I saw a story about a cult Napa winery with one of the most famous consultant winemakers, and the best grapes from the best vineyards, and the eye-watering $200-$800 price tags on their bottles…
And it just goes to show that even the very tip top wineries have a hard time selling all their wine (or fear doing it under their own label).
Don’t world-famous “cult” Napa wineries sell all their wine at full price?
No, they don’t.
At first glance, it seems like there are a ton of winemakers that manage to sell their wines for over $100 a bottle, especially in established luxury regions like Napa. They have waiting lists. Their waiting lists have waiting lists!
But even the best of the best, the most famous of the famous, sometimes find themselves selling their excellent wine at a discount often with an alternate label or a confidentiality agreement to a company like Backdoor Wines or Cameron Hughes (folks who specialize in buying wine and putting private labels on them).
Everybody sees waiting lists for Scarecrow ($500ish), Harlan ($800ish) and Screaming Eagle ($2000ish), and thinks that they can do the same thing.
Funny thing: one of the quintessential cult wineries I just listed is allegedly selling its wine under other labels.
Cameron Hughes is selling a 6-pack vertical of 2006-2011 from a cult Napa winery. Bound by confidentiality, he can’t say exactly who it is – but the Internet is relentless and eventually figures everything out.
Spoilers if you don’t want to wade through all those links:
- The corks seem to have a Harlan font on them
- Whether these particular wines are Harlan or not, there is a government document called a COLA that shows that Cameron Hughes is working with Harlan in some way on some wine
- Folks in the industry acknowledge that Harlan and wineries of this caliber sell wine regularly through these alternate channels
Even the most famous wineries in Napa have to think about sales and marketing
If Harlan is doing it, who else do you think is sometimes selling their wine in bulk for a fraction of the price under a different label?
Every year, winemakers are in a position where they have to sell wine secretly with confidentiality agreements in order to protect the value and marketability of the brand they’re building.
And whether you know it or not, the cost of the quiet sales on the side are being built into the brands you buy.
I should take a minute to mention Harlan is a funny example because they definitely could sell this wine under a separate label even if they came out and said “Hey guys, this isn’t Harlan. It’s a wine we made and decided not to put into Harlan-and you can get it for less than $200.” And kudos to them for still maintaining quality and declassifying wines or choosing not to blend every single grape they have into their finished product.
In any case, it’s still an interesting example of a big famous winery not selling all of its wine under its own labels.
So when I pay over $50/bottle, I wonder how many gallons of wine the winemaker actually sold at $25 in secret.
Because I know you don’t need to charge $50 to make a healthy margin unless you’re giving out a lot of wine for less than $50 somewhere else.
But there’s good news too:
All the Angel-funded winemakers are making their wine and selling it to everybody at the same price. They never inflate a wine’s price because a critic gave it a huge score. They never panic and throw their wine on a discount site (at a detriment to their business) just to make some quick cash.
And that’s why you can find even iconic Napa wines like Scott Peterson’s Rutherford blend ($22.99 for Angels) and Bridget Raymond’s Oakville blend ($13.99 for Angels).
Very interesting article, Ryan! Thank you.
[…] with closed doors and huuuge price tags, and they’re a very easy target (like that time Harlan was suspected of selling some of the wine they produce at Costco under a private label – see? I just can’t help […]