When I’m asked what is a good wine to buy I always ask what wine they like to drink? When they tell me their favorite wine I say “Then that’s a good wine for you.” This sounds very non-committal but I tell them this because a wine is only a good wine if you enjoy drinking it not because someone tells you it is a good wine but you don’t like it. Not enjoying a wine deemed a shining example of winemaking is not a judgment of your wine quality preferences but a measure of personal taste. The idea that a “processed” wine, you may remember as an “industrial” wine, can actually be enjoyed by millions of wine drinkers has sparked spirited discussions among wine lovers.
These widely distributed wines have to be mass-produced to accommodate the logistics of supplying every retail outlet that offers them for sale. Benefitting from the economy of scale wine conglomerates are able to make these wines readily available at affordable prices and in a mindboggling array of choices. This type of wine is produced in facilities that resemble an oil refinery more often than the small family-run wineries we are accustomed to visiting.
Marketing of wine is a complex procedure that relays on what a consumer is willing to pay for a product as opposed to its quality and production cost, take note that we are back to the perception of what is a good wine and who determines it. Most of the brands I am referring to fall into the $8-$25 range where the completion for sales is fierce. When you look at the bottles in this price range at the store it is easy to be fooled into thinking each is from an individually owned winery but the truth is that they are divisions of a handful of large corporations. E & J Gallo Winery has over 100 unique brands, you will be surprised to see just how many of their brands you recognize but didn’t associate with it. It is virtually impossible for a small winery to compete in this area of the wine market.
The corporations make the decisions on which of their brands are marketed to each consumer demographic and it is carefully produced to satisfy as many of the qualities that group of wine drinkers is looking for in their wine purchase. Depending on how and to whom the wine will be sold ultimately determines its ad campaign and if it gets put in a bottle, jug, box, can, or keg, well you get the picture. Due to certain unknown factors in these decisions, it is possible to find some very drinkable wines at bargain prices. The reason may be the vintages are better than expected and there are limited distribution channels to handle the excess wine. Just like those late-night TV commercials for warehouse furniture stores that tout the “Everything must go” pitch, winemakers often end up with more wine than they can sell. That is why you often find name-brand wines on the shelves of deep-discount retailers.
Just as the economy of scale can have a huge influence on the way wine is produced the clout of buying power has an enormous effect on how wine is sold. I live in Pennsylvania where the government controls all alcohol sales. The Pennsylvania Liquor Control Board (P.L.C.B.) maintains a network of retail stores statewide and offers online sales through its website. The P.L.C.B. is the largest purchaser of wine in the United States and this gives them immense leverage when negotiating deals. The P.L.C.B. uses its Chairman’s Selection program to offer customers an ever-changing lineup of interesting wines at a discounted price. Wine is like any other product, in that getting it on sale is no bargain unless the quality is there. Doing your homework before you go wine shopping can be very helpful when you are cruising the aisles looking for a “GOOD” wine. Happy Hunting!
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