Thursday, June 16, 2011

Lot 18 - A New Outlet Online

A website has entered the confusing fray of online wine sales. They entered with a splash and seem to be aggressively hiring and trying to carve a profitable niche in a challenging arena. The model is simple, but unique; tap into wines that may need exposure or may be gathering dust at the winery and offer them at dramatically reduced prices for short periods of time, sometimes mere hours.
Many of the offerings arrive in my inbox with big point ratings, some are from top-notch producers and some I have never encountered. I checked all the prices for a few weeks and they are very attractive. Despite my fairly minor complaint about the twice-daily e-mails I have some serious concerns.
Steve Heimoff discussed his issue of them using "glitter-by-association" by name-dropping a winemaker for a famous producer even though the wine on sale does not come from that producer. I have no issues with that as long as they make it clear.
Mr. Heimoff also mentions his apprehension about the quality of the offerings and muses that Lot 18 may be a mere dumping ground for slow-moving product.
That nearly goes without saying. No winery in their right mind sells wines to a discount retailer by choice. Beyond the obvious loss of immediate revenue the producer runs the risk of alienating their more traditional outlets. If I ran a retail shop and consistently supported a winery's pinot noir around $40 and my customers could get that wine for a day or two for $25, sometimes with free shipping, I would be tempted to never carry that wine again. Try being a wholesaler for that product, it may be offered below your price.
I understand upscale producers face serious challenges in this economy but selling twenty or twenty-five cases and damaging other outlets is short sighted, at best.
The major hurdle here is one I worry about routinely being in the sultry south. Half of the year is damn hot down here and can destroy wine in mere hours under the wrong conditions. Forget overnight shipping saving anything, deliver after noon in a non-air-conditioned truck and that wine is toast. I have not ordered from Lot 18 so I do not know their shipping procedures and do not mean to cast dispersions at them in particular.
Shipping is challenging, I speak from experience. As a retail manager and salesman for more than six years we constantly concerned ourselves about heat and even had wine freeze one time when the shipper was unable to deliver before end of business on Friday and left the wine in a cold part of the warehouse.
You also can not taste these offerings before buying. That is an e-tail specific problem for wine which has no easy remedy.
It is a buyer's market, dig around a bit locally, you may be surprised what you can find, taste and transport all on your own.

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