Ep. 137: Explosions and Cocaine (and Wine)

Drizly is shown the exit. Are large wine pours out the door? The state of the U.S. wine industry is, uh, pretty shitty, actually. Wine is all about explosions and cocaine. These are the wine stories we're following this week. This week's episode is brought to you by Josh, Josh, and Josh.

[00:00:00] Ruby Welkovich: Josh and Josh, how are you?


[00:00:02] Katherine Cole: Oh no, not this. I’ve seen this and I’m done with it.


[00:00:06] Nick Toole: Uh, put me down as lost.


[00:00:08] Ruby Welkovich: Well…


[00:00:08] Katherine Cole: It’s been online. It’s been a meme lately. I don’t know. Ruby, it’s all you.


[00:00:12] Ruby Welkovich: Okay, um, Nick, we’re gonna do some show and tell.


[00:00:16] Nick Toole: On a, on a podcast? Does that work? Okay.


[00:00:19] Ruby Welkovich: Yeah.


[00:00:21] Nick Toole: Alright, got a link in the chat here. Ruby has sent an image, a meme. It is, uh, ah, it’s 

The Last Supper. Except they’re drinking Josh wines. Okay, I’m into this, I love this.


[00:00:33] Ruby Welkovich: Yeah, so you’re familiar with Josh Cellars Wines.


[00:00:36] Nick Toole: Uh, yeah, I see it everywhere.


[00:00:38] Ruby Welkovich: Well, Josh. Josh Cellers is the newest hot meme mostly because of the juxtaposition between its incredibly normal name and its very fancy looking cursive label.


[00:00:48] Katherine Cole: And the fact that it is available everywhere. I think I saw it in CVS the other day. And it looks so fancy, but it’s, you know, it’s not Joshua. It is just plain old Josh. Like the guy you’d borrow a lawnmower from, it’s just Josh.


[00:01:04] Nick Toole: I do love the name. I feel like if it’s, if you put my name on a label, like a fancy cursive “Nick”, I think it would look pretty goofy.


[00:01:12] Ruby Welkovich: It’s kind of like in Friends, um, Rachel’s going out with that guy, Joshua, and they all call him Josh, and she’s like, it’s Joshua. And uh, anyway, so, because the internet spawned so many weird and wonderful things, people are now making memes featuring Josh bottles, like putting them on the table of the Last Supper painting, or photoshopping them into pictures with Drake and calling it Drake and Josh.


[00:01:35] Nick Toole: Loved that show, great show.


[00:01:38] Katherine Cole: There’s a particularly good tweet, and not that I even look at X anymore, but I saw this one from a user, I think the handle is @jkac, that says, “I’m going to start calling all wines Josh the way we say Kleenex to mean all tissues.”


[00:01:54] Nick Toole: That, that’s, that’s brilliant. Do we, do we dare do that for the rest of the episode? No matter what the content of the news is, all wine is henceforth known as Josh.


[00:02:02] Ruby Welkovich: Yeah, I don’t think I’ll be able to do that with a, with a straight face.


[00:02:05] Katherine Cole: Yeah, no, Nick was just joshing you. Drizly is shown the exit. Large wine pours are no more. The state of the U. S. wine industry is, uh, pretty shitty, actually, and wine is all about explosions and cocaine. These are the wine stories we’re following this week. I’m Josh, joined by Josh and Josh.


[00:02:37] Nick Toole: . So first on the Josh News Docket this week is the closure of Drizly, the alcohol delivery service that was swept up a few years ago by Uber for a cool 1.1 billion. Yeesh, I think this news was surprising to everyone and no one, because on the one hand, why would you pay that much money for something just to close it down? On the other hand, Uber already has a behemoth of a food delivery service, and they are likely just rolling Drizly right into Uber Eats, which already does some of its own alcohol delivery.


[00:03:13] Katherine Cole: Yeah, it’s also important to note that Drizly was under the close watch of the FTC because of a major data breach in 2020. Thanks to that, the FTC limited what data Drizly could collect, which likely hampered aspects of their business.


[00:03:28] Ruby Welkovich: All right, I know a lot about wine memes and a lot less about wine business. What does this mean for the wine world? It sounds like things could just remain the same, just under a different name.


[00:03:38] Katherine Cole: Yeah, it remains to be seen. Some business news outlets are reporting this as just a reshuffling. Not exactly a buy, strip, and flip, as they say in the finance world, but it does look to some pundits like Uber may have kind of sort of just bought Drizly in order to, you know, kind of just suck it dry and then shut it down.


[00:03:55] Nick Toole: Yeah, call me a corporate pessimist, but I’m with Wine-Searcher’s Blake Gray on this one. As he notes, the Wine and Spirits Wholesalers Association was pretty involved in helping to build Drizly, and even invested in it, because they were excited for a chance to build an alcohol delivery service that was legally compliant, which is unfortunately, I guess, difficult, and followed the three tier system. Drizly drivers were even trained on how to handle alcohol, so Catherine’s bottle of William Fevre Chablis would arrive intact.


[00:04:26] Katherine Cole: That is exactly the kind of thing I would find through Drizzly for sure. Well, so yeah, this is interesting because it sounds like one instance in which the three tier system actually works really well. But I do want to clarify about those Drizly drivers. It’s important to note that Drizzly did not hire or contract its own delivery workers.Quoting from Axios here, Drizzly provided back end tech that let local liquor stores provide their own deliveries.

[00:04:53] Ruby Welkovich: So if I’m following, there’s some concern that alcohol delivery with Uber Eats could be a bit sketchy. And freelance delivery workers without training might be tossing around your champagne.


[00:05:03] Katherine Cole: Yeah. What is the old, uh, Silicon Valley adage? I think it’s “move fast and break things.” Uh, don’t do that with my champagne, Uber.


[00:05:10] Nick Toole: They will. They almost certainly will. I’m in Maine where we always get things late. So this doesn’t really matter to me because I don’t think we have drizzly or maybe maybe we do but at this point I guess we won’t.


[00:05:22] Katherine Cole: Yeah, you definitely don’t Nick, because I don’t know if you remember, I sent you a bottle of champagne for your wedding and I actually had to pick up my phone, dial my phone and have multiple conversations with human beings. It was like so old school. I couldn’t believe it, but you know what? It was wonderful as well.


[00:05:38] Nick Toole: That’s vacation land. 


[00:05:43] Ruby Welkovich: Don’t worry folks, I’ve got a handle on this next story, and if you pay your bills with wine money, you won’t like it.


[00:05:50] Katherine Cole: Ooh.


[00:05:52] Nick Toole: Okay.


[00:05:53] Ruby Welkovich: A new study by the University of Cambridge found that removing the largest wine pour option from a menu reduced wine consumption by 7. 6%. That’s no small amount.


[00:06:03] Katherine Cole: Ooh, no, that is not. And let’s set this up a little more. Sometimes wine bars, tasting rooms, and restaurants will offer a couple of different options for glass pour sizes. You may have seen a wine bar or a tasting room that offers a 2.5 ounce taste or a five ounce full glass. Well, this is something you see a lot more frequently in the UK and in Europe. For example, in Italy you might see a quarto or a mezze that’s like a quarter or a half bottle. Or in France you might see a demi, which is demi-bouteille, which is a half of a bottle. But apparently in the UK, pubs commonly also offer a 250 ml single serving, which as far as I’m concerned, is technically known as a giant ass glass of wine.


[00:06:48] Nick Toole: Yeah, geez.


[00:06:50] Katherine Cole: So, Louis Thomas, writing for Drinks Business, reports that these researchers had 21 pubs remove that giant ass glass of wine option from their menus for four weeks to see how it impacted overall drinking. The researchers found that consumers seemed to think of drinking in terms of units, that is glasses of wine, and didn’t pay much attention to the milliliters or ounces, so they would just have two glasses like they did before, but they were consuming less liquid.


[00:07:18] Ruby Welkovich: To add to that, beer and cider sales did not get a boost, so it’s not like folks were supplementing with some other booze. They just drank less wine. Of course, this all relates back to alcohol and health, which was a big story of 2023 and will likely be a huge story in 2024. The study’s senior author used findings to make the case for how this approach could help curb consumption in the name of, quote, population health.


[00:07:41] Nick Toole: I don’t know why but that sounds like an ominous term


[00:07:44] Ruby Welkovich: Totally.


[00:07:45] Nick Toole: It just does but overall this is a difficult topic Because, of course, there are health concerns with alcohol, but as we’ve discussed in past episodes, and I think we may discuss further in the future, there is evidence that wine could be a small benefit to your health. But beyond that, I think almost more important to me, at least, is wine, beer, cider, they’re expressions of like culture and art and gastronomy and they have importance beyond just how they impact your body and I, and I worry about how the industry could be impacted.


[00:08:17] Katherine Cole: Actually, the industry will be okay by people not getting completely wasted off giant ass glasses of wine, so rest assured, Nick. The study notes that premises did not lose money as a result of removing that largest serving size for glasses of wine, perhaps due to the higher profit margins of smaller serving sizes of wine. But on the other hand, that doesn’t help the wine producer because they’re still selling that bottle to the distributor or retailer for the same amount. 


[00:08:43] Ruby Welkovich: Yeah, I will note that a 250 milliliter pour is, I just looked it up, it’s a third of a bottle of wine, almost 8. 5 ounces, and that’s really hefty.


[00:08:52] Nick Toole: Ooh, that is a fat pour for sure.


[00:08:55] Katherine Cole: All right, up next is, drumroll please, the moment you’ve all been waiting for, the annual State of the U.S. Wine Industry Report for 2024 is out. I just love it when this report comes out every year.


[00:09:11] Nick Toole: Nerd.


[00:09:12] Katherine Cole: No, no, I’m not a nerd. Rob McMillan, who’s been a guest on the, on the pod, he’s the EVP and founder of Silicon Valley Bank’s Wine Division, authors this excellent report, and he actually does a great job of making it fun and entertaining while also providing essential insight into the industry. Although this year I have to say I was a little disappointed. The report was heavy on really important information but where were the jokes and the pop cultural references, Rob? I demand that you bring those back.


[00:09:40] Ruby Welkovich: Dang, I could have used some of those. Well, let’s get down to business then. The report does not paint a pretty picture, but it does do a good job of offering some hope for the future. The first key takeaway is that direct to consumer sales, value sales, and tasting room visitations were all down in 2023, and those tasting room visits dropped for a second straight year.


[00:09:59] Katherine Cole: Yeah, I’ve been hearing this from wineries after the post pandemic euphoria of 2021 and early 2022. People realized they needed to curtail all that spending and so last year they stopped taking all those fancy trips to wine country, unfortunately for our industry.


[00:10:15] Nick Toole: But there’s an upside. Strong 2023 holiday sales. They may indicate that there may be a positive shift in consumer behavior. I know I called Katherine a nerd a moment ago and I stand by that. But I tend to follow financial news pretty closely, and I keep on reading about positive signs of growing consumer confidence, so let’s look on the bright side.


[00:10:40] Katherine Cole: I wear that mantle of nerdiness proudly. Anyway, takeaway number two: fewer U.S. consumers have been drinking wine and instead choosing ready to drink cocktails, cannabis, they’re, they’re also just abstaining altogether and they are drinking spirits and I think it’s all Ruby’s fault, you and your friends and your flavor forward cocktails. Ruby, how do we get you to drink some wine?


[00:11:01] Ruby Welkovich: Sorry.


[00:11:03] Nick Toole: A bit depressing to me that beer didn’t even get a mention there, which means it’s not doing so hot.


[00:11:08] Katherine Cole: Uh, sorry about that. Well, according to Macmillan, wineries did successfully raise bottle prices in 2023 to partially cover the higher costs from inflation, and this had some effect in bolstering against the drop in DTC sales, but the fact of the matter is that across the wine consuming world, per capita consumption is decreasing and population growth is also slowing. Macmillan describes the wine industry in 2023 as having zero percent growth. But you know, I’m reminded of Greta Thunberg’s observation at the U.N., when she gave that famous talk about the fairy tale of eternal economic growth. I mean, folks, population is not growing the way it used to, so the wine industry needs to stop thinking about growing bigger and start thinking about growing smarter.


[00:11:55] Nick Toole: Yeah, I do appreciate that Robin Millen stresses the need for increased efficiencies in, like, production, grape growing, marketing. Because when sales are great, it can be easy to overlook inefficient processes. But when sales are down, it’s kind of time to look at where those inefficiencies are. And I hope that wineries don’t decide that employees are inefficient and make cuts there, but instead look at how they’re doing things. And coming from the beer industry, this is happening big time there. There was like all this excess a few years ago and throwing money around because times were good and then 2018 or 2019 hit and the ride was over. 


[00:12:31] Ruby Welkovich: Three, too many grapes. Looking at current sales volumes, Macmillan finds that there is an oversupply of planted vineyards. That obviously has downstream, or down vine, implications. Overplanting leads to overproduction, leads to inventory excess, leads to discounting and price reductions.

We’re seeing this play out in Europe, too, and we’ve already reported on bottles being dumped and vines being torn up in France.


[00:12:55] Katherine Cole: Oh yeah, in our next news story, we’ll get into this in a rather explosive manner.


[00:13:04] Ruby Welkovich: For our fourth news story, we just wanted to take a quick look at how wild the wine world can get sometimes.


[00:13:09] Nick Toole: Yeah, sometimes it’s stuffy Bordeaux snobs and sometimes it’s explosions and cocaine.


[00:13:16] Ruby Welkovich: Okay, spoiler alert, but yes, we might just have to call this episode explosions and cocaine.


[00:13:21] Katherine Cole: All right, guys, do you want to start with Cocaine or explosions?


[00:13:25] Ruby Welkovich: Explosions.


[00:13:26] Katherine Cole: Uh oh, we better, uh, we better rock, paper, scissors this.


[00:13:30] Nick Toole: Again? On a podcast? Does that work?


[00:13:32] Katherine Cole: I mean, just, just say it out loud. Are you ready? 1, 2, 3, rock, paper, scissors Go!

[00:13:37] Nick Toole: Scissors! Damn it. Okay.


[00:13:41] Ruby Welkovich: Okay, explosions. And we’re only talking about this lightly because no one was hurt. Oliver Stiles of Wine-Searcher brings us this story. Last Thursday night, an explosion rocked the lower floor of the Regional Directorate of Environment, Planning, and Housing Government building in Carcassonne, which happens to be the name of a game that I really like, blowing out all the windows. The floor was unoccupied and under construction, so looks like someone was sending a message.


[00:14:07] Katherine Cole: Yeah, and apparently that someone was the Comité d’Action Viticole because their name was found inscribed on the exterior wall. This is the Aude wine growers union leader Frédéric Rouanet, uh, I’m quoting here, he says, he does not condone this kind of act, but he put the blame on the government and specifically the agency that was targeted for costing wine growers dearly with their policies.


[00:14:31] Nick Toole: Yeah, this is, this is the same guy that had zero remorse about shipments of Spanish wine in southern France that were destroyed by winemakers in protest. He’s got this like mafia vibe about him, maybe only because I’ve been watching a lot of Sopranos lately, but he’s like, “hey, bad things will happen. I don’t condone it, but I can’t help it.” Okay. Yeah. Katherine did bad French accents a few episodes ago, and this is my turn to do bad New Jersey Italian accents, but anyway, we’re gonna move on to cocaine. And I just want to say I promise we won’t bring stories from the same two news sources every episode, but Wine-Searcher and The Drinks Business were on point this week. And as The Drinks Business reports, 444 kilograms or 979 pounds of liquid cocaine were found in boxes of bagged wine in Hong Kong last month.


[00:15:21] Ruby Welkovich: Wow. I am admittedly not a cocaine user, um, but that sounds like a lot, and I also have to do a quick Google search on what liquid cocaine is because I’ve never heard of that before.


[00:15:33] Katherine Cole: I’m happy to say I have not either. I just feel very healthy for not knowing what that is.


[00:15:37] Ruby Welkovich: Relief that I’m not the only one. It seems like it’s, okay, so it’s a thing, liquid cocaine, but it’s also a shot. Like a, like a cocktail shot.


[00:15:47] Katherine Cole: Oh…


[00:15:48] Nick Toole: I would try that.


[00:15:49] Katherine Cole: Maybe our mixologist listeners can tell us more.


[00:15:53] Ruby Welkovich: I’m seeing it’s like a mixture of, um, well one recipe has southern comfort, peach schnapps, and cranberry juice. One has peppermint schnapps, Jägermeister, and Goldschlager.


[00:16:02] Katherine Cole: Ew. 


[00:16:03] Katherine Cole: Never mind. That’s…


[00:16:04] Nick Toole: Actually, I don’t know if I want to try this. Never mind…


[00:16:07] Katherine Cole: That is, that sounds disgusting.


[00:16:09] Ruby Welkovich: Anyway, back to the liquid cocaine. 


[00:16:12] Katherine Cole: Yeah, apparently this is the largest seizure of liquid cocaine since records began in Hong Kong. So yeah, that is a lot. And apparently wine bottles are a popular way to transport liquid cocaine because a couple was arrested in Shanghai not too long ago with 32 bottles of wine filled with the stuff.


[00:16:31] Nick Toole: If we’re worried about folks not drinking wine, I guess maybe one way to fix that is to add a highly addictive substance. 


[00:16:39] Ruby Welkovich: God… 


[00:16:39] Nick Toole: Eeeeee.


[00:16:41] Katherine Cole: That’s how they originally sold Coca Cola.


[00:16:43] Nick Toole: Ah, see? There’s precedent.


[00:16:44] Ruby Welkovich: Not wrong.


[00:16:48] Katherine Cole: Well, to top off our little serving of cocaine, we now have our dessert wine course, Ruby, you totally intrigued me when you mentioned there’s a game called Carcassonne, so I want to hear all about it.


[00:16:59] Ruby Welkovich: Yeah, it’s a game that I’ve played a few times. I actually didn’t know if I was pronouncing it correctly. But, we’ll call it Carcassonne? Okay, so this is a, I don’t know if it’s technically a board game, but it is like a tile based game. Um, I’m assuming it’s based on the place in France now that I know more about this. And yeah, you sort of, you get a bunch of these tiles that all sort of fit in with one another and you build a really pretty little French, what’s the word? Not cityscape. I’m doing it with my hands.


[00:17:29] Katherine Cole: Landscape?


[00:17:30] Ruby Welkovich: Landscape, thank you.


[00:17:32] Nick Toole: We gotta stop doing visual things on this podcast.


[00:17:34] Ruby Welkovich: I’m so ingrained in the city I can’t even think of what a landscape is. Um…


[00:17:38] Katherine Cole: You build terroir.


[00:17:39] Ruby Welkovich: Exactly. Yeah, there’s like rivers and roads and little buildings and it’s uh, I’ll, I’ll post a photo of it this week so that everyone can see what it looks like.


[00:17:48] Katherine Cole: Oh my gosh I’m looking it up and it looks really fun. I’m totally gonna order this game.


[00:17:54] Ruby Welkovich: Yeah.


[00:17:55] Nick Toole: And folks, one thing that came up before we started recording that Ruby’s not telling you is she claims she’s pretty good at this game. So if you ever play with her…


[00:18:03] Ruby Welkovich: Oh yes.


[00:18:04] Nick Toole: …report back.


[00:18:06] Ruby Welkovich: I, I can um, attest to that, that I’m uh, I’m quite good at this game. I’m not great at every board game, um, but the ones that I am, I will tell you that I’m good at.


[00:18:15] Katherine Cole: I was gonna say if you switched your beverage of choice from a flavor forward cocktail to wine, I think you’d be better at carcassonne. Just saying.


[00:18:24] Nick Toole: There’s correlation, maybe causation there.


[00:18:26] Ruby Welkovich: Yeah, that feels a little spicy. I don’t know.


[00:18:29] Katherine Cole: I’m just going to keep nagging you about this, Ruby.


[00:18:31] Ruby Welkovich: I actually had really great wine last night. I drank it and I enjoyed it. It was, I don’t know what it was. It was an orange wine.


[00:18:37] Katherine Cole: Of course it was an orange wine because you’re in Brooklyn.


[00:18:39] Ruby Welkovich: Someone brought it to a, to a party and I drank it and I enjoyed it.


[00:18:44] Katherine Cole: There’s hope. Well, this has been The Four Top podcast. I am actually not Josh. I am our executive producer, Katherine Cole.


[00:18:53] Nick Toole: I am our producer, Nick Josh Toole.


[00:18:58] Ruby Welkovich: And I’m Media and Design Manager Ruby Welkovich.


[00:19:01] Katherine Cole: Kielen King is our sound supervisor and the composer and performer of our wonderful theme music. Please visit the website, thefourtop.org to learn more about us and listen to back episodes. And if you have not already done so, please subscribe to The Four Top on iTunes, Spotify, or whatever your favorite podcast app is. And please leave us a very high rating.


[00:19:21] Nick Toole: Five stars. This is important because every rating fees, the algorithm, and it helps new listeners find The Four Top. 


[00:19:28] Katherine Cole: That’s right. Well, I am en route to the Dundee Hills now for a little sparkling wine conference. Uh, so this is Katherine Cole signing out.


[00:19:36] Nick Toole: From the rugged, flooded coastline of Maine, this is Nick Toole signing out.


[00:19:41] Ruby Welkovich: And from the land of orange wine, Brooklyn, this is Ruby signing out. Stay safe out there and thanks for listening.



Sources & Citations

Citations reference first appearance, without repeating for subsequent usage:

[00:00:40] Slate: What’s So Funny About Josh?

[00:00:46] San Francisco Chronicle: How this $20 California wine became the internet’s favorite joke

[00:02:43] Wine-Searcher: Is Drizly Closure a Big Deal?

[00:05:53] The Drinks Business: Pours for thought: study shows small serves reduce wine sales

[00:09:03] Silicon Valley Bank Wine Division: State of the US Wine Industry 2024

[00:13:47] Wine-Searcher: Bomb Blows up French Wine Bar