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Wine terms: Previous vintage

wine terms: previous vintageRegular visitors here have seen a lot of references to the term “previous vintage” over the past 18 months, particularly in regards to wines that are on sale. That’s because, thanks to the recession, store shelves are full of wines that aren’t the current vintage, but wines from previous vintages.

Typically, wineries release a new vintage every year, starting in the spring; the process is much the same as the one auto makers use when they introduce their new models every fall. In 2010, for example, most wineries released their 2009 whites and 2008 reds. That’s called the current vintage.

But what happens when retailers haven’t been able to sell all of the previous year’s current vintage? It becomes the previous vintage, and retailers cut prices to get rid of those wines to make room for the current vintage. In other words, every wine that isn’t the current vintage is the previous vintage. Note that this system doesn’t exactly apply to high end wines, which have limited distribution and are bought to age. But it is true for the other 90 percent of the wine in the world.

More, after the jump:

Again, the sales process is similar to what car dealers do. Most retailers don’t have the shelf space to carry the previous vintage and the current vintage at the same time, and most of them don’t want to anyway. Customers get confused if they see the same wine with two different years on the label.

The transition from previous to current vintage is normal, but it has been complicated by the recession and the slump in wine sales. Starting at the end of 2008, many retailers stopped buying new vintages altogether, and focused on getting rid of what they had. The wineries, figuring the good times would never end, had made too much wine, and retailers were stuck with wine they couldn’t sell.

Today, almost two years later, the situation has improved a bit, but talk to retailers and distributors, and they say it will be another couple of years before the excess of previous vintages works its way through the system. So expect to continue to see significant price reductions from retailers on previous vintages. Some retailers, in fact, have specialized in buying previous vintages and selling them at steep discounts over the past couple of years. I can’t tell you how many $15 and $20 wines I’ve seen marked down to $10 and $12 at these stores.

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