The saddest words a wine lover can hear are, "I'm sorry, that wine is not on tasting".
I’ve stopped being sad, now I get angry. I am reminded of an arranged tasting I had at Châteaux Margaux in Bordeaux years ago. The Countess herself served me the latest vintage of the Grand Vin. Very nice, but that was it. I was ushered out. In the courtyard I greeted two UK buyers and MW’s I knew.
Madame reacted immediately, “you know each other?”. Suddenly I was her best friend and urged to return for a vertical tasting of seven vintages of Grand Vin and a range of ‘Pavillon Rouge’. I left not in awe, but angry.
You see, when a winery tells me that a wine is not on tasting they are telling me I’m not good enough to try it.
If a wine is genuinely sold out, then fair enough. But not allowing me to try a wine, even if supply is limited, is bad for everyone. Firstly, like many I suspect, I will not pay more than R200 for a wine I have not tried first, so they have lost a sale. Future sales to me too, as I would rather save for something special and might buy just two or three every month. Also, I cannot later wax lyrical to friends about the wine and foster possible purchases by them. Then I cannot tell the world just how wonderful and iconic that wine is.
It is almost as if the winery is saying they don’t need me, that I wouldn’t appreciate it. I don’t accept the “we don’t make much of it” argument. So what? Wouldn’t you rather sell out even faster and generate income even quicker? You could charge a small fee for the privilege to offset costs. Because there isn’t much of it and you can’t taste it reinforces the feeling that there is an elitism in wine, a club to which you don’t belong. Remember, many wineland visitors are overseas visitors and will return to their homes with stories of the wines they tasted and their cellar door experiences.
I remember comparing a range of Peter Lehmann’s ‘Stonewell’ and ‘Mentor’ vintages in Riedel glassware with the man himself when I lived in Australia. He spent an hour offering his top wines ‘because I was interested’. And sampling several vintages of the gorgeous Penfold’s Magill Shiraz in the Barossa with winemaker Peter Gago because I asked how it would age. Wine memories are often based on the accompanying experience; I’m not alone in getting a warm glow when being offered ‘something very special’. It makes you feel special. Those wines and those places stay with you for ever.
If SA wants to compete on the world stage of classic wines then people have to be able to assess what makes them classic. Not just critics and show judges, but wine drinkers. Consumers will make the wines legends, not magazine reviews.
So, for those keen to sample wineries’ top wines, may I suggest visits to Annandale, Camberley, De Wetshof, Haskell, Grangehurst, Jordan, Kanonkop, Kaapzicht, Ken Forrester, Meerlust and Springfield, among others, all of whom are happy to pour their top wines for you to try. The Bateleur Chardonnay, FMC Chenin Blanc, Cobblers Hill, Rubicon, Vision, Paul Sauer blend and Pillars Shiraz will stand with any in the world and are not made in huge amounts either. If they can do it, so can others.
Customer loyalty is an established principle in marketing. Treat us well when we have made the effort to visit and you have a customer for life, disappoint us and the opposite applies. So, wineries, next time I read, ‘not on tasting but available for purchase’ on any price list you can expect some interesting debate.