Editor’s note: Andrew Bandy-Smith is Winemaker and General Manager at Antiquum Farm. He also holds a Sommelier Diploma from the International Sommelier Guild. It was in the capacity of sommelier he assisted the Oregon Wine Board to prepare for the Wine Advocate visit in June 2018. Antiquum Farm did not submit wines for review in 2018 to the Wine Advocate.
To My Fellow Winemakers and Winery Principals:
Last summer, I assisted OWB staff in organizing and tasting wines for review for The Wine Advocate. Education Manager for the OWB, Bree Stock MW, and I tasted each wine prior to putting it in front of the reviewer, Erin Brooks. The purpose was to ensure all submissions were not corked, volatile, or otherwise off. It was an eye-opening experience, and I want to share some observations I hope will serve as encouragement in making decisions about submitting wine for review.
First, there are many reasons to submit wine for review, among them to increase sales, for validation, to be seen as a quality producer, to drive DTC traffic, to offer distribution partners sales tools, to evaluate winemaker performance, and more. When considering which wine to submit, ask why and for what purpose. How does submitting fit into the sales and marketing plan? What effect is hoped for if given a high score? What effect is concerning about a low score?
The request for submissions last year for The Wine Advocate was previously untasted 2015s and new/upcoming releases of 2016/2017s. There were numerous submissions from 2011 and 2013. Why? My guess is producers were hoping for a positive review that might invigorate sales from vintages with struggling sales and subsequent inventory buildup. This is the vinous equivalent of buying a Powerball ticket. There is no magical solution for struggling sales, especially for vintages not well-reviewed at the time (2011 Wine Advocate – 90; Wine Spectator – 85; Vinous – 87 and 2013 Wine Advocate – 87; Wine Spectator – 88; Vinous – 86). Tasting 2011 and 2013 wines next to the more recent, warm, ripe vintages put those wines at a severe disadvantage. They generally tasted thin by comparison. Rather than hoping for a good score from a challenging vintage, submit requested wines that have a chance of scoring well to drive DTC traffic where you can pour your favorite vintage that might be lagging in sales.
Each producer was allowed to submit five wines total. This is the Jurassic Park rule: Just because you can does not mean you should. What wines are coming up in the release cycle? What best represents your work, the grape variety, the vintage, your region, or even the state? Taste your wines with an objective palate and open mind. Are there three stellar wines and two mediocre wines being considered for submission? As a group, how do the wines represent you and how do they compare to your peers? Are there any potential winemaking challenges – reduction, Brettanomyces, volatile acidity, mousiness, etc. – that might cause a reviewer to not assess your work positively? Take a deep dive and purchase wines from your region the critic has reviewed well. Put your wines against those in a blind tasting, and see how they stack up. While reviewers are tasting and evaluating each specific wine, they are also tasting in context and for context. A particular wine is not good just because you made it. Ensure that your submissions are representative of your best work and Oregon’s cumulative best work.
Be aware of the rarity of scores that move the sales needle forward. As recently as 2010, a 90 point score would punch up sales. Anymore, that is not the case, unless you are selling a $20 retail Pinot noir that hits 91 or 92. The Wine Advocate’s online database has 8,017 reviews of Oregon wines dating back to 1973. Of those, 212 wines have received of score of 94+. That’s 2.6% of wines. That number drops to 49 wines or 0.6% when it’s 95+. Yes, scores can sell and promote, but labels are no longer made on scores alone. Submitting for scores is best used as a single component of a robust sales and marketing strategy that celebrates a well-reviewed wine when it happens and continues to sell product when it does not.
Even as our industry has grown, we are still small on a national and international scale. Let’s continue to put our best in front of critics by showing wines requested, submitting our best efforts, and being strategic in our sales and marketing plans.