PSA on Fass Selections - regarding policy on wines over 5 years of age

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PSA on Fass Selections - regarding policy on wines over 5 years of age

#1 Post by Brandon J. » July 19th, 2018, 9:58 pm

EDITED to add a bit more context to avoid tarnishing any future business relationships :)

Well, this will be the first (and hopefully only time) I have to make a thread like this.

Over the years I have enjoyed Fass selections wine from friends. I recently joined the mailing list and starting buying a few wines. When I received my first shipment and encountered a flaw bottle, my experience was not what I had hoped.

Over the last year or so, I purchased a case. I received this case a few months ago and opened one of the older nebbiolo wines. Unfortunately, the wine was horribly corked and I e-mailed Lyle asking if they offer replacement bottles.

Inquiry to Lyle:

**
Hey Lyle,

I don't know if you're the appropriate person to ask or not. I recently had our '01 Boca (Podere) and unfortunately one of the bottles was corked. Do you offer replacements for corked bottles? I've never had to replace a wine through you luckily so I'm unsure what's covered.

Let me know, thank you.
**

This was the response:

**
That is unfortunate. Wines are like people’s faces. A small flaw in youth will become more pronounced over time. It is very difficult to source older wines and they are much more likely to have obvious flaws. Having said that, when they are tasting well, they are unique and extraordinary tasting experiences. The standard industry practice is that wines over 5 years are not available for credit.
**

Notice he didn't answer my question.

I'm "in the industry" and can tell you, that's not standard practice. At least not in our state. The e-mail correspondence didn't really improve. I mentioned this "disclaimer" should be abundantly clear and I was directed to a PDF of the Terms and Conditions (which is ambiguous) and has allegedly been on the website since day 1.

After this correspondence with Lyle, he removed me from the mailing list as well :( Apparently my business isn't welcome any longer.

Frankly the policy doesn't bother me, but the slick used car salesmen attitude does. Had he been honest and upfront with me and pointed out the policy I would have chalked it up to my own oversight but he was beyond insulting. Tis a shame.

Lyle did end up crediting me for the bottle but I would have been much happier with an honest answer and no credit. It wasn't an expensive bottle, and had I received a genuine answer, I would have move on my merry way.
Last edited by Brandon J. on July 22nd, 2018, 11:22 am, edited 1 time in total.
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PSA on Fass Selections - regarding policy on wines over 5 years of age

#2 Post by Scott Brunson » July 20th, 2018, 1:17 am

I was also removed from the mailing list for questioning a shipment during temperatures of 80 degrees plus.
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PSA on Fass Selections - regarding policy on wines over 5 years of age

#3 Post by Markus S » July 20th, 2018, 4:46 am

Brandon J. wrote:... the slick used car salesmen attitude does. Had he been honest and upfront with me and pointed out the policy I would have chalked it up to my own oversight but he was insulting. Tis a shame.
I don't want to pile in here, but this seems the thread to relate bad experiences with Fass. While he does import some really cool stuff, he have to discount the fact that their shipping prices are higher than average and offer small shipping windows (because you are basically upfronting him the money while the wine sits in Europe). I had not one, but two, issues with wines being found "broken" when it came time to ship, which seemed odd. The money was credited, so nothing lost there, but after waiting a year for your wine and hearing it was smashed in the warehouse didn't inspire me with confidence. I no longer subscribe to his emails or to the hyperbole.
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PSA on Fass Selections - regarding policy on wines over 5 years of age

#4 Post by NoahR » July 20th, 2018, 5:31 am

While i acknowledge Lyle is a polarizing figure for some people, I have had no problems with buying/shipping/receiving in the past. Total number of bottles well over a hundred, and our tastes generally align.

I’ve had luck with older bottles from Lyle, but, old bottles are a crapshoot and risk is taken by the buyer across the board. Some people have said that Chambers will take back a bad old bottle - I don’t know that anyone should expect that. I have old bottles from Chambers, Envoyer, other retailers, auctions. Ex-cellar, Ex-negoc provenance doesn’t mean crap. If a bottle’s corked, cooked, DOA, I don’t blame the seller, nor can i reasonably expect them to cover the cost of the bottle working on thin margins and trying to maintain individual relationships with small producers. But if he was rude, that’s another issue and not one I can address.
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PSA on Fass Selections - regarding policy on wines over 5 years of age

#5 Post by Thomas Keim » July 20th, 2018, 6:58 am

Frankly - that 5 year window is usually for "after" you have purchased a wine from a supplier. It's hard for a supplier to know how the wine has been stored over a long period of time, so after 5 years (some do a ten year window), they usually don't give credit on a bad bottle.
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PSA on Fass Selections - regarding policy on wines over 5 years of age

#6 Post by Art R » July 20th, 2018, 7:01 am

wholeheartedly agree with Noah and would add that my experience with Lyle (largely by text, but also email and phone) has been uniformly positive.
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PSA on Fass Selections - regarding policy on wines over 5 years of age

#7 Post by Loren Sonkin » July 20th, 2018, 7:11 am

Sorry you had a bad experience. So far mine with Fass have been quite positive. I am glad to hear that eventually you got credit for the bottle. I have seen practices all over the board on TCA. It seems to me that the winery should ultimately bear the responsibility (assuming they are still in business) as the wine was corked on Day 1 but of course, DRC and Dominus and other's would differ.

As for Marcus's points, that is the nature of doing business with such a small company. Breakage happens. The shipping windows are a pain, but that is there model. At least they refunded the money. If the model doesn't work, you move on (as Marcus has done). No harm, no foul.
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PSA on Fass Selections - regarding policy on wines over 5 years of age

#8 Post by Dennis Atick » July 20th, 2018, 7:18 am

NoahR wrote:While i acknowledge Lyle is a polarizing figure for some people, I have had no problems with buying/shipping/receiving in the past. Total number of bottles well over a hundred, and our tastes generally align.

I’ve had luck with older bottles from Lyle, but, old bottles are a crapshoot and risk is taken by the buyer across the board. Some people have said that Chambers will take back a bad old bottle - I don’t know that anyone should expect that. I have old bottles from Chambers, Envoyer, other retailers, auctions. Ex-cellar, Ex-negoc provenance doesn’t mean crap. If a bottle’s corked, cooked, DOA, I don’t blame the seller, nor can i reasonably expect them to cover the cost of the bottle working on thin margins and trying to maintain individual relationships with small producers.
+1 to all of this.
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PSA on Fass Selections - regarding policy on wines over 5 years of age

#9 Post by Brandon J. » July 20th, 2018, 7:30 am

Dennis Atick wrote:
NoahR wrote:While i acknowledge Lyle is a polarizing figure for some people, I have had no problems with buying/shipping/receiving in the past. Total number of bottles well over a hundred, and our tastes generally align.

I’ve had luck with older bottles from Lyle, but, old bottles are a crapshoot and risk is taken by the buyer across the board. Some people have said that Chambers will take back a bad old bottle - I don’t know that anyone should expect that. I have old bottles from Chambers, Envoyer, other retailers, auctions. Ex-cellar, Ex-negoc provenance doesn’t mean crap. If a bottle’s corked, cooked, DOA, I don’t blame the seller, nor can i reasonably expect them to cover the cost of the bottle working on thin margins and trying to maintain individual relationships with small producers.
+1 to all of this.
This is where I'm torn. Lyle is a DIRECT importer. Over the years, I've dealt with probably 20 plus importers and have never seen a claim like that. It doesn't make any sense. 5 years of current release dessert wines or Rioja riserva wouldn't be covered? Come on. As an importer, you have risk and should have insurance for things like this. Or at least have it baked into your business model. Now, on the retail side, if a bottle shop happens to come across some older wine and doesn't know the wine's storage history, then I totally get that the buyer owns the risk. Any good bottle shop or retailer would refund you most likely anyway. Specifically with TCA, bottle age has less impact. If a wine is corked, it's corked. Will it get worse over time? In some cases, yes. But TCA specifically is the wineries accountability and in every scenario, the importer should work with the wineries to absorb the cost and not pass that to the consumer. AT LEAST he states it in terms and conditions now. Not sure if it's on the e-mails.

Personally, I don't care about the refund. I get that he's a small outfit and may not have that cost aspect baked into his margin model. But I didn't care for the attitude and certainly didn't care for being removed from the mailing list for sending a perfectly acceptable inquiry.
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PSA on Fass Selections - regarding policy on wines over 5 years of age

#10 Post by Robert.A.Jr. » July 20th, 2018, 7:34 am

NoahR wrote: I’ve had luck with older bottles from Lyle, but, old bottles are a crapshoot and risk is taken by the buyer across the board. Some people have said that Chambers will take back a bad old bottle - I don’t know that anyone should expect that. I have old bottles from Chambers, Envoyer, other retailers, auctions. Ex-cellar, Ex-negoc provenance doesn’t mean crap. If a bottle’s corked, cooked, DOA, I don’t blame the seller, nor can i reasonably expect them to cover the cost of the bottle working on thin margins and trying to maintain individual relationships with small producers.
Seems like opinions vary on this subject, but I normally function as if the risk is on me, and if I cannot carry the risk, I should not make the purchase. Most times it's just not worth the hassle to me to chase a credit or return on a bad bottle. But I also agree with Noah, when I know I'm buying mature wines from a retailer that bought from someone's else's cellar, there is some risk. If you want to play in the mature wine market, just assume a small percentage of wines will be bad or less than optimal. The only two times that I can recall where I sought a credit back was from Bassins, once when a 1982 Bordeaux I had shipped had a cork floating in the bottle, cap sealed perfectly but wine was bad; another time a 1986 Italian from Chambers with rank TCA, and I was just annoyed with my very bad luck with mature Italians, and Chambers does offer credit willingly and I was a long-time customer. Both stores are fantastic, but in truth, I still felt a little cheeky. That's why normally I just move on.

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PSA on Fass Selections - regarding policy on wines over 5 years of age

#11 Post by c fu » July 20th, 2018, 9:49 am

Brandon J. wrote:
Dennis Atick wrote:
NoahR wrote:While i acknowledge Lyle is a polarizing figure for some people, I have had no problems with buying/shipping/receiving in the past. Total number of bottles well over a hundred, and our tastes generally align.

I’ve had luck with older bottles from Lyle, but, old bottles are a crapshoot and risk is taken by the buyer across the board. Some people have said that Chambers will take back a bad old bottle - I don’t know that anyone should expect that. I have old bottles from Chambers, Envoyer, other retailers, auctions. Ex-cellar, Ex-negoc provenance doesn’t mean crap. If a bottle’s corked, cooked, DOA, I don’t blame the seller, nor can i reasonably expect them to cover the cost of the bottle working on thin margins and trying to maintain individual relationships with small producers.
+1 to all of this.
This is where I'm torn. Lyle is a DIRECT importer. Over the years, I've dealt with probably 20 plus importers and have never seen a claim like that. It doesn't make any sense. 5 years of current release dessert wines or Rioja riserva wouldn't be covered? Come on. As an importer, you have risk and should have insurance for things like this. Or at least have it baked into your business model. Now, on the retail side, if a bottle shop happens to come across some older wine and doesn't know the wine's storage history, then I totally get that the buyer owns the risk. Any good bottle shop or retailer would refund you most likely anyway. Specifically with TCA, bottle age has less impact. If a wine is corked, it's corked. Will it get worse over time? In some cases, yes. But TCA specifically is the wineries accountability and in every scenario, the importer should work with the wineries to absorb the cost and not pass that to the consumer. AT LEAST he states it in terms and conditions now. Not sure if it's on the e-mails.

Personally, I don't care about the refund. I get that he's a small outfit and may not have that cost aspect baked into his margin model. But I didn't care for the attitude and certainly didn't care for being removed from the mailing list for sending a perfectly acceptable inquiry.
was this bottle one of his direct import bottles from the domaine? or just something he acquired through euro-brokers?
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PSA on Fass Selections - regarding policy on wines over 5 years of age

#12 Post by larry schaffer » July 20th, 2018, 11:17 am

From a consumers perspective, does it matter where it was sourced from?

This is an absolutely fascinating thread for someone like me who doesn't purchase a lot of older wines. I would think that guaranteeing these wines from the Retailer's perspective would be a challenge because their ability to be reimbursed should there be an issue might not be that great.

I guess that shows how much of an inherent risk there is all around with wines like these.
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PSA on Fass Selections - regarding policy on wines over 5 years of age

#13 Post by Kevin Porter » July 20th, 2018, 11:40 am

I think that direct-from-domaine matters because corked is corked at bottling. If the bottle has passed through several buyers working with the producer might be a challenge, but if the seller bought directly from the domaine then the seller should be able to arrange a refund. (if that's not why Charlie was asking it's why he should have been [wink.gif] )

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#14 Post by John Morris » July 20th, 2018, 11:56 am

larry schaffer wrote:From a consumers perspective, does it matter where it was sourced from?

This is an absolutely fascinating thread for someone like me who doesn't purchase a lot of older wines. I would think that guaranteeing these wines from the Retailer's perspective would be a challenge because their ability to be reimbursed should there be an issue might not be that great.

I guess that shows how much of an inherent risk there is all around with wines like these.
Chambers Street shows that a retailer can guarantee old wines if it chooses to. Obviously they have to factor that into their pricing -- they're plainly not going to get reimbursement when they've bought private cellars -- but their prices are very reasonable generally. And where they have questions about the condition, they sell off bottles in the store (not on the website) without guarantees, at very reduced prices. (I picked up a '75 Giscours and a '75 Beausejour Duffau for $25 each a few months ago because the fills were mid shoulder. Both proved to be excellent bottles.)

I can fully understand why a seller might not opt to take the risk, but I think the cost of returns is probably overestimated (a lot of buyers won't bother to return bottles). Personally, it's a HUGE factor to me in buying from Chambers. I suspect it's more viable for them because they're buying private cellars rather than purchasing at auction, where the provenance is hard to determine. And, if you buy entire cellars, your costs are probably lower than if you buy through brokers or at auction.

There was another thread recently about some store that had a really ambiguous, weasley "guarantee" that basically allowed them to refuse a refund whenever they felt like it? I just looked for it but couldn't find it. A lot of these issues were covered there.
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PSA on Fass Selections - regarding policy on wines over 5 years of age

#15 Post by Ian Dorin » July 20th, 2018, 12:05 pm

John Morris wrote:Personally, it's a HUGE factor to me in buying from Chambers. I suspect it's more viable for them because they're buying private cellars rather than purchasing at auction, where the provenance is hard to determine. And, if you buy entire cellars, your costs are probably lower than if you buy through brokers or at auction.
I lovingly, and respectful disagree with this perspective. Obviously I'm not in auction any longer, but I completely value the transparency that is required of auction. Frankly, I throw out the lavish consignor headers, but I have always VERY closely read the descriptions of the wines and their condition. Someone recently published a retailer was posting similar condition notes like auctions do about old bottles they had (and I wish I could remember to give them another kudos). A mid-shoulder filled 1982 Lafite should be looked at as not buyable, and the buyer will get what they paid for- a lesser than stellar, if not completely shot bottle of 1982 Lafite.

A lot of retailers buy wine at auction and resell them too. Maybe not Chambers, but a huge number do. Chambers is actually rather unique in their approach.
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PSA on Fass Selections - regarding policy on wines over 5 years of age

#16 Post by Brandon J. » July 20th, 2018, 12:13 pm

c fu wrote:
was this bottle one of his direct import bottles from the domaine? or just something he acquired through euro-brokers?
I don't know the answer but as a consumer, that should be irrelevant unless clearly delineated in the terms and conditions.
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#17 Post by John Morris » July 20th, 2018, 12:16 pm

That's a fair point about the vetting by conscientious auction houses. But, as we know, there's a lot of very dubious wine that passes through auction houses.

I didn't follow this part:
Ian Dorin wrote:Someone recently published a retailer was posting similar condition notes like auctions do about old bottles they had (and I wish I could remember to give them another kudos). A mid-shoulder filled 1982 Lafite should be looked at as not buyable, and the buyer will get what they paid for- a lesser than stellar, if not completely shot bottle of 1982 Lafite.
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#18 Post by Brian G r a f s t r o m » July 20th, 2018, 12:23 pm

I agree Lyle's response was inadequate. Corked is corked is corked. It has nothing to do with a wine's age, so that's some bullshit he threw out right there. To the extent his policy was not previously disclosed, that's pretty shitty, BUT, he did refund the bottle, so no biggie. And removal from the list is a juvenile move, but he has the right to do it.
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#19 Post by c fu » July 20th, 2018, 12:40 pm

Kevin Porter wrote:I think that direct-from-domaine matters because corked is corked at bottling. If the bottle has passed through several buyers working with the producer might be a challenge, but if the seller bought directly from the domaine then the seller should be able to arrange a refund. (if that's not why Charlie was asking it's why he should have been [wink.gif] )
exactly. If it's going domaine -->importer -->distributor --->retailer ---> customer, might be tough sledding because for some insane reason wines are one of the few goods where the customer assumes the risk of defects when it passes through hands.

But if it's going domaine ---> retailer ---> customer the retailer should be taking it back and not be a dick about it.

Either way, corked is corked. Kermit Lynch took back a corked Raveneau purchased from them a couple weeks ago. So at least some retailers are doing the right thing when they have that minimum level of connection from Domaine-->retailer-->customer.
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#20 Post by Josh Grossman » July 20th, 2018, 12:50 pm

I've been buying from Fass Selections for a few years. Any small issue I've had was promptly dealt with by great customer service and to my benefit; sorry if this hasn't been other's experience. I think their shipping costs are related to that only one or two states will allow this model to legally work--and thus the wines have to warehoused and shipped from a state which isn't ideal for the rest of their logistics. I think this is what also gets them into trouble on their shipping window; they have to plan when wine is going to be shipped by a third party a few months in advance. While they do ship in Spring and Fall, this Spring was particularly hot. That said, so far all of my shipments have arrived on days with temperatures well within safe wine shipping.

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#21 Post by alan weinberg » July 20th, 2018, 2:28 pm

if the wine is corked, it was corked from the day of bottling and no five year window applies. Lots of places won’t replace wines over 10 years old.

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#22 Post by Fred C » July 20th, 2018, 3:06 pm

2 out of 2 corked 96 Dujac CSD from Morrell Wines in NYC and no credit back :(
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#23 Post by Jayson Cohen » July 20th, 2018, 3:29 pm

I like the idea that a retailer will take back any corked bottle purchased there, regardless of the age of the wine or when purchased. As suggested in some of the posts above, it seems pretty simple to me that any retailer that has been operating for some time could easily keep records of the average bottle return rate for corked wines. It then adjusts margins on wines with corks based on the average bottle price (for btls with corks) to absorb the effect on profits of always taking the return. Good will. Clear simple policy. Happy customers. Such self-insurance seems like a good business choice to me for those who service the geek crowd. Like the retailers at which most of us by. If we are talking a 1% or so price increase, it’s probably not an issue for most of us.

I’m curious why Lyle does not make this choice of policy. Are margins that tight and customers that fickle about pricing?

Is the issue the cost of dealing with the return, so this policy only makes sense for stores where most customers are local?

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#24 Post by NoahR » July 20th, 2018, 3:40 pm

Jayson Cohen wrote:I like the idea that a retailer will take back any corked bottle purchased there, regardless of the age of the wine or when purchased. As suggested in some of the posts above, it seems pretty simple to me that any retailer that has been operating for some time could easily keep records of the average bottle return rate for corked wines. It then adjusts margins on wines with corks based on the average bottle price (for btls with corks) to absorb the effect on profits of always taking the return. Good will. Clear simple policy. Happy customers. Such self-insurance seems like a good business choice to me for those who service the geek crowd. Like the retailers at which most of us by. If we are talking a 1% or so price increase, it’s probably not an issue for most of us.

I’m curious why Lyle does not make this choice of policy. Are margins that tight and customers that fickle about pricing?

Is the issue the cost of dealing with the return, so this policy only makes sense for stores where most customers are local?
I think it is just silly to expect a retailer to take back corked bottles. Sure, an operation as huge as Kermit Lynch might be able to absorb some of that, but most retailers have to entirely eat the cost. If a small retailer or small importer tries to pass that cost back on to the small producers they represent, that relationship will sour very quickly and that importer will be out of an allocation and potentially poison lots of potential other client relationships once word gets around. Margins are small and the amount of money refunded for a corked bottle of wine is probably 2-4x the profit margin of that bottle.

Who cares if a corked bottle was corked at birth? If you’ve got enough disposable money to buy a significant amount of good wine, you’re probably doing better than most small retailers and small importers. Suck it up people.
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#25 Post by John Morris » July 20th, 2018, 3:45 pm

NoahR wrote:I think it is just silly to expect a retailer to take back corked bottles. Sure, an operation as huge as Kermit Lynch might be able to absorb some of that, but most retailers have to entirely eat the cost. If a small retailer or small importer tries to pass that cost back on to the small producers they represent, that relationship will sour very quickly and that importer will be out of an allocation and potentially poison lots of potential other client relationships once word gets around. Margins are small and the amount of money refunded for a corked bottle of wine is probably 2-4x the profit margin of that bottle.
I don't think that's true. I think retailers can generally get credit back from distributors for faulty bottles, and I know of at least two relatively small importers that have gone back to their producers when there have been premox and other quality issues. The producers rely on the importers and retailers, too.

Of course, the quantities that Lyle is bringing in are usually very small, and he often claims the wines are hard to obtain, so it may be harder for him to try to get credit from the producers.
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PSA on Fass Selections - regarding policy on wines over 5 years of age

#26 Post by Brandon J. » July 20th, 2018, 4:15 pm

NoahR wrote:
Jayson Cohen wrote:I like the idea that a retailer will take back any corked bottle purchased there, regardless of the age of the wine or when purchased. As suggested in some of the posts above, it seems pretty simple to me that any retailer that has been operating for some time could easily keep records of the average bottle return rate for corked wines. It then adjusts margins on wines with corks based on the average bottle price (for btls with corks) to absorb the effect on profits of always taking the return. Good will. Clear simple policy. Happy customers. Such self-insurance seems like a good business choice to me for those who service the geek crowd. Like the retailers at which most of us by. If we are talking a 1% or so price increase, it’s probably not an issue for most of us.

I’m curious why Lyle does not make this choice of policy. Are margins that tight and customers that fickle about pricing?

Is the issue the cost of dealing with the return, so this policy only makes sense for stores where most customers are local?
I think it is just silly to expect a retailer to take back corked bottles. Sure, an operation as huge as Kermit Lynch might be able to absorb some of that, but most retailers have to entirely eat the cost. If a small retailer or small importer tries to pass that cost back on to the small producers they represent, that relationship will sour very quickly and that importer will be out of an allocation and potentially poison lots of potential other client relationships once word gets around. Margins are small and the amount of money refunded for a corked bottle of wine is probably 2-4x the profit margin of that bottle.

Who cares if a corked bottle was corked at birth? If you’ve got enough disposable money to buy a significant amount of good wine, you’re probably doing better than most small retailers and small importers. Suck it up people.
Some folks on here are sounding like we live in some socialist economic environment.

No offense, but as a "consumer" I don't care if the bottle comes from a producer grossing $200K/year or $20MM per year, you should stand behind your product as a retailer because most winemakers stand behind their product. This idea that we have to be sensitive to importer's margins as buyers is silly. Furthermore, I CANNOT fathom a situation where you have a winery small enough that couldn't or wouldn't accept corked bottles. If you can't absorb that cost than maybe you need a different business model, or need to increase the price of your wine.

Now, on the flip side, I get that there's exclusivity and certain wholesalers have a wine that's "only available through them". If an importer has such slim margins, then that should be totally transparent.

Also, this talk about tarnishing relationships with winemakers is mostly nonsense as well. With every importer I've worked with, there's at the very least a handshake agreement between the importer and winery on how to handle corked bottles. Often times importers have a mixed portfolio where 80% of the wineries can absorb returns/credits and 20% cannot absorb because they're so small. The importer then makes a statement to retailers saying "we accept all corked bottles" (and eats the cost on the 20%). I've even seen one importer put together a totally separate portfolio of wines that they won't stand behind. It's full transparency.

Lastly, this "you can afford a $500 case of wine therefore should absorb the cost of corked bottles" is ALSO silly. Lots of silliness here.

Buying rare wine, auction wine, wine of unknown storage conditions etc. I do that often and fully accept the risk, but I have never seen a retailer/importer with this level of poor policy.
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#27 Post by NoahR » July 20th, 2018, 4:46 pm

John Morris wrote:
NoahR wrote:I think it is just silly to expect a retailer to take back corked bottles. Sure, an operation as huge as Kermit Lynch might be able to absorb some of that, but most retailers have to entirely eat the cost. If a small retailer or small importer tries to pass that cost back on to the small producers they represent, that relationship will sour very quickly and that importer will be out of an allocation and potentially poison lots of potential other client relationships once word gets around. Margins are small and the amount of money refunded for a corked bottle of wine is probably 2-4x the profit margin of that bottle.
I don't think that's true. I think retailers can generally get credit back from distributors for faulty bottles, and I know of at least two relatively small importers that have gone back to their producers when there have been premox and other quality issues. The producers rely on the importers and retailers, too.

Of course, the quantities that Lyle is bringing in are usually very small, and he often claims the wines are hard to obtain, so it may be harder for him to try to get credit from the producers.
Is Premox a quality issue? Do we actually know? Has Don Cornwell sent his exhaustive list of premoxed wines back to Distributor/Retailer/Importer/Producer to be replaced? How much does a Producer make for a bottle of wine compared to what it eventually sells for? You think small producers can absorb that? They already deal with the vicissitudes of weather, pestilence, and a fickle and hype-driven market.

Perhaps retailers can get money back from distributors, but distributors are large, have large portfolios and are just middlemen who make money by transferring and bundling importers’ wine to retailers and restaurants. They can absorb that cost. That’s the entire 3-tier system that small importers who sell direct to mail order bypass.
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#28 Post by Josh Grossman » July 20th, 2018, 5:18 pm

Brandon J. wrote:
NoahR wrote:
Jayson Cohen wrote:I like the idea that a retailer will take back any corked bottle purchased there, regardless of the age of the wine or when purchased. As suggested in some of the posts above, it seems pretty simple to me that any retailer that has been operating for some time could easily keep records of the average bottle return rate for corked wines. It then adjusts margins on wines with corks based on the average bottle price (for btls with corks) to absorb the effect on profits of always taking the return. Good will. Clear simple policy. Happy customers. Such self-insurance seems like a good business choice to me for those who service the geek crowd. Like the retailers at which most of us by. If we are talking a 1% or so price increase, it’s probably not an issue for most of us.

I’m curious why Lyle does not make this choice of policy. Are margins that tight and customers that fickle about pricing?

Is the issue the cost of dealing with the return, so this policy only makes sense for stores where most customers are local?
I think it is just silly to expect a retailer to take back corked bottles. Sure, an operation as huge as Kermit Lynch might be able to absorb some of that, but most retailers have to entirely eat the cost. If a small retailer or small importer tries to pass that cost back on to the small producers they represent, that relationship will sour very quickly and that importer will be out of an allocation and potentially poison lots of potential other client relationships once word gets around. Margins are small and the amount of money refunded for a corked bottle of wine is probably 2-4x the profit margin of that bottle.

Who cares if a corked bottle was corked at birth? If you’ve got enough disposable money to buy a significant amount of good wine, you’re probably doing better than most small retailers and small importers. Suck it up people.
Some folks on here are sounding like we live in some socialist economic environment.

No offense, but as a "consumer" I don't care if the bottle comes from a producer grossing $200K/year or $20MM per year, you should stand behind your product as a retailer because most winemakers stand behind their product. This idea that we have to be sensitive to importer's margins as buyers is silly. Furthermore, I CANNOT fathom a situation where you have a winery small enough that couldn't or wouldn't accept corked bottles. If you can't absorb that cost than maybe you need a different business model, or need to increase the price of your wine.

Now, on the flip side, I get that there's exclusivity and certain wholesalers have a wine that's "only available through them". If an importer has such slim margins, then that should be totally transparent.

Also, this talk about tarnishing relationships with winemakers is mostly nonsense as well. With every importer I've worked with, there's at the very least a handshake agreement between the importer and winery on how to handle corked bottles. Often times importers have a mixed portfolio where 80% of the wineries can absorb returns/credits and 20% cannot absorb because they're so small. The importer then makes a statement to retailers saying "we accept all corked bottles" (and eats the cost on the 20%). I've even seen one importer put together a totally separate portfolio of wines that they won't stand behind. It's full transparency.

Lastly, this "you can afford a $500 case of wine therefore should absorb the cost of corked bottles" is ALSO silly. Lots of silliness here.

Buying rare wine, auction wine, wine of unknown storage conditions etc. I do that often and fully accept the risk, but I have never seen a retailer/importer with this level of poor policy.
I can't imagine why someone would no longer think that its's worth the time to interact with you as a customer?

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#29 Post by John Morris » July 20th, 2018, 6:03 pm

NoahR wrote: Is Premox a quality issue? Do we actually know? Has Don Cornwell sent his exhaustive list of premoxed wines back to Distributor/Retailer/Importer/Producer to be replaced? How much does a Producer make for a bottle of wine compared to what it eventually sells for? You think small producers can absorb that? They already deal with the vicissitudes of weather, pestilence, and a fickle and hype-driven market.
From the consumer's standpoint, absolutely. In one case I know of, a large proportion of one of a producer's white wines (not a Burgundy) premoxed within a year or two. And it was a serious enough wine that people expected to keep it that long. It was a decent sized winery, though not huge, and a small/mid-sized importer. Why should the importer have to bear the risk of a faulty product?
NoahR wrote:Perhaps retailers can get money back from distributors, but distributors are large, have large portfolios and are just middlemen who make money by transferring and bundling importers’ wine to retailers and restaurants. They can absorb that cost. That’s the entire 3-tier system that small importers who sell direct to mail order bypass.
You're making a lot of assumptions. Not all distributors are huge. Not all states have rigid three-tier systems. Sometimes there are importers who are also distributors, or which are owned by the same people as a distributor.

California, where Fass Selections is based, is not a three-tier state and there are a number of retailers there that are direct importers.
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#30 Post by NoahR » July 20th, 2018, 6:26 pm

John, when you can explain how and why premox occurs, you can blame it on the shoddy producer. A lot of very smart people seem to have failed to understand why it has affected millions of dollars worth of Burgundy and are waiting for your insight. Your response seems very cavalier given what we don’t know about the phenomenon.

I don’t deny that a retailer has an obligation to a customer, an importer or distributor has an obligation to a retailer, and a producer has an obligation to an importer. But financial responsibility when something goes wrong is murky at best. The only reason that a consumer will ever get compensated for a bad bottle is because a retailer either (a) knows he can transfer that cost to a distributor, importer or producer or (b) is willing to take that loss to stroke that customer’s ego. If you’re a small shop and not bankrolled for that, it’s not easy, I’m sure.
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#31 Post by AlexS » July 20th, 2018, 6:29 pm

Brandon J. wrote:Buying rare wine, auction wine, wine of unknown storage conditions etc. I do that often and fully accept the risk, but I have never seen a retailer/importer with this level of poor policy.
Dude, you got credited for the shit bottle -- correct? And yet you're still here bitching simply because you dislike Lyle's policy, his response to your question and that he subsequently booted you off his mailing list.

Lmao.

Ask people on the W-D list for DRC how much luck they've had receiving replacements for corked bottles.
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#32 Post by NoahR » July 20th, 2018, 6:34 pm

AlexS wrote:
Brandon J. wrote:Buying rare wine, auction wine, wine of unknown storage conditions etc. I do that often and fully accept the risk, but I have never seen a retailer/importer with this level of poor policy.
Dude, you got credited for the shit bottle -- correct? And yet you're still here bitching simply because you dislike Lyle's policy, his response to your question and that he subsequently booted you off his mailing list.

Lmao.

Ask people on the W-D list for DRC how much luck they've had receiving replacements for corked bottles.
Touché.
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#33 Post by AlexS » July 20th, 2018, 6:37 pm

Apologies for being crass but it just amazes me how sensitive people are to the FREE MARKET which goes both ways.
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#34 Post by Nick Ellis » July 20th, 2018, 6:44 pm

Why should the consumer assume zero liability in this transaction? I’ve been grateful when retailers have accepted returns of bad bottles, but I’ve also understood when they told me to go (politely) f*ck myself (I can count the times both have happened on one hand).

What is to keep me as a consumer from drinking a 1990 DRC, pouring a shit bottle of spoiled Cali Pinot in, and then demanding Wilson Daniels reimburse me for the current value or directly replace it?

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#35 Post by R_Gilbane » July 20th, 2018, 7:00 pm

Nick Ellis wrote:What is to keep me as a consumer from drinking a 1990 DRC, pouring a shit bottle of spoiled Cali Pinot in, and then demanding Wilson Daniels reimburse me for the current value or directly replace it?
I assume you mean besides me challenging you to a duel with pistols?
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#36 Post by NoahR » July 20th, 2018, 7:06 pm

R_Gilbane wrote:
Nick Ellis wrote:What is to keep me as a consumer from drinking a 1990 DRC, pouring a shit bottle of spoiled Cali Pinot in, and then demanding Wilson Daniels reimburse me for the current value or directly replace it?
I assume you mean besides me challenging you to a duel with pistols?
I just saw Hamilton too. Shit is $$$$
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#37 Post by Brandon J. » July 20th, 2018, 8:32 pm

AlexS wrote:
Brandon J. wrote:Buying rare wine, auction wine, wine of unknown storage conditions etc. I do that often and fully accept the risk, but I have never seen a retailer/importer with this level of poor policy.
Dude, you got credited for the shit bottle -- correct? And yet you're still here bitching simply because you dislike Lyle's policy, his response to your question and that he subsequently booted you off his mailing list.

Lmao.

Ask people on the W-D list for DRC how much luck they've had receiving replacements for corked bottles.
I'm sorry I thought this was the Berserker forum. What else did you expect?
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#38 Post by John Morris » July 20th, 2018, 9:28 pm

NoahR wrote:John, when you can explain how and why premox occurs, you can blame it on the shoddy producer. A lot of very smart people seem to have failed to understand why it has affected millions of dollars worth of Burgundy and are waiting for your insight. Your response seems very cavalier given what we don’t know about the phenomenon.
[scratch.gif]

Sure, there's uncertainty about the exact cause of premox, but there's no question that it's a winemaking issue. It's not a problem in the distribution chain.

In the premox case I mentioned, the winery had gone to a very low sulfur regime. And the oxidation occurred very quickly. Their importer in one country was refusing to pay. It's obviously more complicated if the wine doesn't go off for five or 10 years.

As I recall, the second example involved a big batch of bad closures.
NoahR wrote:I don’t deny that a retailer has an obligation to a customer, an importer or distributor has an obligation to a retailer, and a producer has an obligation to an importer. But financial responsibility when something goes wrong is murky at best. The only reason that a consumer will ever get compensated for a bad bottle is because a retailer either (a) knows he can transfer that cost to a distributor, importer or producer or (b) is willing to take that loss to stroke that customer’s ego. If you’re a small shop and not bankrolled for that, it’s not easy, I’m sure.
With very old wines, responsibility may arguably be murky, and most consumers probably figure that they assume some risk. I get that. But there's nothing murky if the wine is flawed on release (e.g., TCA) or shortly thereafter (many cases of premox).

The fact that it may be hard for a consumer or retailer to get compensated for flawed wines from the next layer in the distribution chain doesn't mean it's right.
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#39 Post by NoahR » July 21st, 2018, 5:15 am

John,

Your points are well taken, and we can agree to disagree. The issue is not, in my mind, whether premox or TCA is a winemaking issue - I agree that, while it may not be controllable by a winery, it’s not happening at the level of distributor or importer presumably. The question is who is best equipped to eat that loss and what reasonable expectations should be. I think the answer is clearly the consumer and you think it is the producer ultimately and retailer proximately.

I think that retailers and distributors in this country are driving costs up, not producers, when a wine gets hot, and those folks benefitting most from that arbitrage can absorb the cost of crap bottles, but small importers of small producers are not in the same category.

Also, while TCA is a problem that is part of the winemaking process, other “flaws” that often result in returned bottles range from Brett to VA to dissolved CO2 fizz to just not liking the wine. In the case of sulphur - that’s a very trendy thing and people seem to pay a premium for zero-sulphur versions of wines. If wine is being advertised as low sulphur, you can’t complain if there are resultant issues. I would not expect a winemaker or retailer to take back a bottle that smells like acetone or horseshit - sorry, but that’s just the wine you bought.

Unless you can prove there’s TCA and hand back or send back a mostly-filled bottle for analysis, I don’t think you have a case - I have been asked to do that before.

But is TCA the “fault” of the winemaker, or just a risk inherent in the winemaking process if you use cork, no matter how comprehensive your QC process is? Given that it is an inherent risk that every wine consumer/buyer knows about, I don’t know how you can argue that a consumer/buyer should pass that risk off to the folks least able to absorb the cost: small winemakers.
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#40 Post by D@vid Bu3ker » July 21st, 2018, 5:49 am

It would be an interesting experiment to tell people with all defective products “hey, nothing is perfect, you knew the risk.”
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#41 Post by Scott Brunson » July 21st, 2018, 6:06 am

D@vid Bu3ker wrote:It would be an interesting experiment to tell people with all defective products “hey, nothing is perfect, you knew the risk.”
Don't forget to kick them off your mailing list when you're done.
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#42 Post by John Morris » July 21st, 2018, 7:21 am

Noah - That's an interesting, and extreme, position you've staked out. I disagree with pretty much everything you said.
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#43 Post by David Glasser » July 21st, 2018, 7:36 am

If I buy a defective product I expect the place that sold it to me to fix it. It’s not my concern, nor should it be, to consider the business model of every entity upstream in the supply chain. That’s how it works for most consumer products. Wine is different. Just because it is that way doesn’t make it right. I don’t agree with it but that doesn’t stop me from buying wine.

IMO, an exception for bottles over x years old (x open to debate) or that have changed hands multiple times is reasonable if disclosed in advance. But for younger bottles residing with the original buyer, there is no logical or ethical reason that the seller should be off the hook if the wine is defective.

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#44 Post by Brian Gilp » July 21st, 2018, 7:43 am

NoahR wrote:John,

Your points are well taken, and we can agree to disagree. The issue is not, in my mind, whether premox or TCA is a winemaking issue - I agree that, while it may not be controllable by a winery, it’s not happening at the level of distributor or importer presumably. The question is who is best equipped to eat that loss and what reasonable expectations should be. I think the answer is clearly the consumer and you think it is the producer ultimately and retailer proximately.

I think that retailers and distributors in this country are driving costs up, not producers, when a wine gets hot, and those folks benefitting most from that arbitrage can absorb the cost of crap bottles, but small importers of small producers are not in the same category.

Also, while TCA is a problem that is part of the winemaking process, other “flaws” that often result in returned bottles range from Brett to VA to dissolved CO2 fizz to just not liking the wine. In the case of sulphur - that’s a very trendy thing and people seem to pay a premium for zero-sulphur versions of wines. If wine is being advertised as low sulphur, you can’t complain if there are resultant issues. I would not expect a winemaker or retailer to take back a bottle that smells like acetone or horseshit - sorry, but that’s just the wine you bought.

Unless you can prove there’s TCA and hand back or send back a mostly-filled bottle for analysis, I don’t think you have a case - I have been asked to do that before.

But is TCA the “fault” of the winemaker, or just a risk inherent in the winemaking process if you use cork, no matter how comprehensive your QC process is? Given that it is an inherent risk that every wine consumer/buyer knows about, I don’t know how you can argue that a consumer/buyer should pass that risk off to the folks least able to absorb the cost: small winemakers.
What percentage of production are you assuming is flawed? If small then I don’t understand the fiscal burden and if large then it’s an issue that should rectified.

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#45 Post by R_Gilbane » July 21st, 2018, 7:45 am

John Morris wrote:Noah - That's an interesting, and extreme, position you've staked out. I disagree with pretty much everything you said.
Noah only drinks port and sherry so you’re spot on with the extreme label.
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#46 Post by Markus S » July 21st, 2018, 7:46 am

John Morris wrote:Noah - That's an interesting, and extreme, position you've staked out. I disagree with pretty much everything you said.
Not to get in the middle of the tussle going on, but I agree with John. Noah seems to think that no matter what caused a wine to be bad, all blame and cost eating goes to the consumer. If you have a car which causes an accident, it's the fault of the driver, obviously. If you eat salad leaves which contain salmonella and sicken or die, yup, your fault again because you bought 'em and ate them. I could go on-and-on, but this is why we have consumer laws, and despite the current government trying to weaken them, this is what we expect in the United States. Maybe in China or India or...anything goes, but as long as defective products are being sold, there ought to be recompense to right the situation. Otherwise a seller could sell things knowingly faulty without repercussions and get away with it.
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#47 Post by Ian Sutton » July 21st, 2018, 8:06 am

The fault isn't even down to the *producer, but rather the people that supplied them the faulty product that has contaminated the wine. The problem has been no-one ever taking the losses back to the cork suppliers and delivering them a bill for the contaminated wine and associated costs.

Winemakers at least have choices now, and cork is no longer the only game in town. As well as switching closures, it would allow the opportunity for a producer to sue their cork supplier, knowing it's no longer a captive market. Such action in the past might have resulted in being unable to find an alternative.

* the producer does of course have a choice, at least outside of appellations that prevent usage of anything but cork.
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#48 Post by D@vid Bu3ker » July 21st, 2018, 8:15 am

Scott Brunson wrote:
D@vid Bu3ker wrote:It would be an interesting experiment to tell people with all defective products “hey, nothing is perfect, you knew the risk.”
Don't forget to kick them off your mailing list when you're done.
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#49 Post by NoahR » July 21st, 2018, 8:41 am

Markus S wrote:
John Morris wrote:Noah - That's an interesting, and extreme, position you've staked out. I disagree with pretty much everything you said.
Not to get in the middle of the tussle going on, but I agree with John. Noah seems to think that no matter what caused a wine to be bad, all blame and cost eating goes to the consumer. If you have a car which causes an accident, it's the fault of the driver, obviously. If you eat salad leaves which contain salmonella and sicken or die, yup, your fault again because you bought 'em and ate them. I could go on-and-on, but this is why we have consumer laws, and despite the current government trying to weaken them, this is what we expect in the United States. Maybe in China or India or...anything goes, but as long as defective products are being sold, there ought to be recompense to right the situation. Otherwise a seller could sell things knowingly faulty without repercussions and get away with it.
Auto insurance, Workers Comp and multiple other modes of insurance are typically “no-fault” insurances. Risk is inherent in the process and insurance is meant to mitigate those risks irrespective of fault.

There are a lot of people whining about corked bottles whose cellar values begin at $25,000 and range into the millions. I would love it if I could send corked, oxidized, heat damaged, or otherwise bad bottles back and get my money back, but I think it’s somewhere between naive, entitled and plain arrogant to expect it. Honestly, wine - period - is a crapshoot. That’s for young and old bottles, direct or auction. And there are literally dozens of tasting note threads on this forum where one person found a bottle ever-so-slightly corked and others thought it was fine. Dozens. Suck it up, people. This isn’t a dishwasher that came broken out of the box. It’s not a close comparison or reasonable analogy, either.
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PSA on Fass Selections - regarding policy on wines over 5 years of age

#50 Post by NoahR » July 21st, 2018, 8:47 am

R_Gilbane wrote:
John Morris wrote:Noah - That's an interesting, and extreme, position you've staked out. I disagree with pretty much everything you said.
Noah only drinks port and sherry so you’re spot on with the extreme label.
Madeira. Zombie wine. Try to premox that!
Noah Raizman
Washington, DC

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