Following on from my comments about the number of websites who blatantly dishonestly claim to have the cheapest prices, I’m amazed at the ‘misleading’ (to be polite) text on many wine retail websites claiming to be scouring the vineyards to bring you the best wines!
Ok, some of the big ones like Laithwaites really do travel looking for – shall we say to be kind – the most economical wines. But we also note on many of the smaller retail sites they use phrases like ‘from the vineyard direct’ to imply that they’re out there calling at tiny vineyards to source wines just for you. They’re not! Take a look at the products they stock and you’ll see the same products on other websites. Is there a constant stream of little old fellows in tweed jackets popping into each vineyard in the Mclaren Vale and picking up half a dozen cases each? Of course not.
To ship one pallet of wine to the UK from the southern hemisphere costs about £800 – more than £1 per bottle. However to ship a container with 12 pallets will only cost £3000, or £250 per pallet. To ship individual cases is simply cost prohibitive. Then of course there’s the EU wall of beaurocracy to get past. The producers have to label the back of the bottles with EU compliant labels before they can be admitted. These labels are ludicrously beaurocratic but are a legal requirement. So this notion of the traditional British wine merchant driving round, tasting wines in the vineyard and picking up a few cases just for you is complete nonsense, but then there’s an awful lot of nonsense and cloak and dagger work going on in the UK wine trade that these wine merchants don’t want you to know about.
Some wine merchants do buy direct and have arrangements with specific vineyards, but the majority of wines are imported by agencies who build a portfolio and then take samples out to the independent merchants. It’s basically economy of scale. But for these wines to be commercially viable the vineyards pressurise the agencies to take bigger quantities. The agencies then negotiate over price then take a slice of every bottle they import. The system works well and means that a small merchant can offer a wide variety of wines from different countries without having to buy container loads from each winery. And we’re all delighted about that. But I don’t think any of us are particularly happy being patronised by a smarmy wine merchant claiming to have imported that bottle just for you, especially when we could have bought the same wine for less simply by taking a few seconds to Google it!