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Buying members

Wow I saw the number of bottles available before the email came out. That’s a lot of wine being sold quickly. The same has happened for the last two years or more with this wine. Rather than it being about more members could it be about a great wine at a great price due to the size of the society? So perhaps more members who are active want to grab a good deal as soon as it becomes available.

If I may, just on one small point, but I think the growth of EP ‘competition’ at TWS is just a reflection of more wines, from more areas, now being sold EP everywhere. Once upon a time, and really not that long ago at all, there were very few wines sold EP in the traditional sense. Last year alone I engaged with Austria, Madiran, Piedmont and Rhone. I can even envisage - in the really not too distant future - somewhere as provincial or obscure as Naoussa or Santorini being offered this way, simply in order to satisfy demand and guarantee stocks.

This has boomed incredibly quickly over the last few years, and now means some wines can only (realistically, unless you’re a millionaire) be bought EP - this is particularly true of Barolo, where some of the cases of wine I now have in reserves are ‘worth’ 4 times the price I paid for them. There isn’t a chance - if I wished to own and drink those wines - that I could have prevaricated or procrastinated, or indeed even tried them. I’ve had to take a gamble. I think the general wine-buying public, and without wishing to sound ageist, older wine buyers have probably not realised the speed of this change, having had many years of buying without this sort of FOMO pressure (which also, I don’t doubt, is a selling tactic).

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I agree. The EP business model obviously works well for merchants and vignerons who are given cash up front for wines that are not yet ready.

My perception is that there has been rapid growth in the popularity of relatively expensive wine, and we, as committed punters, now find ourselves part of a growing throng of winos clamouring for a finite commodity.

That said, growing popularity can only be good for the milieu of wines available for us to try. I will just have to wave goodbye to Burgundy and hope that the South of England can start (/continue? Bolney is alright!) producing enjoyable pinot noir.

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I’m a bit intrigued by this comment in relation to buying EP. If demand is or becomes higher than supply, then it doesn’t matter how the selling is done, the supply will simply not be enough to satisfy demand. Selling wine EP does not make a supply any bigger, or satisfy any more demand. It simply changes the who and when of the purchaser. Or am I failing to grasp something?

In a word, yes. EP stock isn’t physically held by the seller, nor indeed sometimes by the producer. It’s promissory note stuff. Commitments can be altered on their side of the equation. I’m not sure if it benefits us as consumers much at all on the other side of the equation, though, other than perhaps to get a better shot early in proceedings at wines that will fast sell out anyway. But EP has a vicious/virtuous way of feeding that cycle.

My understanding is that EP wine does physically exist and is awaiting bottling/shipping at the appropriate time (except perhaps in fraud cases). There will be however many bottles of it, and no more. There may be many trades between maker and drinker, but the amount of wine won’t change, and will only satisfy a finite demand.

It differs to physical stock in that a commitment - in advance - can be elastic, and that that level of early commitment can leverage extra wine, or indeed simply guarantee some stock in the first place. I’ve never suggested there’d be extra wine than that which is produced - I think there’s a touch of the deliberately obtuse about that - but, and as I said above, the purchasing of wine has changed. I suspect, to keep up with growing demand, TWS has had to shift to a more EP driven model (they can’t ignore reality).

Could be. I’ve not been a member for long, only a year or so, and don’t know what happened in the past but it just seems a bit fruitless stocking a wine for 5 days. Maybe they can’t buy enough nowadays to satisfy the demand from all members for any wine they promote. This isn’t the first time this has happened. TWS are supposed to be in the business of great wines at great prices, it should be normal not an exception.

Ah, I think we are looking at different perspectives.

It’s more that you’re searching for an answer that isn’t there. EP isn’t designed to tackle any problem other than producer’s - and I would suggest by extension retailers - cashflow, because it transfers both an element of risk and all the initial capital to the buyer. It inverts the chain.

It isn’t going to change the equation of limited supply. But those who don’t engage in it, won’t just have constricted supply, but likely no supply, in the future when small production areas join the game.

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Disagree on wines like Pitray. There were thousands of bottles available. They buy the wine every year and it’s just incredibly popular because of the quality and its price point, I’m sure a large number of members were able to purchase it as a result. It’s not fruitless to stock a wine simply because it sells quickly. On that basis would you rather the society doesn’t buy a wine because they know it’s really popular and will sell out in a short space of time?

Of course the society is in the business of great wine at a great price but sometimes there are wines that members think are exceptional value and will jump at the chance to buy it.

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Perhaps we should link this to the discussion of wine price inflation: given that there are a limited range of options when the quantity demanded at a particular price exceeds supply, do we think TWS is making the right choices among the three options, raising prices, rationing supply by limiting bottles per member, and leaving some people unsupplied? It uses all three, so perhaps any complaints should specify which option we prefer. Sometimes the excess demand may be unexpected, so unavoidable, but not always. (For something like the Pitray, probably rationing would have been better.)

I don’t think controlling demand by increasing price seems a very cooperative approach. It’s pretty much straight capitalism isn’t it? Anyway it wouldn’t be a good approach as far as I’m concerned.

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A comment on another thread got me thinking here. Maybe we are, to some extent, suffering from the increase in membership. But maybe, just maybe, TWS have already anticipated this and are planning to hold more stock to manage this issue in the future and, just maybe, this is why the new warehouse is under construction. And once complete these out of stock issue may lessen somewhat?

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I think that brings us back to the original point made, about whether expansion of membership is a good thing and in a purely selfish interpretation, it isn’t if it means wines sell out in 5 days.

I’m not sure what the solution is here, if indeed there actually is one, because while I may point out the selfish interpretation, it is not really reasonable to allow members to restrict TWS’s growth and success. Could TWS have bought more Pitray, if it knew it would sell well, because I do think stocking something for only 5 days is a bit daft? In this case, possibly. I believe the production of this wine is 14,000 cases. Granted that is for worldwide demand but the email made much play of the closeness of the relationship and UK is a big market for claret. You might be able to answer that better because I didn’t see how many bottles were originally available.

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A veritable paradox it seems. I certainly agree with the second part.

A paradox if you interpret it wrongly, yes. If a supplier wants to guarantee stocks, they will probably have to engage with EP, in order to be able to then sell those stocks to their customers. If you want to conjure an argument out of nothing, by all means do, but at least make sure you’ve understood the syntax

I think there are two separate things here. One is TWS buying the right amount of a particular wine - a difficult amount to judge I would think, given the growing/changing membership, demand shifts, etc. Damned if they sell out too soon (how soon is that exactly?). Or left with stock clearing promotions if they buy too much.

The other is when there is simply not enough of a wine to be had because there isn’t that much produced. Whether TWS gets its fair share, or more, or less, there still won’t be enough to satisfy demand.

I don’t think there’s anything wrong with selling out of stock - surely it’s good business - but of course when the stock that I want sells out it’s annoying.

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Yes with some wines there simply won’t be enough stock to go around. That’s inevitable, but over the last one to two years I seem to have noticed something happening more and more often, and that is a wine going out of stock and then a short while later the same vintage of that wine coming back in stock again and sometimes this cycle repeats several times over. I’m talking over a short period of time here so not looking at TWS holding stock back for Museum releases. I remember exactly this happening recently with Ulysse Pauillac. And it may be the case that given more space TWS might have secured more stock of other popular wines that sold out elsewhere before they could get more.

Of course I don’t know how often this might happen but presumably TWS see the need to increase their storage capacity.

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Yes, I’ve noticed that too. With all the different things going on in the last few years it’s hard to know what is actually causing it. It could be that as other buyers of one sort or another fail to meet their buying plans there is more stock being offered to TWS which has the financial strength to benefit.

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