Those of you who were buying wine in the 80s are likely to have snapped up a bottle of Australian Chardonnay from Oddbins. It is therefore ironic that now they have risen, phoenix-like from the ashes of insolvency, they are focusing on ‘old world’ wines from less established/fashionable regions. The majority of their wines are now European with Spain particularly well represented.
Now owned by EFB group, Oddbins has 19 sites across London including one in Stoke Newington. They are aiming to avoid heavy discounting because smaller retailers can’t compete in this way. The Bottle Apostle in Hackney ‘village’ has demonstrated that there is a young, and surprisingly affluent, demographic prepared to buy premium wines at premium prices in East London Postcodes despite the recession. Oddbins will need to get their brand identity right if they are to compete with edgier independents though.
Oddbin’s idea of ‘pricing democracy’ where customers taste wines blind and say how much they would be willing to pay is an interesting initiative but it is hard to see how it will translate into a successful business model (other than telling staff a bit about preferences and the depth of peoples’ pockets). Following recent blind tastings customers said that they would pay around £8 for Yering Station Chardonnay, Leyda Sauvignon Blanc and Valgrays Garnacha. Oddbins were going to price them around £9 but have decided to set the customer favoured price.
What does this really mean though? The relationship between price and quality is complex and people find it hard to distinguish between very differently priced wines. Oddbins customers are probably saying more about their preferred spend than anything about the intrinsic qualities of the wines. My guess is if you gave them a decent selection of (no technical faults) £5 and £30 bottles at a blind tasting they would probably say they were willing to pay between £5 and £9 for most of them. However, it would obviously be economically inadvisable to price the premium wine at this level…
The website here (at present) is a page with an ‘in progress’ message. They should really get a move on!
I have added some new references to my Wine Books and Research page. There are a couple of interesting ones I hope to review soon.
Charters, S. (2006) Wine and Society: The Cultural and Social Context of a Drink Butterworth-Heinemann
Cross, R. Platinga, J. and Stavins, R. N. (2011) The Value of Terroir: Hedonic Estimation of Vineyard Sale Prices Journal of Wine Economics No.1 2011 p 1-14
Gokcekus, O. and Nottebaum, D. (2011) The Buyer’s Dilemma: Whose Rating Should a Wine Drinker Pay attention to? AAWE Working Paper No.91 Sept 2011
Goldstein, R., Almenberg, J., Dreber, A., Emerson, J. W., Herschkowitsch, A. and Katz, J. (2008) Do More Expensive Wines Taste Better? Evidence from a Large sample of Blind Tastings AAWE Working Paper No.16 April 2008
Outreville, J.F (2011) Does the Bottle Size Matter? An Investigation into Difference between Posted and Market Price AAWE Working Paper No. 86 July 2011
Sandler, M. and Pinder, R. (2003) Wine: A scientific Exploration Routledge
I am really enjoying reading Wine and Philosophy edited by Fritz Allhoff. It is much more accessible than many other books on the subject and has chapters by Kent Bach and the Lehrers on wine talk that are particularly of interest. The final section on the politics and economics of wine is also strong and contains a gem of a chapter by Justin Weinberg on taste, price and rationality.
In the Chapter ‘Taste how expensive this is’ Weinberg, a philosophy Professor at the University of South Carolina with a name that appropriately translates as ‘mountain of wine’, cites the work of Thorstein Veblen. Veblen a Norwegian-American sociologist and economist published The Theory of the Leisure Class in 1899 and coined the term ‘conspicuous consumption’. Weinberg examines wine as a Veblen Good i.e. a product that becomes more desirable as it increases in price.
Weinberg uses examples such as Screaming Eagle 1997 to illustrate complex points about consumer thought and behaviour. He explores wine price as a proxy for quality and demonstrates that this, like many heuristics, is flawed. He goes on to criticise wine scores and the notion of typicity. This reminded me of a recent exchange I had with someone from the wine world about the value of such scores. He defended the convenient fiction of rating scales yet had little understanding of the statistical nature of such scales (which are arbitrary and, more importantly, at best have ordinal rather than interval properties). Weinberg uses Martin Reyes analogy of jackets (suit or ski) to illustrate that ‘better’ is linked to purpose and context.
Weinberg suggests that price and quality are not correlated and also that quality and pleasure are similarly unrelated in any simplistic manner. He goes on to explore ‘wine enthusiast culture’ and argues that despite irrationality this stimulates wine production and is therefore ‘good’. We live in a time when it is possible to get great pleasure from relatively inexpensive wines (bargains – the opposite of Veblen Goods). I would agree with this perspective and am amazed at some of the absurd quality justifications made for the price of some wines when it is obviously primarily scarcity, status and economic drivers that dictate price.
As Weinberg points out ‘we are sometimes in the position of choosing what is rational and what is good, and it is not clear which wins, or why’. I hope you read the full essay and enjoy it as much as I did.
Allhoff, F. (Ed.) (2008) Wine and Philosophy Wiley-Blackwell