With Wine, Bigger May Be Better—Or Preferable

How do you go about measuring and comparing wines and wineries based on the quality of the wine(s) Can it even be done in a reliably convincing method?

To the latter question I’ve always answered, “Yes-sort of”. It’s the first question that takes some good reasoning.

In an interview with The Shout, Treasury Wine Estates CEO David Dearle offered one means of measuring something like quality that is at the very least interesting and even a bit convincing.

“Size matters, but it matters only because of what it enables us to do, and that is to make better, higher quality, wine. I  have no doubt that, because of our size, we are able to offer consistent quality at every price point.”

For those unaware, Treasure Wine Estates is among the largest wine companies in the world. Its brands include Beringer Vineyards, Chateau St. Jean, Stags’ Leap Winery, Lindemans, Penfolds, Catello di Gabbiano and numerous others.

Dearle then goes on to make the key argument in his case for Big Means Better:

“But don’t just take my word for it, the results speak for themselves! Across our brands TWE wins more medals at the world’s leading wine shows than anyone else. In the last financial year, 21 trophies and 101 gold medals, with an overall medal/trophy success rate of 61 per cent – versus an average rate for our competitors of roughly 40 per cent.”

Assuming all these statistics are correct, and I have no reason not to, isn’t TWE’s medal/trophy success rate an important indication of something? I think it is. I think it is a clear indication that TWE’s wines are preferred by judges more often and at a higher rate in wine competitions than those wines of his competitors entered in wine competitions.

What I don’t think you can necessarily say is that TWE’s wines entered into these competitions are of a higher quality than his competitors. “Quality” is a fairly arbitrary idea when it comes to wine and certainly isn’t objectively determined, nor can it be measured. But, PREFERENCE can be measured. In fact, wine competitions are pretty good place to measure preference since, unlike the general marketplace, you don’t have marketing and label recognition to impact a measure of preference driven by sales figures.

Mr. Dearle cited these figures in support of his attempt to bust a “common wine industry myth: only small, family-owned wineries make authentic, quality wine.”

Mr. Dearle is correct in painting this a myth or at least an unfounded assumption.

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7 Responses

  1. tom merle - December 1, 2012

    Your slip calling ‘Treasury Wine Estates’ ‘Treasure Wine Estates’ may not be a slip after all, with all those gold and silver medals. ;)

    But I would question the logic behind Mr. Dearle’s pronouncement. Could it not be that TWE just enters more wines in more competitions?

    To take one example of this strategy, Dario Sattui makes a large number of varietals at his winery (not a TWE winery). He enters all these wines in the California State Fair competition. And he engages in a shootout with the South Coast Winery in Temecula which also makes many, many different wines.

    Both make fine wines that do win medals, but this doesn’t mean that a Little Guy winery that makes fewer wines and therefore can only get fewer medals theoretically is not ‘better’ –generating more preference for the few wines they do make.

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  5. Jamie Smith - BTN - December 3, 2012

    Being in the wine business, getting awards has lot of challenges in itself apart from wine being great. For example a small winery that has a better juice, don’t have the contact in the leading magazines….so most of the times their samples never get tasted or even they never send as its expensive for some of them. The problem is having the leading magazines taste your wines? I don’t blame the magazines as they need to fill their advertising pages and I am sure they get lot of wines. But what I like is the whole new branding strategy of the company. David has a vision to become no 1 premium wine company which is a good thing for Australian wine industry. In USA for example: many people think Australia is Yellow Tail, Jacobs Creek, Little Penguin, Black Swan and Lindemans.

  6. Fabio (Vinos Ambiz) - December 5, 2012

    Interesting question. I believe that it’s not really possible to compare the “quality” of a mass-produced wine with that of a small producer, as the word means different things to both. The former is churning out millions of bottles of boringly delicious, drinkable, inoffensive commodities year after year, while the latter is producing unique, terroir-expressing fine wines that may differ year-on-year depending on the climate and other factors. For the former “quality” means complying with legislation, and other technical and commercial criteria; while for the latter “quality” means growing healthy grapes without polluting the environment and unbalancing the soil, vines and grapes of the vineyard, and then making wine without using unnecessary additives or using unnecessary, terroir-destroying processes. Two different markets, two different categories of wine, but the word ‘quality’ is used by both.

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