Thursday, April 30, 2009

Choosing Wine & Sales

Brad Post:

After reading my brothers remarks on restaurant patron wine purchase choices I began to do some research to see how people go about selecting a wine and reviewed current sales trends. The source of my material comes from Wine Business Monthly (April & May issues).

Wine sales over the past year (and the past 13 weeks - ending 2/7/09), according to the Nielson Company, and reported by Rachel Nichols (WBM, p. 71, May, 2009) indicates overall wine sales are up by 5 percent.

Any guesses to the top selling varietals? The dollar volume for the past 52 weeks follow: #1 Chardonnay - $1.7 billion, #2 Cab Sauv. - $1.18 billion, #3 Merlot - $898 million, #4 Pinot Grigio/Gris - $649 million.

The fastest growing segment over the past year are: #1 Pinot Noir (13.2%), #2 Fume/Sauvignon Blanc (10.4%), and #3 Pinot Grigio/Gris (9.7%). It is interesting to note, despite such a large market share, that Chardonnay and Cabernet Sauvignon are still making headway reporting moderate growth over the same period: 4.1% and 7.7% respectively.

That is a lot of wine being purchased - Billions of dollars! So, how do winemakers go about marketing their product so it moves? What do potential customers key-in on before they buy that one bottle (or case)? Using experimental research, Larry Lockshin, professor of Wine Marketing at the University of South Australia (WBM, p. 64-67, Apr. 2009), reported two studies. The first being critical of traditional market research methodologies, which simply asks customers to pick their favorite attributes of a wine (e.g., bottle design, label, etc.), and in this study he created a simulation and manipulated the label colors and styles. He found label style and colors were predictive of purchase behavior - but varied by respondents.

Study 2. In this study, he experimental manipulated several independent variables (e.g., bottle size, label design, color, price, ratings, awards, alcohol level, and closure type) to understand their effect on the dependent variable: choice. Biggest purchase predictors? 1) ratings (0-5 stars), 2) brand, 3) price, 4) medals and trophies, 5) price discounts, 6) alcohol level, 7) region, and 8) closure type. For online purchases price seems to be even more important!

Take home message to us: get Robert Parker to highly evaluate our wines, build a strong brand image, and price it right!

Happy tastings!

Sunday, April 19, 2009

Taste and Cover!

Brad Post:

Each week I make sure to give my wine a Carbon Dioxide - CO2 cover (i.e., dry ice) in order to displace any Oxygen that may have found its way into my containers of clearing wine. Until recently I was under the impression, like many winemakers, that SO2 (sulfur dioxide, aka: sulfur or sulfites) protected wine from oxidation - it is useful at crush for that purpose but less so afterward. When air (oxygen) invades the ullage or headspace of a barrel, tank, carboy it interacts with wine constituents to make a good wine go bad. Perhaps, you've had a wine that was supposed to be fruity, white, and delicious, but instead you found something different - carmel tasting, nutty, and browning -- these are the very noticeable effects of oxidation. Good for Sherry...bad for a nice Seyval!

Yesterday, with CO2 in one hand (not literally, it's very cold) and a wine thief and glass in the other, I ventured down to the cellar to Taste and Cover. While Jill waited comfortably upstairs I went down to steal samples, slurped a little, and laid down a nice billowy cloud of dry ice on the wine; then, back upstairs to see if she could identify and evaluate the wine quality. Here is what we determined:

1. Marechal Foch (Press-Fraction) - We hadn't tasted this one for a very long time so when I took the first sip I was surprised. It lacked the traditional Fochiness (read: vegetative, herbaceous, heavy earthy quality) and was medium bodied, moderately oaky (American), and nicely fruity. BIG SURPRISE - it was good!

2. Malbec (Chilean) - A year ago our wine club purchased grapes from Chile and has been aging in the cellar ever since. This has been a particular rascal to work with and I attribute much of this to the product we had to begin with. Nonetheless, the Malbec is giving us a nice dark, fruity, lightly oaked wine to enjoy. On the downside, we still need to remove some of the dissolved carbon dioxide from solution (e.g., it needs to have a good burp!).

3. Zinfandel (California) - Last Fall while working at the nearby Fireside Winery they offered me several bucket fulls of fresh-crushed Zinfandel they purchased from California -- I happily accepted and fermented it to its current lovely state. Deliciously drinkable with hints of hippies and patchouli oil! Very drinkable!

4. Chambourcin - These grapes came from Baxter Vineyards in Nauvoo, IL last Fall. Beautiful hued purple/black wine with light notes of oak. Might have a slight fault as we think we might be detecting volatile acidity. Still good though.

5. Wild Grape - Picked these last Fall and didn't start it until late Winter - it's cold stabilizing right now. The early acidity was pretty high but after a few weeks of chilling it is really tasting pretty good. The wine has interesting earthy quality reminiscent of wild grapes -- Go Figure!

6. Frontenac Gris - This wine is a bit uninteresting. Seems to be lacking something: a personality perhaps and we're currently considering a short contact with some French oak to help it find its way.

7. Traminette - True to its Gewurztraminer heritage, this Traminette is floral, fragrant and spicy! This is one of our favorites this year! Can't wait to put this into a bottle and horde it! Delicious. Delicious. Delicious.

Moving on...In preparation to the establishment of our winery (the formal commercial one) we anticipate hosting a Wine Fest to dispense of our wines to friends, families, and wine lovers sometime in July. Stay tuned!

Peace and Happy Tastings!

Sunday, April 12, 2009

Wine Recession

I can say with absolute certainty that the recession has hit the restaurant business - or at least the one restaurant with which I am involved.

We are still selling wine, but our bottle sales was down in March by nearly 25% as compared with 2008. Additionally, the average price per bottle sold has decreased from $38 to $30.

I spoke with one of our wine reps on Friday and he said that he is seeing a lot of "trading down". That is where people who continue to buy, are buying lower priced or differently marketed products. He said that he'd noted that the premium French wines had taken a huge hit while the lower priced wine was doing a better job of holding its market share.

One trend that I have noticed is that unpretentious wines are doing better in the down market. One of our wines is "Boots" by Trevor Jones: an light Australian white. The label features a pair of rubber boots that you might expect laborers to wear in the vineyard. We are selling out of this stuff. I suspect that the combination of its low price and common feel make it a winner in this economy. I don't pretend to understand the psychology of wine drinkers, but this much I see first hand:

1. Expensive French wines are gathering dust.
2. Inexpensive wines with unpretentious labels are doing very well

Wednesday, April 1, 2009

&$@!! Wine Snobs

Brad Post:

Few things drive me more crazy than wine snobs! The pedantic, pretentious, pontificating, bloviating, snitty-snooting-snobs of the self-ascribed wine aficionado sect.

Perhaps well-meaning but rarely well-mannered in their fervent attempt to illuminate us mere mortals to their uppity, Emily Post styled ways of wine. It doesn't take too many force-fed wine education sessions to realize why there are so many beer drinkers in the world. If my alcohol consuming brethren experience the same sort of wine-snobbery, then perhaps I ought to join them in a neighborhood pub - where I can hold my glass of brew any way I please.

Sure I get it...that in the other-worldly, world of wine appreciation that holding glass by the stem, positioning it up to the light and appreciating the golden glow of the lightly oaked Chardonnay is a sight to behold. But seriously, c'mon...we're just trying to enjoy a glass of wine without a whole lot of pomp and/or circumstance sometimes. The fact is, unless we ask you for advice on how to critically examine a wine, how to best hold a glass of wine while sipping, or frankly anything advise-like, you might want to reconsider and simply let us enjoy our wine.

Enthusiasm to share your passion for wine is admirable! Enjoy your wine, learn all you can, become the most highly educated wine consumer out there, and then, unless we ask you, please keep it to yourself.

Ahhhh. I feel better already!

(Special thanks to Jim Carey for my beginning paragraph rant).

Happy Tastings!