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02.04.2009

How Your Wine Gets Here, and Goes Bad Along the Way

As Americans we have a reputation for not knowing, or even wanting to know, where our food comes from. It's a stereotype to be sure, but like all stereotypes, it has more than a grain of truth behind it.

But if we give little thought to how our steaks get into those little styrofoam containers with the shrink wrap, we give even less thought to how exactly the bottles we buy get onto the no_wine_this_way.jpgshelves we pull them down from.

If we did, we might think twice about plunking down $30 for a random bottle of wine in our local wine store, says Lyle Fass in a recent article in the Organic Wine Journal. Lyle is a fellow wine blogger, but he's also a (recovering) former member of the retail wine trade. Which means he knows a thing or two about how wine gets from the barrel to the store.

And according to him, it ain't pretty.

Importer Kermit Lynch (and others) vociferously declared decades ago that wine, especially European wine imported to the US, needed to always be shipped in refrigerated containers from start to finish.

Apparently not many people have listened. And even those who have cannot avoid many of the other perils that lie in wait throughout the distribution process, like bandits on a high pass.

Lyle's article is mostly an introduction to the problems, and offers some tips for the wary buyer, but if you want the short story, it's caveat emptor, all the way.


Read the article: Why The Trip Kills It
.

Comments (5)

Javier Marti wrote:
02.05.09 at 1:34 AM

If they do not listen is it because consumer do not ask for better quality?

Dylan wrote:
02.05.09 at 12:57 PM

You're right--I, as a consumer, had never thought how the wine reached me. It's a process I'm interested in learning more about in the coming months as our first wine is bottled. The article was certainly eye-opening. If the safest shipping method is still not safe enough, then there is a market for a better way. That means there are producers and retailers that are in the market for an innovative, cost-effective, wine delivery company. The question remains who will come up with it? Until then, we seem to be at the mercy of purchasing from a flawed shipping system, and just have to remain informed.

dfredman wrote:
02.06.09 at 8:56 AM

Like Lyle, I'm a recovering member of the retail wine trade, and have witnessed all sorts of shipping malfeasance over the years. Most have occurred out of ignorance, but others transpired due to economics or basic impatience.

Consumers tend to want their wines ASAP and don't want to wait for the "optical climatic shipping window" to appear. Likewise, retailers have only so much space to hold clients' wines. From the wholesale side of the trade, wineries need to ship when the wines are ready to go, and distributors need to get the wines to restaurant and retail accounts regardless of the weather conditions.

As much as people who know better bemoan all the possible disasters that can occur along the delivery chain, few people want to pick up the tab for refrigerated deliveries, overnight shipping, etc...

As a consumer, I've had good luck over the past few years coordinating shipping and delivery from the retailers I buy from, but as someone who ships the occasional sample out for review, the only option is to bite the bullet and pay for expedited shipping and hope for the best. It's not a good system, but it's what we've got to work with.

swoods wrote:
02.08.09 at 6:39 PM

Just playing devils advocate....disjointed wines usually reknit the various components in a few weeks if the components were there in the first place. However, n the American market, the issue usually at work is the reluctance to accept vintage to vintage variablity (also a member of RR - recovering retailer). Love it or hate it, Domaine X 2006 will not be the same wine as Domaine X 2007. And thank goodness for that - homogeneous wine world be damned! Climate control (temperature, humitdity,vibration etc) is an important quality issue from vineyard to retail to consumer. The importers of the top chateaux, domaines, bodegas etc. usually take great care to avoid problematic provenance of quality products whether bottled 6 months ago or 60 years ago. This factors heavily in pricing. Food for thought - I am sure that many of you have walked into a retail store and immediately sensed very warm temperatures and thought - how long has this wine been cooking in here?? Shipping is one affront to quality but it is an issue which can be remedied through thoughtful planning and sufficient attention to detail at the various channels. There are many other opportunities for a wine to suffer in quality - although maybe quality was never in the bottle in the first place??

Rachel wrote:
02.10.09 at 6:54 PM

Buy cheap, pay twice...That goes for all industries...

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