Buying Wine

Winery Mailing Lists: The Fab 5

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The buzz surrounding mailings lists has grown very quiet over the last four years. This is due in no small part to the recession and corresponding drop in disposable income that many consumers have experienced. The days of waiting years to acquire wines from the likes of Colgin, Bryant and Quilceda Creek have largely gone away. I suspect the next year or so it will be much easier to obtain wines like Schrader, Scarecrow and Sine Qua Non.

I believe this is also largely due to the shift in California coverage at the Wine Advocate from Robert Parker to Antonio Galloni. Without 100 point scores, these exceptional wines will no longer be bought by collectors who speculate in wine appreciation. They will, however, continue to be bought by collectors who appreciate a great bottle and also have the capacity to buy $200 Cabernet and $150 Syrah.

So what wineries will be able to continue to by and large sell their wines exclusively via mailing lists? What wineries will have such a large demand that there is actually a waiting list to get on the mailing list?

Here are my five candidates for the Fab 5 of mailing lists. I have little doubt that their wines will continue to be coveted by collectors and that obtaining their wines will always be problematic regardless of economic conditions.

  1. Cayuse: Founded by Christophe Baron, this Washington winery has received critical acclaim for its Syrah lineup for nearly 10 years. Prices average $80 per bottle.
  2. Saxum: Founded by Justin Smith, the winery specializes in Syrah and Syrah blends and receives rave reviews from all critics. Pricing is steady at $90 per bottle.
  3. Kosta Browne: Founded by Dan Kosta and Michael Browne, KB specializes in exceptional single vineyard California Pinot Noir. Prices range from $60-80 per bottle.
  4. Carlisle; Founded by Mike Officer, Carlisle excels at small lots of Zinfandel and Syrah from California’s most historic vineyards. Prices range from $20-50 per bottle.
  5. Rochioli: The oldest winery on my list, Rochioli has a history dating back to the 1950’s. Known for their Pinot Noir, they also make exceptional Chardonnay and Sauvignon Blanc. Prices start at $30 for the Sauvignon Blanc, and range from $50-100 for the various Pinot Noir’s.

What sets these wineries apart?

There is little doubt that the quality of the wine in the glass is the first part of the equation. You may not necessarily agree with the style of all the wines, but there is no question they are exceptionally well made.

Variety is another factor. With the exception of Saxum, these wineries make a plethora of different wines. At the low end, Saxum has six different wines. At the other end of the spectrum, Carlisle makes upward of 25 different wines.

Finally, it’s not a coincidence that all these wines are priced fairly. The Rochioli West Block Pinot Noir, at $100, is the only wine that reaches triple digits.

I guess the not so secret qualities of my list are a variety of well made wines that are priced fairly. Go figure. As I write this, I can’t think of many other wineries that could some day join my Fab 5 of mailing lists. Bedrock? Rivers-Marie? Maybe. Time will tell.

What winery mailing lists would you put on your Fab 5?

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11 thoughts on “Winery Mailing Lists: The Fab 5

  1. To lecallarcat – I sure do love Corison. Thankfully, though, it remains pretty accessible.

    Tom – of the ones you mention, I’m only on KB. I’m on the Rochioli waiting list. But will I ever get on the list, who knows. Williams Selyem remains in the category you identify for some wines that remain in high demand or are made in especially small quantities. I think they’ve become a winery that can’t sell everything through their list because they make so much, although you still rarely see any at retail and it you do it seems to sell at a premium to the mailing list price. I might at Sea Smoke to your list. They’ve continued to keep it simple and with relatively low production, they can probably continue to be pretty much list only.

    1. Williams Selyem does a quite a bit of restaurant business as well. True story…a couple years ago I tweeted about seeing WS at Costco in Seattle. The marketing director of WS ended up emailing me that apparently it was a rogue distributor in Seattle. Needless to say the botttles were removed from Costco pretty quickly. By the way I am ready for the KB release next month!

  2. I think the Sea Smoke bubble has already burst and are rightfully not on Tom’s list. I was able to buy several bottles of Sea Smoke from my local wine store in Wisconsin. If we had the wine on shelves here, they had to be on shelves in the major wine markets.

    Quilceda Creek is another former mailing list wine that is still sitting on the shelf here.

  3. Regarding QC, I still think their prices are very reasonable compared to California Cabernets. A comparable Cali Cab would be at least twice as expensive. And the Columbia Valley Cab still appears to have a market value that exceeds its winery price immediately upon release. Aside from the entry-level Red Wine, I still haven’t seen QC at retail in Texas. Tom, after hearing your experience with WS, mum’s the word for me re: where I’ve seen WS at retail. But I recently saw the regular RRV Pinot for $71 a bottle, so the pricing is pretty unattractive. Still haven’t seen Sea Smoke at retail in Texas.

    I for one rejoice at the fact that fewer and fewer wines are in this category of exclusivety. Except for the rare ones that are exclusive truly because of their very limited supply and surprisingly excellent QPR (e.g. Carlisle), the phenomenon seems to be so much hype, since the wines — while undoubtedly superb — are not so vastly different from excellent and more available wines to warrant all the fuss. I feel this especially true with the super-expensive cult Cabs from Napa.

    1. I agree with you on Quilceda Creek pricing vis a vis their peers in California. That being said the “Fab 5” have by and large done a good job of holding off on price increases despite unprecedented demand for their wines. Had QC done this their wines might still be a little harder to come by.

  4. I agree with you about pricing on your Fab 5. I always think of California Pinot as providing relative value compared to California Cabernet when you consider, as you highlight, that the creme de la creme is available for no more than $100 and usually $20-30 less. A very rare exception to this would be something like Marcassin, which I’ve never had the opportunity to try, but would be surprised to learn is really worth the price difference. Have you ever tried? I’ve always been curious about why one would/should pay $200+ for a California Pinot.

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