a mixed bag of this ‘n’ that

Friday, October 14, 2011

About.... FACE!

Prominent in the news is a minor flap in Oregon, begun by an ill-timed pronouncement from the OSU Extension Service. Apparently, it was intended solely for home wine growers.

Headlined “Oregon Appears to be on the Brink of its Worst Wine Grape Harvest Since the Vineyard Industry Started a few Decades Ago”, it set off a firestorm of statistical retorts.

The cries of outrage could be heard from Ashland to Astoria, which prompted a follow-up press release from the OSU College of Ag Sciences headlined “Cool Weather Could be an Advantage to this year’s Oregon Wine Vintage.”

The next press release came out from the Oregon Wine Board, doing some damage control, noting that winegrowers remain optimistic about this year's harvest, and are “marshaling all their skills and patience" to deal with the wet conditions. The final flourish was a note about last year's vintage, also a cool one, noting that quantity – but sacré bleu! not quality – was impacted by cool weather.

Some version of this marketing dance goes on every year at this time, when whatever harvest conditions prevail are spun to be positive. Some years are easy – the sun she is-a shining! But three of the last few years in Oregon have been especially challenging – 2007, 2010 and now 2011. Definitely not candidates for Vintage of the Century (we have had several of those already this century, so a a little time off is ok.) But I must also note that The Media – meaning that tiny handful of critics and publications whose pronouncements on the worthiness of any given vintage impact sales – may already be showing signs of a big old frown. And if that happens, the trade goes into panic mode, especially in Oregon, where memories of the 2007 anti-hype are still fresh.

Although I found and reviewed many excellent Pinots in 2007, I was in a distinct minority in the press. Hence the quick and angry reaction by Oregon vintners to their own Extension Service putting out such a dismal note BEFORE ANY GRAPES WERE EVEN PICKED! Can you say premature ejaculation?
Spare The Children!

In other news, the Costco initiative campaign in Washington state continues to gather steam. Having learned some hard lessons from last year’s failed effort, Costco has re-tooled and re-energized its effort to detach liquor and wine sales from the arms of the State. They have now donated more than $11 million to the campaign, opposed (no surprise here) by the Wine and Spirits Wholesalers of America.

Neither side is being entirely honest in their messaging to the masses, but I don’t think any voters are fooled by the scare tactics about providing booze to minors. Minors have always had access to booze, and always will. It is not up to the State to be the parent. Liquor sales are well regulated and will continue to be well regulated if this thing passes. As far as I can tell, the end of State-run liquor will also be a financial boon at a time when it is desperately needed. And despite the opening of a couple of truly outstanding liquor stores recently – one in my old West Seattle neighborhood – I don’t think anyone would give the State more than a D minus on their handling of the business over the past decades.

Let’s see where the major newspapers come out with their endorsements. Right now, I think this initiative has a better than 50/50 chance of passage.
A (Gasp!) Surprise Worker Shortage

The San Luis Obispo Tribune reports today that local (Central Coast) wineries are having problems finding workers to pick their rain-soaked grapes. Small wineries, that rely on hand-picked (rather than machine-harvested) grapes as a measure of quality, are particularly impacted. How much of this shortage of workers is weather-related, and how much is a result of the immigrant-bashing going on across this great land? Time will tell.

But if any of my readers happen to rely on migrant workers for seasonal labor, I would hope that they would do their part to support rational immigration reform, rather than take the extreme positions being floated elsewhere in the country. If only in their own self-interest.


PaulG said...

NOTE: In the original post I mistakenly attributed some negative press releases to the Oregon Wine Board (not intentionally, and with no malice aforethought). The use of an alternative name for the organization threw me a curveball at 6am (before the coffee kicked in). I believe this corrected version is accurate. My apologies to Charles Humble and the beleaguered Wine Board for the confusion.

Art said...

How will the end of State-run liquor be a "financial boon"? Isn't it true that a good portion of the profit made from hard-liquor will leave the State once the large grocery chains start selling it? (Costco may be the only one that's actually based here.) As it stands (with State-run liquor sales), both taxes and profits stay at home. Are you predicting that prices will go down once the State is out of the liquor business, even though they will continue to tax it? Thanks for helping me clarify this.

PaulG said...

Based on my understanding, the state will receive a significant payment up front for these rights. It will continue to collect as many taxes (if not more). It will no longer have to pay for staff and facilities. It matters not where a grocery chain is based; if they sell wine and liquor in WA, they will pay WA taxes on it. I am not predicting that prices will go down. They may go down in some places for some things. No one knows for sure. But I would expect selection to improve, and also would very much appreciate the opportunity to purchase wine, liquor and food all in a single location.

Art said...

Thanks, Paul. This probably isn't the place to have a debate, but it would be interesting to see a projected comparison of revenue in (up-front fees plus additional taxes) vs. revenue out (profit on liquor sales to the home offices of chain-stores not based in WA). And although liquor selection will undoubtedly improve, I wonder about wine. I know that some folks are concerned that once distributors get their hands on hard liquor, they may "strong arm" the retailers that are dependent on them into buying the wine they're trying to unload. In any event, the landscape will definitely change if the new law passes; and although I predict that it won't be for the good of the small retailer or winery, I agree that booze to minors is the least of the issues.

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