Writing from the edge of the Russian River in Sonoma County
Rising Prices for Napa Visitors and Wine Buyers
The Silicon Valley Bank wine division “Wine Report” is an annual survey of American wineries conducted by arguably the U.S. wine industry’s most trusted data analyst. And yes that’s the same bank that was recently closed by the feds and then purchased by another bank that has continued its popular survey and report. Wine must go on.
The 12th annual report shows to no one’s surprise, that it’s as expensive as ever to visit Napa and Sonoma — despite a decrease in visitors.
Average tasting fees in Napa County rose $21 in 2022 to $81. This is dramatically higher than other regions, including Sonoma County ($38) and Paso Robles ($28).
According to the report, most wineries also raised their bottle prices last year: The average bottle price in Napa Valley crossed the $100 threshold in 2022 to nearly $108, a $17 increase from 2021. Once again, Napa is far ahead of its neighbors; Sonoma County averaged $57 a bottle and 71% of the wineries plan for increases yet again this year.
The tasting panel has noticed on recent visits to some of our local wineries that we could park in front at the curb or pick any seat in the house when we visited, granted we avoid Saturdays and Sundays as that’s when the “swells” are in town.
The only other price point where both measures showed increases were wines over $100. It’s funny: sales volume dropped for wines priced between $90 and $99, so if a winery is charging $90, it might as well go for the hundy or to the average Napa wines suggested price of $108 hundy.
Wine Industry Advisor
I found an interesting interpretation of the same report posted by a husband-and-wife team from Sweden now based in Paris, offering a perspective from their side of the pond.
As international observers they are a bit overwhelmed by the exceptionally high average price of Napa wines and can’t think of any other wine region in the world that would fetch an average price on that level.
The other remarkable fact they find is the overall price level across all regions in the U.S. Even the lowest category, “other US wine”, comes in at an average price of $26.08. Few wine regions in other countries would even come close to that in a domestic market.
Tasting room fees
Here again, Napa stands out, being by very far, the most expensive. According to the SVB survey, the average tasting fee for a “reserve” (premium) tasting in Napa is $128 or for a standard tasting, “only” $81. From an international perspective, this is an extraordinary price level, almost unheard of.
Sonoma follows with an average reserve tasting fee of $72 and the standard one at a comparatively affordable $38.
Tasting room sales
The average shopping basket (purchases made) at a Napa winery’s tasting room was almost $500 ($487.87) in 2022, an approximately 50% increase from the previous year (2021). Sonoma is at $235, and most other regions are around $160. Clearly, it can be profitable to sell your wine at the cellar door.
“Napa has become an astonishing success on the US wine scene, both for wine sales and for wine tourism. One can only hope that consumers feel they get value for money.”
I’d be happy to take you where you can sample wine for a lot less money. Bookings are down, weather’s great, love to hear from you!
The Rhône Rendezvous was the final chapter of the Gravenstein Grill’s summer wine series and it featured wineries from broad swath of Sonoma County as well as Napa.
There are 20 different varieties of Rhône grapes but Grenache, Mourvèdre, Syrah, Pettie Sirah and Viognier are names that you may find more common than the rest. In fact a popular version of Rhône wine is known as “GSM” a blend of Grenache, Syrah and Mourvedre and while petite Sirah is better known as a blending grape with dark fruit flavors, especially in Zinfandel it is now coming in its own right as a stand-alone grape.
“You may like Chardonnay and Cabernet but when you taste the Rhône wines you’re going to say wow these wines are completely different and they really taste good!” Exclaims Chris Sawyer wine director for the Grill, “That’s what’s going to happen every time you taste a really good Rhône wine.”
Sawyer has established these tasting events as a high quality ticket, attracting winemakers not only from the Russian River area but as well as Bennett Valley, Napa, Dry Creek and far southern Sonoma County.
Sawyer says you need to diversify your own tasting profile. ”You’ve got everything here, spicy wines, you have big wines, soft and sexy wines, pink wines that are dry and wonderful and will go with just about anything and you’ve got white wines that are dry and aromatic and beautiful as anything you might find.”
I enjoyed the Ramey Syrah from two completely different vineyard locations.
I wanted to share that amongst his many other wine related endeavors Sawyer hosts several wine tours a year for Celebrity cruises and recently returned from Alaska where he held a welcome reception, 2 seminars and a luncheon for 38 guests and said his best meal presentation was a petrola sole and moose, a real Alaskan surf and turf he said, served with a Pinot Noir.
On a local note Sawyer got Barry at the Bottle Barn to ship the 99 bottles of wine he took on the cruise.
Bubbles for Everyone: Behind the Rack & Riddle Expansion
I discovered Rack & Riddle, the California custom sparkling wine house early in our time out here, in fact featuring them in the Whine several years ago, as well as last New Year’s Day. They are wonderful people and make a great product and they garnered lots of attention last month when they scooped up one of the state’s biggest private label charmat producers to go along with another major producer they bought last spring to begin national expansion by creating a sparkling product that will hit a pricing sweet spot at your local grocer.
The deal, says a Rack & Riddle executive, was about more than expanding just for the sake of expanding. The company’s plan is to transform the supermarket private label bubbly business – and, some industry observers say; the company just might be able to do so.
Room for growth
The company plans to use its newly acquired charmat capacity, which approaches half a million cases per year, to focus on $10-$12 charmat sparkling. In this, Rack & Riddle wants to offer grocers a wine that fits between lower-priced brands such as Andre, Cook’s and Wycliff, and $15 Proseccos.
That way, says Rack & Riddle co-CEO and co-founder Bruce Lundquist, retailers can make more money while selling a quality wine that costs less than the brand names.
“We still think there’s growth in the sparkling market,” says Lundquist, who points out that sparkling is one of the few wine categories that hasn’t slowed in the past couple of years. In addition, he says, the company thinks it’s possible to trade up younger consumers who drink hard seltzers to less expensive charmat labels. (Finally someone in the industry is trying to reach that market.)
“The prosecco market has been remarkably strong,” says Lundquist. “So what’s to stop us from making a quality American Prosecco-style wine for $11 and capturing part of the growth of that market?”
Aim for the middle
“The other thing to keep in mind here,” says a wine marketer, “is that most wine consumers don’t know the difference between charmat and methode champenoise – or that there even is a difference.( The Charmat method is a sparkling winemaking process that traps bubbles in wine via carbonation in large steel tanks and is much cheaper to produce, but if done right makes a very good product.)
Champagne is champagne. So when they see a price that’s suitable for their pocketbook and that the wine is on the sweeter side, they’re going to think about buying it, especially a $10-$12 target price.”
And most methode champenois brands, California or imported, can’t afford to sell for less than $20. So why not a store brand that costs less than $15?
“It’s not a big leap of faith to believe consumers will want to buy something between a brand like Korbel and the store’s $25 captive label.”
Rack & Riddle, thanks to its expansion, has the capacity to make the wine to fill that gap.
Half a Glass
American Airlines Not Flying So High
Fliers will be served a Ferrari brut from Trentino, Italy, rather than bubbles from the famed French wine region. The brut in question is created with 100 percent Chardonnay grapes just like Ruinart’s signature Blanc de Blancs Champagne. Bubbles from the Trento DOC are also made the same way as the wines from the French appellation. As a result, the difference between the bottles is rather minimal, but discerning sippers will surely notice.
They might also notice that ticket prices remain largely the same despite the fact the airline is popping cheaper bottles. The change was reportedly driven by AA’s recently instated CEO Robert Isom. At the airline’s employee forum last year, he made it clear that cost-cutting was a priority.
“We’re proud to have led the industry in operational performance over the holidays while producing record full-year and fourth-quarter revenues, resulting in a third consecutive quarterly profit and a profit for the full year.”
Isn’t that worth raising a glass of Champagne to?
Fast Food Chicken Sandwich Sales
At 25% most consumers still prefer Chick-fil-A’s sandwich. Popeyes ranks No. 2 with 20%, illustrating its sandwich has gained a significant amount of traction in just four years.
Notably, this competition gets more interesting when examined by region. In the West and Midwest, for instance, Popeyes is the top chicken sandwich preference, while Chick-fil-A holds the crown in the Northeast and South. Burger King is No. 3 in the West and Northeast, while KFC is third in the Midwest and South.
KFC and Burger King are also tied for third overall, with 12%. Interestingly, KFC’s chicken sandwich didn’t launch until 2021, while Burger King finally found success with its Royal Crispy Chicken Sandwich.
Wendy’s jumped into the fried chicken sandwich conversation in late 2020, but sits fifth for consumer preference at 11%, while McDonald’s recent efforts to upgrade and rebrand its sandwich to the McCrispy have yet to move the needle much, with 8%.
I still like Popeye’s better
Nation’s Restaurant News
Less of You Are Drinking and Wine Lags Behind
More Americans are abstaining from alcohol and “overindulging” remains near historic lows. Meanwhile, spirits have gained ground in popularity among women and younger consumers, though wine remains the beverage of choice for women, older drinkers and the wealthy.
Abstention increased from 33% in 2022 to 38%, while “overindulging” remained at 19%, tied for the third lowest figure since 1978. The former may not be as significant as it seems; the number of Americans who say they don’t drink has remained in the same narrow band, between 35 and 40%, since 1982. Overall, U.S. drinkers report that they had four drinks in the past week, which matches the average since 1996 — and those four drinks per week in the 2023 numbers is remarkably consistent across every demographic.
In addition, wine was Americans’ least preferred alcoholic beverage at 29%, trailing beer (37%) and spirits (31%), though the difference between wine and spirits is within the poll’s margin of error.
And apparently we are not alone.
Monsieur and Madams; You Are Not Drinking Enough
These days, the average French adult consumes 40 L or 4 ½ cases of wine per year. Over the past five years, Bordeaux’s average annual harvest has been 480 million cases; however the region has only been successful in selling 440 million cases, 22 million cases of which were sold below cost.
For decades, Bordeaux has been grappling with shrinking sales of value wines (lower end every day bottles) as consumption in France has dropped by more than 70% in the past 75 years. In France people just aren’t drinking less, there drinking less wine and when they do drink wine, they tend to prefer higher end reds as well as white, rose and sparkling wines.
As you might imagine the growers of these grapes are quite concerned and are demanding payment from the French government with the threat of being forced to pull their vines from production. Of course the government says they can’t afford it.
Are you doing your part to save the French wine industry?
As a remarkable coincidence to my finding the above article I was most shocked to see the following ad that appeared in the front section of this past Saturday’s (9/2) Wall Street Journal; a French winery taking a shot at an upper scale French winery by telling you to simply walk down the street and save some money buying their bottle; can’t wait for that to happen in Napa, I’ll let you know
That’s my Whine and I could be wrong…
So my long time buddy Greg Baise did see his name in last month’s Whine but forgot to let me know so I’ll mention his name again and if you happen to know Greg why don’t you reach out and tell them you saw his name, he needs some cheering up.
With cherry tomatoes filling gardens everywhere here’s my recipe for Orzo with Cherry Tomatoes and Pesto and Chicken and Turkey Burgers Brined with English Cheddar and Lemon Aioli are in fact right here. Enjoy!
Woody Mosgers, cooks, custom caters, writes, drinks, matches wine and food and offers wine country tour information and planning in Santa Rosa Sonoma, CA.