Saturday, April 6, 2013

Small > Large

I've had thirty+ years in the wine business and I have seen changes that I would never have anticipated, although in hindsight, I should have.  Thirty years ago it was an accepted fact that the finest wines come from France.  Now that statement is an anachronism...although opinions being what they are, the statement is as valid today as it was back then.  Thirty years ago we all knew that we lived in the most mass market capitalist society on the planet and we relied on market research to nail down exactly what the public wanted, that is, what we wanted to sell them.  So how could anyone in this industry not have anticipated the development of huge wine companies and the diminishment of small ones?

Earlier this week I sold a case of a very popular and expensive California Chardonnay to a customer and I remarked to the vendor how incredible sales of that one were.  He agreed with a wry aside which I will share with you if you come into the store.  Today I took an order for a case of the elite pricy Italian Pinot Grigio on the market (elite Pinot Grigio?).  What can I say?  I will most graciously facilitate that purchase also.  In both cases those wines profiled as the go-to label for the category.  Capitalism is great.

So the irony is that this week we had a tasting of Italian wines from Small Vineyards Imports (, a concern that only sells wines from small family-owned properties which guarantee they will not increase production to meet increased demand which would likely diminish the wine quality in the process.  We also tasted four European estate whites which another vendor unexpectedly offered for the Friday night event.  We also have tasted California Cabernets and Argentine Malbecs in recent weeks that come from small producers.

In all honesty we have also tasted wines in recent weeks that come from some of the largest producers in the world, although you wouldn't know it by just examining the labels. Many of those companies go out of their way to make themselves appear to be smaller than they are which, when you consider all of the chain store accounts that are contracted for those labels, it stretches credulity to say the least.  Should you want to see a veritable who's who of chain store wine labels read our January 15th blog about the thirty largest wine companies.

Now here's the conundrum.  Most of the large players do a real good job.  Again going back thirty years, the overall quality of wine in the marketplace is higher now than it was then.  So those huge players have done well within the definition of what mass marketed wine is and it is a commodity first and foremost.  A fifteen dollar California Cabernet should fit the profile for what that wine should taste like and should be worth that dollar amount to the consumer.  So huge players from California and every other wine producing country are successfully satisfying the worldwide thirst for this wonderful product.

The problem for us oldtimers in this trade is that thirty years ago wine reflected place and if you were a good taster you could discern where a wine came from by tasting it.  Now it just has to fit a profile.  But there's more, in all honesty.  There have always been the huge players who rule the roost in this business and the ruse about their small bucolic country vineyards has always been there too.  The change is that the the big players in the wine industry have now marginalized the small producers to the point that they only have small independent retailers and restaurants as venues to sell their wines which are still better than the giants and that's the shame of it all.

This Friday from 5 to 7pm David Rimmer of Artisan Vines joins us for a tasting of Del Sol Sauvignon Blanc, Chardonnay, and Pinot Noir from Chile, Brix Russian River Pinot Noir, and three reds from Convento Cappuccini of Italy.  Please join us for that one and become a "follower" of this blog also.

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