Supermarket Swipe

I find it admirable that many independent wine retailers in New Zealand have taken a stand against supermarkets and don’t stock the wines they sell. Many great wine brands, their image meticulously built up over a number of years by the hard working staff on the ground in retail, have ruined their image by taking the fast buck and selling their wines en masse to big businesses who don’t give a damn which wine sells and which doesn’t. As long as the money’s rolling in, quality is not an issue. It’s now left to marketing campaigns, snazzy labels and pot luck for customers buying wines, or, even more unfortunately, the customer will stay on a safe brand and stick to the same wine or style for the entirety of their drinking lives, afraid to try something new for fear of buying something they don’t like and ‘wasting’ their money.

The supermarkets have sucked the money out of the wine trade for too long without making an effort to put anything back into it. Through not proffering guidance and unbiased information on the wines stocked to their customers, plus their use of gimmicks and marketing tools to herd buyers into purchasing high margin wines disguised as special offers, they are unwittingly creating generations of completely useless ‘bin-lid’ wine buyers who can’t think for themselves and will one day wonder why the enamel on their teeth is melting with every glass of that ‘cheap Savvy’ with the snazzy label.

So, ask yourself. What happens when a wine finally gets onto the supermarket shelves and there is a sudden jump in sales? First, you must realise that the winery will have had to have cut their margins down to the thinnest of snips for the sale to proceed (bulk buying means bulk pricing ). How do you do that? You cut corners with quality. Secondly, what happens if sales go well and the supermarket demands more? You go looking to source wine outside of your vineyards. What if the only wine you can get your hands on is crap? Who cares, blend it in…it cuts costs, it’s already selling well and how many ‘bin-lids’ will be able to tell the difference? Most of them are already stuck on the brand, too afraid to try something else. On and on this vicious cycle descends, producing characterless brands of such low quality that the rest of us wonder why on earth people buy such rubbish? But it’s a gradual drop in quality, a drop that will go unnoticed by the loyal drinkers, especially if our old friend sugar is added to mask the underlying horror.

So, here’s what you do. Write a letter to the wine buyer at your local supermarket chain ( if you don’t think they’re doing enough that is…you may be perfectly happy with the wonderful descriptions on the back of the labels…’it’s like a million butterflies floating in your mouth’…yeah right.) requesting unbiased and informative talkers on as many wines as possible plus information on the winegrowing regions and vintages. The supermarket will inform you of who best to write to. Write to your local rag (preferably one with as many ‘bin-lid’ readers as you can appeal to…this is a mission to save them, remember) raising the subject and your wish to change the situation. Finally, use an independent wine retailer. Look for a good shop that has a varied selection and knowledgeable staff who will guide and direct you into making a purchase that suits you.

These huge chains won’t spend any more money than they have to, so a little bit of negative publicity never hurts to get the ball moving. If they can tell me about a Chinese fruit they stock for two months a year, then I want to hear more about each New Zealand wine they sell. These retail giants with their huge buying power might have the wine industry by the throat, but it is possible for them to play a little bit fairer and take a little bit of the wine education load off the shoulders of the better retailers.

By Paul Brannigan.