Saturday, November 22, 2014

Flowers and Turkeys

Peter, Paul and Mary sang: Where have all the flowers gone?  

Wild Turkeys -- Erin, Ontario

In wine terms the question becomes: How do conglomerates handle the tons of grapes and juices that remain following each vintage - the leftovers? Surely some Executive is charged with the responsibility of finding a way to turn these into a windfall? and I have to believe it's standard practice by now and, if needed, new technologies and additives are used to supplement and emulate nature. How many spin-off labels can be concocted to fill the shelf space made available by our marketing monopoly? Where have all the 'leftovers' gone? Are they now flowers or turkeys? Have they all been converted to flowers (reasonable wines)? (it doesn't fit but I love the song!)

Any positive result turning leftovers into marketing successes is highly dependent on a skill that correctly anticipates what's in the blending vats and an ability to balance the proper components to turn them into consumable products. But how many winemakers willingly sell their talents to produce what often turns out to be saleable but artificial wines? That calls for a different breed of specialist, a biochemist perhaps, detached from terroir and the natural process of winemaking. 

There are many questions that puzzle me though - are there that many customers that drink plonk to warrant the level of subterfuge involved. But then how would these customers ever know they are being sold plonk? It's like a restaurant selling leftover turkey for grilled pheasant. Hey! The menu says it's pheasant. It's priced as pheasant. It must be pheasant! Unfortunately we have only one restaurant in the Province - and no way to question the veracity of the menu.   

Once the winemaker's job is done marketing folk add the finishing touches: 1) Attractive labels using names of associated wineries 2) Some kind words on the quality, something of sustainable viticulture and the geology - although perhaps it's wiser to stick to a short narrative on flavours and a food match. 3) A number of public and private events planned and reported by wine colleagues 4) Along with attractive labelling a heavier corked bottle may convey 'quality' or a screwtop, convenience? All this must be sufficiently distinctive not to present an alternative to existing labels. That's a tough order for any marketing team but they have a powerful accomplice.

By its nature this new marketing channel doesn't fit the 'above $100 bottle' price point where reputable wine consultants advise their clients. The retailer positions these marginal wines to compete with other like wines. I'll call this the 'leftovers price point', somewhere below $30.

An Irish Food and Wine journalist has concluded that roughly half of a long list of commercial wines (ref. 1), ie. those having substantial revenue growth in recent years, are 'complete crap' and 'a lot taste like alcoholic fruit juice'. I suspect many of these wines are from 'leftovers'.

Of the wines I've tasted recently 'roughly half' should not have made it to LCBO shelves. But then how can an organization responsible for sourcing wines for a market as large as Ontario be expected to exclude a large portion even if most would be analysed as 'crap'? And who can argue with the customer that wants to purchase these wines? The bar is set by an uninformed captive public.  LCBO testing practices ensure that Ontario customers won't be poisoned leaving reconstituted leftovers on the shelves as very profitable turkeys.

My opinion, Ww

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