VINE CUTTINGS April 2001

News and Notes from the World of Wine.



Published:

Let the Good Times Roll

Study of California wine industry points to a healthy future.
A new study of the California wine industry says that these are the best times, economically speaking, in its history, and suggests that the good times will roll for at least another 15 years. The Wine Trends study was conducted by the St. Helena wine-consulting firm, Motto Kryla Fisher, LLP.

A statistics junkie's dream, crammed with data, the study is based on information provided by the state's major wineries. Researchers queried California's 847 wineries, and received responses from about 25 percent. Those who responded to the survey represent more than half of the volume of wine sold in the United States.

The study examined wine sales over the past 10 years and predicts future consuming patterns. Among its findings:

· Sales of California wine grew at a 12 percent compound annual rate in the 1990s, far outpacing the red-hot U.S. economy.

· The fastest-growing segment of California wine sales is the high end, defined as wines that cost more than $15 a bottle.

· The hottest wines today are Cabernet Sauvignon and Merlot in the $20-$50 range, Pinot Noir in the $20-$30 range, and Sauvignon Blanc in the $10-$15 range. Syrah also is coming on strong, while Sangiovese is something of a bust.

· Annual per-capita spending by consumers on wine has risen dramatically since 1990, from $30 to $72.

· Factors that have fueled the unprecedented growth in wine sales are better wines and the perception that wine is good for health, but the biggest factor by far is the aging of the Baby Boomers. The older people get, the more likely they are to drink wine. And the older they get, the more affluent they become, making them better able to buy premium wine. Nearly half of all wine consumers in the U.S. are Baby Boomers.

The study suggests that even if the U.S. economy falters, wine sales should remain very strong. The general outlook for the future of California wine is "bullish." The full study is available for purchase from MKF. For details, call 707/963-9222 or visit the firm's website at www.mkf.com.

—Steve Heimoff

Fraud Scandal Hits Burgundy
Four Burgundy producers and a local bottler are under investigation for fraud in a scam that could involve over a million bottles. Wines from the south of France were allegedly blended with local Pinot Noir and Chardonnay and relabeled with some of the most prestigious appellation names in the Burgundy region, including Vosne-Romanée and Meursault.

The scandal involves four négociants—Maison Philbert, Manoir de la Bressandiëre, André Guichot and Léglise et Fils. The bottler, Societé Bourguignonne d'Embouteillage, is associated with the investigation although the company is responsible as bottlers and not as producers. It is unlikely that any of the wines have reached the United States, although they have been exported to other European countries, including Belgium and Germany.

This is the latest in a continuing series of scandals that have rocked Burgundy. A report submitted to the French Ministry of Finance says that Burgundy is second only to Champagne for incidents of fraud. In some cases the amount of wine on the market exceeds the amount an appellation can produce.

The Burgundy wine authorities, alarmed by the damage to the region's reputation, have, in a rare move, filed a civil suit in addition to the the criminal investigation. Louis Trébuchet, president of the Bureau Interprofessionel des Vins de Bourgogne, has condemned the fraud: "It's an abuse of consumer confidence and reflects on all the honest producers in Burgundy. We expect the authorities to throw all possible light on the affair."

—R.V.

 
CLASSIC CORKSCREWS ON THE BLOCK
A collection of vintage corkscrews—the lifetime collection of a London-based enthusiast—was auctioned in December at Sotheby's South in West Sussex, England. The corkscrews fetched bids ranging from £50 to £3000 each.

A collection of vintage corkscrews—the lifetime collection of a London-based enthusiast—was auctioned in December at Sotheby's South in West Sussex, England. The corkscrews fetched bids ranging from £50 to £3000 each.

What motivates a person to collect corkscrews? "I became intrigued by the sheer variety on offer," said the collector, who wished to remain anonymous. "It was amazing that so much effort could be put into producing so many different ways of simply uncorking a bottle … There must have been a perception in the makers of corkscrews that theirs would be better, in practical terms."

The first corkscrew dates from the end of the 18th century; those early models are considered works of art. The first corkscrew patent was issued in 1795. By the mid-19th century and the dawn of the Industrial Revolution, corkscrews were being mass-produced. With manufacturers competing with one another for patents, some contrived amazingly complex mechanisms. By the beginning of the 20th century, more than 300 corkscrew patents had been registered.

As far as practicality, the collector cited the modern Screwpull as the ultimate achievement in corkscrew design. But he was happy to list some of his favorites— from the standpoint of kitschy aesthetics—from the collection: Among several from the 19th century, he cited the American Horace Bridgewater combination Prohibition corkscrew, which is in the form of a corpse in its coffin, an English-patented 1864 Charles Royal Club single-lever roller type corkscrew, and a German corkscrew of the late 19th century in the form of stockinged female legs.

The collector recalled getting into a bidding war with a rival for a rare corkscrew, and winding up paying £300 for it. "My opponent was clearly equally fanatical, if not equally stupid," he said. "Being a true collector can be an obsessive business."

—Tim Moriarty

 

Fonseca Loses Premium Port
in devastating Landslide

Rains Pummel Slopes Above Warehouses
A devastating landslide on the slopes above the Port lodges of Vila Nova de Gaia, Portugal, has severely damaged two warehouses belonging to Fonseca Port, and destroyed the equivalent of 600,000 bottles of premium Port that was aging in barrels.

The landslide was triggered by the continual rain that has deluged Portugal's Atlantic coast since mid-October. According to Port producers, it had rained virtually every day for more than two months when the landslide struck on January 3. It was the rain rather than any structural defect that caused a retaining wall to collapse, releasing tons of mud onto the walls of the warehouses below.

The mud cascaded on to 1,450 casks of Port, breaking open at least 1,000 of them and sending the wine through a narrow tunnel into the Fonseca offices. No one was injured, since the landslide happened after business hours.

The loss, which represented 3 percent of the Taylor Fonseca group's Port stocks, was made worse because it represented some of the top Fonseca Ports. The most important was the loss of the 1999 Fonseca vintage Port. According to Fonseca's managing director, Adrian Bridge, stocks of this wine may not be sufficient to meet demand when it is released in September this year. Other wines lost included stocks of Fonseca Bin 27, LBV, and 10-year-old and 20-year-old Tawny.

The steep hillside of Vila Nova de Gaia is packed tight with Port warehouses, as it has been for centuries. The Fonseca lodge, for example, is right next to the main W & J Graham lodge. However, Paul Symington, of Graham's Port, said there was no damage to the Graham's lodge.

—Roger Voss

The British Are Coming
Any day now, wines from England (yes, England) may turn up in your local wine shop
Connoisseurs have long hailed England for its dry gins and heady ales, but British wines have been another story. Still, if you're in Rhode Island any time soon, feel free to give them a shot. Four new white wines from Kent are now selling in the nation's smallest state, with the importer, English Wine Imports, hoping to expand into (appropriately enough) New England and beyond.

As some of the very first English wines to give it a go in the United States, Chiddingstone's Seyval Kerner and Chapel Downs' Bacchus, Downland Oak and Heron Valley (the last two are blends) will surely encounter an uphill battle proving themselves to be more than a novelty. But then again, maybe not. After all, there is wine in England—about 400 wineries all counted—with most of them located in the Kent countryside south and east of London. Unbe- knownst to most people with an interest in wine, the fruit of the vine is the basis of a legitimate industry in Kent, with proprietors tending to their vineyards just like they do in France or Germany. But in chilly England, the only grapes that can be made into commercially palatable wines are variations of Seyval, Müller-Thurgau and other less-than-noble varieties like Bacchus. At the end of the day, these grapes of mixed ancestry cannot compete with Chardonnay, Riesling or Pinot Grigio.

One thing they have going for them is that they are 100 percent British, which is what Steve Celico, a partner in the group that imports and distributes the wines, is banking on. "We know these are simplistic whites," he says. (And they are.) "But they are dry, clean, well-made wines. We believe there's a market for them in the U.S. Chapel Down is a good winery that already makes a proprietary blend for British Airways."

Exactly where the wines might sell after Rhode Islanders get their fill of $12-$14 blends of Schoenburger and Reichensteiner (Heron Valley) remains to be seen, but Celico is hopeful that with a push from the British government, the rudimentary packaging can be improved, thus raising the image of the wines. "We are working with the Kent Business Link, a local/state development agency, to try to get them to match money put into label development. We're also talking to Food From Britain about support. Admittedly, now the labels aren't the best."

And the wines? We say fine with Chinese food and seafood paella, but curb your expectations. Absolutely fabulous, they're not.

—Michael Schachner

UNCORKINGS
Industry News
Constellation Brands' Canandaigua Wine Company has agreed to purchase the assets of Sebastiani Vineyards' Turner Road Vintners and Humphrey & Brown International Wine Marketers divisions for approximately $295 million. The sale leaves Sebastiani free to concentrate on its ultrapremium lineup, while adding popular brands Farallon, Nathanson Creek, Talus and Vendage (among others) to Canandaigua's portfolio. Jon Moramarco, Canandaigua's president, said his company "now has 20 of the 100 brands in the United States." According to Moramarco, the highlights of the acquisition are Farallon, "the newest and fastest growing brand," Talus, which he says is "growing an average of 20 percent per year," and Vendage, "number three in the fighting varietal category."

Bonterra Vineyards recently purchased a 378-acre property in Hopland (Mendocino County) known as the McNab Ranch. More than 100 acres of the ranch are already planted to winegrapes and additional plantings are planned. The ranch is certified biodynamic, so the fruit can go into Bonterra's wines (made from organically grown grapes) without delay.

Caymus Vineyards and Sonoma Grapevines announced an "amicable" settlement to the lawsuit brought by Caymus four months previous. The dispute went back to 6,400 grapevines sold as Roussanne that turned out to be Viognier. The surprise announcement did not disclose the terms of the settlement. Caymus spokeswoman Phyllis Turner said only "there was no money involved." Richard Kunde, Sonoma Grapevines' owner, declined to provide specifics, but intimated that his nursery will provide Caymus with free vines in the future. "It's only fair, because we delivered a mislabeled product. But I'm very happy it's been resolved, and I don't think I lost a customer over it."

People in the News
Clay Brock has joined Zaca Mesa Winery as director of winemaking. Brock's previous experience includes stints with Corbett Canyon, Robert Sinskey and Byron; most recently he was winemaker at Chalone's Edna Valley Vineyards.

Napa Valley's St. Clement Vineyards has a new winemaker: Aaron Pott. Pott was previously imports winemaker for parent company Beringer Wine Estates. Pott replaces Bill Ballentine, who is leaving to launch his own label, William Cole.

Tom Ferrell, president of Spring Mountain Winery, has announced his departure. David Ramey will be retained as consulting winemaker; owner Jacob Safra reportedly will take a more active role in the winery's management.

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