They Couldn’t Have Meant It—A Lesson in Wine Misspeak

GreedOne thing you learn after watching an election campaign being carried out is that in this country the media will jump on any inadvertant "misspeak". It doesn't matter what the intent was, if a candidate misspeaks it will be used against them. And it's not just in the context of electioneering that the media jumps on such a thing. A person of any standing can be castigated by the media and others for the inadvertent words.

I was reminded of this when I read a story on Wine-Searcher.com yesterday in which a spokesperson for a winery clearly misspoke. Upon reading their unfortunate words I was sure they would get scalded by the media as well as by casual observers. And it's too bad because they could not possibly mean what they said.

The Wine-Searcher.com story explained the famed Napa Valley Winery Screaming Eagle had sold 600 bottles of a Screaming Eagle Sauvignon Blanc to their long-standing customers for $250 per bottle "on the condition that the bottles would not be offered on the secondary market (e.g. via a broker or auction house)."

However, it was quickly discovered that some of these fortunate customers actually turned around and sold the wine for a very good profit. The Screaming Eagle Sauvignon Blanc had shown up on the open market for upwards of $2,150 per bottle.

The Screaming Eagle representative had the following comment:

"The original purpose was for the direct-to-consumer channel and a few select restaurants," said Patrick Chapman from Screaming Eagle. "It was for their personal use only. And, of course, people said it was for their personal use only"

The spokesperson then went on to say something he could not possibly have meant to say:

"…but the reality [is] that it wasn’t. People are turning it over for profit, for their own selfish greed.”

I"m pretty sure the Screaming Eagle representative meant to say that some of their their customers "didn't tell the truth". Given the $250 price that Screaming Eagle charged for their Sauvignon Blanc, it would take a great deal of disconnect from reality and an unorthodox understanding of the idea of value to label those who resold the wine "greedy". It's simply too much to believe that the Screaming Eagle representative actually meant to call these re-sellers "greedy". Still, he'll likely be skewered for the mistake.

However, I must admit that it is rather odd that the folks at Screaming Eagle would actually ask customers to treat their property in a particular way. It's odd that they would ask customers not to do anything with the wine but drink it, then express surprised and a little upset when the purchaser did otherwise with their duly paid for property.

But never mind that.

The thing is this, when you make this kind of mistake, when you misspeak in this way, the thing to do is correct your mistake and move on. And I suspect this is what will happen at some point.

There is just too much irony to bear when a winery charging $250 for a bottle for a Sauvignon Blanc says those who choose to buy and re-sell the wine for a much higher price, rather than drink it, acted in the service of "selfish greed".

It simply can't be what they meant to say.


16 Responses

  1. Tim - June 20, 2012

    It really doesn’t matter what they meant, or what they actually said: wine at those prices isn’t for drinking. It’s a symbol, a Veblen-economic signifier, and the kind of people who buy it for $250 or $2150 may or may not actually like wine, but it’s a sure bet that hedonic pleasure taken from wine is far from the first thing they’re buying it for.
    So why should anyone who likes wine care? Other than prurient curiosity about what moral reprobates do with their ill-gotten lucre?

  2. Sarah - June 20, 2012

    the invisible hand of Darwin ….

  3. Steve Heimoff - June 21, 2012

    I think that anyone who buys a $250 SE Sauv Blanc, then turns it over on eBay for ten times that amount, is acting out of selfish greed. Of course, if you’re a follower of Ayn Rand (or Gordon Gekko, or Mitt Romney), you’d argue that “selfish greed” is good.

  4. Tom Wark - June 21, 2012

    Steve,
    Couldn’t you look at it as the re-seller just getting it into the hands of those that really have an interest in drinking it? Also, we all trade in goods and services all the time. It’s not necessarily greed to do so. And I think you can make the case that charging $250 for an SB, when we all know the costs to make and distribute the wine probably were somewhere around $25 a bottle, could also be called “greedy”. However, in this case it’s a matter pricing the wine under market value.
    In any case, who’s this Mitt Romney fellow you refer to?

  5. Sean - June 21, 2012

    So profit = greed?

  6. Tom Wark - June 21, 2012

    Sean,
    That’s sort of what the folks at Screaming Eagle appear to be saying. But that’s also why I’m sure they mis-spoke. They can’t possibly want to brand their buyers “greedy”when also selling a Sauvignon Blanc at $250 a bottle.

  7. James McCann - June 21, 2012

    The reality is that these types of secondary markets are particularly good for companies like Screaming Eagle. “We only charge $250 per bottle when the actual price the market will bear is many times that amount.”
    And who is this Steve that probably never even read Ayn Rand? Perhaps someone should place a limit on the earnings of critics.

  8. Richard - June 21, 2012

    I think some people are failing to see the irony and sarcasm here Tom… And it does appear to be slightly disingenuous to accuse someone of re-selling the wine and doing exactly what the company did when they sold it to the “reseller” to begin with… It does sound like a politician… This begs the question, is either greedy? or are they simply engaging in the purest form of capitalism by selling a product for what they can get for it? and if it is a question of “guilt” then which party is more guilty – the one who does the initial alleged gouging by charging 10 times as much for the bottle, or the one who resells it for 100 times the worth. All very worthy moral, philisophical questions…

  9. tommyterroir - June 21, 2012

    This whole brohaha is just a marketing ploy. If it weren’t the winery wouldn’t be whining so much. It focuses on an isolated case or two and transmits a message to its customers that they are getting a great deal from an extremely generous winegrower (even though in reality they are paying $250 dollars for a $25 dollar wine and providing $130k profit.) I mean it should now be clear to everyone since this story is out that Screaming Eagle is so ethical and generous that they are giving their loyal customers something at 1/10th its real value? Hey, if it weren’t for this story, Screaming Eagle would be in danger of becoming irrelevant.

  10. Tony - June 21, 2012

    Precisely, Tom.
    Perhaps Mr. Chapman should have chosen gentler words, but this episode is a case of the pot calling the kettle black. Asking your customers to ignore an easy profit in favor of savoring your sacred juice approaches the heights of arrogance, but anybody who sells a bottle of wine (i.e. bottle of status) for $250 has no basis for denying or decrying the next seller’s profit.

  11. Charlie Olken - June 22, 2012

    I probably have a few bottles in my cellar that are worth $250, but I can’t remember paying that much for any bottle of wine–let alone ten times that much for DRC or SE Sv Blc.
    When the stakes get that high, it is just silly money of the sort that most of us do not understand–or care about.
    SE may not understand the irony of selling a bottle of SB for $250 and then branding anyone who sells it on for more as greedy. I don’t see how Screaming Eagle can do anything but shut the hell up and pretend that they are Bain Capital.

  12. rjonwine@gmail.com - June 22, 2012

    I’m sorry. That’s just f’d up–the offering price, the effort to control what consumers do with their wine, and the abusive comments about those re-selling the crap. Screaming Eagle should be ashamed of themselves.

  13. MRodeno - June 22, 2012

    I think the buyers thought they were getting CabSauv and the secondary buyers ditto. Darwinism indeed (thanks, Sarah).

  14. Bill McIver - June 23, 2012

    this reminds me of the 1985 gray market battle in CA when hi falutin champagne producers, like jack davies (a good friend), sold their champagne on the open market. but, when small importers bought it and sold it at discount, the liquor lobby & wine institute sought legislation to stop the practice. Jack and high end French champagne producers want control over the their products after they had sold……….they didn’t seem to get that they no longer owned it. The liquor/beer lobby owned Willie Brown, Assembly speaker got their bill through the lege, but the governor vetoed the bill after a furious, late fight by small wineries and importers led by lawyer Bill Kinzler.

  15. hurtownia artykułów dziecięcych - June 30, 2013

    The spanish mainland is rife with world class golf courses.
    Interesting way to recognize the lovely plantations of Kerala could on backwater cruises.

  16. Johnathan - May 24, 2014

    Great delivery. Outstanding arguments. Keep up the good
    effort.


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