Sunday, June 26, 2011

Schild's Shiraz Sequel - Shrewd or Scheming?

The Wine Spectator's July 31st edition follows up on something I'm surprised we don't notice more often. Reported by the Spectator earlier, I don't stay glued to this computer reading wine stories so I miss some, Schild Estate in Barossa received a knock-out rating from the magazine and an exalted #7 in their Top 100 for 2010. With a reasonable price the wine sold quickly.
They purchased and bottled 5,000 additional cases under the same moniker and vintage. The winery claims different labels; the Spectator alludes to having to prod them to do just that. Regardless, the "2nd Blend" strip label hardly suffices to clarify.
As I understand it, nothing illegal has occurred here. Although how one can employ the word estate in the winery name and then bottle non-estate grapes and not violate some legal restrictions is completely beyond me. The label says Barossa and the second round is from Barossa. The vintages were both 2008. However, that's all the leeway I'm going to give them.
The rest is pure greed and obfuscation, even deceit. I don't get many opportunities to use this word, but skulduggery seems wildly apropos in this instance. A review that can bolster the bottom line for years to come may indeed do exactly the opposite due to short-term selfishness and lack of scruples. The fact that the winery did not plan to export any of this second batch makes it perhaps all the worse.
Maybe they told their Australian accounts of the new production but that may not get translated to the final consumer. Why not make a fun bottling with a completely other label to carry your fans through to the 2009 release. Sellout Shiraz or Substitute Shiraz or maybe even Stopgap Shiraz? They would have fun with it I bet and no risk to the winery of being found out would exist. In fact, positive press coverage might result, especially if the wine turns out to be solid. If, however, they intended to keep even those loyal to the brand in the dark then there should be severe penalties.
This sort of resupply happens all the time with generic, inexpensive wines. It should never happen with an estate wine under any circumstance. Changing sources in mid-vintage is questionable practice but understandable for large producers. Yet another reason to avoid cookie-cutter wines. Rolling out a new blend in the wake of wild commercial success is about as underhanded as you can get.
I have seen retail allocations disappear after huge reviews to protect loyal restaurants. I have seen wineries frustrated that they're out of stock when turning away long-time supporters. I have never seen a winery come up with a new wine under an old label to keep the pipeline full. Perhaps that's naivete on my part.
The wineries decision was conscious and planned. In light of the review, "a decision was made by Schild Estate Wines to reallocate the majority of the 2008 Barossa Shiraz production to the US market," said Corey Mohr, GM of the winery, in a press release. I would be livid in the local market if a big review appeared and they sold that juice halfway around the world while coming back to me with an inferior product under a nearly identical label.
The Wine Spectator finally had the ability to review the original and the sequel; "this second bottling (destined solely for sale in Australia, according to the winery) rated significantly lower than the original cuvee." July 31, 2011, p.55.
This is like a concert promoter after a five day sold-out stand with a popular band adding two nights but offering a cover band instead. It's shameful and it reflects poorly on the rest of the wine world. Though the price to pay may be steep for this winery the damage done to reputable producers is incalculable.

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