Feb 102012
 

Umbrian countrysideWhen most of us think of Italy, we envision sunbaked hills, pastoral vineyards and bucolic olive groves. What we don’t usually consider is snow. But snow was on the menu last week during my travels to the Umbrian countryside and Rome.

I was there to give a couple of presentations at the International Wine Tourism Conference. The conference was a collection of wine trade, bloggers, and travel agents/tour operators, who gathered to hear about the state of wine tourism and what they could do to promote it.

Michael WangbicklerIt was my privilege to give the opening plenary talk, in which I posited the argument that wine tourism does not, in fact, exist. As you can imagine, this was a tad controversial at a wine tourism conference. But, my point, essentially, is that it takes more than wine to draw people to spend their hard earned time and money on a vacation. Travelers want an entire experience that may include good food, leisure activities, pampering themselves, or any of a dozen other options other than wine. Most of the attendees got what I was saying.

My second presentation was about marketing to the millennial generation. I won’t bore you with the details, but this talk went even better than the first and I was pleased with the results. I’d be happy to share my thoughts on the subject if you email me.

The conference took place in the city of Perugia, a hilltop town perched in the state of Umbria. Umbria is home to a lot of grape vines, but the most famous wine from the area is the Sagrantino de Montefalco. This wine makes Cabernet Sauvignon look like a wimp in comparison. Big on tannin and acid, this wine is a powerhouse that really requires a few years of aging before it’s at its best. The area is also known for its sweet passito, wines made from grapes that have been dried to concentrate their sugars. And, of course, like other areas in Italy, just about every cantina makes grappa. I brought back a bottle of passito and grappa to enjoy a later date.

This brings me back to the snow. On my journey home, I decided to spend a day in Rome. Little was I to know that they would have the worst snow storm in 50 years. It seems that snow is not a common occurrence in the old city, so they were totally unprepared. The trains weren’t running; the buses weren’t running; the museums were closed; and the taxi drivers decided to stay home and keep warm. It was certainly an adventure I will never forget. Here is a little video to give you a little flavor.


Feb 082012
 

Chianti ClassicoChianti.  Chianti Classico.  If you are confused, welcome to the club.  Over the years these two appellations have evolved in ways that are confusing to anyone who doesn’t study wine for a living, or live in Tuscany.

The good news?  It is getting easier.  Chianti Classico is the heart of Tuscany—the very center of the region between Florence and Siena, and home to some of the most amazing wines in the world.  And their project 2000 has been a revelation; changing just about every element of the growing of grapes and the making of wines in the region, all for the better.

So when we were there in December, we went to the Monastery of Santa Maria al Prato, a lovely spot that is the future headquarters of the Consorzio Vino Chianti Classico.  In the refectory, where monks once ate their meager meals, we tasted through a broad selection of current vintages and library wines from Chianti Classico.  (The walls were decorated with exhortations to enjoy the satisfying riches of faith, which will sustain you even when there is little food.  We didn’t have to make that choice.)

What a revelation.  Consistently lovely, rich wines that express the true beauty of Sangiovese:   bright cherry fruit, elegance, balance, and fresh and lively acidity all at once.  Delicious.

And yes, we do this for a living!

Feb 062012
 

Wine Market Council Consumer TrendsThere are lies, damn lies and statistics. But, all joking aside, data – when carefully collected and analyzed (there goes that social scientist in me again) – can provide real information and insight into our behavior. Consequently, the flurry of facts shared at the Wine Market Council’s press conference this week offered some interesting views on the state of wine business. And, there were a few surprises among them.

Council President John Gillespie revealed that they had discovered a new demographic. A subset of the Millennial generation, which has been the fastest growing market segment for several years, this newly acknowledged group (which consists of the younger half of this generation) appears to differ greatly from their older siblings and may not be as stalwart in their adoption and purchase of wine. However, what this finding means long term is still too early to tell; all that is clear is that the Recession has hit the recent graduates much harder.

Additional details came fron Danny Brager of The Nielsen Company. Brager’s report shared a look at varietal trends in the market. More specifically, Malbec and Moscato were the big winners in 2011.   This news (or rather the lack of news on some other grape varieties) came as a shock to some. New York Times journalist Howard Goldberg questioned the lack of growth on the part of Riesling. Goldberg referenced last year’s highly visible “Summer of Riesling” campaign — visible at least in terms of on-premise, retail and media coverage. However, much to Howard’s consternation, the numbers didn’t add up. He wondered why Riesling was underperforming with respect to the fanfare it had been given.

While neither Gillespie, Brager nor Dr. Greg Carpenter (a faculty member from Kellogg School of Management, Northwestern University/Center for Market Leadership) had a concrete response for Goldberg, they admitted that not all grapes can have banner years. Certainly, some will win out to the detriment of others and sustaining double-digit growth isn’t feasible long term.

However, it seems most plausible that Riesling continues to be embraced by those of us I the trade but not by the general consumer. This loss can be mourned (and perhaps addressed) another time.

Most importantly, this finding highlights the disconnect that exists between the messages generated by the wine industry and what is actually received and acted upon by wine consumers. With the time, effort and money that poured into the “Summer of Riesling,” it’s a shame that it didn’t have the economic impact some expected.

The question that remains is why? What is it about the messages that made them ineffective, or, at least insufficiently effective? And that begs the question for more detailed data and analyses.

Feb 012012
 

20120131-183555.jpgThe annual Zinfandel bacchanalia, aka ZAP, concluded last week. For those unfamiliar, ZAP stands for Zinfandel Advocates & Producers, and every year the organization sponsors a three day series of events culminating in a grand tasting which has to be one of the most comprehensive tasting of a single grape variety anywhere. This year over 200 wineries participated.

Several months ago I was asked to attend by a colleague, do some tasting and then speak on panel of sommeliers and discuss my favorites. I arrived some two hours after the tasting started for members of the press and the hospitality trade. By that time the San Francisco Concourse, an enormous place, was crammed. What was also quickly evident was that there wasn’t a lot of “serious” tasting going on, more like drinking and carousing–unusual for a trade tasting but then again mass quantities of Zinfandel tends to do just that. Mind you, the general public wouldn’t be allowed in for another two hours. That prospect was frightening but I wouldn’t be around long enough to witness the damage. Instead I tasted my way through the better part of 80+ wines impressed by the consistency in quality of the 2009 and 2010 vintages and also the amazing range of styles. Zinfandel is truly one of the most versatile grapes and easily capable of making a wider range of wines than any other grape save Syrah and Grenache. In the end I was able to come up with three wines that were favorites—definitely not an easy job. Here they are. Oddly enough, all three are from Napa Valley and that’s unusual given the grape’s success in other regions such as Sonoma, Paso Robles, Lodi and Amador.

  1. 2009 Storybook Mountain, Eastern Exposures, Napa Valley – I’ve long thought that owner/winemaker Jerry Seps is one of the top Zinfandel producers. His wines are consistently elegant (not exactly a term one associates with Zin), seamless, complex and very long lived. The 2009 Eastern Exposures taken from his estate vineyard north of Calistoga is no exception. Utterly delicious now and over the next 7-10 years.
  2. 2009 T Vine Cellars Frediani Vineyard, Calistoga – This easily the most delicious Zin of the day for me. Remarkably pure ripe fruit with pronounced spice components. Very concentrated without being heavy. I called it the ultimate speed dating wine: amazing first impression, lots to talk about and no one gets offended.
  3. 2010 Robert Biale “Old Crane Ranch,” Napa Valley – Finally, the winner of the “full contact” or “monster truck pull” category. The Biale Zins are known for their immense concentration and richness and the Old Crane Ranch didn’t let me down. Luscious, spicy, rich and simply hedonistic. It has to be tasted to be believed.

If there were spit buckets no one was using them. I wonder how many babies will be born just nine months from now among attendees …