Wednesday, September 7, 2016

You Can't Ship Your Wine Home or How Fucked Up is This?

The names and places in this blog have been changed to protect the guilty.
Recently, two customers travelling together came to a winery. One couple was from Bumfuck, Egypt and the other was from Nofuck, Vagina. They liked the wine and wondered if the winery could ship it home for them. So happens, the winery was not licensed to ship to either Egypt or Vagina, but the customers were told that they could check the wine as luggage on the plane - which is cheaper and faster than shipping anyway.
They purchased six bottles each and two twelve-pack shippers and went merrily on their way to other wineries where they filled up their twelve-pack shippers.
One of the couples, I think it was the rocket scientist, not the CIA intelligence officer, figured it would be easier to travel if they just dropped the wine off at the Office Despot and had it shipped home - regardless of cost. They informed the Despot that it was art (liquid art, get it) and $123 later they are at the airport, through security, and on their way home when they get a phone call from the Despot.
Seems the UPS driver from Yakima recognized the UPS-approved wine shipping boxes and refused to pick them up. Due to the number of wineries in the Yakima area, drivers are quite familiar with these boxes. Now what to do.
They called up the winery where they bought the shipper for help. Yes, the winery would claim the wine from the Office Despot and they in turn would authorize the Despot to refund the $123 shipping to the winery which would somehow decide what to do with it in the name of customer service. (Pull out concealed weapon and shoot yourself at this point!)
Now we get into the crazy part of US law. Wineries are required to have a federal basic permit and without it, you are shit out of luck. Thanks to Moron Hatch (R-Utah and member of the Moron Church which not only believes in talking snakes, but also believes that an Indian named Moroni buried some tablets in upstate New York and an alcoholic named Joseph Smith dug them up and translated them into King James English) you can lose your basic permit if you violate any law in any city, county, or state in the US.
Retailers, on the other hand, are not required to have a federal permit and therefore are not subject to the US law, only state law. It also seems easier (cheaper) for retailers to get individual state shipping permits than wineries.
Problem solved. Find a friendly retailer who is licensed to ship to Egypt and Vagina and have the retailer ship the wine for you. After all, you do have the refunded shipping from the Office Despot to pay for it.
Let's now examine the idiocy of this scenario. You can take wine on an airplane to any state if it is properly packaged even if you legally can't take wine into that state. (Believe it or not, there are states where it is against the law to take your case of wine from the Napa Valley home with you in your car.) You can't ship that wine to yourself via UPS or FedEx or God forbid, USPS. Most wineries in this area don't bother with expensive state permits and monthly reporting. It's a real pain in the ass. (See Why We Don't Ship to Texas) But a retailer can ship your wine to you. It's the same wine for God's sake. How stupid is that. So the wine is on its way.
Some day we will live in a country where you can legally smoke weed and ship wine to yourself. Grumpy will not live to see that day.

Saturday, September 3, 2016

The 1988 Wine Crisis or We Have Too Damn Many Wineries

The purveyors of doom were at it full bore in 1988 - long before most of today's winemakers were even born or at least, were still wet behind the ears. There were a whopping 70 wineries in the state - up from 11 in 1977. How are we going to deal with so many wineries?
Washington was still number 3 in production behind California and New York. Production was up 68% over the previous year, but consumption was only up 11%. Out-of-state wine sales were flat and national consumption was down 3%. Man, that sucks.
Simon Siegl, president of the Washington Wine Institute, was optimistic. In-state sales were up 17%, but out-of-state sales were up only 4%. He stated that we are undermarketed. We probably still are today with over 800 wineries in our tiny state.
F. W. Langguth, one of the larger wineries, was on the ropes with Chapter 11 due to oversupply of grapes and under supply of sales. They also had problems with trying to make German-style Riesling in Washington State. They actually found grapes at the end of October that were still just 18 brix (just like Germany) due to severe overcropping. Unfortunately, they had enough acid to rejuvenate a car battery. The wine was undrinkable.
At that time, there was no mention of Woodinville, only real wine country; Yakima, Tri-Cities, and Walla Walla.
Premium wine was that which cost more than $4.00 per bottle. It didn't hurt that our largest, and best distributed brand was in that premium category and available in a "couple dozen" states. No Hardly Burgundy or Chabless here.
So, perhaps my glum outlook on the industry is premature after all. 28 years later, the industry is just fine and still growing. Most of the wineries going out of business are doing so because there is no market for used wineries and the owners are tired of being rich winery owners.
So, I guess all we need is a little more out-of-state marketing.
You can read the whole article here complete with quotes from Stan Clarke.

Friday, August 26, 2016

Wine Tasting in New Zealand - Continued

Hawke's Bay is New Zealand's warmest growing region with 2646 average growing degree days. It is there that the Bordeaux reds do best, Merlot in particular. The Cabernets are more Bordeaux in style than the big American Cabs. Since they are low region II, they complain about quality in cool years. The region is divided by highway 2 - a main north-south truck route. East of the highway the vineyards reach to the ocean. West they climb into the hills. The wineries are beautiful. We had a wonderful lunch at Mission Winery. (Most have restaurants.) Particularly pretty is the Esk Valley. This is the closest region to Auckland, so gets many visitors.
Napier is my favorite city in New Zealand. If offers lots of tourist facilities and great restaurants. It is truly spectacular.
Heading south you come to the Wairapa wine district which only produces 1% of the NZ wine from 3% of the acreage. Martinborough is a place whose time has not yet come. Most of the vineyards - if not all - are organic or biodynamic and it shows. Weeds grow under the trellises, vines are diseased and scrawny. It is the only place in the whole country where we were served a defective wine. They pride themselves in using wild yeast. Well folks, there is a reason for using cultured wine yeast. Cultured wine yeast was at one time someone's wild yeast, but it produced outstanding wines, so it became cultured. Most wild yeast make dull, insipid, vinous wines lacking in varietal character. They may be hot, but they are not good.
The town of Martinborough reminds me of Zillah with the exception of a really good Thai restaurant. Other than that, there is not much happening.
After crossing Cook Strait, you enter Marlborough, New Zealand's most famous and prolific area. It is home to Sauvignon Blanc. This is NZ's Napa Valley with the exception of the climate. The wineries are mostly huge tank farms. With 2151 GDD, (low region I) it explains why we can't produce great Sauvignon Blanc in the Rattlesnake Hills. Most of the wineries have restaurants or tapas bars.
Blenheim is the St. Helena of Marlborough. It is a very touristy city with a fancy visitors center which has lots of information about the wine industry. It is also hard to get a room, so we stayed in Picton.
Heading south you enter the Waipara Valley. It is not well know. There are only 12 cellar doors (tasting rooms) in the area. The main grapes produced are Pinot Noir and Riesling. It was here we met our only snarky tasting room person. It doesn't matter how beautiful the winery, the staff make the experience. By the way, we prefer beautiful wineries as opposed to 'hippie' wineries surrounded by junk.
We stayed in Amberly which has one nice restaurant, not much else.
The southernmost wine region in the world is Central Otago and it is well worth the extra time. Glaciers come down to the lake on one side and on the other Pinot Noir grows. It only produces 2.4% of NZ wine. It has a truly continental climate and reminds me a lot of eastern Washington - only cooler with less than 2000 GDD.
Wanaka is the place to stay, but it was full with tourists. We spent the night in Cromwell, a typical farming town. In March (September in the northern hemisphere) is was cold - almost frosty.
NZ makes the Grumpy Winemaker happy. The Kiwis seem to have their act together on tourism and wine tasting. The Washington Wine Commission could take note

Wednesday, July 13, 2016

Remembering our Roots – Pamela J. Tefft

Ray McKee reads a eulogy to his mother at the memorial service

Pamela J. Tefft passed away June 28, 2016. Shirley and I got to know Pam while she was the bookkeeper at Stewart Winery in Granger, Washington. We were just starting Bonair Winery in 1985 and she helped us with our ATF reports. She later went on to cofound Tefft Cellars Winery in Outlook, Washington with her husband Joel Tefft in 1991.
A memorial service was held Sunday July 10, 2016 at Bonair Winery. It was attended by family and the staff and owners of local wineries. Her son, Ray, who is the red winemaker for Ch. Ste. Michelle, led the service.
The founders of the Washington wine industry are long forgotten as everyone is focused on what’s new and hot or what's old and stale. As Winston Churchill once said, “A nation that forgets its past has no future.” Maybe a wine industry that forgets its past has not future either. As the Washington Wine Commission keeps telling the same old stories, it misses much of the history of the industry. I guess our problem is we have never produced a Robert Mondavi or a Georges de Latour or even a Fred Franzia.
Ron Irving and Dr. Walter Clore actually told the story in 1998, but I’m sure none of the staff at the Wine Omission has read it. The book is out of print, but you can still find it on

Wednesday, July 6, 2016

The Wrath of Grapes

I just finished reading 'The Wrath of Grapes - The coming wine industry shakeout and how to take advantage of it' by Lewis Perdue. The book was written in the late '90s so much of the information is out of date but the theme of the book still seems to make sense and is a good read for anyone wanting to invest in vineyards, wineries, or even, for God sake, wine.
His basic premise is to invest in wine and wineries 'for the love not the money.' He outlines many of the problems of the wine industry that still exist today.

  •        The industry does not adequately promote itself. He primarily picked on the California Wine Institute, but we could easily add the Washington Wine Commission to this list. It has the same structural problems. (When do you stop making love to an 800 pound gorilla? When the gorilla is damn good and ready.
  •       The industry does not cooperate within itself. I belong to the Rattlesnake Hills Wine Trail. Getting member wineries to participate in events that benefit everyone is impossible. We have an annual picnic for the public, a meet the owners and winemakers affair. Only about half the wineries participate. Some don't even send the lowest tasting room employee. Others have been known to give their ticket away to friends. It's hard to make a premiere event when you don't have 'premium' members who give a shit.
  •        The industry continues the snob approach to wine. It needs to promote wine as a healthful food that accompanies all meals, not a beverage that 'I spent $100 on this bottle that Parker awarded a 96.' Remember, there isn't much difference between a connoisseur and a city sewer. They are both full of shit.
  •      We are still fighting the neo-dries, the WCTU of the 21st century. The latest attack on wine comes in the form of finding minute amounts of glyphosate in wine. Remember the 'chromium in wine' scare from using stainless steel tanks? Probably not, just before the press release, the CSPI discovered that the American diet is low in chromium and wine is a good source of the nutrient. But they were trying.
  •       The industry needs to fund research. Actually, this may be one area where the Washington Wine Commission is on track.

Grocery stores are filling store shelves with store brands - bulk wine bottled by large wineries that may not even have a brand of their own. Some may be good, but those sold by Costco, for example, are awful and not much of a bargain for the price. Trader Joe's two-buck chuck. Well, you get what you pay for. Gallo's Hardly Burgundy in a four-liter jug is just as good.
The wine industry is small potatoes in the world of business. It has never made a billionaire and very few millionaires. Since the book was written, the number of wineries (and competition) has increase three or four fold. (The exact increase is not important - just a lot.) Most of these new wineries are people investing for the love of wine. The ones who did a quick spreadsheet (1000 cases X $1200 per case =$1.2 million) are finding it hard work with unrealistic returns and are dropping much faster than those who really love the land and wine. Maybe the shakeout will eventually come - hopefully before I die.