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Friday Fishwrap

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The San Francisco Chronicle’s ace restaurant reviewer, Michael Bauer, yesterday published a blog piece asking if “restaurants…should be doing more to woo baby boomers.”

As Michael (who is a Boomer himself, I believe) observes, “restaurateurs are always looking for the younger customer with disposable income.” Then he asks the key question: “Is that the right approach?”

Restaurateurs aren’t the only ones doing everything they can to “woo” Millennials. If you check out most magazines and newspapers, they, too, are “reaching out” (hate that phrase) to consumers in their 20s and 30s. Look at the advertisements, articles and T.V. programs and commercials. It’s as if everyone were 28, except, possibly, in ads for hearing aids. Like Bauer, I wonder if this doesn’t represent a basic misconception. After all, Baby Boomers are the ones with disposable incomes in America. The Millennials are saddled with rents or mortgages, the cost of raising kids, paying off their credit cards and so on. Boomers have largely bought everything they’ll ever need, and so they have the money to spend on restaurants, wine and other “lifestyle” items. And yet it’s as if we don’t exist. Makes me wonder.

* * *

I’m starting to taste the 2012 Pinot Noirs as they come in. So far, I’ve done about 110 of them. As you may know, I’ve had high expectations for this vintage. So far, however, the Pinots are failing to excite me. There’s plenty of fruit. In fact, in some cases, I’d call the wines fruit bombs. And they’re not inexpensive. Most are in the $30-$50 range. Still, my hopes remain high. The best wineries won’t release their wines until this summer or even later, and the great vineyard designated bottles have yet to come (it seems like most of the 2012 Pinots that are out now have regional, not vineyard, designations, or are blends of several vineyards with proprietary names).

It goes without saying that just because a vintage is great, not all wines from it are great! This is where I always get perplexed when coming up with my vintage scores for Wine Enthusiast. If I give a high score to a vintage, variety and region (say, 2007 Cabernet Sauvignon from Napa Valley), that doesn’t mean all ’07 Napa Cabs are great. My vintage assessments are based on what a majority of the best wines can achieve. That is obviously a slippery parameter. Two thousand and seven was the easiest vintage assessment I’ve had in years, because the best wines, from all varieties and regions, were all so good on release, and many of them were ageable too–well, the red wines, anyhow. But not every vintage is that easy to analyze. The 2012 vintage, on paper, was easy, but we all know that reality has a funny way of intruding on theory. I’m still anxiously awaiting the best 2012 Pinots, but perhaps I’m a little more jaundiced than I was two months ago.

And then there are the 2012 Cabernets. To call them so far a trickle is an overstatement. I’ve been sent fewer than sixty, with most of them priced from below $10 to $15 or so. In other words, it isn’t possible to make any kind of coherent assessment of the vintage based on this scanty evidence. But again, on paper the vintage looks excellent for Cabs and Bordeaux blends.

* * *

There’s a great column in our local free paper, SF Weekly, by the arts and culture columnist, Katy St. Clair, who’s always such fun to read. In it, she muses why she likes those Michael Bolton commercials for Honda so much. These commercials have become standing jokes everywhere because they’re so cheesy. Katy wonders if the cheesiness is exactly what makes them so addictively watchable. Are they intentionally cheesy–ironic self-aware allusions, like every Steve Carell or Will Ferrell character? Or were they created sincerely by the advertising agency, making them unintentionally cheesy? I don’t know the answer, but it did occur to me, reading Katy’s article, that part of the reason I have mixed feelings about winery use of social media is that the products (especially the videos) are so damned earnest. There’s no sense of humor, no trace of mocumentary or snicker. You comments are welcome, and have a great weekend!

  1. Steve,

    It certainly will be interesting to see how the ’12’s turn out over time. Interesting observation about ‘fruity’ wines – wondering if that was due to less oak or riper flavors?

    What I’ve heard from many folks is that one of the reasons the crop was bigger in ’12 was the size of the berries, especially with pinot. Therefore, the juice to skin ratio may have been higher than in recent vintages, leading to potentially ‘less concentrated’ wines unless the must was ‘blead’ prior to fermentation. Any thoughts on this?

    Keep up the blogging – always a fun read.

    Cheers!

  2. Larry: I don’t know.

  3. –Upscale restaurants: In San Francisco, with its Google busses and its rampant gentrification, chasing younger customers seems to work. Disposable income is limited to folks as old as you and me.

    –2012: Loved the Sauv Blancs because they really do take advantage of the vintage to be bright, fruity and varietal all at the same time. The others so far have been less than mind-blowing, but even with Pinot and Chard, we have not seen the leading lights so it is too early conclude that the early hype was all just hype.

    –Michael Bolton: Gag me with a spoon.

  4. The Bolton Honda commercials are so bad that people remember them. Sometimes bad publicity is good publicity and advertising can go that route… Ask Abercrombie and Fitch. But if I were in the car-buying market and it came down to a Honda vs. Nissan, I wouldn’t buy the Honda now for the sheer fact I hate Michael Bolton.

    Baby Boomers’ kids are also likely long out of the house and college… Which also gives them more disposable income not just for eating out but also to use on their wine allocations. I figure having one child costs me the equivalent of 12 cases of allocated wine I could’ve purchased in year. Naturally, I wouldn’t trade her for an infinite amount of bottles, but I do look forward to the day when I can buy a case of GTS a year instead of one bottle.

  5. Absolutely agree with Charlie re: early Ssuv Blancs. None of that annoying green, leafy, asparagus stuff–so far.

  6. Correction: Old folks are not the only people with disposable income in SF. All these new hip restaurants are filled with young folks who have good jobs.

  7. I’m no marketing expert, but I believe that one of the reasons why advertising is disproportionately targeted at younger consumers (relative to their disposable income) has to do with brand loyalty. Mainly it’s that older customers are more likely to already have loyalty to particular brands (restaurants, etc.) and so marketing efforts are less effective.

    In the case of restaurants, a Boomer couple probably already has their favorite Italian place, their favorite Mexican place, that special place they go to every anniversary, etc. Millenials are still finding those places, so they’re more open to trying that new place.

    Possibly also that the reward is greater for converting younger customers — you’d rather make a 25-year-old your “customer for life” than a 60-year-old — though I don’t know how many companies really think that long-term.

  8. Jim B, great observation. Thanks.

  9. Larry,

    I agree on the Pinots — with big berries. That was especially true in Sonoma County (less so in the Central Coast). You could have thinned more in the vineyard….but that would have led to sugars getting ahead of flavors (weather was great so keeping fruit flavors/brix in balance was something you wanted to do) — so I think bleeding was the better solution.

    That being said, I think many of the 2012s I have tried are simply showing younger….needing more time….than what is often thought of as a “great” vintage. I feel pretty confident that they are just young wines and will blossom. That’s for many of the 2012s I’ve tried from other folks (I will let others judge my wines).

    Adam Lee
    Siduri Wines

  10. Adam – it’s always tricky for me to determine if a young, fruity Pinot Noir, balanced with good acidity, will develop over time — and precisely what does “develop” mean? Some day I’d love to put together a vertical of some wineries. Marimar Torres among others has indicated interest.

  11. Steve,

    I’d be more than happy to join in as well. I’ve got a number of our older wines….some of which have performed quite well, a number pretty well, and some have been a bit disappointing (leading to your comment about it being tricky).

    For me (and perhaps it is unique to me), when I say develop I usually mean “become more than simply young wines and move into a more pleasurable drinking state. I don’t think it means the same thing to me as aging well (with people there’s a baby stage, a child stage, and then into adulthood — I think of develop as moving from baby to child).

    Personally, I think in a year like 2012 there is going to be certain expectations of the wines, but for some reason the wines are showing more baby stage for longer than was anticipated. This dichotomy between expectations and immediate reality may lead to somewhat lower reviews….but I do think that they will do well over time (more so than 2011, 2010, 2007 — maybe not as well as 2005s, which have both developed and aged very very well IMO).

    We will see.

    Adam Lee
    Siduri Wines

  12. Re the Millennials – writing from the eastern shores of the Atlantic, I am fascinated by the US focus on this demographic group. In Europe they are rarely mentioned – and we certainly never hear about this mythical creature myth who behaves totally differently from his parents and is apparently immune to recommendation from traditional authoritative critics.
    From what I can see in other – non-wine – sectors, however, these creatures really do seem to exist in the US and people I respect in California assure me that they genuinely are changing the nature of the wine market there.
    Regarding humour, I agree with you 150%. Earnestness is one of the banes of the wine world. Thank heavens for Hosemaster!

  13. Yes, let’s do the Pinot Noir vertical! Del;\ighted you remember, Steve!

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