Posted: December 20, 2012 By Ben O'Donnell
"Do you think it is more difficult to produce 5,000 bottles of La Mouline or 3.5 million bottles of Côtes du Rhône?" Philippe Guigal had flipped the script on me during a recent interview to pose a query of his own.
It's kind of a trick question: The Guigal Côte-Rôtie La Mouline is a $500 bottle of wine. The reputation of the house is staked on this wine and its two single-vineyard sisters.
That is, among those lucky enough to sample them. But to most people who drink the brand, "Guigal" means a $10 Côtes du Rhône, and it has to be tasty at every party or Tuesday dinner or they'll choose something else. How do you oversee millions, or even tens of millions, of bottles, for every kind of wine drinker, year in and year out, without losing your grip on consistency and quality? I asked that of four guys whose wines you undoubtedly know: They are, in addition to Guigal in the Rhône, Corey Beck, Bob Bertheu and Peter Gago, head winemakers at Francis Ford Coppola in California, Chateau Ste.-Michelle in Washington and Penfolds in Australia.
Posted: November 26, 2012 By Ben O'Donnell
Posted: November 20, 2012 By Ben O'Donnell
Kingsley Amis, writing in 1972's On Drink, relayed a recipe for a concoction he had heard to be "Queen Victoria's Tipple." Ingredients: 1/2 tumbler red wine, Scotch. "The quantity of Scotch is up to you, but I recommend stopping a good deal short of the top of the tumbler," cautioned Amis. "Worth trying once," cringed the author, who in the same pages recommends waking up to a shot of tequila in one hand and one of tomato juice in the other.
I asked Logan Leet, winemaker at River Bend Winery in Kentucky, whose signature Bourbon Barrel Red is given a brief spin through used bourbon barrels, if he had ever heard of this kind of abomination in Louisville. "Most people like to keep their wine and their bourbon separate, by and large," he assured me.
Posted: October 25, 2012 By Ben O'Donnell
"The VCR changed everything, because it's the first time in history that kids knew how to do something their parents didn't," declared Tyler Balliet, the founder of Wine Riot. VCRs explain Millennial wine habits, he contended as we talked over beers (there would be time for wine later, at the Riot), because the generation between 21 and 34 doesn't need to take purchasing cues from the tastes of elders or "authorities." No one online lacks for information coming at them on every platform, from Twitter to ads in their own inboxes. "All other generations are information seekers; we're information sorters."
Balliet's company Second Glass began Wine Riot in Boston in 2008 when he was 28; by the end of this year, the traveling circus of a walkaround tasting will have stopped at six cities: Boston, D.C., Chicago, San Francisco, New York and L.A. He now reaches 15,000 drinkers annually through the Riot—virtually all under the age of 40. Among the habits of Millennial drinkers nationwide, one is the thirst for education. Another is the draw of wine at a younger age than earlier generations felt it. The third is a greater open-mindedness to wines from all places, all grape varieties.
So you have a huge, growing segment of drinkers who supposedly don't trust ads, don't care about reviews, don't know much but are eager to learn, and would rather do so by hopping around the world of wine than picking a favorite Cali Cab and sticking with it. How do you market to these crazy people?
Posted: October 15, 2012 By Ben O'Donnell
Posted: October 4, 2012 By Ben O'Donnell
Before becoming a vintner, Rajeev Samant struggled for more than three years to get a license to put down vines. Finally, he persuaded alcohol-suspicious authorities that the ability to grow vinifera in the region was "a gift from the gods." A novice grower, he had no idea what to plant and where, and once he decided on Sauvignon Blanc, he had no idea if his grapes would ripen—no idea if they would even bear fruit.
15 years later, India is poised to become one of the world's most important wine markets.
Posted: September 27, 2012 By Ben O'Donnell
Posted: September 20, 2012 By Ben O'Donnell
I remember, four years ago, seeing the headline "Obama Clinches 'Joe Cabernet Sauvignon' Vote" in a humor magazine. It's a send-up of both the "Champagne liberal" stereotype and that of coveted, mythical voter Joe Six-Pack.
But is wine really a Democrat's game? I decided to ask Greg Martellotto, owner and winemaker at California-based Wine Dreamer. In 2010, the company launched a wine called Let The People Decide, a Tempranillo-based red blend from Santa Ynez bottled under two labels, Progressive and Conservative. One label is blue, with a donkey silhouette; the other red, with an elephant. Martellotto says, "We had high aspirations-could this be a straw poll for divining upcoming elections?"
I also spoke to Chris Trebilcock, who, half a country away, in Michigan, makes wine at The Political Winery; using Lodi, Calif., grapes, he blends "Jack Blue," "Ron Red," "Jackie O'Rouge" and "Elie Blanc."
Posted: September 11, 2012 By Ben O'Donnell
When the Nielsen Company surveyed members of different age groups in late 2010 on how many of their wine shop purchases topped $20 a bottle, Boomers averaged 12 percent. For Generation X, the number crept to 14. Millennials, however, paid more than $20 for one in every four bottles they bought.
"Young people have absolutely no problem coming in and buying a bottle of Le Nez de Muse for $25 on a Monday night," Justin Chearno, the wine buyer at Uva Wines, told me, referring to an organic cuvée from small Burgundy producer Les Faverelles.
Another fun fact, from the Simmons National Consumer Study: In 2010, 24 percent of Krug drinkers in America were between 21 and 24 years old; another 20 percent were 25 to 34. If you are in the business of selling wine right now, you may be very interested indeed in learning more about this demographic of "impressionable young people who are easily parted with their money."
Posted: August 23, 2012 By Ben O'Donnell
Author and journalist Ron Rosenbaum once called New Jersey "the second most maligned and unfashionable place to come from in America." The line appeared in an essay about Long Island.
"I don't think it's a secret," said Kareem Massoud of the North Fork's Paumanok Vineyards, "that Long Island has an image problem." We were in the vineyard, talking about the thorny issue of Long Island wine, which also gets some punch-line treatment in the American wine world. I'd describe the skeptic spectrum as running from "underripe and overpriced" to "a bachelorette party with vines."
I went out to the East End with some friends to do some casual wine touring, but I also wanted to meet with a few winemakers and ask them about this. Why do Long Island wines get a bad rap, still? What can be done about it?
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