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Wine Scores and Seasonal Affective Disorder

January 9th, 2012 by Tom Johnson

The invaluable Dr. Vino rounds-up evidence that score inflation is causing wine drinkers to become jaded, making 90-point wines as unattractive in the market as 88-point wines used to be. He cites this bit of marvelous sarcasm from wine merchant Daniel Posner:

Every time I turn around, another 2007 Barolo is getting 96 points or higher. Sales sheets have been coming my way with loads of offerings and the points are nearly always the same. 96 points…96 points…97 points, and then, perish the thought, they try to sell me a 94 pointer! I mean really. Who is buying 94 point wine these days? 94 points is for chumps…losers…people that don’t really love Barolo. Because if you love Barolo, you are buying 96 points and up…

Leave the 94 pointers for the people that like Napa Cabs…

I, personally, am totally on-board both with the considerable evidence that wine scores are floating upwards. I also believe that people with more money than sense use their dedication to highly rated wines as a substitute for the actual enjoyment of wine for its own sake.

Partly because of that, and partly because we are in the nearly hopeless time of year between Christmas and the opening of spring training, I am formulating my “Theory of All Things Picky.” The theory, not fully developed but regularly expressed over drinks with anyone unfortunate enough to make eye contact with me, is thus:

Everything is getting too complicated. Not every human activity requires connoisseurship. Just shut up and drink your freakin’ wine already.

Only I don’t actually say “freakin’”.


Posted in Mr. Grumpy | Comments (0)

As Always, Keep New Jersey In Your Prayers

January 9th, 2012 by Tom Johnson

The New Jersey State Assembly is scheduled to vote today on a direct shipping bill.

If it passes, New Jersey will be the 39th state to allow direct shipping.

Posted in Regulation | Comments (0)

Well, This Will Certainly Cut Down on the Amount of Wine I Need to Store

January 5th, 2012 by Tom Johnson

Nanowine is a design project/statement designed by Koert van Mensvoort, Hendrik-Jan Grievink, and Ruben Daas. In the broadest sense, it speaks to the increasing distance between man and nature. In narrower terms, it provides a spine-chilling look at the future of industrial wine.

 With ‘nano wine’, in order to achieve different varietals, users activate their selection of the millions of molecule-sized flavour capsules in the drink, which is by default a kind of merlot. tastes may range from vanilla– to mimic the taste of australian wines– and truffle to oak and pepper (to recreate a syrah, for example). the particles are activated by different wattages and duration of exposure to microwave, so by microwaving the wine accordingly, users can completely alter and tweak its taste. inactivated nano-capsules are drunk with no adverse affects, while the opened capsules alter the taste, smell, and even colour of the wine.

Above is a chart explaining how long and what setting one might cook the wine to achieve a certain varietal.

Nanowine is a real product that you can buy, but it’s mostly art. No matter how much you cook it, it remains run-of-the-mill Merlot.

You can buy Nanowine here.

Posted in Oddities, Uncategorized | Comments (3)

I’m Thinking About Starting a Movement to Take Things Less Seriously

January 4th, 2012 by Tom Johnson

New York Times wine critic Eric Asimov takes time out of his busy schedule seriously regarding the world’s wines to take a crack at something he calls “analytical eating.”

Can’t you just feel the joy?

Posted in Mr. Grumpy | Comments (0)

Ten Reasons Why Wine Bloggers Go Inexplicably Silent For Three Months

December 29th, 2011 by Tom Johnson

  1. Conducting test to see how long it would be before Samantha notices I’m gone.
  2. Lost link to Steve Heimoff’s blog, can’t find anything else that silly to make fun of
  3. Burned out from abortive attempt to write weekly news column for iPad wine magazine
  4. Caught up in Trump-esque dealmaking frenzy that resulted in formation of Maryland corporation to market urinary biomarker
  5. Time spent thinking about urinary biomarkers makes drinking anything unappetizing
  6. Swallowed cork whole, passage took unexpectedly long, and am now rethinking opinion of screw caps
  7. Onset of Winter causes number of hours slept each day to rise from seven to 21.
  8. Newt Gingrich presidential campaign
  9. Inability to think of clever way to reintroduce myself after long hiatus causes reinforcing loop of writers block and self-loathing
  10. Personal issues. It’s always fucking personal issues.

Thanks to all who inquired. I’ll start posting again regularly.

Happy New Year.

Posted in Not Particularly Anything | Comments (10)

Lies, Damned Lies, and Statistics

October 17th, 2011 by Tom Johnson

There’s a serious political battle going on in Washington state over state-owned liquor stores. One one side, we have big money flowing in from D.C.-based wholesaler groups who want nothing ever to change under any circumstances whatever and unions representing state liquor store employees.  On the other side we have advocates of a free market or, to be more precise, Costco, which stands to make a bundle if it can start selling alcoholic beverages.

Those in favor of retaining the state monopoly like to cite various studies documenting huge increases in alcohol consumption when states get out of the liquor business. They do this largely with impunity, since modern journalism is concerned with documenting both sides of an argument rather than trying to figure out if one side or the other is, say, just making shit up.

Which is why optimists about the prospects of the American Experiment should send a thank you note to Erik Smith of Mr. Smith clearly sees the reporter’s role as more than stenographer. Confronted with endless repetitions of a horrifying statistic from the Center for Disease Control (CDC) that privatizing state liquor stores leads to a 48% increase in consumption, he did actual research. No, really.

 It is based on a study by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention that wasn’t a study, wasn’t done by the CDC, and was based mainly on 30 and 40-year-old sales figures for wine, not hard liquor. It also doesn’t jibe with real-world statistics, which suggest Washington alcohol consumption won’t increase a drop.

One might imagine that, suitably embarrassed, pro-monopoly shills would find some other argument to make. One would be wrong. Lying doesn’t bear the political stigma it once did, and the political conventional wisdom is that, when caught lying, the best thing to do is to keep right on doing it.

Says spokesman Alex Fryer, “No one can know precisely how much alcohol consumption will rise, but, again, the CDC predicts a 48 percent increase. We believe the recommendations of the epidemiologists and public health experts at the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention should be a big part of the debate.”

And Al Gore said he invented the Internet.  Fact is, lying works.

Posted in Regulation | Comments (3)

Me Me Me Me Me

October 14th, 2011 by Tom Johnson

Every year, I donate a few in-home wine tastings to local charity auctions. I think up themes or build stories around the wines being tasted or something. The people who buy the tastings are generally really nice, really rich, and don’t know a whole lot about wine, so its fun. I prepare some background information about the wine and where they can buy it, and if they ask me a question I don’t know the answer to I make something up and they believe it.

I advise against drinking rosé because there’s a compound of iron in the pink pigment that can, over the long term, cause heart arrhythmia.

I don’t actually do that, but sometimes I think about it.

Anyway, I’m giving one of those tastings tonight, and I haven’t had time to prepare. It’s been a tough week, so I’m ‘thinking the theme is going to be:

Screw you. We’re drinking what I want to drink.

It’ll be good. I’m pulling bottles out of the basement — a Chateauneuf, an Alicante Monastrell, a Supertuscan  – so it’s stuff I like well  enough to buy in bulk. But it isn’t going to be charming, and if my outlook doesn’t improve there’s a strong likelihood I won’t even share.

Posted in Mr. Grumpy | Comments (4)

The Growth of Wine In Casual Dining Chains

October 14th, 2011 by Tom Johnson

My new Vineyard & Winery Management article is up. It’s about the growth of “wine programs” in casual dining chains. Both of you who read this blog regularly were tantalized with tidbits of information from my research, including my growing appreciation, if not actual patronage, of Olive Garden. Here are a couple of salient paragraphs:

Olive Garden started its wine program long before the recession, and is relentless at promoting wine as a part of the “good life.” Wine is depicted in its television commercials, the menus suggest specific wines to go with each dish, and smiling greeters reportedly pour 30,000 cases a year of free samples to customers waiting for tables. Other restaurants, looking for a way to boost income, noted Olive Garden’s success and started making changes.

“Smart restaurants are making wine part of their core strategy,” (restaurant consultant Dean) Small said. “They build wine service into their restaurant design. They want people to know they’re serious about wine, that it’s part of their DNA. They’re looking for craft wineries. They don’t want to be in what we call ‘the Sea of Same.’ “

Using distinctive wines to differentiate has opened new opportunities for smaller producers who can set aside a few hundred cases for a single customer. Smart wineries are jumping on the bandwagon, and there are distribution consultants who help them hook-up with chains that have customers who want a wine list stretching beyond the mass produced and that see variation in their wine lists as a feature, not a bug.

It was an interesting article to research and, given my talents as a writer, almost certainly a fascinating article to read — though most of my comically libelous observations seem to have been deleted by responsible grown-ups.

So read it, and don’t forget to subscribe to the print edition, which contains all kinds of goodies you won’t find online. V&WM also makes a lovely holiday gift item, if you’re one of those people who start their shopping before Halloween, or even if you’re not.

Posted in Writings | Comments (0)

None More For the Road

October 12th, 2011 by Tom Johnson

The Centers for Disease Control reports that drunk driving is down. In fact, way down: a 30% drop in the last three years.

In the longer term, fatalities related to drinking and driving have dropped nearly 70% since 1982, from 26,000 to 11,000. Adjusted for population growth, that means that something like 20,000 people a year aren’t being killed who would have been had nothing changed.

The Washington Post suggests three reasons for the drop: more attentive law enforcement, the raising of the national drinking age to 21, and the lousy economy, which has people drinking at home instead of in bars and restaurants.

I think that misses the big reason for the drop: drunk driving is much less socially acceptable than it used to be. There’s no social penalty for leaving your car and taking a cab home — in fact, in certain situations its de rigueur. Designated drivers haunt the buffet at almost every party, and people who decide not drink are subject to less social pressure to come on, have one more. Bars and restaurants band together to provide rides for the overindulgent.

This adjustment of attitude — inspired, at least in part, by more rigorous law enforcement — is a huge cultural change. And ultimately, problems like drunk driving have to be addressed at a cultural level.

Posted in News | Comments (0)

Facebook Becomes The (Wine) Mall

October 11th, 2011 by Tom Johnson

The big changes that are irritating everyone on Facebook are at least partially intended to make Facebook a more effective sales platform. Booz Allen reports that  $5 billion in sales will take place within Facebook in 2011, which sounds like a lot but averages out to only$6 per Facebook user. The market research firm predicts that number to rise to $30 billion in 2015.

Without getting too deep into Marketing Funnel Theory, the conventional wisdom about Facebook is that it is a fairly effective “top of funnel” marketing tool, meaning that it gathers an audience that can then be sold to, but that is doesn’t do a lot of actual selling. That’s where the changes in Facebook come in: they’re designed to create a friction-free world where the eyes of users and marketers can meet across the crowded social media barroom.

Booz Allen, disputing conventional wisdom, believes that Facebook will do more than just introduce buyers and sellers. The company thinks the changes in Facebook and the increased comfort of everyone with doing business in social media will make Facebook  most effective when it’s time to close the sale.

Social commerce will almost certainly have the biggest impact at the lower end of the funnel, in the consideration, conversion, and loyalty and service stages. These are areas where it is possible to establish clear metrics—including conversion rates, incremental revenue, and repeat business—and thus more accurately measure return on investment. The key for companies will be understanding how to use social media in each of these stages.

The most likely candidates for big social media sales are what Forrester Research calls “small retailers, niche products, or steeply discounted items” — which sounds a lot of people like a nutshell description of the segment of the wine business populated by small wineries increasingly oriented to direct sales.

To that end, companies providing sales technology to winery websites are branching out into Facebook apps, on the assumption that people who are interested enough in a winery’s operations to pay attention on Facebook will buy wine when it’s available there.  One of those is Vin65, “leaders in winery ecommerce,” which recently announced a big push into Facebook. (Video overview here.) On his blog, Vin65 CEO Andrew Kamphuis lists five reasons why Facebook is the Next Big Thing in wine sales. Four of the five reasons focus on Facebook’s potential, but one highlights a marketing strategy that is likely to become very familiar to wine lovers.

The popular cider brand Magners (owned by C&C Group) has set up a pop-up fan-store on Facebook to support the launch of a new range of special edition ciders. The goal, according to Magners marketing manager Kirsty Hunter, is to drive trial among UK Facebook fans.

That is: they’re offering special, Facebook-only special edition sampler that, the company hopes, will drive drinkers to retail outlets to buy more. It’s a toe-in-the-water strategy for a company with wide, conventional distribution.  This is the kind of thing a big brand might try with their wine, a replacement for in-store tastings.

It’s the next step after that that is really interesting. If the legal hairball around direct shipping ever untangles, smaller wineries looking to increase their margins by cutting out middlemen may find Facebook to be just the platform they’re looking for. Non-alcohol retailers who’ve added shopping apps to their Facebook sites have seen huge increases in revenue, and are finding that Facebook customers spend more than walk-in or conventional catalog customers.  If that pattern holds true for the wine business, look forward to a spate of Facebook-only wine offerings and even wineries that exist entirely in social media.

Posted in Marketing | Comments (2)