Saturday, August 27, 2016

Gallo Buys The Prisoner Wine Company

This post is sourced entirely from the article of the same name by Mitch Frank in the June 30th Wine Spectator magazine. I might add that the post is written on August 13th when I finally got around to reading the magazine so it's not really news at this point.

Gallo is always news for this industry though because it is the largest wine company in the world and they do a good job in that rarefied stratosphere.  We have written about the mass marketers of this industry in the past so after a cursory look at The Prisoner's brief history, we'll go right to the transaction.

Dave Phinney created both The Prisoner, a red Zinfandel-based blend, and the Orin Swift brand in 2000.  With immediate success from The Prisoner sales, Orin Swift quickly became a line of varietal wines including Saldo, Cuttings, Blindfold, and Thorn.  In 2010 with annual sales at 85,000 cases, Phinney sold the Orin Swift line to Huneeus Vineyards for $40 million.  Huneeus has an amazing track record of success which we documented in our January 31st '13 blogpost.  In the past six years Huneeus increased sales to the 170,000 cases currently which led Gallo to purchase the line for $285 million dollars.

So what did Gallo buy?  The five brand names above.  There never have been any vineyards or wineries as part of the Orin Swift project.  Everything has been contracted.  Gallo of course has plenty of vineyards already with winery capacity for several new Orin Swift-ian operations.  So the purchase was for the brand names alone.

And that is the way the wine business works in this modern era.  Whenever an independent winery is sold to an industry player it's just the brand that is purchased.  It's called consolidation and it's the same in beer and liquor and cheese and sausage and the prevailing wisdom is to take the mass marketers' money and get out of their way.  They always pay well.  Let them have it.

Gallo has announced that the Orin Swift wines would be made at Franciscan Vineyards going forward which was another Huneeus successful project before ending up with Gallo.      

Saturday, August 20, 2016

Ava Winery

"Test tube wines are upon us."   So says Carson Demmond in his recent Food & Wine magazine article of the same name.  What he's referring to is Ava Winery and if you thought our preceding post about Replica wines and their efforts to copy popular wine styles was alarming, Ava is a copycat of a whole other order.  They choose to bioengineer their creations without fermenting grapes!

So Ava Winery is a winery in name only.  It's actually a lab with proprietary technology that proposes a methodology using various analytical chemistry techniques including Gas Chromatography Mass Spectometry among others to understand the composition of a wine Ava wants to reproduce.  They want to identify and determine the ratios of each of two hundred molecular compounds to each other so they can reproduce a wine's flavors and aromas.

Alec Lee and Marchonn Chua are the evil scientists here and they claim they can turn water into wine in fifteen minutes once the analysis stage is over.  Vegetable glycerin provides the body in the concoction before tartaric acid, malic acid, tannin powder, sucrose, and everclear ethanol provide the more common components.  The finished product will have the same amino acids, sugars, volatile aromatic compounds and alcohol as the wine it is copying.

Like Replica, Ava is transparent with regard to their creative processes with no desire to insert extraneous additives to their product which sounds odd considering what they do.  They are also respectful of wine history, terroir, and the labor implicit in farming and vinification which makes them admirable, again, considering what they are doing.

To date Ava, an American Viticultural Area pun, has only taken orders for their first release.  They intend to sell through their website at the beginning asking $50 per bottle for reproductions of wines that could command thousand dollar prices.  You can get on a waiting list at their website.  Since this is essentially groundbreaking work and bureaucracy being what it is, Lee and Chua expect a lot of hurdles to overcome before getting into wide distribution.

Lee and Chua also see themselves as pioneers of a future time when synthetic foods will be the order of the day.  Perhaps their wares may be found in the Star Trek episode vending machine that delivered the beverage of choice keyed in by the thirsty space traveler.

Saturday, August 13, 2016


A replica is an exact copy or reproduction of something else.

Replica Cellars of Healdsburg, California "unapologetically replicates your favorite wines" (back label) using chemical instruments and a huge flavor data base.  After its initial examination, Colorado-based Integrated Beverage Group, owner of Replica, then turns to independent chemical laboratory, Ellipse Analytics, for further process detailing.

Ellipse identifies, compares, and quantifies macrocomponents like sugars, acidity, and tannins before isolating individual volatile flavor chemicals (microcomponents).  The rest of the process then reverts to the purely subjective: trained tasters delineate the flavor profile of the wine before finally making a blend that mimics the original.  The replica is asserted to be 90% accurate and without extraneous flavor additives.

So what's going on here?  Replica calls themselves "master forgers" with taglines like "Originality is over-rated, especially when it's overpriced."  So are these guys more akin to the oil painting forgers who are themselves artists or are they just counterfitters who use the latest technology?  Or since science and technology are already everywhere in the wine business and copying of wines probably goes back to clay pottery days, is this really just the latest in wink-and-a-nod wine marketing?

The fact that Replica uses no chemical flavorings is telling.  That says they are traditional and maybe even conservative.  Moreover, they say they will not duplicate a terroir-specific wine, which is...   respectful.  Back on March 26th of this year we wrote about Mega-Purple and the other additives mass marketers and less-than-scrupulous others use to make popular styled wines.  If Replica isn't going that route then they are just another mainstream winery.  Pop songwriters used to talk about the "hook" in pop music that would catch the casual listener's attention.  Maybe Replica similarly just embellishes the popular aspect of a given wine.

In the store at this time we have the Replica Cabernet Sauvignon and Chardonnay which are both very good.  If you want to know what each is replicating you'll have to stop in the store.

Saturday, August 6, 2016

The Top 20 Summer Wines

Lists of this and that seem to be ubiquitous in contemporary American culture and in this industry, wine lists are both continuous and unfortunately, often ponderous. And yes, I know school has started and we think we have turned the seasonal page, but we still have another month of summer so here is our list of this store's most popular summer refreshers, circa 2016.


1. Castelo Do Papa Valdeorras Godello - One of our three best whites of the year.
2.  Zingara Venezie Pinot Grigio - "Freshness" is the adjective for this infectiously enjoyable white.
3. Manu Marlborough Sauvignon Blanc - More restrained in the citrussy stuff and drier than most.
4. Walnut Block Marlborough Sauvignon Blanc -  Even more settled and drier than Manu.
5. Montauto Maremma Toscano Bianco - Well made dry Italian dinner wine.
6. Acrobat Oregon Pinot Gris - King Estate second label apertif.
7. PJ Valkenberg Rheinhessen Pinot Blanc - Light and off-dry, from a company that never cheats on quality.
8. Peramor Rueda Verdejo - Light and dry but flavorful Spanish type.
9. Ares de Medeiros Alentejano White Blend - Portuguese dry seafood wine.
10. La Galope Comte Tolosan Sauvignon Blanc - The best type from that region.
11. Villa Pozzi Sicilian Pinot Grigio - Perennial fruity summer favorite here.
12. New Age Argentine White - With a lime twist it's a Tincho cocktail!
13. Vidigal Portuguese Vinho Verde - Frizzante!  The best of 20 tasted by the New York Times experts.


1. Gerard Bertrand Cote des Roses Grenache-Cinsault-Syrah - This store's best seller!
2. Chateau Beaulieu Coteaux D'Aix-en-Provence - Grenache Rose with a pedigree.
3. Chateau Famaey Cahors Malbec - Fresh, forward Malbec fruit.
4. Rose Pescador from Spain - Light and effervescent.
5. Zaza Campo de Borja - Dark, rich, and flavorful.
6. La Ferme de Gicon Cotes du Rhone - The best buy of the lot if French styling is your thing.
7. La Galope Comte Tolosan - Light and dry French wine.

Summer is the less-is-more season for wine enjoyment and that includes pricing.  All of the above are under $15 and three are under $10!  No reds?  Actually we have plenty and just like the whites and roses, summer reds are a bargain.  Champagne?  Stop in and see!