ASPEN – The second day of the Food & Wine Magazine Classic is a day to catch up with some of the seminars missed on Day One.
Although there never is enough time to see everyone, the weekend schedule is flexible and offers repeat performances of most seminars, allowing me the chance to slip into Marnie Old’s presentation on “Unknown Wines from Spain’s Iconic Regions.”
Marnie Old is very popular, in part because she has a sparkling and engaging personality and also because she’s the best-prepared of the presenters I usually see at the Classic. While some of the presenters may offer difficult-to-see maps and some offer hand-outs listing the wines in their talk and others leave you guessing, Marnie has great maps and visual aids, as we called them in school, and she says it’s because talking to people is how she makes her living.
“A lot of (the speakers) are in the wine business, or own restaurants or aren’t around people a lot,” she said. “I’m the only one who makes her living as an author and speaker, so I know what it takes to capture an audience.”
And communicate she does. Lively, entertaining, not shy about dancing around the stage to make a point, Marnie engages the audience in her topic, which this time was about “breaking the mold” when it come to exploring Spanish wines.
In her quest, she had us tasting Tempranillo Blanco from Rioja; a dry Moscatel from Málaga; barrel-fermented Xarel-lo (one of the three grapes more commonly found in cava): a Caiño dominated red blend from Rías Baixas; “Niti,” a garnache/carineña blend from Priorat; and finally a Gran Reserva tempranillo from Bodegas Protos in Ribera del Duero.
The Tempranillo Blanco, from the five-generation Bodegas Valdemar, was especially interesting because the scarcity of these white-mutation Tempranillo grapes makes this a rarely seen varietal wine.
“Only a few bodegas have enough vines to make an unblended wine,” Marnie said. “But the family behind Valdemar has helped to discover and propagate the grape. We had only two of these wine shipped to us” for the Classic.
Marnie has published two books and is working on her third and also offers an iPad/iPhone app called “Wine Simplified.” She described it as an “interactive crash course for the wine curious.”
It’s available on her web site.
Now, it’s off to the day’s first Grand Tasting, where a world of wine is waiting.
Wine consumers could be paying higher prices as the world-wide glut of wine and wine grapes shows signs of ending.
Reports from several major wine-trade websites are saying a series of low harvests worldwide along with a global rise in wine consumption point toward the possibility of a global wine shortage, something unthinkable a few years ago when the world seemed awash in wine.
Shanken News Daily reported California has suffered two consecutive small harvests, which means wine makers are competing for less fruit, which in turn drives up grape prices and bulk wine prices. “If you’re buying wine on the bulk market, or you’re a négociant, your costs are going to go up,” said Adam Lee of Siduri and Novy Family wines, in an interview from the Shanken report.
Similar shortages are reported elsewhere, according to TheDrinksBusiness.com. France’s Languedoc saw grape prices rise to a 10-year high and Spain’s Rioja saw its 2011 yields drop more than 20 percent, resulting in “a serious depletion of stocks matched by price rises.”
The DrinksBusiness website recently said the California wine industry “is entering an extended period of structural supply shortage.” In that same story, Matt Turrentine, of Turrentine Wine Brokerage in Novato, Calif., said California vineyard plantings have not been keeping pace with growing demand, resulting in a doubling of bulk prices in the past 12 months. Wines and Vines reported a similar story.
This report is contradicts the state of California’s grape supply in 2010, when grape growers were knee-deep in grapes and no one to buy them. Back then, according to Wines & Vines, , grape growers were bemoaning the shortage of buyers in a time of plenty.
“What happened to the grape and wine buyers?” asked Nat DioBuduo of Allied Grape Growers in Fresno. “I don’t know where you guys disappeared to. We want you guys back.”
The recent challenge has been compounded by the global recession, during which wine producers sold off existing inventories rather than invest in new plantings or increased production.
A similar move happened here in Colorado after freezes in December 2010 and spring 2011, wiped out the grape crop and forced winemakers to use existing inventory to keep their shelves full. Many winemakers saw their grape supplies curtailed or shut off as there simply weren’t enough Colorado grapes to go around, forcing some producers to go elsewhere for grapes.
Colorado hasn’t the luxury of many new areas suitable for grapes, so winemakers depending on home-grown grapes must wait for vineyards to recover before production can rise to meet demand.
Nationally, it took wine prices a couple of vintages to catch up with the recession, as wine drinkers moved away from wines costing $20 and up and turned to less-expensive brands. Restaurants and stores were unable to move premium-priced wines, and winemakers, their cellars filling up with the unsold higher-priced wines, turned instead to marketing less-expensive bottlings built around the more-affordable bulk wines.
There was plenty to choose from since the ocean of wine included some very good juice, not just from California, but from around the world. And consumers soon got accustomed to driving the prices down and being able to find much better wines in the $10–$15 range.
However, according to Shanken Daily News, with the recession softening, Americans are starting to reach for more expensive wines, which catches wineries unable to meet demands. And the small harvests means there aren’t enough grapes to allow production to ramp up enough to satisfy that demand, the Shanken report says.
Worldwide, wine demand is seen as a bull market. According to VinExpo, the international wine marketing group, the Asian wine market is expected to grow by 5 percent in the next four years, compared to a 1 percent global average. That growth is led by China’s rapidly growing economy. That immense country of more than 1.3 billion people is expected to see a 54 percent increase (to just more than 1 billion bottles annually) in wine consumption in that time.
All this means wine producers may have to deal with seeing consumers with money to spend but without the product to spend it on.