|I got the $3-a-bottle Tempranillo blues|
The big news from Unified was the first downbeat forecast for the California wine industry in several years. I also reported on a technical seminar on how to lower alcohol in wine, which was interesting because it wasn't a bunch of critics whining; it was a group of vignerons trying to reach a market they acknowledge exists.
As a story, the "flying winemaker" seminar was all over the globe. Consultant Nick Goldschmidt told us Syrah is in decline worldwide, not the market but the vine itself, as it faces some mysterious malady. He said the 3-tier system in the U.S. is actually protecting U.S. consumers from the huge discounting that he says "is destroying the UK market." He thinks the future of viticulture, because of climate change, is in Canada and southern Chile. And while we're now talking about different metals in wine, Goldschmidt said in January that China has rejected more than 300 wines for import for being too high in iron.
Kerry Damskey told us about making wine in India: some interesting technical stuff, such as yeast conversion rates aren't as high, so that grapes picked at 25 brix only yield 13% alcohol.
But the story I skipped over, because it made my skin crawl, was from Matthew Parish, a New Zealand native who worked at Constellation, was director of winemaking at Treasury Wine Estates, and now works at Naked Wines.
My timing is good for this post: Naked Wines was sold today for $100 millon. So clearly Parish knows what he's doing.
That said, one of the first things I have written in my notebook about his presentation is, "This is horrible.
"He's advocating just copying popular brands."
Because I am, at heart, despite my pragmatic exterior, an Eric Asimov-like romantic. But news is news, and better late than never.
Naked Wines has more than 250,000 customers and brings in $10 million a month. They are not Asimov-like romantics.
"Hard data is what we work with at Naked Wines," Parish said. "We know precisely what our customers want. We aspire to do what Netflix has done in viewing content, in wine."
Did you know "House of Cards" was created by metrics? Parish said Netflix researched the types of shows people watched and was able to do a market test with the BBC version before spending the money to produce the show.
Naked Wines uses two key metrics that it gets from its customers: a Buy It Again rating, and a Quality/Price ratio. The company sorts the numbers, figures out what kinds of wines do well in those metrics, and makes them. They give the people what they want. I'm not sure why that made my skin crawl; it's what Fox News does. Oh yeah, never mind.
So here's the news: the top-selling Naked Wines in the UK: Malbec, Tempranillo, Merlot, Syrah. But in the US, it's Tempranillo, Malbec, Cabernet Sauvignon, Pinot Noir and Zinfandel.
"In Australia they only drink Shiraz and Sauvignon Blanc," Parish said, which is a damn shame considering how good Australian Cabernet, Semillon and Grenache is, but fits with what Australian somms have told me.
Good for South Africa: Parish said South African wines do overall best in BIA and Q/P. If only South African wineries can extend that consumer love to the wider market.
OK, deep breath. Here goes.
"Naked Wines customers like 'rich and smooth reds'," Parish said. "We can use our data like Netflix does to re-engineer the next big thing. If I was going to do this for California, it would be a Tempranillo, we'd try to buy it for $3 a bottle, sell it for $10, and it would be rich and smooth."
Eric Asimov will weep if he reads that. I imagine myself trying to summon Eric's spirit to that room in Sacramento, and him struggling, trying to get away, like a toddler who doesn't want to be kissed by her gross uncle.
But that's the wine biz. I've never had a good California Tempranillo in my life*, and yet cheap -- $3 a bottle production cost? -- manipulated California Tempranillo is the next big thing.
(* I've only tried about 150, and if you make a good one, I probably haven't tried it, but PLEASE don't send it to me. I'm not worthy.)
Naked Wines is not some collection of artistes trying to make soulful wines from the best combination of climate, soil and variety. Why would they?
Naked Wines sold for $100 million because it was good at knowing and delivering what customers want. See you later, I've got to go sing the blues.