it’s just bidness

Tuesday, October 02, 2012

I’ve come to conclude that I’m a naive dreamer when it comes to wine. Perhaps I’ve just read too many press releases trumpeting “passion”, and heard too many stories about people who sacrificed everything for the goal of making fine wine. Somewhere along the line, I came to believe, without quite realizing it, that everyone wanted to make great wine. Or at least good wine.

Not true!

In fact, there are some mighty successful wine businesses that have nothing to do with making great wine, or even good wine. Now, of course, some of the big corporate entities are not in it for greatness, or art, or anything but the big buck. Understood. But I now see that there are also smaller, family-owned wineries that don’t seem to give a hoot about making particularly good or distinctive wines. They just want to make wine that sells. And by golly, they are good at it!

I guess that’s ok. Wine is a business, right? It’s not art. It’s not something you do just because you are driven to it. It can simply be a way to make money, like selling floor tiles. You build a retail outlet, perhaps a pleasant stop along a well-traveled tourist trail, and once they are in the door, you pour a whole huge pile of nondescript, overpriced wines. And voila, they buy them! They are a totally captive audience. They are at your winery because you have been clever enough to place it in a tourist-friendly location, with, let us say, a spectacular view, and a wide array of totally forgettable wines. You hang a few gold medals on the wall, because gold medals are, let’s face it, a dime a dozen.

Somebody somewhere named you a Winery To Watch, or Winery of the Year, or some such, and you are sure to mention that. And people come by, and after tasting through 10 or 15 or more of your wines, they are damn sure there must be something good there, so they buy stuff. And you know, that’s a business model that seems to work. Stupid me. I somehow missed class that day!

The wines themselves can be mundane. You may have bottled every individual barrel you own as a separate SKU. Why not? They are all different, after all. So you stick a fancy name on some of them, and bump up the price so people think the wines are special. And they are really not any different than the many cheaper wines you sell, but the label is different, and they carry a tag like Winemaker Reserve or Proprietor Special and so they seem special. You charge a bit more for them, and suggest to the customers that they are “limited edition” wines. And they sell like hotcakes!

It’s a perfectly fine business model. But it has nothing at all to do with making good wine. And sometimes, I forget that. But then again sometimes, after spending a perfectly splendid afternoon tasting through a pile of totally forgettable plonk, it’s all too plain.

8 comments:

Anonymous said...

But if both parties walk away happy (the buyer and the seller), what's the problem? I once visited a winery in the southeastern US and tasted through their lineup, which included some of the worst wines I've ever encountered. While I was there, the locals were continually streaming through the door, bellying up to the tasting bar, and blissfully gulping down the plonk. Formula pop music usually outsells more creative or more critically acclaimed stuff and Thomas Kinkade's (the painter of light!) crappy stuff outsells the works of many talented artists. It's all about marketing and giving the people what they want - or what you can convince them that they want. Not everyone appreciates (or can afford) a Monet...

PaulG said...

Can't argue with your logic, Anon. But that still doesn't make it admirable. Such a strategy is either blatantly cynical or remarkably ignorant. Neither option is a trend I would like to see take hold among the majority of winery operations.

Nate said...

look at this way, does the most popular food establishment serve your favorite food? Probably not. Don't forget the market either, Americans respond to advertising, its as simple as that. If a product gets popular enough, the soulless investors starts circling like buzzers to get a piece. That's when you lose quality in favor of the bottom line, but not far behind them will be a new start up winery producing great stuff. Not everyone has a great palate or even has a desire to expand on their wine purview. Sometimes people just want some damn wine. Whether they have $7 or $75 to spend on a bottle, they are out there, and they outnumber us by far.

Anonymous said...

Didn't say it was admirable - it just is what it is. It's really not an "ignorant" strategy, it's just a strategy based on a different set of goals. Goals that neither of us find admirable. All you can do is educate folks and hope to raise expectations and standards. Thanks for doing your part.

Michael Teer said...

Paul, I feel 'ya!

Hoke Harden said...

Poor boy! Suffering from an excess of plonk. Remember Sturgeon's Law. Drink an antidotal Buty and you'll feel better.

Michael Commons said...

Paul, were you just in Lake Chelan? :-) Sure sounds like it to me. There are many wineries there that certainly fit that model, but fortunately enough that do care and they seem to be growing faster than the former.

PaulG said...

Not aimed at Chelan, but this business model can be found almost anywhere you look.

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