Tuesday, January 31, 2017

Now it can be told: Device I skewered for home use turns out to have different market

The face of the Plum
In October I wrote a story for Wine Searcher headlined, "Unnecessary Wine Appliance Seduces Media" about a seemingly silly $1500 device called the Plum that would serve you individual glasses of wine from two bottles. It's a snarky takedown that I thought the device richly deserved, even though Forbes and the Robb Report had gushed about it for home use.

David Koretz, president of the company that makes the Plum, asked to meet me in person after reading the story and complaining about it in the comments. I'm an old-school journalist at heart who believes you should stand behind your work, but I insisted on meeting in a public place and telling friends where I was going. I was not planning to offer to make any changes to the story, so I expected to be harangued for a while and eventually to say, "I've got an appointment" and back away.

Instead, we spoke for 90 minutes, but the conversation was embargoed until this morning, when Plum finally released its real business plan.

It turns out that the Plum's primary market was never home users. Instead, it's designed for high-end guests in hotels, and for that, it makes sense.

Monday, January 23, 2017

Those wacky French! "You can't make pink bubbly because WE make pink bubbly."

Imagine if Napa Valley Vintners told Sonoma County Vintners, "You can't make Cabernet because we make Cabernet."

That's what's going on in a feud between two obscure French wine regions, Bugey and Die. A fine story by Wink Lorch in Wine Searcher last week explained the feud. Let me summarize it for you from an American perspective.

Cerdon is a small area within the Bugey region where vintners make pink Méthode Ancestrale sparkling wine -- bubbly made without added sugar, by stopping fermentation before bottling and allowing it to continue fermenting in the bottle. The main grape is Gamay, the grape of Beaujolais.

Die is a slightly larger region that makes white Méthode Ancestrale sparkling wine mainly from Muscat. But growers there have Gamay, so they want to make pink Méthode Ancestrale bubbly. They would call it Clairette de Die rosé, so it's not like anyone would believe it comes from Cerdon, which calls its pink bubbly Bugey-Cerdon.

Seems harmless, and the French government gave the Die growers the go-ahead. However, the Cerdon growers filed an appeal. They're upset. Their logic is exactly as I stated in the first paragraph: "You can't make pink Méthode Ancestrale bubbly because we make pink Méthode Ancestrale bubbly. We were here first!"

Cerdon takes this position even though sparkling wine made in Die was described by Pliny the Elder. Seriously!

Wednesday, January 18, 2017

Sustainable wine: Women make it, people might pay more for it, and Sonoma County is trying to own it

Two significant research-based stories about sustainable wine dropped in the past week.

In the first, an Australian economist released a working paper stating that women in technical leadership roles -- i.e., winemaker or director of viticulture -- are more likely to make wine that is certified in some way as environmentally sustainable.

In the second, a survey by Sonoma County Winegrowers claimed that consumers will pay more for wines certified as sustainable, possibly $5 a bottle more.

There's a huge difference between the studies, though, in the definition of "sustainable."

Sonoma County is using the California Sustainable Winegrowing Alliance definition of "sustainable," which is toothless. Don't misunderstand: there are plenty of Sonoma County growers who are committed to protecting the environment. It's just that the CSWA's "sustainable" designation doesn't do that.

For the Australian study, let me quote author Jeremy Galbreath from the Curtin University of Technology in Perth:

Monday, January 16, 2017

Is Korbel the best sparkling wine in America?

A Korbel Brut bubbly won the sparkling wine sweepstakes at the San Francisco Chronicle Wine Competition last week. A different Korbel Brut bubbly won the same award last year. The competition is the largest in the world for only American wines, with more than 6000 entries this year.

So does this make Korbel, some of which can be found for under $10, the best sparkling wine in America?

At this point you are expecting me to invoke Betteridge's Law of Headlines, which states that any headline that ends in a ? can be answered "No." But I'm not gonna, not right away anyhow.

Big wine competitions sometimes come up with exciting results for cheap wines -- and cheap wine drinkers. The ultimate was in 2007, when Charles Shaw was named the best Chardonnay in California at the California State Fair. But examples abound.

I was part of a jury once where the majority picked a nondescript $10 Italian red blend as best in show -- the best wine in the whole competition -- over a tête de cuvée Champagne and a terrific Chianti Classico. You can tell from my language that I didn't concur. The argument that the red blend's proponents made was that it was perfectly balanced and easy to drink, which should be the goal of all $10 red blends, though we didn't know the price. The Chianti Classico and Champagne split the "we want more than that" vote and the red blend won.

Thursday, January 12, 2017

Is some French wine really from Spain?

France has the third-most acres of vineyards in the world, according to the United Nations, behind Spain, which has a whopping 25% more vineyard acreage than France, and China.

But France and Italy produce more wine than any other countries; they swap the No. 1 spot back and forth, depending on vintage. Despite having many more vines, Spain produces much less wine than France "produces," according to the official stats -- anywhere from 25 to 50% less, depending on the vintage.

The astute reader will have noted the use of quotes in the previous paragraph around a single word that is not actually a quotation. Here's why.

Tuesday, January 10, 2017

An open letter to Twitter re: harassment and bullying

Dear Twitter:

You have a harassment problem. Like an alcoholic, your biggest problem is that you won't acknowledge you have a problem. Once in a while you make a high-profile decision to ban someone, but this is so rare that it's news when it happens*, while ordinary Twitterers are being harassed every day.

But you work at Twitter, so you're going to stop reading now unless I get to the point.

There is your solution in less than 140 characters. Now, an deeper explanation.

I am a First Amendment supporter and believe that free speech is important for democracy. I would not like to see Twitter suppress hate speech. If racists and misogynists want to send out horrifyingly rude tweets every 15 minutes, that's OK.

BUT, and this is a big BUT ... Twitter shouldn't force people to read personally insulting tweets, which is how Twitter works now.

Wednesday, January 4, 2017

3 great, affordable, winter white wines from the Rhone

White Rhône wines exist outside our expectations. There are no Rhône white grapes on the list of top-selling wine varietals. The only one most people have heard of -- Viognier -- is barely grown outside of Condrieu, which makes wines too expensive for most people to try.

One of my greatest wine regrets is that I once ate dinner alone in Condrieu but was too cheap to drink Condrieu because the only bottles on the list were over 200 Euros. I had white Saint-Joseph instead, and was too shy to ask what grapes were in it.

French people don't understand why this is a problem. But Americans relate to wine through grapes, not regions. A New York Times article about Saint-Joseph, a Rhône appellation, opens by saying people confuse the region with Bordeaux or expect its wines to be sparkling, and this article is not from America's wine-ignorant era: it's from 2013.

French white grapes have conquered the world. Every major wine country grows Chardonnay and Sauvignon Blanc and Pinot Gris. But while the Rhône red grape Syrah is also ubiquitous, Rhône white grapes are minor everywhere, and thus there's still some mystery about wines from one of the best-known wine regions in the world.