Saturday, January 19, 2008

Is the bloom off the rose? Cults in the 21st Century or ‘What the hell is going on here?’

With all the mailers arriving these days, a few really stick out: Levy & McClellan, Futo and Sloan. Sloan is in its 4th year of release and the price has gone from $165 to $325. L&M 2004 was $350 out of the gate (and now, their second offering is up $50!!). Futo was $200.

What the hell is happening here? These wines have almost no track record to speak of, save for Sloan, but yet the price increases are astronomical. With Harlan at $450 and Screaming Eagle at $500, it’s no wonder what the goal is? The $500 bottle of Cabernet. Will they stop there? Nah.

To understand what is going on one must know some history of the ‘Cult’. I think there was a real need in the market for a wine of promise and rarity back in the early 90s, (keeping in mind these wines were in the $50 range) That was the niche, to create a false market by making people think they were getting ‘exclusive’ wines that a great percent of wine lovers will never be able to find with out forgoing a months mortgage payment. Lists were quickly formed. Even wait-lists. These days Screaming Eagle sells on the secondary market for between $1300 and $3500 for certain vintages. Just last week even Bill Harlan has mentionedin an interview that he thouht the 1997 Harlan was over the top. Is he not a fan? The goal is to garner as many points from the critics as possible. When a wine is bestowed the elusive ‘100’.... look out! Mass hysteria ensues. Many Cults have been given that score, so it’s easy to track some history. The 2002 Sloan shot up to $600 on the secondary market! Some buyers I know never even held the bottle in their hands as their 3 bottles allocation went directly to their new owners right from the winery. Imagine? A staggering $1100-$1200 profit for doing…nothing, but to be on the 'list'.

The chase is on. These new offerings are a product of this phenomenon. That’s why everyone wants to get on the list, and then stay on the list (even through 'off' vintages) to get the next 100 pointer.

Ever drink a 100 point wine? I have, a few times. Funny, I usually don’t get it personally. They are usually great wines mind you but perfect? I do have some 92s and 94s (Pobega point’s that is) that were actually better than some 100 RPs. (in my humble estimation that is).

At the end of the day isn’t that what’s important? Drinking something that spins your wheels as opposed to some critic’s wheels? There will always be flippers for these wines, as there will always be buyers. The market always sets its own pace, and there is not anything we can do about it. Why should I care you ask? I care because this has an effect on the whole market and sends my 92 pointers (Pobega points that is) skyrocketing well above the comfort level. Everyone’s comfort level is different, but my personal one is about $50-$85. Sure I go above it from time to time (probably too much) but as my friend Ben Sherwin says "If you can't run wth the big dogs you gotta stay on the porch". My criteria for doing so is simple: I've got to taste the wine first, and only then will happily get behind a wine I love. Maybach comes to mind. Even when Chris Maybach told buyers to be patient, there were still some negative tasting notes floating around. People started publicly dumping their Maybach. Guess what happens next? Parker gave it a 95. No more dumping (both on and the wine itself). I happened to give it a 96 as well. Just 9 months too early.

I know of many wine buyers who seek the Screaming Eagles out just to have... a Screaming Eagle, not even knowing if they like the style! I also know there are true lovers of these wines. This is not a personal attack on you. Some I consider good friends as well.

Will this craziness ever end? Probably not. As long as I can find my Kuleto's ($40), Ehlers ($25), Realm's ($85), and Sorrel Canyons ($9), and still feed the kids, I won’t complain…..much.

Added 2/18/2008- The latest vintage of Screaming Eagle has just gone to mailer: $750.00 per bottle!!