By Bill Ward
Eric Asimov is one of the very best wine writers around. His weekly column in the New York Times is a must-read, always insightful and interesting, never stuffy. Today’s piece on the state of the wine business in California is no exception.
But it’s not the kind of story that I would write for our print edition. Check that: It is almost exactly the kind of piece I often write, including just a few weeks ago. The difference is that our coverage is geared very heavily toward consumers, and any wine-biz story I do is focused on how sundry happenings and situations affect you, the people buying wine.
We decided when the Liquid Assets column started that the focus would be local local local — happenings here and wines that are available here. (Running the Wall Street Journal column had caused readers to look for wines that aren’t sold here, a frustration for them and merchants.)
That meant no musings on “the dew-dappled vineyards during bud break on the Oakville Grade” and no industry-focused pieces that were too “inside baseball.” And that when I tackled a subject such as restaurant struggles, the ramifications for wine consumers would be a big part of it.
In today’s piece, Eric deftly touches on the effects (now and for the near future) of the industry’s current economic struggles on consumers, but his piece is more focused on the wine biz and the people working in it. He does have this toward the end:
“Those who don’t want to spend a lot on wine may also be drinking better in the near future. Premium producers who need to make room for the new vintage may sell their wines on the bulk market, even at a loss. These premium wines in turn will be repackaged and sold inexpensively, though it will be difficult for consumers to identify which bottles benefit from a premium wine infusion.”
I had one of those wines this week, made from grapes that almost certainly sold for a lot more money in recent years but came cheap because of the current surplus. Crane Lake is a label from Bronco of “Two-Buck Chuck” fame/infamy. In the past, I had found their wines insipid and/or treacly-sweet, aside from a Brut (!). On Monday, though, I found their new chardonnay to have really nice fruit that wasn’t overly extracted or oaked. When I tried Crane Lake’s California shiraz last night, however, it was back to the candy counter.
That’s the kind of minefield we’ll continue to walk in under-$8 wines. But we now have a better shot at some discoveries there.