good-bye white burgundy & drc ‘control-freaks’…

Update 8.12.2008(2.12.2008)billn

romanee conti montrachet

Australian white burgundy that is…

Now what about Domaine de la Romanée-Conti? You don’t see too much critique of the domaine as people are probably too worried that they might ‘lose’ their allocations of wine, but I think I will (eventually) raise a valid point here.
I took delivery of a modest 4 bottles of DRC 05 last week. I’m not sure why I decidied to open the package, maybe it was just to see if the labels were solid gold to reflect market pricing – the answer was yes, and no, one of the bottles was indeed gold – a gold-topped bottle of Montrachet, the thing is I didn’t order one…

The Montrachet was mistakenly in the package in place of a more modest bottle of Echézeaux. Now it was time to test the system! I could have said nothing, but that’s not my style, so I sent a mail saying that my Echézeaux was missing, but as they now (theoretically) note the bottle number at the side of the customer name (more on this later), my bottle should still be in their store – I didn’t mention the ‘gold-top’ in my cellar. It took a couple of days, but the merchant came back and said, “We have checked everything and found out, that you got one bottle of Montrachet (bottle Nr. 1044) instead of the Echézeaux”. They went on to say that if I sent back ‘my’ ‘gold-top’ I could have my Echézeaux!

I have no problem with the above, it’s how it should have been, but I find it interesting that the domaine’s ‘big brother’ approach to sales seems (at least in part!) to work – i.e. the referencing of bottles to their purchaser. The domaine’s clear intention is to try and restrict resale to get the bottles into the hands of drinkers rather than traders i.e. by threatening (maybe ‘implying’ is a better choice of word) not to sell again to people who are found to offload their wines for profit within weeks of purchase. I personally feel – to some extent – that this is a good thing, but I also see a sense of irony here: Domaine de la Romanée-Conti has a pricing level based significantly on the history of tradeability for the wines. If the wines were not so tradeable, then the domaine’s pricing might be only 30-40% of current pricing so ultimately they would be less financially successful…

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There are 2 responses to “good-bye white burgundy & drc ‘control-freaks’…”

  1. David McDuff2nd December 2008 at 3:03 pmPermalinkReply

    Bill,

    The type of after-market control you describe seems to be growing more and more common among wineries specializing in big-ticket, collector oriented wines. When I visited Harlan Estate (Oakville, Napa Valley) a couple of years ago, their estate manager spent a considerable amount of time explaining the pains they take to monitor the market, their main goal being to prevent their mailing list customers from simply flipping the wines for a quick profit on the auction and/or gray markets. Yet it’s those very markets that have helped to build the cultish reputation that’s allowed them to ramp up their pricing every year.

    The numerical system used by DRC might offer the benefit of serving as a useful tool in tracking down/detecting counterfeit bottles.

    However, as to the market control, it seems that they, Harlan and others, have ridden the train to get where they wanted to go and are now trying to take control of the train to make sure that they’re the only ones reaping the benefits (at least the short-term ones) of its momentum.

    cheers,
    David

  2. billn3rd December 2008 at 9:44 amPermalinkReply

    Agreed.

    It does seem kind of peverse that the system that has brought them the current wealth to do exactly what they need to in the vines is the one that they now try to limit. The clearest negative for me of the trade in these bottles is that a 20 year old La Tâche bought at auction, may have crossed the Atlantic three times and been to Hong-Kong and back once – not entirely surprising if the bottle doesn’t show well!

    In the end, I’m sure we all agree that bottles should be for drinking, not speculating, so maybe the domaine’s effort will influence this balance.

    I agree that tracebility could be more important and would offer benefits against fraud – but who is going to get an overview of what was sold, and where? With (not just) French data protection laws I suspect nobody!
    Cheers

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