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 The book was written in the late '90s so much of the information is out of date but the theme of the book still seems to make sense and is a good read for anyone wanting to invest in vineyards, wineries, or even, for God sake, wine.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.