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October 2016, Volume 22, Number 4

Wine, Food

California wineries shipped a record 276 million cases of wine in 2015, including 83 percent to US consumers. Total US wine shipments from US and foreign wineries were 384 million cases, that is, foreign wines were about 40 percent of US wine shipments.

Among the wines sold in US food stores, 21 percent were Chardonnay, 14 percent were Cabernet Sauvignon, 10 percent were red blends, and Pinot Grigio and Merlot were eight percent each; these five varieties were two-thirds of the wine sold in US food stores. Over 160,000 new wine labels were approved by the US government in 2015.

California produces 90 percent of US wine from 500,000 bearing acres. Over 20 percent of California's wine grapes are in San Joaquin county, followed by 12 percent in Sonoma and eight percent in Napa. Yields average 10 tons an acre in San Joaquin county, compared to four tons in Sonoma and Napa.

More wine is being sold to bars and restaurants in 5.2 gallon or 19.5 liter kegs equivalent to 26 bottles. The average price of a keg of white wine in 2015 was $175, equivalent to $6.75 a bottle, and $225 for red wine or $8.65 a bottle. Wine in kegs stays drinkable longer than in opened bottles.

Bordeaux is famous for blended red wines. Some Chateau are selling barrels of wine and allowing customers to make their own blends. Ovation Vacations directs clients to Viniv, which bills itself as an "experimental luxury" to help people to make blended wines for about $50 a bottle. Ovation says that many affluent clients prefer experiences to things.

Rudy Kurniawan, a Chinese Indonesian, is serving a prison sentence for wine fraud. Kurniawan arrived in the US after 2000, and sold $35 million worth of rate fake Burgundy wines via Acker, Merrall & Condit in 2006.

The 2016 documentary Sour Grapes tells the story of how Kurniawan, who lived in Los Angeles, joined elite connoisseurs and was able to sell them counterfeit wines. The owner of Burgundy?s Domaine Ponsot, Bill Koch, and others eventually discovered the fraud, but Sour Grapes suggests that many connoisseurs were unable to taste the fake wine for which they had paid thousands of dollars a bottle.

Food. The four largest retailers of food and beverages accounted for almost 40 percent of US sales. Wal-Mart accounts for more than 17 percent of US food and beverage sales; followed by Kroger with nine percent; Albertsons/Safeway, six percent; and Costco, five percent.

US sales of organic food were over $40 billion in 2015, up 10 percent from 2014 to reach five percent of US food sales. Demand for organic foods is rising fast despite higher prices; one study found that the price of organics was an average 50 percent higher than of conventional foods.

It takes three years to convert crop land from conventional to organic, as farmers stop using synthetic fertilizers and pesticides. Costs of organic farmers are higher, since weeds are removed by hand, and yields are often lower due to natural fertilizers. However, higher prices can compensate for lower yields.

Community-supported agriculture (CSA) aims to eliminate the middleman between farmers and customers, with customers paying for boxes of local produce on a subscription basis. Most CSA crops are organic, but CSA is not defined, allowing new operators such as Local Roots and Farmigo to upset established farmer-customer relationships.

Local Roots and Farmigo are middlemen who deliver boxes weekly that include products from outside the local area, such as olive oil from Italy or wine from California. CSAs with direct farmer-to-customer ties say that their memberships are declining as customers switch to more diverse boxes. California's Full Belly Farm had a steady 1,200 customers until recently, when some cancelled.

Eggs. Most of the 285 million egg-laying chickens in the US are housed in battery cages, wire boxes that offer little room to move. About 200 farms produce most US eggs.

California voters in 2008 approved Proposition 2, which requires eggs sold in the state after 2015 to come from cage-free chickens. Major retailers including Wal-Mart and restaurants such as McDonald's have pledged to buy only cage-free eggs, encouraging the construction of aviaries that allow chickens to move around. Some studies suggest that disease and cannibalism are higher in aviaries, and that conditions for farm workers who collect eggs are worse in aviaries because there is more dust.

The four major US beef producers buy over 80 percent of US cattle and process over 18 billion pounds of beef each year.

Coffee. People around the world buy $175 billion worth of coffee each year. There is rising demand for specialty coffees made from the highest quality Arabica beans, which must score at least 80 points on a 100-point scale to qualify. A third of US adults drink specialty coffee daily.

Brazil is the world's largest coffee producer, with 43 million 60-pound bags in 2015-16, followed by 28 million bags in Vietnam and 12 million each in Colombia and Indonesia.

Fish. Most of the world's fish consumed by people is farmed rather than caught or captured in the wild. With many wild fisheries overfished, any additional production of fish is likely to come from aquaculture, which relies heavily on fish meal as feed.

Fish in the US is frequently mislabeled, especially in restaurants where 70 percent of US seafood is consumed. One expert says that red snapper is almost never actually served in restaurants. Fish fraud is easy because, once filleted, it is very hard to distinguish red snapper from much cheaper farmed tilapia.

Sustainable wild fishers say that Americans accustomed to cheap fish are not willing to pay enough to support small and sustainable fishers such as those to be enrolled in a new tracking and tracing system at:

Average measured heights peaked in 1996 for US men and in 1988 for US women. Height is influenced by mother and child nutrition. Dutch men and Latvian women are the world's tallest.

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