Exclusive news and research on the wine, spirits and beer business

‘Twas The Season: News Highlights From The Holidays

January 3, 2012

While other industries slow down during the holiday season, the drinks business heats up, as evidenced by the flurry of activity that occurred in the final days of 2011. Here’s a quick recap:

Charlie Trotter To Close His Chicago Restaurant

Chef Charlie Trotter is closing his celebrated fine-dining restaurant in Chicago to go back to school, he announced to a stunned dining room full of patrons near the stroke of midnight on New Year’s Eve. Trotter is shuttering his eponymous restaurant, open since 1987 in Chicago’s Lincoln Park neighborhood, for a sabbatical that he says will include travel with his new wife, Rochelle, and a return to college to work toward a graduate degree in either philosophy or political theory. Trotter has an undergraduate degree in political science from the University of Wisconsin. “After 25 years, I see an opportunity to pursue new interests beyond the culinary sphere and to build on my culinary accomplishments with new skills and passions,” Trotter, 52, said in a statement. He added that the restaurant has remained profitable, though he doesn’t fill all 120 seats every night like he once did. Trotter has hinted at various times over the past decade that he might take a break from his work as a chef. “It’s amazing that we’ve been able to last as long as we have,” he said.

Charlie Trotter’s broke new ground early in the 1990s by offering only wine to its guests—no beer or cocktails—and forbidding smoking anywhere in the building. It also promised an all-new multi-course tasting menu every day, a novelty at the time. With over 1,800 wine labels, the restaurant has had a Wine Spectator Grand Award continuously since 1993. In 1998 Spectator ranked Charlie Trotter’s the best restaurant in the world for wine and food. Two years later Spectator ranked it the best restaurant in the U.S. The James Beard Foundation bestowed its award for Outstanding Restaurant to Trotter in 2000, after giving him the award for outstanding chef the year before.

Charlie Trotter’s Chicago restaurant has numerous successful alumni, including chef Grant Achatz, whose Alinea restaurant received three stars in the inaugural Michelin ratings for Chicago. Trotter’s restaurant also has nurtured the careers of several sommeliers who went on to prominence elsewhere, including Larry Stone, later a partner in Rubicon in San Francisco. The wine cellar has a breathtaking selection that includes classic Bordeaux such as an 1865 and 1870 Lafite Rothschild and a vertical of Mouton-Rothschild from 1945 to 2003. Among other rarities are 20 vintages of Penfolds Grange dating back to 1960, 48 selections of Angelo Gaja and vintage bottlings of Chateau d’Yquem stretching back to 1845. For bargain-minded customers, Trotter’s also offers some 200 bottles priced under $75 along with some 100 half-bottles. It’s believed to be the most extensive restaurant wine list anywhere in the Midwest.

Spec’s Eyes Deal For Sigel’s As Part Of Expansion Into Dallas

Texas retailer Spec’s has made good on its stated intention to enter the Dallas market, opening its first store there last month. Now Spec’s is attempting a greater leap forward in the Dallas market with the potential acquisition of 10-store Sigel’s Beverages. John Rector, president of Sigel’s, told Shanken News Daily this morning that Spec’s had made an offer, which Sigel’s owner Tony Bandiera is currently considering.

In addition to the 10 retail locations which generate over $100 million in revenue, an acquisition of Sigel’s would give Spec’s a central warehouse in Dallas, Rector said, adding that Sigel’s has around 200 employees. The prospective purchase would present a challenge to top Dallas retailers Centennial Wine & Spirits—which boasts 40 stores in the North Texas area—and Goody Goody Liquors, which operates 19 locations. Houston-based Spec’s has significantly expanded its footprint across the Lone Star State over the past year, opening new outposts in San Antonio, El Paso and Killeen among others. It currently has 95 stores, generating revenues of around $500 million. Spec’s had no comment on the potential deal.

Foppiano Family Settles Dispute

In late December, Louis M. Foppiano and his sister Susan Valera came to a settlement in their dispute over management of Foppiano Vineyards, Sonoma’s oldest family-run winery. Under the terms of the settlement, which came after two days of testimony in a Sonoma courtroom where Valera was suing to remove her brother from the family trust that controls Foppiano, both Foppiano and Valera will step down as co-trustees and allow the judge to appoint an independent third party with wine experience to manage the trust.

Racke Sells Donum To Danish Group

Danish investment group Winside Inc. has made its first foray into the wine business, acquiring Donum Estate and its sister brand Robert Stemmler from Germany’s Racke for an undisclosed amount. The sale includes the winery’s 147-acre Carneros property with 45 acres of vineyards, both brands and inventory. The Sonoma-based Donum makes 2,500 cases annually, including six Pinot Noirs and one Chardonnay, mainly from estate vineyards. In the past four vintages, five of its wines scored 95 points or higher on Wine Spectator’s 100-point scale.

Pinnacle Vodka Plans $7 Million TV Ad Blitz

After a year that saw its Pinnacle vodka reach new heights on the back of its skyrocketing Whipped flavor extension, White Rock Distilleries is giving Pinnacle a boost with its first TV ads this year. The campaign has a budget of $7 million. Beginning in February, the new spots will target 21-to-35-year-old females on cable networks including Bravo, Oxygen, E!, InStyle and others. Pinnacle Whipped became the top-selling flavored vodka in the U.S. in 2011, selling 750,000 cases in its first full year on the market (adding in offshoots Cherry Whipped, Chocolate Whipped, Key Lime Whipped and Orange Whipped, the line sold roughly 1 million cases). As a brand, Pinnacle nearly doubled to 2.7 million cases in 2011, according to Impact Databank. White Rock CEO Paul Coulombe told Shanken News Daily he “expects growth of at least 50%” for Pinnacle in 2012.

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