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Tuesday, February 10, 2015
by Cyril Penn | February 10, 2015 | 5:00 PM

The California Agricultural Statistics Service’s preliminary crush report for 2014 indicates that 3.91 million tons of winegrapes were crushed, a decrease of 7.6 percent compared to the 4.23 million tons of winegrapes crushed in 2013, a figure that fell within expectations.

“It’s kind of what we thought,” Glenn Proctor, a partner with the Ciatti Company said.

The crush report of course, is a good indicator of supply and demand and is referred to by wineries and growers for making planting decisions and setting prices by region and varietal.

Even if the 3.91 million ton number wasn’t unexpected, some interesting trends are reflected in the report. Coastal areas saw slight price increases for most but not all varieties, while California’s Central Valley saw prices fall sharply. Table 10 of the report shows pricing in coastal regions up anywhere from 2 percent to 8 percent while prices in the Fresno and Bakersfield were down 12.5 percent and 23.4 percent, respectively.

Just three or four years ago there was a different dynamic: Wines coming from the Central Valley were highly sought after because the value end of the wine business was booming. Shifts in pricing seen in the crush report mirror sales trends seen on retail shelves where scanner data shows sales of wines priced for less than $9 slipping and wines priced above $12, and especially wines priced above $20, gaining ground.

Cabernet in Demand, Napa Average District Price Tops $5,815, Sonoma’s Record Cab Crush

It was the third-largest Cabernet crop ever in Napa County and the largest ever Cabernet crop in Sonoma County – but in both regions prices rose.

With demand for Cabernet Sauvignon growing in general, the average price paid in California was up five percent, reaching $1,412.92, while tonnage was down 2.5 percent. In Napa, the closely watched “district average” number hit a record $5,815.41, up 7 percent with tonnage up five percent.

Sonoma County Cabernet tonnage rose by six percent, the largest Sonoma Cabernet crop since 2012, while average prices for Sonoma County Cabernet rose by 4 percent to a record $2,555.85.

“We’ve had big crops in Napa County and we continue to have strengthening prices, which shows that Napa Cab is nearly bullet proof,” Brian Clements with Turrentine Brokerage said. “History shows that we get big crops when we don’t need them. We usually get big crops like we did in 2000 and 2005 when sales are slow. We’ve had a robust case sales market for the last three years, and we’ve had above average crops every year and prices have continued to rise.”

“Napa Cabernet Sauvignon momentum, in terms of varietal leadership and world class status, is displayed in several ways,” George Schofield with George Schofield & Associates commented. “Clearly, a price of $5,930 per ton asserts dominance over Chardonnay and Pinot Noir, which sell for less than half the price.

“Napa Cabernet Sauvignon will exceed other counties in California, with the $2,605 average price per ton in Sonoma being the closest,” Schofield said. “The total 2014 crop value of Napa Cabernet Sauvignon is estimated at $409 million and accounts for 58 percent of the entire Napa Country total for all grapes of $706 million. Clearly, Cabernet Sauvignon contributes, and means a lot, to Napa and helps substantially to maintain its image internationally.”

Sonoma County Pinot Noir prices, for their part, rose by 5 percent to, $3,254, a record price, while tonnage fell by 14 percent.

Not that average prices in the crush report always translate to realistic asking prices for growers – they don’t.

Zinfandel Tonnage Falls by Twenty-five Percent

Zinfandel tonnage state-wide fell nearly 25 percent - by almost 100,000 tons in 2014, and nearly half of that decrease occurred in Lodi. Yields were down substantially, which potentially will help the variety longer term, Proctor said.

Merlot Tonnage Hits Ten Year Low

Merlot tonnage fell by 19 percent. Proctor pointed out that Merlot tonnage is now equivalent to 2004 levels, while all other major varieties: Chardonnay, Pinot Gris, Riesling, Sauvignon Blanc, Petit Syrah, Zinfandel, Cabernet, etc., have seen double digit growth during that time.

Muscat Demand Dips

Tonnage of Muscat Alexander doubled over two years, according to the crush report, following a rush to meet rising demand. Prices for Muscat Alexander, however, fell 17 percent this year.

Balancing Supplies in the Central Valley

“From a valley perspective, the argument could be that (the crush) wasn’t light enough, given bulk wine inventory,” Proctor said. “Buyers will not come into the market until they’re really sure they have a need. That’s really the product of three larger crop sizes the last three years, and some weakening of demand in some of these $9 and less wines, and some of the case goods seeing weakness: that seems to be the bigger dynamic there.

“My take is we’ve had three pretty good crops,” Proctor said. “We just don’t know what 2015 is going to bring, so this market can change relatively quickly. We always have to be cautious of that. If we have a couple of countries that come in lighter and we have a short crop, things can change pretty quickly.”

 


Bulk Wine Inventories Rising

One of the effects of the three healthy harvest that we have experienced – 2012, 2013, 2014 – is that the bulk market, which after the 2011 harvest had extremely low inventory and was very tight, has now backfilled with the three large harvest and we have seen a steady increase in bulk inventory over the last three years. (First Slide).



We look at September because that is when the market is usually stable and inventory is at a fairly steady state level before crush – as we can see for some of the major varieties and for all varieties in total the bulk inventory levels have been steadily increasing over the last three years.

When we look at where we sit today with current inventory (Second Slide) we see that we have significant inventory, potentially at the highest level we have seen in the bulk market, some of this inventory is needed and will be utilized by growing brands, and we have seen a decline this past year in imported bulk wines as wineries have had plenty of supply in California to meet their needs.



But there does appear to be some varieties that have significant inventories and one thing that we look at is how much is current inventory – 2014 – vs older inventory – 2013 and before. As you can see there are a few varieties that we are concerned about because their inventory is concentrated in some of the older vintages. We think, that at least initially, we will see slowing activity on the bulk market – especially the California appellation wines and this could also have some effects on the grape market as wineries are only going to buy when they know they have a real need – and given the inventory levels they are going to be cautious at least initially.

We expect the effects to be greater in the California – Central Valley regions of the market on grapes and wine. Also in this area we have seen a decline over the last two years in sales of the "everyday wines" at $9 per bottle and less – this has made the demand a little softer so it will affect those areas more. The North Coast and Coastal areas may fare a little better and we have seen relatively good activity on grapes and wine in the North Coast especially – but the demand has been growing faster in the $12 and above price points – so this demand is helping to use some of the inventory and we see that region in better balance than other regions of the state.

This is what it looks like today – but as we go into the next year – we all know that things can change quickly. It is hard to believe we will have another "Big" crop like the last three – but we have said that the last two years. -- Glenn Proctor

Thursday, February 5, 2015
by Cyril Penn | February 5, 2015 | 5:00 PM
“Why would they want to raise this non-issue for cork when they sell a stopper that is 100% made with oil-derived products?” – Carlos De Jesus, Amorim Corp

Years ago, I worked as a reporter covering the energy industry, and for a couple years I did a stint as editor for a technical publication dedicated to energy efficiency in buildings. During that time, I was continually sent information from cellulose insulation manufacturers who wanted to convince the world that fiberglass insulation was a health hazard, a potential cause of lung cancer. Meanwhile, I was inundated with information from fiberglass manufacturers aiming to show the world that the fire-retardant chemicals used in cellulose insulation were a health hazard.

Both sides were relentless. Millions of dollars were spent on research on behalf of each side. Call me a cynic, but I don’t think the motivation was all altruistic: it was also about the money. I take these things with a grain of salt.

When a report published this week raised questions about potential health issues associated with binding agents used in agglomerated cork, I took notice, though I was skeptical. Questions have been asked about agglomerated corks before. I remember hearing about a synthetic closure maker in Australia being forced to issue a retraction after emailing producers about alleged health and safety issues associated with microsphere’s used in agglomerated corks.

The report that appeared in Wine Industry Insight said agglomerated cork makers were facing scrutiny from the FDA and EPA over health concerns about the plastic polymers used in agglomerated closures. The headline, asked, “Micro-Agglomerates: 350 Million Illegal Corks Per Year?” Headline writers like to exaggerate and simplify, it makes for snappy copy. 

From an FDA standpoint, there is no safety concern,” - FDA spokeswoman Marianna Naum

Groupo Tappi Sintetici Espansi (GTSE), a trade association of synthetic closure makers in Italy, approached the FDA with questions about the regulatory status of polyurethane binders used for agglomerated cork. A letter from an FDA consumer safety officer responding to those questions was later posted to the trade association’s website. The letter cites FDA rules, which basically say that if there’s no migration, there’s no issue, but that manufacturers are responsible for providing data showing there’s no migration.

“From an FDA standpoint, there is no safety concern,” FDA spokeswoman Marianna Naum said.

I contacted Carlos de Jesus, marketing director of Amorim, the world’s largest closure maker for his take, which, not surprisingly, was: “Perhaps not unexpectedly, plastic stopper manufacturers seem to be attempting to discredit cork stoppers. While today’s article is not focused on Neutrocork, a product we launched a decade and a half ago, we believe it is important to immediately assure the market that the safety of Amorim’s products has been reviewed by US and internationally-recognized experts in food safety. The results of this review were subsequently submitted to the FDA."

"After reviewing data and information submitted by Amorim, FDA recently advised the company that the FDA “identified no safety issues,“ with use of its binders in agglomerated corks. FDA also stated that ‘FDA is not contemplating any enforcement action against [Amorim’s] agglomerated corks, is not recommending that wines already sold or in the supply chain with the agglomerated cork closures, nor the agglomerated corks themselves, be recalled, and is not recommending a cessation of the marketing and purchasing of the agglomerated corks for use with wine and beverages at this time. ‘

“We’ve had these issues several times over the last few years,” François Margot, Sales Manager for Diam North America said. “The letter (from the FDA) is an answer to some questions. The FDA is just recalling the law. Somebody is asking questions about how the uses of polyurethane binders are regulated, and the FDA is simply answering this question, saying basically that if there’s no migration of any compounds from the product, then you don’t even have to ask for any market authorization. Of course we guarantee there’s no TDI migration from Diam."

Well over 90 percent of all synthetic wine closures in the U.S. are made by Nomacorc, which makes more than three-quarters of all synthetic wine closures globally, though in Italy, several competing synthetic closure makers remain and Nomacorc’s market share is closer to 50 percent.

Malcom Thompson, vice president of strategy and innovation, said Nomacorc joined GTSE when it formed a few years ago to address issues associated with regulations prohibiting synthetic closures in certain types of Italian wine. “I’m not representing the company on that group, and I’m not authorized to speak on their behalf," he said, adding, “Through the course of some work they were doing in the market, this information surfaced which brought the issue of compliance into question and at some point they decided it was important enough to pursue.”

“We’re held to the same standard. I think this is a legitimate issue,” Thompson said. Whether it’s a health issue or not comes down to the nature of migration and what may or may not be coming out of those products. … We take matters concerning FDA compliance with the highest level of importance. Suffice to say, we don’t have glue in our products.”

“We have documentation to prove that our product is safe,” Dustin Mowe, general manager of Portocork North America said. “There’s very strong commercial reasons for the timing of this (article/letter being made public).”

Wednesday, February 4, 2015
February 4, 2015 | 3:49 PM

Selected Recent Sales of Grapes & Wines in Bulk for Feb. 3, 2015 courtesy of Turrentine Brokerage:

Bulk Wine

Grenache 2014 wine, Paso Robles, 2,300 gallons at $7.50 per gallon

Sauvignon Blanc 2014 wine, Russian River, 2,200 gallons at $11.00 per gallon

Pinot Grigio 2014 wine, Paso Robles, 6,400 gallons at $7.00 per gallon

Tuesday, February 3, 2015
by Erin Guenther | February 3, 2015 | 7:00 AM

During Sunday night's Superbowl, much of the attention focused on the number of somber commercials, (mostly the Nationwide "Make Safe Happen" commercial). But in between all the dads, deaths and prosthetic legs, Budweiser launched it's "Brewed the Hard Way" spot, a jab aimed at the growing craft beer market segment. 

Obviously, the beer giant is feeling some pressure from the craft movement—in 2013 craft barrel shipments surpassed that of Budweiser's, according to Beer Marketer's Insights.

The company has said in the past that it was going to revitalize advertisements in order to cater to the Millennial generation, the group fueling the rise of craft beer sales. From The Atlantic

So how does the venerable Bud get back? Improve its quality? Lower prices? Nah. The company has decided that it's the advertising that needs to change. If you've watched an American sporting event over the last 25 years, you've surely noticed the Clydesdales, the massive white-legged horses pulling a cart of Budweiser, usually through the snow. But that long-running mascot apparently doesn't do it for Millennials. So Bud's going to change.

According to the Journal:
This season Budweiser will air spots featuring people in their 20s looking directly into the camera and calling out friends’ names as a narrator asks “If you could grab a Bud with any of your friends these holidays, who would it be?”

But if this was Budweiser trying to win back Millennials, the company seriously missed the mark. From "Let them drink their pumpkin peach ale" to "This beer is for drinking, not dissecting," the commercial offended Millennials and what they're looking for in a beer—inventive, flavorful and, most importantly, authentic. Reactions were varied, but on Twitter, few were truly impressed with the spot.  Most felt it was hypocritical, bitter and insulting.

Jim Vorel of Paste Magazine, wrote an article explaining what Budweiser did wrong: 

Never has the oh-so-popular internet adage of “SHOTS FIRED” been so applicable as it was when Anheuser unveiled a new, third-quarter Budweieser ad titled “Brewed the Hard Way.” Over the course of a minute, we learn that the brand is embracing its “macro” title and doesn’t feel at all threatened by craft brewers and their flavorful, unique products as those craft beers continue a decade-long surge in popularity and relevance. In fact, Anheuser is so non-threatened by craft beer that it saw fit to spend $9 million on a 60-second Super Bowl ad just to make sure you were aware of that fact. Because that’s what a company does when it’s definitely not being threatened.

 

Watch the ad below: 

 

Monday, February 2, 2015
February 2, 2015 | 4:16 PM
left to right, Michael Weis, Cameron Parry, Dennis Groth

Groth Vineyards & Winery last week hosted a tasting of more than thirty years of Oakville vineyard Reserve Cabernet Sauvignon. Nearly thirty members of the wine media and wine trade were seated for two flights in the winery’s barrel room, with bottlings from the 1980s, 1990s and 2000s.

The first flight of wines chronicled the 80s and 90s, essentially the first planting of the vineyard. The wines in flight two showcased a new direction, beginning with the noteworthy 2005 vintage. One could clearly taste the styllistic changes starting in 2005, after the estate vineyards were replanted.

The idea for the tasting emerged when Cameron Parry was hired as winemaker to begin the transition over the next few years to take the reins from long-time Director of Winemaking Michael Weis. Since Parry would need to become familiar with the winery’s library it seemed like a great time to share the  opportunity with the media and trade. Parry previously was winemaker at Chateau Montelena and worked at Etude (Carneros), Vina de Larose (Cachapoal Valley, Chile), Sawyer Cellars, PlumpJack Winery, Franciscan Estate and Gundlach-Bundschu Winery.

The vertical began with the inaugural 1983 vintage, with a gap from 2000 through 2004 when the vineyard was out of production due to the replanting. Co-owner Judy Groth said, “I know you were hoping to taste the 1985,” referring to the wine that was the first-ever perfect 100-point-rated California wine by critic Robert Parker, Jr. “But, those were lean days and the bank required that we sell-off all the inventory. So, we had to load up the truck and send last of that wine to a customer up on Spring Mountain—it broke our hearts, but that’s how it was back then. Fortunately times have changed.”

 

February 2, 2015 | 1:08 PM

Hello Vino along with Lotus Growth today released a report entitled, "The Influence of Mobile Apps on Wine Purchases" on quantitative research on the immediate and incremental sales impact of consumer engagement with wine brands and products promoted within smartphone apps. Forbes summed up the report here.

February 2, 2015 | 10:12 AM

Wine Business Monthly's February 2015 digital edition is now available.

Inside February 2015 you will find:
2014 Hot Brands
Industry Outlook and Trends
WBM 30 List

Click here to subscribe to the print version.

Tuesday, January 27, 2015
January 27, 2015 | 9:02 AM

Every year, when Wine Business Monthly chooses our annual list of the top 10 Hot Brands, we look for vintners, growers, wineries and wines that are making a statement in our industry. While quality is always our first and foremost consideration, Hot Brands is not simply a list of the best or most interesting wines we’ve tasted during the year. This list delves more deeply into what it means to be a part of the American wine industry. These are wineries that best exemplify their region or variety, or that dared to take big risks (with big rewards) in creating a new category or technique. In 2014, that common thread was that these wineries are all pioneers in some way. Each of the wineries on this list are helping to forge new paths that will be used for generations to come.

We are releasing the Top 10 Hot Brands in alphabetical order, one per day, leading up to the Unified Wine & Grape Symposium. Wine Business Monthly will be serving these wines to winemakers, grape growers and industry members at our annual gathering Bottle Bash during Unified TODAY on Tuesday, Jan. 27, 5:00-8:30pm at cafeteria 15L (1116 15th Street, Sacramento).

Union Wine Company

Underwood Pinot Gris, Tualatin, Oregon
Canned Wine Sparks Conversation, Sales Growth for Oregon Winery

Union Wine Company wants to change the conversation about wine. Founder and winemaker Ryan Harms believes potential wine consumers are turned off by the industry’s reliance on highbrow descriptions. So when his Underwood brand was due for a packaging redesign, he and his team looked for a new, conversation-starting way to approach customers. They found it in a silver 375 ml can.

Harms, who introduced canned, Oregon-appellated Underwood Pinot Noir and Pinot Gris at a food and beverage festival in Portland in late 2013, said when they first thought about doing this, it was more of a fun marketing “toy” to start a conversation with consumers. “We are literally packaging it so we can see how people react and start a conversation about not only wine in a can, but also some of the other aspects of the wine industry that I think can keep new consumers from coming into the space.

“I think some of the wine business is too traditional, and sometimes the way we look at things all comes from this one way of communicating about wine,” he continued. “Consumers don’t find it interesting. I know that I look enviously at the growth of other categories, and then you look at the product innovation, packaging innovation and simplicity in which they talk and market. Some of it is, ‘Duh, no wonder they’re successful, look at the way they are doing things.’ With wine, we sometimes get too lost in talking about why this piece of dirt we grow grapes on is so important. Maybe that is important to some consumers, but it sometimes gets lost in the conversation with a lot of other people.”

Underwood, which launched in 2006 as an on-premise bottled brand, is not the first winery to offer canned wine. It is, however, one of the first wineries to succeed in marketing premium, unflavored still wines in this format. And success has been incredible—sales increased 90 percent in 2014 over 2013.

As a result, Union Wine Co. is embarking on a growth phase, including launching an Underwood Rosé this year. They are also working on a vertical two-pack for off-premise retailers, offering 750 ml of canned wine on the same shelving space as the bottled products. This eliminates a common problem with alternative packaging tending to end up, as Harms said, “in weird little corners of the store.”

However, Harms is careful about how to best create a sustainable, long-term business in a region where production capacity is limited and growers tend to have smaller vineyard acreage than in neighboring states. “I’m taking some time to think about it from a master plan standpoint so we don’t just do things that we need today that we regret 12 months from now,” he said. “We are trying to take a deep breath and look at the best way to grow.”

Harms believes that the success of the canned wine is due not only to the quality of the wine, of course, but also sheer dumb luck and good timing. There’s a societal interest now in bold-yet-simple consumer packaging design, for one. Secondly, the barriers to a high-end alcohol product being canned have been broken down, largely by craft breweries. But he also understands that his canned wine is not a format for all consumers, and that’s fine with him.

“I hopefully am doing a better job of communicating with the end consumer that I really want to introduce my wine to,” he said. “It’s trying to go after what I think is a much bigger population of either very casual wine consumers or non-traditional wine consumers, with the hope that we will bring them into that space. That, in my mind, is a much bigger population and has the potential for a lot more growth and would be very healthy for the wine business. The can is one attempt on our end of trying to have something that, hey, maybe the package itself will make someone feel comfortable enjoying this in place of a beer or a cocktail when they are out and about, or sitting in the backyard with friends.”

The full story on our top 10 Hot Brands will be available in our February 2014 issue of Wine Business Monthly. You can find it here starting Feb. 1, or come by our booth (#1620) at Unified and pick up a copy. Click here to subscribe to WBM.

Monday, January 26, 2015
January 26, 2015 | 12:32 PM

Selected Recent Sales of Grapes & Wines in Bulk for Jan. 26, 2015 courtesy of Turrentine Brokerage:

Bulk Wine

Cabernet Sauvignon 2013 wine, Lodi, 25,600 gallons at $6.00 per gallon

Cabernet Sauvignon 2013 wine, Napa Valley, 12,800 gallons at $27.50 per gallon

Pinot Noir 2013 wine, Santa Rita Hills, 12,800 gallons at $14.50 per gallon

Sauvignon Blanc 2014 wine, Lake County, 15,000 gallons at $8.00 per gallon

Pinot Noir 2014 wine, Sonoma Carneros, 6,000 gallons at $14.00 per gallon
 

January 26, 2015 | 11:30 AM

From Wine Market Council: 

In light of the severe weather developments in and around New York City today, and the projections of closures of roads, railways, and airports tomorrow, Wine Market Council is postponing its annual research conference in New York that was scheduled for tomorrow (January 27, 2015).  The Museum of Modern Art is cooperating with Wine Market Council to find another presentation date that will be workable for all and we will send you a notification of the new date as soon as possible.

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