Ep. 133: Financial Failures and Lost Generations

We should note that we were going to call this a year-end news roundup, but we've decided to phase that out...⁣Get it? It's a glyphosate joke. Millennials and Gen Z are lost generations. Wine's most important banks just...stopped. Napa Green showed glyphosate the door. There's a movie called A Vineyard Christmas and it's really good *wink*. These are the stories from 2023 that stuck out the most to us.

[00:00:00] Ruby Welkovich: Alright, listeners, apologies in advance because we are recording this as my heating is turning on, so you might hear some, um, tapping in the background, um, because I do live in a pre-war building. But before we begin, I have to voice a concern about our theme.


[00:00:16] Katherine Cole: Oh, okay.


[00:00:18] Ruby Welkovich: Yes, I know this is supposed to be our year-end roundup, but I was thinking, in solidarity with our friends in the regenerative ag community, we might call it our year end recap.

Because, you know, we’re phasing out roundup.


[00:00:32] Nick Toole: Oh, it’s a glyphosate joke. Okay, I’m going to edit, I’m going to edit in some cheers,  , for that one. 


[00:00:35] Katherine Cole: All right, dear listeners, we are at the end of the year. So instead of bringing you the week’s news, we thought we would recap what happened in the wine world in 2023 and try our hand at predicting what we might see in 2024. Since Ruby has declared it so, this is not a roundup. It is a rundown. It is a summary. It’s a synopsis.


[00:01:12] Ruby Welkovich: It’s a wrap up. A digest.


[00:01:14] Nick Toole: An encapsulation, a recapitulation.


[00:01:17] Katherine Cole: Yes, indeed, and I’m Katherine  Cole, joined by Nick Toole and Ruby Welkovich, and this is The Four Top. So, our first news story we’re going to encapsulate is, I guess it’s more of a theme. It’s the theme of young people and why they are not drinking wine. This kind of started in January when a former guest of the pod, Rob McMillan of Silicon Valley Bank released his annual State of the U.S. Wine Industry Report, and then Eric Asimov followed up in February in an article in The New York Times that encapsulated what Rob said and the message that kind of freaked everyone out was how disengaged Gen Z and Millennials are with wine. So, they’re not drinking wine. This is a problem. Ruby and Nick, I don’t, what generation are you? Tell us what generation you are and what your thoughts are. Why are young people not drinking wine?


[00:02:17] Nick Toole:  , hi, I’m Nick Toole and I’m a Millennial. So Rob notes that if you want to bring in more Millennial drinkers and Gen Z drinkers, wineries need to be more clear about their social values and what they’re doing to address climate change. And you know, that, that should be on the website. It should be on the label, you know, clearly messaged. And I totally agree with that. That, that’s how I buy beer and wine, but wineries have to do it in a way that differentiates themselves from other wineries, obviously, and in a way that makes consumers feel good about how they’re spending. So, you know, an example of that might be something like: for every bottle sold, we donate 10 cents to a local water restoration project. So then, you know, the person’s like, “Oh, I can see what they’re doing for the environment. And I’m going to help them do that by purchasing this wine”


[00:03:07] Ruby Welkovich: Yeah, I love that. I love, um, when companies give back. It’s like the, the Tom’s Method. Um, I’m Ruby. I’m a Zillennial, even though Nick and I are the same age.


[00:03:17] Katherine Cole: A zillennial. I love it.

[00:03:18] Ruby Welkovich: A Zillennial, yes. Somewhere right in the middle. Um, yeah, I think that, you know,  , doing good is great. I think that for me, what stops me from ordering wine as opposed to something else is, um, I just prefer flavor-forward beverages. Um, actually, Erica Ducey and Felicity Carter have an entire,  , podcast season of their podcast, The Business of Drinks, about this: 

Where Have the Millennials Gone? So I definitely recommend checking that out. 


[00:03:46] Katherine Cole: Wait a minute. I want to get back to what you said about flavor-forward because obviously those of us who are in the wine industry, we think we have a flavor-forward beverage.


[00:03:54] Nick Toole: Yeah, those are fighting words.


[00:03:56] Katherine Cole: But I do remember you recommending non-alcoholic beverages in the past, Ruby. And so I wanted to dig into this. Um, maybe you’re just talking about kind of different flavors. And I did note as we were researching this episode that according to a report from Fact.MR, actually, Nick, you found this article, in Wine Business, um, sales of non-alcoholic beverages are predicted to grow 6.7 percent every year for the next decade. That’s non-alcoholic beverages,  and they reference reasons like clean label trends, popularity of plant based diets, better understanding of the harms of alcohol consumption, and shifting consumer preferences. So consumer preferences, flavor, talk to us, Ruby, talk to us.


[00:04:42] Ruby Welkovich: It’s funny. As a teenager, I would,  , tell my family friends at parties, you don’t need alcohol to have fun, and they used to tease me relentlessly for that. But I think I might just have been ahead of my time, because this is clearly a trend, and I’m seeing this upward trend of non-alc brands, like, Seedlip, Ghia, the wine brand Non that I mentioned last or a few weeks back as my dessert course. But I do have to say as a young person living in the city, people are drinking. I think we’re just looking towards more fun, unique cocktails that are really flavor-forward. So last weekend, I ordered a drink. It was a blackberry jalapeno tequila cocktail, and it was just, like, good, I don’t know how else to describe it. And I think most Millennials or Zillennials or Gen Z…we’re just disappointed when you try a wine that says it has notes of raspberry, but there aren’t any actual raspberry flavors in the wine, and that’s where I come from with it.


[00:05:35] Katherine Cole: Ah, now this is interesting because Rob McMillan in his report also suggested that producers start listing their ingredients and offering nutritional data like calories per serving. And of course, Martin Reyes, Master of Wine discussed this very topic with me in episode 130 of The Four Top. It sounds like, saying in your tasting notes on your back label that there’s blackberry or raspberry in the wine,  , should be replaced by actually listing the ingredients in the wine.


[00:06:04] Nick Toole: I think the whole nutritional labeling thing for me is a bit weird because I pay a lot of attention to nutrition. I try to eat well, but when it comes to drinking alcohol, I actively avoid looking at the calorie content or even like the ingredients, because it kind of takes away from the pleasure of it. It’s like, this is my indulgence and I don’t need to know the impact of it.


[00:06:23] Katherine Cole: Hmm. Interesting. So, we’re still kind of unresolved on this. In terms of what we will be seeing in 2024, it sounds like more NA beverages, more transparency from the wine industry is what’s coming. Also, I want to circle back and say I checked in with Rob McMillan actually last night and he will be releasing another State of the U.S. Wine Industry Report that will drop January 18th. So we will keep an eye out for that. 


So speaking of Silicon Valley Bank. Let’s talk about business this past year. The biggest story of the year, by far, was the failure of our two biggest banks, Silicon Valley Bank and First Republic.  , when I say our two biggest banks, I mean the two biggest banks serving the U.S. wine industry. Now, if you were living off the grid for the first half of this year, JP Morgan Chase now owns First Republic and First Citizens Bank now owns Silicon Valley Bank. So everything really got shook up. There was definitely a chill running through the wine industry for the first half of the year. I think it’s still kind of shaky. I’m also hearing from my colleagues, my clients, my friends that there was a euphoria in 2022. Everything looked really great because the pandemic was over and tasting rooms reopened, tourism spiked, and that was followed by a pretty dead 2023. I’ve been hearing that a lot of tasting rooms were much emptier this past year, as those who spent their pandemic savings on vacations in 2022 stayed home.


[00:08:03] Ruby Welkovich: So Gen Zers, Millennials, and everyone else is not drinking wine.


[00:08:09] Katherine Cole: And the banks almost went under, and, and, and.


[00:08:13] Ruby Welkovich: Oh, God.


[00:08:14] Nick Toole: And it didn’t help that the World Health Organization declared at the beginning of the year, just to cut the knees out from everyone, they declared that no level of alcohol consumption is safe for our health. So we’ll be tackling that actually, in I think our next episode, but that’s not helpful.


[00:08:30] Katherine Cole: Okay, so that was 2023. Let’s think about 2024. Let’s think positive thoughts. What is working? I always like to look at kind of the large wine companies and corporations because they usually have their finger on the pulse. Just kind of see what they’re doing. Companies like Gallo, Trinchero, Constellation. And one thing I’ve really kind of enjoyed watching in 2023 is what Gallo has been doing. They have a couple of interesting things going on. They have an import firm called Maze Row. M A Z E. That’s Maze Row. Check it out if you haven’t seen their website. It’s, it’s this kind of artisanal importer vibe. They’ve got a great Italian book. But it’s also accompanied by, you know, editorial articles and, and kind of cultural curation. I don’t know how else to describe it. And they acquired some really interesting brands, including our friend Randall Grahm’s brand The Language of Yes. And then Gallo acquired Massican. That’s another friend of the pod Dan Petroski’s brand, in September. And of course, Massican is definitely not just a wine brand, but a lifestyle brand. So I’m kind of curious, Nick and Ruby, does this kind of appeal to you? A brand that’s not just wine, but, but a whole way of thinking, a whole way of being.


[00:09:43] Ruby Welkovich: I mean, yeah, absolutely. I think that lifestyle brands are, are huge right now. I mean, you have Kourtney Kardashian’s Poosh, you have Gwyneth Paltrow’s Goop. You know, Molly Baz now has her own wine label that really matches with her aesthetic and her cookbooks as well. So I think that lifestyle brands are, are really big right now.


[00:10:03] Nick Toole: Do they have to have like a double O sound to be successful?


[00:10:07] Ruby Welkovich: Definitely.


[00:10:08] Nick Toole: Getting back to wine and, you know, looking at Massican and Maze Row and their branding and all that. They, they definitely very much resonate with people’s identity and lifestyle. So kind of getting back to what we were talking about in our last segment, you know, telling a story right down to that, that Massican blue, if you’re familiar with the brand. Dan Petroski traveled all the way to Italy, saw this, like, 1500 year old fresco, and it had this very distinct, unique blue in it. And he was like, that’s the blue, that’s my blue. And that, that inspired that, that Massican blue that, that you see now, and it’s a gorgeous color.


[00:10:43] Ruby Welkovich: Oh, I love that.


[00:10:44] Katherine Cole: I love what I’m hearing because I’m all about storytelling.


[00:10:50] Nick Toole: So a top ten wine term from the past few years is regenerative agriculture, and it will continue to be a top 10 wine term, ‘cause winemakers and wine buyers alike care more and more about how their wine is made. And we keep coming back to it, but if you go back to that, Rob McMillen report, younger drinkers want to know, you know, that their beverages are made with intention, and made with the environment in mind. And regenerative agriculture is all about no till or low till as some people term it, you know, limiting the use of herbicides and pesticides, soil health and all that stuff, and I think that that really resonates with people and that’s why regenerative agriculture has been a big thing in 2023 and will continue to be a big thing.


[00:11:33] Ruby Welkovich: Yeah, I think the biggest regenerative ag story of 2023, at least in the US, was Napa Green’s announcement this fall that they’re requiring wineries to phase out glyphosate by 2026.


[00:11:43] Katherine Cole: Oh, that wasn’t just a regenerative ag story. That was a huge just viticulture story. I mean, that was a showstopper when that announcement came out. And Napa Green is requiring that their members phase out all herbicides by 2028. This is really big news.


[00:12:01] Nick Toole: Yeah, I mean a lot of people are applauding this but some people are also nervous. And, you know, regenerative ag is not…there isn’t like a set definition necessarily. So there are people that are big into regenerative ag but still say, you know, glyphosate is necessary or at least it’s a bridge to better practices in the future. And it’s cheap and effective and it can be a lifesaver. So I think, you know, a lot of people are happy about this, a lot of people were not so happy about this. It kind of comes down to your philosophy almost. And I think, you know, a lot of people do note that it’s, it’s not great for soil health and biodiversity. And there is the whole discussion around like, does it have a negative effect on human health?


[00:12:40] Ruby Welkovich: Yeah, Bayer AG, who makes it, has lost billions because of a bunch of different court cases that hinged on its impact on human health.


[00:12:47] Katherine Cole: Okay, so we have been hearing a lot about glyphosate. We’ve been talking a lot about glyphosate. Nick, bring us home here. What’s the takeaway? 


[00:12:55] Nick Toole: Well, regenerative ag is in, obviously. As I said, the definition is different for different people, but it is in and glyphosate is, I think, starting to be on its way out.


[00:13:09] Katherine Cole: So for our fourth news theme of the year, maybe I’ll say this is our combo dessert course. ‘Cause this is just light and puffy and fun. What’s going on in pop culture, Ruby, what’s going on in the TV world as relates to wine.


[00:13:27] Ruby Welkovich: Well, you know, I just discovered recently that there’s this whole genre of those cheesy Hallmark holiday movies, specifically related to wine. So, one of them is called A Christmas Vintage. Another is called A Vineyard Christmas, which I actually did some research on and found out that the original title is The Most Wine-derful Time of the Year.


[00:13:49] Nick Toole: Oh no.


[00:13:51] Ruby Welkovich: Yeah, it’s, it’s pretty cheesy. And maybe we’ll share some images because it is exactly what you think it is.


[00:14:00] Katherine Cole: Bad, so bad. It’s good. Shout out to our friend Kristen Castagna who alerted us to this genre, this budding genre of cheesy Christmas wine movies.


[00:14:12] Nick Toole: Tannin TV.


[00:14:13] Katherine Cole: Yeah. Also I wanted to mention that Drops of God, the manga series about wine, is now a show. I did not watch it though. I think it’s on Apple TV. I don’t even know.

Because I have to admit, I love shows that are, you know, imported from other countries, but I do watch them dubbed because I like to multitask while I watch things. And Nick, there’s a term for this, right?


[00:14:40] Nick Toole: Yeah, like, you know, dubbed, not subbed, or subbed, not dubbed, you know. People have different takes on which one they prefer.


[00:14:46] Katherine Cole: So listeners, if you watched Drops of God, please let me know. Did you like it? Should I watch it? Should I sit down and watch the subtitles? I’m curious. I thought the manga series was amazing, so…


[00:14:57] Ruby Welkovich: I think I’m gonna check it out next week, in between Christmas and New Year’s.


[00:15:03] Katherine Cole: All right, so to close out, a fond farewell to the many folks who’ve contributed so much to the wine industry and went to wine heaven this year. I just want to mention three actually. Mike Grgich made it to 100, Nick, tell us about Mike Grgich.


[00:15:21] Nick Toole: Mike Gergich, he is the famous winemaker behind that 1973 Chateau Montelena Chardonnay that won or beat out several of those white Burgundy wines at the wine tasting event that was dubbed the judgment of Paris in 1976, I believe.


[00:15:38] Katherine Cole: Yeah. And Ruby, we lost a Willamette Valley icon as well.


[00:15:42] Ruby Welkovich: Yes, Dick Erath, Pinot Pioneer


[00:15:45] Katherine Cole: And Dorothy Tchelistcheff, widow of the famous winemaker André Tchelistcheff, passed away at 99 in late November. And I just wanted to, as an aside, say that I hear from many women in the wine industry that all these famous male winemakers of the 60s 70s and 80s…there was always a woman working her tail off right beside him. So Dorothy Tchelistcheff. I see you and I salute you.


[00:16:11] Katherine Cole: Well, this has been The Four Top podcast. I am our executive producer, Katherine Cole.


[00:16:16] Nick Toole: I’m our producer Nick Toole. 


[00:16:18] Ruby Welkovich: I’m media and design manager Ruby Welkovich.


[00:16:21] Katherine Cole: Kielan King is our sound supervisor and the composer and performer of our fantastic theme music. Please visit our website, thefourtop.org, to learn more about us, listen to back episodes, and purchase books written by our amazing panelists. If you have not already subscribed to The Four Top on iTunes, Spotify, or whatever your favorite podcast platform is, please do so and leave us a rating.


[00:16:44] Nick Toole: Y’all, this part is important because every rating feeds the algorithm and helps new listeners find The Four Top. 


[00:16:51] Katherine Cole: Yes. Well, from the high fiber, protein-packed city of Portland, Oregon, in the beautiful Willamette Valley, this is Katherine Cole, signing out. 


[00:16:59] Ruby Welkovich: And from the pizza capital of, of America, this is Ruby signing out. 


[00:17:06] Nick Toole: From the unseasonably warm city of Portland, Maine. This is Nick signing out. Stay safe out there, and thank you for listening. 

Sources & Citations

Citations reference first appearance, without repeating for subsequent usage:

[00:01:20] – Silicon Valley Bank: State of the Wine Industry Report 2023

[00:01:51] The New York Times: The Wine Business Sees a Problem: Millennials Aren’t Drinking Enough

[00:04:16] Wine Business: Sales of Non-alcoholic Beverages are Forecast to Reach US$1,889.42 Billion by 2034 (Fact.MR)

[00:07:19] Napa Valley Register: First Republic Bank to Be Sold to JPMorgan. 

[00:07:19] Wine Spectator: Silicon Valley Bank and Its Wine Division Have a New Home

[00:08:14]  World Health Organization: No level of alcohol consumption is safe for our health 


[00:11:38] Napa Green: Napa Green Becomes First Sustainable Winegrowing Certification to Require Phaseout of Roundup, Providing Toolkit and Financial Incentives

[00:12:40] Reuters: Bayer ordered to pay $1.56 billion in latest US trial loss over Roundup weedkiller

[00:15:03] The New York Times: Mike Grgich Dies at 100; His Wine Stunned the French by Besting Theirs

[00:15:42] The Oregonian: Oregon wine pioneer Dick Erath dies at 87

[00:15:45] Napa Valley Register: Dorothy Tchelistcheff, widow of famed winemaker, dies on Thanksgiving