February 11, 2009 by Doug Haugen
Many have speculated that wine is recession-proof (and, indeed, WINO has lauded the wine consumer for their loyal tenacity), based on statistical and anecdotal evidence, however sketchy. On the statistical side, wine sales have reported increases nationwide; though people are buying less expensive wines, but more of it. On the anecdotal side, people are thought to be buying wine to enjoy while spending an evening at home rather than hitting the clubs; that wine adds a degree of fanciness, even while cutting costs, helping to ease the pain of tightening purse strings; or that, like most “vices,” other things will be cut out of the budget before the things we love.
The truth is, wine is not completely isolated from the ravages of a frosty economic climate. According to a recent article in the Tri-City Herald, winemakers have been feeling the pinch. Staff-writer Ingrid Stegemoeller attended the annual convention of the Washington Association of Wine Grape Growers, spoke to a bunch of wineries from around the state, and the message was largely consistent: times are tough. Restaurant wine sales are on the decline, and people are buying bottles instead of cases for home consumption. Those who bought top-grade wines last year have downgraded a notch, and instead of buying a $60 bottle, people are buying three $20 bottles. All of this makes things a little more difficult for many artisan winemakers in the state, which are known for making premium wines.
When winemakers price their wines, there are many things to consider. New oak means barrel cost. Premium fruit is more expensive. Land, facilities, and other logistical factors play in. And, lastly, the competitive nature of capitalism affects the decision of what a bottle is worth, evaluating the going rate for wines of comparable quality and style. Many winemakers are starting to produce additional lines at lower pricepoints, finding ways to make very good wines (perhaps not “premium”), and produce them in higher quantities to counter lost sales in the higher categories.
In the face of hard-knocks, there’s a great solution for both the consumer and the wineries. Buy direct!
When wineries sell to retailers and restaurants, they have to take a hit by selling at wholesale prices. Distributors raise the price to sell to retailers at a profit, and retailers raise the price to sell to consumers at a profit. Buying directly from the tasting room means that profit margins are larger for the winery, and you can often get a much better price than at the local wine shop or grocery store. Not to mention that you get the chance to see the winery in person, learn about it, and try the wines before you buy–most tasting fees are waived with a purchase, so that’s free wine to boot!
Also, join wine clubs! Wine clubs almost invariably offer discounts, being that you’re a guaranteed sale and a loyal supporter of the winery. You get the discounts on the bottles you take home, and on the wine you taste in the tasting room, sometimes even waived. A delicious way to save some cash, and to support the wineries you love the most. Do it.
Not only will you have more fun buying from the wineries and joining wine clubs, but it’ll help you and the Washington wineries weather the storm, and you’ll have some great wine to help you pass the time.