Brett happens

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Occhipintalypse Now

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If the frenzy surrounding last Thursday’s release of Arianna Occhipinti‘s 2011 SP68 Rosso wasn’t totally without precedent, it most certainly was for a sub-$25 wine. The mania was primed by a glowing profile of the winemaker in a major daily, rave reviews from local critics, rapt discussion on local online fora, Arianna herself at the Salon des vins d’importation privée pouring the wine and lively debates among wine geeks about the best strategy for procuring some of the 900 bottles to go on sale in the province.

Yes, only 900 bottles. And the wine was released in over 100 Sélection outlets. Do the math and you’ll see that most outlets – even high-profile ones like Laurier – were allocated a single six-bottle case. A few high-volume outlets (Atwater and Rockland, for example) received 12 bottles. One or two got a heady 18.

I arrived at Laurier about 20 minutes before opening and even then was second in line. Three others soon joined us. (The only other time in recent memory this has happened, the day of the SAQ’s first-ever release of a Lapierre Morgon, the 2009, there were two of us queuing at Laurier.) As soon as the door opened, we all rushed to the Cellier display. A wine advisor asked who had come for the SP68 – everyone raised his hand – and announced a one-bottle-per-customer policy, which left a bottle for him. Two minutes after opening, Laurier outlet was sold out.

I had other wines to buy for that evening’s tasting and had decided not to run off to other outlets in search of more SP68. But several MWG members and friends did just that. One was third in line at a 12-bottle store and scored the maximum of three. He then drove to an outlet that opened half an hour later, where he was first at the door. When allowed in, he inquired about the wine and was told there must have been an inventory error because the store had none of the 12 bottles then showing on saq.com. With other wines on his shopping list, he hung around for a few minutes, during which time he saw a wine advisor he knew from another outlet walk in, speak with the advisor who had told him the SP68 was AWOL and be given a shopping cart filled with the outlet’s entire allocation. Hotfooting it over to the shopping cart, the member prevailed upon the “reservist” to part with a couple from his dozen.

Other members and friends headed to less centrally located on-island outlets, where they managed to put their hands on a few flasks. All reported that the stores imposed a limit on the number of bottles a given customer could purchase.

A friend on the South Shore wasn’t so lucky. She arrived at her local outlet about 15 minutes before opening. Noticing several people in their cars with the motor running, she decided to wait by the door. As soon as she did, others scrambled to queue behind her. When the door opened, she took a minute to ask an employee where the wine was. Meanwhile, a man who’d been after her in the line snared all six of the outlet’s bottles. She hopped into her car and sped to the next nearest outlet. On entering, she saw another guy who’d come up empty-handed at the original outlet buying all six of this outlet’s bottles. He wasn’t willing to share but suggested she travel to a larger outlet that had 12 bottles. In the 15 minutes it took her to do so, they were snapped up, all by one person.

When I returned to the office in the early afternoon, I checked the online inventory for the wine. There were no bottles left on Montreal island, a couple showing in Laval and a few in farther flung outlets like Joliette. By Friday morning, even those were gone.

Why the detailed report? To illustrate that several things are fundamentally wrong with the SAQ’s current distribution model for highly sought-after wines.

First, the quantities. How could the SAQ have decided to purchase only 900 bottles? They were offered many more. (“Are you sure you didn’t drop a zero from that number” the agency representing the producer is reported to have asked the monopoly.) But the SAQ decided to “play it safe.” For a wine with a track record of selling like hotcakes through the more exclusive private import channel when the bottles were also $2 or $3 more expensive. For a wine that has been universally, ecstatically praised by the world wine media. For a wine that’s a favourite of local restaurateurs. For a wine that wine geeks across the city knew was going to cause a stampede.

Second, the day and hour of the release: outlet opening time (usually 9:30 or 10 a.m.) on a business day. I’m self-employed and so usually can swing it, but what do 9-to-5 types do? This is patently unfair.

Third, and most disturbingly, the inconsistencies around allocations to customers. On-island outlets at least had the sense not to let one customer walk away with all their bottles. But it was another story off island. And then there are the reports of staff in at least a couple of outlets reserving all or part of the outlet’s inventory for themselves and other employees.

Having been lucky enough to “discover” Arianna before she hit the big time, the MWG regularly purchased several cases of each vintage of the SP68 on a private import basis. Now that the SAQ’s stocking it, I’ll be surprised if the ten or so members who scoured the city in search of bottles managed to get a dozen among ourselves. What’s more, we had to do so by playing hookey and wasting time, effort and gas raiding outlet after outlet. Meanwhile some people who tried to score even one bottle couldn’t, while many others who would have liked to didn’t even have a chance.

The SAQ needs to correct this situation now.

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Written by carswell

November 26, 2012 at 12:50

Posted in Commentary

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9 Responses

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  1. Damned right!
    Maybe, just maybe, this is one of those wines that, following a small first distribution, returns in bigger numbers in the winter or spring. On the other hand, something tells me AO isn’t sitting on 1,000 cases waiting for SAQ to call.

    wapiti

    November 29, 2012 at 08:14

    • At the Salon, Arianna said she’d acquired a new vineyard, most of whose production would be going into the SP68 cuvées. That said, I’m not holding my breath. I just hope that by being so reluctant to board the good ship Occhipinti, the beloved monopoly hasn’t missed the boat. With all the adulation her wines are receiving outside Quebec, worldwide demand for them has got to be enormous.

      carswell

      November 30, 2012 at 19:36

      • Oenopole said to me on Twitter that there will be a second arrival of the SP68 at the SAQ in Spring 2013 (https://twitter.com/oenopole/status/273188498029301760)

        Here’s to hoping that there will be more than 900 bottles this time around.

        Julien Marchand

        December 3, 2012 at 12:51

      • I saw that on oenopole’s Twitter feed, Julien (which also led me for the first time to your fine blog). Wasn’t sure if they were talking about a restocking of the 2011 or an early release of the 2012. Now that I think of it, the SP68 has always arrived between a year and 18 months after the vintage, so it’s probably a second shipment of the 2011. Maybe we should start queuing now…

        carswell

        December 3, 2012 at 23:20

  2. Thanks for the kind words! 🙂

    Looking forward to get a taste of that in the Spring!

    Julien Marchand

    December 4, 2012 at 10:20

    • «Looking forward to get a taste of that in the Spring!»

      Good luck with that. Have just learned from oenopole that the spring allocation will be a piddling 600 bottles. Reportedly, the SAQ would have taken more but 600 was all that Arianna had left.

      carswell

      December 15, 2012 at 12:46

  3. […] Occhipinti, dont un petit arrivage de son SP68 2011 (Nero d’Avola et Frappato) a causé la frénésie dans les SAQ de la province il y a deux semaines. En un peu plus 3 heures, la majorité des 900 bouteilles disponibles se sont […]

  4. […] up unannounced in 23 SAQ outlets yesterday. What’s more, in contrast to last year’s Occhipintalypse, the outlets involved have received multiple cases. While we may be looking at the first wave of an […]

  5. […] Pour la SAQ, c’est une manière efficace de faire bouger l’inventaire et d’éviter les bouteilles dites vieillies-en-succursale (vous savez, celles qui traînent sur une tablettte pendant 2-3 ans sous des spots…) C’est aussi un moyen efficace de rendre certains produits disponibles à un plus grand nombre de consommateurs dans la province, changeant ainsi la dynamique de la chasse aux bouteilles convoitées… […]


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