2015 Holiday Gift Guide

Posted on | October 22, 2015   Bookmark and Share
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Text by W. R. Tish

Photographs by Samuel Bristow

Good things come in small packages. In the case of Value Added Packages (aka VAPs), good things come in small packages, big packages, colorful packages and see-thru packages. Sometimes it’s a corkscrew; often it’s glassware; occasionally it’s really different (tequila-inspired drum set, anyone?). But to many holiday shoppers, these add-ons are just the bonus they need to make a gift-buying decision, whether they are wavering on which product to pick or just in a hurry.

That’s the theory, of course. In practice, wine and spirits merchants have a major challenge just in terms of sorting through the options and choosing VAPs that make sense for them. The devil is always in the details. Should you stick with brands you sell, or test out new ones? What price point do you target, or do you want a broad range? And, mais oui: Where are you going to put them all?

Here are a few tips to incorporate these seasonal special-edition products into your store.


£ Whatever you decide to carry, make sure your staff is given the details they need to explain the “added value” item; sometimes it’s not always obvious, as in a spirit and glasses set that also comes with a recipe booklet.

£ Avoid overkill. Huge piles or stacks of VAPs tend to make them look cheaper; and trying to stock them by category could be a logistical nightmare. Having one table or shelf section devoted to gifts, with signage to boot, will get shoppers’ attention and give the products a nicer presentation.

£ Don’t turn your back on the good-ole gift of a bottle of wine or spirits. Make sure you have gift bags available—as simple as mylar bags with yarn kept under the front counter or as fancy as a spinning floor rack of decorative bags. And it never hurts to post a “We have gift bags!” sign in the store.

£ Keep small or less expensive items near the cash register as impulse buys. This includes corkscrews and accessories that take up little space, as well as stocking-stuffable 50ml spirit miniatures or even 187ml and 375ml wine bottles.

No matter how many of this season’s VAPs you stock, it’s important not to overlook perhaps the most important added-value of all when selling product to the public: Don’t forget to smile!














Under-Known Portugal

Posted on | October 22, 2015   Bookmark and Share
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Beyond the tongue-twisting grapes are a range of ready-to-please regional wines.


Exploration of Portuguese wine, too often, begins and ends in the north of this westernmost corner of the Iberian Peninsula—fizzy, fun, low-alcohol Vinho Verde available in inexpensive abundance; Port, the collectible crown jewel; and, increasingly, some very fine reds, mostly blends of the country’s flagship Touriga Nacional and the more tannic Touriga Franca or other indigeneous varietals cultivated up the steep terraces of the legendary Douro.

In fact, though, a few thousand years ago the Romans swept through and left winemaking traditions that still flourish throughout this productive land, with its long wrap-around coastline and growing conditions that range from maritime to mountains, daily rainfall to steady arid heat.

The country has 31 DOCs (or 29 counting shared footprints, such as Porto and Douro, only once). There are 14 regional wine areas (IGPs) which are less strictly regulated than DOCs, especially for grapes used in blends. And over 250 indigenous grapes thrive here—some with amusing names such as Esgana Cão (dog strangler), Amor-não-me-deixes (love me, don’t leave me), Carrega Burros (donkey loader). Especially prolific varieties have taken on two names, like the lively expressive white grape Arinto (Pedernã) and Trincadeira (Tinta Amarela), a widely planted peppery red.

Unfortunately for exporters, the bulk of Portuguese wines show up at the big dance that is America sporting name tags that are difficult to pronounce. 

Among the very few single varieties identified with a particular region, Baga from Bairrada stands out, including Quinta da Donã from Aliança, an elegant oak-aged, flavor-concentrated example. Some producers in regions all over choose to vinify single international varietals—from Chardonnay to Syrah.

But, increasingly, the industry trend has moved toward combining custom with modern techniques. Venerable houses are converting to organic (or biodynamic) vineyard practices. Small growers, once cooperative members, create their own labels. Viticultural pursuits overlap with other agriculture, such as olive oil, cork production, and with wine tourism. And, above all, wine producers are putting the focus back on what worked best for centuries—making wines from local grapes, singly and in blends where they shine. (Blends themselves come in great assortment—from the simplicity of 50-50 to venerable field blends of several dozen up to over 200, give or take, different grapes.)

Lost in Translation?

How does all this translate in the U.S. marketplace? Pedro Lopes Viera, North America Sales Manager for Esporão, the large Alentejo producer, says, “Grapes people don’t know is absolutely a stumbling block. I have a phonetic sheet for grapes, regions, brands that travels with me. I share it with distributors, retailers and sometimes at wine dinners. We do try to make people understand that we make blends.”

Twenty years after introducing Esporão wines in the US—including the popular and popularly priced Monte Velho label (Antão Vaz, Roupeiro and Perrum are in the white blend; Aragonês, Trincadeira, Touriga Nacional and Syrah in the red)—he has entered the market in 40 states, including Texas, the fastest-growing. “These are wines people have never had in their life,” he notes. 

But once past the tongue-tripping Aragonez, Alicante Bouchet, Trincadeira, Cabernet Sauvignon of the Esporão Reserva DOC or Aragonez, Alicante Bouchet, Touriga Nacional, Cabernet and Syrah of the Vila Santa Reserva, from Joao Portugal Ramos, another Alentejo producer, the wines appeal for value in both price and food-partnering. Colin Rudy, Portfolio Manager for Virtuoso Selections in Austin, TX, sees value-oriented Millennials particularly driving “explosive Portuguese growth” among large retailers; he tries to make the introduction to consumers by region and then by style.


Doreen Winkler, Wine Director at Lupulo and Michelin-starred Aldea, New York City restaurants owned by Portuguese-American chef George Mendes, uses a similar approach. “Diners are looking at regions when making choices,” she says. Her lists give full disclosure: Quinta de Serradinha, Baga, Castelão, Touriga Nacional, Alfrocheira, Lisboa, Portugal is a mouthful and so is the wine, at $10/glass, with the acid to tone down fiery piri-piri sauce on wood-fire grilled chicken. She has trained servers to delve deep. “In the beginning they would ask me [to relate the wines to more familiar grapes],” she says. “I wanted them to embrace the blend. Now we do workshops with food, how to break down [each component]—the flavors and especially the textures. And I try to help everybody with pronounciations.”

Wines of Place (& Style)

It’ s variation in regional terroir, of course, that largely determines characteristics, including texture, acid and flavors. Tejo, which produces 8% of Portugal’s wine, is defined by its river namesake. Heating-loving grapes—the aromatic Fernão Pires, Arinto, Verdelho, Alvarinho among whites and Touriga Nacional, Trincadeira, Castelão, Aragonês among reds—do well in the poor but complex sandy-clay soils and lengthy growing season that nurtures high-acidity and tannins. Quinta de Alorna, an estate dating back to 1723, makes a proprietary reserve white blend, Marquesa de Alorna, laced with oak and stainless steel fermentation, flavor notes from tropical fruit to parsnips and a long finish. Quinta do Alqueve and Caves Velhas produce more traditional full-bodied white blends of Fernão Pires and Arinto; both, especially the former with 70% Fernão Pires, have the boldness, acid backbone and versatility to be summertime grilled red meat matches. And among red blends, Quinta do Casal Branco, where a Roman legacy, foot-treading grapes in lagares is still practiced, combines Castelão, Cabernet Sauvignon, Alicante Bouchet and Touriga Nacional into a DOC. Only about 20 of the 80 producers in the Tejo region have entered the US market. So far.

The river Tejo (Tagus) widens as it flows toward Lisbon on the coast, brushing past a few of the nine DOCs within the region of Lisboa. Formerly called Estremadura, Lisboa includes vineyards only 15 miles or so from the city, and then fans out, mostly toward the north, along the coast and into the hills. It encompasses large estates, such as Casa Santos Lima which has nearly 300 hectares and a one-million bottle output, including Lab, a blend of Portuguese red grapes and Syrah, with its catchy labrador retriever silhouette label and affordable price point.

And then smaller producers, such as Quinta da Murta, Quinta do Monte d’Oiro and Quinta de Chocapalha. Quinta da Murta, in the Bucelas DOC, produces lots of whites, roses and sparklers from indigenous varietals. José Bento dos Santo at Quinta do Monte d’Oiro has created notable reds—mixing and matching local and international varietals, mindful of food-pairing potential—now appearing on top lists, including Four Seasons Hotels.

Arinto, aromatic, creamy textured and acidic, may be the longest lived Bucelas signature grape, with exports going back centuries. Today’s winemakers style it personally. Monte d’Oiro’s Lybra combines it with Viognier, stripping away much of that grape’s usual tutti-fruitti character, leaving bright citrus, good acid and a wine that defies stereotyping. Sandra Tavares da Silva, winemaker at her family’s Quinta de Chocapalha, vinifies Arinto on its own. Left on the lees for six months, the zippy full-tropical flavored wine could be answer to, say, New Zealand Sauvignon Blanc (and at about half the price). Techniques, style choices and philosophy here, as elsewhere, take Portugal’s industry forward, bringing its multi-textured heritage into the 21st century.

Geek Factor

Posted on | October 22, 2015   Bookmark and Share
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The Power of ‘Different’—Plus Effort—is Paying Dividends for Sellers of Offbeat Wines


Michael McCaulley recently acquired a stash of rare wines from Colares, an area in Portugal near Lisbon consisting of a precious few dozen vineyard acres perched on cliffs above the Atlantic, surrounding the fairytale castle of Sintra. One of the world’s oldest wine regions, Colares boasts some of the few remaining ungrafted, pre-phylloxera vines in Europe. The reds are produced from a little known grape called Ramisco, which is particularly tannic and acidic, and requires long aging. Meanwhile, the vineyards of Colares are in danger of being snatched up by developers eager to build beach homes.

So, to recap, Colares represents pretty much everything a modern wine geek seeks out and loves—obscure grape and region, a juicy back story, pronounced tannins and acidity, a wine that’s almost extinct. That’s all fine and dandy for the cognescenti, but McCaulley, Managing Partner of Tria wine cafés in Philadelphia, has got bigger issues.

Chief among them: Yo, how the heck is he gonna sell Colares in Philly?

That’s the kind of wine-sales conundrum that McCaulley has been solving since 2004, when he opened his first Tria wine bar, with more than two dozen wines by the glass on the menu. Now with four locations, Tria is the kind of place where Philadelphians are just as likely to order a rosé from the Canary Islands— or a Gros Manseng from Southwest France or a sercial Madeira—as they are a Napa Chard or Australian Shiraz. Probably more so. “You get a following,” McCaulley says. “People come to Tria knowing they’re going to find something different.”

Tria is a prime example of what wine-selling can look like in any city if restaurants, bars, and retailers stopped playing it so safe and embraced new things—and had a little more fun communicating with their customers. The fact that Tria operates in a control state like Pennsylvania, where prices are higher and allocations are smaller, should make their success even more noteworthy. The message: If you can sell geeky wines from, say, Gaillac or Bierzo or Bullas or Santorini in Pennsylvania…well then, you should be able to sell geeky wines anywhere.

“A lot of restaurants make excuses. ‘These wine don’t work. They don’t sell,’” McCaulley says. “I disagree. Customers rise to the level you set for them.”

For example, McCaulley explains that two bestsellers of this past spring and summer happened to be Txakolí, the light, effervescent staple of Basque Spain and Austrian Gelber Muskateller (yellow Muscat). “A lot of these wines are odd to us in the contemporary moment. But they’re traditional wines and they’re not all that weird,” McCaulley says. “We’re just rediscovering them. When you explain this to customers, they understand and feel safe ordering. It’s not just a
fad wine.”

McCaulley first offered the Gelber Muskateller in 2007, and it’s been on the spring menu ever since. “Guests eventually began to request it. They’d say, ‘Do you have that Gelber in yet?’” he recalls. “It’s never going to sell like Sauvignon Blanc, but every spring we’ve bought at least ten cases. This year we bought 25 cases. And it always sells out.”

Backlash from the Old Guard

Of course, despite the age-old mantra in the industry that people should “trust their own taste,” there are people in the wine business who throw shade on the idea of exploring new wine regions and grapes or rediscovering classic-but-forgotten wines. One of the more vocal antagonists in this regard has been ol’ Robert M. Parker Jr. In a now-infamous, slightly-unhinged rant on his website last year, Parker lambasted people like me and McCaulley, who embrace off-the-beaten path wines. Opining on those who often enjoy something besides Cabernet or Pinot Noir or Chardonnay, he roared: “Instead they espouse, with enormous gusto and noise, grapes and wines that are virtually unknown. That’s their number one criteria—not how good it is, but how obscure it is.”

This, of course, is not the case. No one expects Negrette or Blaufränkisch or Savagnin to usurp the old standbys. “These wines are not here to replace the usual suspects,” McCaulley says. “They’re here to complement them. Just like there’s room for a nice strip steak and there’s room for beef tongue.” Tria always has about a dozen mainstream grapes on the menu next to the geeky stuff, and at any given time may have more wines from New Jersey than Napa Valley.

Robert Parker railing at “godforsaken grapes” feels a lot like the Old Guard fearing that their power base is eroding; and many feel it is, as retailers move beyond writing scores on placards in order to sell wines. It’s not easy to sell non-mainstream wines. It takes a different approach, one that involves much more communication and education and perhaps even a new language to speak to customers.

But how do you sell these sorts of wines to regular drinkers?

For McCaulley, at Tria, it all starts with staff education. “The big thing is having the staff taste the wines,” he says. “It makes things more relevant and interesting for the server, which then leads to a more fun and interesting conversation with the guests. We talk about sharing, not selling.” It’s also a matter of presentation: the menu at Tria categorizes whites as Zippy, Smooth and Luscious, and reds as Lighthearted, Sociable, Funky, or Bold.

Beyond staff training and presentation, it still takes some extra effort to highlight and promote a wine that people are unfamiliar with. On Sundays at Tria, during a promotion called Sunday School, less-known wines are offered at $5 for the first glass. On a recent Sunday, a Gaillac white, a blend of Loin de L’oeil and Mauzac grapes, was highlighted for $5 on a card clipped to the menu (which included the wine story’s, and an explanation that this Southwest French region is pronounced “guy-yak”)

Still, amid all the highminded talk of education and sharing and storytelling and discovery, I realize one big question lurks in the mind of restauranteurs and retailers: Can I actually make money on a wine no one’s heard of? McCaulley says offering off-the-beaten path wines are not only profitable, but a big part of Tria’s success. “You don’t have to take a low margin on the unknown thing,” he says. “Sometimes, the unknown thing has much better value. You make more money and the guest gets better value.”

Besides, he says, “These wines just make life, and work, more interesting.”


Jason Wilson is the author of Boozehound: On The Trail of the Rare, the Obscure, and the Overrated in Spirits and the e-book series Planet of the Grapes. He can be found at jasonwilson.com and @boozecolumnist.


Reclaiming The Night

Posted on | October 22, 2015   Bookmark and Share
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With a new package, campaign and ‘Electrik’ bottle, Absolut emphasizes role as a leading nightlife brand.



There is nothing subtle about Absolut’s most recent limited-edition. In sleek, radiant metallic—one shiny silver, one electric blue—Absolut Electrik is nearly impossible to ignore on any shelf or back bar. But the goal of this release is far more ambitious than simply being eye-catching.

“The Absolut Electrik bottles are part of our larger ‘Nights’ campaign,” explains Nick Guastaferro, Absolut Brand Director. “We are essentially reclaiming our position as the leader of nightlife. While we have always been a brand about nightlife, we haven’t spoken about it in recent years. Now we want to showcase what happens when you infuse your night with Absolut energy.”

This fall, Absolut launched the Electrik House in downtown Los Angeles, a consumer experience for 500 people which completely reimagined the typical “house party.” The digital and social campaign leading up to and during the event gave consumers an active role, and it ended with an unconventional performance. (As of this writing, many details are still embargoed, but if you recall the shipping yard in Red Hook, Brooklyn, which the brand transformed into a nightclub last fall, at which music artist Zedd emerged from a shipping container in a beam of light, you’ll have an idea.)

“We know that during the October-November-December holiday season, there is a tremendous amount of at-home entertaining; 70% of Absolut sales are off-premise during this time,” says Guastaferro. “With the Electrik bottle and the Absolut Electrik House we want to give consumers the ability to reinvigorate their own home entertaining by pushing boundaries. It’s about taking house parties to the next level.”

Sporting a New Look

The Electrik bottle isn’t the brand’s only packaging innovation; the legendary Absolut package has also been renovated, scheduled to hit shelves the first quarter of 2016. “This project has been in the works for a couple of years, and we thought very hard about it because we are working with one of the most iconic bottles in the world,” says Guastaferro.

One of the most significant updates was to add the “A” logo to the back of the bottle, which creates a bold, new shorthand for the Absolut brand. The bottle shape has been strengthened to feature more clearly defined shoulders, straightened neck and body, and a flattened bottom, while also using a more environmentally-friendly reduced glass weight. There’s also a new quality message spelled out on the front. “The new bottle is modern, contemporary and led by design; it will have far better shelf presence on- and off-premise,” he adds. 

The Oak Advantage

With all the innovation in the vodka space, it’s hard to imagine any territory left unexplored. Yet Per Hermansson, Absolut’s Director of Sensory Strategy, the creative mastermind behind the liquid at Absolut, found inspiration in the mixology trend of barrel-aged cocktails, and created Absolut Oak. With a rich mouthfeel and subtle notes of smoke, vanilla and caramel, Absolut Oak derives its flavors and amber hue from time spent in American, French and Swedish
oak barrels. 

“Oak is for the consumer looking for the complexity and smoothness of a brown spirit, but still wants the lightness of vodka,” explains Guastaferro. “When we talk to consumers, many report that they want to kickstart the night with vodka, and continue with it through the evening, but perhaps want more depth of character, which is what Oak offers.”

Not to be confused with whisky, Oak is first and foremost a vodka and it’s designed for to be versatile in cocktails from a Mule (ginger beer and lime) to a Sour (lemon juice and simple syrup) or Oak Apple Pie Shot (apple juice, lemon and cinnamon syrup). “Sampling has been key with Oak, since it is something that has never been done before,” says Guastaferro. “But we are known for quality and innovation, so consumers trust us a bit—and once the taste it, they are sold.” 

Mastery Multiplied

Posted on | October 22, 2015   Bookmark and Share
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Woodford Reserve continues to innovate, two decades after jumpstarting bourbon’s turnaround.












When Owsley Brown II, the late Brown-Forman Chairman, conceived Woodford Reserve Distiller’s Select Bourbon, he envisioned a Kentucky spirit that would defy existing conventions, with a recipe that reduced the typical amount of the corn, and whose stylish bottle could claim a place alongside Scotch and Cognac. Today, nearly 20 years later, another man is charged with maintaining Woodford’s hard-won leadership position, and his signature adorns every bottle.

Chris Morris, Brown-Forman Master Distiller and a respected whiskey historian, says it’s easy to forget just how ambitious Woodford Reserve was upon release in 1996. “Bourbon was still in decline. Bourbon distilleries were not being opened, but closed. Then, along comes Brown-Forman to restore an old distillery, adding a visitor’s center. The bottle was totally disruptive because most bourbons were still trying to look burlap and blue jeans. It all seemed the height of craziness,” recalls Morris. Within a few years, however, more bourbon distilleries were welcoming visitors and courting sophisticated drinkers.

Woodford is especially popular. For the year ending 2014, sales increased 25% to 275,000 9-liter cases, landing it firmly in the super-premium bourbon elite. Ironically, this groundbreaking whiskey originates in a historic place, the site of the Old Oscar Pepper Distillery in Versailles, Kentucky, where distilling dates to 1780. With the visitor’s center’s recent renovation and the addition of warehouses to hold 165,000 barrels, this idyllic site with its 1838 distillery building is poised to satisfy Woodford Reserve fans for the future.

A philosophy of  forward-thinking

Morris grew up around bourbon, yet his work at a major Scotch brand en route to becoming the seventh Brown-Forman master distiller also influences his thinking. “It dawned on me early on that Kentucky once made more than just bourbon. That moment freed me mentally. A lot of that was driven by my observations that Scotch was able to be creative and bourbon was not,” says Morris, who is piloting Woodford on a trajectory of innovation that would merit a pat on the back from Owsley himself.

This philosophy is most apparent in the Woodford Reserve Master’s Collection—limited-editions that push the boundaries of the spirit in new directions. “The idea is to change just one thing. The stills, the water, the yeast never change,” explains Morris, noting that even diehard Woodford fans, initially skeptical of tinkering with their beloved bourbon, have come to embrace the special projects.

For the Master’s Collection Sonoma-Cutrer Finish, Morris gave Woodford Reserve additional aging in Chardonnay barrels. He recently did the same using Pinot Noir barrels. Morris has overseen 10 of these limited releases over the years, with perhaps the most exciting aspect being that they can lead to permanent additions to the line. The Master’s Collection Seasoned Oak Finish of 2009, a Kentucky straight bourbon whiskey finished with a second maturation in new charred barrels, ultimately resulted in Woodford Reserve Double Oaked, added in 2012. A third permanent offering, Woodford Reserve Rye, introduced in February, can also be traced to a project dating back to 2006.

With 120,000 visitors a year, the Woodford Reserve Distillery itself is the newest stage for Morris’s creativity. The recently launched Distillery Series (available at select Kentucky retailers as well as at the distillery) includes Double Double Oaked, the result of finishing mature Woodford Reserve Double Oaked for an extra year in heavily toasted, lightly charred new oak barrels ($49.99/375ml).

Tucked deep within the surrounding warehouses, Morris has planted more boldly creative ideas, the best of which will be bottled to advance Woodford’s trailblazing reputation. “The current generation [of whiskey drinkers] is growing up in a different world, full of flavor opportunities. I am creating whiskies today that won’t appear for years. We are planning for success and that means never underestimating the marketplace,” says Morris.

Millennials…They’re Here, and All Over The Place

Posted on | October 22, 2015   Bookmark and Share
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Adventurous, Wired and Aware, the rising LDA population is a tricky bunch to figure.


They may be the most examined and courted generation since the Baby Boomers, but for most wine sellers, the Millennial is still an elusive beast.

Millennials—variously estimated at around 75 million, roughly equal to the Boomers—are almost all now of legal drinking age. Their eclectic tastes have been credited with super-charging the red blend, rosé and Prosecco booms, but that hasn’t been easy to translate into brand loyalty, and most marketers are still trying to get a handle on how to engage them.

Consultant Steve Raye, CEO of consultancy Bevology Inc., says basic facts about how they are changing the wine market are fairly clear. “They are driving a trade-up to higher priced wines, with the most growth in the $12-$15 and $15-$20 segments. They behave very differently from previous generations and seek out what’s new and different. They’re very open to imported brands, and particularly New World wines.”

Those who are successful selling to them report they have a different outlook on wine. “At this point, Millennial drinkers are a large swath of people,” says Gary Fisch, owner of Gary’s Wine & Marketplace with four locations in New Jersey. “They’re not economically-heeled enough to be buying at the high end—they’re still not full consumers. They’re much more into experimentation than previous groups, going across all beverage alcohol. They love coming in to experiment and taste wines. They are probably our best buyers at the tasting bar.”

Stephanie Gallo, Vice President of Marketing, E. & J. Gallo, says their behavior will affect most wine producers one way or another, or should have already. “Millennials are fueling the growth of the wine category and their behaviors are dramatically different than their predecessors’. They don’t adhere to traditional wine rules. They are adventurous when it comes to what they will try and purchase for themselves, their friends and their family. They appreciate innovation—particularly if it simplifies or eliminates routine challenges.”

Growlers & Boxes & Kegs, Oh My!

It goes almost without saying that Millennials are effectively the first generation of American wine drinkers to hold no resistance to screwtops. But that is just one of the packaging formats embraced by these LDA drinkers. Stephanie Gallo points out that much of the growing popularity of the premium box category is due to the way Millennials enjoy wine at gatherings and outdoor occasions. Box wines such as Gallo’s Naked Grape and Vin Vault also touch on another important selling point for Millennials: reducing the carbon footprint of glass wine bottles.

Dr. Liz Thach, a professor of both wine and management at Sonoma State University says a number of wineries are working hard at finding ways to attract Millennials: “Some wineries with younger owners here in Sonoma are doing things like filling growlers with wine for customers— something which Millennials are really attracted to because it is sustainable and casual.”

But she warns against regarding them as a homogeneous buying group. “The oldest Millennial is now 38 and is able to spend more money on wine,” she notes. In fact, in her research, Thach breaks Millennials into two groups: The first, those in their twenties, still in college or struggling with the post-recession economy, are more likely to be attracted to innovative packaging like wine in cans, pouches or boxes, or interested in social media and sharing discoveries. The older Millennials are getting deeper into wine, can afford to spend more, and it’s this group that more traditional wineries are reaching out to, through social media but also wine clubs and events. What she calls Old Guard wineries—e.g., Silver Oak and Jordan—are also connecting with their older buyers on mobile, via videos on YouTube and social media contests. 

Many wineries are responding to the democratization of wine. “Millennials entering the wine category and the casualization of wine go hand-in-hand,” says Gallo. “Although they take a more casual approach to drinking wine, they also appreciate a great value without sacrificing quality. According to our 2014 Gallo Consumer Wine Trends Survey, nearly half of frequent wine drinkers ages 25-40 purchase 187ml wine bottles with some regularity and 72% purchase screwtops regularly. 

Gallo says more than a third of total users for brands including Alamos, Apothic, Ecco Domani and Mirassou are between the ages of 21 and 34, while for super premium wines, they account for more than 40% of drinkers for brands like Columbia Winery, Edna Valley Vineyard and William Hill Estate.

Connecting Digitally & Personally

Thach points out wineries in some cases hiring marketers who focus exclusively on social media, and lauds Constellation for the job they do with brands via an entire department devoted to digital marketing campaigns and wine apps. But smaller companies without that spending ability need to find less expensive ways to appeal.

One Millennial, JJ Williams, a third generation family owner of Kiona Vineyards and Winery in the Red Mountain region of Washington State, says using social as an educational tool works better for small wineries like his.

“Millennials want to know where things come from. Being able to connect with the winemaker in the tasting room, things like that, make a big difference in the type of relationship a winery can build with Millennial consumers, and it is something they are more likely to take advantage of than that older consumer.” Social media efforts for small wineries work best as public relations and customer support tools rather than sales, he thinks.

New kind of caring

According to most observers, Millennials don’t care about wine scores, no matter who awards them. At Kiona, they post any high scores they’ve garnered but keep an eye on who checks them out. “We find it’s almost never someone who looks like they are under 30,” he says.

“They place more value on what their peers say, rather than old-school critics and pundits,” says Raye, who points out that making those peer-to-peer recommendations available is a good way for wineries to connect consumers. “Case in point, wine apps that allow you to take a picture of a label and get information from peers, trusted reviewers, et al. The beauty of this is that they’re literally holding the bottle in their hands; that means they’re more than likely in a position to buy the product, right now.”

It’s helpful to note, however, that digital sharing of wine recommendations can be as personal as communication itself. While some may search wine apps like Delectable and Vivino for specific picks, others may use Twitter or Instagram. Still others may skip the online-sharing completely and just shoot off a quick text to a trusted peer or wine mentor.

According to Warren Solocheck, Vice President of the foodservice consultancy NPD Group, too little attention is devoted to creative wine marketing on-premise. Enabling servers with better wine knowledge would help, he says: “Servers are the ones who need to know what they are talking about, because it will be their recommendations that will help Millennials select a wine they aren’t familiar with. They are much more willing to take a recommendation from a stranger than any other demographic group.”

In the wine moment—that is to say, when actually drinking wine—Millennials have proven that their interest goes beyond the actual organoleptics. Drinking and eating are more than the liquid being consumed. It’s an experience, with social factors, including an awareness of the wine’s impact on the environment.

Thach says keg wine works especially well at attracting Millennials on-premise, especially if an operator includes multiple portion sizes for tasting. Wine cocktails, too, are welcomed by many Millennials, and more wineries are exploring the field, including packaging in cans.

Fisch says he sees many retailers chasing what the Millennials are doing, as opposed to providing information and solutions, which he advocates. “They love having someone they can come in to talk to. They take a picture of the label and ask a friend, ‘Is this the wine we had the other night? They will Google the label, compare with others, and ask questions.”

But as Gallo says, digital isn’t everything: “Although we are leveraging digital programs to reach consumers in a contemporary fashion, we still value our ability to have one-on-one time with consumers and that means sampling our wines in the shopping aisles and engaging consumers we meet at food and music festivals.” 

North American Whiskey Blitz Launches in Brooklyn

Posted on | October 22, 2015   Bookmark and Share
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Atlantic Wines & Spirits and Diageo launched their North American Whiskey Blitz to the entire Atlantic sales force in Brooklyn on September 15th. Master of Whiskey Spike McClure and New York Whiskey Ambassador Ryan Ross presented new offerings such as Blade and Bow, IW Harper, Johnnie Walker Rye Cask Finish, Crown Royal Rye and the Bulleit family. Over 80 teams were out in the field selling, sampling and educating retailers.

Dave Schrader, Atlantic Wines & Spirits; Anthony Colamussi, AWS; Ryan Ross, New York Whiskey Ambassador; Spike McClure, Master of Whiskey; Isaac Martin, AWS; Brandon Long, AWS; Greg Sherwood, AWS; Tom Maguire, AWS; and Andres Lopez, AWS

Viña San Pedro Toasts 150th Anniversary in New York

Posted on | October 22, 2015   Bookmark and Share
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On September 29th, Viña San Pedro celebrated their 150th anniversary in the U.S., along with executives from Southern Wine & Spirits and Shaw-Ross International. The event at the Hotel InterContinental in Times Square showcased important milestones and achievements that have been reached under the banner “Better Every Year”. 

Vinny Ferrone, Shaw-Ross International; Pedro Herane, Viña San Pedro; Marcelo Quinteros, Viña San Pedro; Barbara Wolff, Viña San Pedro; Scott Jove, Shaw-Ross International; and Joe Tacca, Shaw-Ross International











Nick Potter, Shaw-Ross International; Barbara Wolff; and Jason Glasser, Beverage Media Group










Barbara Wolff; Billy Regan, Southern Wine & Spirits; Patti Ronneberger, SWS; and Anthony Caminitti, SWS










Vittorio Lanni and Karen Azran, both SWS









Matt Munn, SWS; and Pedro Herane

American Cancer Society Wine & Spirits Gala Honors Michael Keyes

Posted on | October 22, 2015   Bookmark and Share
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The Wine & Spirits Industry’s 38th annual gala benefitting the American Cancer Society took place on October 5th at the Pierre Hotel in New York. The evening honored Michael J. Keyes, President, North America Region, Brown-Forman Corporation. Bill Newlands, Chief Growth Officer for Constellation Brands, served as the emcee of the evening, and presented Keyes with the 2015 Dr. Louis Berger Memorial Award. The gala raised more than $550,000 in funds to further ACS’s research, education programs, advocacy and patient and family services. To date, the gala has raised more than $15.5 million.

Beth Keyes and Michael J. Keyes, Brown-Forman and 2015 Dr. Louis Berger Memorial Award recipient


The 2015 American Cancer Society Wine & Spirits Gala Committee










Dan Sisto, Larry Romer, Lou Schmettan, and Dave Foster, all SWS



Teresa Herbert, Patrón Spirits Company; and Richard Leventhal, Fedway










E. Lloyd Sobel, Empire Merchants; Connie Oehmler, Verity Wine Partners; and Michael Correra, Metro Package Store Association



Jason Glasser, Beverage Media Group; Jack Battipaglia, Southern Wine & Spirits; Corey Bronstein, Allied Beverage Group; Jody Slone-Spitalnik, Beverage Media Group; Neil Barnett, Fedway Associates; and John Devin, Empire Merchants North











Jay Johnson, Republic National Distributing Co.; Bob Hendrickson, Republic National Distributing Co.; Bryan Fry, Pernod Ricard USA; Scott Lammert, Republic National Distributing Co.; and Eddie Block, Republic National Distributing Co.



Alan Dreeban, Republic National Distributing Co.; Bill Newlands; and Tom Cole, Republic National Distributing Co.













Bill Newlands; Joe Hannon, SWS; and Carlo Coppola, Beam Suntory



Jon Maslin, R&R Marketing; Craig Wolf, WSWA; and Kevin Krapels, Fedway Associates










Wayne Chaplin and Harvey Chaplin, Southern Wine & Spirits




Michael Keyes and Bill Newlands, Constellation Brands (2014 honoree)

Essence of American Whiskey

Posted on | October 22, 2015   Bookmark and Share
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Heaven Hill Releases Super-Rare John E. Fitzgerald Very Special Reserve












The heritage of American whiskey is often captured in a name. The distilling traditions and history of this unique spirit were shaped by the likes of Evan Williams and Basil Hayden and Elijah Craig. Perhaps no name in the current bourbon resurgence is more notable than Pappy Van Winkle. It was his Old Fitzgerald brand which he inherited from S.C. Herbst that set the gold standard for quality.

By the time Heaven Hill acquired “Old Fitz” in the 1990s, it had long been regarded as one of the greatest wheated bourbons in the world, thanks to whiskey legend Van Winkle, and his iconic Stitzel-Weller distillery where Old Fitzgerald built its legendary status.

As part of the acquisition, large stocks of wheated bourbon were transferred to Heaven Hill’s Bardstown warehouses to support the ongoing sale of the brand. Twelve of these barrels were placed on the first floor of warehouse, to slow the impact of aging. After 20 years of aging—with time spent at both Stitzel-Weller and Heaven Hill—they were taken out of the barrel in 2013 and put into neutral tanks to arrest the evolution.

“We didn’t know what we wanted to do with it at that time—12 barrels is hardly enough for a big release—but we didn’t want the oak influence to take over the taste of the bourbon,” explains Heaven Hill Co-Master Distiller Denny Potter. Even more important: that choice cache of barrels held liquid history. “These 12 barrels represent a golden age in bourbon, but they also tie this limited edition bottling and its vaunted history to Larceny and Old Fitzgerald. The bourbon is the renowned wheated mashbill that Pappy Van Winkle developed for Old Fitz at Stitzel-Weller,” he says.












Liquid History

Since then, the company has in fact decided what to do with it: witness the micro-release of 20-year-old John E. Fitzgerald Very Special Reserve Bourbon. “There is such a great story behind this bourbon, it will appeal to people who are interested in more than just the liquid inside the bottle—it’s a glimpse at the DNA of bourbon lore,” says Potter. “But it’s the liquid in the bottle that will win them over.”

Bottled at 90 proof, the 20-year-old whiskey is non-chill filtered, which translates to greater flavor complexity and a richer texture. Wheated bourbons are characterized by a delicacy and smoothness; they are subtler than corn or rye-based whiskies which can have bolder, spicier taste profiles. What comes across most pronounced is the “vanilla, caramel and smooth cocoa notes,” he describes, “with a very soft, balanced finish.”

Given the limited quantity—just 3,000 bottles (375ml) produced—coupled with the liquid’s pedigree, Potter doesn’t see it sitting around on shelves long, “if it makes it to shelves at all,” he says. But these once-in-a-lifetime opportunities represent one of the best parts about being a distiller, he says: “We have to have so much patience. Much of what I’m putting in barrel today we won’t be drinking for another 12 years. Being able to release a bourbon like this is one of the rewards.”

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