Tuesday, February 10, 2015

Wine needs a Pliny the Younger

This week, beer fans from around the country are driving to Santa Rosa, CA and waiting in line 8 hours to buy a single pint of beer.

That beer is Pliny the Younger. Maybe it's a great beer; maybe there are better beers. What strikes me about the story is this: it's probably the most cultish drink in the world. Who waits in line 8 hours to drink any wine or whiskey?

And it costs $4.75.

No wonder men in their 20s prefer craft beer to wine, a development that has the Wine Market Council a little anxious about the future.

All of the world's most-sought wines are out of reach of not just 20-somethings, but all middle-class wine lovers. It doesn't make economic sense for a wine lover to drink first-growth Bordeaux or Domaine Romanée Conti or Screaming Eagle, and this has been the case for more than a decade. There are many wine lovers in their mid-30s who have never tasted, and will never taste, what are considered the top wines in the world.

DRC co-owner Aubert de Villaine recently whined to Wine Searcher that he doesn't like being in the category of a luxury product, and even "Romanée-Conti [the most exalted cuvée] should be at a price where consumers buy it and drink it."

Hey buddy, put your wine where your mouth is. You want people to have a chance to drink DRC? How hard would it be for you to work out a deal with a wine bar to do something like Pliny the Younger: to sell 10 cases of wine that people could have for $20 a glass, if they are willing to wait in line for it? You could do it once a year in a different city each time. Imagine the worldwide anticipation -- and the excitement of ordinary wine lovers.

Nobody in the wine industry does this. But they should. It wouldn't hurt the bottom line. We're talking about 10 cases. Many wineries donate that much wine to charity auctions, where it stays safely in the hands of the 1%. How about donating some to middle-class wine lovers?

Such an event would be huge news in the mainstream media. Food for thought.

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16 comments:

Jack Smith said...

I would say that it's because Wine cannot be made as readily, quickly, and at any time on the calendar year the way beer can, that truly great wine requires years to mature whereas Younger is brewed mere weeks before it is released from ingredients available year round, that makes it feasible for such a sought-after beer to be sold for $4.75 a glass and have people line up to buy it. But that argument falls down in the face of any beer that does require years of aging and careful blending - much like wine - yet still draws a crowd of young beer seekers looking to get a sip as happens on Zwanze Day at Brasserie Cantillon every September. Yes, wine needs a Pliny the Younger. Or a Zwanze. Or a Kentucky Bourbon Stout.

Ted Henry said...

I have memories of Silver Oak release days 10-15 years ago where we would stand in line to pay $20 for the privilege of drinking all the Cabernet we could handle. It had the same sort of feel as the Pliny phenomenon. People even camped out overnight in line.

W. Blake Gray said...

Ted: Thank you for pointing this out. Silver Oak is still one of the most popular wines in America; I'm sure this was part of the genesis of that.

Jameson Fink said...

Will wait in line for DRC the Younger.

DLW said...

I beg to differ on "Pliny the Younger" being the most sought after beer in the world. The honor falls on "Westvleteren #12" brewed in Belgium. There is no 8 hour wait since you have to reserve your date & time online to buy it months in advance. You can't just show up to buy it. There's a store across the road from the brewery that sells it without a reservation but they are out most of the time. My wife & son tried to reserve a time to buy it a couple of years ago 3 months before heading to Belgium & it was all booked up. By the way it is now available online from brokers for over $100 for a six pack delivered from Belgium. People even sell empty bottles & bottle caps on ebay.

Winegeek66 said...

A few things:
Jack, Pliny is still once a year. No different than releasing a wine.
Ted, that was the first thing I thought of as well. I remember the cars lining the roads parking anywhere it was even marginally legal to park.
DLW, Belgian beer doesn't mean a thing here in the US. I'm sure Blake was just using a figure of speech. And, I agree with him on this 100%. Moreover, there should be a couple versions of it, white, red, regional.

FranksWine.com said...

As a retailer Pliny the Younger and Pappy Van Winkle are huge headache brands. But, damn, I love these kind of headaches:-)

Tary Salinger said...

Ted is spot on and in fact, they just had their release event this last weekend. My niece, who works at Silver Oak and Twomey reported that they had 2200 folks lined up at opening!

lizanne said...
This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.
W. Blake Gray said...

Confidential to Elizabeth: Sorry, no selling products, services or events in the comments section. And thank you, but no thank you.

szymanskiea said...

Amen, brother.

Qin Xie said...

You can taste some fine(r) wines at Max Wine Gallery in Bordeaux via enomatics. No auction frenzy vintages but worthy stuff nevertheless.

But those top level wines you mention, even outside of auction they may be well above $20 a slurp? Would require some very charitable winemakers indeed.

Erin Ohlgren said...

It's been a few years since we have been there...not sure of the current status but filling up a jug at Preston in Dry Creek has been a Pliny-like wine experience for our family. One time we were there and Mr. Preston had inadvertently left the vat tap on while talking story...no great fortunes were lost and no one died. Delicious wine with a refreshing lack of pretense.

nomadfromcincy said...

Didn't Shafer used to have a release day where you could buy Hillside Select at the mailing list pricing? Not exactly an analogous situation, but it was better than the policies of similar wines.

VinoEnology said...

This will be a good idea for some well know wine brand, but it have to made for this particular reason so many regular customers can go and taste the wine at affordable price. Someone will do it soon, lets see who will be the 1st.

Good idea!
Cheers
Petar @VinoEnology

Kolea said...

I realize I'm late on this post, but I couldn't agree with this more. As a millennial wine rep (in the SF Bay Area no less) I wish more people my age cared about wine, cult-y and famous or not. It's easy to get people my age to drink cheap wine from the grocery store, or to pay $20-$50 for a tasting. It's tougher to get them to care about winemakers and the stories of the wines they drink way they do about craft beer. I do realize many of these wine stories, up until the last 10 years or so have been "rich guy buys land in Napa, hires a famous consulting winemaker, bottles wine with stuffy packaging, charges $100/bottle." So I don't blame anyone. But what about European wines? What about the Central Coast and Oregon? I hope I'll be around to see the industry swing toward smaller producers with interesting packaging and, frankly, fewer egos and pretentiousness.