I want to explain something about the wine business. In the movie Bottle Shock, there's a moment when an English wine buyer touring the Napa Valley in the 1970s offers to pay a winemaker for a tasting. The winemaker is befuddled as to why anyone would offer to pay for a tasting. It's a funny little moment, since at the time California wineries were grateful for anyone who was willing to taste their wine. There's a nice little montage where the wine buyer goes from winery to winery, leaving a few dollars behind to pay for the tasting, and the grape farmers and winemakers marvel at how ignorant he must be.
Since then, wine tasting has become a huge business. There are wineries that exist almost entirely as tasting rooms and gift shops.
One of the interesting marketing phenomena of the wine business is the advent of tasting-room-only wines. That is, wines that are exclusively for sale in the tasting rooms. Almost every winery has them, and they're a brilliant little bit of flim-flam.
Consider retail wine: Let's pretend there's a bottle that sells for $10. The winery gets maybe $4 of that. (I'm making these numbers up.) The winery could, theoretically, sell the same wine for $8 in its tasting room -- a 20% discount -- and still make more money than it did on distributor sales because there aren't middlemen getting a piece of the action. In the early days, wineries sold just like that, which pissed off the distributors who were being undercut.
Pissing off your distribution isn't smart in any business, but it may be particularly stupid in the wine business, in which there are dozens of regional distributors who are more or less used to being treated as demigods. So, to protect those relationships, wineries make it a policy to keep prices i ntheir tasting rooms at or slightly above retail.
Which sucks for the winery since, once consumers figured out they could buy the same wines back home for less, consumers stopped buying wine in the tasting rooms. After all, why would you bother to schlep heavy wine through airports when you could buy the same stuff back home, probably for less?
At some point, some crafty marketer figured out that the thing to do was create special wines for sale at the winery alone. So wineries started making smaller production wines of somewhat higher quality. By putting a little more effort into tending a particular vineyard block, letting the grapes hang a little longer and extracting a little additional color out of the skins, they could produce a "reserve" wine with the kind of fresh, bold, New World fruit that turns critics' heads. That, in turn, would boost the status of the winery within the wine business, making their retail offerings more attractive to people out in the hinterlands. It would also provide unique product for the tasting rooms, creating an imperative for visitors to buy ("It's now or never!") and allowing the wineries to charge whatever they wanted, without regard for what the bulk buyers like Liquor Barn charge on their discount shelves.
Everyplace you go, the hosts point out "this is only available in the tasting room" and it is, inevitably, at a $70 price point. Give or take a few bucks, that seems to be the magic number in Napa tasting rooms. Big, fruity-fresh recent vintage...one day only...$70.
Let me tell you this: It works. I'm ashamed to say how well it works. I'm not even a big, fruity-fresh Napa cab guy (though I am, in my own way, fruity fresh) and I bought like I was on some kind of special edition of Supermarket Sweep. And everyone around me was doing exactly the same thing, buying bottles and gift packs and cases of wine at two or three times their at-home upper price limit because it was special.