Wednesday, January 19, 2005

Don't Make Wines for High Scores?!?

Am I the only person puzzled by Jim Laube's recent editorial? (I'd post a link, but the Wine Speculator now charges you for just thinking about their magazine). He says that winemakers shouldn't focus on scores, despite the fact that "great ratings help sell wine. But there's so much more involved in achieving long-term success in the wine business than a mere rating. A high score is worthless unless the winery has an effective business plan, and a business plan is an empty shell if there's not some core conviction about wine character behind it.

Wineries that try to make wines to please a critic's palate, or even to please the consumer's palate, are aiming at a moving target. Wine lovers' tastes--and their ability to finance those tastes--can change rapidly, with little or no warning.
Of course, 90-point wines sell. But I feel sorry for winemakers who focus on the scores. Because there are one-hit wonders in wine, just as in pop music, and sometimes 90 just isn't enough."

Wait a minute... what if my business plan calls for strong sales (don't they all)? Should I not make a wine that attempts to score well? Should I claim that I'm keeping my artisitic integrity intact by making obscure varietals using dated methods for a "rustic" or "authentic" blend? Isn't good business driven by strong sales, whereas artistic expression should be independent of economic motivation? Why not go for better scores then!?!?

As I've said before, if you're going into business to make money, you should consider creating and marketing your products so they sell best. For example, a "shelf talker" that lists a score better than '90' will move bottles like no other method, sad but true. Wines that score poorly end up in the bargain bin (integrity intact, I suppose) thought I question whether the average wine consumer could distinguish the former high scorer from the latter in the bargain bin.

While he may not like it, Mr. Laube, as one of the critics assigning thousands of scores annually, is an integeral part of this process.....



Anonymous Anonymous said...

At the end of the day wine is just another (agricultural) consumer product. It has to be sold. Whether it is marketed as a 90+ pointer or as a 'traditional style' is up to the producer.

I think these points have a far greater impact in the USA than they do here in the UK. Rare to see any shelf-barkers with numbers on them. Here it is more aiming at market segments - the traditionalist (classic Chateau on label), the experimenter (unusual grape varieties) etc etc

But at the end of the day the stuff has to be sold - and like any other market segment marketeers can use any method that they think will work.

January 19, 2005 10:04 AM  
Blogger Tom said...

Altough I commented on Jim Laube's column earlier, I think I see his point. I think what he is saying is don't MAKE the wine with the wine reviewer in mind; that you can make a wine that reflects your view of what wine can be and still make a good living.

Ok...I'll buy that. His point that the critic and consumers' taste is a moving target is also well taken, but what he doesn't mention is that it's a very SLOW moving target that's pretty easy to hit.

I appreciate the integrity he's asking for. But the problem with using scores to sell wine in the U.S. is not with the wineries alone...In fact it's not primarily with the wineries. It's the wholesalers and retailers that most often demand high scores to sell wine.

nice post!

January 19, 2005 10:11 AM  
Blogger caveman said...

I must admit that i stopped reading The Spec awhile ago. I stopped rating wines a long time ago, and likewise stopped reading the ratings of others. 90-94-98... whew, they must have opened a really good bottle! Put the accent on those who are going back to the basics and trying to express true terroir, simply for the sake of producing good art. Yes, a business is a business, but until the consumer is steered towards those producers that are trying to do something real, something good, these producers will stay on the fringe, with fingers crossed hoping for at least a 91.

The Caveman

January 19, 2005 8:39 PM  
Blogger Huge said...

Interesting comment William. I wonder if you could list a few examples of wines that are made to "express true terroir" and some wines that are not. This would help me to understand where you're coming from as I find that "terroir" is one of the most abused and least understood words in the wine world....

Thanks for commenting.


January 20, 2005 10:01 AM  
Blogger caveman said...

I guess for me terroir is both a physical and temporal place. Take two of my favorite Beaujolais producers, Marcel Lapierre in Morgon and Yvon Métras in Fleurie. I have followed these wines over a number of years and one senses that a certain soul went into making this wines, one that reflects both where they came from, and the year that they were made. Each millisème offers something new and exciting. Smaller productions, indigineous yeasts, lower sulfites... I guess the opposite of Dubeouf, who tends towards a more uniform taste where each milliseme tends to taste alot like the last. Technically sound, but lacking a certain soul. This is obviously very subjective, you don't see the word soul very often in The Spec.
I have met on a number of occasions members of the 'Vin Nature' gang, in part inspired by Lapierre. These people are having fun, are passionate about what they are doing, and are making spectacular products. It is a shame that they don't recieve more exposure.

The Caveman

January 20, 2005 10:34 AM  
Blogger Huge said...

Thanks for clarifying. I think there is a natural human tendency to wonder why the things that we like are not more successful (take obscure movies, books, or music for example). I for one would like to see better book sales for Michael Chabon or Gore Vidal than Grisham or Dan Brown.

However, when one writes a movie script, one usually has an idea if one is making a summer blockbuster or an "art house" film. So too with wine - make wine for profit and sell more, make wine for "soul" "terroir" what-have-you and expect to sell less. I have no issues with the latter, utmost respect, in fact. However, it gets my hackles up when those who produce such wines lament their lack of sales. You can't have it both ways....

January 20, 2005 11:12 AM  
Blogger caveman said...

You are right in pointing out that there should be no whining about lack of sales. One makes one bed and history is filled with people whose convictions have relegated them to the scrap heap of relative obscurity. I guess my point is that us, as drinkers in the know, also have a responsibility to influence those willing to listen about the choices which are out there. Hey, I'm all for 2 buck chuck, as well as monoliths like Lurton and Mondavi... they have made their own way and service a large clientelle, but there are other options out there... and I for one am glad for it.

The Caveman

January 20, 2005 4:00 PM  

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