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Snooth User: Shoreman

Vintage Smintage

Posted by Shoreman, Apr 20, 2011.

Sir,

Super Crunchers the book detailed the formulaic success of weather analysis in citing excellent vintages, i.e. put into the algorithm the weather stats and  voila a highly reliable prediciton pops out.

When the foregoing is considered in the context of James and Oz's BBC wine oddysey one tends to dismiss oenophiliac raptures and disappointments as akin to professional wrestling or perhaps better yet to literary criticism employing the willing suspension of disbelief.

Case in point the local Christmas  publication of a wine sales brochure by a local distributor which contains capsule descriptions for the hundreds of wines listed. As I read through the descriptions and became lost in a melange of repeating descriptors I envisaged a software program indiscrimantly throwing the adjectives together. How many different combinations do you think you can get from apple, pear, orange, grapefruit, tangerine, cirtus, plum, all the different berries, tobacco, smoke etc, etc.

So what?

The smaller and more labor intensive the wine grape crop the bigger the price the grower will want per bottle. How does the grower stake out a position in the clamor of the market place? By fastening the expectation of a good tasting wine to high price on  a sliding scale depending on numbers of bottles. I think this is where you come into the picture explaining stuff which will reassure the buyer that their wine dollar will be well spent.

How doyou view the wine description arena as a facet of the industry? Smoke and Mirrors? Or since "De gustibus non est disputandum" a helpful adjunct to the continuing saga of supply and demand?

 

 

Replies

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Reply by gregt, Apr 21, 2011.

Is there a clear question in there somewhere? 

There are some statements that simply aren't borne out by facts in the real world, for example: "The smaller and more labor intensive the wine grape crop the bigger the price the grower will want per bottle" but it's hard to discern what the overall point is.

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Reply by JonDerry, Apr 21, 2011.

Think he's trying to say the smaller the harvest the higher the price, but I don't see a lot of price differential vintage to vintage anywhere but France.

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Reply by CageyT, Apr 21, 2011.

The questions are:

 

(1) So what? (This is my favorite question to ask anyone about anything)

(2) How does the grower stake out a position in the clamor of the market place?

(3) How do you view the wine description arena as a facet of the industry?

I'd be interested in either GregT or dmcker's answers to number three especially...

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Reply by gregt, Apr 21, 2011.
Edited Apr 21, 2011

Cagey - I love your question number 1!   It's like certain tools - screwdrivers, hammers, etc., that are so plain and yet so useful.

If you mean grower/producer, there are several methods and I think they're evolving.  One way is to get picked up by an importer/distributor who can do you some good.  If you have someone with good accounts who will push your wine, you're good.  And another way is to get scores/reviews/publicity on your own, because that can then help you land an importer/distributor and it will help them sell the wine.

Wine description is a completely meaningless facet of the industry.  Nobody understands what anyone is talking about.  What moves product is points or recommendations.  That's both in the US market and overseas. 

I'd love to be shown that I'm wrong, mostly because it would be so interesting to be pointed to such a person, but I don't believe there is any person on planet earth who has ever bought a bottle of wine because he or she read that it had notes of pain grille or torrefaction or violets. People buy wines on points.

Not everyone obviously. But if you are going to buy based on a review, you're almost never going to buy based on the review, you're going to buy based on the accompanying score.  That works on several levels.

First you have the retailers.  The Wine Advocate is probably the premier publication for the retailers.  Obviously it's available for consumers too, and it claims to be the consumer guide, but the prime audience that I see is retailers.  I don't know many people at all who subscribe as individuals.  OTOH, most stores I've ever dealt with subscribe. That's not all bad - they want to be able to stock what they think will sell.  Also, many store owners, in fact I'd say most, are not wine hounds.  They want to provide something for their customers but they don't know all the different wines on the market  and they are looking for an objective guide, rather than rely solely on their sales reps.

Second you have the customer who buys based on reviews.  That's the guy who subscribes to some publication or another, notes a review, maybe even looks forward to the arrival of the mag so he can quickly find out what's rated highly or how his favorite wine turned out, and then he goes and buys that wine.  Some women too, but mostly it's guys here. They'll read the review, but even if the wine has a fascinating review, with plot twists and thrilling discoveries, it won't matter if the final score is only 83.

Third you have the person who buys based on shelf talkers.  That person is in the store.  In that case, the reviewer is entirely irrelevant.  If the shelf talker says 91 points, that's all that matters.  Retailers know it so they keep the shelf talker from three years ago even tho the latest vintage only got 83 points.  If they can't find a high score from one of the major wine mags, they go for something or someone else. Good score in the Riverdale Press?  Let's use that!  Doesn't matter - the person who buys based on those tags is usually the most unsophisticated and won't know the reviewer anyway.

None of these things are necessarily bad mind you.  In all cases, I'm assuming that someone is looking for objective opinions and is naturally suspicious of the person trying to sell the stuff.

Fourth, you have the equivalent of shelf-talkers online.  You get stores and vendors sending emails touting this or that wine and this or that score.  That's a cut above the shelf talker in sophistication, and the customer is likely to check the score/price somewhere else online.  In some cases, these customers will actually read the review and give it some weight. This has become a more important phenomenon over the past 12 years or so.  But what online retailer sends out a score of 83?

Fifth, you have people who don't really know or care about points, but who substitute recs from friends or other people.  That's the most recent type of selling and it's what Snooth is about as well as all the other wine sites where people ask others what they like.  That's all over the map though.  In some cases, people assign points - look at CellarTracker.  In other cases, they don't and it's more along the lines of "ooh, ooh, I like this wine".  In both cases, what's the value?  You get a popularity contest.  And as I've pointed out before - that's what gives us things like American Idol. In wine, it gives us Yellow Tail. That sells better than Gaja Barbaresco.  Of course, there's exponentially more made.  Still, while it's clearly more popular, would you really want to drink it?

Eventually, the last may become one of the prime selling tools - I don't know. Some people are convinced it will replace other critics.  You're faced with 2 main problems however - first, most people just don't write very well, and second, most people have no idea when it comes to wine.  You can see what I mean by looking at wine comments on a site that's not necessarily devoted to wine.

What I can tell you in the real world however, is that a rave review from the NYT clears a wine out of distributor warehouses and store shelves, but the effect is short-lived.  A few weeks later, everyone forgets.  A super score from Robert Parker can do the same over a longer time and can even drive the price of the wine up.  That's because in the first case, the audience is generally well-off and fancies itself rather sophisticated and it's a HUGE audience.  In the second, the first 2 apply but with a vengance as the audience has the discretionary income to spend an extra $100 / bottle.  And the Wine of the Year designation from Wine Spectator has the same effect.  They move the price of a single bottle every year, but that change can be permanent, as seems to be the case with Phelps Insignia.

A super score from anything else will help sell the wine.  It won't start any fires.  A review will do pretty much nothing except perhaps when the NYT does a profile of a producer. 

It's completely understandable that people are suspicious of the person selling the wine, but oddly enough, that may be the source of the most honest review.  Not always. Perhaps not usually.

But sometimes. 

Sometimes you find a person who really knows the wine and bought it because he or she loved it or thought it a good value. Sometimes the person really knows a particular region and can introduce you to that.  Sometimes the person is empathetic and can understand what you'd like.  In those cases the wine description matters most. Those people aren't saying "I gave this 92 points," they're describing the wine.  But other than those hand sellers, I don't think wine descriptions matter at all in the industry other than as filler for wine magazines that need to fill the space between the points.  Because it's the points that matter.

In Europe, they may not appear to care about the points.  If the points are from Americans, they'll reflexively pooh pooh them.  But they have their own reviewers and critics that they adore.  Look what's happened over the past few years w the Tre Bicchieri awards.  France is of course not averse to points at all - they're famous for their Michelin guide which is all about points. And I'm using "points" to include "stars" or whatever other rating symbol may be used.

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Reply by CageyT, Apr 21, 2011.

Wow, GregT!  Thanks for a very thoughtful and thought provoking, complete and thorough answer!

I must add that the questions I re-phrased/re-stated originally appear in the post by "Shoreman."  They are not mine.

I have to chime in, too, regarding the dribble, the almost requisite "noise" and "buzzwords" around wine lately.  My wife and I get a huge kick out of the absolute tripe on the back of so many wine labels, especially those coming from Santa Rosa, CA.

Anyway, thanks again for the very complete response-- I will be sharing it with colleagues herein the Finger Lakes. 

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Reply by outthere, Apr 22, 2011.
Edited Apr 22, 2011

"My wife and I get a huge kick out of the absolute tripe on the back of so many wine labels, especially those coming from Santa Rosa, CA."

Would you care to expand on that statement, or was it just a drive-by? Those Santa Rosa wines:

Sojourn, Carlisle, Donelan, Novy, Siduri, Salinia, Gamba, DeLoach, Inman, Carol Shelton, Suacci Carciere, Lattanzio, Gracianna etc... Real sucky labels those...

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Reply by gregt, Apr 22, 2011.

BTW - I didn't mean that I never met someone who told me I was wrong - happens all day long!  I meant someone who bought wine because it had pain grille!

Cagey - there's a thread that GdP started "What's Wrong with This Tasting Note." 

Check it out. That's a good example.  That particular wine is going to be on clearance all over the place.  I've seen it at least half a dozen places in the last few days for about $15 - $20 less than it usually goes for.  The wine has 95 points and a long, descriptive tasting note. 

Problem was hail and the fact that the region had one of the worst vintages in a long time.  The winemaker chose not to make his top wine and he put all of his grapes into his basic one, and he's one of the world's great winemakers. But I was talking about that wine last night to a couple friends, both of whom are great friends with the winemaker and very biased for his wine, and both of them said that they had scored that wine around 86 or so. 

So look for that wine and see how it's sold.  It's got all the winespeak you want in the review.  And everyone who sells it will holler about the 95 points, not the Asian Spices.  And as Napagirl found out, they're going to say the review was Parker, not the WA.  Anything to push that wine through the system. NYT won't like the wine so forget them.

BTW - the next vintage may be worse.

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Reply by CageyT, Apr 22, 2011.

"twas a drive by, alas... however, there are quite a few "subscription" wines coming out of Santa Rosa that have some pretty goofy lables--  Long Road and  Bramble Ridge come to mind...

Point well taken, however, "Outthere."

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