Vintage matters – part II

Toni Paterson MW finds it hard to fathom that a retailer can send a customer a different product to what was ordered. (Photo: Vinum S website)

When you buy a product online, you expect to receive exactly what you ordered. Right? I certainly do. Though unfortunately with wine, this is not always the case.

I have written in the past how I find it wildly frustrating when I order a glass, or bottle, of wine in a restaurant, of a particular vintage, and then I am given a different vintage to the one listed (read my previous article here). This week I had a similar experience with online retailers.

Online sales are big business. What is advertised should always be available for purchase.

Upon ordering two cases of wine of a specific vintage, from a major Australian wine retailer, I called to check that I would indeed be sent the vintage I had ordered.

Firstly, I was told by the salesperson that they were unable to tell me what vintage I would receive. Really? They justified this by the clause listed on the website that ‘vintages on offer may vary’.

Statements such as this show that there is a lack of appreciation that vintage matters. Wine produced in one year is different from the next. Or perhaps the thought is that no one will notice the difference?

I find it hard to fathom that a retailer can send a customer a different product to what was ordered. And secondly, when queried, that they couldn’t tell the customer the actual product they would receive.

After I expressed my disbelief and stated that this was terrible customer service, I asked if they could call their warehouse to check the vintage. Firstly, they said no but then reluctantly agreed. It turned out that they did not have the wine I had ordered, so I cancelled the delivery.

I went on to call another retailer and experienced the same issue. Their system did not enable the salesperson to view the vintage of the wine that was stock. When the bottles were physically checked, the vintage was not the one I wanted, as listed on their website. I consequently did not place an order.

I did this with another three retailers, and the problem continued. And it was not just an issue with vintage roll-over. In one case the vintage listed was a few years older than the actual one for sale.

There is clearly a lack of acknowledgement, from some retailers, that wine is a product which is produced each year, and that the style and quality do vary based on seasonal fluctuations, the specific conditions in the winery and the particular winemaker and viticulturist involved in its production. Not to mention the age of the wine having an impact on how it tastes.

A particular vintage should never be substituted with another. If it was to occur, at the very least the customer should be informed and asked if they wish to proceed with the sale. Price is irrelevant; it should not matter if the wine is AUD $200 or AUD $20.

Online sales are big business. What is advertised should always be available for purchase. Not having visibility of the actual vintages for sale is a failing of the retailer’s systems, not to mention misleading to their customers.

Imagine ordering lamb and getting mutton? What about dry-aged beef that had not been aged? Or, buying a crisp white shirt and receiving one that was loose-knit and beige.

We don’t accept automatic product substitution in other products that we buy. So, it should not happen with wine.

10 thoughts on “Vintage matters – part II”

  1. Greg Titterton says:

    Hi Toni,
    I have just read your article and totaly agree with your frustrations. I am a wine distributor with over 20 years experience in this industry. Before the rise of the e-tailer we never really had these problems. You went to a retail outlet and if you wanted a particular vintage that wasnt in stock the retailer would generaly attempt to track it down if it was available. If it wasn’t available you were normaly informed and offerd the best solution. As Bert Werden perfectly points out the majority of online retailers do not carry stock and therefore are reliant on having the distributor or winery have on hand what they require at a minutes notice. That is asking for trouble. If the distrubtor or winery can’t supply, the most likely case then is the customer gets the next best available vintage. What frustrates me as a distrubutor is that a lot of these e-tailers are not interested in interaction with the distributor other than a portfolio when a situation arises. I would suggest 90% of these e-tailers who contact me I have never met. Normally it please just forward me a portfolio. If they continue to place products on their websites without carring stock there’s bound to be problems. Its a convenient way of doing business but ultimately who is really to blame.

    1. Toni Paterson MW
      Toni Paterson MW says:

      I appreciate you sharing your perspective – thank you. And just for the record – I recently ordered 12 bottles from a small retailer of a 2015 vintage wine. I actually received 1 x 2013; 1 x 2014; 1 x 2016; and 9 x 2015. So 25% of the delivery consisted of wines that I did not order.

  2. Bert Werden says:

    Nice article Toni. Thought it pertinent to also chime in here.

    The reason for many e-tailers mucking up vintage is that they do not physically range the wines they are offering for sale. Yes, some self congratulations as WineStar actually have in stock the 2500 products offered for sale on our website so you actually receive the vintage ordered.

    Sadly, the model that is become increasingly popular is either ‘drop shipping’ direct from winery or distributor and subject to vintage change or even more ‘popular’ is advertising hundreds or thousands of wines despite not ranging a single one then ordering once a sale is made. Again, this leads to vintage roll.

    You would be amazed how few retailers, like us, hold the wines they are offering for sale.

    Keep up the good work!

  3. Peter Calder says:

    I was told by a fine wine manager at a store in Oakleigh Victoria that Vintages do not matter.
    I was also told that we as a Distributor have not had a bottle of a particular french Cognac for two or three years (Menai). I then bought two bottles from same Co same day in Bankstown NSW In another store of the Green type Camouflage color. I paid for a pick up of a wine Advertised on there member web site being a 2015 Cabernet Sauvignon Made by Wynns. 60th Vintage. Black Label.
    6 Bottles were in a sealed Wynns Box the other 6 came in another pre opened six pack I inspected it and found them to be 2013 Vintage. I did not need that my cellar already contained that vintage.
    To all in the drinking community it is great to have time on my hands to check.
    The Organisation I deal with the most Approx 15K P.A. has nether made a error on vintage comments etc in a decade and only have one store in Bondi NSW
    I believe the week needed politicians of all parties have put these type of companies in a position that has destroyed a fair dinkum way of life in Australia.

  4. Nigel Culshaw says:

    Toni, I agree with the premise of your article but please don’t tar all online retailers with the same brush…clearly you did not make contact with Community Wines, we would have answered any and all questions about vintage. I do not carry stock in a warehouse, so in turn I do not have an agenda to sell a specific wine. But this carries with it certain dangers in relying on suppliers to provide you with correct information. Wineries are great at updating vintage changes, distributors will usually send you a portfolio and leave you to work out what has changed. If you carry more than 100 skews this is an onerous job on its own. But the key to this is if a client orders a wine of a specific vintage and the supplier advises a vintage change then we return to the customer and advise of said change. If the customer chooses to decline the purchase then that is ok. At the end of the day it is all about what is in the bottle and customer satisfaction.

    1. Toni Paterson MW
      Toni Paterson MW says:

      Thanks, Nigel. No, not all retailers are the same. But I have had this issue happen time and time again, with small and large retailers. But you raise a good point about the need for distributors keeping the retailers up-to-date as well. I think we need to move away from this concept of ‘vintage rollover’, where one vintage glides into the next without the acknowledgement that a ‘new’ vintage means a ‘new’ wine. Australia used to downplay vintage variability, due to our abundant sunshine, as a way of being ‘different’ to the old winemaking regions of Europe. Though, of course, our wines differ from one year to the next, just as any wines do. New vintage. New wine.

  5. kg@matilda.net.au says:

    It is the supermarket mentality — right! You would have to suspect that problem is only the tip of the iceberg, those sorts of places would probably leave a bottle of champagne out in the sun in the window. That is precisely why I don’t buy from retailers that are associated with supermarkets. One can only imagine what other sorts of strange handling and storage practices they might be engaging in with employees most of whom are probably still at school.

    1. Toni Paterson MW
      Toni Paterson MW says:

      Thanks for your comments. But I must say that I have had the problem with both large and small retailers. I shop far and wide for my wine, and I find that service is invariably linked to the people in the store, rather than the size! Though I agree with you about wine in a sunny window, which happens in many places – large and small.

  6. Brian says:

    Completely agree and I seldom buy from these e-tailers. When I do, if the wrong vintage is supplied I decline at collection or ask them to pick up and return it for a refund. Despite their disclaimer they know they don’t have any legal rights to refuse and I’ve never had a problem returning a wine of the incorrect vintage. One of the underlying problems for the big chains, who ship wines from stores with excess stock as well as the warehouses, is that bar codes do not include vintage making it difficult to identify , especially if shipped from a store with slow sales on the wine rather than from a warehouse.

    1. Toni Paterson MW
      Toni Paterson MW says:

      Thanks for your comment Brian. Like you, I have not had a problem returning wine. But it is very time consuming, and I would like not to have to do it. I must confess that I have not only had this problem with large chains – some small players too. You make an interesting point about barcodes and vintage…

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