Grape Shortage: Australian Winemakers May Run Dry

According to Grape shortage could hit wine sector, 2010 could be the year when the demand for Australian grapes exceeds the supply. Currently, there is a glut of grapes down under, which is discouraging new plantings of grape vines. Heavy planting in the late 1990s caused the current oversupply of grapes.

Wines have been a big export item for Australia; the country exported 8% of the wine sold internationally in 2004. By 2010, that market share is projected to grow to 10%. Growth beyond that point, however, is uncertain due to the projected grape shortage.

Drinkers of box wines and other affordable have some reason to be concerned. Some of the best wines in the value end of the spectrum come from Australia. A fair number of these can be had for under $5 a bottle with careful shopping. If the Australian grape supply tightens up considerably, we can expect to see some of those deep discounts and big bargains go the way of extinct marsupials. And these ready-to-drink shiraz wines and other varietals aren’t really the kind of wine you want to put away for five or ten years.

The good news for cheap wine drinkers: the supply of Australian grapes still exceeds demand, so enjoy the high quality and low prices while they last!

Zinfandel Declared Historic in California

According to Senate OKs Zinfandel as historic wine, the varietal will become “historic” in California, reflecting its long history in the state.

“This bill designates the wine of Zinfandel to be a historic California wine. It doesn’t say it’s the historical California wine, although it is,” said the bill’s author Sen. Carole Migden, D-San Francisco.

This is apparently a step below designating Zinfandel as the official California wine. Some of the items on the official list include a state bird (the California quail), a state insect (California dog-face butterfly), state dance (West Coast swing) and a state grass (purple needlegrass).

Thinking Inside the Box for Value Wines

Charleston’s The Post and Courier recently ran a story, Think Inside the Box for Value Wines extolling the virtues of 1-liter boxes sold under the label, French Rabbit Wines.

Though I have made no secret of the fact that I am not a great fan of Merlots, the 2004 French Rabbit Merlot was my favorite of the line. With rich, chocolate-cherry aromas and flavors, it would marry well with just about anything from a midweek pizza to a burger. At 13 percent alcohol, it was not overly punchy, and that made it all the better as a good food, value wine.

The 2004 French Rabbit Chardonnay also was quite good. With sweet fruit and butterscotch aromas, this is about all the fruit this grape can show when it is not overly oaked. With a nice, acid finish, it would be a good match for anything from grilled chicken to a simple broiled fish fillet.

This article appeared only a few days after a similarly titled article in the San Francisco Chronicle. (Who can resist “think inside the box” as a headline? We’ll no doubt see many more.). Box wines haven’t been accepted in the US, perhaps due to the many, many years when the only boxes available were fairly awful wines from Franzia and similar brands. With continued reviews like this, though, we can hope that boxes will at least gain acceptance in the bargain wine category. Even today, many stores continue to carry only the pedestrian 5-liter wine boxes, and the superior 1-liter, 1.5 liter, and 3-liter boxes from better vintners are nowhere to be found. Keep the publicity coming…

Boxes Top Bargain Wine List

The San Francisco Chronicle’s W. Blake Gray just published a list of red wine bargains. Several boxed wines were among the top ten listed. Black Box Wines got the top nod:

Bowing to the market, I tasted 35 bargain-priced Merlots from eight countries recently; these were the best 10 wines.

My very favorite came in a box. The nonvintage (NV) Black Box Wines Sonoma County Merlot ($24 for 3 liters) is an outstanding wine for this price range; a true bargain superstar. While $24 may not seem cheap, consider that the box holds the equivalent of four standard 750 ml bottles. This wine is both fruit-forward and complex, with flavors and aromas of black and red berries, a floral note and a measured touch of oak. The fruit tastes more red than black on the medium-long finish. Plenty of $24 bottles of Merlot aren’t as good as this.

Gray’s article contains an interesting finding – for whatever reason, the boxed versions of the same wines may taste different than the bottled versions:

The 2004 Delicato Family Vineyards California Merlot ($7) in a bottle tastes of slightly sweet red fruit — strawberries and red currant. In contrast, the 2004 Delicato Family Vineyards California Merlot ($18 for 3-liter box) is much oakier and more tannic, with flavors of blackberry and wood and decent acidity

One wonders if there’s actually some difference due to the packaging, or whether the variation is just a sampling issue. It’s possible that if one purchased a different bottle or box that was packaged from a different batch that variations would be found as well.

Overall, box wine fans should be encouraged by these selections. While admittedly we’re dealing in the bargain sector, the fact that boxes acquitted themselves so well (and indeed, snagged the “favorite” spot) should create one more small step in box wines getting the respect they have overseas but still lack in the U.S.

NY Post: Box Wine No Joke

Lots of wine lovers have recognized that not all good wine comes in corked bottles, but the New York Post has jumped onto the bandwagon with No Glass: Wine in a Box is No Longer a Joke by writer Andrea Strong. The article comments,

While you gain the cachet of being on the cutting edge of a new trend, you won’t be sacrificing quality. These premium bag-in-a-box wines are made in the same way as bottled wines, but have the advantage of being kept in an air-free zone without the risk of being ruined by a faulty cork.

Sure, some of the romance is lost. But for easy-to-drink wines that you might sip at home, use for cooking or take to a party, you’ll save money (because the packaging is so inexpensive) and help the environment (glass bottles take much more energy to recycle than paper), and the wine will last longer (four to six weeks after opening, thanks to the vacuum-sealed bags.

The article spends some time talking about Three Thieves wines, and their introduction of 250-ml TetraPaks (think soy milk packaging). We’re not seeing those in our shops yet, but surely they can’t be far from arriving.

The article quotes various wine experts as saying box wines aren’t quite ready for delivery to the table in fine restaurants. For by the glass service, boxes are fine. Part of the fun of ordering a good wine in a restaurant, though, is the uncorking and presentation. One restaurant, though, DB Bistro, is decanting box wine into a carafe for table consumption.

Low Prices on Australian Wines

Strong harvests and wine production in Australia are leading to high export levels but lower prices, according to How to get hung over on down under prices.

The Australian Wine and Brandy Corporation report for the year to April shows wine export sales creeping up 0.4 per cent to $2.77 billion. Export volume jumped 8 per cent but this was offset by a 7 per cent fall in the average price to $3.89 a litre.

Notably, the volume of Australian wine shipped to the US grew 8 per cent to 202 million liters, but the value of these shipments fell 2 per cent to $887 million. Bad news for the wine producers, but great values for U.S. wine drinkers. At Box Wines affordability is important, and a near 10% drop in per liter price is good news.

Aussie Wine Exports to China up 350%

Developed nations seem to spend most of their time complaining about excessive imports from China, but Australian winemakers have good news. According to this article at Australia’s ABC News, wine exports to China surged 350% in 2005. That puts China in the top 10 export markets for Australian wine. The biggest three are the UK, the US, and China.

This may be good news for Australian trade officials, but clearly only the tinest part of the enormous Chinese market is being tapped right now. If a billion Chinese ever develop a taste for inexpensive Shiraz, the resulting scarcity could make the current oil crunch pale by comparison. Enjoy your Jip Jip Rocks, Little Boomey, and Boomaroo while you can…

Inc. Magazine Profiles Fred Franzia

Inc profiles Fred FranziaFred Franzia, chairman and CEO of Bronco Wine, and marketer of the ubiquitous boxed wine bearing his name, is profiled in the May, 2006 issue of Inc. Magazine. It’s not available online at this moment, but if you pick up a hardcopy you’ll find the article titled, “The Scourge of Napa Valley.”

Franzia is pictured as a bellicose but canny entrepreneur who thinks the only good wine is a cheap wine. His favorite claim is that no bottle of wine is worth more than $10. His firm originated the ultravalue wine concept by releasing Charles Shaw wines for $1.99 in California – the brand quickly became known as “Two Buck Chuck” wine.

Bronco Wine owns nearly three quarters as much vineyard acreage as all of Napa Valley combined. Their operations are major industry-scale in size. Their storage tanks EACH hold 700,000 gallons of wine, about 3.5 million bottles.

Franzia has had his share of legal problems, partly stemming from his belief that tightly controlled appellations like “Napa Valley” are bogus. He’s had problems with substituting cheaper grapes for more costly ones, and has sought to use appellation labels on other wines by using the grandfathered status of a brand.

Still, Franzia soldiers on, committed to producing more wine at highly affordable prices. His newest plan is a brand called Napa River, designed to sell for under $5 while still using real Napa grapes.

Wine lovers should definitely read this story, either in the print copy or on the Inc. site after May 23, 2006. Love him or hate him, Fred Franzia is a major player in the US wine industry.

Arizona Wine War Continues

Small Arizona wineries will suffer if they lose the right to ship directly to consumers and businesses, according to Ariz. wine focus of political fight in The Arizona Republic. Currently, a law is close to approval which would require all wine to be sold through wholesalers. Small wineries have historically shipped directly to stores and restaurants, and would like to be able to sell small quantites over the Internet directly to consumers. Various compromises have been proposed, but how the dispute will turn out is still unclear.

At Box Wines, we’re in favor of anything that lets consumers purchase the wines they want as easily as possible. Historically, many state legislatures have given into the wishes of campaign-contributing distributors who want their franchise protected. Restrictive wine purchasing eventually means that some wines will simply be difficult or impossible for the consumer to acquire. The usual excuse raised is “protection of minors” – clearly a smokscreen. Can you imagine a 14-year old wannabe drinker showing up at a party with a nice 2003 Pinot Noir? Ludicrous…

Free Wine Tastings Disappearing

According to an upcoming report on MarketWatch TV, free wine tastings are going the way of the dinosaur:

From Napa to New York, more wine lovers looking for a “full-bodied experience” can expect to pay for tastings and tours. MarketWatch’s Stacey Delo caught up with Wall Street Journal wine experts Dorothy Gaiter and John Brecher to find out why free tastings have gone the way of the free lunch — out the door.

If this proves to be the case, that’s too bad. While I can understand that some particularly important or interesting vineyards may be able to do this, free tours and sampling are a major promotion technique for smaller vineyards. Most of the time when I’ve done a tour, just about everybody in attendance has purchased at least a bottle or two, and occasionally much more. I’m sure some of these buys are “courtesy purchases”, a sort of immediate payback for the tour or tasting – an admission or tasting charge will remove any shred of guilt that might lead to a purchase. Reduced traffic could be an important overall issue – I’m sure some of those who tour become regular purchasers, and getting rid of free tours or tasting will certainly have an effect on traffic.