Friday, June 28, 2013

Daniel Kuhlman on Colorado Wines

Owning a wine bar that is in Colorado always attracted a wide variety of customer opinions about local wine. Some people didn't care a bit but others were really passionate about it. Those in between were pleased when I offered something decent at a reasonable price. But, I often had to dance a fine line with my clientele over the years. I am a big fan of buying local. I did so whenever I could. But with local state wines (except California) it is not always possible. Before you get upset, let me explain.

In addition to Colorado, I've lived in New York, Pennsylvania, Tennessee, North Carolina and Nebraska. They all have their own vineyards and the locals are very proud of them. But, I ran a business that was judged on the quality of the wine I poured. In a previous blog, I said that I tasted over 5,000 wines and that 25% of them were not very good. The ratio of quality to price is what was important to me. Let's say that I found a wine and I gave it a ratting of 89 on the wine scale. If I could serve that wine at $8-9 a glass, I'd do it. But if I had to serve that wine at more than $10 a glass, my customers would complain an then not come back because they felt that my wine bar was too expensive.

Now, most of Colorado wines are a little pricey. And understandably so. They have to make a profit so that they can stay in business. So they calculate what their costs were and they mark it up to sell to distributors. The distributors then market it up to make a profit. This is called cost-plus pricing. And it works when you have similar quality products competing in the same segment. BUT, when you have another product that is lower in cost (market priced) but higher in quality, it places the cost-plus product at a disadvantage. Then you compound the problem by adding higher priced, market-priced wines that are superior in quality and you end up with a situation where the cost-plus product just can't compete.

I believed in my heart that, in general, the wines produced by Colorado vineyards were not up to the quality of similar priced wines available from the rest of the world. Am I slamming them. Absolutely not! This is the natural evolution that this type of product must go through in order to reach its true potential.

In fact, over the years, there were a quite few wines that I placed on the menu because they met my quality:price ratio. Among them the 2004 Guy Drew Cabernet Franc. I didn't like the 2005 or later though. I wonder what happened. The 2006 Garfield Estates, Fume Blanc. The 2007 got a little wimpy on oak though. The 2008 Two Rivers Merlot was decent too. The owners son is awesome! The Olathe Claret (it's blended so don't worry about the vintage) was always welcome on my menu. Sorry I couldn't find the link to their site. All of these wines I could sell for $8 a glass and the customer was always pleased. Pleased that I had something from Colorado and pleased that the quality:price ratio was right (although they were unaware of this criteria).  Much of the rest of Colorado wine, if it was good enough, I had to sell for over $10 and invariably the customer was disappointed. So I stopped doing it.

The Fume Blanc Label and they even make Jelly from it!

The best market for local wines is either through the vineyard itself or at retail where those who want to spend a few dollars more to support their local vineyards can do so at a smaller price than at a restaurant. If you can find a vintner who is having a tasting at a restaurant and the price is not bad (dinner inclusive) this is a great way to support them and the restaurant.

I love the fact that Colorado (Western Slope) wines are getting better. I love that they are learning how to experiment with different varietals. I look forward to the day when Colorado is known for it's (fill in the blank here), just like New York is known for it's Riesling from the Central Lake Region. Keep going guys. But don't over inflate the price of the wine compared to the quality. You'll get more customers. Maybe.

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