Hey Winemakers In Emerging Wine Regions: Stop Selling A Gazillion Varietal Wines Already!

Vinted on May 16, 2011 binned in best of, commentary

“Doesn’t mean you should
Just because you can
It doesn’t mean you should
Just because you can
Like Abraham and Ishmael
Fighting over sand
It doesn’t mean you should
Just because you can.”

– “Facts of Life” by King Crimson

Seriously, people.  Stop it.  Please.

It’s getting embarrassing now.

I get that newer wine areas need to experiment.  I get that you’re just exploring the multi-facets of your terroir.  I get that we don’t yet know which grapes will really sing when grown on your land.

I just don’t get why people should be sold the results of your experiment when they suck (the result, I mean, not the people). When those grapes don’t sing mellifluously, and instead let out what we refer to in my band as a “brown note” – well… why the hell should people pay out good hard-earned cash for that crappy experience?

I know what you’re going to tell me: Hey, smarty-pants, people come in asking where’s the Cabernet Sauvignon and Chardonnay, so I have to grow them and make varietal wines out of them!

I’m calling bullsh*t on that right now – and it’s in your own best interests, because it’s a totally bogus business strategy

Let’s say, for example, that Cab and Chard don’t make wines of distinction from your budding terroir.  Let’s say that instead they make terrible, nasty, god-awful, please-flush-this-into-the-toilet-where-it-belongs wines.  Wines that taste like dog crap.

Newcomers to your winery, particularly those people who are also newcomers to wine, ask for them, because those are wine grape variety names that they know, and they’re looking for some familiar ground.  “Do you have any Cabernet?  I really like Cabernet.

Of course you want to give these people good customer service.  What harm can come in experimenting with some Cabernet, and selling it to those customers if they really want it?

I’ll tell you what’s wrong with that: everything.  Everything is wrong with it because it’s totally bogus. It’s totally bogus because it’s effectively bait-and-switch, especially if you know that wine isn’t very good.

Let’s put it another way:

Instead of trying to introduce those customers to something new, something of quality, something of promise from your terroir, you’re going to give them a low-quality product, either to make a quick buck off of an experiment, or in the hopes that your sub-par product will make them trade up to the stuff that you actually do wellThis is your business strategy?!? Really?!?? Good luck with that.

I run into this situation. A lot.  The places differ, but the results are eerily similar.  It makes wonder what’s going through wine producers’ heads:

  • “Is this Riesling or battery acid? Ah, maybe it’s supposed to taste like this, we’re in a cool climate. Sort of.” (Virginia)
  • “C’mon it’s Sauvignon Blanc. Sure, it feels like watered-down Chardonnay, but no one will know next to our 15% abv Chardonnay.” (California)
  • “Hmmm… this Pinot tastes like sh*t. Wait!  I know! Let’s oak the f*ck out of it!” (Everywhere)

The other insidious thing about this flawed approach: it dilutes your focus.  It takes your precious time away from the stuff that really shines, the stuff your sites were meant to produce.  And the dilution of your focus sets you back; it delays the manifestation of your true vinous destiny.

I’m not saying don’t make fun wines, or stop making less-serious wines, or avoid experimenting with wines from different varieties in different terroirs.  We need those wines. We desperately need those wines. I drink those wines almost every day.  Dry, bubbly, sweet – as long as they’re well-made, as long as they have something to say, even if that something is “just drink me now and have some fun,” then I’m 100% cool with that.  What I am saying is don’t make wines that suck and then push them off on your customers.

So please – enough already.  Enough offering fourteen, fifteen, twenty-five wine options to people.  Enough pandering to the influences of marketing behind the most well-known wine grape varieties.  Enough diluting what your land was meant to provide.

Time to ignore the shiny coins people, and instead focus on the things that really work in your corner of the wine world, by making the wines that make your terroir shine.

Cheers!

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    Comments

  • Niklas Jorgensen


    Hehe…I will tell the guy in Sweden who produces Merlot not to send samples to you ;-)

    On second thought; I don't know if there's any region in Sweden that ever will be considered an emerging one…

    Best

    Niklas

    • 1WineDude


      Niklas – well, if the wine sucks then he'd do well *not* to send it to me because I do sometimes post negative reviews! :)

      As for Sweden being considered an emerging region – anything is possible (especially with global warming! :-). But seriously, it wouldn't surprise me if Sweden had some killer colder-climate wines…

      Cheers!

  • Colorado Wine Press


    Joe – I've been through this argument with multiple wineries in the great wine region of Colorado. It is not an argument we're going to win anytime soon. It just takes time and money for wineries to start to specialize in the grapes suited for their terroir. Hell, even Napa vineyards are still producing Riesling and Chardonnay. The 'legacy' Napa wineries almost all push tens of varietally bottled wine. Only in the last few decades have others reduced their offering size.

    Oh, and you're forgetting the requisite sweet pink wine that *all* emerging wine regions *need* to sell! ugh…..

    • 1WineDude


      Hey CWP – Not sure I'd include Chard in that Napa list, but for the most part I would include Sauv Blanc! :)

      You know what, regarding the pink stuff: I'm 100% OK with sweet, fun, pink wines *PROVIDED THAT* they're well-made. When you think about it, those wines are serving a purpose and providing joy, and selling, and therefore funding the more "serious" / artistic offerings that are made in smaller quantities and in more expensive ways and appeal to a different audience. Again, if they suck then they shouldn't be sold, but I've tasted many that do NOT suck (they're well-made), I just didn't care for them (and there's a big difference there, I think).

      I had a long conversation with Eric Miller at Chaddsford Winery in my neck of the woods a few years ago – he was kind of bumming that he had to make those sweet wines and I basically told him the same thing I wrote above. Those wines serve a purpose and in his case fund his forays into unoaked Chard. and cool-climate Pinot. Badly made wines, on the other hand, don't really serve any purpose.

      Cheers!

      • Colorado Wine Press


        I don't know about including SB on that list. I think Napa's top (and mid-range) SB are better than the top Chards. Sure, I think Carneros has good terroir for Chardonnay, but I also think the Napa part of Carneros isn't *really* Napa. And when you say, "those wines are serving a purpose and providing joy, and selling, and therefore funding," that is the response wineries give about their less-well made, inexpensive lineup of whatever cultivar that *shouldn't* be made but is. The people that buy the wines that you (and I) don't want made are the same people that buy Two Buck Chuck and Franzia (not that there's anything wrong with that). They aren't going to jump in at the +$20/btl price point and sustain the winery financially if they only produced their more "serious" offerings. Our definition of *suck* is much different than the average consumer's. Suck is spending $40 on a wine that is tannic and less pleasurable than the $6 Merlot they know and love. Like I said before, it takes time for the consumer to recognize what wines a region can produce and produce well. Only when Colorado consumers recognize that CO Cab Franc and Riesling are top-notion and ask for them, will more wineries follow suit and specialize in those wines. People don't ask for Napa Sangiovese because Cab is King. In most emerging wine regions, no wine is king … yet.

        • 1WineDude


          CWP – I've got a long and now well-documented love/hate relationship with Napa SB, so I'm sticking to the inclusion. :-) I do understand that one person's sucky wine is another's favorite sipper, but I would also argue that flawed wines shouldn't be bottled and sold. But it's happening out there…

  • Niklas Jorgensen


    Quoting a friend on a similar wine; greener than Kermit the frog.
    So no, not your cup…

    Note to self; must buy land to my kids for possible future vineyards ;-)

    Best

    PS. More topic related. Liked this post a lot.

    • 1WineDude


      Niklas – HA!!! :)

      Thanks!

  • Thomas Pellechia


    My view is that the main reason not to produce so many wines is the inherent dilution of message. It's a much better idea to focus and be known for a few things rather than try for everything, which of course produces the "many wines that suck" syndrome.

    Having said that, the one thing I know for sure is that the tourist market is not even closely associated with the wine consuming geek market, and so wineries that rely on tourist sales are nearly forced to produce all kinds of stuff. What they should do is produce that stuff under a second label and maybe even offer it in a separate tasting room; what they should never do is try to pawn it off on wine judges and critics.

    • 1WineDude


      Hey Thomas – I agree… to an extent.

      Dilution of message is one aspect for sure, and nothing screams of a potentially poorly-run business than a lack of focus, which is the impression that diluted messages very often give.

      Where I don't entirely agree is that the markets have to cater to its different levels/tiers in entirely different ways. I mean, if you're gonna diversify, diversify in those tiers in the market (an entry-level line, a "fun" line, a more "intellectual"/premium line). None of the wines in those tiers should suck, though. If they don't make the quality cut, I've got two words for what wineries should do: bulk market!

      Cheers!

      • Thomas Pellechia


        Joe,

        I agree with you. That's what I meant by second labeling.

        Still, running a business is not the same as what others think running the business should be.

        When you operate a wine business that relies on tourists, you often find yourself having to compromise in order for the business to remain viable, despite what us critics think about your prospects.

        • 1WineDude


          Thomas – thanks, and very true, I appreciate that customers need to be kept happy. I just wish the balance between that and a focus on the best that someone can produce was better struck in more cases.

  • Houstonwino


    Not much to add except a resounding AMEN!

    • 1WineDude


      Thanks, Joe – solidarity, bruthah!!!

  • Jan


    I agree with this to an extent. I was a V&E major and studied in the Finger Lakes and couldn't stand to see them plant Cabernet Sauvignon and Merlot just because it was popular. BUT I now work for a winery in an emerging region that has A LOT of wines on the menu. The owner started planting to see what worked and a lot of it did. What didn't he ripped out. What performs best are Bordeaux varietals and we make varietal wines out of 4 of the 5. We have 9 varietal wines that all perform well and have been well received by our local wine drinking community as well as colleagues in your blogging community. More than half of our list is also sweet and fruit wines though to appease our local consumers and keep our doors open (bread and butter so to speak). I like what you're saying here, grow what your climate allows, but we're in such a fertile prime growing area anyway, what hurt is there to experiment and see what does well and if you like the wine then try to sell it?

    • 1WineDude


      Jan – Appreciate what you're saying, and there are *always* exceptions in the wine world. Your situation is an exception. I'm guessing though that it makes other aspects of the biz such as marketing more complex? I'm also guessing that it still carries the danger of lack of focus (whether real or perceived).

  • 1WineDude


    Hey Lenn – I'm a big fan of the market deciding things :). Totally agree on the need to experiment as I mentioned in my post, especially in regions that haven't found the magic combinations of site and grape yet (not that the quest ever really stops, I suppose!). I've rarely been to producers in those areas, though, where *all* the wines were great or *all* the wines sucked. More commonly, for me anyway, they have some very, very good wines and some terrible wines; when I press about the terrible stuff, I get the "oh, well, we kind of *had* to make those" or "we're just experimenting" – I'm calling bullsh*t on the first response (as detailed in today's post) and trying to explain why the second response is a terrible business model (as you've also pointed out I think). Experiments that don't meet a producer's quality standard need to go into the library, and the bulk wine market, not into the tasting / sales room.

    Love what you're saying about LI – I really want to try that Albarino now!

    • Jan


      Albarino is one of my new favs and I would LOVE to taste some LI ones and even the ones they're making in NJ too!

  • Jan


    Hey Lenn,
    I tots agree! That is what we are dealing with here in New Jersey (mention us next time in emerging regions! haha! no one ever seems to think of us but that's another story for another time ;)) But I also think he was saying he is sick of the crap wine being shoved into the glasses of unsuspecting wine drinkers that like Napa Cabernet Sauvignon and don't know that upstate NY just can't produce a Napa Cab so to speak. I like the article and understand the underlying idea but I TOTALLY agree with you that we need to experiment and that if it doesn't sell it won't be made anymore :)

  • 1WineDude


    Jan – *exactly* what I meant. I want experimentation, but new customers shouldn't be swindled into paying for it when the results are sub-par.

  • 1WineDude


    Matt – yep, that's the danger of diluting focus. It's the same for any discipline, and wine is no exception.

    Seems I say that a lot… I wonder what it is about wine that has some people thinking it's immune to trends or principles that hold for just about every other industry everywhere? :)

    Cheers!

  • sam


    In the current economy I would guess that bad wines don't sell. Wineries that don't sell go out of business. Problem solved. If a winery is still in business, my guess is that they are not that bad. The only problem with my little theory here, is very small vanity wineries that are more of a hobby, and do not need to be good enough to make money and survive. So anything less than 3000 cases total winery, don't drink it. Owner winemaker who does it because he needed a change from corperate life and wanted to slow down, don't drink it. Vinifera from an area with summer humidity over 80%, and the vineyard is biodynamic, don't drink it.
    Also, nobody forces anybody to buy crappy wine. My other suggestion would be to send them a message. Tell them the wine is dog crap, and that they should get better fast or quit. I would love to see a wave sweep through the wine industry where hundreads of bad winemakers were fired, or in the case of owners, went out of business.

    • 1WineDude


      sam – I think for the most part you're right that bad wines don't sell; or, put another way, wines that don't appeal to people don't sell; I'd argue a lot of poorly made wine does sell, it's just marketed very well and appeals to some people's tastes, or convinces them through marketing that their tastes should be a certain way, etc. That's mostly found in high-volume stuff.

      The volumes we're talking about here, though, are usually pretty small. It's stuff sold over the tasting room counter. And sometimes, it's flawed, as in textbook flawed.

      I agree that they should be sent a message. Here's an example: I told a VA winery, in their tasting room, that if they continued to sell their Riesling as I tasted it that I would hope they'd go out of business because it was a terrible, flawed wine and was so bad that I refused to believe that their winemaker could make the other (very decent) wines in their portfolio and not know that the Riesling was dogsh*t. That sounds harsh, but they were swindling their customers, and the way they pitched the wine to me in the tasting room was they same way they pitched to a newbie customer, because they had no idea who I was and I gave no indication that I knew anything about how wine was made, etc.

      Tough love, and I wasn't purposefully trying to be rude, but it's surely rude to pawn that kind of stuff off on unsuspecting customers.

      • PAWineGuy


        How could they be swindling their "unsuspecting" customers if they were pouring it in the tasting room? Seems like people would either buy it not, based on their own preferences.

        • 1WineDude


          PAWineGuy – true, I suspect (and hope) that's how most people would buy; and let the buyer beware in this case. But that's kind of part of the point, which is that if the wine is crap, don't try to pawn it off on people just because they might not know a lot about wine (that's the "poor unsuspecting" part for me). Cheers!

  • jan


    I just love this blog and the intelligent wine conversations/debates that ensue :)

    • 1WineDude


      Thanks, Jan! I do my personal best to bring the IQ level down so things don’t get *too* intelligent… ;-)

  • 1WineDude


    Hey Derek – love that name ("father-in-law blend")… excellent! :)

  • Carl Helrich


    Living in an emerging wine region, I couldn't agree more. Not necessarily that these wineries shouldn't be producing a gazillion wines, but the main point of your post really seems to be that they should not make wines that suck. In new wine-regions, there are usually a few wineries that pioneer quality wines and do it for the love of the wine. For the most part, the rest seem to be pioneers in more of an entrepreneurial sense. Seeing if a winery as a business can fly.

    To make great wines in the world takes a combination of money and talent. We all know the saying in the wine industry on how to make a small fortune. In new regions, there's no fortune to be made, so the money part is out of the question. I agree that the market will hopefully bear out and eventually choose not to buy bad wines from entrepreneurs. But that takes time, sometimes decades, to have an influence. In the meantime, those pioneers of terroir in brave new worlds of winemaking just keep at it….even if they are making a gazillion wines to understand their region.

    • 1WineDude


      Thanks, Carl – yeah, I don't want people to squelch experimentation, but I it's sad when people sell sucky products, and worse when the dilute their focus enough to sell them alongside *good* products!

      Cheers!

  • Thomas Pellechia


    Just one more point: who decides when a wine sucks, and how is that decision made?

    As others have pointed out, if the decision to buy is made at the tasting room, then what you think sucks may not be what the buyer thinks sucks.

    Admittedly, I get testy with aesthetic criticism, but without identifying a standard by which a wine can be deemed as "sucking" it's all hot air to me.

    Here in the Finger Lakes, which has been emerging for about 180 years, one wine outsells them all, and it is a wine based on Catawba. I am certain that many geeks would say that it sucks. But the fact remains: it outsells the region's other wines.

    • 1WineDude


      Well, Thomas, that is a philosophical debate I suppose and fodder for a post in its own right, but I would say that if the fruit is good and the wine is well-made then it does not inherently suck, even if geeks dismiss it as frivolous.

      • Thomas Pellechia


        Joe,

        Maybe fodder for another post: is there or should there be a relationship between what the wine "press" prefers and what the wine "tourists" buy? And who's got the upper hand when it comes to establishing the success of a winery?

        • 1WineDude


          Thomas – a veritable powder-keg of a topic. I love it! Consider it done, I will see what I can do to get it posted next week. Stay tuned…!

  • 1WineDude


    It's a good point CWP – we shouldn't pick on emerging regions unfairly. But I framed the discussion in that context deliberately because it's in those areas where I've found the largest disparities in the wines. Certainly it can happen in big name wines as well.

    We need to be careful about the flaws, though, and what we categorize as flaws. Personally, I'm with you that VA and Brett are flaws but not everyone agrees. But sulfur issues and reduced wines? Those are a lot more clear-cut – and they are the type of things I've found in the "emerging" regions. Not just that, but also wines that are not flawed but have no "varietal correctness" at all. That VA Riesling didn't even smell like Riesling; it was not discernible as Riesling in any way/shape/form apart from the acid, which was harsh. *That* kind of sucky is really egregious, because it can only be bottled if the producer has an attitude of "f*ck it, let's try to sell it anyway" and there's no excuse for that for anyone who takes pride in their work, I think.

    Thanks for the great comments, by the way – I love this stuff!!! :)

    • Colorado Wine Press


      I know that you're not picking on emerging regions, but I can't stand it when people see Napa on a label and automatically assume that it is spectacular and flawless and see "Emerging Region" on a label and automatically assume it sucks. Did you see Gary Vee's video on Colorado Wine. You can't tell me he didn't want to give the wine more points, but didn't because of the label.

      Flawed is flawed, but I admit to sometimes enjoying a little VA, Brett or even petrol in Riesling! Nevertheless, I believe that if a winemaker thinks his wine is flawed he should not sell it.

      Varietal correctness is something that I am less concerned about. Does Gravner chardonnay taste like chardonnay? Cab franc tastes different in Bourgueil, St-Emilion, Napa, Long Island and Colorado. There will always be a place for well made wine even if it is 16.8% jet-black pinot noir from Napa. If that VA riesling sucked it sucked but don't knock it if it tasted like Montachet! I'm not saying that's what you described, but you get my point.

  • Jason


    I completely agree. A better strategy would be to team up with someone who does make a wine well that you don't and vice/versa

    • 1WineDude


      Jason – personally, I'd love to see more cooperative efforts like that. I guess wine seems to attract the go-it-alone, independent types? (hello… "1"WineDude… I think I need a psychoanalyst now…)

  • Dan


    It's all a bit subjective, but I like a good wine quarrel!

    • 1WineDude


      Me, too, Dan. :)

  • 1WineDude


    Right on, CWP. Well, except for that 16.8% jet-black Pinot thing… ;-)

    • Colorado Wine Press


      I bet you'd drink it if it tasted like a 1961 DRC … ;)

      • 1WineDude


        CWP – touche. ;-)

  • Jack


    Funny. One of the guys I worked with when I was in the army bought a winer near Leesburg VA and we had a similar discussion just a few weeks ago.

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