Who says Americans don't age wine?
November 19, 2013
I've written before, in a handful of contexts, about what a great tool I think CellarTracker is. I use it to monitor what our customers are saying about our wines, to track when wines seem to be going through dumb stages, and to look in on how some wines I don't open that often are aging. My starting point is typically a survey of tasting notes on Tablas Creek, sorted by date. In a recent search I noticed that several people have opened and written up our 2006 Esprit de Beaucastel in the last month or so. That's hardly surprising; it's the library vintage of Esprit that we sent out to our Collector's Edition wine club members last month, and the wine's arrival to some 750 club recipients likely spurred at least some of those new tasting notes.
One thing I noticed in the search is that of the 2050 bottles of the 2006 Esprit that have been entered into CellarTracker, 1287 of them (63%) are still in cellars, while only 37% have been consumed. I wondered whether or not that had been influenced by the fact that the wine is a new arrival for many customers, so I checked some other vintages and found that the 2006 is in line with other vintages around it:
The data from 2000 (when there were only 347 bottles entered into CellarTracker, most of them, presumably, some time after they were purchased) looks to me like an outlier, and we didn't make an Esprit de Beaucastel in 2001, but starting in 2002 the data looks pretty regular, with well over 1000 bottles entered each year. Not only does the data show that it's not until about a decade out that half of the entered bottled are drunk, but It also seems to show that consumers are following our advice to wait on particularly big, structured vintages (like 2005, 2007 and 2009) and instead drink the more open vintages from the even-numbered years.
I find it heartening that even in our oldest vintages of Esprit, released a decade ago or more, at least 40% of the bottles entered into the CellarTracker system have yet to be consumed. I did a few spot-checks to see whether it's only this wine that people are saving, and found that CellarTracker customers are in aggregate behaving in a rational manner: drinking up the wines that are meant to be drunk young but aging wines (both reds and whites) that are worthy of aging. A few of these data points, from least to most ageworthy:
- Rosé/Dianthus: 2012 47% consumed; 2011 73% consumed; 2010 76% consumed
- Vermentino: 2012 19% consumed; 2011 51% consumed; 2010 66% consumed
- Esprit Blanc: 2010 23% consumed; 2006 56% consumed; 2003 72% consumed
- Cotes de Tablas: 2010 35% consumed; 2008 64% consumed; 2005 72% consumed
- Panoplie: 2010 6% consumed; 2007 9% consumed; 2004 25% consumed
Can we reconcile this evidence with the much-reported trope that the vast majority of wine purchased (between 70% and 90%) is consumed within 24 hours of its purchase? Perhaps not. The average CellarTracker user is clearly not the average wine drinker; there is a level of self-selection in the person who would choose a cellar management tool. Those who do not routinely age wine are unlikely to need a tool to manage their wine inventories.
But I think it's a larger mistake -- and one that leads many winemakers to incorrect winemaking assumptions -- to assume that there is a single type of wine consuming American, who doesn't like to age their wines. From talking to our customers, it's clear that there is a significant audience for whom cellaring wine is an important pastime, and that the 285,000 active users of CellarTracker are just a fraction of that number.
Are there millions of wine consumers who wouldn't dream of cellaring a bottle for a decade? Sure. Should this matter to a winery like us? I'm not convinced. We're a relatively small winery with a direct relationship with more than half of the 50,000 customers we need each year to keep us going. And the wine consuming market is tremendously heterogeneous. Just as there are millions of wine consumers who drink nothing but sweet wines, or nothing but wines under $10, or nothing that requires a corkscrew, there is a market of millions who have the means and interest in buying ageworthy wines. Heck, 2.8 million people read each issue of Wine Spectator, for a start. It's great that there are wines that are directed at the wine drinker who wants immediate gratification. But that's not the only market out there, and my sense is that the wine lover who wants to get to know a wine over time, and who enjoys the developing arc of a wine's personality as it ages, makes up a larger percentage of the American public than is routinely acknowledged.
And thank goodness for that.