Monday, June 6, 2011

Rant: The Dark Side of the Wine Spectator Grand Tour

On Friday, I posted about the Wine Spectator Grand Tour, extolling its virtues, delighted by the exquisite and diverse wines that were available at the tasting event. But there was a dark side as well, and its ramifications could reverberate throughout Boston in the future. It may also speak to the nature and extent of the Boston area community of wine lovers. I hope it was more an aberration than indicative of the norm in Boston.

Though I was very pleased at the lack of overcrowding at the tasting, that was partially due to the fact that the event did not sell out. Now, both the Chicago and Las Vegas events sold out so why didn't the Boston event also sell out?  That is a rather significant question, the crux of the potential dark side of the Grand Tour. And it has the potential to negatively affect future tasting events in the Boston region.

Some of the wineries complained and/or were angry at the low turnout, obviously as they were hoping to get their wines in front of a much larger crowd, as they had in Chicago and Law Vegas. All of the wineries incur significant costs to attend the event, including travel expenses, hotels, meals, etc.  They hope to get a substantial return on this investment, by appearing before many wine lovers who will hopefully purchase their wines, write about their wines, or otherwise spread the good word at their wines.

So why didn't the Boston event sell out? Is there a single answer, or a number of factors which contributed?  Is anyone, such as the people of Wine Spectator, trying to figure out the answer to this question? If so, will the answer be made public?  Or will all the wineries, and others, have to rely on their own suppositions? It is my belief that there is no single answer, and that multiple factors were involved, most which could be addressed if the Grand Tour returns to Boston another time. 

First, the Nantucket Wine Festival took place from May 18-22, and it seems clear that a number of wine lovers who potentially would have attended the Grand Tour were in Nantucket instead.  The Nantucket Wine Festival, held for the last fifteen years, is an extremely large and popular event.  Next time, the organizers could attempt to schedule the Grand Tour for a date that does not conflict with such a major wine festival. Though some type of conflict is often inevitable, one can minimize the conflict by noting the dates of major, local wine events.

Second, I think the marketing and pre-event publicity of the Grand Tour was lacking to some degree. I saw little information about this event, and did not receive any press release about it. I spoke to a number of other local wine bloggers and they had not received any press releases either. Where were all the advertisements for this event?  What media outlets received press releases, and which ones actually wrote about the event?  More publicity about this event would likely have sold more tickets, and that is something easy to resolve.

Third, Marie Keep, the Director of the Fines Wines Department at Skinner Auctioneers, suggested that another factor may be that Boston is slow to embrace the new. This is the first time the Grand Tour has ever been held in Boston, so some people might have been hesitant about it, unsure of what it might entail. They might have been unwilling to take a chance, especially with a $200 cost. But now, after the very positive reviews that are coming out of the event, they might be far more willing to attend the event the next time.

But another concern exists.  Could the answer be, even partially, because Boston is not as sophisticated a wine market, that consumers do not purchase as much high-end wine?  If that is the case, or even if some wineries suspect that is the case, it could have a negative impact on future wine tasting events. Some wineries could choose not to visit Boston, preferring to spend their limited and valuable time in other cities which they consider to be more sophisticated, more apt to purchase high-end wines. So Boston might see less and less high-end tasting events, and that would be a tragedy.

I do not believe that this is a significant factor, and the Skinner wine auctions are indicative that Boston is a sophisticated wine community, with plenty of people interested in purchasing high-end wines. For the last five years, I have seen as each new auction has been larger, with more lots, and nearly all of the lots get sold. At the recent spring auction, with over 700 lots, they brought in $1.8 Million, which is certainly plenty of wine.  The Boston Wine Festival also offers a series of high-end wine tastings, many which also seem to sell out. There is definitely an interest in Boston for events like the Wine Spectator Grand Tour so I believe this time was more an aberration and that future such events will sell out, if the issues I previously mentioned are addressed.

As I mentioned in my other post, the Grand Tour was a superb event, and well worth its $200 price. It is an event which should have brought out lovers of high-end and high quality wines. So it is puzzling why it did not sell out.  Does anyone else have any insight into this conundrum?


susan holaday said...

I don't recall seeing anything about the Grand Tour- maybe one mention somewhere - seems to me they need better pr and marketing

susan holaday said...

I don't recall seeing anything about the Grand Tour- maybe one mention somewhere - seems to me they need better pr and marketing

susan holaday said...

I don't recall seeing anything about the Grand Tour- maybe one mention somewhere - seems to me they need better pr and marketing

Adam Japko said...

Rich, marketing and timing as you point out were defects in planning. But as somebody that lives in Boston, participates in the wine community, attends WS and other pricier events in NY I will offer this up...

Boston is a sophisticated wine market but it has two problems with it:

-It is a smaller overall market, not just wine, than NY and Chicago and not a destination draw like Vegas. The wine enthusiast market is smaller too. There is a reason WS never held an event here....they must have calculated it as a bad bet.

-Bostonians and New Englanders are cheap and overly frugal compared to most any other major market. Not that the money isnt here, but my fellow New Englander s are just cheap. The casual drinker is not going to dump $300 on an event like this. The avid drinker is a smaller population than any of these markets, and they are still cheap.

That's my take. It's also my take why the Red Sox have not figured out that if they just spent a little more money (they dont have far to go, but they are still not stepping up enough) then they would win more world series. As long as New England has this mentality, it will have second rate consumer wine events and second rate baseball teams

Paul said...

I have many friends who drink wine just like myself at least three times per week. None of us would be able to afford $300 to attend a wine tasting event. Not with families with kids to feed, mortgages to pay, etc.

Not that the wines to be tasted don't deserved it… most people I know just simply can't afford it. If I could afford a one time charge of $300 for wine, I would simply take it to my favorite wine shop and ask them to give me a $300 mixed case of different wine regions or wine styles.