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06.01.2008

What Happens to All Those Wine Samples?

When I first started writing Vinography, I'll admit, I had fantasies that one day, just maybe, someone would send me some free wine to review. At the time it was nearly inconceivable. Here I was, just a passionate wine lover, tapping away my thoughts in an unnoticed corner of the Internet. The idea that any winemaker could possibly even find my web site, let alone think it might be worth their while to send me a bottle wasn't an idea I entertained with any seriousness.

Of course, one day I did get a box of wines, much to my surprise. These few bottles were an initial trickle that over the past four years has turned into a bit of a deluge.

Gone are those naive fantasies of free wine. They've been replaced by a serious amount of work, to the point that sometimes, at the end of a long day when the doorbell rings, I find myself thinking, "Oh lord, not another box of wine."

I know, I know.

It's a pretty ridiculous thing that I could get to the point of feeling like getting free bottles of wine was more of a chore than a pleasure. I suppose I might feel differently if I didn't maintain a strict policy of literally tasting every bottle I get. I certainly know folks in the wine writing business who file a lot of the samples they get into their own cellars without stopping to blink.

But despite sometimes feeling overwhelmed by the six or eight cases I get a month (on average) I don't take the wines I get for granted. I literally do taste every bottle, write a tasting note for it, and score it -- unless the bottle is flawed, spoiled, or so bad that it gets the "Do Not Put In Mouth" rating right off the bat (luckily only one or two bottles per month sink to that level).

When the bottles were fewer, I ended up reviewing anything that was fairly good. Now that I get a lot of wines, I tend to only review the ones that are exceptional, and there is often a bit of a lag between when I get a wine and when I review it.

But the point of this little essay is not to talk about how I review the wines I get, but what happens to them after I'm done.

I generally taste the wine in batches, grouping like varietals together so as to get a better comparative feeling for the wines I'm tasting. There was a time when at the end of tasting thirty or forty wines, the best bottle or two would get recorked and go in the fridge for Ruth and I to enjoy with dinner, and the rest would literally go down the drain and the bottles would be pitched into the recycle bin on the curb (and usually to be removed late at night by the roving homeless in my neighborhood).

But then one day I was having lunch with a couple that live in my neighborhood. And in the course of them inquiring about my blog they asked the usual questions about whether I got wine samples for free, and how many, and what I did with them when I was done. You should have seen the look of horror on their faces when I got to the part about pouring them down the sink.

"Oh my God," they practically shouted, "give them to US!!"

I chuckled and explained that while I knew that they enjoyed wine, there was no way they were going to be able to drink forty opened bottles of wine.

They looked at each other and then back at me, and said, "OK. So we'll invite all the cool people we know in the neighborhood to join us."

And that turned out to be a really, really good idea.

So now, every six weeks or so, I take half a day off work and come home to taste through four or five cases of wine and then when I'm done, I recork all the bottles, no matter whether they are $10 or $200 wines, and I bring them over to someone's house in my neighborhood who has volunteered to host the gathering this month. Then, at the appointed time, all the folks we know in the neighborhood (sometimes up to forty or fifty of them) show up with their own wineglass and either a piece of cheese, a loaf of bread, or something else to share, and we all spend a little time getting to know each other better over a lot of different wines.

To me, this is the perfect solution. It not only puts the wine to good use, it also provides exposure for some of the wines that I might not review to potential consumers who might end up buying another bottle of something they like. It also provides the regular impetus for me to stay on top of my sample tasting, and not get too far behind.

So there you have it. Of course, you'll notice that I'm conveniently not naming my neighborhood nor mentioning the brand name that this regular gathering has started to use, for fear of getting inundated with requests to attend, even though the gathering is limited to only those who live in our section of the city.

But for the sake of those who do send me samples and might wonder where they go, because a number of people have suggested I write about it, and because I like to be up front about all the stuff I do here, I thought I'd share the story. It's turned that mountain of boxes from a chore to a community event, and it has turned a lot of people on to some good wine.


Comments (19)

ryan wrote:
06.02.08 at 1:44 AM

We have a very similar story! We found that our local fruit and vegetable seller down the road loves our tasted wines. So we have him come by and pick them up when we get done tasting! Turns out they share them with the neighbors too!

Linda B wrote:
06.02.08 at 4:02 AM

An excellent idea!

06.02.08 at 5:30 AM

Hi Alder,

my story is so similar ! I've started at the end of 1999 tasting wine samples from italian wineries. It was 1 or at least 2 cases a month. Now, after 9 years, we have 30 cases a month and 20 peoples working on it each month.

I understand you when you talk about the change from something that looks like a pleasure to something that looks like a working moment. I was a lawyer and after some years spent seeing the amount of work - as a lowyer and as a taster - growing day by day, I decided to work with web and wine only.

When I changed my life my thought was that working with wine would have been great, and it was ! Now it is a real job and I can understand you when you say "oh god, another case of wine" ;-)

Bye, Fil.

Peggy wrote:
06.02.08 at 7:22 AM

What a great way to reach out and enjoy the company of your neighbors. Nice of you to share one of the benefits of your job with those around you.

JON wrote:
06.02.08 at 8:29 AM

My wife buys for a large restaurant group and wineries often drop her off two bottles of each wine. She tastes one, passes the leftover bottleto the company staff, friends, etc, but...the second bottle she donates to local schools fundraisers for their auctions to help them pay for art & music classses that our state no longer funds. Win/Win/Win

Morton Leslie wrote:
06.02.08 at 10:17 AM

At least your sample wines are being tasted and consumed. I had dinner at the home of a So.Cal. wine writer a dozen years ago. I asked him if he liked the wines I sent him a few months before. He said, "I want to show you something." He took me to his un-airconditioned garage and it had a mound of unopened boxes that went to the ceiling taking up both parking spaces. He said the boxes eventually found there way into a dumpster, unopened. Ever since I do not ship unsolicited samples to anyone.

Dean Tudor wrote:
06.02.08 at 1:13 PM

I too offer my re-corked wines to my neighbours. Over the years they have grown up in their level of sophistication, and that is a pleasure to see. When I first started offering them, in 2002, I had a whole slew of lady bug (pyrazine) infected Ontario wines. I had just tasted them and was reasdy to pitch when a neighbour inquired as to their status. I told him they were dreadful wines, but it would be useful for him to learn. About 12 people participated in the learning experience, and they have gotten better over the years. They also taste corked wines, just for the knowledge. Unfortunately, when I offered Tetra Pak wines in 2007 (I was doing about 50 of them at once, all one litre containers) -- they passed it up, and I had to flush them...so there is a bottom line in all this...

tracie b wrote:
06.02.08 at 8:03 PM

being new to the industry, i often find myself with quite a few open bottles on hand (post-tasting, etc)...there's never a shortage people who want to help me with this little "problem," though.

Steve wrote:
06.03.08 at 8:12 AM

A few years ago there was talk of the IRS taxing wine samples sent to writers. I wouldn't be surprised to see this horrible idea resurrected now that government is bankrupt.

Dean Tudor wrote:
06.03.08 at 9:53 AM

And Steve, ..morally bankrupt too...

cheryl wrote:
06.03.08 at 10:23 AM

where do you live? any houses available in your neighborhood. That sounds so fun!

Philip James wrote:
06.03.08 at 11:17 AM

We used to do something like this in my old job - friday afternoons a bunch of friends would drive off with a case each for their parties

Gordon wrote:
06.03.08 at 2:43 PM

That's a great story.

We give away our extras to people in our building, including sometimes the cleaning guys. Were a bit surprised to watch one guy mix about 5 half bottles together into a 2 liter bottle after he left, but hey - it did the trick i guess.... :)

Sarah wrote:
06.03.08 at 4:14 PM

You're more of a prince than we thought you were! Congratulations on your success, not just with the blog, but building and strengthing a wine community.

elle wrote:
06.03.08 at 11:33 PM

It would be a great treat to one open the front door to a case or two of wine.

It might take me more than a half day off work to actually go through it all I am sure.. as once I have found theat "one" I have hard time letting it just go.

But what a wonderful and generous thought you have.

Thanks for the inspiration and the story!

Mike wrote:
06.04.08 at 7:28 PM

I feel like the only sucker out there paying for wine. I think I need to find someone in the business to hang out with or at least in his neighborhood.

06.05.08 at 9:10 AM

Alder - I also have parties periodically to share the love, so to speak, of my samples. Great entry, loved hearing how you do it. No better excuse for a neighborhood gathering.

06.08.08 at 6:34 PM

Great story. As a blogger, I've received very few bottles of wine. However, blogging don't pay so well, so I kept my day job. Although I can't claim numbers anywhere close to Alder's volume, I am blessed that the folks I work with are very generous with the care packages. I think my UPS guy is a bit jealous. :-) Hey, maybe I should offer him a bottle or two.

rjh wrote:
03.01.09 at 3:15 PM

thanks for sharing this story. i have just this week started to receive wine samples and now i know what to do with the wine remaining in the bottle.

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