, "Is this good for the consumer?"

If you wish to support the smaller, family-owned wineries then it may take some work to find out who these are. Gallo is a family-owned winery, just not a small one, as they make tens of millions of cases of wine per year. The majority of the wineries in Sonoma County produce less than ten thousand cases and many less than one thousand.

How do you find these small family producers? They don't have the power to distribute like Gallo so usually you buy directly from the winery. It takes more work compared to just picking up a bottle at the grocery store after work, but it's usually worth the effort.

Friday, January 18, 2013

Around the Sonoma Plaza

The town of Sonoma is located in the southern part of Sonoma County. It's relatively close to San Francisco (an hour's drive) and the rest of the Bay Area so the town gets many visitors.
The old city hall in the Sonoma Plaza

Sonoma has a lot of history. It is the home to the northernmost Spanish Mission in California, and the youngest, founded in 1823. Sonoma is known for its plaza--a park area that takes up the center of town. Sonoma was the original county seat, but Santa Rosa was more centrally located and outgrew Sonoma. The two towns argued over who should host the county government until Santa Rosa "won" by raiding the records office one night and taking the county documents.

The town of Sonoma has become quite a mecca for wine country tourists. There have always been a few wineries in the area, like Buena Vista and Gundlach-Bundschu, some restaurants, and the Sonoma Cheese Factory.

Things have changed in the last five years. You can pick up a wine tasting walking guide listing 18 wineries, plus a few wine bars, hotels with bars, restaurants with bars, wine shops with bars--you get the idea. There must be about the same number of places to eat on the square. The rest is made up of various clothing and gift shops. Trip Advisor lists 77 restaurants in Sonoma (pop. 10,000) though not all are near the town plaza.

Most of the wine tasting rooms around the plaza are from very small wineries you've never heard of--places like Bryter, Kamen, and Rumpus. Most charge five or ten dollars to taste and most refund the tasting fee if you purchase. The popular spot seems to be Roche Winery next to the most famous restaurant in town, The Girl & the Fig. Roche has indoor and outdoor bars, charges just $5 to taste and is open late on weekend evenings during the summer. It always seems to be crowded. Okay, not on the Thursday afternoon in January when I stopped by, but during the summer and early fall.

If you like to be trendy, the hot restaurants in town seem to be  Cafe La Haye, Harvest Moon Cafe, and LaSalette.

The town plaza is host to numerous events during the spring through fall from art shows to wine tastings. The Fourth of July parade and celebration is a big event.

Photos from Jan 17, 2013
Click on to enlarge

The mission

The Sebastiani Theater and Ledson Hotel
Both are said to be haunted

Sonoma Cheese Factory

Girl and the Fig Restaurant
With Roche wine tasting just to the left
Handy if you're waiting for a table

Lots of California history everywhere

The old Tascano Hotel

An alley of tasting rooms

Afternoon on the plaza

Wednesday, January 16, 2013

Locals are fed up with the tourists!

Enough of the expensive trattorias ("trattoria" is Italian for "over-priced spaghetti"). Damn tourists come to Napa and want all these fancy eats.

Why can't we just get regular food? Why can't we get a Chuck E. Cheese? (Home of a pizza-like substance in an atmosphere of screaming kids). We want food we can pronounce! Or so says a local in a letter to the editor.

From the Napa Valley Register

Tuesday, January 15, 2013

America's beverage consumption

Looking at trends is always interesting. What do we drink?

The big winner for liquids consumed by Americans is bottled water. Though that's getting some push back now because of all the empty plastic bottles created by this craze.

Other winners: Liquor and wine. In the liquor market the premium ones have fueled the growth while sales of the cheap stuff is in decline. The makers of liquor had to do something as sales were at an all time low in the mid-1990s (except for the Prohibition years). Are you old enough to remember when whiskey pretty much meant Canadian Club or Segram's Seven and tequila meant José Cuervo?

Beer sales peaked around 1980 and have been declining since. However, the craft beer market continues to climb with double-digit growth. It's still only about 6% of the market, but there are about 2,000 breweries in the U.S. now.

Sure is nice to have all these choices
from Russian River Brewery

Per the Beverage Information Group 90% of purchased liquids is made up of soda, bottled water, coffee,  milk, and beer.

Premium wine sales are expected to continue to grow. The trend towards cheaper wine at the beginning of the recession is turning around as under $10 wine sales are declining while over $10 sales are increasing. Many California wineries want to raise prices as inventories are low after several years of smaller than average crop sizes plus increasing costs for grapes. Most are still afraid to raise prices in the face of a continuing recession, but they won't hold off forever.

Overall the average American drinks less than two gallons of wine per year, but consumes 40 gallons of soft drinks and 25 gallons of coffee! I suppose 12 ounces of coffee every morning is better than 12 ounces of Chardonnay, huh? But that's a lot of soda. The other interesting stat is even though Americans rank low on the list of wine consumed per capita at less than two gallons per person, 90% of the wine consumed is by 20% of the people. This means us winos are in the minority, but at least we're holding up our end! The other thing that "holds us back" in consumption is the U.S. has a large percentage of non-drinking adults, almost 40%.

For better or worse, more people drink now than a decade or two ago, but they aren't drinking more, they're drinking better. For instance, maybe a couple IPAs from a local microbrewery instead of a six-pack of Coors Lite. Last time I had a Coors? Many years ago at a pool party. The last time I had a microbrew? A couple days ago. Maybe more telling is I've never seen my kids (yes, they're over 21) drink a cheap American beer. Or maybe they just won't around me knowing they'll be scorned.  :)

Saturday, January 12, 2013

The Gay Wine

It's no secret the marketing guys target products at certain groups. In the recent past there are wines for the younger set, even some for women and some for men. There's Flirty Wine and Bitch Wine along with Sledgehammer. The first two targeted at women, the last at men, in case you weren't sure.

Now there's an official gay wine. Somebody thought, "Hmm, with the legalization of gay marriage catching on around the country we should profit from this."  So we have Égalité to celebrate your same-sex marriage.

Yes, we're waiting for the first "fruity wine" joke.

Huffington Post article


Friday, January 11, 2013

Oh no, we've PO'ed the French (again)!

When California wine became popular and started competing with the French wines those folks noticed we had wines called Chablis, Burgundy, and Champagne. For many decades Americans called basic white wines Chablis, reds Burgundy, and sparkling wines Champagne. The French were not happy to have their high-priced Burgundies confused with Gallo Hearty Burgundy.

We now have an agreement to not use French wine districts in the names of our products. Some wineries on this side of the pond were grandfathered in. For instance, "everybody" called it Korbel Champagne so they're allowed to continue. By law they have to include in the name the region it came from as in Korbel Brut California Champagne.

Well, when the menus for the Inaugural Dinner were printed up one of the wines listed was "Korbel Natural Special Inaugural Cuvée Champagne, California." Note that is says "Champagne, California" not "California Champagne." OMG that's backwards! And some French lobbyists (why are there French lobbyists in DC?) had a fit.
Don't drink that! It's not French!

The labels on the wine are printed correctly, just whoever did the menu didn't know the law verbatim.  The spokeswoman for Korbel basically told them to get a life.

Article in the Santa Rosa Press Democrat

Wednesday, January 9, 2013

"Wines that age longer are better"

Ah, wine collecting. Why do people do it? Besides to show off, that is. It's because the best wines have to age for years before you can drink them. Damn, that's inconvenient!

What other product would you put up with that? You don't hold on to a new album until it's at its peak "listening" time. You don't order out Chinese for next year--it's for tonight.

The good news is there's a couple problems with the statement, "the best wines have to age for years." In previous decades the top wines (they're French red wines, of course!) were made in a style that would be described as hard, acidic, tight, and tannic. So not only did you have to age them correctly for years to get them to their peak drinking, but they weren't even very drinkable in their youth. Well, ain't that a pain in the rear? So you have to store them at the right temperature, humidity, and for just long enough. How long is long enough? How long is too long? What happens to the wine if say, several years in to it's aging it happened to get exposed to a few hours of heat and sunlight. Is it ruined? Do I drink it now or continue to wait for another decade?  Jeez.

You could do this--or you could just drink it
Heck, you could be dead before this stuff's ready!
Image from
Along comes the New World Style pioneered in California and Australia where your typical Cabernet is good within five years of it's vintage date and maybe earlier. Sacrebleu! These wines can't be as good as the Old World style! I mean, the longer a wine needs to age the higher quality of a wine it is, right? Well, some folks still cling to that notion. But if you look at American wine drinking statistics most wine is consumed within 48 hours of purchase. So you have to think the New World style winemakers might be on to something.

For every person who thinks a wine that ages for 25 years is better than one that is best at its release there are 100 more that won't wait and probably don't care about aging. And there's a few of us that see the New World style as correcting a flaw in the Old World way of making wines. While they were at it the New World winemakers pretty much got rid of brettanomyces, volatile acidity, sulfur, and other flaws in wine.

So if your ever driving across I-80 in California near the town of Davis give a wave and a thank you to the University of California at Davis, arguably the home of New World style wines.

Saturday, January 5, 2013

How to become a wine connoisseur

You have to know people.

That is, acquaintances that are wine "experts."  Everywhere you see the word "expert" here you will see the quote marks around it denoting the fact that you and I don't know any real wine "experts," just people that think they are or at least you think they are.

You should subscribe to wine magazines because those writers drink a lot of wine and must be "experts."

Drink a lot of wine yourself. Don't worry about over-consumption because as the saying goes, "It's not alcoholism if I only drink 92 point wines." Worry about your wallet instead.

Taste wine at wineries, retail wine shops, and wine bars. You definitely won't have an alcohol problem if you're only tasting. Worry about your wallet though as you will be tempted to buy some $50 bottles.

See, he's not enjoying it
He must be a connoisseur!

Go to a wine auction, but leave your wallet at home. This is almost as bad as attending a car auction as you could wind up spending as much on that old French wine as you would on a '70 Chevelle.

Take notes when you taste. You'll look like an "expert."

Buy some Riedel wine glasses--at least four different styles. Don't be caught drinking Sauvignon Blanc out of a Pinot glass!

Start a wine cellar and put your inventory on Cellar Tracker so others can see what you have. I believe a minimum of 500 bottles is required to reach "expert" class.

Drink French wine because the word "connoisseur" is a French word meaning "you know something." No, that doesn't sound like expertise, but it always sounds better in French!

Wednesday, January 2, 2013

January in Dry Creek (photos)

January 2, 2013 in Dry Creek Valley, Sonoma County
Click on photos to enlarge

From Mauritson Winery
Passalacqua Winery


At Passalacqua Winery you can apparently buy your own vine!

Tuesday, January 1, 2013

Top Wine Stories of 2012

Some of the biggest stories of 2012 from a California perspective

  • A poor European harvest that will lead to shortages and higher prices. The smallest harvest in half a century will hit consumers in the coming years.
  • Abundant California harvest that may help fill the gap left by the bad harvest in Europe. Meanwhile near perfect weather in CA (after several mediocre years) set up a high-quality and high-quantity harvest. Will California wines fill the gap left by European shortages? This looks like a good thing for CA.
  • Predictions on upcoming grape shortages in California and a vineyard buying spree. A group of wine business people decided there will be a grape shortage in the coming years. Not sure what data this was based on or if it includes the huge supplies of less expensive grapes from the Central Valley as well as premium coastal grapes. It probably means not all wines and all varieties will have shortages, but it has done a couple things. One: grape prices went up immediately meaning higher wine prices are coming. Two: The big boys with the money (such as Kendall-Jackson and Gallo) are going on vineyard buying sprees to be sure they will have grapes in the future.
  • It's getting easier to buy wine as direct shipping to consumers improves. Some states are loosening up their archaic wine shipping laws, like New Jersey. Amazon entered the market with an online wine store.
  • New wine trends: Pinot Grigio, Muscato and Rhone-style blends. Wine style trends come and go. Currently, there's growth in a simpler slightly sweet white for people tired of Chardonnay (Pinot Grigio), for people who want something sweeter (Muscato), and for an easy drinking, but interesting red wine (Syrah and Grenache-based blends).
  • Ben, the bachelor wine maker, picking through the lovely Bachelorettes. Okay, I didn't say they had to be good stories, just ones that everyone is talking about.