WineBusiness.com reports today that a class action filed in San Francisco last month claims BevMo raises the prices of the wines in their 5-cent sale so that in some cases, customers are paying more for the two bottles than they would at regular price.
From a business standpoint, this is a great way to make money. After all, value is perceived, right? All you need to seal the deal is an 88-point or higher rating from the wine critic hired to be as your in-house cellar master.
Doctors generally make lousy businessmen, but even I could tell this 5-cent promotion had to have a catch. That suspicion was verified by discussions with a wine maker who is trying to move inventory and has looked into BevMo as a venue. I’ll leave the finer financial points of this scheme to others, but suffice it to say that BevMo gets these wines dirt cheap (in the Ann Arbor, MI sense).
I’ve had a good number of these 5-cent sale wines, as Irene likes to try her luck. Invariably, these wines get a pretty decent score (say, 87 or 88 points or better) from Wilfred Wong. But when I actually pour myself a glass, I am very frequently left wondering what wine Wong was tasting when he wrote the tasting notes or scored the swill.
I actually had started keeping track of some of these 5-cent bargains and my impressions of them. About half the time I had no serious beef with the score and notes, although I could argue the comments of “freshness”, “good acidity”, “great example of this variety” or the scores themselves were stretching thing. The rest of the time, I thought Wong had been smoking something.
The fact is that BevMo did, at one point publish a rating scale (available here as a PDF from my records), but I cannot find any consistent criteria for it. Nor am I able find any consistency in scores that would be attributable to a personal stylistic preference. What this tells me, is that BevMo is screwing the consumer in two ways: financially (if the price gouging allegations prove to be true) and culturally.
I have never met Wong. I know a few people who consider him a friend and attest to his palate. So what gives? Someone who knows him had once told me that Wong may be under some pressure to help move inventory. I could get on a soap box and pontificate about integrity, but I can’t blame a wine critic for trying to pay their bills. However, in my eyes, this puts a huge dent in his credibility.
Instead, I will say this: telling people that crappy wines are good and worth the inflated price (even if that is just $15) is not only immoral or unethical, but it lowers the bar on our country’s wine culture and wine industry.
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