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The Perils of Success

Photo by: Greg Gorman

Posted: Mar 31, 2007 10:00am ET

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.

Your thoughts?
Tim Corliss
livermore,ca —  April 2, 2007 12:05pm ET
Jim,I agree the "arrogance" factor is at an all time high and seems to be accelerating. I've decided to fight back by removing my name from many mailing/waiting lists, tearing up offer letters that have a "hostage" policy and not purchasing bottles over the $50-$60 range that I haven't tried before. In many cases I am doubling the purchases of wines in the $30-$40 range. As for restaurants, I will not buy wine from a list that has more than doubled the retail price. At some point, we consumers have to fight back by voting with our wallets!
David Ruvalcaba
San Francisco, CA —  April 2, 2007 12:32pm ET
James, I wholeheartedtly agree with you. Things are getting out of hand in the pricing arena. I definitely dislike being forced to purchase wine I don't want so that I can get my hands on the ones I do. Is this a relatively recent wine club practice? If so, I don't like it. . . and as for the price of wine at restaurants---it's outrageous! Tripling the price of a bottle is flat out wrong. That's why these days I bring my own wine when I dine out, unless the restaurant has a good wine list with moderately priced wines (for example Myth in San Francisco). What do you think it will take for these practices to stop? A more "wine educated" public?
John Wilen
Texas —  April 2, 2007 12:38pm ET
There's a fine line between confidence and arrogance in business. I have met very few "movers and shakers" in Napa over the years that aren't tempted to cross over to the "dark side".

In his latest book, Good to Great, well known author Jim Collins examines how a good company becomes an exceptional company. The book introduces the term ¿ Level 5 leadership. Level 5 refers to the highest level in a hierarchy of executive capabilities. Leaders at the other four levels may be successful, but are unable to elevate companies from mediocrity to sustained excellence. Level 5 leadership challenges the assumption that transforming companies from good to great requires arrogant, larger-than-life-leaders. The leaders that came out on top in Collins' five-year study were relatively unknowns. The findings appear to signal a shift of emphasis away from the hero to the anti-hero. According to Collins, humility is a key ingredient of Level 5 leadership. His simple formula is Humility + Will = Level 5.

One last thought: the customer relationship equation can always be broken down to one simple edict:¿ Do the right thing.¿ Being arrogant is never the right thing to do.
Larry Schaffer
Central Coast —  April 2, 2007 12:42pm ET
I agree that these are potentially perilous times for those on the high end of the price structure - but as long as buyers are willing to go along with whatever some of these wineries - both start-ups and trophy names - require, little will change.The great thing about the industry at this time, though, is that it is easier than ever to launch a new label or new wine - notice I did not say SELL the wine, just launch it (-: This will hopefully continue to breed competition, and this will ultimately continue to help the industry.I agree with your original comment, and Tom's, that success can lead to complacency - it is those companies that continue to improve upon what they do - in any industry, in fact - that will continue to succeed . . . Let's just hope that many of our favorite producers continue to do so . . .
Joseph Oglesby
Atlanta, Georgia —  April 2, 2007 1:50pm ET
Speaking of vanishing value California Cabs, I tried the 2004 Sebastiani Cabernet recently, and thought it was outstanding, as did the others in my group. Especially with Costco pricing below $13. Will be interested in your rating.
Peter Czyryca
April 2, 2007 2:42pm ET
I think the problem is two-fold, especially regarding cabernet in Cali: you have some old guard Napa producers like Phelps charging outrageous prices for average juice, and esp for their regular cab...it is more mediocre than ever, yet retail on it rises while IMO quality declines. That's a big problem. Secondly, you have new producers which charge what long-standing Napa institutions charge. Which is fine if they're producing quality juice, (who cares how old a producer is if the wine is great) but it's amazing that some of these wines start with their first vintage at $100+. And it seems that $100 is the new $25.
Sao Anash
Santa Barbara —  April 2, 2007 2:59pm ET
I don't know that there's more arrogance in the wine industry than there is, say, in the culinary world, the judicial world, the medical world.There are power-hungry, arrogant folks in every industry, so I hardly think we can point fingers at the wine industry as being particularly bad. Pricing is out of control in many realms. Mr. Selfridge has the benefit of years of wisdom on his side and the experience of having worked with some big corporate players. But, for those of us who struggle from day to day in the business working for small wineries, those of us who pound the streets to try to promote a bottle of wine---the least of our concerns is arrogance in the business. We are consumed instead by trying to do right by the vineyard, trying to find a place in the market, trying to turn a vocation into a job that pays the rent. There are more of us out there than there are arrogant, power hungry loud mouths....they just happen to get more press. Which, in turn, makes them more arrogant, and more powerful.
Powell Yang
Napa, —  April 2, 2007 4:20pm ET
Jim,Restaurant wine list pricing is not really the focus here, perhaps another day is more appropriate for the expanded discussion.From what I've heard, the top sommeliers in SF got together recently to adopt a 2 bottle maximum allowed corkage policy per table to protect the investment of restaurants wine lists. Do you know anything about this?Boils down to restaurants are having a difficult time moving their wine at 2x - 3x retail, amazing they can't take the approach of fairly priced wine list, such as All Seasons in Calistoga, Kitchen in Sacramento, or Rutherford Grill in Rutherford.
David A Zajac
April 2, 2007 4:23pm ET
In regards to Sao's comments "...pays the rent" is a subjective number, isn't it? Rent can be for my garage or small utilitarian winery or for the Taj Mahal. Granted, both are considered "rent" but which one needs to increase their prices to astronomic levels? I also agree with Peter's comment that $100 is the new $25 when it comes to Cali Cabs...sad sad sad. Its why California has decreased from probably 50% of my cellar to about 25% now, and will continue to decrease.
Jack Dimond
Escondido, —  April 2, 2007 7:00pm ET
As a yearly visitor to the Napa and Sonoma regions, we recently dined at a fine restaurant in Napa and enjoyed a Newton wine with our dinner. Imagine our dismay when we toured the winery that same week to discover we had been charged 4x the winery's price for the same bottle!Wine makers are definitely not the only ones to suffer from the disease of "Napa Arrogance," and we'll select our dining venues pretty carefully on our next visit.
John Jorgenson
Seattle, —  April 2, 2007 7:33pm ET
I like John Wilen!Perhaps the wine industry should look outside itself for some evidence of what happens when a company proceeds down the path of arrogance.General Motors . . .Ford . . .Boeing . . .Enron . . .Some of the companies that get caught in the trap will recover and return to their former glory. But some will struggle and never make a full come-back. The worst find themselves pushing daisies, in a metaphoric sense. I don't completely agree with some of the responders who point at price as a demon, it¿s the quality! Let those who work hard to create greatness collect their tariff. But to those who command high prices for mediocrity and don't seem to care to change . . . Put them in prison by boycotting there products and let them eat bread! The kind that gets green from mold, not ink.
Roy Piper
Napa, CA. —  April 2, 2007 9:47pm ET
Nature may abhor a vacume, but it hates imbalance even worse. Things ALWAYS returb to equilibrium, usually after swinging the other way in excess. Our industry is just one dirty bomb away from irellevance for a decade. And let's not forget Pierce's Disease. Things are good, but the days of a first vintage coming out at $350 are probably nearing an end.
Chris Hilliard
Minnesota —  April 3, 2007 12:01am ET
Joseph Oglesby, Atlanta, GeorgiaThat wine was fantastic. I am not a Cab....."lover" but very very much injoyed that bottle. Trying to get my hands on more. Great price GREAT wine!
Dry Creek Vineyard
Healdsburg —  April 3, 2007 1:05am ET
Finally someone willing to speak out against one of my pet peeves! Thanks Jim. Great observation, great article!Kim
Brandon Redman
Seattle, WA —  April 3, 2007 10:46am ET
I have to agree with Larry. While I wholeheartedly agree, James, the guilty wineries aren't going to change a thing as long as they can move the product. From their standpoint, why would they? There are always going to be people out there who will buy the wine regardless of the price point and wineries will continue the trend. It does, as also mentioned above, give some of the newcomers a fighting chance to release a great product at a fraction of the price and really turn some heads!
John G Kresser
Indianapolis —  April 3, 2007 1:07pm ET
James - my wife and I have been avid California Cab drinkers for about seven years and visit Napa Valley every other year. Bottom line is the consumer is getting the short end of it all on over the top pricing in the Napa scenery: from cost for wines, hotels, dining and even once simple tasting's. On the contrary, the "new Napa money" paid millions for their sacred land and are passing it on to the consumer. Most others have fallen in line to reap profitable results. It's like the three local gas stations who raise prices together. Arrogance is "one who is full of ones own pride". We wonder how proud most wine owners are of over charging us . . . . their loyal customers?
Troy Peterson
Burbank, CA —  April 3, 2007 1:27pm ET
I too am incensed at the increasing practice of forcing consumers to purchase wines they don't want in order to get the wines they do want. My worst experience with this was with W.H. Smith. Nice enough people, and arguably fine wine. But they started with a 6-bottle minimum of each wine ordered (which is okay as far as I'm concerned) just a few years ago. Then after their PN scored 96/97 points, they began forcing you to take some of their other wines (including Cab under a different label!) in order to get your allocation of their hot PN. This past mailer was the coup de grace to their marketing strategy. They had the nerve to require a MINIMUM of 12 bottles that they selected from, no substitutions, including nearly half PN and half Cab. I wanted to remind them that just a few miles away Intel was slapped with antitrust violations for forcing people to by older/unwanted chips in order to get an allocation of their new/hot chips. While the Smiths certainly don't have a stranglehold on the PN market, I felt screwed just like those chip buyers in the 90's. Needless to say, I tossed out the mailer and bought a couple of bottles of their wines that I really wanted at retail. About 6 weeks later I get another mailer from them admitting that maybe 12 bottles was a bit too much to ask. Oh, and as I recall now they were willing to let me choose which bottles I wanted as long as I purchased six of them. I threw that mailer away too. Once again, nice folks, nice wine, lousy marketing. I'm not saying I won't buy from them directly ever again, but the whole experience left a very bad taste in my mouth. Shame on all the other wineries that engage in the same sales tactics, and you know who you are!
Harvey Posert Jr
napa valley —  April 3, 2007 2:12pm ET
sommeliers' pageantry and restaurant pricing,and all the bs about new french wood,awaits alike the inevitable hour...wine needs not high pricing to be good.
Dominic Albanese
Beamsville,Ontario,Canada —  April 3, 2007 3:38pm ET
By now I hope we all know that the rule of supply and demand will always rule in a free society.With China and the rest of Asia starting to enjoy the nectar of the gods we could only hope and pray that new wines and winemakers grow as quickly as the increased demand.Load up on your favourites we ain't seen nothing yet!
Bill Mccuskey
Wilmington, NC —  April 3, 2007 4:23pm ET
Couldn't agree more about prices. Many of the big name labels,who as recently as 5 years ago charged $50-60 per bottle of Napa cab, now demand $125-150. The prices have become comical. As a result I search for smaller wineries and buy daily wines from other regions or countries such as Chile.
Andrew J Walter
Sacramento,CA —  April 3, 2007 4:34pm ET
Look elsewhere....in California check out the wines from Suisin Valley, Amador/Eldorado Counties, Lodi and Clarksburg; from outside of California, there are so many great wines with more than accecptable QPRs from Washington and Oregon that i do not know where to begin. Check out Arizona...Callaghan, Dos Cabezas, Rancho Rossa, Echo Canyon and(soon) Page Springs/ Cadecus are turning out remarkable wines at fair prices. Why pay triple digits for great wine simply because of a Napa appelation?? If no one buys it, the prices will drop...
Jeffrey Fitzgerald
Chicago —  April 3, 2007 7:52pm ET
Very difficult to walk down the California Cabernet isle at Sam's in Chicago and not spend $50+ for something "drinkable". I'm talking about "average" cabernet that wouldn't "wow" anybody when served with dinner. It is shameful. Bordeaux, to me, is an absolute bargain compared.
David K Welch
Galveston, TX —  April 3, 2007 10:01pm ET
Troy from Burbank, as a WH Smith buyer I can tell you that I was peeved that last go around the same way you were. From now on I do not buy from them. I don't mind having to take a minimum of six bottles to get what I want, I know I can sell them on auction if I need to get rid of them. I am upset by being forced to take six other bottles of a varietal that I do not want just to get the allocation that I do want. Thank goodness that some of my other favorite producers only produce the varietal that I want so I do not have to put up with this. Hopefully, a couple of off vintages will teach these producers something. It is terrible to say that Bordeaux is a bargain compared to Napa and Sonoma, but if you start looking and both price and quality, it is.
Jeremy Matouk
Port of Spain, Trinidad —  April 3, 2007 10:45pm ET
Clearly this subject is a sore point for many wine lovers. I say trust the market forces. BYO's and a keen sense of value will win out. There will always be the nouveau riche to lap up the overpriced and overrated wines. Real wine lovers will keep looking for value. After all that's half the fun of wine.
Charles J Stanton
Eugene, OR —  April 3, 2007 11:11pm ET
Jim, you've hit on another one of those sore points for most regular wine consumers. We all understand the costs involved with producing great wine, and the very temporary nature of success in the wine trade (excluding the DRC's and Latour's of the world).It is reasonable for hot producers to strike with that iron while it remains at that glowing temperature, but loyalty to a winemaker, or even irrational desire for a limited commodity, will not suffer extortion for long.

Hooray for the producers, and there are plenty out there on several continents, that manage to put out a quality product at a fair price, keep some sense of humility (it's grape juice, for heavensake)and don't make you feel like peasants before royalty in the process.
Don R Wagner
Illinois —  April 4, 2007 1:33am ET
Troy & David -- You are dead right with Smith! Didn't I read where they recently sold the business!?!? (Read Chi-ching!) Here's the rub -- check the WS rating for the 05 Maritime - so much for the "wines we wanted" - my recollection is 90 WS pts -- good, but not where they were! Since I am venting, congrats to JL & WS on the 03 Cab Ratings (the wine is only OK - taste it and I think you will agree - 03 Harlan, etc will never be 02 Harlan, etc no matter how many years you have remaining)...all of the "bigs" in 03 were rated on how they tasted and prices dropped - just check the auctions. WS was cursed by all (of which I am "chief") at the time (save for Bob), but in retrospect, it was the RIGHT thing to do. Here's another one for you: after tasting the 05's, could it be Pinot's turn next???? Please stand tall WS - no matter how much it hurts (costs) us in the short term! DRW
Chris Haag
vancouver, bc —  April 4, 2007 2:45am ET
As a Canadian who goes to Sonoma/Napa each year, I really noticed the problems of perceived excellence in Napa. You can only imagine what a $50.00 USD bottle of avaerage Cab costs once you get it into Canada, tax it, mark it up and apply F/X. For the wine tourist, check out "Market" in St. Helena, it is the baby brother of "Cyrus" in Healdsburg, less pretentious, better food and max mark up of $20-$25 per bottle. We drank Eisele Vineyard Sauv Blanc on a beautiful August night for under $60.00 USD per bottle. I believe the retail is around $40.00 USD if you can get any?And a bonus, if you go to Dry Creek Kitchen in Healdsburg with Sonoma County Wine, there is no corkage fee. Guess what? We bought a bottle of bubbly from Charlie to get our night going. Smart restuarant, even better food.
Ashley Potter
LA, —  April 4, 2007 3:41am ET
I couldn't agree more that so much wine is (arrogantly) priced out of my price range (i.e. many Bordeaux, Cal. Cabs., Cotie-Rotie, & Burgundy)...I feel like CA and OR Pinot's are hardly behind joining the list!I've consistently found wonderfully satisfying wines at fair prices from the following regions:Rhone Valley in France, Australia, New Zealand, Washington, Spain, and Chile. I am specifically impressed by the value and top-shelf quality many Rhone reds have to offer, from the every-day drinking prices of the full Cotes-du-Rhones to the impressive, powerful grace of the (slightly) more expensive Chat.-du-Papes'.I've basically given up even looking for any of the aforementioned arrogance-stricken regions' wines in the stores as a result of their arrogant pricing...I merely continue to hold out hope that my favorite wine regions don't start to sniff the arrogance.
Dan Jaworek
Chicago —  April 4, 2007 9:03am ET
The number of responses suggest this one touched a nerve! LOL. I completely agre that this arrogance exists and the effect that it will eventually have. I've already made my adjustments. I think many wine lovers begin their journey with CA wines. Its our own product, its in our language, and it was made with us in mind. And for many, it has served them well. But CA has become fat dumb and happy with a fairly captive audience. Bordeaux has done the same and lets not even speak of Burgundy. What every wine drinker is going to have to do (unless they are content to pay the inflated prices) is get a good understanding of wine and learn to appreciate the variety and quality that many of the unknown producers offer. When the wine buying public is finally content to put an unrecognized label on their table and appreciate it for what it is, they will have taken a step toward freeing themselves from these prices. Who are these fools who pay in excess of $100 for a cab that ranks in 80's? Who is the fool who EVER buys LePin at over $1000. If you can get over the label and be content with Mollydooker, Rosenblum, Chateau Gloria, the wines of Chinon, Cotes du Rhone, the Languedoc, and so much of Spain, Austria, and Germany, you'll realize that you have other options. But if you refuse to let go of your Silver Oak resign yourself to either spending more or drinking much less. There's a sea of wine out there folks. And a lot of that wine is really good stuff. Explore your options.Dan J
Ready Family Wines
Healdsburg, Ca —  April 4, 2007 11:23am ET
Prices can be brutal and the majority of wineries that are charging those prices are wineries that have been highly scored at one time or another and have developed a "cult" following. Basic supply and demand. I would also like to point out that it is harder to sell a bottle of Cabernet at $30 than it is at $100 because of perceived value. A large majority of people looking at two bottles one marked $30 and the other marked $100 will believe the $100 bottle is much better; based on the thought that since they charge so much it must be better; which in the wine industry is not always true. There are tons of wineries in California that do not charge extravagant prices and still produce great, amazing wines. If you want a $30 Cabernet go to your local wine store and see what they suggest. My guess is they will find you some great Cabernet.
Mark Johnson
April 4, 2007 11:39am ET
Folks, Time to explore the new world! You can't beat the scores and the prices of Australian Shiraz and German Reislings right now... a WS 95-point JJ Prum Auslese for $35! A monster Marquis Philips S9 Shiraz for $39. That's value. Step outside the box. Napa-who?
Larry Schaffer
Central Coast —  April 4, 2007 12:53pm ET
Mark,Good points . . . but those can be applied to US wines as well. There really are tons of great QPR wines in California, Oregon, and Washington. If you MUST have a really intense Cab, you may have to 'pay the price', but there certainly are great alternatives both here and abroad . . .
Powell Yang
Napa, —  April 4, 2007 1:21pm ET
Andrew,Are you kidding about the wines from Suisin Valley, Amador/Eldorado Counties, Lodi, Clarksburg and Arizona?! Any wine over $20 from these regions are overpriced. Lodi's has a wine that eclipsed the $50 mark, that's like a bottle of $200 wine in Napa.

The northwest region of Oregon and Washington does provide more value conscious wine with quality to back it up, no problems there. But all other regions you mentioned is not anywhere close in quality when comparing to Napa, Oregon or Washington.

You don't need to spend triple digits for a good bottle of wine from Napa, plenty around and not difficult to find out.
Paul Manchester
Santa Cruz, CA —  April 4, 2007 1:34pm ET
Wow, hot topic here!! I couldn't even read all of the responses there are so many. So of course I'll add one. Here is the deal, if people didn't pay these outrageous prices, wineries wouldn't charge so much. It's just a bummer for someone like me, because they charge so much that I'll NEVER try most of these wines due to the high prices. As Mark Johnson nicely pointed out, there are so many other affordable options out there why even do Napa anymore. I hardly ever do, sad as it is. So if people want to put there money where their mouth is, don't buy anything over $50 and the prices will drop. Otherwise, don't complain.
Sarah Warner
Los Angeles, CA —  April 4, 2007 8:27pm ET
Pricing aside, it seems like having a winery, or a wine label is part of the arrogance of success overall. Like celebrities who start a clothing line as their next endeavor, wine is the new "fashion line." The fashion market is saturated. Of course there is always room for more, but people have to come up with even more and more gimmicky marketing plans and customer retention policies to compete. The competition improves quality, but because of costs it drives up prices. It is a slippery slope. And everyone seems to want to cater to a tiny 5% niche affluent market. The failure rate for these enterprises is astronomical. I would hate to see the same trend occur among wine.
Jeffrey Schrader
Kansas City Missouri —  April 4, 2007 11:17pm ET
I agree with the concerns you express and experienced it first hand last week during a visit to Napa Valley. I paid ridiculous prices to just taste wine and then followed it by purchasing bottles of wine for way more than I would at a liquor store at home. Some were excellent and some just middlin'. However, not only was I paying for the tastings and the wine but so were many others. And this was on a weekday in March. My point is that the market will bear these sort or ridiculous prices right now because we are willing to pay them. As in any other market a return to sensibility by the consumer will occur at some point, hopefully, and a decline in demand will drive prices down. If not then demand will justify the sort of prices we will pay. After all who amongst us hasn't paid $80 or more to see an sporting event or a concert to watch arrogant athletes and musicians earn 8-9 figure salaries.
Tim Ballard
Gilroy Ca —  April 5, 2007 12:27am ET
Troy- ditto on that W.H Smith marketing scheme. Threw it out also. Too many other wineries that can use my business or that let me purchase exactly what I want. Yes I don't mind a three bottle minimum from nice folks like Paul and Suzie Frank of Gemstone - I usually buy more...without being forced to purchase their second wine Facets which is quite fine also.
David A Zajac
April 5, 2007 8:30am ET
Arrogance, let's not forget Levy-McClellan's first release at $350/bottle, but when I said it was ridiculous there were more than a few defenders that said they would take all they can get. With that attitude, its not surprising the Smith's, among others, want top dollar and minumum quantities. Folks, we've done it to ourselves and now were complaining!
La Quinta, CA —  April 5, 2007 1:56pm ET
Here is a quick list of some of my favorite Monday-Thursday California Cabs: Edge $19, Beckstoffer 1975 $20(90 points Parker), Merryvale Starmont $22, Twenty Bench $17. Now these are not WOW wines, but pleasant drinking none the less. Talk to your local wine merchants and we can help you find some smokin Cabs from Cali that won't break the bank. Dustin
Glenn S Lucash
April 6, 2007 9:07am ET
David...it just takes a small minority to screw the vast majority. There will always be those who have to have it NOW. Money be damned. The newest, biggest, best and the rarity. We have to learn to live with it and seek better alternatives.
Don Rauba
Schaumburg, IL —  April 6, 2007 12:56pm ET
David Zajac has it right where the retail price of wine is concerned. Wineries are businesses, and as such, they price wine according to what the market will bear. If you buy it, they've priced it right. If they get a great review and it flies off the shelf too quickly, the price gets hiked up with subsequent vintages. Is this really surprising? And is market pricing in/of itself deserving of a charge of "arrogance"? Absolutely not. Wineries, like an business, are smart to price according to what the market will allow.

Seems to me the ones most responsible for the escalating costs are those fanatic consumers who will blindly pay the very highest prices for their (subscription) favorite bottlings year after year, because they've removed all doubt from wineries' minds that their prices might be too high.
Don Rauba
Schaumburg, IL —  April 6, 2007 12:57pm ET
Oh, and enjoy the well-deserved vacation, James!
Joe Rutledge
Portland, OR —  April 6, 2007 5:48pm ET
I do not typically reply to posts, but this one has everyone's attention.I have been actively collecting wine for around 15 years. As such, I have had success in getting onto wine lists that are now considered ¿exclusive¿. In some cases, I have been a member of certain winery lists for several years. Yet, as of late, I am being subjected to purchasing minimum allocations. If I do not purchase the minimum, then the winery will remove my status from their list and allocate my wine to someone else, which according to the winery, is ¿eager to get onto the list¿. Personally, I think that this demonstrates a severe lack of commitment to their loyal customers. What kind of message are they trying to send?Generally, I make it a practice of purchasing my cellar-worthy wine from family-operated wineries. It makes the whole experience much more personal when visiting. However, I now focus my allocation purchases on a very select group of wineries and seek other value-priced, cellar-worthy wines from other regions than Napa, CA.
Andrew J Walter
Sacramento,CA —  April 7, 2007 1:31am ET
Now now Powel...don't you think that attitude represents the problem...e.g. "if its not from Napa it can't be good and it is from napa you can charge whatever the h*** you want for it". An excellent wine is an excellent wine regardless of its AVA. Try Olabisi, 4 Vines, M2, Klinker Brick, Hollys Hill, Cedarville, Clos Saron, Dos Cabezas, Callaghan, (the last 2 are in AZ... I brought some Rhone Blends from these wineries to separate blind high end tasting , both scored 2nd out of 10). Most bottlings from these wineries are > $20, yet are mostly excellent and represent "value" (at least compared to many $50-100+ bottlings from Napa). Unless you want someone to ohh and ahh at your cellar, wine is for drinking pleasure only.
Andrew J Walter
Sacramento,CA —  April 7, 2007 1:42am ET
Now now Powel...don't you think that attitude represents the problem...e.g. "if its not from Napa it can't be good and it is from napa you can charge whatever the h*** you want for it". An excellent wine is an excellent wine regardless of its AVA. Try Olabisi, 4 Vines, M2, Klinker Brick, Hollys Hill, Cedarville, Clos Saron, Dos Cabezas, Callaghan, (the last 2 are in AZ... I brought some Rhone Blends from these wineries to separate blind high end tasting , both scored 2nd out of 10). Most bottlings from these wineries are > $20, yet are mostly excellent and represent "value" (at least compared to many $50-100+ bottlings from Napa). Unless you want someone to ohh and ahh at your cellar, wine is for drinking pleasure only.
Linda Schwartz
Fort Ross, CA —  April 7, 2007 12:42pm ET
I can understand the frustration of wine lovers when confronted with arrogance, enhanced by soaring prices and plummeting quality.There are many of us who take no short cuts, farm in challenging areas and price our wine modestly, as we want our wine to be enjoyed by consumers - and not by auctioneers.
Elyse J Ward
Buffalo Grove, IL —  April 7, 2007 2:45pm ET
From my experience, I've found that, at least most of the time, you can find a deal on most wine lists. Couple examples - top-end Chicago steakhouse offered the '03 Shafer Relentless for $85/btl, that's only $20 above what I paid in the store and a wine that was rated 94; upon my return to the same spot post-rating, the wine jumped to $130. Another "deal", '03 Whitehall Reserve for $103 ($75 in the store). Both places priced the Silver Oak (Napa) at almost $300 - so they do know how to rip people off. Sometimes restaurants will get deals from their distributors to push certain wines - so take all this WS knowledge and find the deals. Speaking of deals - many restaurants that price up the Napa cabs, usually offer great deals on syrah; less than 2X.
Paul Clary
Petaluma —  April 7, 2007 10:34pm ET
I won't speak of restaurants at all, and I can't speak for every winery, but as a grower and producer of Pinot Noir and Syrah, I can say that there are differences in the economics of the two wines. An acre of Pinot at my vineyard averages under two tons, while the Syrah will put on twice that amount of fruit easily. Guess what? The Pinot costs quite a bit more to produce than the Syrah! There are real reasons why wines are priced where they are. That's not to say that mediocre wines deserve to be purchased at price points beyond their quality. Arrogance ultimately gets it's just reward.As a small producer, there is no way that I can compete against Kendall Jackson, Constellation or any number of other well-financed machines. My only chance is to grow the best grapes that I can, shepherd the wine to bottle, and hope that there are wine lovers out there who will appreciate a handmade product. That's definitely not to say that the mass-produced wine couldn't be a superb wine.Toyotas are excellent cars - A handmade custom ride will cost a lot more. Which one is better? It depends upon who you ask. If you think a wine is overpriced, don't buy.
Elyse J Ward
Buffalo Grove, IL —  April 10, 2007 3:48am ET
Paul - I understand what you're saying. My point is that I judge the relative fairness of a restaurant's wine list by how they price - I won't pay more than 2X what I can get the same wine for in a store; mass-produced (Kendall Jackson) or boutique (John Anthony). When out, if I can't find a good-quality cab (Whitehall, Caymus, Shafer) at a fair price, I will look at the Syrah portion of the wine list. Normally, there are excellent wines (Relentless being a prime example) at a very fair price. Restaurants do a very good job at pricing up wines that market well (Silver Oak is the example most use), but wines that don't get the "buzz" can normally be had for a fair price. Last week, I found the '04 Darioush Sig Cab for $90; just $15 above store prices; same place had the '97 Shafer Hillside for over $500.

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