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News Briefs for February 13, 2012

February 13, 2012

•Commenting on recent reports that Diageo’s Cîroc vodka partner Sean “Diddy” Combs is eyeing entry into the Tequila category, Diageo North America president Ivan Menezes told investors late last week the company was unconcerned about Combs potentially going his own way in Tequila. “You can be sure that in the way we’ve structured our relationship with Mr. Combs, we have obviously thought about the long term, how we best protect Diageo’s interests, and indeed his,” Menezes said. On the other hand, were Diageo to decline to renew its global distribution contract with Jose Cuervo—which runs out in just over a year and which Diageo CEO Paul Walsh has said will require revision—it could open the door for a new Tequila partnership with Combs. Since the two joined forces on Cîroc, that brand has soared, adding more than 1 million cases—at a super-premium price point during tough economic times—since 2008.

•The Wine Group is set to add Trapiche, one of the U.S. market’s leading Argentine wine brands, to its U.S. portfolio, taking over from Trapiche’s previous importer Frederick Wildman & Sons effective April 1. Owned by Argentina’s Grupo Penaflor, Trapiche has been among the fastest-growing wine brands in the U.S. market over the past few years, earning Impact “Hot Brand” honors from 2006 through 2010. Last year, it rose 8.5% to 445,000 cases, according to Impact Databank. Argentine wines’ export volume to the U.S. rose 2% to just over 7 million cases last year, but growth was much stronger by value, increasing 12%.

•Fresh & Easy Neighborhood Market, a subsidiary of U.K. retail giant Tesco, will enter Sacramento with five new stores in early March. Fresh & Easy began expanding into Northern California last year and currently has more than 180 stores across Arizona, California and Nevada. The chain was launched in 2007 with Tesco initially investing $2 billion over a five-year period (initial projections called for expansion to 1,000 units). Progress has been uneven, however. After shuttering 13 stores in fall of 2010, Fresh & Easy said last month it would temporarily close 12 more units—mostly in Southern California, Las Vegas and Phoenix—due to lower than expected demand. Tesco now expects Fresh & Easy to break even by February 2013 (the end of its fiscal 2012-2013) and to have 300 locations up and running by then. Last fall, the retailer added 130 new wines to its selection, bringing its total wine offerings up to 450, including both domestics and imports retailing from $1.99-$40.

•Denver-based craft brewer Wynkoop Brewing Co. has completed an expansion that increases its brewing capacity by 20% and will allow it to extend the aging time for its lagers, as well as produce additional small-batch canned and kegged offerings. Wynkoop is concurrently launching its third hand-canned and kegged extension, a German-style schwarzbier (or dark lager) known as the B3K Black Lager. Packaged in both six-packs and 15.5- and 5.2-gallon kegs, the lager is now available throughout the Denver metro area, alongside Wynkoop’s Silverback Pale Ale and Rail Yard Ale labels. Founded in 1988 by current Colorado governor John Hickenlooper, Wynkoop reported a 33% increase in annual sales last year.

•Texas retailer Centennial Fine Wine and Spirits is reportedly planning to close several store locations in the Dallas/Fort Worth metro area. A total of seven stores across the company’s Centennial, Majestic, Apple Jacks and Big Daddy’s brands are said to be affected, including four in Fort Worth, two in Dallas and one near Dallas in Hebron, Texas. The closings follow the retailer’s April 2011 acquisition of the Majestic Liquor Store chain, which added 32 units to Centennial’s 35, bringing the group’s count up to 67 stores and five warehouses.

•Spectrum Wine Auctions had hoped to make a big splash at its debut London auction February 8, but is now facing tough questions after it and its local partner, wine merchant Vanquish, withdrew 21 lots of rare Burgundies at the last minute, reports Wine Spectator. The auction’s catalog offered 177 lots, including such rarities as seven bottles of Comte Georges de Vogüé Musigny Blanc 1962, and a case of DRC’s Romanée-Conti 1971, which carried the highest estimate in the auction at almost $127,000. Those lots were among a total of 21—13 including Romanée-Conti wines, eight of Vogüé—which were withdrawn after questions arose about the authenticity of certain bottles based on catalog photos. Despite the negative publicity, bidders didn’t shy away from the remaining lots of classic older vintages of Bordeaux and Burgundy. A jeroboam of DRC Romanée-Conti 1990 brought $63,676 against an estimate of $47,460, and a single bottle of Romanée-Conti 1945 fetched $45,482, keeping with its presale estimate.

•Daily deal website company LivingSocial has unveiled a 28,000-square-foot, six-story event space in Washington, D.C. The venue will host pop-up restaurants—beginning with chef Mike Isabella’s pop-up of his forthcoming restaurant Bandolero, which SND covered on January 30—as well as various culinary classes, food and wine tastings, and mixology courses, all taught and led by local food and beverage merchants. LivingSocial has hired Vucurevich Simons Advisory Group, an international hospitality consulting firm, to manage the venue’s food and beverage programs.

•Lion Nathan USA is changing its name to Distinguished Vineyards & Wine Partners. The U.S. unit of Australasian drinks and food company Lion was formed in 2008 and has a wine portfolio that includes Argyle Winery in Oregon’s Willamette Valley and MacRostie Winery in Sonoma, California. The company’s imported wines include St Hallett from Australia’s Barossa Valley; Wither Hills from Marlborough, New Zealand; Argento from Mendoza, Argentina; and Inkberry from Central Ranges, Australia.

•Whisky Advocate has named Springbank 18-year-old (2nd Edition) (46%-abv, $150) as its Lowland–Campbeltown Single Malt Whisky of the Year. It has also named Irish Distillers’ Midleton as its Distillery of the Year and bestowed Douglas Campbell of Tomatin Distillery and Dave Scheurich of Woodford Reserve with its Lifetime Achievement Award. Individual winners from the 18th annual installment of the Whisky Advocate Awards have been uveiled one day at a time over the past two weeks at WhiskyAdvocateBlog.com, and will also be featured in the magazine’s upcoming Spring edition, due out March 1.

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