> After a long hiatus, I am excited to be actively involved in the Wine Market Council’s research committee again. I was a member of the first research committee, back in the late Jurassic. We produced a number of reports that highlighted the major attitudes and barriers characterizing wine consumers, and helped shift the industry to a more populist and casual approach to marketing. The industry and its consumers have evolved quite a bit since then. However, so have other interesting options in the beverage category, so we may be facing another shift. I will be advising the WMC on research design, analysis and helping members apply the research to their business decisions. For more information on the council and its research: Wine Market Council

> The recent fires did not engulf the North Coast wine country or cause a large loss of crop. What they did do is utterly devastate the communities where the fires were focused and burnt through unchecked; including a number of wineries and (even more distressing) the homes of many winery employees. Outside northern California, most of the press coverage was on Napa and Sonoma counties; but don’t forget Mendocino and Lake County! They have fewer resources to rebuild on than their southern neighbors.There are a number of sites where you can donate funds or learn how to help: Mendocino County; Lake County; Sonoma County; Napa County; plus a fund specifically to aid winery employees – https://www.gofundme.com/vweheartofthevine/.

> Really exciting to see one of my former professors win the Nobel prize! Richard Thaler, from whom I took courses at Cornell, was awarded this year’s Nobel for Economics. One of the pioneers of behavioral economics, his work focused on how human decision-making deviates routinely and often predictably from the rational maximizers that underlie a lot of economic models. Wine industry footnote – Thaler is also a wine aficionado, and some of his experiments on context in pricing explain quite a bit about why on-premise wine prices are so high.

> Is cider at a crossroads? Many big corporate players have entered, just as the market for cheaper concentrate-based ciders seems to be slowing. Anecdotal and some scan evidence on sales for smaller high-end brands is positive, but there’s a wave of craft and micro-producers coming on line. Update – I recently judged at the California Cider Competition, a fascinating experience. Styles were all over the map, and there were some great ones (you can check them out here – Cider Competition). I think one of cider’s priorities should be to agree on a clear nomenclature for flavor, sweetness and production styles – a big help for consumers discovering the category.

> Having done visitation studies for individual wineries and wine regions, I was pleased to advise the Wine Institute on their recent wine tourism study, executed by tourism experts Destination Analysts. The study provides a good overview and baseline for understanding the preferences and experiences of all types of visitors to “wine country.”

> Cheese, Grommit! You don’t have to be an Aardman Animation fan to be fascinated by the world of fine cheese. The high end of the cheese business, with its artisanal producers and huge variety of flavor, is very reminiscent of the wine industry. But as we’re discovering in consumer research for the Oregon Cheese Guild, there are some tricky differences too. The whole issue of how cheese is merchandised at retail has layers of complexity that make the wine aisle seem simple, with interesting trade-offs between visibility, packaging and graphics. Not only that, but there are strange variations in perceived value whether priced by pound or piece. Based on feedback from retailers and producers, there hasn’t been much research in the gourmet cheese category. If you’re out there and curious, or know of someone else doing this, let’s talk!

> There was a flurry of angst and speculation in the trade press about Amazon closing up its online beer, wine and spirits business and investing in Whole Foods. (The latter essentially forced the former, for legal reasons.) Is Amazon giving up, and what does it mean for internet commerce? I wouldn’t assume Amazon is really “vacating” this space; perhaps just leaving it for the near term. They can re-occupy it fairly quickly, in a more controlled and significant way, due to their ownership of Whole Foods. Previously, Amazon just provided a convenient platform for wineries to sell DtC. The producers were acquiring the ability to gain potential access to all those zillions of eyeballs traveling through Amazon, in exchange for giving Amazon a cut. But producers had to handle all the fulfillment and legal hurdles for each state; Amazon was not a legal seller of wine or beer. Now, if Amazon fuses their delivery system with Whole Foods wine inventory, they can sell and deliver those wines to the consumers in any state where they have a Whole Foods.

“Facts don’t come with points of view, facts don’t do what I want them to….”
–David Byrne