One of the wine industry’s most strictly adhered-to codes of honor is protecting where bulk, or excess, wine is sold.
Most unwanted wine comes from big producers and ends up in négociant labels, such as Two-Buck Chuck.
But even wineries that produce the most expensive wines typically separate their best barrels, or lots, from a vintage. And most of that is expensive wine, since all of the grapes are farmed and vinified the same way. Some barrels just end up tasting better than others.
What happens to that excess? Many wineries have second or third labels. Harlan, for instance, has a multi-tiered system: The Napa winery has its main label, Harlan Estate, which sells in the $500 range; the various Bond cuvées range from $150 to $250; the Maiden sold for about $150 in 2004; the Matriarch sold for about $80 in 2004. In some years the wines are remarkably similar in quality. In 2002, for instance, I liked the Maiden (96 points, $95) about as well as the Harlan (97, $350).
But my guess is that some of Harlan’s wine is sold in bulk. Getting someone to disclose where that wine went, though, is about as easy as getting someone to tell you where Osama bin Laden is staked out.
In a year such as 2005, with a record crop of Napa Cabernet, there will be lots of bulk wine sold and lots of it will be pretty good. In times such as this, you’ll find one-of-a-kind labels with “wow” wine but no track record.
Often times these will be wines that were discarded by a high-end winery. But in 30 years of writing about wine, only a couple of wineries have disclosed where they sold their excess. And those on the receiving end of the deal, well, they won’t bite the hand that feeds them.
Sandy Fitzgerald — Centennial, CO — April 24, 2008 5:47pm ET
George Pallas — Arcadia, Ca — April 24, 2008 6:00pm ET
Mary Constant — Calistoga — April 24, 2008 9:58pm ET
Dennis Groth — Oakville, CA — April 25, 2008 2:44pm ET
Corbin Butler — April 25, 2008 9:55pm ET
Sandy Fitzgerald — Centennial, CO — April 26, 2008 10:55am ET
Paul Root — Healdsburg, California — April 26, 2008 2:27pm ET
Paul Root — Healdsburg, California — April 26, 2008 2:28pm ET
James Zalenka — Pittsburgh PA — April 28, 2008 9:49am ET
Larry Parker — Wesley Chapel, FL — April 28, 2008 1:37pm ET
Paul Rakovich — Las Vegas — April 30, 2008 7:14am ET
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