Wednesday, May 21, 2008

UK drinkers loyal to wine despite credit squeeze

Consumers continue to keep faith in wine, with many reluctant to reduce their spending despite the gloomy economic climate, according to figures out today (May 21) at the London International Wine Fair (LIWF).

A survey commissioned by the Wine and Spirit Trade Association (WSTA) showed the sector is proving resilient, regardless of recent duty hikes and an ongoing global credit squeeze.

The research, conducted by Wine Intelligence, questioned 1,000 regular wine drinkers and discovered 60% would readily cut back on buying beer, soft drinks, chocolate and sweets before reducing their wine expenditure.

The survey showed that 13% thought wine was inexpensive or very inexpensive, 52% had no definite opinion, and 35% thought it was expensive or very expensive.

Jeremy Beadles, WSTA chief executive, said: “With household budgets feeling the squeeze, it should be some comfort to the trade that many regular wine drinkers will pause for thought before they cut back on wine purchases.”

The study assessed price changes in the sector over the last six-month period. Wine ranked near the bottom in wine consumers' minds for weight of price increases.

Half of the respondents had noticed no real change in wine prices over the last six months, while the majority judged wine to have undergone less significant price increases than household staples such as bread, poultry, cheese and coffee.

The picture for the on-trade was more negative, as 77% of consumers who drink wine by the glass think it is more expensive. But wine trailed beer in the on-trade in terms of consumers' perceived price increases in the last six months.

Jamie Coggans

After Mondavi, who will lead Napa winemaking?

Decades after the pioneer winemaker made his mark, success in the region has become tricky.

NAPA Valley lost a charismatic leader when Robert Mondavi died on Friday. Has the Napa Valley that fostered such a maverick passed as well?

Mondavi's Napa was the Wild West of winemaking. For the dozen wineries in operation in 1966, costs were low, there was room to grow and mistakes weren't fatal. The challenge was to persuade Americans to drink wine at all. Today, high costs have created a region dominated by small producers. Four hundred wine brands with limited landholdings compete for a share of the top 10% of the U.S. wine market.

When Mondavi planted his initial 12 acres in Oakville, an acre cost less than $10,000, according to Vic Motto, chairman of Global Wine Partners, an investment bank dedicated to the wine industry. He gradually expanded to 1,400 acres.

Now an acre of "good" Oakville vineyard land costs an average of $250,000. Prime land can cost $500,000. Most of Napa's 450,998 acres of planted vineyards are owned by individuals, Motto says. Big holdings are the exception. "Napa is really hundreds and hundreds of small growers." Most are economically viable, but no one is getting rich quick, Motto says.

That doesn't faze today's novice vintners, many of whom arrived in Napa with considerable wealth. The cost of a vineyard can be rationalized as an investment in the wine lifestyle. Deep pockets don't guarantee success, Motto says. "More than money, you need drive and passion to succeed here."

Good news for these vintners: Bottle prices have skyrocketed. Motto recalls the furor in 1970 when Mondavi raised the retail price of his reserve Napa Cabernet Sauvignon by 50% -- to $3 from $2. Today, he says, the average price of a Napa Cabernet is $45. A $100 price tag is common.

Getting a fledgling brand noticed among the proliferation of pricey bottles is tough, says Bo Barrett, Chateau Montelena owner and winemaker. "It was difficult in the old days when no one thought we made good wine, but at least you could buy an old cow pasture to expand your vineyards. We didn't have to charge $70 right off of the bat."

Mondavi was instrumental in this transformation, but he failed to appreciate that surviving in Napa had become a high-wire act. When he ignored a shift in critical and public taste toward a lusher wine style, sticking instead to his personal preference for lighter, more reserved wines, his publicly traded company suffered. In 2004, Mondavi was forced to sell his winery to Constellation Brands, the world's largest wine company .

Concern spread that more of Napa Valley would be owned by outside corporations. Constellation already owned Mount Veeder Winery and Franciscan Estate. Australian beverage giant Foster's Group owned Beringer Vineyards, Stags' Leap Winery, Etude and St. Clement. Another spirits giant, Diageo, owned Beaulieu Vineyard, Provenance, Acacia and Sterling Vineyards. In 2007, U.S. Tobacco added a 50% stake in Stag's Leap Wine Cellars to holdings that included Conn Creek. But there has yet to be a rush of outside investors into Napa.

Will one of the boutique producers rise to fill Mondavi's shoes? Without him, there is no individual or institution who personifies Napa, says Jacques Lurton, scion of one of Bordeaux's most prominent winemaking families. "Mondavi not only created Mondavi wines, he created Napa."

Whoever takes his place, Lurton says, will be someone who can transform Napa Valley yet again. "That person will be the new hero," he says.

Corie Brown

InkSure and eProvenance Form Technology Alliance to Protect the Fine Wine Market

FORT LAUDERDALE, Fla., May 21 /PRNewswire-FirstCall/ -- InkSure Technologies Inc. (OTC Bulletin Board: INKS), a leading provider of covert machine-readable security solutions ("CMRT") for the detection of counterfeiting, fraud and diversion, today announced that it has signed an agreement with eProvenance LLC for exclusive distribution of InkSure’s authentication solution into the fine wine market in major wine producing countries in the world. InkSure has customized the covert security ink and handheld readers that are an integral part of the eProvenance system to address the growing counterfeiting problems within the fine wine industry.

eProvenance applies advanced technology (RFID and InkSure covert ink) to authenticate and track fine wines and champagne from producer to consumer. In addition to authentication, the system monitors and records the storage temperature, while collecting the pedigree for each bottle in a secure online database. With the eProvenance system, the bottle is secured, the contents are secured, and temperature history can be tracked for each case shipment, thus assuring the long-term value of the asset.

"The portfolio of technologies from eProvenance provides an enhanced level of authentication and confidence for the fine wine supplier and consumer," stated Don Taylor, Vice-President of Global Marketing for InkSure Inc. "We anticipate eProvenance will be highly successful with their integration expertise in France and other major wine producing areas. We look forward to working with them exclusively in this market."

"InkSure emerged as our preferred supplier for authentication due to their ability to provide custom covert codes and highly reliable handheld readers that are integral to our anti-counterfeit solution for the fine wine industry. Their responsiveness and technical capability has been invaluable," commented eProvenance CEO Eric Vogt.

About eProvenance

Founded in January 2007 by Eric Vogt, eProvenance applies advanced technology to assure the provenance of fine wines from producer to consumer using its innovative Intelligent Bottle(TM) and wine temperature tracking system along with its web site, eProvenance serves the rapidly growing fine wine industry globally (1.1 billion bottles) and generates the proprietary information and reports which can assure the actual Provenance of each bottle, thus proving and preserving the asset value. The company is currently implementing programs with nine leading Bordeaux Chateaux, including several first growths. Among its first customers are Chateau Bauduc, Chateau Lynch Bages, Chateau Margaux and Chateau Palmer. The Franco-American team is headquartered in Boston, Massachusetts, with offices in the USA and in Bordeaux and Paris, France. eProvenance has exclusive rights for its technology as applied to the global wine industry, and has four U.S. patents pending for eProvenance technology certifying provenance and authenticity of alcoholic beverages using RFID and other technologies through all stages of the distribution channel.

About InkSure Technologies Inc.

InkSure Technologies Inc., with its corporate headquarters in Ft. Lauderdale, Florida and its research and development center in Science Park, Rehovot, Israel, specializes in comprehensive, covert security solutions designed to protect high profile brands and documents of value from counterfeiting, fraud and diversion. The Company’s sales and marketing activities target a number of market opportunities, including financial, pharmaceutical, branded products, transportation, and government/institutional, on a global scale. The Company’s R&D activities include the development of "chipless" RFID technology for affordable item-level secure logistics and track-and-trace applications.