Sunday, October 6, 2019

The difficulty of finding the right Wine's Average Market Price



The difficulty of finding the right 

Wine's Market Price





Trump 25% additional duties on wines
from France, Germany, Spain and the UK
by ©LeDomduVin 2019 

(Trump photoshopped credit to u/qda on reddit)




Like the stock prices, wine market prices always move up and down due to the fluctuations of supply and demand. Fortunately for us, they remain generally more consistent as the fluctuations for wines are not as wild and sudden. And to a certain extent we could even say that, as wines get older, for most high-end wines, prices tend to go up rather than down (especially with great vintages bottled in large formats). 

Yet, prices also go up and down due to the world economy (the major countries economy should I say) and, sometimes, also due to the decisions made by their leaders or governments. On that matter, for example, Trump decided a few days ago to add additional duties on some European Wines (for various reasons), and consequently, the market prices for these specific wines sold in the US market will rise. 

Taken aback by this decision, in this instance, I somehow felt the sudden need to write a post about wine's market prices, and the difficulty to find the right ones among the various major websites and apps offering them. As many of you (in the US mainly) might not be able to overcome the urge to check the prices of their habitual vino on their computer as soon as the duties are effective, I thought it would be a good time to write on this subject. 

Regarding the additional import duties, the official document titled “Section 301 Investigation – EU Large Civil Aircraft – Final list of products” has been written in response to an investigation stating that: “The U.S. Trade Representative has determined that the European Union (EU) and certain member States have denied U.S. rights under the World Trade Organization (WTO) Agreement and have failed to implement WTO Dispute Settlement Body recommendations concerning certain subsidies to the EU large civil aircraft industry. The U.S. Trade Representative has determined to take action in the form of additional duties on products of certain member states of the EU.”

The paragraph “section 7.” of the document states that: “Wines from France, Germany, Spain and the UK will be subject to an additional 25% ad valorem import duties, for all wines other than Tokay (not carbonated), not over 14% alcohol, and in containers not over 2 liters, effective October 18th, 2019.” 

Basically, all wines (except Tokay and champagne/sparkling), containing 14% alcohol and lower, and coming in carton box or bottle of 2 liters and lower (which obviously includes magnum size) will be affected by the 25% additional import duties. Which understandably means that your usual bottle of wine from any of these 4 countries (sold in the US) will be slightly more expensive and might trigger you to look away for better values within the prices you use to pay for these bottles before. 

Those who have the financial means, might not mind the added import duties and will probably continue to buy their favourites, even if at higher prices. But those who don’t (meaning the rest of us) will surely mark a hesitation at the sight of the increased price for our regular bottle of vino. 

These additional import duties will surely and greatly affect the markets on both sides of the Atlantic. In the 4 stated countries (France, Germany, Spain and the UK), producers and wine merchants will see their order from the US decrease and thus volumes sold in the US diminish. And in the US, importers and distributors will have to pay an additional 25% on all wines they will receive after October 18th, a budget they surely did not anticipate when they bought/ordered their wines few months prior the announcement (especially wines bought "En Primeur" like Bordeaux). A bump to the cost prices, which will consequently be reflected on the shelf’s prices at your local retailers and affect most US customers drinking wine within $10-$15 more especially. 

Although we all surely would prefer to pay $10 or less for our regular bottle of wine, most of us usually pay within $15-$20, the typical “sweet spot” for everyday drinking. But on October 18th, the price for that same bottle will suddenly hike to $18.75-$25, and we will surely not look at it the same way, having promise ourselves rarely to exceed $20 normally. 

Some may say that it is only $3.75-$5 bucks more and that it is not a big deal!!! However, if you buy a bottle daily, or at least as regularly as 2 or 3 times a week, it will add quickly to roughly $50 more per month (or $600/year), the price of 2.5 bottles at the previous price per month, and unavoidably put a dent in your wallet and your monthly wine budget. 

Hence the importance of checking prices online (more attentively than usual) to find the right market price that suits your budget. But which website could you use to find a good reference market price? 

In a wine market constantly evolving, on a daily basis, with more online tools and Apps at anyone's disposal appearing, nearly every year, it has become (in my opinion) more and more difficult to choose among the various websites and define what is exactly the Average Market Price of a wine as a reference. 

Most of you will tell me: "Easy! Just go on Wine-Searcher and take the Average Market Price of the wine you're looking for as a reference!" And I will agree if it was that simple, yet, it isn't, and I will try to explain to you why. 

Let’s go back in time first. 

Prior to the mid-90s, there were barely any sites on the internet for regular consumers to compare retail or auction prices. At the time, wine retailers based their prices on cost, of course, some adding margins exceeding 50% (greed, located in remote areas, having the market monopole due to lack of immediate competition, having excess expenses, etc…), but most had to have savvy market knowledge to figure out their selling prices and remain competitive while still making decent margin closer to 30-35%. The later visited their competitors (or had somebody doing it for them) and/or attended the auctions and other wine events to remain aware of the market trends and prices. With no internet tools, listening to word-of-mouth was a given. Information was also conveyed through long discussions with the suppliers and distributors, taking on the role of informants depending on their relationships with the retailer, during on-site tastings or friendly visits. 

In 1995, the replacement of the old internet system (NSFNET – 1985-1995) by new networks operated by commercial service providers, brought the internet to the public on a much larger scale and opened it to commercial traffic. A virtual door to the world was now opened for new communication ways and commercial opportunities, which have since tremendously impacted our daily life, our culture and the way we see and look at the world. 

A couple of years later, websites started to mushroom everywhere on the web in all imaginable fields and subjects. Communication and information as we knew it via TV, radio and paper press, rapidly evolved into discussion forums, blogs, social networking and even online shopping. 

By 1997 and especially in 1998 and 1999, as technology advanced rapidly, this expanding network connecting people to the word gave birth to websites which became benchmarks in their respective industry, essential and indispensable professional tools easing the job to find and compare brands and prices. 

By early 2000s, algorithms became more powerful and thus more performant and could compute even more data than previously. At the time, the data were fed by either the algorithm's genitors and/or by the people entering and/or downloading the data (e.g. Wine-Searcher collected data, in the form of excel list of retailer's wines with retail prices, from participating retailers, which constituted the listing on their website).

And despite advance technology, even with AI helping, it is still the case nowadays. Sites like Wine-Searcher can only gather what has been given to them, meaning that the prices are not generated by computers. AI can anticipate and eventually predict on its own and even generate its own data to be fed on, yet most data like prices are still decided and generated by humans. Meaning that compared to computers, the human mind is influenced and twisted by many factors and strategic thoughts making most price listings on prices search engines like Wine-Searcher and Liv-Ex somewhat unreliable, more especially their Average Market Prices.    

Although other wine prices search engines websites existed prior the following ones (e.g. winery’s websites, retailer’s websites, etc…), in the wine industry, these pioneer websites were called: Wine-Searcher (1998), Wine Market Journal (1998), Liv-Ex (1999), Wine.com (1998), and back then (even still now) constituted the backbone of wine info, services and price tracking. It was rather simple and quite straight forward at the time. 



wine-searcher logo courtesy of wine-searcher.com



Founded 1998, in London, which was the world hub of wines back then, Wine-Searcher mainly focused on providing retailer’s prices, from local retailers at first, then expanding it gradually to the whole world (even featuring auction prices now). And although few knew about it and using it at first, within a couple of years after its birth, it rapidly became the essential market price tracking tool of all importers, distributors and more especially retailers in the early 2000s (especially in the US where consumers used to buy their wines on price rather than on quality, provenance, producer or brand). Wine retailers could now track and compare their prices against their peers and eventually adjust them to fit the image they try to convey (e.g. large retailers with less expensive and more commercial brands usually practising lower prices and discounts, while wine boutique stores focusing more rare bottles, limited production and less commercial, smaller, independent wineries and vintners). It was a breakthrough which revolutionized the market prices and the way retailers behaved toward one another. Nowadays wine-searcher.com is still the leading search engines for retailers and even pre-auction wine prices (personally, as a Wine Market Analyst, I use it every day).




Liv-Ex logo courtesy of liv-ex.com


Back then in the late 90s, I was working as a Head Sommelier and Wine Buyer in a restaurant in the British Capital, which was THE place to buy wines from all around the world. Wine was imported, exported, bought, sold, exchanged and shipped for restaurants, retails, auctions, private collections, and also for investments, a new emerging trend putting the wine at the same level as Art, Antiques and rare collectable luxury products. Wine was sold not anymore for its intrinsic taste, value and characteristics, but for the profits, it could generate. It became a product of speculation. And Liv-Ex was created in 1999 to track the price movements of the most traded fine wines on the market. It rapidly became the industry’s benchmark, providing info about the trading prices (like the stock exchange):

1. The buying price (understand how much people are ready to pay to buy a wine?), 

2. The selling price (understand how much people want for their wine for sale?)

3. And the market price (enabling traders to compare the buying and selling prices with the market price and define if it is a good deal or not. 

Personally, I use the offspring of Liv-Ex, called "Cellar Watch"






Wine Market Journal logo courtesy of winemarketjournal.com




Also in the late 90s, Wine Auctions becoming an unavoidable way to buy old vintages of famed Chateaux and Domaines as well as rare bottles of iconic wineries with limited production, the need for a website regrouping the auction’s results as well as informing about trade values and market prices became an evidence, and in 1997 Wine Market Journal was created.  WMJ has been collecting every single trade prices of every bottle of wine at every major auction house in the world ever since. It is the leading and most authoritative auction prices website, as its historical data are unmatched by any of its competitors. It is a great tool to find prices and market trends, especially for old and rare bottles scarce or unavailable on the market. 





Back then, these 3 websites constituted the core of wine searching and price browsing online for both consumers and professionals within Europe and the US. Pioneers in their own field, they have inspired the tsunami of wine search engines websites and (more recently) apps which followed and are now crowding the web, transforming the simple experience of searching wine prices online as a real nightmare and even to a certain extent questioning their reliability. 



wine.com logo courtesy of wine.com




Wine.com

On the other side of the Atlantic, back in 1998, as rules and procedures to wine shipping to other states within the US were relaxed a little (**), American wines competed with an increasing demand for European wines getting more recognition with American consumers. With rapidly growing imports of wine in the US from Europe, but also South America, South Africa, Australia and New Zealand, the need for a large online wine retailer to facilitate access to these wines became somewhat of a necessity, and wine.com was created.

Visually attractive and user-friendly, wine.com was created to revolutionize the way people discover, buy and enjoy wine. As per Wikipedia: "Wine.com is a San Francisco based online wine retailer that offers the largest selection of wines in the world. Wine.com sells over 2 million bottles per year, with a stock of more than 17,000 different bottles of wine, shipping throughout the United States."







But first and foremost, prior taking some examples, regarding the data fed super algorithms and AI, understand that no matter how good the algorithm or AI of your preferred wine website or app is, it will never be accurate nor reliable, as you cannot remove the human factors (errors, made intentionally or not) and the twisted mind of men out of the equation (greed, deception, lure, etc...).

As said above, prices are still generated by humans. And fortunately, you will tell me, and I would agree; but these human factors (errors and twisted minds) are what makes it so difficult to find the right websites with the most accurate market prices. 

And although I have been heavily using the four websites sited above over the last 16 years for wine search and price tracking, and highly recommend them for many reasons, their average market prices are far from being accurate for the most part due to these factors. Let me try to explain my point of view, as it may open your eyes on certain things about wine market prices on websites you’ve always trusted blindly. 


In my opinion, the Average Market Prices of all wine search engines online are not correct nor reliable, mainly because of the difference between the fishy lowest prices and the highest prices (sometimes astronomically high):


The Lowest Prices are usually for bottles that are (most likely):

  • In bad conditions (low level, damaged label/capsule, badly stored, etc...) 
  • From unreliable provenance (god knows where it comes from and in which conditions it was stored previously)
  • Potential counterfeits (the wine world is flooded with fakes and counterfeits at all level)
  • The sole and unique bottle available in that store (potentially presenting all the above)
  • Inexistent (i.e. despite the merchant or store promoting it, when you try to order online call or physically go there to check, the bottle is either not available or has been sold... such coincidence... 
    • Surely a lure to attract more people to their website or store 
    • and have the most novice wine buyers fall into the trap
  • Or, on last resort (and only if you are really lucky), the bottle(s) really exists, and the price is so low because:
    • The price was never changed according to the market trends, and in that case, you might get a real bargain reflecting the trends of a few years ago 
    • The merchant/store wants to get rid of that particular bottle (even sometimes at loss compared to its original cost, eventually for the reasons cited above)   


The Highest Prices are usually for bottles that are (in general): 

  • Super rare or even unavailable on the market (old vintages, big formats, limited production)
  • From top producers with limited production/allocations (e.g. DRC)
  • Received top scores from wine critics (100 points, best of the vintage, etc...)
  • Still too young and deserve a few more years (i.e. raising the prices very high dissuades buyers, prices might be readjusted according to market trend (or not) a few years later when the store/merchant is finally ready to sell them)   
  • Or, like for the lowest prices, 
    • a lure to attract more people to their website or store by promoting such a bottle at such price 
    • a good marketing stunt as even if people criticise such practice, they still talk about the store/merchant...   





Let’s take some visual examples.


Wine-Searcher















đź’˘Work in progress - to be continued soonđź’˘




(*) If interested in the list of products subject to the additional duties, you go to this website and read or even download it here. And if you really want to read more details about "Section 301 - Large Civil Aircraft", you can go to the official website of the "Office of the United States Trade Representative" here.

(**) Which wineries and retailers will sell and ship wine directly to consumers varies from state to state, winery to winery and retailer to retailer. (Note that it is illegal for consumers to sell or ship wine without the assistance of a licensed third party.) In most states, consumers may have wine shipped to them directly from a winery, though most states prohibit consumers from ordering wine from an out-of-state retailer. Today it is illegal for a state to permit consumers to buy wine directly from an in-state winery but not from an out-of-state winery, but a state's right to regulate retailer shipping is less clear, and most states will allow consumers to have wine delivered from a local retailer, but not from one beyond the state's borders.
(source wine-spectator.com, read the full article here)