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“The Relief Valve”

There’s been chatter in the press and blogosphere labeling Lot18 as a “relief valve” for wineries looking to clear old wines from their warehouses. Some flash-sale sites do serve that purpose very well. Yet in our opinion, no one should ever purchase old wine or the remaining dregs of a poor vintage purely because the price is exceptionally low.

So, is Lot18 a relief valve? The short answer: Yes and no.

The long answer is that Lot18 does not concern itself with what’s in a particular winery’s warehouse. Our sole focus is to find for our members the best-tasting wines we can at the lowest possible prices. If, in the process of uncovering and curating wines we are helping a producer clear inventory, we’re comfortable with that. But our main concern is that any wine we select for our members tastes good and is priced right – and that it’s a wine that we, too, are happy to drink.

To understand why our offers even exist, however, it helps to have a sense of the complicated, difficult realities of the business of winemaking. Market forces can push great wineries into selling off bottles earlier than they’d hoped; or a winery might be left with no option other than to release a wine much later than anticipated to account for current-vintage weather or economic conditions.

The luxury wine industry is one of the most financially burdensome businesses anyone could ever dream of joining. Trust me, I know from having my own label. The outlay of cash up front can be crippling, as can the long delay on returns.

Vineyards take years to plant and decades to mature to full potential. Grapes need to be cultivated and processed using expensive machinery, and then aged for extended periods in ultra-expensive oak barrels. These wines often need to rest and develop for many years before being ready to release to the public. And all of this occurs with only a vague idea of what people will want to drink and how much they’re willing to pay once the wines are finally ready, a few years later.

Here’s where it gets even trickier. In order to start making the next vintage’s wines, a producer often has to recoup some of the investment in the first vintage. This requires releasing the first wine well before it’s ready to be enjoyed.

Or a winery might opt for a late release. For example, a winery could be selling a perfectly good wine as best it can – but the next vintage comes along, and the critics herald it as exceptional. Wineries have to pay bills like everyone else, so they might hold stock from the first vintage and move on to the next, more acclaimed and potentially lucrative one in order to capitalize.

That’s where Lot18 comes in.

If our goal was to feature closeout wines past their prime, we could do our work over the phone. Instead, our team of wine curators include some of the world’s top experts, who spend their days at wineries tasting through cellar and library vintages as well as current and upcoming releases. Many of us live and work in the wine regions from which we make our picks. We’re selecting wines that the producer has, in many cases, already done the extra work of aging in perfect cellar conditions. In the end, though, if the wine doesn’t taste right or isn’t priced right, it doesn’t make it on our site.

So, if a “relief valve” is defined as a way for wineries to connect directly to consumers and, in the process, reintroduce a wine that needed some extra time in bottle to hit its full potential (or make way for a more profitable vintage), then yes, Lot18 could be considered as such. But wineries looking to dump products that are past their prime on an unsuspecting public do so on other sites. Not on Lot18.