Jackson Family Wines To Build Sonoma County Brewery

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You know the brewing industry must be doing something right if one of America’s largest producers of wine has decided to jump in with a new brewery. Brewbound has the scoop, with Jackson Family Wines Proprietor Launching Sonoma County Craft Brewery.

It’s certainly not the first time. Does anybody else remember Sonoma Mountain Brewing? And more recently, Carneros Brewing built a brewery on the grounds of their Ceja Vineyards. And don’t forget that Korbel Winery once launched their own small brewery, hiring a young brewer to make the beer. After a short time, they decided to get out of the beer business, and brewer Vinnie Cilurzo obtained the name and moved Russian River Brewing to downtown Santa Rosa, and with his wife Natalie Cilurzo, built it into a destination brewery that’s undoubtedly helped put Sonoma County on the map for beer, as well as wine. So some have worked great, others not so much.

This one at least seems off to a big start. It’s not officially a project of the Jackson Family Wines, but Christopher Jackson, who is the son of winery founder Jess Jackson. Of course, most start-ups don’t have the resources to start by “constructing a 25,000-barrel craft brewery” with “an initial brewing capacity of 8,000 barrels.” Most start-ups don’t have $8 million as their initial capital, even though Jackson states that “[i]t is a passion play” and I “am the sole proprietor and it is my project going forth, but we are employing a lot of similar philosophies from my wine background.”

The new brewery will apparently be called Seismic Brewing Company, which name Jackson bought from San Diego’s Rough Draft Brewing. The new brewery will be located at 2870 Duke Court, Santa Rosa and plans to open in late summer.

It sure seems like Sonoma County is indeed becoming a “craft beer Mecca,” as Jackson called Santa Rosa. I think that’s truer of the whole county, but certainly between Santa Rosa and Petaluma the county’s doing pretty well. Sonoma County currently has 31 licensed breweries, at least according to the latest number from the CCBA, which means we’re nowhere near the 100+ that are now open in San Diego County. Still, I think Sonoma probably has more than most counties.

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Google Trends In Beer

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This morning Jonathan Surratt alerted me to a fun tool that Google has available, known as Google Trends Explore. You can use it to compare trends in virtually any search term and even topics (which is in beta). Jonathan was comparing “craft beer” to things like potato salad and mashed potatoes, but you can do all sorts of comparisons. So just for a bit of fun, I tried a few different ones. Most are comparing searches, but a few measure topics. Five is the most comparisons you can do at one time, but that still allows for some interesting pairings. In each case, the charts show the trends from 2004 through the present, which is over ten years of data.

First, here’s the difference between craft beer vs. beer. Just beer is beating the pants off modified beer. Good.
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Here’s Craft Beer, Beer and Wine compared. Wine is leaving us in the dust.
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And here’s just beer and wine. But it’s not that far apart and we are gaining on them.
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And this is beer vs. wine, but by topic instead of by searches. By topic it’s closer still, and we’ve even come up on top a few times closer to the present.
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Here’s beer compared to four popular spirits. Vodka, not surprisingly, is leading the tightly packed spirits, but beer is besting all of them pretty handily.
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And here’s five of the most popular beer brands.
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This is the same five beer brands but by topic.
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Where Is Beer Country & Wine Country?

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Someone posted a link in a comment last week, and I’d been meaning to take a closer look it. It’s from the Washington Post’s Wonkblog: Do you live in beer country or wine country? These maps will tell you.

I love the idea that there’s a Wonkblog, but it has taken liberties in analyzing its data in the past, and this one seems to continue that trend. Still, there is some interesting information here. But the map of where both wineries and breweries are located is somewhat misleading, because it covers over the one with fewer, even if there are a lot of both kinds there, which is the case.

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More revealing, I think, is comparing the two individual maps, grape color is wine, hop green is beer. What becomes clear from looking at the two separately that’s lost in the map with both is that fermentation takes place, whether beer or wine, in higher concentrations in roughly the SAME locations nationwide.
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With very few exceptions, areas that have heavy concentrations of wineries also have a lot of breweries, too. That can’t be a coincidence, can it? To me, that leads to the inescapable conclusion that there is no wine country or beer country, but instead pockets of fermentation, or fields of fermentation. I would not be surprised to learn that there is also a lot of cheese-making going on in the exact same areas, too. Fermentation, it seems, follows fermentation. But that makes sense, intuitively.

And here is beer wine individually, so you can see them in more detail closer up.
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Also, curiously the Pacific Northwest is ignored in their analysis. In the text, they state that “beermaking dominates in the Denver region, and along the Southern California coast. Tucson may be wine country, but brewers rule in Phoenix. Brewers are strongly represented along the coast of Lake Michigan, and in most of Florida. Brewing is big in East coast cities too.” But three of the biggest, and darkest, green areas are the San Francisco Bay Area, Portland, Oregon and Seattle, all three with bigger concentrations of breweries than any other areas mentioned, with the exception of Denver and San Diego, which look roughly equal. So why the did? Beats me.

Wonkblog concludes with a chart showing trends in the numbers of new wineries and breweries, at least from 1998 through 2012. Was there really no data yet for 2014, or even 2013? And why did they use U.S. Census data for this chart, rather than where they got the other datasets for the maps? Also, I remember sower growth in the early 2000s, but the chart shows negative growth in the number of breweries from 2001 to 2010. Can that be correct? Or does that have something to do with it being Census data? Curious.

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Beer Outmaneuvering Wine

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Here’s some interesting news from the wine world, h/t to Jenn Litz from Craft Business Daily. Charles Gill, who runs Wine Metrics, which creates “on-premise wine distribution information in the U.S. market.” According to Litz, Gill has been saying lately that he believes that craft beer is taking market share from wine, which is curious, because “trade show rhetoric has often been the exact opposite.”

On Gill’s blog, Wine List USA, he claims that Craft Beer is Outmaneuvering Wine, and lists ten ways in which he believes that’s happening. Here’s his raw list.

  1. Value
  2. Innovation
  3. Promotion
  4. Community
  5. Venues
  6. Cross-Fertilization
  7. New Traditions
  8. Customer Loyalty
  9. Food Compatibility
  10. Gatekeepers

For a better understanding of that list, read his explanations for each one at the source, 10 Ways Craft Beer is Outmaneuvering Wine. I don’t tend to think about wine and beer as an us versus them proposition, but obviously the pie that is all alcohol consumption is divided into wedges of how much is spent on each type. There’s no getting around it. If more people buy beer, something else isn’t doing as well. It’s theoretically possible that the pie is just growing and people are buying more beer, but are not buying less wine, spirits, cider or what have you, but that’s not exactly realistic. If anything, the pie’s been shrinking, sad to say, as people are drinking less overall than they used to.

As to Gill’s list, I definitely agree with Value, Innovation and some of the Community aspects he mentions. And I also think Food Compatibility and most of what he says about New Traditions ring true, but I’m less convinced by the others. Do you agree? Or Disagree? If, so why, and to which ones?

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Beer Vs. Wine Infographic

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Today’s infographic is a smackdown between beer and wine to discover who wins the battle royale of alcoholic beverages. It was created by Alex Hillsberg for Finances Online. The infographic itself, Beer Vs. Wine, goes through pros and cons, pluses and minuses and random factoids of each, before drawing its conclusion as to which is the superior drink.

beer-vs-wine-infographic
Click here to see the infographic full size.

The Mail Order Quagmire

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There was in an interesting op-ed piece in the New York Times a few days ago. A wine blogger, David White (founder of the Terroirist), tackled the thorny issue of shipping wine (and beer and liquor) from state to state in a piece entitled Wholesale Robbery in Liquor Sales.

He begins with this obvious logic:

IMAGINE if Texas lawmakers, in a bid to protect mom-and-pop bookstores, barred Amazon.com from shipping into the state. Or if Massachusetts legislators, worried about Boston’s shoe boutiques, prohibited residents from ordering from Zappos.com.

Such moves would infuriate consumers. They might also breach the Constitution’s commerce clause, which limits states from erecting trade barriers against one another. But wine consumers, producers and retailers face such restrictions daily.

While he’s focusing on wine, the same is true for beer, too. When it comes to alcohol, the general rules of commerce tend to get thrown out the window because — gasp — it’s alcohol, and people can’t be trusted with the stuff. Therefore separate laws have to be set up to protect us from … well, I’m not sure from what. You can order all manner of dangerous things through the mail and have them sent right to your door, from guns and ammo, knives, crow bars along with all the stuff you need to make good size bomb. But try to get bombed and forget it. That’s where the line has been drawn.

It’s been over 75 years since Prohibition ended and few of the laws enacted to ease alcohol back into society have been updated much in that time. The way of the world, I’d argue, is quite a bit different than it was in 1933. The way people do business, both as companies and consumers, has changed dramatically but the laws governing alcohol have remained largely static, in large part because there’s always a hue and cry any time someone suggests relaxing or changing them. White points to wholesalers as having the greatest incentive to keep the status quo, and he’s certainly partly correct, but it’s also the anti-alcohol types and the overarching belief by many that because a few people can’t handle themselves with alcohol, that the rest of us have to suffer under these anachronistic laws that never envisioned the internet or considered that most adults might actually take personal responsibility for their actions.

At any rate, White makes some great points and his article is definitely worth a read.

Simplifying Tasting Descriptions

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Eric Asimov, who writes The Pour for the New York Times, had a very interesting post today on simplifying tasting notes for wine, entitled Wine in Two Words. Here’s the crux of his idea:

While it may seem heretical to say, the more specific the description of a wine, the less useful information is actually transmitted. See for yourself. All you have to do is compare two reviewers’ notes for a single bottle: one critic’s ripe raspberry, white pepper and huckleberry is another’s sweet-and-sour cherries and spice box. What’s the solution? Well, if you feel the urgent need to know precisely what a wine is going to taste like before you sniff and swallow, forget it. Experience will give you a general idea, but fixating on exactitude is a fool’s errand. Two bottles of the same wine can taste different depending on when, where and with whom you open them.

Besides, the aromas and flavors of good wines can evolve over the course of 20 minutes in a glass. Perhaps they can be captured momentarily like fireflies in a child’s hands, yet reach for them again a minute later and — whiff! — they’re somewhere else.

But the general character of a wine: now, that’s another matter. A brief depiction of the salient overall features of a wine, like its weight, texture and the broad nature of its aromas and flavors, can be far more helpful in determining whether you will like that bottle than a thousand points of detail. In fact, consumers could be helped immeasurably if the entire lexicon of wine descriptors were boiled down to two words: sweet or savory.

Asimov goes on to give greater detail to his idea of simplification, going so far that at the end he gives a list of varietals and where they fall in the sweet or savory list, admitting obvious exceptions will occur. And while I believe beer flavors are somewhat more complex, because of a greater number of ingredients and the endless combinations of them along with variations in the brewing process, the basic notions are sound and applicable.

Like wine, it’s true that the flavors of a particular beer change as it warms, too, and on any given day there are numerous things that can effect how a beer tastes. But even so, I don’t think you could distill beer down to just two descriptors. But I could see a smaller number being devised that could be useful in communicating basic information about the expectations of how a beer might taste, or at least its core components. There are specific styles that certainly have very recognizable characteristics, but just as many don’t or are exceptions to any rules. In a sense beer is like the English language, where there’s an exception to virtually every rule. Still it might be worth the effort to try and see what emerges and whether it could be useful. Anybody have any thoughts?

Seconding A Plea for Peaceful Coexistence

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I’d like to second New York Times beverage writer Eric Asimov’s plea for the peaceful coexistence of wine and beer. In his blog, The Pour, on Tuesday Asimov wrote A Plea for Peaceful Coexistence, saying:

Beer and wine are not in competition. Yet people in the wine business, who I assure you drink an awful lot of beer, don’t often take it seriously as a beverage. And people in the beer business, perhaps in reaction to not-so-imaginary slights, rarely even acknowledge the existence of wine, much less deem it worthy of drinking.

Asimov is, in my opinion, one of the few wine writers who actually understands and appreciates beer. I’ve quoted him before here in the Bulletin, precisely because he’s not typical of a wine writer. He understands for example; “[c]raft beer’s battle is not against wine but against decades of cynical marketing from the giant breweries, which have done everything possible to portray beer drinkers as asinine fools.”

What he didn’t include (and I understand why) is that most of the attacks come from the wine side. The assaults are not by regular wine drinkers or even winemakers, who both happily consume beer, but primarily from lesser wine writers who, as far as I can tell, feel threatened by craft beer. But as a cross-drinker (I love wine, too), I’m constantly irritated when a wine writer lashes out against beer for no discernible reason. Regular Bulletin readers will no doubt recognize it’s a theme I’ve returned to many times — precisely because it keeps happening. Living and working in the heart of northern California’s wine region, I’m especially sensitive to the way wine coverage so completely overshadows coverage of craft beer. I believe my column, Brooks on Beer, is almost certainly the only newspaper column in the Bay Area that’s devoted to beer, while the ones exclusively wine-focused considerably outnumber mine.

Sure, there have been a growing number of beer vs. wine dinners, usually instigated by beer people, but that’s usually a defensive strategy and a way to prove a point. Even Asimov understands this, and I’ve quoted him before on this subject, where he’s said the following.

The two beverages in fact co-exist quite well, and therefore it irritates me when wine and beer are pitted against each other, especially when wine-lovers demean beer. Beer-lovers have a bit of catching up to do in terms of achieving status and understanding, so I have a little more tolerance for them when they feel compelled to demonstrate how well good beers can go with certain foods, usually at the expense of wine.

But in the end, his point is well-taken and one I would argue should be assimilated by any writer whose subject includes an alcoholic beverage. We’re all in this together. While we’re at it, I’d also like to suggest to all those media outlets who insist on calling their “sections” or “magazines” something along the lines of “Food and Wine,” yet include coverage of other beverages, change their name and obvious bias to something all-encompassing like “Food & Drink” or “Food & Beverages.”

Asimov’s parting words:

“Fellow wine lovers, fellow beer lovers, unite! We shall not permit ourselves to be pitted against one another. Do not be fooled by false choices. You do not have to choose beer or wine. Just good or bad.”

Amen to that.