Malbec Crushing Other Grapes

The hottest varietal in the U.S. wine market is Malbec, grown in Argentina and known for making red wines that are modest in cost and approachable in flavor.

According to recent data from The Nielsen Company, Argentine wines saw a 59.6 percent growth in dollar volume percent change on the U.S. market—by far the largest experienced by any foreign wine-producing country on our market that Nielsen tracks—in the last year ending December 12, 2009. Chile saw an increase of 6.8 percent and Spain, 3.3 percent, in the same period. For two of Argentina’s biggest competitors on the import side, these low, single-digit growth rates pale in comparison. Malbec was also up 55.7 percent in dollar volume percent change over the 13 weeks ending December 12, 2009 and 42.8 in a four-week period ending the same date, according to The Nielsen Company. [From Feisty Malbec.]

Here are a few Malbecs we’ve reported on.

Twitter Wine?

Has Twitter jumped the shark before it has earned a penny of revenue? It seems the social network has diversified into the wine biz, albeit for charitable purposes. The new venture, Fledgling Wine, is chronicled by Maya Baratz, SFoodie blogger, in Twitter is Launching Its Own ‘Fledgling’ Wine Label.

Dogpatch-based Crushpad — a place that allows amateur vinophiles to make and sell their own wine, brand and label included — has more than a little in common with Silicon Valley. The business philosophy behind both calls for investing in the product and customer experience, with revenue naturally following.

The new venture is introducing a Pinot Noir and a Chardonnay. They are also doing some crowdsourcing:

Not only can you buy the wine, you can pitch in a string of related events, ranging from what Dorrance said will be Crushpad’s biggest “virtual” barrel tasting to a possible label design contest.

Odd, but interesting. And, it’s all for a good cause. Buy some here.

No Two Pound Chuck for UK?

Very inexpensive wines could be taxed out of existence in the UK, if proposed changes to alcohol taxation are implemented. Chief Medical Officer Liam Donaldson wants to cut down on binge drinking in the UK, which he feels has reached epidemic proportions.

His report said the new pricing strategy would set a minimum price of 4.50 pounds ($6.30) for a bottle of wine; a minimum of 14 pounds ($19.70) for a bottle of whiskey, and a base price of 6 pounds ($8.50) for a six-pack of beer. From Cheap booze blamed for British binge drinking

While no doubt there is some price elasticity for alcohol consumption, to me it seems unlikely that a nation’s drinking habits would be changed dramatically even by these Draconian changes. Instead, I’d expect other spending areas to be curtailed and the politicians who supported this concept to be voted from office at the electorate’s earliest opportunity.

In the US, $3 wines are common, if not extremely good, and sometimes prices can be in the $2 – $2.50 range for brands like Charles Shaw and Oak Leaf. As in the US, Chardonnay and Cabernet Sauvignon are rarely the alcohol of choice for binge drinkers, but wine lovers will pay the price.

Illinois Wine Consumers Fight Alcohol Lobby, Bad Laws

I write from Indiana, which has laws which severely restrict direct shipping of wine. How do these laws get passed? It’s simple – distributors of alcoholic beverages have a vested interest in being the only way for wineries to get to consumers, and they contribute heavily to the politicians that pass such laws. Now, our neighbors in Illinois are picking up the gauntlet and organizing to pressure politicians to act in the interest of the consumer. They have formed the Illinois Wine Consumer Coalition (IWCC). From their press release:

Illinois wine consumers were stripped of their right to purchase wine from out-of-state wine retailers in 2008. The passage of HB 429 removed this right after Illinoisans had enjoyed full access to the American wine market for 15 years. The fact that consumers were never taken into account during deliberations over HB 429 helped give impetus to the creation of the IWCC…

“The recent restrictions on consumer access to wine in Illinois that resulted from HB 429 were clearly nothing more than payoff to the well-heeled Illinois alcohol distributors, the only group that benefits from restricting access to wine,” said XXXX. “In the past five years Illinois alcohol distributors have given more than $3.5 million dollars in political contributions in the past five years to help grease the wheel’s of anti-consumer wine legislation.”

I’m excited to see consumers organizing in this way, and I hope they can make some headway against the special interests that craft these bad laws. All too often, one hears the logic that, “minors will buy wine illegally if wineries can direct ship to consumers.” Do we really think teens will order up a $30 Pinot Noir so they can get high?

Visit the IWCC website and offer your support!

Wine Labels Make Gift Giving Fun

Need to take a bottle of wine to a party and want to stand out from the rest of the bottles the host gets? Well, you could show up with a nicely aged bottle of Opus One, which should only set you back a few hundred bucks… or, you could grab a bottle something way more pedestrian and slap a $3.95 Cerebral Itch wine label on the bottle.

These labels will cover most original labels entirely, and their humorous designs will demonstrate that you are a guest with a wit. An added bonus is that the labels have a space to write who the bottle is from. As an occasional party-giver, I often find a bottle brought by a guest that was delivered with no card or got separated from its wine-bag. The Cerebral Itch wine labels will ensure that you get full credit for your hostess gift. Of course, if you used the label to cover up a bottle of Two Buck Chuck, letting the hosts know who brought it may not be at the top of your priority list.

Cerebral Itch offers dozens of designs to celebrate occasions ranging from birthdays to divorces. The labels can be removed without damaging the original label.

Boxed Wine Cameo on Lost

I’m catching up with Lost – Season 4 and DVD, and was surprised to find a wine box make a guest appearance. The Sawyer character (James Ford) pours a glass from what looks like a 5-liter box of Dharma Initiative Red Wine.

It’s a bit anachronistic – while all of the Dharma project imagery dates from some 1960-ish time period, the wine shown is a modern box with an even more contemporary push-button spigot. Still, it’s kind of fun to see box wines portrayed in a semi-positive way (the only wine available!) on a popular TV show. No details, though, on whether the generic-looking red wine is a merlot, a cabernet sauvignon, a so-called “hearty burgundy,” or perhaps a Dharma meritage… 🙂

Italy To Allow Boxed Wines

The New York Times quotes Bloomberg News in Italy Joins the Boxed Wine Rebellion by Mike Nizza:

Italy’s Agriculture Ministry said that some fine Italian wines that receive government quality guarantees will be allowed to be sold in boxes.

I find this encouraging, if a bit odd. When I was last in Italy, there seemed to be no regulation against some wine shops dispensing directly from a large stainless steel tank into a recycled 1.5 liter water bottle (or, presumably, any other container provided by the customer). That’s hardly ideal storage and preservation technology. Why the Italian government would worry about the well-proven performance of today’s boxed wine packaging isn’t clear.

In any case, this is one more indicator that box wines are moving upscale and becoming better accepted.

Killer Marketing: How to Sell Boxed Wine

Killer Juice Cabernet SauvignonWe tasted Killer Juice Cabernet Sauvignon 2006 and liked the wine. We were also impressed by Killer Juice’s use of the packaging to enhance the shelf appeal of the wine.

In a typical supermarket or wine shop, the customer is presented with a staggering array of wines. Boxed wines in particular may be a challenge, since many consumers associate the concept with ultra-cheap product from brands like Franzia. Killer Juice does several things to stand out beyond the wine’s attractive black packaging.

Killer Juice Gold MedalTheir first step is far from unique – they put a big gold emblem on the box to promote the Cab’s winning a gold medal at the 2007 Critics Challenge International Wine Competition. Other wineries do that, but most don’t. Particularly for a boxed wine, a prestigious-looking award is a vote of confidence that could turn an uncertain wine shopper into a buyer.

Killer Juice Gold MedalThe second thing Killer Juice does is even more clever. Many wine shoppers may have difficulty assessing the value of a box of wine. For one, boxes are deceptively compact – a three-liter box doesn’t look like it holds the same amount of wine as four 750ml bottles, even though it does. Many box wine makers print the equivalent number of bottles, or even use little bottle pictures to illustrate the capacity of the box. Killer Juice goes a step farther, and prints “Contains 4 Bottles of Killer $10 Wine” on three sides of the box.

This message communicates more than quantity. It says something about quality to the consumer – a $10 bottle value suggests wine that is better than plonk, and might actually be pretty good. In one fell swoop, Killer Juice establishes an equivalent bottle value, and highlights the big savings their package offers.

Will these small enhancements make Killer Juice boxed red wines fly off the shelves? Probably not. But they will help, and as the glassy-eyed wine buyers stares at the shelf laden with boxwines, they could tip the balance.