Thursday, June 30, 2005

Ding-dong! The Traveling Vineyard Calling!

Lately, I have noticed on some of the public wine message boards that I haunt from time to time, there has been "drive by shootings" from new and eager consultants of the "Traveling Vineyard"
Who is this Traveling Vineyard? I did some research and discovered it is a home party much like Tupperware and Mary Kay cosmetics. You invite people to your house and the Traveling Vineyard "wine consultant" comes into your home. Okay, this is good. I am all about promoting wine sales and wine education. However - -
The "wine consultant" may not have a formal education in wine. Has this "wine consultant" ever been behind the scenes of a winery? Can the "wine consultant" distinguish the difference between TCA, brettanomyces, mercaptains and tell me the process of MLF? Chances are great that the majority of their wine education will be only what the Traveling Vineyard teaches their consultants. The go side is at least some knowledge is being given (mostly about the wines they sell, not about the industry as a whole), but limited. Hopefully, that bit of information from the Traveling Vineyard will inspire their "wine consultant" to thirst (ha! pun) for more wine knowledge.

Because it is going to be a home party, you will pay a little more for the wine than you would if it was sold at the supermarket or even a winery. The Traveling Vineyard company will have to make a profit when they purchase the wine (as they have people who travel all over the world...), then the "wine consultant" gets their cut. It is basically a three tiered program. Winery - Company - Consultant. It could be more if there is a Head Consultant who gathers eager and potential "wine consultants" so she or he can win that Merlot colored Cadillac. I am kidding about the Cadillac - - I think.

Hey, there is nothing wrong with people making a profit. I like profit, but it is doubtful that the consumer is going to get a good deal like they would from the close-out bin at the wine shop down the street. I mean - the Traveling Vineyard is a subsid of Geerlings and Wade. G & W is a multi-million dollar company and Huib E. Geerlings and Phillip D. Wade practically made it overnight!

The guests attending these parties will not have an opportunity to purchase most of these wines at a store front at a lower price because the "Traveling Vineyard" has contracted small wineries to put the Traveling Vineyard label on the wines.

As per the Traveling Vineyard website:

The company sources its wine from the world’s most renowned wineries in France, Italy, Australia, Chile and California, specializing in boutique vineyards that produce fewer than 4,000 cases of wine annually. 95% of Traveling Vineyard wines are unavailable at wine stores and are exclusively sold to Traveling Vineyard customers.

Exlusively doesn't always mean that it is better. It can also mean "controlled." This can be a disadvantage as the customer will be locked into the TV price and their inventory. Speaking for myself, part of the fun of collecting is reading about a wine you found on a bargain shelf or one you have been storing in your cellar and it now appears in magazines such as the Wine Spectator and Wine Enthusiast or the chance of winning awards. It will be highly doubtful that a magazine like the WS will give points to a wine that you can only buy through a party let alone will it ever be judged in a wine tasting.

One advantage I see is that the wine is guaranteed, so if you happen to get a bottle of "flawed" wine, and assuming that the "wine consultant" understands the flaw, you are guaranteed of getting 100% money back. Another advantage is the "wine consultant" will help the party attendee take the guess out of what wine to serve at certain dinners, etc. But that can be a disadvantage if the customer decides that they never want to buy another wine from any other place, only the Traveling Vineyard. Then sadly that Traveling Vineyard wine consumer will never have the experience of trying other wines outside of what the Traveling Vineyard decides to sell them. Also the Traveling Wine consumer may take on the facade of being a wine expert and if they are ever in a group of "real" collectors and wine afficianados, they will feel very out of place as their only knowledge will be what the Traveling Vineyards sells and tells them.

So speaking for myself, as a professional retailer, I think this is a great idea - congrats to the Traveling Vineyard. I would much rather go to a wine party where I can sample the goods, then to a party that wants to sell me plastic boxes to keep the freshness in - - but as a savvy wine consumer, I am cautious.
Update: January 1, 2010 - It has been almost five years since I first reviewed this concept/company. As you read below you can see I received some criticism, mostly from one of their consultants, Deb Nilan aka Anonymous. I would like to hear from Ms Nilan now to see how she is doing, because as of May 2010, Traveling Vineyard filed for bankruptcy. I understand that at this time they are trying to revive the company.
For your consideration:

I've always wondered: Who was taking care of the liquor resale licenses? Most states do not allow stores or individuals to sell alcohol in homes, as well as each individual "consultant" would have to fill out tedious paperwork including credit, financials, criminal and many states ask individuals to be bonded, as well as not crossing state lines. Several states also ask "resalers" to collect their taxes.
I think it is safe to say that the Traveling Vineyard's potential customers are the actual "consultants" and not the people buying the wine in the homes.
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