Top Ten Wine Stories of 2008


10. Copia Descends Into Financial Chaos
It was to be the jewel of the Napa Valley wine & food culture and indeed I think it has been. Copia, the museum dedicated to the culinary and vinious arts, was a magnificent structure that provided an eclectic mix of programs and exhibitions and attractions. Unfortunately, not nearly enough people visited the place to fully pay for its activities. From where I sit I don't see much hope for Copia. Maybe I'm wrong. But it's apparent demise is news.

9. Frost In Nor Cal Wine Country
"Every vintage is a great vintage in California," so the saying goes. There's no reason to believe that 2008 isn't another great vintage, but the frosts that struck the North Coast in April devastated a number of vineyards and significantly lowed crop yields for numerous growers. Now, given item #1 on this list that might not be a bad thing for many wineries that found themselves without the amount of grapes they originally expected. Still, the damage and monetary costs were enormous.

8. Costco Lawsuits Puts Winery Self Distribution Laws On the Agenda
Costco may have lost in the 9th Circuit Court of Appeals in their effort to reform the antiquated and largely nonsensical three tier system. However, one very positive thing that did come out of the case was confirmation that a state may not allow its own wineries to sell directly to retailers and restaurants (bypassing wholesalers), while denying the same right to out of state wineries that want to self distribute into the state. This may well be the future of wine-related litigation.

7. Amazon To Enter Wine Market
The 800 lb anaconda in the room is It was revealed earlier in the year that the online retailing giant would enter the direct to consumer wine market. While the launch appears not to be going as smooth as hoped, there can be no question that an going full steam ahead with wine sales will alter the online wine sales market as well as bring much greater attention to the world of online wine sales.

6. Wine Stores and Retailers Covered By Granholm Supreme Court Decision
In 2007 two different federal courts ruled that the 2005 Granholm v. Heald Supreme Court ruling applied to wine retailers as well as wineries. The fact that it has taken two rulings and millions of dollars in legal fees to demonstrate this no brainer of an idea is somewhat sad and an indication that self interest dictates industry perspectives far more than reality does. The response to this confirmation of the obvious where direct shipping of wine is concerned has been mixed. Predictably, wholesalers have attempted to make life more difficult for retailers. And, predictably, appeals have been filed. However, the long term outlook for consumers, retailers and state coffers is good in the wake of these rulings.

5. The Focus on Being Green and Organic Wine
The American wine industry is in the middle of a full throttle embrace of things green and organic wines. The organic sector of the wine industry is going to explode. In addition, we have seen huge amounts of money spent on creating "green wineries" and green marketing. And it's just the beginning. Concern with Global Warming will also be a primary incentive for winery associations to take on new marketing and promotional programs as well as potentially support legislation that mandates changes in the way grapes are grown and wines are made.

4, Wine Spectator Stung By Troublemaker
This isn't a big story because it demonstrated anything about the Wine Spectator, which as far as I can see truly attempted to develop a money making venture that would lead to the identification of restaurants that made significant commitments to their wine programs. Rather, this example of how easy it is for trouble makers to damage companies and individuals for the sake of a laugh should make everyone in the wine world (and business world) think twice. But particularly for the wine industry, one that has much more invested in gaining the trust of the consumer than other industries, this sort of thing is dangerous.

3. Southern Wine & Spirits and Glazers Form Alliance.
It's not enough that nearly every state in America grants simple box movers a monopoly on which wines a state's wine lovers can have access to. In addition, there is now a cooperative alliance between Southern and Glaziers, two of the largest box movers in America, that allows two companies to literally control wine distribution in numerous markets. The impact of this alliance will be seen down the road. However, it's very bad news for smaller wineries that have a hard time finding distribution. However, I anticipate that this partnership and the consolidation that it will lead to will also lead to the formation of smaller, more nimble wine distributors that bring marketing back to the distribution tier.

2. Robert Mondavi Passes
What makes the passing of Robert Mondavi one of the top wine stories of the year is the opportunity it provides to assess the amazing progress that Californian wine has made in such a relatively short time. Part of that progress was the marketing of Californian wine and the increase in confidence with which California winemakers went out into the market. Robert Mondavi, more than any other single individual, created that confidence in California wine not only among his peers but among quality conscious wine drinkers. Along with the Gallo brothers, no one else had a bigger impact on the California wine industry over the past 50 years than Robert Mondavi and his passing marks the end of a critical era in this industry.

1. The Global Economic Crisis
Credit has dried up and with it consumer spending. For the wine industry this means trouble, lots of it. Across all sectors of the industry trouble will come. Most importantly we will see brands disappear, small and mid-sized wineries gobbled up by cash soaked conglomerates, and distributors will accumulate even more power as the need to get on store shelves due to a reduction in direct to consumer sales hits wineries.

Posted In: Wine News


12 Responses

  1. Steve Heimoff - December 10, 2008

    I’d have Rockaway in there someplace.

  2. Tom Wark - December 10, 2008

    It wasn’t really that big of a story outside the wine blogosphere, was it?

  3. Thomas Pellechia - December 10, 2008

    Great overall recap, Tom.
    There;s are a few I would add, but then, that would make me a critic, a title that I abhor… 😉

  4. Thomas Pellechia - December 10, 2008

    “There;s are a few?”
    An obvious plea for an edit function.

  5. Steve Heimoff - December 10, 2008

    I guess you’re right, Tom.

  6. tish - December 11, 2008

    A year is never complete without Tom Wark’s Top Ten Wine Stories…
    Perhaps you are too close to this story to realize, but the Rise of the Wine Bloggers has to be in the Top 5.

  7. Tom Wark - December 11, 2008

    Really? Top 5? Steve H. also suggested something near that in the Rockaway thing. Hmmmm…I need a coffee and moment to think about that. Thanks,

  8. mydailywine - December 11, 2008

    I think Amazon’s foray into online wine sales will end up having a much more significant impact than many in the wine industry foresee.
    There will be many attendant outcomes for all involved in producing and selling wine.
    Did the book industry prepare accordingly?

  9. Tom Wark - December 11, 2008

    Was that a rhetorical question about the Book Industry and Amazon?

  10. tish - December 11, 2008

    Rockaway was a flashy dustup, yes, but I am referring to the undeniable and rapid ascent of the QUALITY of editorial content on wine blogs overall.
    WHere is anyone talking about direct shipping garbage? Blogs. Where are people shaking some sense out of the Wine SPectator sting? Blogs. Where can you find wine reviews that combine expertise, passion and a sense of food/context as opposed to ratings and robo-notes? Blogs.
    Most important of all, blogs have brought both a sense of honesty and an appreciation for controversy into the wine community. Meanwhile, the glossy mags continue to operate like Ivory Towers, ignoring one another and ignoring the dynamics that are the wine biz.

  11. Dylan - December 12, 2008

    This list sums up the year quite well. Number 9 had the biggest impact on our vineyard–I can still remember the initial concern, it was as though everyone took a deep breath and held it. However we’ve been happy with the results thus far and are now getting deep into fermentation.

  12. Vincent Yuen - December 13, 2008

    It’s sad to hear about Copia and Robert Mondavi, both were great. This is an awesome top ten list Tom, you should post this to our site and you can link back to your site. We are looking for content and in return our users will track back to your site. The coolest feature is you can let other people vote on the rankings of your list.

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