Oh Honey, No.

I rarely mention people here. Or blogs. Or media. Not by name.

But here I will quote, if not actually mention them by name.

Let’s get the basics right, people. Particularly if the blog and the site is designed to instruct and educate. And maybe checking the work before you publish it for basic errors. And for bigger errors. And maybe, understand your audience. Because if your audience is reading to learn, maybe not skewing to your own personal opinion would be a start. Offer a broad base of knowledge, and allow the audience to create their own opinions based upon this knowledge. This is how education works.

Drumming your opinion into people is in no way education. It is indoctrination.

So, does vintage really matter? According to this site, and I quote: “the actual vintage has very little influence.”

You know what? I almost get where he is going here. Almost. That it is better to find brands or people or varieties which you like and just drink them. Fine.

But. I don’t know if you have noticed recently, but the wine industry is an agricultural business. The vintage has a huge impact. We work within it, around it and optimise our wines to the conditions. Wines do not magically appear. They are grown in a vineyard. Which is a farm. Which is impacted by weather. Floods. Rain at the worst possible time (hello 2011!). Drought. Hail. Frost. Climate change.

Oh yeah – apparently “most of these are one-off weather events.” Except they are not. They affect many of us in very many years.  Vineyards work to deal with shifting weather conditions. We adapt our styles to suit. The weather changes – the wines change. Telling your audience to expect the same product year in year out because it has a certain label, region, name or variety on it is inaccurate, and misleading.

Instructing your audience that weather can affect vintage is more accurate. It can change the style of the wine, it can may the winery more adaptable for different conditions. 2011 for example, made many of us much better at what we do.

What has been said in this blog is lazy – the simple answer, which is no answer at all.  Anyone who has spent any real time in a winery can understand what goes into the making of a wine, and the variations which affect the final product.

Nowhere here do I see the truly simple advice – try the stuff. Make up your own mind. It’s the silly season. Every rep in the country is doing multiple in-store tastings per week for the next six weeks or so. Take advantage. Ask them questions, whilst bearing in mind that they are actually trying to sell you something.

Particular thanks for this comment: “Of course, if you are a winemaker and you make one wine a year from just one small vineyard, and those grapes are no good this year, well, you are pretty much stuffed.” Awesome. I’m going to file that one under Super Helpful (Wine) Industry Truisms.

But wait. There is more.

You want to know some of the “trade secrets of wine sellers”? Of course you do.

Here we have a list of a few wine seller transgressions as perceived by the author. Most of which have a grain of truth. The whole story, they are not. This seems to be an attack on the industry? From the inside. I’m not entirely sure why. Does the author dislike other people selling wine in this country? Does he feel himself to be above others? Because this tirade is petulant, and does neither the industry nor the writer any favours. Let alone the poor reader assuming this to be the whole truth.

On-premise only house wines (referred to as the “cheapest read and wine on the list” – proof reading  should not be ignored) are filed away as “low in price and quality”, and defined as a means for the business owner to gouge his paying guests.

Deep breath.

Right. Yes. This can happen. But mostly? Mostly these wines are a way for the restaurant to offer a reasonably priced wine to guests which will NOT appear in the bottleshop across the road next week. This is a way of remaining competitive, whilst providing a product at a much-needed price point. To state that these ARE “usually the same wine you find on the discount shelf of your local wine shop, but re-labelled to look expensive” is offensive, and much of the time, blatantly untrue. Sweeping generalisations like this are dangerous ground.

And if it is the same wine? So what? Expensive-looking labelling is, well, expensive. And the restaurant buys at a different price in general (see my earlier post, Basic Math, if this concept requires explanation). And the wine is served to the customer. So the price is higher. If the wine delivers something the customer enjoys, at a price they are willing to pay? Well, then, job done. If it doesn’t, then the smart owner/manager will make an alternate choice.

“Sell out wine list”? Oh, right. A distributor has “purchased” the list. “This means the wine distributor has cut a deal with the restaurant for pouring rights of ‘best selling’ varieties in return for discount pricing and excessive listings.”

OK – for a start? “Pouring rights” is an industry term. Define it.

“Discount pricing” – generally means that the restaurant can then offer the wine at a price where it is more likely to sell.

“Excessive listings”. I genuinely do not know what this means.

Except that maybe a rep for a company has done their job really well, and put a wine list together for a restaurant who perhaps has not the time or the training to do so themselves. Many of these lists are NOT exclusively the province of one brand, or distribution business.  To put a list together which works ensures ongoing sales for the restaurant, and so for the distributor. And so for the brands represented by that distributor. Most of these lists (and there are always exceptions) cover a multitude of styles, regions and price points. I’m not sure where the issue is.

Honestly? A ‘purchased’ wine list can be an answer for a restaurant. The brands are often well-known, and require little in the way of a hand-sell by the often untrained staff. It can make the business work more fluidly. It can save a manager who is already working 80 hours a week some time, as there is only one order to place. And if the customer does not complain, then why should anyone else?

Oh, and we can’t leave out the “Tricky bottle shops”. Who are conning customers into believing that wines come from “independent wineries”.

A. Bottle shops are a business. That business needs to make money.
B. Calling an entire sector “tricky” in a manner clearly designed to be derogatory is – again – petulant, and grossly inaccurate.
C. Independent wineries. We may need to define that. Who is in? Who is out? All wine comes from a winery. Very many of these are family businesses. Some of them are able to sell wines direct into retail groups with a different label. The wine still has a production address. It has a region, and – generally – a variety on it. If the customer likes the wine, and is happy to pay the price commanded, again, where is the issue? OK – the chains have a LOT of own label wines. This is getting to be a troublesome concept. But not really the one being addressed here. And perhaps it is a discussion for another time. The wines are often sold in by – and I cringe here – independent wineries. And allow the retailer to provide a comparable wine at a comparable price to wines sold through the chains.. These larger sales by the wineries provide the cash flow which allows for the growth of the business. It might offset the slower sales of more expensive products – these being presumably more approved of by the author.

I do however, agree with the author’s outrage at these own label wines being advertised as having a certain RRP when they are never sold elsewhere. This is a problem.  Saying it “just smells fishy” though, does not address the issue.

And once step further away from the good and the ‘independent’, we have “Dodgy online clearance stores“.

OH, FOR CRYING OUT LOUD.

Online channels are a valid path to market. They are chosen by the vendor – that is, the producer. Who sets the price.  For whatever reason. Big winemakers. Little winemakers. Favourite winemakers. Unknown winemakers. Mostly, pretty smart booze. Lucky consumers. Caveat emptor, naturally, but that applies to everything. Even full-priced wine bought at an ‘independent’ store.

Cancelled export orders? That have travelled around the world? Exceedingly rarely does wine actually get shipped and then returned. We find other ways to sell into the market where the wine has landed, or nearby. Cancelled export orders will generally have been labelled differently for that market. If it is cancelled, it is generally at a point prior to despatch. Saying that cancelled export orders are cooked by going around the world a couple of times is wildly inaccurate.

The inference is that this will lead to the poor buyer ending up with eleven bottles they don’t want to drink (and why eleven? Surely if they don’t like the first one, it is 12 bottles they don’t want to drink?). Because they are trying to get a bargain from somebody who is not the author. But that’s ok! Because there is an answer;

“But here at the ******* ***** we are all about introducing you to those high quality boutique wineries who are just waiting to be discovered: the real, hard to find and authentic wineries with a story to tell!” 

A. Define: boutique.
B. Define: high quality.
C. Define: authentic wineries – as opposed to what? Inauthentic wineries? Wineries which look like wineries, but are in fact rubber ball factories?
D. If the wineries are hard to find, they need marketing help. And maybe a little instruction on how to register their business with the Yellow Pages.
E. Oh, right. Yeah. The author has a business too, and is using blog posts to undermine other aspects of the wine world to make you think that his way is the best way.

Which is what this petulance comes down to, really. Demeaning others to sell your product is never a good approach. This entire manifesto appears to be not to educate the ‘newbie’ (my mistake, terribly naive of me) but to sell his own product.

Which is boxes of four bottles at a time, from $79 a box. As an aside? Four bottles at a time is probably THE most expensive way to send wine. You might want to rethink that.

But here we are: another online wine retailer – clearly oh-so-different from the “dodgy online clearance stores”! Noble, no doubt. Just dealing with “authentic” wines.

Best of luck with that.

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Basic math

Dear media:

You continue to commission, or write uncommissioned, stories about the mark-up in restaurants. These are poorly researched, damaging, and infuriating to those of us who understand how the business works.

So I am not going to rant and rail against these hatchet jobs. I am going to show you why and how these articles are incorrect and damaging. With any luck, some consumers might read this and learn a thing or two.

1. Comparing retail price points with on-premise (that is restaurants, cafes, bars, pubs etc) is a fundamentally flawed argument.

Retailers – particularly the oft-mentioned chain liquor outlets – buy at a very different price from restaurants. Why? Because restaurants do not have the space to store, or the seats to which to serve the copious volumes required by retailers. Especially the chains. Many of the chains have ‘preferred pricing’ from their suppliers (who are more often than not the producer) – which basically means that they get a cheaper price for the same product, but have it available at most stores. Which equals volume. Like when you, dear consumer, go to a warehouse retailer, or Costco, or wherever it is, and buy loo paper at apocalyptic volumes, super cheap. Same deal.

Restaurants? Restaurants are kinda like the corner store. Or the servo. They buy small volumes, usually from a middle man, the distributor. Who takes a cut, obviously. The wines go from producer, to distributor warehouse to restaurant. Extra transport costs here. Might not seem like much, but this adds up. It cannot be absorbed, and continually increases. This cost, naturally, is added to the product: the wine. So, purchased at a higher price = sold at a higher price.

This is not rocket science.

2. A restaurant is not your living room.

A restaurant is a place selling an experience: food, wine, service, the opportunity to not have to cook, serve and clean up yourself. They have expenses, which make this happen: staff costs; training costs; rent; cutlery; glassware; fitout; cleaners; insurance; security; rates; licence fees; fees to play music; possibly storage costs; countless other fees which you fail to notice in your nice bar, with attentive, knowledgeable staff and food you like to eat with wine/beer/softies/cocktails you like to drink.
They are not doing this for your benefit. A restaurant – at risk of stating the obvious – is a business. It exists to make a profit. That is not the easiest thing to do, but there are a number of people making a great go of it. A part of the profit in a restaurant is acquired through drinks sales. Which essentially means that if you wish to pay the same price for Bottle X as you paid at retailer Y last week, go to that retailer, pick up a bottle, and drink it at home.

Wash up your own glasses, prepare your own food. Clean up after yourself, and then factor everything that went into drinking that bottle over and above the purchase price. How much was your glassware? Did you break one? Double that cost. How about the dining room in which you ate? How much did that cost to be there, available for you to use, and decked out appropriately? How about the cleaning products you used, the petrol or bus ticket to get you to the shop and back? What about the food you bought and served, and the plates on which you served it? What about the table, the seats? What about your time making everything ready for your dinner? Add up the cost. Or don’t. Because you never do. But a restaurant does. Because it is a business.

3. Restaurant pricing is not some massive trick designed to gouge and defraud the poor customers

Mostly because restaurants rely on return business – that is you – actually returning. Funny that.
Restaurant pricing involves a whole host of cost inputs.
Retail pricing involves a whole host of cost inputs. Different ones.

Like tax. On wine, the venue pays WET and GST. And then they sell it on, and collect the GST for the government on that sale, and hand it over. They have payroll tax, and rates and it might just send you mad just considering all the taxation implications in a glass of wine if you were to consider every layer added on.

Do you know what each restaurant you visit might cost to run? And how it costs money even when there is no-one there? Because every little cost associated with having a glass of wine in your house is amplified. Because it is not a glass of wine on the couch. It is a glass of wine, often carefully researched by the sommelier, or the owner, or the manager. This research takes time – and it is not just drinking. They look at the wines which best fit their business, which suit their clientele, which work with the food. They work with their chefs and their suppliers to make the best list, and then try to make a small profit. The time putting wine lists together? Immense. And the hours spent doing this cost money. There are people who do this for a living. That should show you the time, and the investment it requires.

Simply put, a restaurant is not a glass of wine on your couch. If you insist on comparing retail prices with restaurant prices you are continuing to do the industry a disservice. The articles are merely click-bait, and pander to the self-righteous who claim that their Corona at a bar – a clean, prepared, leased, serviced bar – served by a person – trained, paid, uniformed – should be the same price as the Corona they buy (by the case – ie: in volume) at the bottleshop.

There have been countless of these articles over the last few years. Each recycling the same figures. And often followed by an article about failing restaurants a few months later. Funny that. Attacking the hospitality industry – which is one of the biggest employers in the country – is irresponsible. And given the lack of adequate research, contemptible on the part of the writer and the editor/publisher.

If you are going to talk mark-ups, talk about all the costs that enter the equation. Not just the cost of the actual product, but the cost that goes into the location and the service of that product.

It is basic math.