The Law of Averages

Are blinkers optional on cars sold in California? Or maybe the instructions in the manuals aren’t very clear. Maybe they’re like the instructions that teach young baseball players how to shave, or so many football players how to get a haircut or  not to carry a gun and shoot themself or someone else.
Just as I don’t know the answers to those questions, I’m trying to figure out who the “average wine consumer” really is. Living in the North Coast of California, we probably assume the average consumer is just like the people who inundate Healdsburg, Sonoma, St. Helena and Calistoga. They can afford $50 entrees, $450-per-night hotel rooms and drive Lexus, BMW or big Mercedes cars and only drink wine that costs at least $40 per bottle. Remember that the mentality of these consumers wouldn’t let them even think of putting a $10 wine near their lips for fear their teeth will fall out. And, of course, there’s no shortage of local wineries that will take advantage of this mentality. Isn’t the old saying, “Whatever the traffic will bear,” still alive and well?
Many of my friends associated with high-end wineries claim sales are still good at the winery level, but yes, the restaurant side of things is slow. Could that be because restaurants think that the profit per bottle should cover the entire evening’s overhead? Let’s get away from our own little niche and see what the real world is doing about wine.
Wine consumption in the United States continues to climb very slowly, unlike most other wine consuming countries where consumption continues to decrease.
If you’re a true wine snob—oops, connoisseur—you’ll really cringe when you see the list of the top 20 wine brands sold in restaurants for 2008. Each year, Restaurant Wine magazine releases the results of its research and, each year, it continues to amaze those of us who think we’re part of the “average consumer” group.
And the envelope, please…
At the top of the list is Kendall-Jackson Wine Estates—yes, our very own Sonoma County king and probably no great surprise. Second and third are Sutter Home and Beringer Vineyards (in that order)—and you thought White Zinfandel was dead! Fourth through 10th are Franzia, Inglenook, Yellow Tail (Australia), Copper Ridge (you’re probably unfamiliar with this Gallo product, but it’s very popular in casual eateries), Cavit (Italy), Woodbridge and Salmon Creek (a member of the Bronco Wine Company).
So, Mr. or Mrs. Connoisseur, how many of those would you let pass through your lips? Maybe that’s why we might be considered wine snobs.
Well so much for the wineries, what about specific wines? The envelope again, please!
Repeating in the top spot is Kendall-Jackson Vintners Reserve Chardonnay (Hey, wasn’t that Jed Steele’s trade secret?); numbers two, six and seven are three Italian Pinot Grigios from Cavit, Ecco Domani (Gallo) and Mezzacorona, respectfully; three and four are White Zinfandels by Beringer and Sutter Home; five is a Chablis by Inglenook; eight’s the Copper Ridge Chardonnay; nine is Yellow Tail Chardonnay; and 10 goes to Franzia White Zinfandel.
Certainly there are some real surprises with the continued popularity of White Zinfandel being the biggest, but having three Pinot Grigios (Gris) in the top 10 is very curious also. I personally have been on a Pinot Gris kick myself, finding them a very pleasant diversion from the buttery, oak 2×4 Chardonnay out there. Seeing three Chardonnays in the top 10 confirms my suggestion that you need to keep your stock in the oak wood chip business. These top three have probably never seen a barrel in their lives. Since we’re talking about surprises, did you pay attention to the fact there’s not one red wine in the top 10, and only one in the top 20—which is a Yellow Tail Shiraz (11)?
Since you, my faithful readers, probably consume 90 percent reds, we aren’t so average after all. To quote one of my favorite wine blogs, Vinography, regarding these numbers: “For most serious wine lovers, these numbers and names, to say the least, are sobering—as many won’t be caught dead drinking any of these wines…like a foodie learning that a hamburger, fries and a large Coke is the most popular dinner!” Other little facts that showed up include red wine, despite being in the top 20 only once, did gradually increase in percentage of sales from the previous year. Riesling sales were up nearly 17 percent and Sauvignon Blanc continues to be the bastard child of the varietal wine world. Some day, I hope, our local winemakers will learn how to produce a wine that’s similar to the great ones coming in from New Zealand. Last year, even Kendall-Jackson lost its number one status in Sauvignon Blanc sales to New Zealand. For years, I’ve been pleading for the industry to make a sound, grassy Sauvignon Blanc instead of screwing up the market with flavors varying from tropical fruit to cat pee. If we don’t continue to confuse consumers, maybe they won’t be afraid to buy it. This also reminds me that Syrah/Shiraz suffers from a lack of identity with too many styles out there along with some just plain bad ones. There are French styles (Syrah) and Australian styles (Shiraz). Unfortunately, when you think California, you just generally turn up your nose. It’s a great variety, so let’s not continue to screw it up.
Anyway, back to the main thrust: We should consider ourselves lucky that we have a great selection of wines. Now, if we could start to drink ourselves out of the wine glut we have, maybe the entire industry can be one big happy family again. Grape growers, like dairymen (who are also suffering greatly now), have one problem. They’ve forgotten the simple rules of supply and demand. What part of “too much product” don’t you understand? One of two things needs to happen: We need to eat more cheese and drink more milk and wine, or make hamburger out of cows and barbecue wood out of grapevines.
In wrapping up, I need to have an answer to the following question: If restaurants charge corkage to remove corks from your wine bottle, is it called “screwage” when you have a screw top? I always thought screwage was part of corkage at $15 to $20 per bottle. OK, off to do your homework. And remember, during our current glut, it’s 1.5 bottles per day.

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