Did anyone think to ask the customer?

So, I heard a story the other day, and I was wondering if someone could clear things up for me….

Vintage 2011 wines are being rejected sight unseen by the gatekeepers: retail and on-trade buyers. The story I heard had one refusing to look at the wines at an appointment made to … look at the wines. Because they are 2011. Restaurateurs and somms skipping 2011 wines in lineups. Deliberately.

Small question – has anyone:

a) Taken the time to look at the wines before dismissing them out of hand? Or,

b) Asked the consumer whether or not they actually care?

Surely, if you are as good a buyer as you think you are, people buy the wines because either:

a) They don’t really care; or,

b) They trust your buying acumen and nous in getting the best wines into your shop or onto your list (and in not buying something just because it is there and the deal is good).

This situation is getting ludicrous. We have smart somm-types (@pgmarchant, @dansims – not exclusively, obviously, but apparently my memory is failing somewhat) finding themselves having to advocate for  2011. And this all seems a little silly. It was two years ago. It was difficult. Things did not, it is fair to say, go to plan in a number of regions. Frankly, I am so much better at this wine business because of 2011. We were all out there, hand selecting rows, bunches, and adapting our schedules and winemaking styles to best suit the fruit we had. We made changes to make the best possible wines. And many of these have never made it to your nearest bottleshop or wine list, because we were not happy with the finished product. None of us want to see a wine out there with our name on it, with our label on it, which might not be up to scratch.

And yet. There have been some less than ideal 2011 wines. But you know what? That happens in every vintage.

If we have decided that even with the reputation of 2011, and the difficulties in making the wine, let alone selling it, if we have even then decided to release our wine, in most cases (and never in all), we are pretty proud of what we are putting up. We think it is worthy of our time, and our names, our labels. And people are dismissing the wines out of hand.

Initially, it was the problems associated with the vintage, regardless of whether the wine was actually from an affected region or not. Now? Now I seem to be encountering the ‘I can’t sell that’ excuse. Really? Because have you actually tried, with good wines?

To a varying degree, many consumers will have forgotten about 2011. Two years is a long time in any terms, let alone wine. I get blank looks when I explain why we will be going from 2010 to 2012, and skipping 2011. I certainly have had no issues selling 2011 wines I have chosen to release to the market.

Remember the heat wave in southern Australia a few years back? Do you think the consumers do? They are lapping up 08 reds from SA when they pop up on wine lists, clearance sites and auctions. Yet at the time, there was huffing and puffing about the jammy, hot styles yet to be released.

I wish I could convince more people that 2011 has produced some outstanding wines. It is sad that I am finding those I need to convince are not the consumers, but the trade. The gatekeepers who simply see what might possibly be a problem, and rather than trying to educate, and illuminate the world of wine which they inhabit to the consumer, they are in some occasions becoming the problem itself.

I’m proud of what I made. I am especially proud given the vintage conditions, but there are few (and never all) who release shoddy wine just because it is there. And yes. There are some. There are some every vintage. But you know what? Try the wines. Go to tastings. Try the wines sitting in front of you with a winemaker eyeing you off hopefully. Be responsible for what you put in store, for what you list, and be proud. Be known for that, and for ensuring that all of your wines are good – irrespective of individual taste. Everyone’s taste buds are different, but that is no excuse for hijacking the prospects of an entire vintage.

I asked my dad – discerning type, likes his wines – whether he would order a 2011 wine from a list. He looked at me like I had lost my mind, and said: ‘Sure. Why not?’ OK, says I. Different question: would you order 2011 wines from a clearance website without having tried them? He responded: ‘I never buy without trying, or failing that, a recommendation from a trusted palate, like the bird at the bottleshop, or the restaurant owner.’

So. Ask your consumer. If there is an overwhelming issue with the perception of 2011, there are plenty of us who would donate a few bottles to showcase how utterly proud we are. Open them. Maybe do it without telling those unwilling to order or buy 2011s what vintage the wine actually is. This is what we do. Or perhaps, what we should be doing.

I have asked a number of consumers over the last few months about whether they would buy 2011s. Various situations – and not all of them family, I promise – and for the most part saw a complete lack of comprehension regarding the point of the query.

I do keep banging on about asking someone who knows. If in doubt, if you think there might be something more, ask someone who knows. You know who knows about the wines they want to drink? The consumer. You, the gatekeeper, are merely a guide. And consumers who have faith in their guide return time and again, spending their hard earned money.

So please listen to us shouting our pride in our wine from the rooftops, and listen to the consumer just wanting something good, for the right money, which suits their palate. Be it 2011, or 2008, or 2013 or any other year.

And if the wine is not up to your standard? Sure. Then say no. Dismissing us and our wines out of hand shows a lack of respect for your business and your customers.

2011 – the vintage I learned how to break the rules, and make some awesome wines. And failed to sleep for weeks on end…

And a belated mention to the Swirl Sniff Spit crew in Queensland for their upcoming 2011 tasting aimed at dispelling the myths around the vintage. Great work guys. Mind if I roll it out everywhere else?!


4 comments on “Did anyone think to ask the customer?

  1. Adam Easterbrook says:

    I actually found new expressions in varieties in 2011 wines and love them for their differences. In fact I would say I like the more restrained 2011 Shiraz rather than the big brash Shiraz that is the norm.

    I would say that I do tend to pick and choose who I buy from and wouldn’t normally buy from a producer that only has volume as a measure of success.

    All in all, if you haven’t tried it, you can’t discount it and even if you don’t like it there is a new benchmark to add to your knowledge.

    • Exactly, Adam. Knowledge is power. And knowing your own palate, and the fact that your tastes will change, is a wonderful thing.

      There are some beautiful wines out of 2011 – some will take time to show that beauty, but that in and of itself is not a bad thing.

      Thanks for joining in! I look forward to catching up for a drink when I am more mobile.


  2. thevinsomniac says:

    It was Swirl, Sniff, Spits pleasure to show off a range of wines from 2011 last night.

    Whilst the predominant ‘noise’ amongst some quarters of your industry has been to write off a ‘wet, challenging’ vintage – that doesn’t tell the story of the Hunter Valley or Great Southern.

    Lazy journalism on the part of some writers, pre-judgment on the part of buyers as you say. Judge the contents, not the packaging or year.

    Judging from the comments last night there are quite a few fans of the – admittedly chosen – producers on pour last night.

    • Thanks, Stu, both for the 2011 event, and for the work @SwirlSniffSpit is doing in Brisbane.

      I think a lot of the issue is the media noise – way too early for the most part – decrying the vintage as a whole. And yet. Yet in every vintage there are great, good, ordinary and awful wines made. There are regions so far removed from the problem areas that tarring with the same brush is inept and damaging.

      Simply put, I think judge the wine not the vintage – nor even the producer. Just what is in the glass.

      Ask the consumer. If the wine is good, they will buy again. If not, they won’t. Their palate. Their choice. And most of them really don’t care about the vintage year. A few do, yes. But most? Not so much.

      I look forward to getting back up there and bringing you a bottle of my 2011 Clare Cabernet…!


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