Friday Rant–Library Wines

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.

Unlike the Free Library of Philadelphia (a five minute walk from us), there is nothing "free" about Library Wines.

Unlike the Free Library of Philadelphia (a five minute walk from us), there is nothing “free” about Library Wines. (from Wikipedia.com)

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.

IMG_4242Overall, 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?

Come on.

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?

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About the drunken cyclist

I have been an occasional cycling tour guide in Europe for the past 20 years, visiting most of the wine regions of France. Through this "job" I developed a love for wine and the stories that often accompany the pulling of a cork. I live in Houston with my lovely wife and two wonderful sons.
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45 Responses to Friday Rant–Library Wines

  1. heila2013 says:

    Interesting. Thanks for teaching me something – Now I know what a library wine is.

    Like

  2. Laura says:

    I never knew what a library wine was, so your rant just made me a more snooty dinner party guest. I can’t wait. But I agree with you – the markup seems a bit extreme…

    Like

  3. I’m pretty much a standard box wine enthusiast. I know you probably just threw up a little, but being a wine snob sounds exhausting.
    Rude, I know. I guess I’m missing out on the wonderfulness that is good wine, but ignorance in this case is so bliss and thrifty.
    That all being said, I keep reading so I can tell people ‘classy’ is my middle name ironically and then drop wine knowledge. Bitches never see it coming.

    Like

  4. talkavino says:

    Jeff, the Library wine is not necessarily well defined term, and there are no hard and fast rules to what one should call a library wine. I’m sure not all the “library wines” are worth that designation, but assuming the wine is actually good, there are other factors driving the price up outside of the cost of storing of the wines in the proper condition. Namely, it is a game of supply and demand – and presumed appreciation of the good wine. For instance, when 1964 Rioja was released, I’m sure you could buy the wines for may be $50 for the best ones. Now, the cheapest 1964 Rioja will be about $250. Is that fair? Yes, it is, because the wines are in the limited supply, and if you want them, you will pay the price.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Ah but you are talking about something far different. A ’64 Rioja being sold in 2014 is very unlikely being sold by the winery–it has moved to a secondary or tertiary market (e.g. a wine auction). And has become an anniversary wine, which tacks on a significant tariff (people are willing to pay a lot more for a birth-year wine as they approach a “biggie” like 50).

      No, what I am ranting about is the winery choosing to up the price of these wines artificially–they are not determining the price of the library wines by market forces (at least that is my assumption based on experience). No, they are basically saying: “You, our loyal customer, should pay a lot more for this wine since, well, it’s old.” I did not even touch on the possibility that some of these “library wines” were held onto involuntarily (i.e., they did not sell out upon release) and the winery just sits on them for a while (perhaps long enough for the consumer’s memory of a bad vintage or bad review to fade) and then tacks on a premium for the “service.”

      I have some wines in my cellar that I bought upon release 5-10 years ago for about $50. Some of those same wines are now being “offered” to me again by some of the wineries for $75-85-100. I am fairly familiar with the secondary wine markets (where your ’64 Rioja is likely being sold) and there is no way under the sun that the wines being offered to me at close to double the price by the winery would even fetch the original price on the secondary market. No way at all.

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      • talkavino says:

        Jeff, you are absolutely correct – my experience differs from yours. I don’t have any wines which I bought directly from the wineries, which were offered again to me from the winery at double the original price. At the same time, no, you can buy 1964 Rioja in the stores and from the winery – I’m not talking about secondary markets at all. We bought 1947 Rioja Imperial directly from the winery for $390. I have an experience with Chateau Simard, which doesn’t sell their wines until 10 years after vintage, and they charge absolutely average prices for good Bordeaux ( use to be around $30). Yes, our experience is simply different. Overall – I still stand by my original point – the factors are cost of caring for wines, supply and demand and perceived appreciation.

        Liked by 1 person

      • Now it is a bit clearer. As you know, there is a vast difference between the European and American “model” so to speak. Comparing winery practices in Spain and Bordeaux to those in the U.S. is, well, like comparing apples and oranges.

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  5. Easy explanation. It’s the same reason a dog licks his balls – because he can.

    Like

  6. Theresa says:

    I always wondered what constituted a ‘library’ wine. Thanks for the education. Have a good weekend!

    Like

  7. Duff's Wines says:

    I agree it’s a rip off. There are many wine drinkers that are saps – marks who are easily led into thinking that it’s cool to possess these wines. But, enough about me. I find it interesting which wineries practice this. I don’t believe that there are many French (aside from Bordeaux maybe) or Italian wineries that market older wines as ‘library’ wines. It seems to be another angle to the ‘cult’ status phenomenon.
    And a Friday is the best day if it’s the day that you need to rant.

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  8. Tertiary and Occam’s Razor in the same post . . . what’s not to love? 😉 I’ve never bought a “library wine” before. I try to create my own “library wines” but inevitably I get impatient and break into them before they reach that status. Sigh. Salud!!

    Like

    • I agree—I have my own library going. I guess that is why I get a little riled up when I receive an “offer” to buy some of the (e.g.) 2005 for $95, but I still have six bottles of the stuff that I bought on release for $40. Crazy.

      Like

  9. 2chefs1home says:

    I new term and understanding for my wino-self. Thanks for the info. It never occurred to me that the wineries had basically a storage unit. Brilliant marketing scheme.

    Like

  10. northernbike says:

    I thought a library wine was one which went ‘shushhhh!’ as you opened it and I judge a wine label by a high alcohol volume number rather a low year number so I’m not really in a position to make an informed comment here but as someone above commented, I supposed it’s supply and demand and if folks are willing to pay then the suppliers will sell at higher prices. A similar thing happens in whisky here where a product is stored for a bit longer (post bottling from the casks so nothing is happening to it during that time) and sold for a premium because of rarity, not quality, and because enthusiasts are willing to fork out for that. By the way, any day is a good day for a rant (this is the internet; it’s what it was invented for) so don’t worry about anything on that front.

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    • I agree—if people out there are buying these wines, it is difficult to argue with the practice, but it still feels a bit too opportunistic to me. On the one hand, the winery tries to make you feel that as a club member, you are the most important customer they have (and for reasons stated above, you are). On the other hand, it seems like they are also saying: “Now that we buttered you up, and made you feel like an insider, why don’t you pay double for this wine?”

      Like

  11. linnetmoss says:

    I made a note to myself to think twice before joining any wine club…

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    • I would not say that all wine clubs are bad, but certainly thinking twice is a good practice. If you really like what a winery is doing, and they are offering a nice discount for your loyalty, I think it is worth a go….

      Like

  12. eliotthecat says:

    I love reading rants, especially when I learn something new.

    Like

  13. TheSybarite says:

    I think it’s because there are people with more money than sense or self-control and will pay a premium to have wines that are peaking! Not my style but I can see how there is a market for it. Especially in the wine community…

    Like

  14. Shelley says:

    Money. Pure and simple. To make money. 🙂 Off for another instalment of OMG.

    Like

  15. I’m not sure how your tax system works but I believe that Aus wineries incur a greater tax burden for each year the wine sits before sale so that adds to the price of what we call “museum releases”.

    Like

  16. Pingback: The Red Daily Slosh is in The Houze | Duff's Wines

  17. PinotNinja says:

    I decided that long ago without any actual facts to support my determination that “library wine” = “unnecessarily marked up and snobby wine” and so have avoided them. If someone wants to give me a taste I’m obviously all in, but I’ve refused to buy them for years on principle.

    It’s good to know my intuition wasn’t so far off on this one!

    Like

  18. I so appreciate reading what you have to say regarding wine – as I learn more about the industry from you – than from the job I actually have at a terrific local winery. It helps me understand a little more about policy and procedure, and in turn, my work provides me a new level of interest. Cheers.

    Like

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