For over 13 years I’ve purchased wine for the Chairman Selection Programs in the state of Pennsylvania, constantly hearing that the selection of wines was limited and subpar compared to the many big box retail chains run privately in other states. Retired and working for Legacy in a Glass, it was now time to travel and shop in these big box wine retailers and try the online purchasing they are touting, not only to taste test and research but also to help understand: what is the difference?
A few concepts that many advertise are direct to winery, or winery direct, proprietary brands. A play on words to make the consumer believe the wines are made specifically for them. Coming straight from a wineries cellar, no middle man. I cannot speak for every retailer, but the vast majority are full of —-. Buying winery direct is much more involved than just advertising it because you can. When I purchased wine for the Chairman Selection Program, winery direct was working specifically with a winemaker or wine owner, through phone calls or emails, to discuss what variety of wine and style I was looking for or what they had available at that time. We worked together on the entire project from quality, label, packaging, quantity and price. Building the entire story behind the concept brand. Many times, this took tasting multiple tank samples over the course of many weeks to get it right for one wine. The wineries I dealt with directly have control over the juice they were using to develop this brand. This means they had relationships with growers that supplied this juice. There was not an unlimited supply and 95% of the time the quantities were less than 4000 cases.
Unless a retailer is doing it this way, the only benefit of going winery direct is to make huge margins by purchasing low and marking up the retail many times. There is no regard for quality or the consumer. The wines I have been tasting from these big box retailers and online are put together from the many bulk wine private label facilities all over the world. Every Tom, Dick and Harry claims to have the best bulk wine and can develop any kind of label you want. This is not controlled by anything except how much bulk wine is in the market in any given year. This process is like throwing darts at a dart board – a one size fits all approach. I have always said that anyone can purchase volume wine. The difference is where and who you are purchasing the volume from. You need a very good relationship with the winery or winemaker to put together winery direct labels that are based on quality. It takes patience and communication on both parties to achieve the goal of a truly great value finished product.
My advice to the consumer when purchasing these types of wines is: Ask the wine steward on staff to tell you the story behind it. Who made the wine? What winery did it come from? Read the back label and Google “produced or bottled by”. If they can tell you the story behind it, it may be worth buying. If they give you some impressive story about how their wine team travels the world and seeks these wines out, ask if you can reach out to the wine team to discuss further. The only facilities the wine team would travel to for these private label opportunities are the same cast of characters I mentioned earlier. The bulk wine manufacturing facilities or huge wineries that have bulk juice available, where you pick a flavor and label and a finished wine pops out. Many of the wines in programs like this are not worth the price. Be a smart shopper. There’s nothing worse than preparing a nice dinner or having friends over and opening a wine that you bought on some discount program thinking you got a deal and it tastes bad. It ruins the moment.
Remember, when the curtain was pulled in The Wizard of Oz there was no wizard to be found. If the wine or price looks too good to be true, it probably is. There are some good values in the market. Get to know the wine steward. Be a smart shopper and ask questions.