A touch of social shaming with your wine and cheese




The decisions of some wineries can leave you scratching your head.


Before, when I was a consumer, I'd taste a certain wine in a flight. It would be horrible, manipulated, absolutely dead and soulless. The weekender pouring it might say “oh well, that’s our experimental label, we like to try blah blah and our winemaker felt this was a blah blah scientific-sounding words”.


Once I became an insider, and talked to the cellar hands or winemaker or owner themselves... different story.


“Hard vintage, we got screwed around harvest with rains, way less fruit than we thought. We sourced some outside fruit and when it came in we knew we had our work cut out for us. That’s why we went with a different color label and dropped the price by a few bucks. Gotta get some cash flow.”


[that’s not an exact quote, by the way -- I’m melding a few stories together to make a point]


So now it would be easy to say that the wine world is mostly a scam. Don’t believe nearly anything you hear. How dare they. And on and on.


Maybe. Sometimes.


But the truth is better served with an old industry quip:


"Running a winery is really easy... once you get to the fourth generation."


To put it simply, having mortgage payments drives many decisions in this industry.


For those of us that have toured in Europe, we’ve heard stories of wineries dumping an entire year’s worth of grapes, or at least not making their flagship wine in cases of a bad vintage.


That sort of choice is next to impossible when you are still paying off your land.


In super young regions like Canada, next to no wineries are second generation. Even if the parents make a great success, fewer children in our culture want to take over the family business. Folks here are up to their necks in debt!


And I don’t mean they are racking up credit card debt buying junk they don’t need. I mean they had to take a giant chance on their farms, probably got other family members (or a small group of investors) involved, and are scraping by, by the skin of their teeth.


I don’t have to guess. I’ve heard it from owners.


Especially this year. Imagine relying on 70%+ of your inventory going to restaurant sales, and then Covid shuts down restaurants.


But even during fat years, it’s simply not feasible for a winery to dump 500 potential cases of $20-$30 wine. They need that cashflow to service debt and to pay staff and to keep the bloody lights on.


Of course, they should be honest about this. And many boutique wineries are.


For instance, having to create a new “entry level” tier from the wine made from young vines that really aren’t quite ready yet, but they need the production volume. Knock a couple bucks off it, tell people it’s more of a picnic wine, explain the vine age, etc. Educate the consumer. Draw clear parallels between the effort and fortune that went into the bottle, versus the price they are paying.


The good news is, it will only get better.


Take it from friend, and micro-negociant Sébastien Hotte - he took a cautious but rosy view of Canada’s future:


“Give it another 20 years, and things will change for many of them. Debt will be paid off and people will be able to afford to be more intense in their mindset of how they farm, and what level of quality they can consistently offer.”


And in the meantime, if you know any kids with winegrower parents, subtly hint that they have an amazing family business and how we’re all counting on them to keep it going.


Just a touch of social shaming with your wine and cheese.

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