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Field Notes from a Wine Life – Autumn Rain Edition

More odds and ends from a life lived through the prism of the wine glass …

Not so Fast, My Friend

Shoddy research is not strictly the province of online media.  Poorly conceived flash reactions aren’t strictly limited to political pundits, either.  Witness the LA Times and an article that uses increases in coffee and wine sales at Safeway as an indicator that the economy is improving.  The story was widely picked-up online without much thought or research aside from straight quotes taken from a quarterly investor conference call …

From the article:

Wine is another area in which people are starting to change buying patterns.

At the start of the recession, the percentage of premium wines Safeway sold declined, he said (quoting Steven Burd, Safeway CEO).

“Our wine category has been a fabulous category for us for years, but we saw a mixed change with a reduction in premium wines, and we’ve now seen that reverse itself,” Burd said.

Taken together, the two examples of shoppers trading up in their selections “suggests to me, that we’re at, or near, the bottom of this whole thing, and that would be good for all of us if that’s true,” Burd said.

While certainly quotable and notable because EVERYBODY is looking for a silver lining in a year that most would like to erase from the memory bank, the problem I have with this article is there is no context.  In particular, there is no explanation of what exactly a “premium” wine is.

Most people in tune with wine price segmentation (particularly in a grocery store environment) call wine “premium” if it’s in the $7-$10 range.

Call me elitist and out of touch, but If we’re getting excited because people are moving up from “fighting varietial” wines in the $4-$7 range into the $7- $10 “premium” range, we’ve completely lost touch with who is hurting in the wine business.

The reality is that a tick up in buying for $7 - $10 wines may be a consumer confidence indicator for one demographic slice of the wine public, but that is hardly a corner-turning vote of confidence for the folks that have been impacted most – small production wines in the $20+ category.

Palate Press

Palate Press, the recently launched online wine magazine, is going gangbusters.  As a founding Editor, I decided to participate more out of desire to not be left out, more so than a desire to carve up my time to an even greater degree. That’s proving to be a prescient move.  Traffic, awareness and engagement (comments, etc.) are all off the charts in less than two months time.  There is an audience for what Palate Press is doing and that’s very gratifying to watch develop … credit principally goes to Founder David Honig who has made a yeoman’s effort in people wrangling, and to William Tisherman (Tish) who ensures every published piece goes through a quality editorial filter.  Both are great to work with.


If you haven’t checked it out, I would urge you to do so …  I have a piece that published today on the ongoing need for consumer activism in wine.  While much progress has been made since the Granholm ruling in 2005, much more needs to be done—specifically in the area of retailer shipping and affording the same rights that wineries have.  You can check my post called, “Wine Liberty and Justice for Allhere.

Mirror Wine


I had hoped for a triumphant post here today … a post that gloated about a decisive victory by the Notre Dame Fighting Irish over USC on Saturday.  Alas … that didn’t happen despite the great fall weather and game day atmosphere in South Bend …  USC has had ND’s number for most of this decade with eight victories in a row.  In doing some research, I realized that Rick Mirer, Notre Dame Quarterback from 1989 – 1992, who beat USC all four years of his college career, has a Napa Valley wine project going on …

His first vintage, a ’05 Napa Cab, is starting out allocated and SOLD OUT!  It came out of the gate with a 94 rating by Wine Enthusiast.

Congrats to Mirer, a proud graduate of ND, (graduating is something most USC football players don’t do, ahem), and his project is called Mirror Wine Company—at least he is winning these days even if his alma mater is hit and miss every Saturday.


Posted in, Free Run: Field Notes From a Wine Life. Permalink | Comments (5) |


On 10/18, Dylan wrote:

Thanks for sharing Rick Mirer’s story. I love reading about how people first get involved in winemaking and what drew them in.

On 10/19, David Honig wrote:

Can the increase in $7-$10 purchases at Safeway actually indicate exactly the opposite of the above conclusion?  Could it be a sign that people are leaving the premium wine stores, where they spent $20-$30, and buying $7-$10 at Safeway instead?

On 10/19, Paul Gregutt wrote:

I hope his wine is better than his (non)-career quarterbacking for the Seahawks!

On 10/19, jeff wrote:

Thanks for the comments.

David—I’ve read dozens and dozens of articles on trading down in wine and I haven’t seen anything that says people are moving from the Luxury market at a specialty retailer down into the premium category at a grocery store.

I think the likely aspect is that people are moving from $20 - 30 into $12-$17 and the $12-17 are moving down below $10.

But, the way this article read its suggesting that people are moving up from $4-$7 into $7-10 and that’s a ‘nother kettle of fish.

Paul—one can certainly hope that Mirer doesn’t take the journeyman’s path to wine success.  Though, both Mirer and Brady Quinn are forever insulated from the bust tag by another Washington state product—Ryan Leaf!


On 10/19, Sherry wrote:

I seriously hope that people don’t feel that saving $10 at Safeway means they are getting a deal.

A real deal on wine is one that is worth the extra $10, but tastes like you saved $50.

Click my name for a great website that reviews wines like this (for those who enjoy wine reviews and might want to learn how to save money and still get a good wine)...

Please…stay out of Safeway and take some time to enjoy life and a fine wine!



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