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October 29, 2008

Taking a wine journey: Vino Tabi helps you create your own vintage

STACEY VREEKEN - Sentinel staff writer
Article Launched: 10/29/2008 10:50:11 AM PDT

Santa Cruz -- For Katie Fox, making wine with the 12 families in her co-op wasn't enough. The former global marketing expert started fooling around with wine as a hobby and found she was more and more entranced by the whole process, from choosing grapes to blending wines to bottling her creations.
Soon processing 10 tons of grapes a year just wasn't enough.
So Fox, along with her partner Doug Feinsod and winemaker Jeff Ritchey, started Vino Tabi, a do-it-yourself version of winemaking, nestled at the back of the Swift Street Complex along with the other wineries of Surf City Vintners.


"Now I have bigger toys," said Fox about her jump to making commercial wine.
Tabi is Japanese for "journey," which forms the premise behind the business. Fox, Feinsod and Ritchey guide customers through the process of making their own 60-gallon barrel, which results in 24 cases of wine.
How much does it cost? Well the first lesson in winemaking is: grapes are expensive.
Depending on what types of grapes are chosen and where they come from, a barrel can cost anywhere from $5,000 to $15,000. That translates to $18 to $60 a bottle upon completion.
Those who are interested in dabbling can purchase a ¼ barrel for $1,300 6 cases or visit for a tasting or blending experience.
Those who opt for the whole experience receive instruction on how the wine is made and can be as involved or aloof as they want.
Process of winemaking
Behind the tasting room is where the winemaking journey starts. Steel tanks hold recently harvested, crushed and de-stemmed cabernet sauvignon, while pinot noir rests in smaller bins. Racks containing barrels are sprinkled around the room, and an alcove contains a nest of glass and chemistry equipment.
This year's harvest has delivered a low yield with small fruit, which result in intense wines, according to Ritchey, who also has his own Sensorium label. The winemaking process for these grapes is just beginning.
The pinot noir in the small bins are being "punched down" while fermenting, a process that blends skins and juice to develop a wine's flavor and add color in its first couple of weeks.
Pumping over is like punching down but on a much bigger scale. Climbing a ladder to the top of the steel tanks, Feinsod makes adjustments, then sprays grape juice out of a huge hose, pumping over to fill another nearby tank, and decorating the wall in a bright purple hue in the process.
"Oops," says Feinsod with a grin. In an atmosphere of learning at Vino Tabi, you laugh at small mistakes.
After two weeks of stirring and fermenting, the liquid takes another week to settle and clarify.
Ritchey describes how this process begins giving the wine character and intensity and develops tannins. It's also where winemakers look for problems to occur.
"You have to know how everything ticks," Feinsod said. Novice winemakers are guided through the process, tasting the murky juice on its fermenting journey to the clear liquid poured into barrels.
"You know we have to taste wine here everyday," Feinsod said with a smile. Even curious patrons at the tasting bar can sample the wine in steel, although you have to be a bit brave to swill the cloudy fluid.
After the wine and skins mix and it settles, the juice is put in barrels for six to 20 months depending on the type of wine being made. The wine is also put to the chemical test, balancing temperature and sugars and tasted in the barrel.
"We monitor by taste and mouth feel, smell it to make sure it has good aroma and most important part, spit," said Ritchey, demonstrating with a sample of Mt. Eden Chardonnay.
These guys aim to set newcomers at ease and are not adverse to a little joking around to get their point across. Unlike many winemakers who pursue a certain flavor profile they enjoy, the winemakers here are open to a wide range of tastes brought to them by their customers.
"That's where the winemaker's talent comes in," said Fox.
"We're capable of custom-making wine in any style that the customer wants," said Ritchey.
But when pressed, each describes a favorite varietal.
"Cabernet sauvignon is the king of wines, but pinot noir is the Holy Grail," said Feinsod. "Pinot is the most difficult to grow and make."
"It would be cabernet," for Ritchey. "You can do so much with cabernet, with blending, with the oak profile. You can push it around. It's very forgiving."
Fox said she is more of a white wine lover, "Pinot gris from the Russian River Valley. Chardonnay grapes from the Santa Cruz Mountains are exquisite. It's got balance, is nice and crisp. The wine makes itself."
But at Vino Tabi, "It's about the customer's journey, not mine, not Doug's," Fox says. "It's sharing winemaking with other people. I'm surprised at how addictive it is and it amazes me how interesting it is."
Contact Stacey Vreeken at svreeken@santacruzsentinel.com.

China, Yao Ming, Houston Rockets, & Wine

Rockets owner announces wine partnership

10/29/2008

Associated Press
Houston Rockets owner Leslie Alexander announced an exclusive partnership Wednesday with a Chinese company to distribute his wine brand.

Alexander formalized the agreement with Topchoice Faniya at a signing ceremony at the Toyota Center, a few hours before the Rockets' regular-season opener against Memphis.

Alexander has owned the Rockets since 1993 and has made business connections in China since signing Yao Ming in October 2002. Alexander established his vineyard in Long Island, N.Y., in 2000. He said all future vintages will be distributed in China, starting with the 2007 version.

Topchoice Faniya is one of the largest high-end imported wines in China, and is the agent for many wines from Europe and Australia.

Also Wednesday, the Rockets announced a separate partnership with Uni-President Enterprises, a Chinese food producer and distributor. The agreement includes signage rights in the Toyota Center

October 28, 2008

Chinese Wine

From the China Rises blog

Doubts about the wine label
Wine could be the next category of consumer product to face charges of major fakery.

A little more than a year ago, I wrote an article saying that Chinese vineyards commonly fib about the vintage of their labels, and even about whether what’s in the bottles is actually wine or sugar water with some food coloring, alcohol and grape juice thrown in.

I noted that Chinese vintners commonly mix foreign bulk wine with local wine, and consumers are misled about what they drink.

Here’s an excerpt from that article:

October 22, 2008

White Wine Also Protects Hearts

Wednesday, October 22, 2008 9:30 AM

By: Sylvia Booth Hubbard  from Newsmax.com

Scientists have been documenting the heart healthy benefits of red wine for years and advised health-conscious consumers to choose red over white. But researchers at the Cardiovascular Research Center at the University of Connecticut in Farmington, found that rats given white wine enjoyed similar protection from heart damage as those fed red wine. Before this study, scientists believed that only red wine, which uses grape skins containing the powerful antioxidant resveratrol, could protect the heart from damage. The so-called “French paradox,” which referred to a high fat diet but low rates of heart disease, was linked to France’s love of red wine, which was rich in resveratrol.

White wine hasn’t been considered to be particularly heart-healthy, but molecular biologist Dipak Das disagrees. “The flesh of the grape can do the same job as the skin,” he says.

In the study, rats were given the equivalent of one or two glasses of red wine, white wine, water or grain alcohol (beer or vodka). In rats that suffered induced heart attacks, those that were fed wine had less heart damage than rats fed either water or grain alcohol. In addition, their blood pressure and aortic blood flow was more stable. The scientists found little difference between the rats fed red wine and those fed white wine.

Even though other experts aren’t willing to say that white wine is as good as red wine, Dr. Das believes future studies will agree with his conclusions. “We can safely say that one to two glasses of white wine per day works exactly like red wine,” he said.

© 2008 Newsmax. All rights reserved.

October 20, 2008

POS and Computer Systems Buyer's Guide

Issue Date: 2008-09 Beverage Dynamics, Posted On: 10/16/2008   

 

Covering: AccuPOS to WINEMINER LLC - good article if you are interested in Retail Liuor POS systems.

Wine collectors eye cellars for liquidity

From Stuff.co.nz

By LISA BAERTLEIN - Reuters | Monday, 20 October 2008

 Wine cellars have been taking a hit from the global credit crisis and it isn't because the owners of rare bottles are drinking more – it's because they have been selling to raise cash.
The selling started with mortgage brokers and has moved to Wall Street as owners turn their collections of coveted vintages into liquid assets.


"People need money. Even richer people need money sometimes," Vinfolio.com founder and Chief Executive Stephen Bachmann said on Monday.
In the last few weeks, private collectors submitted offers to sell US$10 million worth of wine to Vinfolio, a San Francisco-based company that buys and sells wine online. Normally the company has about US$6 million offered to it.
Among the wines that that recently have come into Vinfolio's possession are a 6-liter Imperiale of 2003 Chateau Margaux that retails for almost US$15,000 and a bottle of 1990 Romanee-Conti that lists for around US$11,000.
One Aspen collector is looking to sell US$750,000 worth of wine and another individual from the private equity world is offering up wine worth about US$500,000 from his collection, he said.
"I think we're seeing a culling of people's cellars without necessarily a wholesale abandonment," said Bachmann, whose company has a five-person team dedicated to buying wine from private cellars.
SELL, SELL, SELL
Wine sales contribute about 95 percent of Vinfolio revenue and Bachmann expects 2008 sales to grow to US$27 million from US$14.3 million last year.
The privately held company, which also offers white-glove services like personal cellar management, recently launched a free site called WinePrices.com that tracks auction pricing information for more than 10,000 wines.
Bachmann said auction prices have softened recently but that demand still exceeds supplies of sought-after wines.
"I view weakness in the fine wine market as a buying opportunity," said Bachmann, who said Vinfolio has more than 2,000 different wines that sell at an average price of US$150 per bottle. Wines from private collections often fetch even higher prices, he said.
Many high-end wines are finding homes in places like Hong Kong, which early this year eliminated a 40 percent duty on wine and is aiming to grow into a global wine auction hub rivaling London and New York.
Demand from Aisa has helped support the Liv-ex 100, an index of blue-chip wines, which was up 9 percent for the year at the beginning of October.
For years, a clique of affluent super-collectors in Hong Kong has established a reputation for outbidding global connoisseurs when top vintages have come up for sale.
"Follow the money is the message," said Bachmann, who this year set up a 50,000 square-foot warehouse in Hong Kong after the city's wine duty was eliminated.
That facility also serves Macau, China's gambling haven that also has abolished its wine tax.
Meanwhile, Bachmann is keeping his eye on the upcoming Zachys wine auction, its first in Asia, scheduled for Oct 25 in Hong Kong, which promises to gauge demand in the region. "That may be an interesting barometer of where things are," he said.
Not to be outdone, Christie's International Wine Department will return to Hong Kong in November with an auction of Bordeaux dating from 1865 to 2005. Those from Latour are directly from the chateau.

October 10, 2008

With Fine Wine Investing, the Market is Always in the Cellar

From FoxBusiness.com & on Marketwatch.com

Friday, October 10, 2008

Jennifer Waters
MarketWatch

 CHICAGO--On a hot, sunny Friday here in September only days after the first Monday market meltdown, two well-heeled wine buyers battled each other at a private auction for the privilege of shattering a world-record price for a single case of 1982 Chateau Lafite Rothschild.

A Chinese buyer who flew in from Beijing for the Hart Davis Hart Co. auction won with a final bid of $54,970 -- a whopping $4,580.83 a bottle. At its release in 1984, a single bottle would have sold for roughly $100.

A case of 1990 Romanee-Conti Domaine de la Romanee-Conti that was released at about $500 a bottle sold for $179,250, or $14,937.50 each. A case of 2000 Chateau Petrus was bought for $57,360, or $4,780 a bottle. At its release, the price was $750 a bottle.

Such dramatic price appreciation is not the norm for wine investments, but it does underscore how lucrative and resilient investing in fine wine can be -- particularly so at a time when market volatility is deflating 401(k) accounts and retirement nest eggs, and low interest rates are choking returns on cash and other investments.

"Historically blue-chip wine prices have risen but at a modest pace compared to some other investments," said Allan Frischman, a senior specialist at Hart Davis Hart. "Over the last couple of years these wines have gone up quite dramatically but it's hard to say how long that will keep up."

It's simple supply and demand that is driving up prices. There are scores of new wine drinkers, mostly in emerging economies such as China and Brazil but also in wine bastions like the U.S. and Europe.

And there are only so many bottles of 1982 Chateau Cheval Blanc or the 1995 Screaming Eagle Cabernet Sauvignon left in the entire world and no more will ever be made. That powers the prices for some cult wines as well as those from certain estates and vintages. Some Napa Valley wines like those from the Harlan Estates are bought and sold as investments, but for serious fine-wine collectors the first-growth wines of Bordeaux and Burgundy are the most important.

Investing in wine is not for the faint of heart or the financially strapped. It's outrageously expensive, takes years -- multiple decades in most cases -- to see the kind of returns the Hart Davis Hart auction produced and, like most investments, can be quite risky. Not every vintage is perfect.

"If you want to be a trader, trade options, equities, corn futures, even coffee if you like that kind of action," said Kevin Swersey, a highly sought-after independent wine consultant. "The world of wine is way too complicated to just jump into."

"Wine is not stock," he said. "It's a consumable, perishable commodity."

Indeed, it is the only true liquid investment and most investors should be prepared to drink it if the values aren't there. Many ambitious wine connoisseurs accidentally become investors because they have to sell old wines to make room for new in their cellars.

Wine can be work

Before jumping into wine as an investment, consider the circumstances surrounding last month's Hart Davis Hart auction. The nearly 1,800 bottles of wine at auction were from the Fox Cellar, what the world of fine wine deems one of the most important and largest single-owner wine collections in existence.

No one but the executives at Hart Davis Hart know who Mr. Fox is -- or even if there is a Mr. Fox -- because they are all sworn to secrecy in confidentiality contracts. But what is known is that he is a long-time collector and avid aficionado who has bought much of his wine through Hart Davis Hart. Even after the sale, there's still plenty of it left.

"For one person to have this much wine is unbelievable," said Paul Hart, chairman of Hart Davis Hart. "He's got all the modern vintages that people want in amazing quantities. Instead of one case of '96 Lafite, there are 22 cases.

"The volume and the depth are remarkable," he added.

The Fox collection is also considered special because the owner has gone to great pains to make it that way. He has a long relationship with Hart Davis Hart, which is one of the leading wine auction houses in the U.S. Rising incidents of fraud in the wine industry gives that relationship a point of distinction because he has done business with a highly reputable concern that can vouch for the wines and how they were stored. That's crucial to investors spending thousands to buy and sell wine.

This too is important information for would-be wine investors: Hart Davis Hart had dated receipts on nearly every case of wine. It also could verify that all of the wines were stored deep underground where temperatures and humidity were closely controlled.

That may be the single most important issue when buying fine wine from any source. Maintaining such a cellar is among the costliest parts of wine investing; simply accumulating wine in your basement is a major faux pas in the world of fine wine.

Fox also was the only owner of the wine, another important characteristic of the collection. Wine can be sold and resold to many owners before it's finally consumed. If it hasn't been properly stored and transported, the quality can suffer.

The Fox collection brought in nearly $11.2 million to become the fourth largest wine auction in history and the largest cellar sold this year. That was well above expectations that ranged from $6.8 million to $10.2 million.

"It was challenging," said Hart, who worried ahead of the auction that the dive in the stock market could keep many bidders away. It didn't.

Alternative means

For those not willing or able to go those lengths to invest in wine, there are a handful of funds open to investors in the U.S. like the Cayman Islands-based Vintage Wine Fund and the U.K.-based Wine Investment Fund, though they are small, carry hefty fees and have high minimum investment requirements.

The newest to the pack is the Elevation Wine Fund, a limited partnership which got off the ground last year but didn't start accepting investors until August at $250,000 each. The fund has about $1.5 million invested in about 1,000 bottles, said Leon Dreimann, a partner in the start up. The fund's Web site says the value of its wine portfolio has risen 27% since June 2007.

Though the Securities and Exchange Commission treat wine funds like hedge funds, Dreimann thinks of Elevation Wine Fund more like private equity. Investors make the financial commitment but don't have to put up the money until the fund finds the right deal.

Dreimann and his partners are putting their money, well, where their mouths are. They put up the seed money to begin accumulating wines and are building a purse to pursue deals.

So far, there are 14 investors and he expects to have about $5 million in the first full year as a fund.

"It's not so much about getting a lot of money in but a steady flow over the next few years of investors that allows us to buy the wines as opposed to sitting on the money," said Dreimann, the retired co-founder of home-appliance maker Salton Inc. who is a long-time wine collector.

"It's difficult for us to find wines with the proper history and at a price that we can see appreciate," he said. Elevation's wines are stored at the Sabina Vineyards in Napa Valley, Calif.

"We're careful of whom we buy wine from and what we buy," he said, recounting an experience in China where he was served a glass of 1982 Lafite Rothschild Latour. "There's a Lafite Rothschild and a Latour, but the two don't go together on the same table," he told those at the dinner. He and his partners make contacts throughout the world from their own extensive business backgrounds.

Elevation investors can draw their dividends in cash or in wine. "If nothing else, I get to drink the proceeds," Dreimann said

 

Copyright © 2008 MarketWatch, Inc.

October 05, 2008

UK & minimum pricing for alcohol

From Talking Drinks

Labour MP bids to scrap deep discounting of alcohol
Thursday, 02 October 2008
Labour MP Sally Keeble has launched a new private members bill proposing a minimum price on alcohol.

Under the new plans, a Drinks Industry Council (DIC) would be created, comprised of representatives from the industry, producers, police, health care, youth sector and consumers. The DIC would advise Government on a minimum price for a unit of alcohol, promotions and set codes of conduct.

The Alcohol Sales Bill urges the government to set up the minimum price. DIC would then advise it to set different prices depending on product, alcoholic strength, region and the type of establishment selling it. They also recommend the minimum price should be reviewed every year.

The Bill also calls for limits on alcohol advertising by supermarkets and the areas in which alcohol can be displayed and the introduction of a standard warning label for all drinks.

But the Wine and Spirit Trade Association (WSTA) has said it doesn't support the Bill. Gavin Partington, head of communications at the WSTA, said: "We've always said we don't believe in minimum pricing. It's wrong in principal when people are already facing the pressure of a rise in household bills.

"We don't agree with what is being proposed in the Bill, but we believe that the Government is looking into these various issues as part of its consultation process due to complete on October 13. We will be making a full submission on behalf of our members on that consultation."

Only a minority of Private Members' Bills ever become law.

The Alcohol Sales Bill will next be debated in Parliament on October 17.

The government consultation on its national alcohol strategy ends on October 13.

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