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Monday Manifestos
Rich Man, Poor Man, Beggar Man, Thief


By Charles Olken

Every wine drinker I know falls into one of those categories. And all of them, whether rich or poor, enjoy their tipple and probably think they are beating the market with their choices.

That is kind of the way it is with wine. We wind up drinking the wine that meets most of our expectations—and even when we go down in flames from an unexpected disappointment, it is not because we have not tried. That is what value is about. It is about perception. If a bunch of IPO-rich swells care to drink DRC or Screaming Eagle, it is not just that they have more money than taste, they perceive value in those wines.

I perceive something else when I hear those names—too rich for my blood. But you can bet your bottom dollar that I am happy to be drinking my Dehlinger Pinots, my Turnbull Cabernets, my Ravenswood Teldeschi Zinfandels because I find them affordable and exceptional. Few of my neighbors buy wine at the prices that my choices fetch (except, of course, when I am pouring it at our twice a year block parties—Christmas and Fourth of July). But they are wine enthusiasts and if a $20 bottle of Merlot is their usual choice, you can bet that they will only occasionally shell out $35 or $40 for the Hall 2008 Napa Valley rated in our upcoming November issue at two stars/91 points regardless of how much value I may find in that wine.


We keep hearing that the next generation of wine drinkers is different. They are not impressed by labels and prices. Ask yourself if you a label-chaser in your early to mid-20s. Not many of us were. But some of those folks are going to follow in our footsteps. They will successfully interact with the economic system, buy a house in the suburbs, raise two soccer players and move up the wine price continuum.

Every generation thinks it is different. The hippies of the 1970s own wineries today. The folks occupying Wall Street will someday follow in their footsteps. It is what happens. And they will, as we now do, find their own senses of value. The ones who hit the IPO jackpot will become the next generation of swells and will keep Screaming Eagle and Harlan in business. The rest of them will find their wine at other levels, but it won’t matter. They will all find their wine niche just as we did. And they will all feel, as we do, that we are beating the system with our choices.

That is why the conversations about California wine being too expensive are a bit silly. The market makes the decision about whether prices are too high, not a bunch of pundits, prognosticators, sooth sayers or nattering nabobs of negativism.


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yeah, but...
by Thomas Pellechia
Posted on:10/24/2011 1:06:09 PM

...there's always the concept that if it costs a lot it certainly must taste good, or why would it cost a lot?

I'm afraid that when at the retail level I saw that process at work quite often.

by Patrick
Posted on:10/25/2011 10:48:03 AM

Yes, the market does make the price. But CA prices are higher than lots of other regions. That recent NYTimes piece in the Magazine section about alleged bargain wines (none from CA) is good evidence. For more evidence, turn to the flash sites. That's the Repentance Zone for CA producers who have overplayed their hands and priced stuff too high.  I hope some sanity returns.

by Charlie Olken
Posted on:10/25/2011 11:03:42 AM


If the market makes the price, then the prices are right by definitiion. Those who need to lower price to sell of excess production are also being told by the market what to do.

Sanity is found in the market, and if the greater portion of CA continues to sell without needing to be dumped, then the pricing is not insane.

As for the NYT piece, most observers understand that the people asked were trying to prove how smart they were by naming wines that were not on the radar screens. It is what the "in the know" geeks do and have always done. Please look back to the blog entry last week on $12 CA wines. Good quality wines at great prices exist by the hundreds.

Upcoming wine drinkers
by Sherman
Posted on:10/26/2011 11:34:52 AM

After years in the wine biz, on both a retail and wholesale level, the general trnd I've noticed is that most wine afficionados start with the basics and work their way "up the ladder," depending on their passion, available time and available money. 85% stay in the mass consumer category and about 15% become enthusiasts; it's the enthusiast segment that sets trends and buys out of proportion to its size.


I don't perceive the Millenials as being much different from this -- sure, the technology may be a bit different, but most start with white zin & an ice cube. A few years later, that 15% segment knows the difference between top end Napa producers, as well as some of the more esoteric European entries.


Maybe they will proceed along the wine path a bit quicker than their predecessors, but it seems to be a generally similar progression. Along the way, they listen, they enjoy and they refine their experience --as wine enthusiasts have done for generations.

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