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Wine & Research: Your Results May Vary

Maybe I haven’t noticed it before, but it seems like wine is the subject of more frequent academic research.  I recently saw notice of two pieces of research—one on wine promotions and another on wine as an investment.

Recently published research from Cornell University explored the results of effective wine promotions in restaurants.

A twelve-week field study conducted at a mid-priced chain restaurant in Houston, TX reviewed promotion strategies using three methods—server recommendations, recommended wine-food pairings and low-price tasting portions.

This is interesting because of a recent post I wrote on the naming of Olive Garden as the Wine Person(s) of the Year by Wine Enthusiast Magazine.  Olive Garden uses aggressive sampling as a sales tool.

One obvious flaw that I see in the Cornell research is there is no variable accountability for the type of patron—either by demographics or psychographics.  A mid-priced restaurant in the Houston area that is seafood-oriented (which this research was based on) may produce radically different research results than a mid-to upper priced steakhouse that is a regional restaurant, but not a chain.  Demographics, red versus white wine and the like would all potentially yield different results.

Despite this seeming hole, which, in truth, would be difficult to account for, the Cornell research showed that all three promotion strategies worked with varying degrees of positive success.

Tables tents promoting wines, for example, can increase wine sales by 12 percent.  Table tents promoting food-wine pairings can increase wine sales by 7.6 percent. 

The biggest boost comes from offering wine tasting portions or wine flights and can provide an 18 to 47 percent boost to sales.  The research noted that that this can help introduce wine to nervous customers.

Overall, the research offers hope for continued academic research to promote ways to effectively sell wine. 

Despite my sharp criticism of Olive Garden, mainly because I think pimping White Zinfandel and Cavit Pinot Grigio to the portion of the wine market that is completely uninteresting to the majority of people that call themselves a Wine Enthusiast, I think that more adoption of unique selling activity is a good thing.  And, I’m doubly glad to see academic research, the bastion for thought penetrating business practices ahead of the curve, engaged in foodservice.

Food – wine pairings on the menu, flights and sampling are all activities that will sure increase beverage service at restaurants of all stripes and continue to foster wine as a social way to marry food and wine in a memorable setting.

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Other recent research focuses on wine as an investment vehicle and may surprise many who have said that wine is a somewhat dubious investment aside from ego gratification.

The old grind used to be that past performance is not an indicator of future results.  But, maybe that’s not true, at least in the shorter-term.

Investors, for years, but especially in the real estate run-up of the last five to seven years have been investing in Real Estate Investment Trusts (REITS) that act as sort of a mutual fund for property holdings as an investment vehicle.

And, many rock bands in recent years have set up bonds based on the future royalties of their musical properties.  Incidentally, James Brown, who recently passed away, and was featured in the Wine Spectator Unfiltered column on their web site a couple of days ago,

The Christmas Day passing of the legendary singer and songwriter James Brown saddened Unfiltered over the holidays. We don’t know anything about the Godfather of Soul’s tastes in wine, but the man sure did know how to liven up a party. On two occasions, he performed at Wine Spectator’s Wine Experience, funking it up in Las Vegas in 2002, just as he had at the event 10 years earlier. Even at the age of 69, he had the black-tie crowd shimmying and shaking like it was the ‘60s and ‘70s all over again. We’re gonna miss you, Mr. Dynamite.

…  was one of the artists who issued bonds on his music.

This is germane because it would be interesting to see an investment firm create a sort of REIT based on verticals of first growth’s or the like.

The investment itself is summarized as follows:

First, investment grade wine assets provide, on average, positive returns in excess of those forecasted by well accepted models that have been show to explain much of the variation in average stock returns.

Using a well-documented investment analysis tool, we show that wines on average provide large, positive excess returns.  Specifically, using the Fama-French three-factor model, we document average excess returns of more than 0.60 to 0.75% per month and 7.5 to 9.5% per year over returns predicted by factors show to account for risk.  Furthermore, our results suggest that wines have very little exposure to common market risk factors …

Previous research on wine investments has pointed out many negative aspects of such investments.  Investing in wine can be risky and the range of returns is significantly large.  These characteristics have not changed.  However, this paper provides alterative research that supports the argument for investment in wine assets.  Since a hedging strategy is one that offsets or protects against against risk, and since wine assets do not fluctuate according to market risk factors, investors committed to researching those wine assets expected to deliver strong returns can contruct a credible case for assembling a wine cellar.

And, that sound you hear?  It’s a cacophonous simultaneous exhortation of “Yes” as men ready their spousal justification strategy for ’07.

Keywords:  wine restaurant promotion research, wine investment promotions, music bonds, wine sales


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News, Notes & Dusty Bottle Items Pt. II

You never know who you’ll bump into on the Internet. 

A couple of weeks ago I was on the forum at the Wine Lovers Page (.com) and responded to several posts from a guy named Bob Ross and another gentleman named Thomas Pellechia.

Thomas Pellechia?  Where have I heard that name?  Then I looked to my right, adjacent to my desk, on the floor in a neat pile and saw the book that I had set aside to review over the holidays—VinoFictions, launched this month. 

Thomas strikes me as the kind of guy that calls a spade a spade and his mission statement backs up the intention of his blog:

Our Mission Statement: to bring truth to wine.

You know the game called telephone: a comment starts at one end of a group and is whispered to members of the group, one person at a time. By the time it makes it to the last person in the group, the comment bears little resemblance to the original. A lot of information about wine is passed along like this. Plus, a lot of marketing manipulation is passed along as information.

The aim of this blog is to set the record straight.

I have little doubt that Thomas will set the record straight.  And, if he doesn’t, perhaps his compadre, Bob Ross, will.  Bob is going to contribute to the blog in the form of a peer review, like academics that vet each others work.  This is Siskel and Ebert approach, I suspect, is a good blog idea whose time has come.

I’m going to like reading Thomas as he’s already taking people to task …

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Over at Winecast.net, Tim is taking the lead as organizer for the Wine 2.0 movement—which is sorely necessary.  I’m not sure I would want to call the online movement in the wine community Wine 2.0 because that begs to become passé, but the rush of new businesses online cannot be confused with anything but opportunity.  I firmly believe that wine on the Internet today is the equivalent of books on the Internet in 1996.  Green pastures and blue skies in terms of online sales, but who will become the Amazon? 

Though I attended the Wine 2.0 event in San Francisco in November, that event struck me as not being nearly geeky enough to be interesting.  While Tim isn’t a geek, he does bring the right mix of skills to being an online ringleader—notably he’s a marketer with technical chops—two characteristics that are sometimes in conflict with each other. 

Tim has written a Wine 2.0 “Mini Manifesto” after taking his inspirational cue from Hugh at Gapingvoid.com.  Hugh’s blog, while not in my everyday reading line-up, dances on the edge of being brilliant.  In my book, “genius” is reserved for a very select group of people—Frank Sinatra, and Michael Jordan come to mind.  The next notch down is being regarded as “brilliant” and Hugh continues to write stuff that gives me pause.

Since it’s the holiday season,  I am reminded that I once asked for and received a book by Matt Drudge of the Drudge Report, so I should more carefully choose my words about relative brilliance, but live by the sword, die by the sword, I guess.

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Speaking of choosing our words carefully, I have openly fawned about Don Sebastiani and Sons—their wines are good values at their price point and their marketing is clever, but no longer do I take in everything at face value.

There’s an article in the December issue of Wine Business Monthly called:  The Sebastiani Perspective on Global Sourcing that floats out a couple of dunder head quotes.  The one that gets me is a quote attributed to August, the youngest son of Don.  He says, in response to the question of “How are Young People Different Today?”

“A lot of it started with Two Buck Chuck.  Instead of going down with $20 and picking up a 12-pack of beer, my college friends were buying a 12-pack of wine instead.  Then you get out of college, get a job, have a little more money, and figure, if I spend $4 or $5 on a bottle of wine instead of $2, look at how much better the wine is.  That was the evolution within my circle of friends.  I spoiled them plenty, and would go home for weekends and bring stuff back.  But I really think Two-Buck Chuck is to thank for a lot of it.”

Out of the mouths of babes … way too simple to say that Two-Buck Chuck started the tsunami of wine consumption amongst Generation Y.  Having a Trader Joe’s in his college town may be his reality, but that’s just simply not so for the rest of the country.  Atlanta, GA just got their first T-J’s this year.  It may play like that in the Pac 10, but I guarantee you it doesn’t hold water in Big Ten, SEC, ACC, or Big East country.

Equally simple, I think the cocktail culture has as much to do with it—not everybody drinks liquor and if you’re a student and you want something in a glass what else are you going to drink?  It’s probably not a beer, more likely a glass of wine and sometimes trends can’t be summed up and defined ... they just happen ... that’s what the Internet is all about anyways ...

One under-reported aspect of Sebastiani’ future plans, despite the article’s headline in Wine Business Monthly, is the fact that they are joining Alice White wines in turning to global sourcing; that may turn out to be more nefarious than a naïve answer in response to how people in their twenties are approaching wine.

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I ran across a new music-oriented service that could have cross-over business model implications for small wineries.

With viral markets, the wisdom of crowds and other user-owned models, Sellaband.com is brokering the opportunity for fans to pay a $10 ante and buy a share in an unsigned band.  When a band signs up 5000 fans and has $50,000 they record a CD which every shareholder receives for free.  Additional profits can be paid out to the fan base via album sales, ad revenue, et al

The wine industry has cooperative arrangements with a bunch of winemakers as in the A-Z Wineworks in Oregon, but I don’t think there’s truly a concept where the winery is owned by the people.  It might be an interesting concept.  I’m good for $100.

Part III of News, Notes and Dusty Bottle Items coming in the next day or so …


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News, Notes & Dusty Bottle Items

There ought to be a law … one of the “rip and read” style wire stories that got a lot of mention during the holiday newspaper dead period of the past week was a “mocktail” for wine called “Cranbernet Sauvignon”

Cute name.  Your eye almost misses the change in the name and it’s not a typo.

This non-alcoholic drink is a recipe from a forthcoming book called, Sober Celebrations by Liz Scott.

I’m reprinting the recipe here for curiosity sake and you can find the wire blurb/recipe here.  If anybody tries it, please let me know if it’s worth a darn … I’m down with a nice balsamic on my salad, drizzled over fresh fruit even, but I’m not so sure about it being combined in a drink …

1 cup black currant juice or nectar
½ cup unsweetened pure cranberry juice
½ cup no-sugar-added red grape juice
½ cup plain seltzer
1 ½ tablespoons balsamic vinegar, preferably a lighter, non-syrupy variety

Combine the ingredients in a glass pitcher and let stand for 15 minutes at room temperature.  Divide between two 10- or 12-ounce wineglasses and serve.

Hmmm … like I said, it won’t be a part of my New Year’s program, but let me know if anybody decides to try it.

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In my estimation, one of the biggest trends in ’07 will be commercial wine preservation systems that take a turn towards the consumer.  Where there’s smoke, there’s fire and the increasing growth in consumption and the off-the-charts demonstration of Gen. Y to be red wine drinkers has to be followed, at some point, by the mechanism to sample. 

Enomatic is capitalizing on this with tasting bar technology that is in use from California to Florida and places in between.  In Indiana, for example, you can sample wine, if you are a restaurant permit holder, many other states have similar laws.  So, with a profit opportunity with on premise wines, why not allow folks to try something or a lot of things.  Sampling = Selling in many industries, wine included.  Ask a tasting room manager.  I read an article that once said that tasting rooms have a 95% + close ratio on samplers to purchase.  I have to believe that sampling in a restaurant or store increases purchasing quantity on an already captive audience by at least 25%

Players in this space include the aforementioned Enomatic, Cruvinet and Le Verre de Vin.  I would expect that Cruvinet and Le Verre de Vin re-position or release more consumer-oriented offerings, as well. 

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Speaking of trends, Biodynamic wines continue to be one of the re-current topics of conversation in the industry—some believe in it, many call it complete hocus-pocus magic without scientific benefit.  Noted blogger and anonymous wine industry insider, St. Vini, is crystal clear on which side he of the fence he lives.  Personally speaking, I am not source credible to have an opinion since I’m far away from viticulture practices, but I’ve made it a goal to have a well-grounded opinion based on research in ‘07.

Usually, though, in these politicized and polarizing debates in between right and wrong emerges a moderate to bridge the divided.  With organic wines having their own niche in the market, I’m wondering if Oregon’s LIVE (Low Input Viticulture & Enology) isn’t the moderate that can bridge the seer’s and the naysayer.  LIVE acts as sort of a “don’t throw the baby out with the bath water” middle-ground in between bioD and organic and the need to not lose a crop based on dogmatic belief.  Their principles seem reasonable and understandable.  You can find their site here.

LIVE program objectives for a sustainable viticulture

• To see the vineyard as a whole system
• To create and maintain a high level quality fruit production
• To implement practices that reduce reliance on synthetic chemicals and fertilizers with the goal of protecting the farmer, the environment, and communities at large
• To encourage responsible stewardship of the land, maintain natural fertility and ecosystem stability
• To promote sustainable farming practices that maintain biological diversity in the whole farm

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At Good Grape, we occasionally post excerpts from public domain related wine books—in particular, a book from wines’ founding father in the U.S.—John James Dufour, who grew and bottled the first successful vintages from a U.S. winery around 1807 in Vevay, Indiana.  The book is called The American Vine-Dresser’s Guide and I excerpt from it because it’s notable for its historical implications for any wine enthusiast.

I’ve often thought, as I frustratingly try and track down an out of print book that is usually very expensive, that doing a small, custom wine-related book publishing house publishing just books that are in the public domain would be an interesting and meritorious project.

It still might be, but as a lover of books I get mad at scurrilous and overly opportunistic profit whores on the Internet.  There’s a special place in hell reserved for spammers, cyber-squatters and e-book publishers.

Now, Business 2.0, a tech-savvy business magazine, reports in the December issue that some guys are taking public domain books (generally speaking, books published before 1923), having them digitized, updating the content to be more contemporary and are then selling them online in specialized niches. The article (not yet online) reports that “gentleman” who updated a 1925 book called Closing the Sale by J.C. Aspley into an updated niche title for real estate agents is making close to $25K a month.  The site provided in the Business 2.0 article now forwards to a web site with a domain of, http://www.stealingthelegalway.com which promises to teach you how to steal as well. 

I hate this.  I hate this.  I hate this.  Amway salespeople are virtuous and bright by comparison.

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Back in September, I wrote a post about fantasy football and its application towards the world of wine (Post can be found here).  Wine enthusiasts could draft cult bottlings or first growths by varietal and then duke it out for points and wins based on roving tastings with consumers.  It’s a simple enough idea and would be easy to monetize. 

Lest you think this is a crazy idea, be warned that this concept is now up and running for movies.  Launched in October, Fantasymoguls.com lets players assemble a roster of films and play based on box office dollar take, weeks in the Top 5, reviews, per screen dollars and other metrics. 

Man, with people signing up for affinity cellar/wine recommendation sites, you would think something like this for wine might be a hit … 

News, Notes & Dusty Bottle Items Pt. II coming up next ... all the quick hitters that are worth an opinion ...


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Good Grape New Year’s Resolutions

I love New Year’s—I love turning a new leaf, planning, goals and the whole notion of a fresh start.  One of my goals last year was to start a wine-related blog and my 2006 unfolded in positive and enjoyable ways that I never could have predicted based on that simple notion.  Henceforth, a new set of goals centered around this site for 2007. 

1)  Re-Read Karen MacNeil’s Wine Bible from cover to cover

2)  Re-Read the Oxford Companion to Wine from cover to cover

3)  Re-Read the New Sotheby’s Wine Encyclopedia from cover to cover

4)  Try not to take said gained knowledge and affront other people’s sensibilities

5)  Never to use the word “fruit bomb” in any of my ’07 writing

6)  Never refer to superstar Chef Mario Batali as “Falstaffian,” as every other writer who wrote a piece on him in ’06 has done.

7)  Use the word “hoary” more often. 

8)  To work on my grammatical Achilles heels’ – the use of the possessive, the proper use of tense within the same paragraph, passive voice, and too much adverb usage (according to the English Lit. major who doubles as my wife).  And, to occasionally write a 200 word post to mix it up with the 500 – 900 word posts that make up most of this site

9)  Form an educated opinion on Biodynamics

10)  Figure out the clubby world of wine certifications and which ones are important to which people

11)  To not buy any more wine books until I read the 14 already purchased and queued up quite literally on my nightstand.

12)  To utilize downtime in the early mornings, late at night and in many airports to expand my consumption of wine podcasts

13)  To join and become active in one or more of the wine message boards—wineloverspage.com, eBob, westcoastwine.net

14)  To make Good Grape a better and more engaging place for dialogue about wine
that is well-respected amongst my peers as well as consistently amusing and provocative

15)  To break out of my Zin/Pinot/Syrah triumvirate and drink more Old World vino—particularly Italian and French, including Nebbiolo from the Barbaresco region and Chateaneuf-du-Pape, both of which hold me in quiet study.

16)  To increase my drinking quality while reducing my wine spending … and to use the Internet to buy more wine (shipping costs don’t count)

17)  To go back to my Wine 2.0 and Cluetrain Manifesto that I started earlier in ’06 and neglected for the 2nd half of ‘06

18)  To cross-collaborate more often in the wine blogosphere

19)  To become involved in my own community and Indianapolis wine activity

20)  To continue to work on my palate, but to do so in a way that doesn’t sound as pretentious as “working on my palate.”

21)  To have even more fun than the life altering enjoyment I got out of wine blogging in ‘06


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The Velvet Rope & THE LIST

If there is a PH.D in the audience that understands the psychology of exclusivity, I’ll surely be grateful for a lesson on the power of being granted access.

What is it about the allure of the velvet rope that makes an inordinately long line queuing up outside a night club interesting to stand in … on the off chance that we might be granted entry, if we’re on the list or we happen to have attractive woman with us or some other indiscriminate social factor, and we’ll get hit with a high cover charge to boot.  For some things, it seems, we’re all too willing to hand over money, sometimes absent rational thought.

I just came back from a Green Bay Packers game at Lambeau Field in Wisconsin (a trip that every football fan should make and akin, in my book, to taking a pilgrimage).  My brother-in-law relayed a story about an acquaintance who is now in his mid-thirties that wrote a letter to the Packer’s when he was 11 years old asking for football tickets.  Some 25 years later after being placed on the list, he’s a successful business person in Atlanta, GA and the Packers track him down with an offer of tickets for him, if he’d like to accept the opportunity to lease a luxury box … he does, indeed, choose to lease the suite and buys a house in Green Bay to use exclusively for tailgating purposes to accompany his luxury box—an expense that has now cost him a couple hundred thousand dollars based off of his innocent pre-pubescent letter asking for tickets. 

While we all want to belong, I think some of this psychology/psychosis has to do with the small satisfaction that many people take in being in on something that the masses aren’t in tune with … for the same reason that people seek out new music … in today’s day and age our consumables are as much of a facet of our personality as our genetic makeup. 

I’ve been signing up for allocated wines mailing lists lately … partly in curiosity to see how this portion of the wine world operates and partly because I want to taste the upper end of the wine spectrum to fill out my own wine education deficiencies.  Harlan Estate, Williams Selyem, and several others are all wineries that I’ve recently signed up with and none of them have wine that is available for the public. 

I’m anxiously awaiting my movement from mailing list member to mailing list customer for a handful of these high-end wines, sight, er, taste unseen. 

Williams Selyem sent me a letter of introduction that is brilliant in its simplicity … damn if I don’t want to buy their wine.  But, I can’t get past the Velvet Rope, though I’m going to stand in line … when I signed up they said it might be two years or so before I am able to buy.

The letter says (excerpted):

“You’ve been added to our waiting list and we look forward to adding you to the active buying list, referred to as THE LIST, in the coming months.  We will notify you via letter when you have transitioned to THE LIST.

Williams Selyem wines are not easy to obtain as we do not have a tasting room that sells to the general public.  There is only one way to obtain Williams Selyem wines…you have to be on THE LIST.

While you occasionally may see a Williams Selyem wine available on a wine list at a four or five star restaurant, you will never see one of our wines commercially available for a lower price than you paid.  That’s because we have only one price for our wines for all customers.  We give you the best opportunity to purchase our wines at the lowest price.

Once you have been added to THE LIST, twice each year you will have the opportunity to purchase a limited number of bottles of the appellation and estate wines (Spring Release) and the vineyard designate wines (Fall Release).  At the beginning of both releases, you will receive your Williams Selyem newsletter and an order form which shows your allocation of wines (number of bottles you are able to purchase).  The allocation is a projection of what we would like to make available to you; however all wines are sold first come, first served.  They are not reserved and we encourage you to order early.

… During the first few years on THE LIST your allocation will be limited.  However, once you have been on THE LIST for a while and buying patterns emerge (by purchasing continuously from our Spring and Fall Releases); you will gain access to a greater variety/quantity of our highly prized wines.”

This is marketing brilliance. 

They are saying, ‘welcome to the line, we’ll let you know when you make it in the club, you’ll be buying at the same price that everybody else buys at (no free cover charge), and we’re going to monitor how much you buy and we expect you to buy continuously, if you buy enough continuously then we might let you into our VIP room where you can spend more money.’

And the funny thing is I just might. Somebody help me understand the psychology behind this mania? 


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