I am not sure why I save most of my rants for Friday since this is clearly one of the better days of the week. Perhaps rants should be reserved for a more disdainful day? Regardless, I have been wanting to rant on today’s topic for some time now: Library Wines.
What is a library wine? Many wineries look to sell most of a new vintage upon release, but some hold back several cases every vintage. A portion of this wine is reserved for tasting by the winemaker–to see how the wine ages. Depending on how much wine is reserved, the winery might also opt to sell off some of the wine at a later date as “library wine.” There is no hard and fast rule to this practice, but it is common to see wines 5-10 years older than the current release being sold as library wines.
But there is a catch: Library wines are often priced higher than both the current release and the original price of the library wine at the time of its release.
Overall, I do not have a problem at all with the concept of library wines. In fact, in the abstract I embrace it wholeheartedly. I have mentioned on this blog many times that I tend to hold onto bottles far longer than most. (About five years ago, a friend of mine and I bought several cases of wine direct from Burgundy. The other night, we had dinner together and he brought his last bottle from that order. Thus far, I have only opened a single bottle of my stash–the rest are sleeping peacefully in the cellar.) Having someone else safeguard those bottles for me is great.
Add to this that the winemaker is waiting, perhaps, for the wine to be drinking particularly well before re-releasing it also makes perfect sense to me. (Whether this is the actual reason or not for the choice of when to offer the library wines is probably irrelevant, but I am going to assume that this is a genuine gesture on the part of the winery–call me naïve if you must.) After all, this is what I do myself, so there is no reason to disparage the winery for having the same approach as I do, right?
So what is the problem?
Wineries often sell these library wines at 50-100% more than the original retail of these wines. Don’t get me wrong, I understand there is a cost to storing these wines. I also realize that the wines represent an investment on the part of the winery–they have a bunch of costs sunk into each vintage and even holding back a small portion cuts right into profit. Wineries are not in the business to provide inexpensive, high quality, age-worthy wine for the masses (although you would not get a complaint from me if that became the new trend), but 100% mark-up?
On top of this, many of the wineries are looking to their most loyal customers to scoop up these wines (when was the last time that you saw a ten-year old wine on the shelves anywhere–other than at the Pennsylvania Liquor Control Board, that is?). I was speaking to a winery owner a few years ago and he told me that he hoped he would see the day that 100% of his production would go directly to the wine club. Why? Simple: he sold the wine at a much higher margin to the wine club buyers–no need to discount for retailers, restaurants, or distributors. That is the main reason that discounts are given to wine club buyers: even if the winery gives 10-30% discount to wine club buyers, they are still making more than if they were selling it to restaurants or distributors. What makes the library wine mark-up all that more painful is that they are seldom (if ever) discounted to these loyal wine club buyers.
But here that winery owner was, charging $85 for a library wine that was $50 on release five years earlier. No discounts.
Can anyone explain that to me?