Wine business troubles

Wine is sybaritic pleasure, sacramental essential, cuisine consort.

It also is a business. A business besieged, according to Chicken Littles.

For them, Treasury Wine Estates, world’s biggest winemaker, is bellwether of winery woes.

You may not know Treasury, but you know its brands, from prestigious pours to supermarket value: Stag’s Leap, Penfolds, Beringer Vineyards, Greg Norman Estates, Wolf Blass, Lindeman’s, Rosemount Estate, Castello di Gabbiano, Chateau St. Jean—just some of the more than 50 Treasury labels.

Treasury has been in turmoil since last fall when it had to write down almost $150 million of its wine stock. More than six million bottles of out-of-date bottles were destroyed in the United States alone.

Stockholders howled. Company head David Dearie resigned. Yikes!

Dearie blames the problem on too many wineries, too many brands, and too much power by too few retail sellers. According to Dearie, Woolworths and Coles (which control more than 60 percent of the Australian market) demand a 35 percent margin for shelf space for wine. By comparison, beer has a 15 percent margin. U.S. retailers play shelf-space tough, too.

The problem is all those wine brands. Consumers demand Jack Daniels and Bud and Coors, so those makers have leverage. Not so wine, where consumer loyalty is more to a grape variety or a style or a price.

The result is coming horror of a world-wide wine glut that dooms growers and makers. Or the terror of a world-wide wine shortage, driven by winery bankruptcies and behemoth of new Chinese wine guzzlers.

The sky is falling! More next week.

Tasting notes (all generally available):

• Chateau St. Jean Chardonnay Sonoma County 2010. Lemon, pear, apple; firm body, clean, balance, bright acidity; excellent quality for price. $11

• Penfolds Koonunga Hill Shiraz-Cabernet South Australia 2011. Blackberry, chocolate; medium body, crisp, grainy tannins; consistent value. $12

• Beringer Knights Valley Alluvium 2004. Polished Bordeaux blend with merlot in the lead; black cherry, coffee, vanilla, blackberry, silky tannins, restrained oak. $32

Last round: Men are like wine. They start out as grapes and it’s a woman’s job to stomp on them and keep them in the dark until they mature into something you could enjoy with dinner.