Sunday, August 10, 2014

The Allocation Conundrum

Allocations are becoming something increasingly important in the wine industry, not just from the high end either. Repeat attacks by hail, drought and other difficult climatic conditions have threatened wine growers in France, Italy and America. Vintage to vintage the production numbers of some of our favorite producers are at an all time low. And then to add that only a small portion of these wines are making it into Chicago.

So it’s a two part question: how do we get these small production wines and how do we make Chicago into a destination that requires more of this small pie that we all want a piece of.

The second question is more difficult to answer and one of the real reasons for the creation of squire wine co.

The first question is something worth discussing.

Whether it be the big iconic names like DRC, Coche, Araujo, Harlan, Quintarelli, and the myriad of other amazing producers who command astronomic prices or the smaller producers who make tiny amounts of fantastic wine in lower rent areas in France, Italy and America they are all brought in by importers and distributors who all have their own agenda.

Its not some malevolent plan. They are not trying to take advantage of us. Just like any other business they have core producers that they work with. Producers who have much higher wine production than those highly allocated prod These producers create the base of that book. They pay the bills. 10,000 cases of one come into America and 500 of the other. But what’s important to note here is that that 500 case producer wants to be in a book that includes that 10,000 case producer. The producers that surround these iconic producers also define them too.

So how do you do it? How do you land these big names? First and most importantly, be a restaurant that can sell these wines. Wineries like this have restaurant check lists and want to be featured on specific wine lists. If you are on that list life is much easier, if not it’s still doable, but you have to recognize whether those three bottles are going to jump out to your clientele or wither away on a shelf only to be sold to an auction house a few years later.

Now if you can afford it and have clientele who are into these types of wine you have to make a game plan. DRC doesn’t just get offered to you every year. You have to look and see who imports DRC and then you come upon a much bigger book. And in that book there are a myriad of producers who you know and many you like. Some might even already be on your wine list. Find out from your wine rep which of these wineries are specifically important to this importer.

Is there room to offer any of these items by the glass? Can you fill a few bottle placements with some of these wines? Are these all choices that make you happier about your wine list or is that one coveted bottle all that matters? Think about it.

Now if you want a lot of allocated wine than you need a big wine list to appease all of these different importers and distributors. You can always try and pick off stray bottles that become available from people who didn’t pick up their allocations, but those will only be offered if you are in general a good client to a distributor or if you already took your entire allocation and some more just became available.

And its important to note that allocations are just as tight for the more inexpensive wines made by these allocated producers as well. Raveneau AC Chablis is as difficult to get as Les Clos. Coche Bougogne Blanc is just as difficult to get as Corton Charlemagne. They don’t have the same grand cru status, but they are made by the same people from their vines.

Its not that we have to be beholden to distributors or importers, but we do have to know that if we covet small production wines that others covet we will have to compete with them to get those wines. There are plenty of amazing producers out there who are not allocated, who to the general public are undiscovered, but it requires the sommelier to act as teacher for them to learn about them. And if we do our job too well those producers will be allocated as well soon.

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