Why can’t we do something like this?
It’s France’s annual foire aux vins (wine fair), the late summer-early fall event when the nation’s supermarkets offer heavy discounts on wine, sending consumers on “a shopping spree…through crates of Bordeaux and Bourgognes in search of the best vintage at a good price,” says the article in Agence France-Presse.
It is, simply, “time to stock up,” even — or especially — in bad economic times. Sales from the foire aux vins amount to an astounding “25 percent of the total annual turnover for wines in big supermarkets.” It’s not only a great deal for wine consumers, but also for producers, providing them with “a major boost at a time when they are struggling with falling demand.”
I did a little research. Prices seem to be cut up to 30-40% on many bottles, with, for instance, Chateau Tour Simard 2004, the second wine of Chateau Pavie, selling for 11.49 Euros instead of the usual 35 Euros.
Imagine if we did something like that here in California. Vons, Ralph’s, Cost Plus, Albertson’s, Safeway, BevMo, Andronico’s, Wal-Mart, Whole Foods and everybody else slash prices by an average 25% for two weeks. I predict the result would be historic. At the end of the two weeks, shelves would be empty, forcing the supermarkets to reorder from wineries, who then would be able to deplete stocks that, in many cases, have been sitting idle in warehouses. Laid-off employees would be rehired.
Let’s not stop there. Who’s to say that this would not only stimulate an immediate rush on wine, but that thousands, even tens of thousands of consumers would then decide they wanted wine to stay in their lives?
Okay, I can hear the objections. “Sure it would be good for two weeks. But what then? When prices bounced back up, people would simply stop buying again, and we’d be back to Square One.” Well, yes…and no. Wineries would raise their prices back up, but not to the full amount they fetched before. Maybe 5-10%. Some consumers would hardly notice. Those who did would understand that the foire aux vins (which would have been announced in advance) was only for two weeks, so they wouldn’t be surprised or offended when the deals stopped. Producers and distributors then could carefully watch the market for signs of recovery, boosting prices modestly if things look good, holding them steady otherwise.
I do admit that small wine shops might be hurt. That’s a tough one, and I don’t know the answer, except that small wine shops will always have their admirers, who don’t like buying wine in supermarkets.
Of course, we couldn’t call it the foire aux vins. The Freedom Fries wingnuts would crawl out from under their Fox News rocks and accuse us of being (gasp) — socialists! We could call it California Wine Fair Days, or something like that. Do you think the media wouldn’t give it massive coverage? Of course they would. It would be on all the news shows like white on rice. Wineries would participate, opening their doors and offering the same 25% discounts. Other States would notice, too. It would be another case of California leading the nation. We might even have an American Wine Fair Days, especially with this President who, thankfully, likes a nice glass of wine.
Maybe food purveyors would hop onboard. The supermarkets could offer recipe cards for the major wines. Excited consumers would be tempted to try that short ribs dish to pair with the Petite Sirah, or those crab cakes to go with the Chardonnay. Probably the best time of the year to do this is during the warm months when tourism peaks in California wine country.
I think it’s a great idea and I hope the industry picks up on it.
Added later (i.e. earlier published additions of this post will not contain this addendum):
I asked my friend and colleague, Roger Voss, who covers France and much of Europe for Wine Enthusiast, about the foire aux vins, and he emailed: It’s held by French supermarkets every autumn. They buy in parcels of wine from merchants, from producers, from wherever and sell them at discounted prices. The wines can be classed growth Bordeaux or top Burgundy, Champagne etc. Often they are wines from less sought after vintages which the suppliers want to destock. It was created by supermarket group Leclerc several years ago (around 10 at a guess, but maybe longer). And now every supermarket does it. Because French supermarkets are mainly franchised, the quality of the range can vary from store to store and depends on the parcel size. And, of course, if you want to get Bordeaux bargains, go to a Bordeaux region store, for Burgundy go to Burgundy, etc.