Tuesday, January 12, 2010

Retail vs. Online

A Case For The Case

Where should you buy your wine?  Local retailer?  Online?  Or direct from a winery?  Does it matter?  Turns out it does.

Bottom line: If you're not already buying at least some of your wine online, you should start.

The rest of the story: A lot of the wine we've tasted in the past year has come to us directly from wineries, so we've been giving this question a lot of thought.  And it's a slippery one.  Beyond the obvious criteria of price, there are other factors to consider.

Before weighing the pros and cons, it's first worth acknowledging that these choices are not available to all of us.  Alcohol sales are state-regulated, not federally, so what's okay in Oregon, is not okay in New Jersey, for example.  Remember to thank your state legislators at election time.  (Thanks, jerks.)

But let's not beat around the bush here.  Cash is king - and price is our primary criteria, right?  So, now that you're taking the time to think about it (and since you are a multi-dimensional thinker), let's also acknowledge that price isn't everything.  We also care about access to product, quality/freshness, timeliness, social responsibility, and environmental responsibility.  Well, at least when someone's looking...

Price.  With the complexities of state, municipal, and sin taxes, this is a bit more complex than at first glance.  But at the end of the day we all have a pretty good sense as to how much more (or less) than the price tag we're going to have to shell out at the cash register.

If you are fortunate enough to live in a deregulated state where retailers can engage in price competition, you know that high volume retailers are going to have some terrific deals.  On the other hand, if you live in one of the many places where the state controls alcohol pricing, those deals in other states sure can be tempting. 

But regardless of where you live, anyone can price-shop a specific wine - anywhere in the country- in mere seconds.  Just Google it.  Some etailers with fairly consistent deals are Marketview Liquor in Rochester, NY, K&L Wine Merchants in LA and San Fran , and Gary's Wine in New Jersey.  Score one for ordering online.

Access to Product.  Thanks to the internets, winery-direct ordering, and FedEx, the world is your oyster.  You can get almost anything delivered to your front door without getting your ass off the couch.  Life is beautiful.  And, you can often get access to older vintage wines in pristine condition, as we've written about recentlyScore another one for ordering online and for ordering direct from a winery.

Quality/Freshness.  Why does wine always taste better at the winery? Yup, it's the bucolic scenery, your relaxed vacation buzz, and the fact that the wine has been stored in ideal conditions since bottling.  Duh!  Depending on where you live in the country, chances are that before a bottle reaches your retailers' shelves, it's been on a cargo ship, a freight truck, in warehouses, loading docks...any or all of which can be in some pretty unfriendly conditions.  And if you think that those trucks moving it are refrigerated...wake up and smell the coffee.

It absolutely makes a difference. Same as fish at the docks, everything's fresher closest to the source.  Score another one for ordering direct from a winery.

Timeliness.
  If got to have a bottle of wine now, you gotta have it now.  And if a deal's staring back at you from a shelf, well, he who hesitates misses opportunity. Score one for your local retailer.

Guidance.  What, you want more hand holding than this site already gives you?  Please.  If you need some help navigating the thousands of options available to you, a trusted retailer is your friend. Score another one for your local retailer.

Social Responsibility.  So, you want to support the farmer?  Winemaker?  The small business owner?  Great.  Order direct.  You'll cut out many middle men - and in doing so send a higher (much higher) cut into the winery owner's pocket.  You could also say the same for your local retailer, but you've got to choose a beneficiary.  And without the winemaker, there is no wine.  That's how we prioritize. Score another one for ordering direct form a winery.

Environmental Responsibility.  Here there are two questions; the impact of making the wine and the impact of getting it to your table.  Contrary to common beliefs, winemaking is not necessarily an earth-friendly endeavor.  Gauging one winery's earth-friendliness over another is not so easy.  You've got to do your research, so there's no easy reco for that.  As for the question of getting it to your table.  Well, that's an even tougher one.  At the end of the day, we believe that fuel efficiency in transportation favors bulk. Score another one for your local retailer.

You can weight these factors to suit your values, but the scales are tipped in favor of ordering at least some of your wine online - either from a respected etailer- or direct from the winery.

Cheers!