Eight years ago, I was a business school student while my wife stayed at home to care of our two small children. We focused a lot of our energy on just “making it work” – life, school, and kids – all on a single income. My taste for expensive wine? Not a priority.
How do you drink high quality wine on a budget?
Short of having a friend with a well-stocked cellar, the options for finding great wine on a limited budget are few. I bought wine from flash sale websites, auctions, and Costco to varying levels of success.
In 2015, I was grumbling about my (first world) plight to a friend in Napa who happened to be the general manager at a small but very high end winery, who said they had just completed their blending for the year and had 3 barrels of their first-quality cabernet that wouldn’t be used.
Why don’t wineries bottle & sell everything they produce?
Three major reasons (and one Invisible hand)
1) Winemakers are painters that want to have all the colors on the palate when they make their wine. They want the Cabernet from one section of the vineyard separate from another; perhaps even aged in different types of oak barrels. The permutations drive the business people crazy, but if your name is Paul Hobbs or Phillipe Melka, you get what you want. At the end of the blending process, there are simply barrels left over that didn’t make it into wine. Just like Bob Ross would never have splashed Crimson Red across a finished landscape painting just because he had some remaining on his palate, a winemaker doesn’t just dump an extra barrel or two of wine in their final blend because it is sitting in the cellar.
2) Harvests can vary up to 40% in volume from one year to the next. Depending on how the buds break in the Spring or the fruit sets in early summer, will determine what the yield will be. When wineries have an abundant crop, the marginal cost (I am revealing my economist roots!) to make that into wine is minimal, so they end up with more wine than what they can sell. When that happens, the economist might tell you to lower the price and sell the wine, however, the brand manager might say, “Protect the price point and get rid of the rest.” Add to that the 3+ years between production and the first sale, and there will inevitably be a mismatch.
3) Unique circumstances lead to wine that need a new home. For example, with the global pandemic of COVID-19, restaurants shut down across the country. Wine destined for restaurant lists suddenly needed a new home. We were able to buy barrels from an iconic producer, sourcing a 98+ point pinot noir at incredible value.
Each wine has a unique story that you can read about on the product page.
The Claudine Wines model
Buying surplus wine is not new. In France, this negociant model has been around for hundreds of years. In America, Cameron Hughes built a robust business buying mega-lots of wine and selling through Costco.
We’re different because we specialize in micro lots (3-5 barrels at a time) and only work with high end wineries. In exchange for the anonymity we give those wineries, they happily sell to us for steep discounts – savings we pass on to you.
- Brian Retherford, Proprietor
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