Friday, March 24, 2017

Trader Joe's; Your place for wine?

Got a Trader Joe's near you?  Like to drink wine.  Read on. You might just learn something that can be of benefit...

You might not be aware that Trader Joe's is America's largest purchaser of bulk, finished, aged, ready-to-drink, but as-yet unbottled wine.

Didn't know that, didja?

Well, it's true.  And here's why.  Wineries never, that would be never, make exactly the right amount of wine.  They either make too much of it, presupposing that they will have the market demand for that quantity, or too little, presuming that you and me will not want as much of their glorious liquid as we actually do.

So what do they do if their production falls into either extreme?  

If they make too little, they then buy up some grapes from fellow vineyards to supplement their underproduction, turn those grapes into wine, and then plant some more grapes for future needs.  

Or if they make too much, they then either, (a), create a second channel of wine, such as another brand just below their usual quality and price of product.  You know of this whether you've thought of it before or not. Think of Beaulieu Vineyards.  They have regular, inexpensive BV wines at $7 or $8 a bottle.  Then they offer "BJ Coastal" at a couple of dollars more per bottle.  And then they feature "BV Napa" at $13 or $14 a bottle. Or, you can opt for "BV Tapestry," which is really special, for around $35 a bottle.  And lastly they offer their top-tier, super fantastic, "BV Georges de la Tour," which is one of the very best wines made in America.  It goes out for upwards of $125 a bottle.  You can often find it at Costco or Sams, on the other hand, for as little as $75 - $80 a bottle. 

If you ever have need of a really special present for a very important someone, who really likes good red wine, consider a bottle of this amazing stuff.  They will be overjoyed.  

By the way, Georges de la Tour was a Swiss viticulturist who ventured to Napa, CA way back in the late 1800's.  He decided that the Napa area had the perfect climate to grow Cabernet Sauvignon, very similar, as it was, and is, to the area around Southwestern France where Cabs are usually made.  And thus, he was the first to plant it in California.  For doing so he's recognized as the guy who actually started what would become the internationally recognized craze for California wines.  But back to our story...

Other wineries that offer two or more tiers of wines would include Coppola, Sebastiani and Kendall-Jackson Vineyards. Ever heard of "Screaming Eagle?"  That's the iconic small-production winery in Napa's Stag's Leap, ultra-special growing area that limits its annual production to only 500 cases a year. The uber-rich swells stand in line to buy this stuff for as much as $350 a bottle.  They offer no wine clubs, no pick-up parties, and no discounts to anyone.  They're waaaaay to cool for that! Yet, they always sell out.  

But that doesn't mean they only make what they can sell. They ALWAYS make more than their self-limited 500 cases a year.  What do they do with the excess?  They bottle it under another brand, called "Whispering Dove."  Get it? "Screaming Eagle" becomes "Whispering Dove?"  And the price?  $40 a bottle at discount wine stores or on line.  Nice to know this stuff, yes?

And (b), those wineries that find themselves with excess production prepare their extra juice as if they were going to bottle it. They add yeast, they ferment it, they put it into barrels and then they sell it as "bulk wine."  It is their normal wine, ready to age, and then ready to bottle and drink.  But they don't need it, so they sell it.  And where they sell it is at wine auctions.

The premier wine auction in America is conducted monthly under the clock tower on the Embarcadero in San Francisco. Those in need of excess wine, but who have decided they either don't have the time to produce it from grapes, their own or someone else's, or don't have the time or production capacity to do so, buy the juice at these auctions. And they can score some serious wine at favorable prices by doing so. And the Number One Buyer of this excess juice is Trader Joe's.

TJ's has as many as 9 distinct brands they use to bottle this juice. Some are labeled simply as "Trader Joes" wines. They may call it "Trader Joe's Select," or "Premier," or "Reserve." But some aren't.  One such "aren't" is "Tribunal."  It is usually their very best bulk wine, and by my reckoning, is always superb. And it just might be a really special wine that you usually couldn't afford if bottled by the winery that sold it under their own label.  

Recent bottlings of "Tribunal" contained "The Prisoner," by "Orin-Swift Wine Company.  This wine goes out at a retail of $39.99 a bottle at the winery.  And it's delish!  I've bought cases of this stuff from TJ's and loved every drop.  And the cost?  $9.99 a bottle.  In fact, almost all their house brands sell for this not-so-princely sum.  And all are great buys. Just remember this:  Trader Joe's makes no wine, either "before its time," or after.  It BUYS all its bulk wine from others, and then contracts with area wineries to bottle it for them at other-than-peak bottling periods.  

Soooooooooo, cheap juice, coupled with cheap bottling, creates cheap...but expensive tasting, wines.  And wines you should check out.  

How did I learn this stuff?  Having a wine budget quite a bit smaller than my taste buds, I'm always on the lookout for some great values in wine. So I got to know the Wine Managers at several Trader Joe's.  They are happy to inform and delighted when their customers show an interest.  

And believe it or not, some of them didn't even know about this process. But they DO know the best wines they offer, the true specials, and they'll clue you in if you get to know them as well.  They offer great wines at great prices. But they also offer even greater wines under their own labels at super prices.  

The moral of this story:  We can all drink like we're rock stars, even if we can't hit a lick on an axe and don't have access to their fat bank accounts.  A word to the wise should be sufficient... 

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