As I prepare for a few days of R&R, I leave you with one thought that’s been on my mind for some time. It's also an issue that's been articulately discussed by Tom Selfridge, one of California's wine veterans.
Selfridge has been around for years. He worked at Beaulieu as a winemaker alongside André Tchelistcheff and then as its president. He worked for Kendall-Jackson as the company grew into an industry giant, and then he headed up Chalone Wine Group (until Diageo bought the company and let him go). His experience as a winemaker who understands quality served those properties well.
These days, he's president of the Hess Collection, which might be his last stop before retirement. (Although Selfridge has boyish looks for his age, he says he hopes to redirect Hess’ line of wines and then settle down and read the stack of books he’s put aside over the years.) And soon, he'll be speaking at a conference in Napa Valley. I’m happy to see that his topic is one we’ve talked about for years, yet he has honed in on the perfect title: The Arrogance of Success.
Should be a good wake-up call for everyone.
“In the wine business, the arrogance of success is a near-fatal disease," says Selfridge. "It is easy to get seduced by the good times, but to remain competitive, it is important to stay on your toes and never relax. These are relatively good times. Demand is strong, but the competition is fierce, because there is so much supply. We have never had a situation quite like this before where demand is strong, but it doesn’t feel like it is due to the overabundance of supply.”
I worry about that arrogance. Wines are being priced for more than they're worth, whether it’s in Bordeaux or Napa Valley. Restaurant owners are doubling or tripling costs on their wine lists. Wineries are forcing loyal customers to buy an allocation—three bottles of this, three bottles of that—to get the two bottles they really want.