notes and votes

Wednesday, May 26, 2010

At the risk of inspiring further scorn from the Hosemaster, I’ve posted my “Finalist” logo and offer this link to voting for the upcoming Blogger Awards. To be perfectly candid, I’m not really an awards sort of a guy. The James Beard Awards have banned me for life, based on a little spat we got into some years back. Journalism awards? Book writing awards? Somehow they never seem to come my way (insert sad violin music here).

So it was a genuine surprise to see my name on the list of nominees for “Best Writing” – along with my good friend Steve Heimoff, and some others who, I must confess, are completely unknown to me. In fact, scrolling through the entire group of nominees (or “poodles” as the Hosemaster likes to call us) brought up more unknowns than knowns. Only two from the Northwest are represented – myself and Josh at DrinkNectar. None from Oregon and only a handful from California.

Now correct me if I’m wrong here, but aren’t Washington, Oregon, and California – often referred to as the Left Coast – basically the center of the domestic wine industry? With all due respect to New York, Virginia, Michigan, Texas and North Carolina – your wines are completely invisible to anyone outside your borders. Why is it that these states (indeed the entire Least Coast) is a hotbed for bloggers? Why are the nominees (apparently) totally stacked with blogs from east of the Rockies? Well, wherever you happen to reside, let me join in the evangelical chorus and welcome your vote for whomever. And next year, let’s make sure the Hosemaster gets a nomination, if only to provoke him to further excesses of spleen.

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It’s been a dreary, dismal, cool, wet spring hereabouts, and all the way down to northern Cali if I am to believe the hair-pulling, moaning and groaning coming from Heimoff (who has very little hair left to pull by the way). I put up a Q on Facebook asking for growers to weigh in with comments. Washington had a very early and deep freeze last October 9th, and the damage from such events is often felt the following spring. Then we had another unusually cold “incident” on May 4th, where some Walla Walla vineyards dropped into the upper 20’s – not good after bud break. Here are some updates:

From the Columbia Gorge: things looking pretty good...4-6 inches of shoot growth. The early bud break slowed with the cool conditions, putting the vines on schedule. Expect to spray first sulfur come a dry period.

From Walla2: syrah and merlot are the most advanced at this time, of course they would be, I would think, because they're early to ripen. The young malbec and cabernet vines were the vines that died over the winter, oddly enough. Some of our new plantings to replace last years plantings do not look great, at all. I have however been proven wrong before when I thought a vine was totally dead, (a couple of times, actually). So I just keep watering them, 3-4 times a week. This time of year, younger vines need the water, I would think. Our soils are poor, and mostly clay-based out here on the west end. Of course it's a mixture really, walk a mile down the road and it's something else.

From western Yakima valley: everyone’s garden is having a tough time. Let the sun shine on in. Vineyards are starting to take off, worried about mildew in places.

From Woodinville: I've got about a foot of growth on my chardonnay and about 6" on my pinot noir. Degree days are off the averages but not far behind. There is still hope for a hot summer!

From northern Oregon: vines are a bit yellow and a bit short in the Willamette with mites setting in. When it warms up again they will grow like crazy. At least we are building moisture reserves for the summer!

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The Seattle Times reports that Costco (headquartered in Seattle) has put its marketing muscle behind Initiative 1100, a measure that, if it gathers enough signatures by July 2nd, will appear on the ballot in November. Among several such efforts, this would be the most far-reaching, and would take the state out of the liquor business, eliminate price controls on all wine and spirits, and allow volume discounts. Costco pursued the same goals in a legal battle but came up short. This new strategy will put the question directly to voters who, if the comment boards are any indication, are strongly in favor of getting the state out of the liquor business.

Predictably, a diverse group of “stakeholders” is raising a ruckus, with the usual concerns. Cheap alcohol leads to abuse. Minors will get easy access to alcohol. Small groceries will be unable to compete with big box stores. Etc. etc. ad nauseam. Don’t you hate the word stakeholders? Stakeholders sounds important. It sounds as if you have a genuine stake in something, rather than simply narrow-minded self-interest. A stakeholder should, ideally, be someone with a certain amount of expertise who can evaluate an entire range of perspectives and add important and well-reasoned commentary. But in fact, these “stakeholders” are merely lobbyists out to protect their own pocketbooks, and the true stakeholders – consumers! – be damned. I say good luck Costco. And I encourage all of you who live and vote in Washington to sign on the petitions for Initiative 1100 and let’s put it to a democratic test.

10 comments:

Ron Washam, HMW said...

Paul,

Let's make this clear. I think you deserve the nomination even though I think the awards, the Fourth Annual Poodles, are bogus. I don't hang around here because you can't write--I could go to WineHarlots for that. I suggested on my blog that you withdraw from consideration, they're only using you and Heimoff, professional writers whose participation make the Poodles look good (it will do NOTHING for you--ask previous winners), and that's exactly what I would do if I'd been nominated.

God forbid I'm around next year to be nominated.

But, sincerely, my friend, Good Luck! I hope you win. If that's what you want. It's more of an honor to be banned from the James Beard Awards! That's fantastic! I am incredibly jealous of that accomplishment.

PaulG said...

Thanks Ron, you are too kind! When do I get my lashing?

Ron Washam, HMW said...

Oh, I'm about due for a blogger parody. You're not volunteering, are you?

PaulG said...

Not volunteering, just worried...

Mark said...

You didn't even insult PA, which is a real insult. I guess the nominators (whoever they are) think folks on the east coast can write.

Dave E said...

I'm a small retailer, and although I am looking out for my self-interest, I'm concerned about the effects of I-1100 for consumers as well. Granted, the prices of liquor and volume brands of beer and wine will probably go down. But, if spirits are privatized, and price controls are removed, expect to see the Liquor Barns and the BevMo's of the world move in. Neighborhood wine and beer shops won't be able to compete and will decline and dissapear. The Constellations and Southerns will take over the distribution side, while small importers and distributors will be unable to compete in that space. Small wineries won't be able to get the attention of the huge retailers or distributors, so they will find themselves in a much tinier niche market than they have now, and many will fail. Volume brands will take over more of the market, and overall selection will decrease. As it looks quite likely that I-1100 will pass, it sounds to me like very dire times right now for the Washington wine aficonado.

PaulG said...

Dave E - you raise valid points. I would note that many of the Big Box type outlets have limited selections. Small, neighborhood wine shops already have to compete on things other than price – selection (new wineries, limited production wines, other types of specialization), location (neighborhood); education, special events (tastings, book signings, etc.) as well as simply on personality and a hands-on approach. I think that will continue to be true. No retailer, no matter how big, is going to carry more than a fraction of what's actually out there.

1WineDude said...

Banned from the JB awards? Do tell!

PaulG said...

Well, "banned" may be a bit hyperbolic. It's a self-imposed ban, based upon a number of semi-personal gripes. Fodder for another day.

Dave E said...

Paul, you're right that as a neighborhood wine shop, the hand-selection, education, personality and advice I offer is my competitive niche, but I need all that (plus the fact that I use a lower margin) just to get people out of the more convenient grocery stores in the area. Believe me, all of the advantages I can offer pale in the face of price. If I lose the ability to competitively price my wines, I will lose the majority of my customer base, no doubt about it.

I'm lucky - my shop is in the inner city, where the big box stores will probably not gravitate to. Many of my customers will want to support their neighborhood business, and in fact, plenty of them don't even own cars, so driving out to the suburbs to get a deal won't be very practical for them. Even with that though, I expect I'll have to adapt to survive - we'll have to get bigger and/or act bigger, in order to hold the line on pricing with our local competition. That will most certainly come at the cost of selection, and it will be the small wineries and the high-end wines that will have to go.

For the wine shops in the suburbs and smaller towns, I don't see much chance of many of them surviving at all. Price (and the percieved selection of a big store) will be the thing that wins for a very mobile customer base.

Without the retail channel, I just don't see the small Washington winery scene thriving, or even holding ground. I already see lots of signs of stress, both among distributors and small wineries. I-1100 will take a lot of them right over the cliff, and the consumer will lose for it.

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