Wednesday, December 2, 2009

Vintage Shmintage

Once upon a time, vintages of wine really mattered. The difference between awful and amazing was dependent upon the vintage. While this certainly remains the case for collectible wines, most wine today is built for consistency.

One of my good friends that is a retail buyer called me this week to see when the 2008 Oregon Pinots would be released. We are right in the middle of the 2007 release in most cases. So I replied that they would start rolling out around April. He replied "I'll just wait until the 08's come out".

For the sake of example, the following is only in regards to Willamette Valley Pinot Noirs:

Now I understand that 2007 was not the vintage 2008 was. 2008 will likely offer more depth and longevity. and 2007 was considered to be challenging to many. In the last few months, I have tasted the 2006, 2007 and 2008 vintage of practically all of my producers. I can say without a doubt that 2007's are showing the best right now, except for the absolute top level bottlings (in which case, 06's are still showing great). This illustrates a problem with buyers. They are often buying on perceived vintage reputations written about in trade magazines. Then the buyers are staking their reputation on the idea that being selective in vintage purchases will make them a better wine shop. In some cases, this is true, but for a $25 Oregon Pinot Noir? Undoubtedly, the best of the 3 current vintages to drink tonight is 2007, and this will be the case even after 2008's are released. In fact, the 2008's won't start being great until they've been released for 6 months,and it still may take another 6 months until they actually are drinking better than the 2007's. Apples to apples it's probably true that the 2008 at it's best will be better than the 2007 but very far from it right now. The best time to sell them the 2008's will probably be December of 2010. So, is this responsible? Are you selling wine for tonight or wine for the future? You would bring in the 08's ahead of the 07's with no impunity for how they're showing today? Furthermore, are your customers stubborn about buying the 08's only, or are you projecting that upon them?


  1. Adam, I don't know you so I don't know your background, but I do know Walt and I imagine that much of his time in his former position was spent promoting the new "vintage of the century" which seemed to come alog fairly often. I agree with your post in principal and I usually don't pay too much attention to vintages from some areas. But I expect that because so much time was spent in promoting certain choice vintages formerly that it will take some time before people will fully accept a new policy.

  2. Thanks for your comments Steve. I can't speak for Walt, but this whole "policy" of pumping up and down vintages is very frustrating to me. If a wine is bad, and the producer is solid and reputable, they'll declassify, discount and sell off their wine rather than put their name behind it. I even have one producer that literally threw away an entire vintage because the wine in the bottle wasn't up to standard. No one really knows this happens, but quality control does begin at the winery. Thanks for reading!

  3. I agree as well in principle with what you wrote. A buyer, I'm sure, is faced with many challenges and factors when purchasing wine for a store. There are many wines out there and I'm sure that no retailer is going to shoot themselves in the foot by not carrying one vintage of a particular wine. However, if a product carries exceptional gravitas through quality, ratings, and trade hype then one might be more inclined to make room for and plan for something new. Average and drinking well tonight is all fine and good- but not at $25. Average for the people I know is under $15. Even if a retailer would bring in the 2008 Pinots in April/ May time frame there's always a lull in wine during the summer months when people are drinking beer and then a resurgence towards the end of the year around the holidays. Finally, I think Oregon Pinots are still searching for their identity. They experienced a great ride after Sideways but now there's a flood of Pinot in the market and lot of it is competitively priced better then the Willamette Valley. At the end of the day, the market speaks. If your retailer friend didn't want any more 2007 Pinots, it might be because they're not selling in his store and he doesn't want to sit on any more product that doesn't move regardless of the producer or how it is drinking tonight. Thats not imposing your will on your customers, its listening to them and responding in kind.