Wednesday, June 18, 2008


I was supermarket shopping yesterday and went down the wine aisles to look for bargains. I have long gotten over my scruples re how grocery giants rip the heart out of the wine industry and destroy brand equity all in the name of market share gains against their competitor (singular).
I now look for those ridiculously cheap 'wine sale' specials ($10 off usual shelf price) and pick up my favourite drinks at these prices. (bought some more fantastic Villa Maria Cellar Selection Hawkes Bay Chardonnay at $12 bottle, down from $22) Supermarkets work on shelf-turnover statistics for all products. Regardless of what they say in that very expensive TV advertising (that you pay for)they are not really interested in bringing you the best product at the best price, they are interested in selling that retail space to the highest bidder - they are real estate agents, not retailers.
When brands/products don't meet the 'hurdle rates' they dump them. Watch out for this - it can mean a bargain although can be disastrous for the poor hard-working manufacturer. Sometimes products/brands are dumped for 'political' reasons where the brand owner refused to cow-tow to the Supermarket chain owners demands or because they say withdrew another popular brand from sale to the grocery sector due to the aforementioned brand equity erosion and the supermarket chain elects to punish them.(I recently bought cases of a multi-trophy winning Reserve Chardonnay at $17 a bottle down from $33 bottle). Anyway, back to my supermarket aisle perambulations. I like Pinot Noir - yummy. Lynn likes Pinot Gris - yuk. Looking at the relevant two bays I see the striking new labels of Whitecliffs. This is one of the 'second' labels of Sacred Hill from Hawkes Bay and Marlborough and purports to be NZ wine. The clean, fresh imagery entices and one immediately thinks that it is NZ wine .. but, wait there's more. Current labelling regulations say you can put country of origin on either front or back label. In the case of Whitecliffs they have buried the fact that the country of origin is not New Zealand.. on the back label in (legally compliant) but small lettering amongst a whole lot of other verbiage.
The Pinot Gris (boldly displayed amongst the NZ Pinot Gris wines from other NZ producers stands out. Look at the back label (through spectacles in a good light) and you will see that this pinot Gris is a product of Italy and New Zealand (probablty read 90% Italy and 10% NZ just to get NZ on the label).
The Pinot Noir also stands out and probably more so because $15 Pinot Noir is rare if you think you are buying NZ Pinot Noir. Look on the back label and you find 'Product of France and New Zealand'. How does the italian and French wine reach Whitecliffs (Sacred Hill)? In great big liqui-tainers, bought at the best possible price at any given time on the spot market.
Now, is this honest marketing? Or should it be buyer choose.

Saturday, June 7, 2008


In the wine world a cleanskin was the name given to a bottled but as yet unlabelled wine.
Wineries often would do this to give wines bottle age without initially investing in labels and printed cartons with a view to labelling closer to release date. There were other advantages too like being able to include competition medals and accolades on the label if it won something subsequent to bottling, or, if the winery has surplus stock, selling off the unlabelled wine to another wine company to put their own label on it (note: this happens to a high degree in the industry with wineries selling off grapes, cloudy wine, finished wine and bottled wine to their competitors).
In Australia a couple of years ago, small producers had difficulty moving their wine because their brands were relatively unknown so they sold their wines to retailers (both real anfd virtual) who on-sold as 'cleanskins' with the merest of detail on a plain white label. Recently in New Zealand, The Mill began selling 'cleanskins' and Foodtown/Woolworths (both owned by Progressive Enterprises)got in on the act. Foodtown Newmarket have now devoted entire bays to shelve them thus showing that they have created a new category.
Now, are 'cleanskins' good or bad? What the consumer can get is a well made wine at a bargain price. What the consumer can also get is a crap wine at a cheapish price. How can you tell the difference? Buy and try a bottle before investing in too many bottles is one way. I noticed yesterday that there was a Bob Campbell endorsement for the bottle of Gisborne Reserve Chardonnay 2007 I bought. OK, I trust Bob but with essentially unlabelled product how can I trust that supermarket not to just put another unlabelled 2007 Gisborne Chardonnay in that winebay when this one runs out. Will they remove Bob's endorsement sticker?
What the consumer of course doesn't know is how much this 'cleanskin' should cost. I suspect that the supermarkets love the idea because they can just pick a number, any number to sell it at (having bought it for next to nothing from a cash-strapped wine producer)thus making greater margins than normal. The distressing thing about this is that they still charge wine companies huge amounts of money for shelf space for the branded products whilst undermining the sales of these with the unbranded products.
Where will it end? Who knows. Will consumers buy unbranded food items? They certainly are attracted to the no-frills products now. The problem is in the long term who can you trust if there is no brand owner to keep honest in quality/price ratios.

Tuesday, June 3, 2008


She was a bit grumpy most of her life and would have made a good partner for the grumpy old man.
Most photographs of her show her looking rather grim.
This one (albeit at a much younger age) shows her smiling. It must have been the Chardonnay.

Sunday, June 1, 2008


We saw Shine A Light last night, Scorcese's film of the Rolling Stones being mostly the 2006 concert in New York interspersed with current and archive interview footage. It was very good as you would expect from Scorcese who previously has filmed the Band final concert (The Last Waltz) and a Dylan documentary. The filming was extraordinary especially given (relatively) limited budget and, as explained at the beginning of the film, the difficulty of filming a live concert without getting in the way of the performers. The result was a feeling of having been there (aided by it being on the large I-Max screen). Bring on more of these I say.
The classiest act though was Buddy Guy performing Muddy Waters' 'Champagne and Reefer'.