Monday, April 6, 2015

The Doldrums of Wine


Now that we're into the second quarter, there's no doubt that 2015 is under way in earnest.  Already we've seen some interesting things in the wine market.  Earlier in the year prices were up, then down again as next vintages in the pipeline want for warehouse and shelf space.  We'll continue to see the wine business' cycles unwind throughout the year, just as we do every year.  And we'll see some quirks as the business as a whole evolves.  

One difference from prior years that is most particularly evident in the domestic sub-$15 segment is a sudden drop in quality in a context of level prices and much-improved source quality. 

You'd think - or like to think, anyway - that what $12 bought you last year would be similar to what it would buy you this year.  But wine is primarily an agricultural product and therefore subject to the whims of weather and the vagaries of handling.  When a poor vintage comes to market, production and marketing costs don't go down simply because the weather didn't cooperate.  So, it's rational to expect that you'll still have to spend what you did prior year to get a lesser product.  (Or look to other regions for your wine.)

Shouldn't then the inverse be true?  As 2012s and 2013s - both good years on the west coast - have come to market, why aren't consumers able to reap the benefits?  It's certainly not for lack of trying, but domestic wines from 2013 in particular are far less interesting and enjoyable than in previous vintages.  What's more is that there are many second bottlings showing up under pricier brand names than ever before.  To wit, William Hill used to bottle estate fruit only from its Napa Valley vineyards.  Solid wines.  Now they have a new line with strikingly similar label, but the fruit is sourced from the Central Coast.  The experience of the latter is in stark contrast to the legacy labels.  Another example is Chateau Souverain, long a mainstay of quality and value in the Alexander Valley, which has added a North Coast line at a price point close to where their outstanding appellation series used to be.  It's a similar let down.

Capitalizing on a combination of brand equity and branding confusion, the quasi bait-and-switch approach doesn't sit well with me at all.  But where is all the good juice going?  Beats me.

What does all of this mean to the savvy consumer?  Though there are exceptions like the one pictured below, you'll have to look beyond your formerly dependable brands and experiment much more in the year ahead.  As evidenced by the lack of frequent updates on these pages of late, my experimentation is in need to broader reach.  As that continues, the postings will continue to be sparse until there's something worth writing home about.




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