CONSUMERS ARE NOW TURNING TO WINE AS AN INVESTMENT, NOT JUST A LUXURY

The price of bottles of first-growth Château Lafite Rothschild Bordeaux has been rising as the economy and consumer confidence begins to recover.

Rachael Lowe, beverage director of the Trump International Hotel and Tower Chicago, says people seem pretty comfortable spending again.

Some people use the U.S. gross domestic product to gauge the health of the economy. But wine consumption trends may be a more appropriate indicator of people’s spending habits.

The good news–people are spending more money on wine.

The bad news–that trend is being hindered by rising energy prices.

“I feel like bottles and higher-end wines are coming back,” said Chris Pawlisz, general manager at Table Fifty-Two restaurant in Chicago’s Gold Coast. “I’m seeing less and less flinching when suggesting a $200 bottle of Champagne to start their meal.”

Of course, that’s the high-end. Most wines ordered by customers range between $85 and $125 a bottle, Pawlisz says.

Rachael Lowe, beverage director of the Trump International Hotel and Tower Chicago agreed: “People seem pretty comfortable spending again.”

Andres Munoz, restaurant manager of NoMI Restaurant at the Park Hyatt Chicago said he felt the recovery was especially evident in the second half of 2010.

“People were spending more and feeling more comfortable letting loose,” said Munoz. “However, it is not a full swing economy yet. This year will surely be better than 2010. However, the speed of the economy still has plenty to recover from.”

Although improved wine sales are one sign of better times, industry players say the economy is still mending slowly.

“We are not back to pre-recession levels by a long shot,” said David Henkes, vice president of Technomic Inc., a Chicago-based restaurant-consulting firm.

According to Technomic surveys, the current average price “as perceived by the consumer” for a bottle of wine in the fourth quarter of 2010 was about $30.55. This is down from a high in the fourth quarter of 2008 of $35. Conversely, the consumer’s willingness to pay more for a glass of wine increased during the same period from $6.93 to $7.49.

With that willingness, consumers also have become more aware of what they are drinking and expect more bang for their buck after the recession, according to industry professionals.

“Although consumption decreased, awareness has gone up,” said NoMI’s Munoz. “Sommeliers have to work harder to find value added in presentation and quality without sacrificing mark-ups too much.”

Ryan Stetins, a sommelier at a high-end Chicago restaurant, agrees the recession has created a more educated buyer. Customers tend to have more thought-out purchases, whether they have consulted an online bottle value system or pre-ordered bottles to be decanted before dinner, he said.

Wine lover Aristotle Duran says after being laid off he began buying wine at the grocery store and staying in to cook to save money. He typically spends between $20 and $30 on a bottle of wine, or $8 for a glass when dining out.

“I have never been one to buy expensive wine because I believe you can find a decent bottle for a fair price wherever you go,” said Duran.

During the recession, higher-end restaurants were hit the hardest. For example, at Morton’s Restaurant Group Inc. revenues decreased 14.7 percent in 2009 from $354.5 million to $281.1 million. Revenue rebounded 5 percent in 2010 to $296.1 million, another sign of measured recovery.

“People were not going out during the recession,” said Henkes. “When they did go out, they would order one glass instead of two, or order a glass of wine instead of a bottle.”

According to Henkes, when consumers cut back their spending habits, they tend to forgo wine, dessert and appetizers before ditching eating out altogether. And although many continued to drink wine, they traded down for less expensive selections.

“Wine sales seemed to carry through, but there were certainly fewer purchases of expensive old Burgundy and Bordeaux,” according to Trump’s Lowe.

As the market has started to come back, people are turning to wine as an investment, not just a luxury.

Chicago-based wine auction house Hart Davis Hart Wine Co. uses the HDH Auction Index to gauge revenue. The index tracks the performance of 15 key wines at its auctions such as first-growth Château Lafite Rothschild. According to the HDH Auction Index, HDH wine sales dropped in September of 2008 and did not fully recover until January 201,. They have now come back stronger than ever.

“The economy has had a direct effect on prices over the last 10 years,” said Marc Smoler, marketing manager at Hart Davis Hart. “Prices went down significantly during the recession, but as the economy has improved, they have bounced back very quickly and even surpassed previous highs.”

A similar trend can be seen in the global secondary market for wine.

Liv-Ex Fine Wine 100 Index is an industry benchmark that tracks the price of the 100 most sought-after fine wines that trade frequently in a secondary market. According to the index, fine wine prices dropped 19 percent from August 2008 to August 2009. However, they increased 33 percent from August 2009 to August 2010, surpassing their previous pre-recession prices.

Technomic’s Henkes remains cautiously optimistic about the further recovery of wine consumption and restaurant sales. Still, there are plenty of obstacles to overcome before full recovery is reached, including rising energy and commodity prices.

“For every sign you see of things getting better, you see two more signs of things getting worse,” said Henkes.

With gasoline reaching its highest price in three years, nearing $5 a gallon, people have less disposable income to splurge on wine. Rising commodity prices already are causing some restaurants to increase menu prices, which will increase total dining tabs.

Bridget Kearney, a Chicago self-proclaimed restaurant lover, holds similarly skeptical views on the economy.

“I think it has improved but is nowhere near what it was during the bubble,” said Kearney. “I think there is a bit more to get to pre-bubble levels.”

Despite the promising signs, many wine consumers, including Duran, remain cautious in their spending habits.

Vinexpo Study on Global Wine Consumption, Production and Trends – With Emphasis on China

Robert Beynat, Chief Executive of Vinexpo delivered results of the study “Current Trends in the International Wine and Spirits Market and Outlook to 2014” a few weeks ago at the Windsor Arms Hotel, Toronto, Canada, in which I was very happy to attend.

For the ninth year, the British firm IWSR (The International Wine and Spirit Research) has produced a detailed report on global consumption, production and international exchanges in the wine and spirits industry. The IWSR study has become a reference for industry professionals.

This year’s study covers 28 producer countries and 114 markets where wine and spirits are consumed and have also included an outlook to 2014. Since 1971, the IWSR database has provided the most detailed and precise information on the global alcoholic beverage market.

The study predicts that world wine consumption will have essentially risen by 8.60% over the 10 year term, 3.18% over the 2009-2014 period.

C H I N A

PRODUCTION

China first entered the top ten producing countries worldwide in 2007 and by 2010 had moved to 7th place with 115 million cases in 2010.

China’s production is expected to increase the most overall with up to 77% (128 million cases) between 2010 and 2014.

CONSUMPTION

Total Chinese wine consumption reached 96.33 million 9-litre cases, equivalent to 1.156 billion bottles, in 2009, an increase of 104% compared to 2005.

Between 2010 and 2014, the VINEXPO study expects Chinese wine consumption to grow by a further 19.6%, reaching 127 million 9-litre cases by the end of the period. At that point, China will be the 6th largest wine consuming country in the world

Legal age per capita wine consumption in China is still only 1 litre per year. “When this level of consumption per inhabitant is compared with the per capita rates of the other top 10 large consumer countries, the extraordinary potential of the Chinese market becomes clear”, Robert Beynat, pointed out.

The study further mentions that the worldwide growth in consumption will be driven by three countries: US, China and Russia.

Wine Tends

The resurgence of Rose’ is forecast to increase 7.8% in the 2009-2014 period.

All price points globally are expected to grow. The largest growth is expected in the more than $10 category with an increase of 15.37% between 2009-2014. While wines between $5-$10 will grow by 9.25%.

Overall World Wine Consumption

Between 2009 and 2014, the VINEXPO /ISWR study forecasts a moderate increase in world wine consumption of 3.18 %, reaching 2.729 billion cases.

Liz Palmer
Wine and Travel Writer
Member of the CWW (UK)

French Wine and Champagne Exports to U.S. Grew Significantly in 2010

When it comes to the preferences of American wine drinkers, the proof is in the wine glass: from 2009 to 2010, total volume of French wine exports to the U.S. went up +6.4% to 10.5 million cases and wine value increased by +15.6%, with sparkling wines leading the pack. Champagne, in particular, experienced explosive growth with volume increasing by +51.3% and value by +58.6%. The numbers illustrate that on- and off-premise consumers are spending more per bottle on French wines than they did in 2009. While the economy continues to recover, American wine drinkers have shown that because of the quality, tradition, diversity and value that French wines offer, they are confident to put their money where their wine glasses are, whether it’s for a celebration or everyday enjoyment.

Champagne’s top performance indicates that consumers no longer only look to sparkling wine to celebrate a special occasion, but are now purchasing it on a more regular basis due to Champagne’s high quality, versatility with food and the craftsmanship of its producers. Other sparkling wines from outside of the Champagne region grew +7.3% in volume and +18% in value. As a whole, the total sparkling wine category went up +32.5% in volume and +54.3% in value, attesting to the fact that, in 2010, consumers were trading up across the board in this category.

In the still wine category, AOP (previously known as AOC) wine exports were up overall with the Loire Valley leading the way with an increase of 40% in volume and 34.7% in value; the Languedoc made huge strides in 2010, increasing by 29.4% in volume and 39.4% in value; and both Burgundy’s and the Côtes du Rhône’s value percentages increased, exceeding their volume, showing that consumers are keen to spend more money per bottle on wines from these particular AOP regions.

IGP wines, or Vins de Pays, experienced a decline in volume of -15%, but a +10% increase in value which indicates that while consumers are buying fewer wines from this category, the wines they are purchasing cost more per bottle. Wines with no geographical denomination, previously known as Vins de Table, have continued to decline with a loss of -6% in volume and -0.11% in value, proving that, in general, Americans are now preferring wines from the other two categories.

Sopexa

Les Grandes Dames – These Women Changed The Wine World

Today is the 100th International Women’s Day–the perfect opportunity, we felt, to highlight the achievements of some of the wine world’s most important women.

From winery owners to winemakers to critics to journalists, a significant portion of the wine industry’s leaders are, in fact, women. So to figure out who stands above the rest, we assembled a panel of winemakers, journalists, sommeliers and other successful wine professionals, and asked each of them to name the five most important women in wine of all time (See the panel below). Dozens of women were named, but three in particular received the greatest number of votes from our panel for their contributions to the wine world:

• Jancis Robinson: The runaway winner, she’s a Master of Wine, author of several books and writer of a weekly Financial Times column that’s considered to be the pinnacle of wine journalism. She’s one of the most respected, level-headed wine critics in the world.

• Zelma Long: She’s perhaps the greatest consultant winemaker you’ve never heard of–a winemaker’s winemaker who got more votes from our panel than Helen Turley, Heidi Barrett or Philippine de Rothschild. Long was Robert Mondavi’s head enologist through the ’70s, then turned around the Simi winery and became its CEO. She’s consulted for wineries in Washington, Oregon, Israel, France, Argentina and Italy, and she’s also the winemaking partner of Vilafonté in South Africa–as well as owner and winemaker of her own company, Long Vineyards, in Napa.

• Barbe-Nicole Ponsardin, aka, Le Veuve (“widow”) Clicquot: Widowed at age 27 in 1805, Ponsardin took the reins of her husband’s Champagne business–and changed the entire industry. Under her leadership the technique of riddling was instituted and perfected, which transformed Champagne from a sweet drink to the fine, dry, fizzy wine we know and love today. Next time you open a great bubbly, know there was an even greater woman who inspired it. And that was just for starters in her long, brilliant career.

Among our nine panelists, more than 25 different women were named at least once for their contributions to the wine world–which goes to show just how many important and influential women there are in this industry. There are winery owners, winemakers, writers, Master Sommeliers, Masters of Wine, you name it–each of whom has moved the wine industry forward in one way or another.

Read on to learn a little more about each of these women, and get a sense of how much they’ve influenced what wines the world sips each and every day.

Leading Women in Wine
We asked each of our panelists to name the five most important women in the wine world, of all time. The following women all received at least one mention from our panel. Some received two or three mentions, but no one earned as many votes as Jancis Robinson, Zelma Long and Barbe-Nicole Ponsardin (Le Veuve Clicquot), above.

• Alessia Antinori is a 26th-generation winemaker in the famed Antinori family of Italy, though she spends much of her time–at the moment–marketing the family’s ranges of wine in new and established markets around the world for months at a time. Still in her early 30s, it’s this young, fresh face that’s bringing new attention to one of Italy’s most established families and traditions.

• Fiona Beckett is one of the leading food and wine writers in the U.K. She’s written more than 20 books, with pairing food and wine as her main focus; she’s a regular columnist for The Guardian.

• Heidi Peterson Barrett is one of America’s–if not the world’s–most respected winemakers. She’s known for making some of California’s most successful cult wines, Screaming Eagle chief among them. Today she consults for several different producers, and also has her own label, La Sirena.

• Lalou Bize-Leroy is the owner of Domaine d’Auvenay and Domaine Leroy in Burgundy, and for nearly two decades she helped run Domaine de la Romanée-Conti, the Burgundy producer that makes some of the most sought-after and expensive wines in the world (she left in ’92). Leroy, in particular, produces several grand cru, premier cru and village-level wines, and all the wines are made according to biodynamic principles.

• Lilly Bollinger has a story that somewhat mirrors that of the Veuve Clicquot. Lilly’s husband died in 1941, and she ran the Champagne estate for the next three decades. She expanded and improved production, and traveled the world to sell the Bollinger Champagnes. She’s perhaps best remembered for what she once said of Champagne: “I drink it when I’m happy and when I’m sad. Sometimes I drink it when I’m alone. When I have company I consider it obligatory. I trifle with it if I’m not hungry and drink it when I am. Otherwise, I never touch it–unless I’m thirsty.”

• Laura Catena is a true renaissance woman. She’s a physician, a mother of three, the author of a wine book and the president of her family’s winery, Bodega Catena Zapata, in Argentina.

• Sylvie Cazes is perhaps the most powerful person in Bordeaux. She’s credited with the successful running of Chateau Lynch Bages (and several other holdings in the family business over the past 20 years), and she was elected president of the Union des Grand Cru Classes de Bordeaux in 2008. She’s also served on the Bordeaux City Council, and just last month she was named managing director of Chateau Pichon Comtesse de Lalande. Only in her mid-50s, expect Cazes to be a guiding force in Bordeaux wine for a long time to come.

• Jeannie Cho Lee is the first person from Asia to become a Master of Wine. Born in Seoul and educated at Smith College and at Harvard, Cho Lee currently lives in Hong Kong. She’s a widely published wine journalist and critic, and also works as a consultant for Singapore Airlines. She has her own site, Asian Palate.

• Diana Cullen and her husband Kevin are considered pioneers of the Western Australia wine industry. They planted their vineyard in 1971, and gained quick acclaim for their high-quality wines. In 2000, Diana was inducted as a Member of the Order of Australia for her service and contribution to the development of the wine industry. She died a few years later, but her daughter Vanya Cullen, also named to our list, is carrying her mother’s legacy forward. She’s been head winemaker at Cullen since 1989, and she’s earned many accolades and awards; she was named Woman of the Year by U.K. magazine The Drinks Business in 2008. She was the first Australian to receive the honor.

• Veronique Drouhin Boss is a pioneer in Oregon Pinot Noir. She and her father, Robert Drouhin, were among the first to see Oregon as a serious spot for Pinot on par with their home of Burgundy. She’s made the highly acclaimed Domaine Drouhin wines since 1988.

• Merry Edwards has been a fixture of the Sonoma wine industry since the 1970s, working as a consultant for several different high-profile producers. But her relentless pursuit of perfection with her own wines, Pinot Noir in particular, is what’s drawn the most admiration from her peers near and far.

• May-Eliane de Lencquesaing ran and made the wines at Château Pichon Longueville Comtesse de Lalande for three decades. She’s also widely known and respected for her work promoting and marketing Bordeaux wines around the world.

• Mary Ewing-Mulligan is the first American woman to become a Master of Wine, and she’s co-author of the books Wine for Dummies and Wine Style, along with her husband Ed McCarthy.

• Laura Maniec is one of the youngest American women ever to be inducted into the Court of Master Sommeliers. She was wine director at the BR Guest Restaurant Group for 10 years, and is soon to open her own wine bar, Corkbuzz, in New York. She plans for Corkbuzz to offer wine tastings and classes.

• Corinne Mentzelopoulos is the owner of legendary Chateau Margaux. She’s credited with completing and advancing the work of her father, who took over the estate and began restoring it in the ’70s after it had fallen on hard times. Much like de Lencquesaing, above, Mentzelopoulos is lauded for her work marketing the wines of Bordeaux around the world, but she’s also known for her keen business sense that led her to the right time to buy the estate outright in 2003.

• Hazel Murphy is largely responsible for the exploding popularity of Australian wine through the ’90s and 2000s. She spent approximately 20 years as head of the Australian Wine Bureau in England, and on her watch Australia’s wine exports rose from the thousands of cases per year to the tens of millions. Most importantly, she did what so few had been able to accomplish to that point: She exposed people to wine who’d never before thought about buying it. The rest is history.

• Ann Noble is a professor emeritus at the University of California Davis, best known for inventing the wine Aroma Wheel. It’s considered to be one of the best tools for helping those new to wine — as well as seasoned wine professionals — better understand how to taste and assess wine. She has a PhD in food science from the University of Massachusetts, and she was the first female faculty member of U.C. Davis’ viticulture department.

• Mary Penfold was the wife of Christopher Rawson Penfold; they emigrated to Australia from England in the mid-1800s. Together they established what is today Australia’s — and one of the world’s — most famous and successful wine companies. Mary ran the winery and vineyard for about 40 years, her viticultural and winemaking expertise unmatched in Australia during that time. Her ability to experiment in the vineyard and winery, too, led to many grape-growing and winemaking techniques adopted and developed by others after her death in 1896.

• Norma Ratcliffe is one of the most important trailblazers in the South African wine industry. She and her husband began growing grapes and vegetables in the 1970s, and Ratcliffe became so enraptured with winemaking that she went to train in Bordeaux in the mid ’80s. Many of South Africa’s successful winemakers, in turn, trained under Ratcliffe. She’s still the director of Warwick Estate in Stellenbosch.

• Andrea Robinson is a Master Sommelier, the author of several wine books and has hosted wine-related shows on Food Network and Fine Living.

• Louisa Rose is chief winemaker at Australian producer Yalumba, where she’s worked for nearly 20 years. In particular, she’s known for thinking outside the Shiraz, and has made some of Australia’s most prized Viogniers. She’s also the first female winemaker to be the head judge of the Perth Royal Wine Show.

• Baroness Philippine de Rothschild is the owner of legendary Chateau Mouton Rothschild, and has led the family business from strength to strength since she took over in 1988. Back then, a bottle of Mouton released for somewhere between $50 and $100; the 2008 was released at more than $1,100 per bottle.

• Martine Saunier is the first woman to establish a wine-importing company in the United States, and is currently president of Martine’s Wines. Throughout her career she’s taken regular trips to France to find new and interesting wines which, early on, she sold through a mailing list. More than a salesperson, she’s credited with being an ambassador for French wines in America.

• Serena Sutcliffe is a Master of Wine–the second woman to earn the distinction, and one of the very few people to pass the exam on the first attempt–and the head of Sotheby’s wine department. She’s earned several awards for her service to wine education and written several wine books; she also shares much of the credit for popularizing wine auctions beyond a few, small circles of private collectors.

• Jennifer Simonetti-Bryan is only the fifth American woman to become a Master of Wine, and she helps train wine- and spirits-industry professionals. She’s a regular fixture on American television and radio, offering straight, easy-to-understand wine guidance.

• Madeline Triffon is only the second woman to pass the Master Sommelier exam, and has been exposing Detroit-area diners to the great wines of the world since the late ’70s. Today she heads the wine department for the Matt Prentice Restaurant Group in Michigan.

• Helen Turley stands alongside–and perhaps above, some would argue–the greatest California winemakers ever. She trained some of California’s other cult winemakers, such as Heidi Peterson Barrett (above) and Mark Aubert, and has consulted for wineries such as Pahlmeyer, Bryant Family and Colgin. Her own, small-production wines, Marcassin Vineyard, are some of the most sought-after in the world; the mailing list is a years-long wait.

panelists:
• Gary Vaynerchuk, host of Wine Library TV
• Mary Ewing-Mulligan, Master of Wine, educator and co-author of Wine for Dummies
• Randall Grahm, winemaker
• Elin McCoy, Bloomberg wine writer and author of The Emperor of Wine
• Stephen Brook, writer for Decanter magazine
• Natalie MacLean, author of Red, White and Drunk All Over
• Michael Olivier, South African wine critic and author
• Alpana Singh, Master Sommelier
• Ben Edwards, Australian wine critic and author
• Richard Betts, Master Sommelier

Bottle Notes

CIVL is Thrilled to Announce the Implementation of a New Languedoc AOC Segmentation

Seeking to add value to its vintages, CIVL has implemented a new segmentation for its offering. The new vintage hierarchy was approved in 2010 and is to be applied immediately to regional producers. The new hierarchy is comprised of three tiers arranged in a pyramid pattern. This innovative segmentation will shape the future of Languedoc wines. Languedoc AOCs are now divided into three major families, based on the wines’ sale price: AOC Languedoc, Grands Vins du Languedoc and Grands Crus du Languedoc.

AOC Languedoc
These wines form the base of the pyramid due to the greater quantity of products available on the market. They are commercially driven, thereby explaining the need for strong wines in this segment. AOC Languedoc wines are easily recognizable, affordable, highly drinkable and offer instant gratification.

Grands Vins du Languedoc
These wines represent the pyramid’s second tier and include the following AOCs: Minervois, Corbières, Saint-Chinian, sparkling Limoux, red Limoux, Malepère, Faugères, Cabardès, Muscat de Frontignan, de Lunel, de Mireval, de St-Jean de Minervois, Clairette de Languedoc, Picpoul de Pinet, Montpeyroux, Cabrières, Saint-Christol, Sommières, Le Quatourze, La Méjanelle, Saint-Drézery, and Saint-Georges d’Orques. These full-bodied and aromatic wines, boast terroir features that reflect their regional typicality.

Grands Crus du Languedoc
The pyramid’s top tier is comprised of wines whose bottling must occur within the production area, with an average minimum aging period of 12 months for reds and 6 months for whites, as well as quality control for all production runs after bottling. This segment reflects renowned terroir wines and signature wines featuring strong valuation and rarity management.

This segment’s AOCs include: Corbières Boutenac, Minervois La Livinière, Terrasse du Larzac, Grès de Montpellier, Pic Saint Loup, Pézenas, La Clape, still white Limoux, sparkling Limoux, Saint-Chinian Roquebrun, and Saint-Chinian Berlou.

Languedoc AOCs are divided between the pyramid’s 2nd and 3rd tier based on the following factors:

· Positioning request by each designation’s Protection and Management Organization
· 3 types of criteria guaranteeing the market segment’s homogeneity:

o Production criteria: performance, bottling area, 12-month aging
o Economic criteria: bottle guide price, bulk guide price
o Qualitative criteria: tasting obligation for all Grands Crus production

www.languedoc-wines.com.