Mind if I play?
OK. Just in the “FWIW” mode, my uncle had a “wine shop” in Hermosa (and later, also in Manhattan) Beach in the 50s, 60s, and 70s – back in the days when everyone else had liquor stores (i.e.: his was one of the few stores that featured fine wines). That’s where I started working in the 1960s. Still, it’s quite different that being in a “touristy beach town.”
You weren’t expecting me to disagree with him, were you?
Let me toss in my 2¢, if you don’t mind . . . (worth far less, I’m sure; keep the change).
I used to be the "Director of Enlightenment"¹ for a small (approx. 10,000 cases annually) winery in the Santa Cruz Mountains. That is certainly not very big, especially when you consider how many different wines we made. This is a breakdown of wines produced each year while I was there²:
- a multi-vineyard blend of Chardonnay fro the Santa Cruz Mtns. AVA
- between 3-6 different single-vineyard Chardonnays, each from the Santa Cruz Mtns. AVA
either a single vineyard off-dry Riesling or dry Gewürztraminer (Monterey Co.)
- two Zinfandels (Santa Clara Valley AVA and Ben Lomond Mtn. AVA)
- two Merlots (one San Ysidro AVA and one single vineyard San Ysidro AVA)
- a Santa Cruz Mtns. AVA Petite Sirah
The only place that every single wine we made was available was at the winery itself. Remember that we only made 10,000 cases – and 3,000 of that was the first wine on the list, the multi-vineyard Santa Cruz Mtns. Chardonnay (which we referred to as “the cuvée”). That was the only wine that was available in all markets, and yet we sold our wines in 15 states besides California, plus British Columbia.
Having between 300 and 450 cases (each) of between 3-6 single-vineyard designated Santa Cruz Mtns. Chardonnay meant that we could supply (e.g.) VA, MD, DE, and Washington DC with Vineyard A, New York and Texas with Vineyard B, etc., etc.
Our wines were well thought of that a) we had to allocate them, and b) with the exception of the cuvée, our wines were basically a “one shot” item. In other words, the various wholesalers would usually receive one delivery – maybe two – a year from us. Any stores that didn’t buy while the wines were in stock (or in some case, pre-order) were usually SOL. We could only “guarantee” re-orders on the Chardonnay cuvée – we would hold some back deliberately in order to help restaurants keep the wine on their wine lists. Other than that . . .
Most other small vintners that I’ve worked with have generally similar arrangements. Wineries are in a sometimes bizarre position: you want to be available across as broad a geographic area as possible, hopefully exposing more and more people to your wines; at the same time, you want to keep ALL your current customers (both wholesale and retail/restaurant, as well as consumer) happy and supplied with wine, but you don’t always make enough to fulfill the demand. The result is something of a “checker board,” with some wines available in Market X but not Y; other wines the reverse. PLUS, add to that the fact that it is easier (all things are relative; it’s easier than it used to be, but it’s not easy!) to ship Direct To Consumer (DTC) today than is was a decade ago (or two or three or four).
And there are two additional factors in today’s market to consider: a) some wineries may produce a wine that might not be available in California but only in (e.g.) Massachusetts – a retailer or a wholesaler may, for example, enter into an agreement for Winery X to produce n number of cases of Chardonnay specifically for him/her; and b) there are a multitude of labels/brands that aren’t “real” wineries, but labels of a particular winery – Chateau Cache Phloe decides to bottle a Cabernet under the label “Jean Deaux Vineyards” and only sell it on the East Coast, period (not even at the winery), so people would be hard-pressed to ever know that the wine actually came from Cache Phloe in the first place. Indeed, these two may even be combined: Wholesaler Q might contract for Winery X to produce a wine just for Q – they will sell the result as if it’s a California winery, but it’s really just a private label. Great for cash flow, it’s a guaranteed sale from the winery’s perspective, and they can usually gesture of the money upfront, making buying the grapes that much easier, etc., etc., etc.
¹ I’ve always thought that was a perfect “Santa Cruz” job title! In English, that would translate to a mix of National Sales Manager / PR Director / Tasting Room Manager / part-time Cellar Rat-Crush Crew-Bottling Line employee . . . and probably some more stuff I’m leaving out.
² The winery has since increased in both size and the number of different wines produced.