Thursday, July 5, 2012
Wine, Cults, and Free Market Ecomonics
Alder Yarrow over at Vinography recently penned a piece that draws into focus a couple of wineries' efforts to curb speculation on their wines on the secondary markets. The principle is, supposedly, that wine is for drinking, not trading.
Screaming Eagle, the epitome of cult Cabernet producers, is following an example set by Domaine de la Romanée-Conti (aka DRC). No idea on how the hell this is done, but my guess is that it begins with the winery extracting a promise from its customers that they will not trade the wine, but in fact drink it.
For the time being, let's suspend debate on the merits of motive, but look at what it means for consumers when purveyors attach strings to the sale of a product. Oh, and, by the way, I'm pretty sure these conditions aren't softened with a discount. Some pretty outlandish scenarios immediately come to mind: An artist who will sell you a painting only if you hang it where they tell you to, a farmer who will only sell you a cut of meat if you swear not to marinate it, or a salesman who agrees to sell you a car on the condition that you will not let your wife drive it. Inconceivable, you say?
All of these have happened. And the same thing is happening now - out in the open - in the wine world. Granted, it's happening at the gilded end of the wine world, where us mortals rarely travel anyway. But the academic question of conditional sales to paying customers has universal implications. Not to mention, thinking up potential scenarios is pretty entertaining.
Perhaps most interesting, though, is the notion that these programs to limit speculation could ever be successful. Say what you will about who you will sell to and under what conditions and all that hooey. (What's next? RFID-ing wine?) The laws of economics shall prevail, as they always have. The operators of DRC and Screaming Eagle think that there will be less speculation or demand at auction because they're limiting production/availability. Well, guess what? Everyone has their price. Everyone. Including the owners of DRC and Screaming Eagle.
In the end, maybe that's really their point. Unfortunately, this shall remain an academic question, at least for this writer. A bottle of 2007 Domaine De La Romanee-Conti Le Montrachet is going for $3600 and a 2009 Screaming Eagle Cabernet Sauvignon for $1275 - at auction, of course.