FD: Wine Column December 31, 2009

Economy, wine relations part of Christmas party chatter

Everyone made it through the Christmas party, even though there was the slight mishap with the punch bowl, which seemed to jump off the table on its own.

The hostess remained gracious and good-natured, even after repeatedly mopping the sticky floor, and did a great job of saving the party with a lovely multi-colored porcelain bowl.

The punch wasn’t really made with Champagne but that’s understandable. Why waste good Champers when you’re mixing it with cognac and assorted other liquids?

Most of the people came as strangers and left as friends, which is what a good party will do to people, and while many of the folks drank beer (Sam Adams Boston Lager, which is a really good beer), there were a few wine drinkers among the crowd.

Among the offerings were a Bonny Doon Ca’ del Solo Big House Pink, which is winemaker Randall Grahm’s version of an Italian rosato, made with Carignan, Sangiovese, Charbonon and Zinfandel.

I took it, remembering it being more rounded and fruity than it was, and although it was good, it wasn’t a big hit.

Among the reds were a Montevina Barbera and a Piazza della Torre, a wonderful wine made by Franco and Marilisa Alligrini and imported by Leonardo LoCascio and Winebow Inc.

I didn’t see the vintage date on the bottle (or maybe I forgot) but Palazzo della Torre was selected by Wine Spectator magazine as one of the “Top 100 wines of the World” for five years in a row, from 2000 to 2005.

But wine and food didn’t monopolize a hearty conversation that seemed to center around the topic of the economy.

Not another capital-D depression seemed to be the general assumption, although there was obviously a wide-trending desire to hold the line on spending. That, of course, lends itself to the wine market, and a recent report on Wine Business News said savvy customers are looking farther and farther down the list of wines.

Among its reports, Wine Business cited a story in the Los Angeles Times that said, “Sales of wine for $9 or less make up the fastest-growing segment of the wine market, while sales above that price are starting to trend down,” quoting Jon Fredrikson, a Woodside, Calif., industry analyst.

This reflects what some local retailers have said, that bottle sales are up although revenue is down. Which means it takes several $6 wines to have the same income effect as one $20 bottle.

That same story linked to an e-mail from Danny Brager, who tracks the wine industry in the United States for the marketing information source Nielsen Co., that said the wine industry’s “15-year bull run seems to have stumbled a bit.”

“The stumble is that while it’s growing, it’s not growing as fast as it was last year,” Brager said.

And another story compared recent consumer trends to the dark moods following 9–11.

“We’re in a 9–11 mode, where people are hunkering down a little,” said David Freed, chairman of the Napa-based UCC Group, whose investments include hundreds of acres of vineyards in the Central Coast and North Coast.

It’s not that people aren’t buying wines; it’s just they are buying lower-priced wines. Sales of so-called premium wines, the ones that once were in the $15–$20 range, have fallen steadily until now it’s the $5.99 to $9.99 wines that are making up the bulk of the sales.

And many retailers are saying wines priced above $25 are moving sluggishly, if at all.

Which brings us to the unanswerable question of what 2009 will bring.

One guess is we’ll see more Internet wine sales (Amazon is about to undertake online wine sales), more emphasis on organic and biodynamic wines, better wines at lower prices (competition will see to that), and “affordable wines” from countries such as Chile and Argentina commanding a larger portion of the marketplace.

As for resolutions, Colorado has 72 or so wineries. How many of them one, can you name, and two, have you visited? Make a decision to see more of Colorado wine country in 2009, and get to know the winemakers.

It will be the easiest, and one of the most pleasant, resolutions you’ll keep.


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