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06.28.2012

The Screaming Secondary Wine Market

screagle_sb_final.jpgOne of the most difficult winery mailing lists to get on in the world is most certainly Domaine de la Romanée-Conti. Not only are the number of bottles that the domaine has to sell minuscule, but permission to be on the list is typically only granted to people whom the domaine and its agents believe are unlikely to simply turn around and resell the wine. I happen to know this because a friend of mine was recently offered such a coveted position, and when, flabbergasted, she asked why she'd been given this opportunity, the person making the offer simply said, "because we don't think you're the type of person to resell them."

Director Aubert de Villaine's interest in trying to limit the secondary market for his wines stems from two primary objectives. The first is to try to keep his wines from becoming a currency rather than a beverage. Simply put, he wants people to drink the wines and enjoy them. His second goal seems to be a desire to reduce opportunities to counterfeit the wines, with the idea that the fewer times they change hands, the less likely they are to fall in to the wrong ones.

De Villaine's extraordinary efforts are far from common in the wine world. Precious few wineries produce wines that sell for significant multiples of their release price on the secondary market, and far fewer still have any objection to this if it is the case. To some, it's a mere curiosity, to others it's a point of pride.

Had anyone asked, I would have put Napa winery Screaming Eagle into the latter camp. That is, until last week, when news emerged that Screaming Eagle was declining to release additional quantities of its new Sauvignon Blanc because despite requests for its mailing list members to buy solely for their own consumption, the wine quickly found its way to the secondary market at about ten times its release price of $250.

Let's pause here for a moment while we insert the sound of a record needle being pulled off the disc, and let everyone pick their jaws up off the floor at this kind of pricing for a California Sauvignon Blanc. Yes, it's utterly ridiculous, bordering on the obscene. But now that we've all moved past that, let's contemplate Screaming Eagle's reaction to seeing its $250 bottles being hawked for so much more on the web. They've decided to stop offering it to their mailing list members, and sell it under much more controlled conditions.

Irrespective of whether we associate the initial pricing of the wine as a mark of hubris, or merely the pinnacle of capitalism, I find the winery's decision to stop sales of the wine quite praiseworthy.

While not everyone might agree, I think wineries like Screaming Eagle and DRC and anyone else whose wines sell for multiples of their release prices have a responsibility to try to keep their wines from becoming purely trophies. There's only so much they can do, of course, but to the extent they can take measures like Screaming Eagle just did, I applaud them.

Wine is meant to be drunk, not to be hoarded like bullion.

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