Top Wine Stories of 2008

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mondavi_copia.jpgBy Courtney Cochran

From freezes to financial crises, the major events of 2008 will not soon be forgotten.  Read on for our take on the top wine stories of the year, including events from both the domestic and international wines scenes, as well as those that had an immediate impact on our industry, and those whose impact will continue to unfold for years to come.  Buckle up - it's been a rollercoaster of a year.   
Copia Goes Bankrupt
In early December we reported that Copia: The American Center for Wine, Food & the Arts will close after management failed to secure Chapter 11 bankruptcy protection. The center - which opened in Napa to great fanfare in 2001 but never drew the throngs of visitors initially expected - was a late-in-life project of the late Robert Mondavi. With nearly $80 million in unpaid debts, Copia has been criticized as a costly and unnecessary development driven more by ego than common sense.

Financial Crisis Reaches Wine World
The global economic crisis took significant wind out of the wine industry's sails, softening demand for all wines except those retailing for less than $10 a bottle. Restaurants have been particularly hard hit by the crisis, prompting wineries that rely heavily on restaurant sales to scramble for new sales outlets.  And though overall wine sales volume remains fairly steady, trends signal a shift towards drinking wine at home, with sippers opting for lower-cost offerings across all income categories.

Freeze Paralyzes California Grape Growers
Spring 2008 saw the most severe frost in more than 30 years wreak havoc on California vineyards (Click here to read our coverage of 2008's challenging growing season and harvest). Early estimates pinpoint the cost of the frost at some $80 million in lost revenues, and the most hard-hit growers in Northern California's Napa, Sonoma, Mendocino and Lake counties lost as much as 50% of their crop. A heat spike and strong winds in late summer further complicated matters for growers, ensuring 2008 will go down in the books as a year California winemakers would love to forget.

Mondavi Passes, Leaves Remarkable Legacy
Robert Mondavi, founder of the eponymous Robert Mondavi Winery and known by many as the "grandfather" of the Napa Valley, passed away in May of this year. We can thank Mondavi - whose passing drew significant attention from the global press machine - for pioneering the use of varietal labeling in domestic wine and for helping found the visionary Napa Valley Vintners, an organization that promotes Napa Valley wines the world over.

Feuding Sebastiani Family Sells Winery
News broke in mid-December that Sonoma's Sebastiani family - rumored to have long disagreed about the direction of the family business - will sell their brand, facilities and 225 acres of vineyard holdings to Foley Wine Group founder Bill Foley, who is chairman of the national insurance company Fidelity National. The deal signals the end of an era for the Sebastianis, who began making wine in Sonoma in 1904.

Wine 2.0 Ramps Up
Wine 2.0, the organization catering to "the next generation wine consumer," announced an ambitious calendar of events for 2009, signaling the increasing popularity of social networking and technology-oriented applications in the wine space. To wit, Wine 2.0's own socially networked site, winetwo.net, welcomed an impressive 1,700 members in its first 60 days online. Welcome to the new wine age.

New Yorkers Score More Wine Buying Options
New York Governor David Paterson's December proposal to allow wine sales in grocery stores means sippers in the nation's number one wine market may soon be able to buy wine from nearly 20,000 outlets, up from an estimated 2,400 locations currently (all liquor stores). The news marks the latest in a series of victories in the onging erosion of wine retail restrictions held over from our nation's Prohibition days.

France Turns Its Back On Wine
France's vigilant anti-alcohol lobby has made serious strides in convincing the country's citizens that wine is...now brace yourself, bad. New regulations including tighter drunk driving controls and obligatory wine label warnings advising women against drinking while pregnant have resulted in the majority of the population finding wine "unhealthy" according to a study released in late November. Disgruntled wine officials say the French are being "misinformed" by the lobby.

Jefferson Bottles Bubble Bursts
The controversy surrounding the provenance of several bottles of Bordeaux purported to have once belonged to Thomas Jefferson rages on, with the whole ordeal - lawsuits included - now playing out in a bestselling book, The Billionaire's Vinegar, by Benjamin Wallace.  The book - rumored to soon be a major motion picture - calls into question the ethics of auctioning very old wines, and casts a dim light on the very act of connoisseurship. 

Global Warming Emerges as Major Oenological Issue

The world's temperatures are growing indisputably warmer, confirmed a panel of oenologic experts at the Second International Congress on Wine and Climate Change ) held earlier this year in Spain.  There, more than 350 experts from over 35 countries debated the future of wine in the global warming age, exploring such topics as drought-resistant vines and making wine in regions previously thought unfit for wine grape cultivation. 

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