It’s been happening with computers, electronics, clothing.. it was only a matter of time before it happened in the wine industry, too. What is it? Outsourcing. Offshore outsourcing, to be exact.
Industry giant Cal Pacific Winery announced it is leading the way to the next logical stage of producing wines: sending grapes overseas to China to undergo vinification and bottling, and then shipping the finished product back to the U.S. for sale.
I interviewed Larry Worthington, President and CEO of Cal Pacific about his pioneering this recent development.
Me: Could you please tell me a little bit more about your plans to outsource the making of your wines to China?
Worthington: It’s really quite simple. We conducted a production cost analysis for our wines and determined that we could achieve a significant reduction in our costs by vinifying our wines overseas, China to be exact, bottling it over there and then sending it back here to the States.
Me: Do you really save that much money?
Worthington: Oh yes. Significantly. And I intend to pass those savings on to the consumer. My goal is to make good wine more affordable and I’ll even stand upon my head to make a better deal.
Me: How exactly does this processing take place? Do you ship the grapes or the grape juice, or what?
Worthington: We harvest the grapes, put them into giant vats and then send the whole bunches in refrigerated containers onboard cargo ships to China.
Me: That must take a while, though. I thought it was critical to pick grapes at just the right time and then get them into the winery for the crush as quickly as possible. Don’t your grapes go bad sitting on a ship for so long?
Worthington: Oh not at all. We pick the grapes way before they’re ripe and then let them ripen during their journey. By the time they get to China, they’re ready to be de-stemmed, crushed, and begin fermentation.
Me: Under-ripe grapes?
Worthington: What’s wrong with that? Do you think growers wait until tomatoes are ripe before they pick them and ship them to the store? Or avocados? Take a look at tomatoes right after they’ve been harvested – they could all be in that movie Fried Green Tomatoes. Bananas, too. Chiquita’s got a warehouse full of green ones.
Me: But it seems that grapes for wine would be a different case.
Worthington: Fruits are fruits. We uh, compensate for any underripe character while they’re being processed in China.
Me: Some consumer and patriotic groups have criticized you for taking jobs away from Americans and sending them overseas.
Worthington: Oh you mean those people who sneak into Wal Mart during off hours when they think no one is looking? I have to weigh what’s more beneficial for the consumer. If I make the wine in China, I can sell for a lower price, more people can buy the wine and it helps out the whole industry because we have more wine drinkers. A few must sacrifice for many. What’s a little collateral damage?
Me: I know this just started up, but how have the sales of the outsourced wine been?
Worthington: Wonderful, wonderful. It seems people are very happy with the lowered price-point. Right now we’re running a special promotion in which each bottle of wine comes packaged with selected Microsoft software.
Me: That’s a first. One last question. Is there any truth to the rumor that the U.S.D.A. has contacted you regarding a requirement that along with the alcohol content, you begin posting the lead content of your wines on your wine labels?
Worthington: No comment.
Me: Thank you for your time, Mr. Worthington.
Worthington: You’re welcome. If you’re ever up in wine country, make sure that you go see Cal Pacific.
[small print note: the above article ranks HIGH on the leg pull-o-meter]