Wine availability: Whose fault is it anyway?
The reader didn’t mince any words: “This is the third time I have attempted to purchase a wine you recommended in your column only to find that one or more of the locations you identified as carrying the wine was listed erroneously. … As for me, I will ignore your reviews in future since the prospect of actually obtaining the wine is remote.”
Fortunately, this wasn’t a blog reader; rather, it was someone castigating Dave McIntyre of the Washington Post. But it could have been someone here – or anywhere in the wine world, for that matter. Availability is the bane of the wine writer’s existence, and there is very little we can do about it.
Did Dave’s reader have a right to expect the wine to be in that particular store? He did. But it wasn’t Dave’s fault that it wasn’t there, because wine doesn’t work that way. After the jump: Why that’s the case, and why not much can be done about it.
How bad is availability? One former editor accused me of making it up, because she couldn’t find the wine at the locations I listed. She never understood that wine, unlike blue jeans, breakfast cereal, and aspirin, is not always going to be in stock when and where we’re told it’s in stock.
Much of this is the fault of the three-tier system, which requires retailers to buy wine from distributors. That means a retailer who says he or she has the wine because they’ve placed an order for it won’t have it if the order isn’t filled. That’s all too common – maybe the distributor runs out or doesn’t get it in or the store delivery is late or the sales person loses the order or the order gets chewed up in the system or the distributor doesn’t have enough of the wine to begin with. The list goes on.
This is especially important because most retailers don’t carry dozens of bottles of each wine, unless it’s a well-known brand like Kendall-Jackson or Barefoot. They may have a case or even less, and this is especially true for the interesting wines that good critics like Dave recommend. Mostly, this is because of shelf space and cost. Most retailers don’t have room for a lot of wine that isn’t well-known because they don’t know if it’s going to sell, and they don’t want to pay for something that isn’t going to sell.
So if I call a retailer on Monday to check availability for an article that’s going to run on Wednesday, they may sell out before then. Or try to order it and fail. Or sell out shortly after the review comes out. Further complicating matters is that large metro areas, like the District of Columbia, could have dozens of stores that carry the wine, which makes it impractical to call every store to check. Or that some distributors and retailers are sometimes less than candid about availability.
And then disgusted customers send unhappy emails to wine writers, even when it’s not the writer’s fault.
More about wine availability:
• James Tidwell on the dilemma of wine availability
• Wine availability: How to find what you’re looking for when it’s not on the shelf
• A few more words about wine availability