A call for more transparency in where wine comes from
Two things that happened lately have made me think about how the law as its currently written allows wine brands to cloak themselves in absolute secrecy concerning where the stuff in the bottle actually comes from.
Over the weekend I went down to my local Cost Plus, as I sometimes do, to hang out in the wine section and talk to the guy who works there. He was explaining why some bottles are priced at $X.97, where others are $X.98 or $X.99. The .97s are closeouts. The .99s are the regular price (reminded me of when Don Draper said, on Mad Men, “Whoever invented .99 cents was a genius!”), and then there are the .98s. Those are the most interesting category; they’re mainly wines that Cost Plus bought, out there on the open market, then labeled with their own made-up brands.
First off, you’d never know that these are Cost Plus brands unless you asked; each brand has a different name and a different label design (although all the labels are similar enough in style to suggest they were designed by the same hand). Secondly, you’ll never know who actually made the wine, or where the grapes were grown. Take that Napa Valley Cabernet Sauvignon. Was it made by a well-known Napa winery that couldn’t sell it at their usual price because of the Recession? Lots of wineries don’t want to reduce their prices, because if the economy ever rebounds, consumers who are paying $12.99 will resist paying the $40 the wine cost before the Recession. So these wineries will sell off their wines to an outfit like Cost Plus. Sometimes (the clerk told me), the wine is in the bottle. All Cost Plus has to do is remove the old label and put on the new one.
The consumer is often the beneficiary of this, of course, since she stands to get a $40 bottle for $12.99. But wouldn’t it be nice to know who actually made the wine and where precisely it’s from? I think so. But as far as I know, there’s no law, federal or California, that mandates such transparency. There should be.
The other thing that happened was that I got an email press release from a new brand, which I won’t identify because there’s no need to. Suffice it to say it’s a Napa Valley Cabernet Sauvignon. After touting the wine (which I have not had), the press release said, “There are several intriguing mysteries about the wine—one of which is that the winemaker’s name will not be disclosed. In addition, the exact vineyard sources for the Cabernet grapes will not be divulged.”
Well, I emailed the people back and asked why they couldn’t divulge the winemaker or source, and the answer was: confidentiality agreements. Whoever made the wine evidently had a say in whether his or her name could be associated with it. Ditto for whoever owned the grapes.
I can understand why a winemaker or winery would not want it to be known that they’re basically dumping unsellable wine at bargain basement prices. On the other hand, I think consumers have a right to know where their wine comes from and who made it. Maybe most consumers don’t care. All they want is a tasty glass of wine at a good price. But surely, some consumers desire to know this information. I do. Do you?