Posts Filed Under wine buying
So, really – who cares what I think?
Maybe not too many wine consumers.
According to a new Pew Internet study report, the Internet has a small influence on consumers’ buying decisions when compared to offline channels (like recommendations from salespeople, friends, etc.). That includes Internet sites like, oh, for example, 1WineDude.com.
Hmm… maybe I should be putting a little more time & effort into my off-line consulting…
Anyway, according to the Pew report (which, to be fair, measured on-line impact on purchases of music, housing, and cell phones only):
“No more than one-tenth of buyers… said that online information had a major impact on their purchasing decision.”
And here I’ve been trying to steer wine consumers right and not realizing the whole time that nobody is listening (er – I mean, reading).
What’s also interesting (assuming you still might care what I think at this point) in the Pew report is the gap between those who actively contribute to the on-line dialog (by submitting reviews, for example), and those that simply consume the information:
“The large gaps between contributors and readers are understandable; not all consumers
are interested in lending their voice and many may be content to free ride on the efforts of
others. However, with the growth of broadband adoption at home and the buzz about
online participation in a Web 2.0 world, widespread activity in this arena might be
expected. Yet the data in this report do not show this; there is clearly a distance between the numbers of those who contribute and those who lurk.”
I can’t say I’m too surprised by that finding. In my experience, especially with people of my g-g-g-g-generation, I’ve found that there is a need to consume information via the Internet, but very little drive to create that information themselves.
Case in point: my friends will tease me about the number of websites that I maintain (official number: too many), and in the same conversation will ask me why I’ve not updated one of the websites in the past 3 days.
They want to consume – they just feel that it’s someone else’s place to author that content. Is this “The Architecture of Non-Participation?”
Deep down I’m a skeptical guy – which in my twisted in mind is being patriotic (hey, the U.S. was founded by a bunch of skeptics!) – but I gotta admit, deep down I am also feeling like wine is different.
I know, I know – wishful thinking, right?
But hear me out (if you still care what I think, that is): Buying wine is different than buying music or a cell phone, because wine is meant to be shared. By its nature it’s a social beast, to be enjoyed with others. It’s one of the few goods we can buy that actually becomes an event unto itself. A cell phone can be nifty but it’s probably not going to be a lubricant for life. And try sharing your cell phone with someone else without going totally insane.
If you take a look at social networking websites like the Open Wine Consortium, Corkd.com, and CellarTracker.com, you will find lots of wine consumers willing to share their views, reviews, and recommendations. I would find it hard to believe that those interactions don’t influence the wine buying decisions of consumers somehow.
And wouldn’t it be great if, instead of wine distribution monopolies, stuffy media mags, and 2 or 3 critics dictating nearly all of our wine purchasing choices, we actually influenced each other and helped each other out based on our own experiences of wines that we thought actually tasted great?
But then again, who cares what I think?
(images: thoomp.com, allposters.com, imagechef.com)
I know what you’re thinking, after reading the title of this post.
“Is the Dude about to go on yet another tirade about the PLCB? Okay, okay, they suck – we get it already…”
Well… the answer is “Yes.” Sort of. I’m about to go on a bit of a tirade about the wine shipping laws not just of Pennsylvania, but also of WA, ID, AZ, CO, KS, MN, IA, WI, MI, IN, KY, GA, FL, SC, NC, NY, VT, CT, RI, and IL (pending review of currently proposed legislation).
The state of affairs of wine shipping laws in those states is almost hopelessly broken. Notice I say “almost hopelessly.” That’s because I’ve thought of a way to fix it. Let’s break it down…
I say broken because those states have laws on the books that restrict the free trade of inter-state wine sales – a practice deemed unconstitutional at the federal (and for some also at the state) level. For the most part, these states are trying to protect state-run monopoly businesses that would be handed their own jock straps in the free market if, say, a big buyer like Costco were permitted to sell and ship wines directly to consumers in those states. The state run operations add extra cost while limiting value and selection – because they are monopolies, they don’t need to compete on the basis of price or service. If individual consumer rights, or the best interests of local state wineries get in the way of their monopoly profits, those citizens are simply disregarded – even if the states’ supreme courts have ruled against those practices. So, they make billions, pay big bucks to lobbyists to protect their position, and the state governments (for the most part) turn a blind eye to it all (probably because of the huge windfall).
How to fix this mess? Simple. Here’s a 2-step process of playing politics that could turn the tide. The thing to keep in mind is that politics is almost always a numbers game. And it almost always involves you (the people getting screwed) getting off your keesters and getting active.
- Stop buying wine from the state. I mean it. Don’t buy wine from your state-run liquor store. What will this do? It will reduce the windfall (remember the part about this being a numbers game?). No profits, no windfall. No windfall, no paying lobbyists to turn the tide of free trade legislation. No lobbyists, no deceit-filled battles to block the spread of capitalism to the wine shipping business.
Disclaimer: I’m not advocating you breaking the law – and to be honest, your state’s liquor laws are so convoluted you probably violated them already if you took any cough medicine this year. Anyway, I don’t care where you get your wine, as long as it’s not from a state-run monopoly. If you are lucky enough to live near a bordering state that does sell wine through the free market economy… well, I’m just saying that you might have alternatives.
- Write your state legislators. This is still a numbers game, because far fewer people actually do this than you’d think. So, if you flood your state legislators with correspondence, eventually they will question whether the tide needs to turn against the monopolies. Especially if you followed step 1 (politicians likely won’t stand by a sinking ship that is losing money) and indicate in your correspondence that you’re a voter in good standing and any re-election bid support on your part will hinge on their demonstrated support of free trade.Fortunately, writing your state legislators is very easy. Head on over to FreeTheGrapes.org – they will find your legislators e-mail addresses for you, and give you a handy form-letter to send them (don’t forget to add the re-election support part – politicians usually don’t like losing their jobs).
Maybe this sounds unreasonable, overly-simplistic and ridiculous to you.
But ask yourself this:
Is it any more ridiculous than a business with cripplingly poor business models, that can’t compete on the basis of service, selection, and price, making in excess of $1.5 billion dollars a year by hiding behind antiquated laws and charging you artificially high prices?
What if your state controlled your cell phone service that way? Or forced you to buy milk only from the state, even though it was stored improperly and cost 35% more than what your cousin, who lives in the next state over, pays for his family’s milk (which he can buy from wherever he feels offers the best milk at the lowest price)? Or limited your selection of underwear to a handful of brands and sizes?
Or treated women’s designer shoes the same way? (scary… that one might have the potential to drive some women I know to kill)…
Sure, there’s a big difference between “essential” goods like bread and luxury goods like designer fashions. But before you write off wine as an item that is fair play for regulation by the “pleasure police” (Robert Parker‘s term for the alcohol regulators in his home state of MD), don’t forget that two of our founding fathers (the two widely regarded to have had the most raw intellectual horsepower, by the way) – Jefferson and Franklin – viewed wine as an essential life good, equal to water and bread in terms of necessity.
So… who’s being unreasonable?
(images: blog.whathappensnow.com, wine.appellationamerica.com, ronalfy.com)
Everyone makes mistakes. In the case of the Dude here, mistake frequency is pretty much daily. Thankfully, almost every mistake is an opportunity to learn.
Fortunately for you, the Dude here has made plenty of mistakes when it comes to drinking and appreciating wine. That means that you don’t have to make all of those same mistakes, my friend! You can thank me later (preferably with a bottle or two of `82 Mouton…).
Anyway – following are Top 5 of the most common mistakes in wine drinking and wine appreciation that I’ve come across (or made myself) during my life dabbling in the wine biz. Hopefully these help you to avoid the same…
- The Over-pour. Far and away, the most common mistake that I’ve seen is over-pouring wine into your wine glass. Believe it or not, being skimpy in this case is not being wimpy – pouring the right amount of wine is what you need to do to allow you to really enjoy the wine in your glass.
Filling that glass to the brim is being generous only in the extra amount of calories that you’re consuming. It’s a killer for wine enjoyment because a) it prevents the wine’s aromas from being concentrated towards your nose (where they belong), b) it prevents you from swirling the wine in your glass (which releases those wonderful aromas and flavors in the first place) and c) it makes you much more likely to spill your wine (and you probably paid good money for it!).
At this point you’re probably thinking, “Wait a second Dude – waiters do the Over-pour all the time in restaurants. What am I supposed to do about that?” Simple: ask for a second (empty) wine glass. Now you have two glasses of wine that you can fill properly (which basically means filling to the bowl shape of the glass and not beyond). You’re welcome!
“Filling that glass to the brim is being generous only in the extra amount of calories that you’re consuming.”
- Serving wine at the wrong temperature. Wine that is too cold will taste dull, with subdued fruit characteristics. Wine that is served too hot will taste astringent and will highlight the alcohol above the other flavors in the wine.
In a word – Yuck.
Now, you don’t need to be too anal about this one, but to get the most out of your wine, you do need to get the wine temperature in the right ballpark – and the right ballpark is different depending on they type of wine you’re trying to enjoy. Sweet whites and sparklers usually stand up to the coldest temperatures; hefty reds like Zinfandel and Port can withstand the highest temps. For more specific information, check out this handy chart of wine serving temps from recipetips.com.
- End-Bin shopping. What does “End-Bin shopping” mean? It means shopping only at those flashy, special displays at the end of the aisles in wine stores. Why is this a mistake? Because the end bins are sometimes where good wines go to die.
If you already know the wine and think it’s a good buy, then you may have found a good deal in that end-bin. While it’s certainly possible to catch a great bargain, I’ve also seen on many, many occasions wines that are woefully past their prime stuck into the end-bin at steep “discounts”. Don’t totally ignore those end-bins – but it’s a big mistake to make those the only stops on your foray through the wine store.
“…the end bins are sometimes where good wines go to die…”
- Ignoring the sauce. There are few hard-and-fast rules when it comes to wine and food matching. I only really offer people two rules: 1) Match the “weight”/body of the food with the weight/body of the wine (lighter wines with lighter fare, heftier wines with heartier fare) and b) Don’t ignore the sauce!
A thick, flavorful sauce can turn a lighter dish into a heavy monster of a meal. So, if you’re pairing a lighter wine with that heavier sauce, you might not ever get to really taste that wine, as it will get totally overpowered. Epicureans take note!
- Not doing any homework. You by no means need to have fancy-schmansy wine certifications to appreciate wine. But a little knowledge about wine styles and wines from different areas of the world can arm you with a very important weapon when it comes to wine enjoyment: Context.
What do I mean by context? I mean knowing what some of those wines typically taste like, and what foods are typically enjoyed with them. This allows you to avoid a whole heap of mistakes when it comes to wine appreciation, because it means you’re more likely to taste the wine in its proper context. Someone can tell you that they hate Italian wines – and if that person tried those wines with super-spicy Thai food instead of Italian cuisine, they’re probably not giving that poor Italian wine a fighting chance to be liked!
Grab yourself a book and get in some wine learning. Take a wine class, practice your tasting, or host a wine tasting party. The important thing is to keep an open mind about wine, and be willing to learn – in terms of helping you avoid the most common wine drinking foibles, those two things will never let you down.
(images: chichesterdesign.co.uk, comparestoreprices.co.uk, oleswanson.com)
Welcome to the next installment in the “How to Be a Wine Geek” series here at www.1Winedude.com!
Many wine lovers have toyed with the idea of one day breaking into the wine biz. That’s not just trying to jump into perceived (and relatively false) romantic cache factor of workin’ the vineyard and making wine. Some would like to take a different approach to turning their hobby into their livelihood – in a way that doesn’t involve the potential to run into farm animals on a daily basis.
I thought it would be enlightening to get a view on what it’s like to turn wine passion into wine profession. So I asked someone who has done it. Jill Bernheimer, owner of the on-line wine store and blog Domaine547, kindly agreed to give us her thoughts on ‘life behind the bottle’.
Jill has been featured in Entrepreneur magazine, and has garnered a reputation among the wine blogging community as someone who is not afraid to speak her mind. Another way of putting it, is that she’s not afraid to say publicly what the rest of us are thinking provately (thanks, Jill!).
Jill recently advised her customers to buy one of her wines from a competitor because it was able to offer a lower price than she could – an act that earned her mad props in the on-line community (and no doubt increased customer loyalty).
The interview results are a great insight into life in the wine industry. Enjoy…
1WD: Tell us a bit about your business. How did you get started? What made you chose to get into the wine biz?
Jill: I run a little wine shop that happens to be online only. It’s called domaine547, and the focus is on…well, on wines I like. I personally taste 98% of the wines that I bring in, and that way I can sell them without any hesitation.
The website itself is a bit curious, because the way you enter the store is through a blog… some people may not even realize there’s a store, but that’s intentional. I’m a soft-sell kind of gal, and I don’t want anybody to feel like anything is being forced upon them. If people discover the store, and if people want to shop there… then great.
1WD: What’s the most rewarding aspect of your business?
Jill: When I started the business just over a year ago, I wouldn’t have considered myself an expert on wine. That’s not to say I was without qualifications – I had my Intermediate certificate from the WSET, and lots of experience traveling, reading and drinking wine (and a moonlighting gig at a local wine shop). But my attitude and approach was as an enthusiast discovering wine alongside my customers and my readers.
I think the most rewarding thing is that, even with hundreds of more wines tasted, and much more knowledge about wine and experience in the wine business, my attitude has stayed pretty much the same: I’m like a kid in a candy store, just as excited about wine as I was when I made the transition from hobbyist to working in the trade. Of course, getting to taste wine everyday and meeting producers is great as well.
1WD: What’s the biggest P.I.T.A. about your business?
Jill: Shipping. On all levels…my hands are riddled with paper cuts from packing orders, and my head hurts from the intricacies of interstate alcohol shipping restrictions.
1WD: How do inter/intra-state wine laws impact your business?
Ugh. How do they NOT impact my business? There are lots of folks who say they’d order from me if it were legal, so I’d have to say that my volume is affected directly. Whether or not they’re just saying that? Well, I guess I won’t know until the laws change…
1WD: Beatles or Stones?
Jill: Hmmm, that’s a bit of a narrow world view. [Editors note: well, it is my blog, after all!]. But I’d have to go with Beatles more often than not, with the occasional Ruby Tuesday moment.
1WD: What’s the best wine & food combo that you’ve come across?
Jill: Sottocenere cheese with a Barbera d’Alba. This is going to sound pretentious, but they taste like they have some terroir in common. The cheese is a semi-hard cow’s milk cheese infused with truffles and with an ash rind containing cinnamon and nutmeg spices. [Editors note: drooling is permitted.]
1WD: What’s your favorite wine in your portfolio?
Jill: Without a doubt, the Rafael Palacios “As Sortes” Godello. It’s steep for a Spanish white – it crept up from about $32 in the 2005 vintage to $46 for the 2006. But it’s so good. A hint of lemon, nutiness, some wet stones, ever so slight oak, and some tingle on the tongue without the acidity hitting you over the head. Really delicious. I’d compare it to a Grand Cru Chablis, and from that perspective it’s much more reasonably priced. Funny thing is, I’m much more of a red wine drinker than a white wine drinker, but there is no hesitation with this response.
1WD: How many times gave you seen the film The Big Lebowski?
Jill: I’ve seen it from start to finish only a couple of times, but I’ve seen it in snippets many more. Favorite quote is definitely “I don’t roll on Shabbas.”
1WD: Where do you turn for help and inspiration? Any Trade publications, Blogs, web resources, support groups or Therapists you find particularly helpful?
Jill: I have RSS feeds to more than fifty wine blogs, but I’ve been falling behind on my reading lately. I have learned a tremendous amount from blogs like yours, Good Wine Under $20, Catavino, Good Grape, Wannabewino, Catie at Walla Walla…too many to really mention. I do enjoy Twitter more than other community web resources as it offers me a chance to talk with all of the aforementioned (except Jeff who refuses to tweet) in a more Instant Message, conversational mode.
1WD: Exactly how much does the band Rush totally rock?
Jill: Would you believe me if I told you I got “Exit, Stage Left” [Editor’s note: Dude’s all-time favorite album!!!] as my Afikomen prize when I was in the 3rd grade or so? I loved Tom Sawyer. But it pretty much started and ended there (and with the Geddy Lee collaboration with Bob and Doug McKenzie) [Editor’s note: “Hey, 10 bucks is 10 bucks…”].
1WD: Any advice for budding wine enthusiasts?
Jill: Taste early and taste often.
1WD: Thanks for agreeing to the interview, Jill! One final question – Do these pants make me look fat?
Jill: There’s pretty much no right answer to this one! [Editor’s note: I’m sorry… that answer is incorrect. The correct answer is “No, you look great! Did you cut your bangs?” But thanks for playing!]