Sunday, August 15, 2010

O Bottle, From Where Art Thou?

Have you ever wondered how the bottle of wine sitting on your table made its journey from the idyllic chateau (or perhaps a garage or industrial factory) to you? Assuming that you did not purchase this bottle directly from the winery, it actually had quite a little journey. In the U.S., we have what is called the three-tier distribution system for alcoholic beverages. This system was established by the 21st Amendment to the Constitution with the repeal of prohibition. These tiers were developed to provide competition and checks and balances to protect both consumers and winemakers. The tiers include producers, distributors, and retailers. If the wine originates from outside of the U.S., a fourth tier, the importer, is added. With each of the 50 states governing just how exactly this system operates within two major paradigms. The first is the competitive private method. Each of the tiers is operated by private business ventures. However, some states operate with what is called a control method. In this situation, the state maintains control of the distribution and/or retail tiers. Sounds complicated, but once the wine passes through each of these hoops, it is ready and willing for you to purchase!

Working in the wine industry, I am lucky enough to have received invitations from each of these tiers to attend tastings of wines. These tastings are events designed to promote and sell wine. It is through events like these that the best wines make their way to your home. Unfortunately, some retailers do not attend these events but rather stock their shelves with the inventory that the distributor needs to sell. So, let's follow the journey of a bottle of Maison Joseph Drouhin from the Burgundy region of France.

Maison Joseph Drouhin has been making wine, mostly Pinot Noir and Chardonnay, from a variety of locations in and around Burgundy since 1880. American importers visit all parts of the wine world meeting with winemakers and tasting their wines in order to select, what they feel, are the very best (and easiest) wines to sell to the American consumer. With the Drouhin wines, the importer is Dreyfus Ashby & Co. The importer and the producer come to terms on which wines will be sold in the U.S., the quantity, and the cost. The importer then ships the wine to the U.S. to be sold to a distributor. Dreyfus Ashby & Co. has a contract with Southern Wine and Spirits to distribute Drouhin wines in Colorado. Together, Dreyfus Ashby and Southern work to sell these wines to retailers. One way that they do this is to host a tasting event. They invite retail and restaurant clients to come to and taste the wines to determine which wines they think they can sell to their customers. While Maison Joseph Drouhin makes over 70 different bottlings, the event that I attended only offered about 20 different Drouhin wines at a variety of price points (ranging from $10 - $150 retail). Retail representatives are able to taste through the line up and evaluate the wines that they would like to represent at their store. In some cases, after a retail store purchases wines it may offer public tasting events for customers to come and try a few wines before purchasing. I highly recommend signing up to receive email announcements from your favorite stores and attend as many of these events as you can. No one likes to spend money on a wine and end up not liking it. You can avoid this by previewing the wine for free at your local wine shop!

Though I did not take thorough notes at the tasting, here a few of the wines that I found to be worth recommending (retail prices approximate):

Pinot Noir
2008 Maison Joseph Drouhin Volnay (approx. $36)
2008 Maison Joesph Drouhin Beaune Clos des Mouches Rouge (approx. $65)
2006 Domaine Drouhin Oregon Laurène (approx. $60)

2008 Drouhin Vaudon Chablis Premier Cru (approx. $32)
2008 Maison Joseph Drouhin Rully (approx. $15)
2008 Maison Joseph Drouhin Beaune Clos des Mouches Blanc (approx. $80)

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