This month marks the start of the 2012 wine tasting season, in which winemakers, marketers and assorted winery types travel the country, visiting wine writers and retailers to plug their products. It's also the time when wineries resume sending samples to people like me after the holiday break.
This year's tasting season, which runs three or four months, is an especially important one. It should give us a good idea of whether the wine business thinks the recession is over -- call it an unofficial wine business confidence index. So far, the Wine Curmudgeon has seen an uptick over the past couple of years, although nothing approaching the good old days before the recession. That's when the samples flowed like wine, wine dinners and lunches seemed to go on forever, and there were more tastings than anyone could possibly go to.
More, after the jump:
This year looks like it will be busier than 2011 and 2010. I have already been invited to a half dozen or so events, including a big Constellation Brands tasting that features some of the company's pricer wines. In addition, winemakers -- including big names like Napa's Heidi Barrett -- look to be hitting the road again. Many of them stayed home the past couple of years, figuring it was better to save money than schmooze with people like me.
Samples are another story. There has been a significant dropoff in the number of samples I've received over the past couple of years, from wineries and importers large and small. I can think of six or eight important companies that haven't sent samples in years. Fortunately, since I buy so much of the wine I review (at least half, and probably more than almost anyone else in the business), this hasn't caused problems. But I do wonder what some of my colleagues are doing.
Samples are expensive; it's not unusual for two or three bottles to cost $50 to ship. In this, I have been told producers did cut back on samples during the recession, though how much of this applies to my situation is more difficult to guess, That's because:
• I don't review a lot of wines that are sampled, either because the wine is too expensive or too ordinary. Maybe savvy marketers did some calculations and figured this out -- an ROI based on samples sent. In other words, "Nuts to that Curmudgeon guy."
• I don't write for a traditional media outlet anymore. This, believe it or not, still means a lot to producers and importers, who still can't quite get their heads around this Internet thing. That the blog has been so successful and is so well known is something they apparently don't understand.
• I'm in the the middle of the country. One of the most frustrating things about sampling is that my pals on the coasts (and Chicago, for that matter) get wines I don't. This is probably an availability issue, in that those particular wines aren't sold here. But it is annoying. Dave McIntyre wrote last week about a $13 Argentine pinot noir that I was eager to review. But, as so often happens, it's not sold here.