Flavor: The New ‘Tipping Point: Bourbon vs. Vodka Smackdown?

Posted on | March 30, 2012   Bookmark and Share
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Malcolm Gladwell’s bestselling book The Tipping Point suggests in its subtitle “How little things can make a big difference.” Well, something similar may be happening in the spirits realm—it involves chocolate cupcakes and black cherries. A recent stock report suggests whiskey marketers are wooing flavor-obsessed vodka consumers as never before.  

That’s the “tippling point” thesis of two stock analysts from Citibank about the possible—and in their view positive—growth prospects of Brown-Forman stock. Now, this article is in no way an endorsement of any stock, but the rationale of the Wall Street analysts does provide interesting food (and drink) for thought, so to speak. What’s their logic? Despite growing numbers of exotic vodka launches inspired by flavors from chocolate cake and toasted marshmallows to gummy bears and PB & J, Citibank analysts Vivien Azer and Geoffrey Small contend flavor-fatigue is setting in with vodka consumers. In an audacious scenario, the Citi analysts argue that bourbon brands—and especially flavored bourbons—could be prime beneficiaries, as their sales were extremely robust in 2011.

But before anyone gets carried away with the “bourbon smacking down vodka” scenario, according to Beverage Information Group, U.S. sales of vodka in 2011 increased at a faster rate than American straight whiskey (which includes bourbon, but excludes blended whiskey): +7.1% versus +2.7%. On a volume basis, vodka’s increase was 10 times larger than straight whiskey’s: a 4.5 million-case gain versus a 400,000 case increase.

Bottom line: Vodka—domestic and imported, kitschy and straight—still rules. However, there’s no denying bourbon and flavored whiskey sales are surging. Rob Mason, director U.S. bourbons at Beam Global, says, “We see innovation as a strong driver of bourbon category growth. We are ‘bullish’ on 2012.”  His optimism is buoyed no doubt by Beam’s latest Red Stag flavors: Honey Tea and Spiced.  
Signals at the Bar

Noting a shift in consumer bar calls, Jeff Boyle, a beverage consultant to momofuku ssäm, a trendy bar in Manhattan’s Lower East Side, observes, “Probably the most major contribution to the increase in whiskey and bourbon sales is the resurgence of the craft cocktail.”

Curtis Hancock, mixologist at Panzur, a Spanish restaurant and bar in Tivoli, New York, agrees: “Many of our regulars who were at one time ordering drinks like kangaroos [the correct name of the so-called vodka martini, originally showing up in cocktail books in the early 1950s] or cosmopolitans, are now happily sitting down at the bar and ordering Sazeracs, Aviations and even martinis made with the traditional 2:1 gin to vermouth ratio.”

Jim Shpall, president and CEO of Applejack Wine & Spirits, Colorado’s leading retailer, says, “I have never really seen vodka flavors take off as a sub-category….it’s more a matter of suppliers getting more facings.” He adds, “The rapid growth in artisanal bourbons is a natural extension of our consumers’ interest in craft beers. Colorado is at the forefront of the craft brewing and micro-distilling trends.”

Beam Global’s Mason also notes that “women are becoming more interested in whiskey. In fact, 45% of Red Stag consumers are female. Flavored whiskies, such as Red Stag, are bringing in new consumers who previously only drank white spirits.”

Maxime Kouchnir, VP of marketing for vodkas at Pernod Ricard USA, Absolut’s marketer, counters, “Consumer demand for new flavors remains strong. Our leadership in flavors dates back to 1986, when the brand released its first flavored vodka, Absolut Peppar, to capitalize on the growing Bloody Mary trend.” Absolut has extended—some might say elevated—the flavored vodka category with its limited-edition “City” series, starting with Absolut New Orleans back in 2007 and most recently featuring Miami. “Flavored vodkas and line extensions represent roughly 25% of our business, and we will continue to introduce more leading-edge flavors and line extensions in 2012.”

Where will it end? To paraphrase the classic cliché, one could predict that American cocktail enthusiasts will have their “cake” (as in Cupcake Vodka) and eat it too, with a black cherry on top (as in Red Stag Black Cherry). Cupcakes and black cherries, then, could turn out to be at the fulcrum of the most flavorful “tippling point” in U.S. drinks history.  

Brand Profile: Adult Chocolate Milk Takes Off

Posted on | March 30, 2012   Bookmark and Share
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Playful and premium, this innovative spirit is the next big thing in chocolate.

When you stop to think about it, practically every wine, beer and spirit on the market represents an acquired taste. Adult Chocolate Milk stands deliciously apart, delivering not only a smooth, creamy flavor that millions adore, but also a smile-inducing dash of nostalgia. The product’s tag line—“Retaste Your Youth. At 40 proof!”—captures its playfulness. Meanwhile, a groundswell of momentum based both on quality in the bottle and wildfire word-of-mouth is promising to make this grown-up treat one of the most remarkable spirit launches so far this century.

Co-founded by two high school friends, Tracy Reinhardt and Nikki Halbur, who reconnected via Facebook, there is a modern-day storybook quality to Adult Chocolate Milk’s origin. It started in a California kitchen. Reinhardt, would often joke with friends that wine was her “adult grape juice.” One night she felt like something different, and whipped up a vodka-based chocolate cocktail. She updated her Facebook status to say she was enjoying some “adult chocolate milk.” A flurry of comments followed; friends wanted to know more—and to try it. Before long, Reinhardt was making larger batches (including many enjoyed at Hollywood events). Then she and Halbur formed Adult Beverage Company, to take the product to the next level.

It wasn’t easy, Reinhardt recalls, because both partners insisted on using premium ingredients. After 16 separate flavor trials, they finally hit on a shelf-stable recipe of dairy, vodka and chocolate that was not too heavy, not too sweet, and could be enjoyed straight (chilled), on the rocks, or in a cocktail. Dressed up in retro-chic packaging and priced to retail for $19.99, Adult Chocolate Milk was set to leave SoCal.

After being introduced at the 2010 WSWA convention, the first cases shipped in September. Empowered by mouth and social media buzz—plus some hefty chain and supermarket orders—Adult Chocolate Milk spread from four to 40 states in the next six months and by June 2011 was pegged as the third fastest-growing spirit in the nation. A turning point came a month later, as Adult Beverage Company forged a distribution partnership with W.J. Deutsch & Sons, Ltd., whose track record includes megabrands Georges Duboeuf and Yellow Tail.

More Adult Fun to Come

The two women, still balancing households with kids, have a complementary division of labor, with Reinhardt focusing on product development and public relations, and Halbur managing the supply chain. The alliance with Deutsch has given them chance to turn some attention to expanding the portfolio. Rolling out in April, Adult Limeade, based on reposado tequila, reflects a similar devotion to premium quality and the flexibility to be enjoyed straight or mixed.

Halbur defines their target market as “people like us: busy women, who want a premium cocktail but don’t want to have to mix up a bunch of different ingredients.” Sampling has proven incredibly powerful for Adult Chocolate Milk; its love-at-first-sip taste wins over men as well. Halbur estimates that 5,000 samples were poured at the 2012 South Beach Wine & Food Festival in February.

Technically a vodka liqueur, Adult Chocolate Milk is typically shelved alongside Baileys, Kahlúa and Godiva. But as Reinhardt notes, sales get a boost when it’s stocked in a cold box, or case-stacked with the recently introduced POS display—a huge replica of the bottle. It makes a great gift, too, because, well, chocolate is so giftable.

Another key is its mixability. Being based on premium vodka, it blends seamlessly with liqueurs and flavored vodkas. Signature drinks have had great success on-premise. Case in point: bar concessions at the Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim stadium serve the Chocolate Monkey, inspired by the team’s famous rally monkey.

All told, with depletions both on- and off-premise continuing to accelerate, the co-founders are looking to build on the momentum. “I am absolutely thrilled with the success that Adult Beverage Company has seen since our introduction to the marketplace with Adult Chocolate Milk,” says Reinhardt. “Nikki and I are living a dream, and to see that dream materialize is extraordinary. We are so grateful to our customers who continue to inspire us and who have made this brand among the fastestgrowing in the industry.”

Chocolate Monkey

2 oz. Adult Chocolate Milk
¾ oz. Banana Liqueur
Splash of Cream
½ oz. Whipped Vodka
Chocolate Syrup

Chill, layer and serve in a chocolate
syrup-lined martini glass with sliced
banana or chocolate syrup-coated
banana garnish.

U.S. is World’s Largest Wine Market Again

Posted on | March 30, 2012   Bookmark and Share
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Total wine sales in the U.S. from California, other states and foreign countries climbed to a record of 347 million cases, a 5.3%  jump from 2010, with an estimated retail value of $32.5 billion, according to wine industry consultant Jon Fredrikson of Gomberg, Fredrikson & Associates in Woodside.

Of the total, California’s 211.9 million cases held a 61%  share of the U.S. market. This is the 18th consecutive year of volume growth in the U.S.

Shipments of sparkling wine and Champagne were the highest in the past 25 years, reaching 17.2 million cases, up 13%  over the previous year. he said. Strong sales came from a variety of different producers and regions worldwide. Prosecco and sparkling moscato were among the winners, but Champagnes, other sparkling wines and California methode champenoise wines also experienced gains.

U.S. wine exports – 90% from California – reached a record of $1.39 billion in winery revenues in 2011, an increase of 21.7% compared to 2010.

Volume shipments were up 5.8% to 455.7 million liters or 50.6 million nine-liter cases. 34% of U.S. wine exports by value were shipped to the 27-member countries of the European Union, accounting for $478 million of the revenues, up 10% from 2010, statistics show.

Other top markets were:

. Canada, $379 million, up 23%;

. Hong Kong, $163 million, up 39%;

. Japan, $105 million, up 39%;

. China, $62 million, up 42%.

Source: Napa Valley Register

March 29th

Know The Law: SLA’s LAMP Map Debuts: New Online Program is a Powerful Research Tool for Licensees

Posted on | March 29, 2012   Bookmark and Share
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On Wednesday, March 9th, the New York State Liquor Authority held an open forum to introduce its new mapping project, called LAMP (Liquor Authority Mapping Project). It is an interactive map that can be found by clicking the map picture at the top of the SLA website home page or at http://lamp.sla.ny.gov/nysla/index.htm.

SLA Chairman Dennis Rosen opened the meeting. He explained his hope that the new system would give licensees, attorneys, applicants, community boards and other interested parties access to the majority of the information which is regularly requested by telephone calls and FOIL (Freedom of Information Law)requests. This would free SLA investigators to concentrate on their core duties: processing applications and investigating violations.

What Does LAMP Do?

The Chairman noted that the Authority had received a number of inquiries concerning the availability of disciplinary history of licensees on the system. Chairman Rosen pointed out that only adjudicated findings are available on the map. Pending actions and those for which a licensee was found not guilty are not made available.

After a brief discussion, Mr. Rosen introduced Joshua Carr, Deputy Commissioner-Internal Audit and Special Projects. Mr. Carr worked with Jeffrey Jukes, an SLA Information Technology Specialist, to put the computer through its paces.

Mr. Carr started with a caveat: Distances on the Lamp map are approximate. They are based upon addresseswhich are created through computer algorithms. Even if they were not subject to computer variations, they do not measure from door to door. Therefore, even though they are substantially correct, there are enough variations to require physical inspections before an attorney provides the Authority with a certification as to the accuracy of an application.

Prior to launching the new LAMP map, the Authority set up industry meetings to discuss what should be included. There can be little doubt that a vast majority of the comments given by industry members were included in the system. The Authority has created a tool which offers licensees, attorneys, community boards and the public a wealth of information.

When the Lamp Map is opened, you must accept the disclaimer statement which explains that the information contained in the map is an approximation. By clicking the “accept” button you enter the map. When you do, a map of the State of New York appears. Across the top are a series of access controls, which among other tools includes: a zoom in/out bar, a drop down menu which allows information layers to be added to the map, a “go to” tab that allows the user to input a specific address and a report tab, which will give a summary of information about the area surrounding a particular location. There are also buttons which allow you to toggle between street and satellite views.

Layers of Information

Although there is a substantial help menu, the LAMP map takes some time for a user to get oriented. If you attempt to layer the map without zooming in to a small enough area, nothing appears. The map legend is located on the bottom of the layers pop-up. It must be clicked to bring up the explanation of the icons which appear on the map. With a little practice, you are likely to be amazed by the wealth of information.

The Layers button will allow you to select what information should show on the map. You can use this tool to select all licenses or to select the license types that interest you. The choices include on-premise, off-premise, wholesaler and pending applications. When you click on the icon which represents a particular licensed premise, pertinent data about the licensee appears, including license name and any authorized dba, address, license number and license type and class.

There are also measuring tools, which can be set to cover an area or to measure distances between points. This can be done either in a straight line or the distance if you were to walk or drive between the points. You can layer in churches and schools. As a result, an attorney representing an applicant for an off-premise license can easily find the four nearest package stores. Similarly, an attorney representing an on-premise licensee can mine the map to discover if there is a school or church within 200 feet, and whether there are three or more on-premise licensees within 500 feet of the proposed premise. Keep in mind Mr. Carr’s caveat: Distances are approximate.

Other Features

If you use the “go to” button to enter a specific address and then press the “report” button, the LAMP map will produce a report which lists the four nearest package stores, churches and schools within 500 feet, and the on-premise licenses within 750 feet. The map can also be used to determine pertinent information about a particular location, including its SLA zone, the community board with jurisdiction and in which police precinct it is located.

By selecting the “Counties” layer, you can access census information. You can select a spot on the map and run a report from that spot. If you already have a license, you can enter your own address and track pending applications which may affect your business. Clicking on the pending application icons, will provide the current status of the application.

The New Lamp Map is simply a fabulous tool. Chairman Rosen, Commissioner Greene and the men and women at the Authority deserve major kudos. Learn to use it. You will be happy you did!

An App For That: ‘onthebar’ It’s 10pm… Do You Know Where Your Bartender Is?

Posted on | March 29, 2012   Bookmark and Share
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Every bartender wants to develop a devoted following. With onthebar, a new free app created by a Boston-based entrepreneur Ian Stanczyk, now barkeeps can let their fans know when they are on the stick—and if they are whipping up any special libations for the evening. Here, Stanczyk and partner Corey Bunnewith, a 2009 Beverage Network Mixologist to Watch, give us the scoop.

THE BEVERAGE NETWORK: So, how was onthebar dreamed up?

IAN STANCZYK: One of my closest friends and old college roommate is a bartender. When we finished school, I went into the nine-to-five working world and he into the business of being a pro bartender. Which meant the only time I could see my friend was when I visited him at his bar. Trouble was, I had no good way of knowing when he was working. I thought to myself: Wouldn’t it be nice if his phone had a button he could press that would create, basically, a bat signal that told me and anyone else who cared that he was… on the bar?

So, the original idea was a selfish one but, talking with people like TJ [fellow partner TJ Connelly] and Corey and dozens of others, I realized: OK, I’m not the only person who cares about these things. There’s a whole community of people who make decisions based upon who is where and what relationships they have. It occurred to me that the patron experience is so heavily shaped by the interactions with the staff, rather than, say, the decor, location or Yelp rating of the venue, that we could provide real value by facilitating those relationships.

TBN: Can you guide us through how the app works?

STANCZYK: A bartender opens the app and is presented with a single button, labeled ‘on the bar,’ that they press during their shift to tell the world where they are. Patrons can follow individual bartenders and they’ll receive push notifications to let them know when and where their bartenders are working. Once ‘onthebar,’ bartenders can ‘shout’ updates to their network, to tell people what’s happening at the bar and why they should come in. These updates can also be pushed out to the bartender’s Twitter or Facebook pages, if they’d like. Patrons can also see all the bartenders who are ‘onthebar’ nearby, based on GPS, as well as a list of ‘en fuego’ bartenders who, for whatever reason, are receiving increased attention within the app. Finally, patrons can log ‘visits’ and build a record of where they’ve been and what drinks they’ve had.

TBN: Tell us a little about the perks for bartenders.

COREY BUNNEWITH: This is the first time a bartender really gets to engage his or her guest with a new level of technology. The ability to build one’s personal brand in the modern market is a huge win for bartenders. I also like to make the point that onthebar is for every bartender in every bar; we don’t have qualifiers for who can use the app. It’s meant to raise awareness of the community and industry and give guests a more interactive power of choice.

TBN: Technology is changing the bar landscape. What are some of the ways you’ve seen the industry change as a result?

BUNNEWITH: Being behind the bar is a job where your smile, handshake and ability to create a dialogue and a good drink are paramount. These aren’t going away; these are defining aspects of being a bartender. What technology and what my partners and I are doing is enhancing the landscape. We are empowering bartenders and guests to be able to do more with what they have.

TBN: Onthebar launched in Boston, a city which has quickly garnered a reputation for serious cocktails. How has this revolution happened?

BUNNEWITH: Boston is a steadfast and generally stubborn city, and let me be clear that while finding a good drink is becoming more of a standard, we are not a cocktail city. We are a bar city. When Ian first came to me with the idea of onthebar, the cocktail—a good cocktail—was a very central idea. As we expanded the concept and looked at Boston as a whole, the bartender is as important, if not more important, than the drink is.

The Malt Beverage, Revisited: Diageo’s PABS—Progressive Adult Beverages—Offer Much-Needed Consumer Choice

Posted on | March 28, 2012   Bookmark and Share
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What do you offer the consumer who doesn’t like high-proof cocktails, isn’t a fan of wine, appreciates the packaging ease of beer but wants more variety? Enter PABs—Progressive Adult Beverages—and Diageo is aiming to satisfy this consumer need with a host of new offerings.

“We understand that consumers are looking for a premium option in the PAB segment that offers the price and convenience of traditional beer, and we expect this line of products to be very popular with LDA consumers,” says Heather Boyd, Brand Director Progressive Adult Beverages, Diageo-Guinness USA. “Based on consumer trends we feel that Diageo’s PAB segment can deliver against the rising trend in this category.”

An Image Upgrade

Malt-based beverages don’t necessarily have a premium connotation, as a result of many low-quality offerings historically, but this new generation of products is different. “All Diageo PABs provide a smooth, refreshing and delicious alternative for consumers who may not enjoy the flavor of beer or the bite of hard liquor. They maintain a cleaner and smoother taste profile while staying true to the bold flavor our consumer enjoys,” says Boyd. Other attributes that make them popular: They are hugely convenient, and tap into the growing need for ready-to-drink cocktail options. “PABs don’t require any additional mixing so are great for on-the-go, outdoor events, and easy entertaining or just relaxing at home,” adds Boyd.  

While intended to appeal to a range of demographic groups, Diageo has noticed one particular group which seems to gravitate to them, according to Boyd:  “We’re seeing the 21-29 year age bracket driving the segment, particularly in the higher ABV offerings.”

Last Spring, Jeremiah Weed unveiled three PAB offerings in 12-oz. cans,  each with a distinctive Southern flair, clocking in at 5.8% ABV, just higher than most beer: Lightning Lemonade, a refreshing southern favorite; Roadhouse Tea, a non-carbonated beverage inspired by Jeremiah Weed Sweet Tea Vodka; and Spiked Cola, with real cola taste and a hint of bourbon flavor ($7.99 for a 12-oz. six-pack).   

And earlier this year, Smirnoff added a trio of diverse new PAB offerings: the lightly-carbonated Smirnoff Ice Tropical  Fruit (4.5% ABV); Smirnoff Signature Screwdriver, a refreshing take on the classic orange juice and vodka cocktail (5.8% ABV); and the less-sweet, higher-proof Smirnoff Ice Black (8% ABV).

“Parrot Bay Frozen Pouches [set to be released later this year] and Smirnoff Signature Screwdriver both meet the increasing consumer demand for cocktail-inspired malt beverages, and we have high expectations for Smirnoff Ice Black, given the popularity of higher ABV malt beverages,” says Boyd. “Diageo continues to be an innovation industry leader; innovation that not only satisfies consumers, but also delivers value to our wholesale and retail customers.”

Tasting Corner: Sauv Blanc & Then Some

Posted on | March 28, 2012   Bookmark and Share
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Amisfield is among a crop of wineries that put Central Otago on the map for Pinot Noir

New Zealand Branches Out with More Varieties

The word “complexity,” as used in the world of wine, usually belongs to a tasting note, or perhaps a description of German labeling law. So when New Zealand chose that name for its new campaign in 2010, they were clearly staking a claim in the world of fine wine that went far beyond well-priced, grapefruity Sauvignon Blanc.

Not that Sauvignon Blanc is doing poorly; it still accounts for eight out of ten bottles of New Zealand wine sold in the U.S. But competition has gotten fiercer: “New Zealand may have changed the game for Sauvignon Blanc in general,” says Simon Buck, co-founder of Tablelands Wine Co. “It’s changed the way other countries make Sauvignon Blanc.”

In any case, the Complexity program hopes to call attention to things beyond straightforward Sauvignon Blanc. “Complexity was formed by a group of wineries who felt their top and iconic wines were underrepresented in the US market largely due to a lack of awareness,” says Janet Pouchot, Complexity’s campaign manager. The program includes 20 producers from eight regions, and focuses on on-premise sales—high-end establishments in particular. In addition to courting and educating sommeliers and wine directors, “Complexity also partakes in a number of consumer events, targeted very specifically to ‘foodies,’” she says.  

Neudorf, founded in Nelson in 1978 by Tim and Judy Finn, is one of the wineries participating in Complexity. Judy says the program faces a number of challenges: “In my experience many U.S. wine drinkers cannot conceive of fine wine coming from anywhere other than France and some cult U.S. wines, but they are always ready to listen and we hope to win them over with our elegant wines. Sauvignon Blanc has dominated the market and Pinot Noir is making some inroads, but aromatics are starting to be desirable. Sommeliers lead the pack and they are very powerful communicators.”

Reds & Aromatics Rising

In fact, many of New Zealand’s cool-climate, maritime regions (or in the case of Central Otago, cool but continental) lend themselves to aromatic, “Alsatian” varieties, and more and more wines made from these varieties are making their way to the U.S. “New Zealand Riesling is showing signs of growth” according to David Strada, the U.S. marketing manager for New Zealand Winegrowers, the country’s national wine and grape organization. “And as a way to promote this, Paul Grieco of Hearth restaurant and Terroir wine bars was in New Zealand in late January to celebrate the New Zealand ‘Summer of Riesling.’ As is being seen with other regions of the world, well-made Pinot Gris has an active place on wine lists and on retail shelves. Quality is the key. Although demand for Gewürztraminer from anywhere is limited, New Zealand has shown that its maritime climate is ideal for this varietal.”

And reds? Bronwyn Skuse, sales manager for Man O’ War Vineyards, says, “Hawke’s Bay and Waiheke Island dominate Syrah growing in New Zealand, the styles are considered to be cool climate and very different to what our Aussie cousins produce. The Syrahs we create on Waiheke Island tend to be more of an Old World style, more comparable to Northern Rhône.” Strada agrees, and notes that as styles pull back from over-extracted, high-alcohol wines, North Island Bordeaux-style blends are also well situated to step forward.

But Pinot Noir rules the red roost. Pouchot says that New Zealand has benefited from U.S. appreciation for the grape in general, and that the country’s Pinots come across as high quality and good value. Tablelands’ Buck isn’t so sure: “Marlborough Pinot Noir is maturing; there are so many better Pinots than five or six years ago.” But he believes overcropping and young vines have cut into Central Otago’s dominance, allowing Waipara and Martinborough to show their stuff. More importantly, he says, many come in at a price point—around $320-$360 per case, wholesale—that is rife with competition from California, Oregon and Burgundy. Those at the $160-$240 range, on the other hand, compete well and offer good value compared to the competition.

But the strong New Zealand dollar has made price points harder to hit for the country’s wines here. “While the U.S. dollar has been anemic, the New Zealand dollar has been artificially strong,” says Strada. “This has made it particularly challenging to meet the price expectations of the marketplace. New Zealand wineries and their U.S. importers who are committed to the U.S. have had to reduce margins.” Finn, however, says the strong dollar hasn’t been too serious a problem, since budget wines aren’t the core of New Zealand’s success in the first place.

Thinner margins are a challenge, but New Zealand has maintained its priorities, and as of the 2012 harvest 100% of the country’s production will be certifiably sustainable. While many countries have struggled to regain ground lost when the recession began, New Zealand has seen continuous growth. For many, Kiwi wine may be all—well, mostly—about Sauvignon Blanc, but that may change…or will Sauvignon Blanc change? Sparkling Sauvignon is all the rage in New Zealand and the UK; it could bubble over into the US market anytime.

CSG’s Charlie Merinoff Takes the Lead

Posted on | March 28, 2012   Bookmark and Share
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The Beverage Network recently sat down with incoming WSWA Chairman Charlie Merinoff, Chairman/CEO, The Charmer Sunbelt Group, to discuss the agenda for his term, and the opportunities and threats facing our industry.

On Priorities

THE BEVERAGE NETWORK: What are your top priorities while serving as WSWA Chairman?

CHARLIE MERINOFF: My greatest opportunity—and greatest challenge—will be getting the three tiers to come together as an industry. In some ways, I think Washington State was a blessing in disguise: It showed us that if we are not working together, this is what the world can look like. The passage of Initiative 1183 in Washington [which privatized beverage alcohol sales] has really galvanized us as an industry; it showed us how important it is to put our differences aside and focus on things that benefit the entire industry. I have recently met with DISCUS and there is real momentum from the supplier tier to work together, and I am seeing the same cooperation from our retail partners.

TBN: Social responsibility is also something you want to emphasize. Why do you believe it’s so important?

CM: The future of our industry will be heavily influenced by how people perceive our products. I see an industry that really cares about how our products are consumed—though I’m not sure we always get a fair shake. I’m also sure there is more we can do: In many of our Charmer-Sunbelt markets, we are working with retailers to combat underage drinking and fake ID usage and asking ourselves, as an industry, can we level the playing field so that there are consequences for the accounts, as well as the kids who are using them?

TBN: How else can we improve public and government perception?

CM: Many times when things work well, you take them for granted and don’t see the potential problems. People don’t understand the way the three-tier system works or how important it is. In other countries—without our kind of regulation—there are constant problems with alcohol poisoning and counterfeit and fraudulent products harming consumers. That just doesn’t happen here. The way we go to market adds significant value to the consumer, and one of my objectives this year is to work harder to educate the government and the consumer about the three-tier system and what it brings in terms of safety—not to mention the jobs we create and the genuine pricing and variety we provide. Part of the way we do this is through our public commitment to social responsibility; it shows we are serious about these issues and that we are addressing them.

On The CARE Act

TBN: We noticed you omitted the CARE Act as one of your priorities. What is its status?

CM: The wholesalers truly believed in the CARE Act [a piece of federal legislation designed to reaffirm states’ rights to regulate beverage alcohol], but unfortunately, it created an environment of mistrust with our supplier partners—they really didn’t understand our goals. As with any piece of legislation, you can’t project out every set of consequences that were never intended, and this seemed to be a major hurdle. The CARE Act became really divisive and prevented us from getting together on other important issues.

TBN: Will you be creating new legislation in its place?

CM: We are going to talk to our suppliers and explain why we drafted the CARE Act. We were in the courts constantly fighting to protect the three-tier system—it’s time-consuming and expensive. Going forward, we want to work with DISCUS to find the best way to deal with this problem together, rather than us creating a piece of legislation in a vacuum, as was the case with the CARE Act. With transparency and communication we hope to work on legislation that seeks to reinforce the validity of the three-tier system.

On The Three-Tier System

TBN: What are some of the threats to our industry you expect we will see in the near-term?

CM: There are going to be many challenges in different states, so we are going to have to be very nimble. Because of the weak economy, increased taxation will be an issue. The explosion of social media has led people to question every business model, including government controlled beverage alcohol distribution. There are social issues like over-consumption and DWI that we need to be proactive about eliminating. Then, of course, there are access-type issues, such as grocery store and Sunday sales.

Retailers are also looking to evolve their business models. One important mind-set change I hope to accomplish in my term is that there are really no bad people: we are all looking out for ourselves and our own interests and no one is any better or any worse. I truly believe most people want to sell our products in a responsible way; we just have different visions of what that looks like. For us, it comes back to the importance of educating people on the value of beverage alcohol—the amount of taxes and costs between when a product is created and the time it reaches a retail shelf—there is enormous motivation to cheat the system. If the three-tier system breaks down, we will start to see many unintended consequences that exist in other countries: irresponsible consumption, artificially high prices, limited consumer choice and counterfeit products.

TBN: What sort of measures will ensure bills like Washington’s Initiative 1183 don’t happen in other states?

CM: We need to find the right compromises, particularly on laws that might be restrictive. If there were quantity discounts in Washington, would Costco have had the same motivation to spend the money they did to change the system? In truth, I understand their position: They have built tremendous scale, yet they had to buy at the same price as a store buying a single case. They weren’t allowed to leverage their size. If we had addressed that issue earlier on, we would likely be in a very different place today. When we are inflexible and hold onto the wrong laws, a collapse could take everything with it.

On the WSWA Convention

TBN: If the CARE Act is no longer an issue, why have DISCUS members again opted out of the Convention?

CM: I think large suppliers struggle with the value of the Convention to them. They meet with their large wholesalers constantly, and when they want to make a change, they already know who the players are. Also, the content at the show wasn’t resonating with them. I still believe there is tremendous value here. The Convention offers a cost effective way in a nice environment for big suppliers to meet with a variety of wholesalers—particularly the small distributors that they don’t normally see. I encourage large suppliers to use the Convention in a more tactical way—for example, not having an open suite all day, but rather scheduling closed door meetings and focused business reviews. If we change the business model, I believe we can get the large suppliers back.

TBN: How else can WSWA make the Convention more relevant?

CM: We found that from a supplier perspective there isn’t tremendous value in hearing other suppliers speak about their businesses, so we are going to focus on stimulating and relevant content with great speakers who can address issues like marketing, technology and multicultural trends—we believe these are the sort of topics all suppliers want to learn about.

TBN: In the meantime, it seems that a number of new industry members are participating this year.

CM: We are excited that there are many new wine and artisanal spirit suppliers who have signed-up. We are going to have one of our best Conventions ever in terms of attendance. From a revenue and viability standpoint, the Convention—and the organization for that matter—are in great shape.

Italy: What You Need to Know Now: Mastering ‘the Boot’ Means Embracing Both New & Familiar

Posted on | March 28, 2012   Bookmark and Share
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Pinot Grigio remains America's favorite Italian white wine; it grows in many regions but arguably is at its best in Friuli and Trentino-Alto Adige, home to Kris.

Italy is a fascinating peninsula of vinous goodness. There is, however, so much diversity that it is easy to get twisted-up between regions, varieties and styles. This is more and more true as the diversity of Italian vineyards and the creativity of Italy’s winemakers send more and more types of wines to our shores. So, here’s a handy reference chart for the basics and the classics as well as notes on recent trends to keep up with what is hurling down the turnpike.




Skyrocketing Wine Diversity and Quality

As we become more and more familiar with the land that used to send us little more than Nebbiolo and Sangiovese, we are starting to spread our wings and look at other Italian varieties that have always been enjoyed by the Italianos. Freisa, a light, zippy, floral red from the northwest is one. It’s perfect for antipasti and at its loveliest when slightly chilled. We’re also witnessing the delights of the Marche’s Verdicchio saline, minerally and nutty; it should be every seafood lover’s go-to Italian white.
Furthermore, there is a resurgence in the quality of certain classic wines. Soave and Bardolino are two prime examples from the Veneto. Many imbibers weaned on Moscato à la Asti Supmante are now drinking Moscato d’Asti. Perhaps the most exciting example, however, is Lambrusco. I was just at Gramercy Tavern with a famous California wine producer who turned up his nose at a glass, saying the last time he drank it was 25 years ago…and he didn’t enjoy its sweetness. It’s a shame he refused to taste this version as the wines we see today are most frequently dry and delightfully food-friendly.

Heirloom Varieties

Over the last 10 to 15 years, a renaissance has swept across Italy as producers have invested in bringing back—or at least in experimenting with—grape varieties they were previously content to allow to wither to extinction. These autochthonous grapes were shunned for their better-known colleagues like Merlot and Cabernet Sauvignon. Campania has rebirthed the four-square Pallagrello Bianco and red Casavecchia. A few Piedmont producers are playing nice with the floral white grape Nascetta. It’s now common to hear Carricante and Nerello Cappuccio when traveling across Sicily. Italy is going back to its roots…its grapevine roots, of course!

Orange: It’s the New Color in Wine

The trendiest trend in white Italian wines is the “orange” wine, or a white wine that has been exposed to oxygen and turned copper-hued. These wines gain their orange color from aging in one of the original wine production tools: anfora. These clay vessels of various sizes were the original fermentation tanks, aging and holding wine before barrels and glass bottles came about. Anfora tend to give wine texture on the palate, somewhat like barrels do, and because they are porous and producers do not keep them full to limit oxygen exposure, their resulting white wines are copper-hued. Orange wines are often served warmer than white wines and frequently have tannin, as producers who use anfora often allow the juice to spend time with the skins.

Second Labels

Many of Italy’s top wineries are making noteworthy second labels. This is particularly true in Tuscany, the home of the “Super Tuscan.” The intention of these second labels is usually multi-fold. Among the reasons are that producers want consumers to be able to enjoy the second label while the first label ages as well as to offer a second wine at a lower and more accessible price than the first. It’s a great way to discover a winery’s style. Luce, whose top wine is of the same name, makes Lucente. Solengo is Argiano’s numero uno, and its numero due is called Non Confunditur.

Some, perhaps inevitably, take it a step further. Tenuta San Guido (maker of Sassicaia) makes a second label, Guidalberto, as well as a third label, Le Difese. Tenuta dell’Ornellaia’s second label is named Le Serre Nuove and its third label is Le Volte. By the way, there’s no reason to worry that a third label might not be good. These producers are at the top of their game, and every bottle they make is a very fine wine indeed.

Investment-Grade Wines

For a long time, even collectors kept their Italian wines over the stove. Bordeaux, Burgundy and Champagne garnered all the respect. While it can’t be claimed that Italy has received the full credit it is due for its ageworthy wines, many collectors have done an about-face. Barolo, Barbaresco, Brunello, Amarone and the primo Super Tuscans top the list, and I would make an argument that Taurasi should be classified in this camp, too. Interestingly, while the grands vins of France did some pretty tricky nose-diving in price since the recession hit, Italian investment-grade wines have held onto their value.

Hands-on Learning

Some of the country’s most impressive wine bars feature Italian wines, with lots of options by the glass. Top destinations in New York City include Anfora, I Trulli Enoteca, Peasant, ’inoteca and Lupa. If cruising around Atlanta, stops into Veni Vidi Vici and Pricci will take you on an extensive tour of the Italian “boot.” In Chicago, Café Spiaggia, Picolo Sogno and Prosecco beckon. Down south in Texas, there’s Villa-O in Dallas and at Coppa in Houston. Finally, in San Francisco, Bar Bambino has an extensive by-the-glass list while Uva Enoteca boasts a smaller but super trendy list. The plentitude of Italian-rich wine bars are integral both in keeping Italy on wine lovers’ radar and encouraging more experimentation among budding vino enthusiasts.

New Products & Promotions: April 2012 Edition

Posted on | March 27, 2012   Bookmark and Share
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Rémy Martin V is small-batch distilled from 100% French grapes and ice cold-filtered for a brilliant transparent color—there is no barrel-aging. Fresh, smooth and easy to drink, it is enjoyable neat and blends well with any mixers for truly interesting cocktails. 40% alcohol by volume. 


SRP: $39.99


From winemaker Janice M. Fujita comes new California wine brand Grove Ridge, featuring a nature-inspired label evoking wildlife and fauna, with a red-winged blackbird flying from a tree. The complete affordable portfolio includes Sauvignon Blanc, Chardonnay, White Zinfandel, Merlot, Shiraz and Cabernet Sauvignon. Marketed nationally by Antares Wine Company.




Bärenjäger Honey Liqueur has announced the brand’s first-ever line extension. Bärenjäger Honey & Bourbon is a blend of premium honey liqueur and Kentucky bourbon whiskey, made with generous amounts of pure honey and other natural ingredients—the result is a balanced, sweet bourbon taste with lingering notes of honey on the finish. Available in liter, 750ml, 375ml and 50ml sizes.


SRP 750ml: $28.99


Sobieski Vodka has introduced three new flavors—Espresso, Cynamon and Bizon Grass—to its growing spirits portfolio. Imported and marketed by Imperial Brands, Sobieski Espresso has a fresh-roasted coffee aroma and creamy finish, while Cynamon is spicy, with a peppery taste and warm finish. Bizon Grass is a unique herb-flavored vodka popular in Poland and available in limited supply here.


SRP: All Flavors $10.99


Master of Mixes introduces the newest flavor addition to its premium line of cocktail mixes. Master of Mixes Mango Daiquiri/Margarita is made using premium Alphonso mangoes sourced from India and key lime juice. The blend of all natural flavors and sweeteners creates a refreshing tropical mango cocktail—in one simple step.


SRP 1L: $3.99; 1.75L: $6.99


Skyy Vodka has introduced Skyy Infusions Coconut, a virtual escape to an exotic yet modern tropical destination. Made with real coconut for a light and refreshing taste, Skyy Infusions Coconut is also complemented by the aroma of citrus and Tahitian vanilla bean. Skyy Infusions Coconut blends seamlessly with fresh juices as well as with low-calorie mixers. Available this spring in 50ml, 750ml, 1L and 1.75L sizes.


SRP 750ml: $18.49



M.S. Walker, Inc. and MacDuff International have released Grand Macnish 12 Year Old Blended Scotch Whisky. This release is the first in a series of aged Grand Macnish Scotch Whiskies bottled in Scotland, with future release plans for Grand Macnish 15 Year Old and Grand Macnish 150th Anniversary offerings. Dual-cask aged in bourbon and Sherry casks, the nose is complex with notes of Sherry; spice and roasted nuts follow on the palate.


SRP: $23.99


Salud! A toast to Mexico, South America and Spain. Americans love to raise a glass when enjoying Latin cuisine. Igardi Sangria and Plaza Real Sangria are authentic, affordable Spanish Sangrias that beat the heat of the warmer months and spicy dishes. Both are great values for sipping in spring and summer, and should be served chilled, over ice with sliced fruit and soda water.





Jacqueline Brut Rosé joins the Jacqueline French sparkling portfolio. Made using select Merlot grapes, the end result is a wine with fine bubbles, strawberry aroma and fresh, round flavors on the palate. Jacqueline Brut Rosé is recommended as an apéritif or with food. The traditional yet festive packaging offers good shelf impact. Also available in Brut and Demi Sec.

SRP: $11.99 – $13.99


The 187ml of Voga Sparkling brings convenience and style to retailers, restaurateurs and nightclubs. A blend of 80% Chardonnay and 20% Pinot Grigio from vineyards in Trentino, Italy, Voga Sparkling is characterized by enticing aromas of white blossoms and ripe fruit with a citrusy finish. The 187ml is sealed with a Stelvin closure to keep the wine frizzante (gently sparkling) in style. Imported by Aveníu. SRP: $5.99


SRP: $33


Double Eagle Imports Ltd. has launched two new brands of super-premium tequila, Rudo and Tecnico. Both brands pay homage to the Mexican professional wrestling style, Lucha Libre, and its two main personalities—Rudo, a brawler fans love to hate, and Tecnico, the good guy who follows all the rules. Rudo offers bold, more robust flavors, while Tecnico is smooth and refined.


SRP: $32.99 – $42.99


Newcastle Brown Ale has released its fourth Limited Edition brew, Founder’s Ale. This beer gives a nod to the heritage of Newcastle’s five founding breweries and marks the expansion of all Limited Edition brews, now available nationwide on a rotating basis. This is a full-bodied beer with dry, hoppy and roasted flavor, a classic Bitter ale balanced with subtle notes of sweetness. Price comparable to Newcastle Brown Ale.



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