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Sunday, August 16, 2009

Oregon Whinemakers flail ineffectively at beer drinkers

Uncle Jack beat me to it on blogging about Rick Nichols's very nice piece on craft beer on page 1 of today's Inquirer. That's right: Craft Beer On The Front Page of Philly's major daily. Very nice, and as Jack sez, nice piece, too.

So all I could do was blog about the pathetic closer: Oregon's winemakers are "fighting back" against beer's success. I'd already chased this story down earlier in the week and then run out of time to blog about it before leaving for Kentucky (I was writing that pumpkin beer story I mentioned on Facebook), and I'm glad Nichols and Jack both brought it up. It's too good to waste.

Here's the piece. First off, sorry,'s not that well-written. It jumps all over the place, and never really develops a groove. And then we get stuff like this:

At the bar, men outnumber women 5-to-1. And men, on average, say they prefer beer to wine, according to a Gallup poll last year. Other statistics show 70-percent of wine buyers are women. So, while the atmosphere at the brewery is pretty relaxed, there’s actually a spirited battle for customers going on here.
Ted Farthing: “We’re all fighting for share of stomach.” Ted Farthing is the executive director of the Oregon Wine Board. He says wine and beer and liquor are all competing against each other, for our limited beverage budgets.
The atmosphere at what brewery is pretty relaxed? And what spirited battle for customers is going on? I'm going to believe Ted Farthing, the wine guy, that beer and wine are "fighting"? The beer drinkers and brewers they quote in the article don't seem to be aware of the "fight" at all. The one brewer they talked to was, to be fair, pretty relaxed (though that was 6 'graphs after the 'atmo at the brewery' line): "It’s cool for guys to sit around and drink a bottle of wine," said the co-owner at Cascade Lakes Brewing. Pretty big of him, almost magnanimous.

From where I'm sitting, there's no fight. In fact, it looks like Oregon winemakers are shooting themselves in the foot with the dumb gun. Check this out:
For instance, Ted Farthing with the Oregon Wine Board [really, they say the whole thing again, just in case you forgot who he was] says Oregon’s wines are on average more expensive and more refined than other states. Ted Farthing [of the Oregon Wine Board Farthings]: “Given the shifting landscape, the Oregon Wine Board has actually narrowed our target to make sure we are still speaking to the people who are purchasing wines over $15 or $20 at least once a month, and this is only about 3 percent of the U.S. population.”
Is Ted Farthing with the Oregon Wine Board aware that the only sector of the booze market that's down MORE than wines over $20 a bottle is champagne? And they want to narrow their target to make sure they're only speaking to the people who are still buying those wines?

But don't worry. They've got a plan.
That’s not to say that Farthing [is that Ted Farthing with the Oregon Wine Board?] isn’t looking at new markets. In addition to men, he says winemakers in the state need to target millennial [sic]. One way to do that is to embrace the digital age – the Oregon Wine Board has already launched several Facebook groups to convince 21-to-30 year-olds that wine can be cool.
Cool? Hey, kids -- boy kids -- wine is cool! A brewer said so...

Guess we know why craft beer is on the front page. I was just telling someone yesterday that there is more coverage of craft beer than wine in the Philly media lately. Between dopey winemakers and the absolutely brain-damaged PLCB, it's not a wonder.


Mike Scuilli said...

I just read this article, feel like i am soley responsible for the forty percent increase in sales for dogfish and the like.

Good piece tho, and i am looking forward to that pumpkin beer story!

Anonymous said...

" The Session Beer Project's Facebook group has no budget at all, and we've got 214 (members)."

Make that 215...I'm in.

Ed H. said...

"The Session Beer Project's Facebook group has no budget at all, and we've got 214 (members)."

Make that 215...I'm in.

jefffrane said...

In a way, you're making the same error as the Inquirer article, with a judgment on "Oregon winemakers" that appears to be supported only by some twit (can't remember his name, but he was associated with some organization . . . ).

Then again, Oregon wines have been absurdly over-priced for years and they've been getting away with it until now. If they're casting envious looks at craft brewers, they have only themselves to blame. Masquerading as hipsters won't cut it.

Lew Bryson said...

What error did the Inky make? Talking to Sam? Sam's got more of a clue than what's-his-name!

Anonymous said...

I'm a died in the wool beer drinker but I do enjoy wine (and spirits) too. I've actually been doing a bit more reading about and drinking of vino lately, but the greatest drawback to the grape, certainly nowadays, is it's remarkably greater cost. Six portions of high quality craft beer generally cost me $8-12. Five servings of wine of a similar quality range are on average $15-40.

I appreciate the difficulties of the viticulture and vinification process that result in greater cost. If it took months or years before my product could be dropped on the market I'd certainly charge more too. That said the economic realty definitely comes into play.

I had thought with the rapid pace that a pint of craft beer has risen by, partly down to it's trendier marketing and partly down to the dramatic rise in the cost of raw goods, that the gap between beer and wine would be closed a bit but on balance this doesn't seem to be true. A fine American Pale Ale can still be got at a licensed establishment for $5-7/serving and a solid West Coast Pinot is $7-15/serving.

Other than that one oddball super premium thing I read about a while ago, I don't think there is a single brew I can not afford. The list of wines I will never be able to find or afford could fill a small book.

It's not just economics but that certainly is a factor.

Dave said...

The error of thinking Ted speaks for all "Oregon winemakers" - he sounds like a very uninformed, but passionate, PR flack. I'd venture most winemakers would be in solidarity with craft brewers.

The OPB article is almost certainly a transcript from the on-air news story, so it doesn't flow at all.

Lew Bryson said...

Yes on the Ted thing, but...solidarity with craft brewers? I don't know, I think there's too much real competition there for much solidarity. I'm not saying they're laying for them in the alley with knives, but I can't see that they're doing a lot of working together. There IS competition for 'share of stomach,' and unfortunately, the different segments of the market generally don't tend to play well together. I've heard a lot of it, straddling beer and spirits as I do.

Glenn said...

An interesting tidbit from NC about wine guilds and brewers. Just recently with the backing of the NC wine guild, the brewers got a law revised that they could do tastings now in grocery stores etc.. Because of our backwards laws about alcohol wine distributors could always do tastings pretty much any where they wanted, but breweries couldn't. Working WITH the wine folks the craft brewers got the law fixed.


You know my POV on all this, Lew, but be careful with the numbers game. The Oregon Wine Country Facebook page has 4,767 fans. But, of course, BeerAdvocate has x number of beer reviewers. Then again, Decanter has x number of subscribers, and so on, and so forth. There's plenty of silliness (and good) on both the beer and wine sides.

Lew Bryson said...

Whoops. Guess I didn't look far enough. Thanks, Tom!

PivnĂ­ Filosof said...

I think some winemakers are hurting that there are more and more people that are now seeing beer as a drink and not just as a brand or a slogan.

Those people have realised that beer is more versatile than wine and they see some brews as another option for food pairing.

What some wine people don't seem to realise is that both drinks can coexist perfectly.

Come to think of it, can it be that the reaction of some in the wine sector is due to snobbery? OMG! People are drinking more BEER! The horror! The horror!

The New Albanian said...

At NABC's new location, the only wines we sell are produced by local wineries. Obviously, our focus is on our own beer, but there are Southern Indiana wines that suit me, and if they suit me, they should suit everyone.

To me, the funny thing is that some diners have whined about the wine list not being "good enough." To which I reckon: It's plenty good enough, and this is a BEER place, anyway.

We're also talking to the local wineries about using barrels and cooperating on projects to create interest together, rather than separately.

No one feels threatened here, perhaps because the overall taste continues to be mass market, and we're all chipping away at the edifice.

Anonymous said...

Tom, don't forget Lew's pathetic 112 followers lol

Lew Bryson said...

It's 117, ya yutz, and I'm not a commercial entity funded by a marketing campaign. I'm happy with my traffic, being one guy and not a collective of multi-million-dollar businesses.

I also have the hair to put my name on what I write; now who's pathetic lol?

Tom E said...

Please tell me that a Philly newspaper put a picture of Delaware's "handsome and brash" Sam Calagione on its front cover. He's such a hunk!!!!

Lew Bryson said...

Nope. Picture of Sam was on the jump page inside.

jp said...

Wine IS cool, real cool actually. People should drink more of it. What should annoy you so much if they are trying to drum up a little buzz? Why is it always jets and sharks with craft beer and regional wine types, especially with the craft beer types? Last November my wife was getting ready to make pumpkin risotto one Sunday and was about to start pouring wine into the pot whenI told her to Stop everything, on a hunch I ran down the street to the sharp edge in friendship, bought one of those big bottles of southern tier Pumking, brought it back and asked her to use it in place of white wine. Turned out really well give it a try this fall.

Lew Bryson said...

I'm actually taking the wine marketers to task, jp. Wine is cool; we enjoyed the hell out of a chilled bottle of riesling over the weekend. My issue with this story is that there IS no fight; the Ted Farthing's of the world are making one up to get headlines. If Oregon wine is losing drinkers to beer, it's probably because Oregon wine is overpriced for the economic situation. And it sounds like the winevolk are trying dopey things to grab sales: funny names and labels (yes, I know craft beer does that, but it always has, which makes it consistent), sponsoring NASCAR teams.

People ARE cutting back on what they're spending on booze: you can see it in the big losses on pricier wine, and the growth of bargain beers. Of course...pricier craft beer continues to grow -- it may just occupy a sweet spot between 'cheap but flavorless' and 'real good but expensive.' I think that's why bourbon and rye are doing well; they've gone up in price, but not nearly as much as single malts, and are still very much a relative bargain.

Jeff Alworth said...

I think if I had thought of the word "whinemakers" when I drafted my post on this story (which may have seemed blocky in print because it was a transcript of a radio piece), it would have gone an entirely different direction.

Lew Bryson said...

See, that's a MUCH more thoughtful post than mine.

Anonymous said...

Get a clue Farthing - keep stating things like it's us vs. them. Beer and wine are to be enjoyed, it's not rocket science buddy. Saying things like Oregon wine is more refined - that'll bring you customers. What a bore. Maybe Oregon wineries should get back to basics and make products that are affordable and treat customers with a bit more humility.