Washington wine industry in boom mode

The first winery license in the state of Washington was issued in 1962 when Columbia Winery was founded as Associated Vintners.

Now, just 45 years later, it has its 500th licensed operation, Sweet Valley Wines of Walla Walla. David McDaniels, one of three business partners, said, "We are honored to be a part of the wine industry in Walla Walla. So many others have led the way. What they have done will give us the opportunity to succeed. We look forward to continuing the legacy of producing world class wine for all to enjoy."

Washington, second only to California in U.S. winery rankings by state, had just 20 wineries in 1980 but that number has been on a steady increase since then, hitting the 155 mark by 2000, then adding 350 since then. There are nine American Viticultural Areas (AVAs) throughout the state.

Robin Pollard, executive director of the Washington Wine Commission, said in a statement, "As we pass this milestone, we are thrilled about the future for Washington wines. We aspire to become one of the top wine producing regions in the world, and we believe that our course is solidly set to achieve that goal."

The state's wine industry is not dependent on individuals to begin operations entirely on their own. There is a state-supported winery incubator building at the Walla Walla Regional Airport that is slated for expansion.

The state legislature has approved $500,000 for two more facilities, and the Port of Walla Walla is expected to add another $150,000. The Port's target is for five startup winery facilities designed for embryonic winemakers.

The buildings are designed for bonded wineries that produce about 1,000 cases annually as part of their business models. Tenants are accepted on a six-year residency plan, after which they must leave to make room for more startups.

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Pedigree, perhaps, but it's still grape juice

If you planned to sell anything that is more than two centuries old, you'd be well advised to get its authenticity checked. That's the case with Antique Wine.

The London fine wine company has a collection of Château Lafite Rothschild bottles it believes dates back to 1787. To be sure, it plans to spend up to $60,000 on scientific tests to verify the collection's authenticity.

Stephen Williams, founder and chief executive of Antique Wine, told reporters he believes his company is the first to commission such extensive testing to certify vintages. Result will be announced before the red wine is put up for sale.

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Did your hangout make the top 100?

Of all the gin joints in all the world, or at least in the country, which did the editors of Nightclub & Bar Magazine choose for this year's top 100?

Nightclubs and bars from all over the U.S. were chosen based on a number of criteria, say the editors, "including annual revenues, marketing and advertising effectiveness, promotional expertise, uniqueness to market, food and beverage programs and much more. This list is not a ranking of just the most high-end, of-the-moment nightclubs. Instead, it is a dynamic mixture of clubs, neighborhood bars, sports bars, family-oriented venues and more that for one reason or another deserve notice."

The following bars and clubs, listed in alphabetical order, made the Editors' Choice Top 100 for 2007. The city designated for each is the city in which it is located, or, if the concept has multiple locations, the city of its first location.

230 Fifth - New York, NY
40 Watt - Athens, GA
8150 - Vail, CO.
The Abbey - Hollywood, CA
AJ's Seafood & Oyster Bar - Destin, FL.
Aria - Boston, MA
Avalon/Spider Club - Hollywood, CA.
Beach Bar at the W - San Diego, CA
B.E.D. - Miami, FL
Billy Bob's Texas - Fort Worth, TX
Blue Martini - Ft. Lauderdale, FL
the bosco - Ferndale, MI
Body English - Las Vegas, NV
Bombay Club - New Orleans, LA
Broken Spoke Saloon - Sturgis, SD
Brother's Bar & Grill - Lacross, WI
Butter - San Francisco, CA
Cabo Wabo - Lake Tahoe, NV
Casbah - Atlantic City, NJ
Cherry - Las Vegas, NV
Chilkoot Charlie's - Anchorage, AK
Coyote Cantina - Santa Fe, NM
Coyote Ugly - New York, NY
Crobar - Chicago, IL
The Crocodile Café - Seattle, WA
Diablo's Downtown Lounge - Eugene, OR
e4 - Scottsdale, AZ
Eight 75 - Biloxi, MS
El Gaucho - Seattle, WA
Elements the Lounge - Seabright, NJ
ESPN Zone - Baltimore, MD
Excalibur - Chicago, IL
Fadó Irish Pub - Atlanta, GA
Flatiron Lounge - New York, NY
The Flying Saucer - Memphis, TN
Fox Sports Grill - Scottsdale, AZ
Galapagos Art Space - Brooklyn, NY
ghostbar - Las Vegas, NV
Good Hurt - Los Angeles, CA
The Green Parrot - Key West, FL
The Greene Turtle - Ocean City, MD
Ground Zero Blues Club - Clarksdale, MS
The Helix - Washington, DC
House of Blues - New Orleans, LA
Iguana's Cantina - New York, NY
Ivan Kane's Forty Deuce - Hollywood, CA
JET - Las Vegas, NV
Kahunaville - Las Vegas, NV
Key Club - Hollywood, CA
Lafitte's Blacksmith Shop - New Orleans, LA
The Library Bar & Grill - Tempe, AZ
Light - Las Vegas, NV
Lotus - New York, NY
Louie's Backyard - South Padre Island, TX
Mango's Tropical Café - Miami, FL
Mantra - Milwaukee, WI
Marquee - New York, NY
McGillin's Olde Ale House - Philadelphia, PA
Mercy Wine Bar - Addison, TX
Midnight Rodeo - San Antonio, TX
Mie N Yu - Washington, DC
MIXX - Atlantic City, NJ
mur.mur - Atlantic City, NJ
The New Crown & Anchor - Providencetown, MA
The New Sheridan - Telluride, CO
Ocean Club - Honolulu, HI
Pangaea - Hollywood, FL
Pat O' Brien's - New Orleans, LA
Pavilion Bar & Café - Charleston, SC
Pin-Up Bowl - St. Louis, MO
Pink Elephant - New York, NY
The Playboy Club - Las Vegas, NV
Pure - Las Vegas, NV
Purple Moon - Flint, MI
Rockit Bar & Grill - Chicago, IL
Ruby Skye - San Francisco, CA
rumjungle - Las Vegas, NV
Sharkeez - Huntington Beach, CA
Sherlock's Baker Street Pub - Houston, TX
Sloppy Joe's - Key West, FL
Snatch/Suite - Miami, FL
Stingaree - San Diego, CA
Stubb's Bar-B-Q - Austin, TX
Studio 54 - Las Vegas, NV
Tabú Ultra Lounge - Las Vegas, NV
Tangerine - Las Vegas, NV
TAO - Las Vegas, NV
Therapy - New York, NY
Tini Bigs - Seattle, WA
Tipitina's - New Orleans, LA
Tongue & Groove - Atlanta, GA
Tryst - Las Vegas, NV
VICCI - Austin, TX
Vine Street Lounge - Hollywood, CA
The Viper Room - Los Angeles, CA
Walnut Room - Philadelphia, PA
Whiskey Blue - Los Angeles, CA
Worship - Atlantic City, NJ
Yard House - Long Beach, CA
Zinc Lounge - Manhattan Beach, CA

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Col Solare goes into a higher gear

Back in the 1990s, Ste. Michelle Wine Estates, the oldest wine company in Washington state and the largest in the Pacific Northwest, joined forces with the Antinori family which has been making wine in Italy since 1385.

The plan: to produce a red wine blend that brought the flavor of Tuscany to Washington. The first vintage of that product, Col Solare, came in 1995. Now, the partners have opened a new $8 million winery on Red Mountain in southeastern Washington. It is the largest international investment in the state's wine industry ever.

"This symbolizes the fact that the Washington wine region has made its mark on the international scene," said Robin Pollard, executive director of the Washington Wine Commission, a promotional agency financed by member wineries and growers.

"We have always had a dream to find a home for Col Solare, and finally the dream has become a reality," said Piero Antinori, owner and CEO of his family's company.

Marcus Notaro (left in accompanying photo) oversees the winemaking operations at Col Solare under the guidance of Renzo Cotarella (center), head enologist for Marchesi Antinori, and Doug Gore (right), senior vice president of winemaking and vineyard operations for Ste. Michelle Wine Estates.

Red Mountain is a rural sagebrush-covered hill in the lower Yakima Valley, an area that is home to an increasing number of wine grape vineyards. In 2001, it became the state's fifth federally recognized wine appellation. There now are nine such wine grape-growing region designations in Washington. (Click here to go to a guide to Washington's, and other states', wine trails.)

"What's remarkable is what it will be. I think five years from now, this area will be green with vineyards, and hopefully, have many bistros and inns," said Ted Baseler, president and CEO of Ste. Michelle, whose labels include Chateau Ste. Michelle, Columbia Crest, Northstar and Spring Valley Vineyards. "Five or six years ago, we both believed that Col Solare had good potential, but if we had an estate winery, it had great potential. We now have that on Red Mountain."

Washington state's wine industry has grown from fewer than 20 wineries to nearly 500 in the past 25 years. The state has in excess of 30,000 acres of wine grapes. Antinor also has vineyards in California and Europe.

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Winemaker out in NZ shakeup

Brent Marris (left), the embattled chief winemaker for New Zealand's Wither Hills, has resigned.

Marris's troubles began last year when he was accused of creating special batches of sauvignon blanc wine that he used in award tastings. Wither Hills, which is owned by Lion Nathan, subsequently had its New Zealand International Wine Show gold medal withdrawn. Ironically, Marris was cleared of the allegations.

Marris also resigned as a chief Air New Zealand wine competition judge in December.

Lion Nathan chief executive Rob Murray said in a statement that Marris quit to focus on his Waihopai River vineyard development and his new brand, The Ned. He said Lion Nathan will continue to produce The Ned at Wither Hills winery and distribute the brand in New Zealand and Australia.

Ben Glover (right), another Wither Hills winemaker, has been promoted to the top position.

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Wine coolers: More than nostalgia?

Nostalgia can be fun. It also can be profitable if you work it right.

Take wine coolers. Please. (Rimshot!) The TV commercials for Bartles & Jaymes that were popular back in the '80s (remember folksy Frank and quiet Ed chatting on the porch, then thanking you for your support?) have long faded from public view. Yet, the company remains No. 1 in the cooler niche with eight million cases sold in 2006, according to Impact, New York. Seagram's wine coolers were No. 2 with more than five million cases.

Both Bartles & Jaymes -- which is owned by Gallo -- and California Cooler, which was on the market for a decade until dropping out in 1992, are gearing up for major marketing campaigns as we head into the warmer months that had been the best selling period for wine coolers.

Wine coolers are a bit elusive in description. B&J and Seagram's both are malt beverages, but California Coolers are made from wine and fruit juice and are lightly carbonated. Bringing the range of drinks back to the top of consumer consciousness may be an uphill climb.

Wine coolers can appeal to young women who don't like the taste of beer but aren't about to buy a bottle of Bordeaux, Gerald Celente, director at The Trends Research Institute in Rhinebeck, NY, told Brandweek magazine. "I'd go for younger consumers who are consuming many more alcoholic beverages a day. You have to allow them to discover it and think it's hip."

"Wine coolers are perceived as passé. That crowd" -- ages 35 and over, who had been the strongest market when they were younger -- "isn't looking for that anymore," Mark Ingwer of Insight Research in Chicago told Brandweek.

Nevertheless, Bartles & Jaymes is moving ahead by resuscitating some of the original Frank and Ed commercials -- more than 200 were shot -- and making them available on on YouTube, for example. And, B&J is interviewing actors to become the new Frank and Ed. The original Frank, David Rufkhar, died in 1996. The new team will make public appearances and probably participate in a TV ad campaign.

Majestic Brands is rolling out California Cooler in western states right now, then going nationwide in mid-May.

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A blow for Bordeaux winemakers

As if the French wine industry wasn't having enough problems with sagging sales and increased competition, a court has ruled that winemakers in the Bordeaux region no longer may use a label designation that had allowed them to charge higher prices.

A court ruled that houses using the grands crus (great growth) label must cease doing so because the classification jury showed "partiality" by visiting only seven of the 95 candidate vineyards that produce Saint Emilion wines.

"It's going to perturb sales for sure," Jacques Gautier, head of the Bordeaux section of the National Institute of Appellation d'Origine which oversees the classification process, told newspaper reporters.

Earlier this year a new list of top wines was released for 2006-2016. The number of grand crus dropped by seven, to 61.

A panel of wine brokers, merchants, oenologists and a wine professor rejudge Saint Emilions every 10 years to see which ones will be allowed to use the special designation. Such a designation rates the potential of the vineyard, based on such factors as climate and soil rather than on the wine itself.

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Alcoholic drinks sales keep on climbing

"The minute you walked in the joint, I could tell you were a real big spender ... " (*)

In an age in which stronger DWI/DUI laws threatened to put a damper on alcoholic beverage sales, all three segments -- spirits, beer and wine -- posted domestic gains in case volume and retail sales, according to the just-released 2007 edition of the Adams Handbook Advance published by Adams Beverage Group.

"The industry is continuing to create and market products that are finding great resonance with American consumers today, and their willingness to pay more in every category proves it," Charles Forman, vice president and group publisher of Adams, said in a statement.

As I've noted over the past several years, while consumers may be purchasing less in volume in some categories, overall they're spending more money for premium labels. At cocktail lounges, patrons tend to order one or two drinks but ignore the less expensive well drinks in favor of the premium brands.

According to Adams, a leading industry analyst, the U.S. distilled spirits industry was up for the ninth consecutive year in 2006.

Total spirits consumption climbed 3.7% to 176.6 million 9-liter cases. Wine sales continued to rise for the 13th year in a row, increasing 3.4% and reaching 283.1 million 9-liter cases. And beer, the largest beverage alcohol segment, rebounded from last year's slight decline, increasing 1.3% to 2.86 billion 2.25-gallon cases.

Says the Adams report:

"High-end products, and imports in particular, across all categories continued to outperform the business as a whole. For example, in 2005 imported spirits accounted for 38.9% of consumption. By 2006, that figure reached 39.7%.

"Flavored spirits also continued to grow, reaching beyond vodka and rum and emerging in tequila, whiskey and even the cognac segments. Of the 12 segments of distilled spirits, only blended whiskies, Canadian whiskies and prepared cocktails lost volume in 2006.

"Meanwhile, vodka continued to boom, fueled by the cocktail craze, up 6.7%, with imports leading the way (up 13.9% versus 3.6% for domestics). Vodka now accounts for a stunning 27.9% of the spirits business. Rum, the second largest category, grew for the 12th straight year, up 3.5%.

"Among table wines, which account for more than 91% of U.S. wine consumption, imports and "critter" wines, those wines with fanciful packages and named for penguins, kangaroos and other animals, were the leading gainers. Imported table wines grew at a considerably faster rate last year (+5.6%) versus domestics (+3.7%). Overall imported wine -- including champagne, sparkling, dessert, fortified, vermouth and aperitif -- grew 5.6% among imports and 2.7% among domestic wines.

"On the beer front, crafts, lights and imports advanced, while premium, popular, malt liquor, ice and flavored malt beverages sagged. Total beer consumption rose 1.3% or 31.4 million cases to 2.86 billion 2.25 gallon cases. Light beers grew 2.4% and now represent 51.1% of the whole beer market.

"Retail dollar sales for the beverage alcohol market climbed last year as well, with on-premise sales up 9.2%, or $8 billion, to $93.9 billion. Off-premise sales were up 5.6% or $4.3 billion to $82.3 billion. Total sales for 2006 reached $176.2 billion in 2006."

(* - from the 1966 Broadway musical production of "Sweet Charity.")

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