Why is California Neglected by Wines of South Africa?

It's a long story, but it has to do with spending several weeks in and around Stellenbosch, talking to food scientists and others involved in the wine industry at Stellenbosch Universitat, going to tasting rooms in and around Stellenbosch, Paarl, Hermanus ... and finally ending in an office at WOSA (Wines of South Africa) to chat about promoting these wonderful wines in the USA.

It's been over a year of frustration now, scouring the racks at Jug Shop, BevMo, Wine Merchant, K&L, Safeway,SaveMart, Whole Foods, World Market etc etc and wondering... where the heck are they? Why is it that we have such anemic selections of South African wines here in California?

I even went so far as to organize a tasting of South African wines at a garden party on Russian Hill in South Africa.... just to see what 80 neighbors could find. The results were pretty darn sad.

Now, if you are any kind of well-rounded wine drinker, you know that these "new world wines made in an old world way" are superb. It might take a while to develop a palate for "Steen" (their word for Chenin Blanc), but there are some darn good Steens available in South Africa.

So how about it? How about putting some promotional oomph into the West Coast? Maybe the recent initiatives by the newly-formed group USAPA will finally get the fires lit here. In a way, it's sad that a second group is emerging to do the job in marketing ZA wines more aggressively to the USA, but, well, finally.... ! !

Cleavage and Cuisine spice up Toast of the Town

There’s a big difference from barrel tasting in jeans and teeshirt, and participating in the Toast of the Town event held March 26 at the San Francisco Opera House. The difference has little to do with fine wines, because those are found in both venues, but has a lot to do with fancy little dresses, a plethora of enhanced bosoms peeking out from the v-necks of those dresses, and the overall society feel of this event. We’ve come a long way, baby!

But by suggesting to my companion that he march straight ahead with averted eyes, we were rewarded with a truly incredible event. Classy as all get-out, and with wine/food pairings absolutely made in heaven. So below are some quick takes. The methodology: enjoy a nibble of the cuisine, turn to the wineries flanking each restaurant on either side, ask what pairs best with the cuisine, taste to the right, nibble again, taste to the left, and then move on. Two hours later, amble out to the crisp springtime San Francisco night and be treated (?) to some arsehole berating some downtrodden wine writer ever so publically and loudly (and did I mention obnoxiously?) on the steps of the Opera building. I would’ve decked him. Whoever you are, DECK HIM. It’s never too late. Now, back to pleasant topics.

The best quote of the night came from John Calmeyer, Director of Marketing & PR for Sebastiani Vineyards & Winery. Asked what to pair with the fried chicken-cornbread-greens-potatoSalad served by Home of Chicken and Waffles (Oakland), he said, “ Oh, if you have a plate of Soulfood, you really should have our Soulful Zin.” And so he poured an absolutely sensational Sebastiani 2007 Zin from Dry Creek. I loved it for its very-cherry aroma a flavor, with that zing of pepper on the back palate. Yummy.
Campton Place (San Francisco) served up Ahi tuna with olive oil, apple and wild rocket foam. Next to them was Destination Riesling, and the pour of Weingut Karl Fritsch 2003 Revere Riesling (Donauland) was perfect.

Slanted Door (San Francisco) served a grapefruit & jicama salad with candied pecans. The folks at the Wente table suggested their 2007 Meritage. A blend of 48% Sauvignon Blanc and 52% Semillon in the 1007 vintage, the aroma and taste of grapefruit and pear provided a clean and brisk wine that went well with the next culinary experience too – the First Crush Restaurant-WineBar-Lounge (San Francisco) of a tuna tartare with green olive tapenade.

The Viña San Pedro/Marques de Riscal 2004 Reserve Rioja was perfect with Zinnia’s (San Francisco) plum stuffed with goat chees and wrapped with House bacon, served with harissa aioli.

Postrio (San Francisco) featured House Smoked salmon blini with dill crème fraiche and wasabi tobiki, and the Nobilo experts suggested a fine New Zealand Savignon Blanc, the Nobilo 2008 Icon, Marlborough. This was one of the truly outstanding wines I tasted! I hate to mention it because it is limited in quantity, but it’s all about sharing. The blini was good, and so a second taste was in order, and a second wine: a Gloria Ferrer Caneros Cuvee, a delicious bubbly with fresh flavors and a full body.

Kendall-Jackson Winery poured a 2005 Highland Estates Trace Ridge Cabernet Sauvignon from Knights Valley, to accompany the delightful Southwestern mushroom and avocado ceviche served on crisp corn chips with a chocolate-infused chili emulsion drizzled over all, from Millenium Restaurant (San Francisco), a terrific vegetarian restaurant.

And so, sated but still able to amble, the definitive word is Hats Off! to Wine Enthusiast for hosting a wonderful event. We hope the silent auction for the San Francisco Food Bank resulted in funds for this very worthwhile cause too. Amid all the fluff and flutter, it’s good to remember that privilege should extend to those less fortunate, too.

Avoiding the “Little Shop of Insurance Horrors”: Flashing Yellow Light for Winery/Vineyard Owners!

Risk management should not be in the hands of the “Little Shop of Insurance Horrors” around the corner from your winery. Yet this is exactly what has happened in parts of the USA where wineries have popped up in remote areas in states such as Iowa, Illinois, Minnesota, and Wisconsin. The result is an incredible “coverage gap” that puts winery and vineyard owners at great financial risk.

The winery business is unique. Insuring a winery against loss requires a thorough knowledge of the nature of this business. Most often, however, new winery owners often call upon their corner insurance office to bind a commercial policy for them. Since there is not a winery in every community or county, these well-meaning agencies were left to scramble to put something in place, even though these policies were not intended specifically for wineries and vineyards. That’s presented a big problem.

It’s not easy to make sure that winery operators understand the difference between “what they have” and “what they need”. By working with state winery associations, however, there is a chance to educate both operating wineries and those planning to open, about the need to understand all the aspects of their operations where risk enters the picture.

Every year I do an annual tour of state winery association conferences in the Midwest. This year, there has been one remarkable discovery: over 70% of the wineries in operation do not have a proper commercial policy in place for their winery business! And with a very substantial growth predicted over the next 3-5 years, winery operators need to be educated as soon as possible.

How can we fix the coverage gap? This is an important question, because just one weather-caused failure that takes a winery out of business will cause anxiety with existing winery owners and dissuade newcomers from entering what can be a thriving, exuberant, profitable business.

Convincing underwriters to provide coverage for such winery risks is a lot of work. It means that an agency has to hand-hold risk control professionals and take them to wineries so that they can see firsthand what this growing Midwest winery industry is all about; wine production, vineyards, receptions, gift shops, grape stomps, volunteer grape picking, music among the vines, etc.

For the past few years, our group at Tricor did just that, and now we work on behalf of our Midwestern wineries with four regional carriers with comprehensive winery programs and one national carrier with specific winery/vineyard coverage. Working with dedicated professionals who understand the winery business is a winery owner’s best bet for managing risk.

Guest blogger Chuck Andracchio manages the Hospitality Insurance Program for TRICOR Insurance from his office in Dubuque, Iowa. He counts over 30 wineries in Iowa, Illinois, Minnesota and Wisconsin among his clients. Not satisfied with insurance programs offered to wineries of the Midwest, Chuck motivated regional carriers to enter the unique industry of winery insurance. You can reach him at 1 800 556 5441, ext 1444, or by email to candracchio (at) tricorinsurance.com

Story Indiana, Story Indiana, Story Indiana, Wine’s Home Sweet Home*

What do the largest county fair in the USA, Rock star John Mellencamp, and the newest Miss America have in common? It’s Jackson County, Indiana. Seymour is the largest city in that lucky county. And the largest wine and spirits store in Seymour reports that wine sales are surpassing beer sales. Well, well, well. The Hoosier State rides again!

Now this factoid should alert you to an important fact: wine is alive and well in rural communities in Mid-America. This is probably not something that is tracked assiduously by Nielsen or IRI, but it is one of the facts that are fueling the growth of the wine industry in the Midwest.

Want to see for yourself? Then your closest-in-time opportunity is the Indiana Wine Fair, held April 25, 2009. You can spend a leisurely Saturday afternoon sampling Indiana wines in the historical and bucolic setting of Story, Indiana. Story is a 19th Century village founded in 1851 that now includes Indiana’s oldest country Inn, charming cottages, and a world-class restaurant.

Proprietor of the Story Inn (and in fact, the owner of the entire village) is Rick Hofstetter, a retired-from-the-ratrace lawyer. He and Allen (Ole) Olson, faithful writer of the Blog Hoosier Wine Cellar, have been working their butts off to pull this festival together and it is now in its seventh year. It’s a labor of love.

Virtually every Indiana winery participates in this event, with tastings taking place rain-or-shine under a huge white tent, and a bevy of independent tasters get hard at work judging wine.

“Our judges are all wine consumers, as opposed to wine professionals. These are people who use wine, know a lot about it, but are not in the trade,” explained Ole. “We’ve done this on purpose, because we want our Indiana wineries to know what consumers think about their wines. After all, consumers are the ones who do the buying.” Wines are judged in seven categories: dry white, sweet white, dry red, sweet red, dessert wine, non-grape wine, and Best of Show.

The day before, on Friday, April 24, Story Inn hosts Wine and all that Jazz, a musical gala that features awards to the wineries, tasting of Indiana's finest wines in each category, and a full buffet dinner. Quite a value at $50, and proceeds go to benefit Brown County Citizens Scholarships. The day after, Sunday, April 26, you’ll want to stick around for this: Hoosier Cuisine Gone Wild! This Black-tie-optional-dinner features the Gold Medalists in each wine-judged category, with food pairs matched to authentically Hoosier cuisine. $100 per plate, and again, proceeds to benefit Brown County Citizens Scholarships.

Indiana wineries need to tip a hat to Rick and Ole. They are working hard to promote the industry and it is strictly an eelymosynary effort. But did I mention that the Story Inn has the finest wine cellar in Southern Indiana? And that Ole is spearheading Vinsense, a recently-formed wine advocacy group fighting an uphill battle to convince the Indiana Legislature to change the law regarding direct shipping from producer to consumer.

As for the newest Miss America, it’s 22-year old Katie Stam, who lives not far from Story, IN. She is also Indiana’s first Miss America, and to hear Ole talk, the folks aroundabout are almost as proud of that as they are the great wines Indiana is now producing.

Photo credit Miss America to LugaLuda Blogs

*(apologies to Music Man)

Marketing, and Leading, Through the Fear Cycle

"How Frank or Deceptive Should Leaders Be?"

What a great come-on! Who wouldn't read an article with a title like that? Particularly when it comes from that font of managerial wisdom, the Harvard Business School "Working Knowledge" newsletters that are designed to keep the grey cells moving. In addition to transparency, the need for high ethics, and the importance of smiling through the Fear Cycle, B-school experts continue to beat the drum of marketing experience and have this to say about Leading in a Crisis: Be aggressive in the marketplace!

Jim Heskett, Baker Foundation Professor emeritus at HBS, set this up as a discussion forum. You'll want to see the whole string -- with remarks from Directors and department heads of major companies like Saint-Gobain Weber and Intuit and Motorola, to officers in the Ministry of Commerce in Pakistan, to the all-important "anonymous" responders. Click here to read it all

The comment No. 4 by Ryan Schon caught my eye. He wrote, in part, "I don't think there's anything wrong with leaders acknowledging that we are in a fear cycle right now but that capitalism and entrepreneurship will prevail."

Yes, we are in a fear cycle. As of March 3, 2009, consumer confidence and business sentiment are at historic lows, according to a chart developed by UBS based on data from FactSet.

But here is the what you should really pay attention to, and it is lucky number point 7 in the article authored by Bill George in the online Wall Street Journal on March 5, titled "Seven Lessons for Leading in Crisis".

"Be aggressive in the marketplace."

Just how do you do this? Actually, I am not going to tell you anything you don't already know.

First, DO NOT CUT your marketing budget. However, you might want to bring it closer into line with the consumer groups who are still spending (read: Millennials). And there are cost-effective distribution strategies you can pump up right now, such as doing ride-alongs with your distributors and meeting those wine selling foot-solders known as store and restaurant owners. A little creativity goes a long way in advertising and PR (um, how long since you've tuned up your graphics and messages?). Coordinate the elements of your program closely; it's no time to waste your dollars by letting your attention slip.

And, smile. Smile a lot. If the stress has been great, practice smiling in the bathroom mirror until the face muscles go there automatically and the laugh lines reappear.

Just one last thought on transparency by management -- whether you are a winery owner or marketing manager, or a CEO or sales director for a supplier company -- pay attention! Because down there at No. 32 on the discussion is my favorite, from Scott W. Ventrella, Managing Director of the Center for Corporate Ethics. "Under no circumstances should a leader attempt to deceive or mislead members of their organization. That said, it is incumbent upon leadership to present the facts but not dwell on the negative (or draw premature conclusions no matter how dire the situation). Fueled by vision, hope and optimism, great leaders over time have energized and inspired people to see beyond "hopeless" situations -- without compromising their own

Barrel Tasting Tidbits

Is this Disneyland, or what? Stretch limos in black or white (take your pick, and then choose the 15, 20, or 25 foot versions), tour busses big and small, Maseratis with tops down, sedans with their hubcaps shined, and diamonds leathers tightjeans WOW. This was my first Sonoma barrel tasting.

Luckily, with the Back Lane Wineries of Sonoma guidebook in hand, I was able to avoid the wineries that seemed to be high on the tour-for-pay routes. I'd been told that "passionate amateurs are very welcome" in the smaller wineries, and this certainly proved to be the case.

The most welcoming was Hawley Winery, at 6387 West Dry Creek Road, Healdsburg. Youngest of the clan, Austin, obligingly put his scrambled eggs on bread and got in the pickup and drove down the hill from the family's nearby house. The experience was delightful! My guest, 22-year old niece Margaret and my authentic millennial and thus social media consultant, is packing a bottle of their 2006 Zinfandel, Ponzo Vineyard ($26) back home to Indiana.

Austin let us taste from a number of barrels, and the 2008 Cabernet is going to be SPECTACULAR. Too bad they don't do futures! They'd just bottled their 2007, but it wasn't yet labeled or for sale. I consoled myself with a bottle from one of the 400 cases they'd produced of the 2006 Cabernet Sauvignon from the Saggio Hills Vineyard, Alexander Valley ($32.00). The back label says it all: "This wine is exactly what little cabernets dream of becoming when they grow up".

John Hawley and sons Paul and Austin have a wonderful back-lane enterprise producing wines that are top-shelf worthy. Go see them for yourselves.

Herb Gold Reminisces: Wine in the Park in Cleveland

Author Herbert Gold is a well-known fixture in San Francisco life and has been for years. He's been known to lift a glass of wine or two and actually, despite his sardonic interview below, he loves wine and loves parties. The summer 2008 author event at City Lights Bookstore for his most recent book, "Still Alive - A Temporary Condition", packed the house and was well reviewed. Fans sat tripled up on the stairs to the discussion room, listening to his tales of the beat generation, on-the-road style. His biography includes a list of books and articles so long that we can't put it here, but click here to read about one of our California writer icons!

Herbert Gold, cornered at a garden party on Russian Hill in San Francisco on the Ides of March, was asked to talk about wine. He said: "I love when people start talking about wine. I often then quote a writer who said, "big people talk about ideas, medium people talk about food, very tiny people talk about wine." Diogenes, I think, was asked what his favorite wine was, and he said, "Other people's". This is the way I avoid getting invited out very often. If people start talking about wine and you indicate you're bored... you are not invited again.

My best wine-associated memory? It is the day I got married to Melissa, my second wife and mother of my three youngest children. The wine drinking happened in Big Sur. We stopped on our way there, in Pacific Grove, and got married. What wine was I drinking? I don't remember, it was a long time ago.

My wine-associated memory that I sometimes wish hadn't happened? Well, this occurred in a park in Cleveland. I was in high school. My friend and I stole wine from our parent's liquor cabinets. We took some other kinds of alcohol too. We went to the park, it got dark and we got drunk. He picked up a knife and started chasing me and accused me of stealing his girlfriend. Turned out later that my friend was quite a talented writer. He published one great book, and several others not so great. But his life was compromised by alcoholism.

If he reads blogs in heaven, I want him to know: I did not steal Lucille from him!"

Mumbles of Protectionism

"It's just not a level playing field," commented one winery owner during a coffee-break chat at the Ahead of the Curve seminar in early March hosted by Napa Valley Grapegrowers. When the panelists took a look at the success of low-priced wines coming into the US market from such countries as Chile, Argentina, Australia ... the hackles went up.

Just to stir the pot a little, yours truly asked the moderator a question about the desirability of trade barriers in light of the erosion of market share in the value-priced segment prompted by these international players vis-a-vis US producers. WOW. What a hot potato! The question was rapidly deferred, termed "political" (it's not -- it's an economics question too, by the way), and no further public discussion took place. But plenty of coffee-break discussion resulted!

It is a Catch-22. The good article posted March 2 on Decanter.com: "US wine exports break $1bn" was a great summary of the situation. "Nearly 55m cases of wine -- 90% of it from California -- were shipped last year, up 8% on 2007. By value, exports rose 6% to $1.01billion according to US Department of Commerce figures, " cited the article. That certainly represents a big boost to California winemakers. On the one hand.

On the other hand, what can be done to help U.S. winemakers who should compete head-on in the value-price segment? (And they should compete, given the high growth there...)

It is a God-helps-those-who-help-themselves situation. Clearly the marketing promotion for wines from Chile, Argentina, Australia et alia is superb: Traditional advertising (wine region based) in lifestyle magazines, travel sections, big newspapers. Wine tastings here, there, everywhere. Development of wine tourism. Reviews. Tweets. Facebook plugs. Blogposts. Price Promotions. Endcap displays. Paid trips for wine buyers to those countries, vineyards, wineries. Jeez, how can a US winery compete?

Here are some ideas: Traditional advertising (wine region based) in lifestyle magazines, travel sections, big newspapers. Wine tastings here, there, everywhere. Development of wine tourism. Reviews. Tweets. Facebook plugs. Blogposts. Price Promotions. Endcap displays. Paid trips for wine buyers to those countries, vineyards, wineries. Sound familiar? The approach is called "fighting fire with fire".

That's the best way to level the playing field. Get on it and fight hard! Use the power of your industry associations and AVAs to develop programs that will help. One caveat: fight fast. You must be nimble and speedy in marketing during a recession.

Oh by the way, you might do more with your internet sales. After all, you've got the shipping advantage here...

GUEST BLOGPOST: Wine Importers and Today’s Conundrum of Foreign Exchange Rates

Wine importers have always had to deal with a great deal of uncertainty and volatility. Consider that February 2009 Euro rates reached a low of 1.2513 in terms of US dollars, while Euro rates only a year ago reached a high of 1.5239 (February 2008). How is a wine importer to plan for pricing product scheduled for, say February 2010? Will the Euro be up or down? How about the Aussie dollar? The South African Rand? The New Zealand dollar?

The answer is: nobody knows.

When you deal in a product that forces you to make some financial predictions, it feels like thin ice every day. This was certainly my experience as a foreign exchange broker for a number of years.

But I do, however, know exactly how much I will be paying if I purchase a forward contract.

For our example, we’ll use Euros. The spot Euro (if I were to purchase today for today's delivery) is 1.2700 to the US dollar. I can lock in a Euro payment for March 2010 at a rate of 1.2725, almost the same as today's spot rate (thanks to the US Federal Reserve’s current policy of near 0% interest rates). Does this mean I might as well wait until next year, since rates will be the same?


The forward rate is not a prediction of what rates will be in the future, but simply a mathematical formula (based on U.S. versus European interest rates) and the resultant supply/demand factors. The purchaser must put up at least 10% of the total as margin.

I know that many importers never use forwards, and I also know that every importer who has used forwards has been caught on the wrong side of a forward contract. If I locked in the Euro at 1.2725 for February 2010 delivery, and the spot rate was 1.1600 in 2010, I would be upset that I had "speculated" and lost. On the other hand, if the Euro appreciates and the Feb. 2010 spot rate was 1.400, I would be elated at my smart prediction.

The truth, however, is that by not using forwards, the importer is indeed speculating, as his cost will be determined by the market on the day of payment.

My advice to wine importers: if your cost models make sense based on the forward rates, then locking in those rates will prevent any surprises on payment day. You’ll sleep better when you can plan your pricing structures far in advance.

Matt Esslinger consults with food and wine import and distribution companies on financial and operational issues, bringing a Harvard MBA plus 20 years of experience managing small to medium sized businesses in various industries. He is based in San Francisco. Contact him at gesslinger@mba1986.hbs.edu and via http://www.linkedin.com/in/mattesslingersf

Barrel Tastings in Sonoma, Book in Hand!

What could be better than to have the author of the new book, Back Lane Wineries of Sonoma, talk about under-the-radar small family-run wineries Just In Time for this second weekend of barrel tastings in Sonoma! Tilar Mazzeo's book is the one you want to have in hand for this weekend.

"Passionate amateurs are very much welcomed by winemakers at this special group of wineries," Tilar said during her talk at The Mechanics Institute in San Francisco March 10. "These wineries are run by the same people who grow the grapes and make the wines, and they offer a friendly, intimate atmosphere. This is where to go to get a unique product. Discerning oenophiles know this."

Thumbing through the book, plotting a course, it seems like I can make my way to at least four wineries on Saturday. I'll probably make a stop at Amista Vineyards, in Healdburg on Saturday, March 14th, from 12:00 - 2:00 pm; Tilar will be there with some books to sign. My friends all want one now!

In creating this book, Tilar relied on the generosity and sharing nature of these small artisanal winemakers. "Essentially, I asked each of them for their Top 6 Picks. Many people simply got on the phone and helped me set up the next round of appointments. For three solid months, I visited 4, 5, or 6 wineries a day, always for an hour at least ... and many for some long afternoons."

The openness of the back lane winery owners and winemakers will be well rewarded. This book is going to be an essential guide, and will provide that off-the-Highway-101 wine country experience that many wine lovers will cherish for years. If you want to study up in advance before the barrel tastings this weekend, you can get the book in a rush from Amazon, Tower Books, Barnes & Noble.com, Powells and others.

INDIA'S GROWING WINE MARKET: Old Wines could scare off New Customers

When I went to India in the fall of 2008, I drank the wines that the locals drink. Bottles open, glasses clinking at fine restaurants at the Taj, the Oberei, and Indigo. I slunk into liquor stores near market areas to see what they offered, and sauntered into the wonderful wine selection at the Nature's Basket markets. A trip to the Nashik Valley meant tastings on winery premises of Sula, and Reveilo (aka Vintage Wines).

I came home very optimistic about the prospect of increasing wine sales, both imports and domestic wines, in India. A week later, the terrorists rampaged through Mumbai. It's looked for several months like the market might disappear. But ... no.

(photo at left, wineshop manager at Mumbai Nature's Basket market)

Eric Pope, who does a wonderful job of overseas market development for The Wine Institute, has kept a running dialogue open with me on this topic. It's impossible to go to India and not fall in love with this vibrant country and its open and friendly people. We are all cheering for this market to develop for the wine business!

The latest industry buzz could deter the weak-hearted. In a February 15 post on Sommelier India-the Wine Magazine, the article titled "Triple whammy for wine in India" cited three not-so-great market factors: "a slowdown in consumer spending due to the worldwide economic recession, the impact of the Mumbai terror attacks on travel and tourism, and the weakening Indian rupee."

One reader, Harshal Shah, in a follow-on comment, noted "I hazard that because of this triple whammy, many importers, especially the big players, would have struggled to have met their sales forecasts with their winery principals around the world. What wineries must insist upon, therefore, is an accurate inventory position to know exactly how much of their stock in sitting, unsold, in importers' warehouses. As far as wine in India goes, then, it may be that we will eventually see a lot of old, badly stored imported wine being released into the market."

The spectre of old imported wine being released to this market is not a good one.

As USA wine market developers look at the pros and cons of entering India, it might behoove someone to find out what amount of California wine, for example, IS sitting in warehouses. Anyone who has kicked around the wine industry in India (I have, by the way, so trust me on some of these things!) knows that refrigeration/climate control in importer warehouses is not uniform. Assessing this impact ahead of time would be useful to US wineries who have their eye on the Indian market.

And you should have your eye on the India market!

There are as many 25-35 year olds in India as there are people in the USA. And they are the up-and-coming wine drinkers, educated, have money. Maybe they don't have money for expensive California and other US wines -- adding on all the tariffs no doubt makes US wines expensive. But somehow there is a big offtake of wines from Australia, Chile, Argentina. And winemakers in those countries have the tariff thing to deal with too.... so.... do I hear the words "value" here?

Why Boxed Wines Rule Today

A dollar sales increase of almost 25% and a unit-volume sales increase of 4% for boxed wines in the 52-weeks/year ending February 22 is a real eyeopener -- or shall we say, wine-box-tap-opener. Driving this winning streak for wines sold in U.S. food and drug stores is clearly price.

Lewis Perdue, in his March 6 Wine Industry Insights newsletter, analyzed Information Resources Inc data and stated: "As expected, lower-price-point box wines scored the biggest gains with box wines costing less than $2 for a 750 ml equivalents posting a 41.5 percent gain."

For those manufacturers of bag-in-box packaging equipment, it's an "I told you so" moment. Christopher Rutter, founder of Rapak Inc. (Union City, CA) and currently Director of Product Development, said "It was only a matter of time and economics before US consumers discovered the great value and great wine product quality that's to be had in boxed wines."

Rutter hails from Australia originally, and for the almost-twenty years that I've known him, he has been a steady proponent of boxed beverages, from dairy to juice to beverage concentrates to wines. But it is the wine segment that is dearest to his heart.

"So many advancements have been made in barrier packaging and in taps for wine boxes that the problems of the 1980's with oxygen permeation are not a factor at all anymore." Rutter said. "This means that wines like Black Box, which use our packaging equipment, give consumers a great wine experience at a value price."
Since so many wines are produced to be consumed quickly (and ARE consumed quickly!), shelf life is becoming less of a concern all across the retail wine spectrum. But some consumers have been concerned about the freshness of a wine they can't see. The boxed wine industry's success with high quality wines like Black Box has helped to overcome that apprehension.

Today, even small and medium sized wineries can enter this market. To produce boxed wine cost efficiently, Rapak offers its Model 330 bag-in-box wine filler at an equipment cost that’s significantly lower than other entry-level bag-in-box fillers. It can produce 10,000-150,000 3-Liter Boxes annually, and also be used to produce 18-liter bags for the foodservice/institutional market.

For more information on the newsletter, contact Lewis Purdue via his website: http://wineindustryinsight.com/ For more information on bag-in-box filling equipment, contact Rapak (http://www.rapak.com/) and ask for Chris Rutter.

Disclosure: As part of my portfolio of writing and marketing communications skills, I also do press release writing for a few wineries and a few suppliers to the wine industry for pay. Parts of this blogpost originated as a press release for Rapak.

Indiana Gets Petitions Underway to Free The Grapes

Indiana attorney Lisa Hays Murray is not your run-of-the-vine lobbyist. She's genuinely interested in helping her clients in the state's wine industry get to the place that they can grow their businesses through internet sales and out-of-state shipping. To wit, her recent activities, best seen on the website http://www.hoosiersforwineshipping.com/

Although the site includes information about Indiana wineries and legislative initiatives, in my opinion the most important feature is a petition for consumers to sign and join the Free Trade cause.

Once they've done this -- and Lisa suggests an all-out effort by wineries including putting a link on their websites, and getting employees, family members, Wine Club members, and visitors to tasting rooms involved -- then those who sign the petition will get a prompt to e-mail their Hoosier legislators at key times in the legislative process. The website makes this easy through its "VoterVoice" component.

"With your help, this will be a very successful grass roots tool and further allow us to educate the Indiana legislators about why they should enact free trade legislation," she wrote to wineries.

Lisa works not only hard, but smart. "I copied this idea –with their permission—off of the retailers’ “Hoosiers for Beverage Choices” website. I used the same webmaster, etc. The retailers have been extremely successful in garnering over 15,000 folks to sign their website petition—10,000 signed up shortly after a media blitz last fall. And CVS collected 15,000 more! " Her goal is to get 10,000 signatures.

With that Hoosier determination in play (Go Pacers!)(Go Nappanee Bulldogs!), they will.

Freeing the Grapes in Indiana: Vinsense Provides an Additional Voice

In late February I met with Allen Dale (Ole) Olson, a retired federal civil servant, wine consultant and wine writer (see his blog HoosierWineCellars). Ole has become upset enough with the archiac beverage laws in Indiana to form a group named Vinsense. And he's recently jumped through the hoops to become a registered lobbyist so he can talk to Indiana legislators about why Indiana consumers (over 21 of course) cannot purchase wines freely.

Ole hosted the annual meeting of Vinsense at the Brown County Winery in Nashville, Indiana at the end of February. I am very impressed at the activities of this small but dedicated group, and think that their goal of revealing contributions to Indiana legislators by groups opposed to freeing the grapes is a good one. Vinsense itself operates on a small-but-growing budget that is augmented by tremendous passion and righteous indignation, and BRAVO! I'm rooting for them!

You can read more at the Vinsense website, CLICK HERE. But a quick summary provided by Ole, who is president of the group, is below:

"THE WHAT AND WHY OF VINSENSE: VinSense, Inc. is an Indiana-based wine consumer advocacy group of approximately 3,000 members formed in the early spring of 2007 to work toward the passage of legislation to allow Hoosiers to use modern communications media – internet, phone, fax, mail – to order wine directly from wineries.

VinSense draft legislation resulted from recognition that the existing three-tier system denies Indiana residents access to some 95% of all wines produced in the United States because Hoosiers are required by law to purchase wines only from licensed retail stores or from wineries they have personally visited and which are properly licensed for such shipping. Retail stores, in turn, can sell only wines made available to them by licensed wholesale distributors.

This means that Indiana consumers have had their wine choices pre-selected for them at two levels – wholesale and retail. With nearly 10,000 new wines entering the nation’s markets every year, it is impossible for wholesalers to procure, stock, and offer for sale a substantive percentage of them. Same for retailers.

Using data from a 2003 study by the Federal Trade Association, VinSense calls attention to the fact that the 35 states allowing direct shipping have reported no problems with either underage drinking or collection of appropriate taxes related to direct shipping. That study disproves the most common arguments used by opponents of direct shipping.

VinSense vigorously opposes underage drinking and just as vigorously supports the state’s right to collect appropriate taxes on direct sales. Both issues are addressed in the draft legislation submitted via Senator Brent Steele (R-Bedford) to the Legislative Services Agency. That legislation was tabled by the Senate Public Policy Committee when the President Pro Tem ruled that no alcohol-related bills would be heard during the 2009 session of the General Assembly.

The incoming Chair of the Legislative Study Committee on Alcoholic Beverage Legislation has promised to include VinSense in hearings planned for summer 2009."