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Freakonomics and Where All These New Wines Come From

We are asked all the time about the new wine brands that appear in Tasting Room shipments and on Lot18.

Neptune’s Trident? The Stub? The Tender? Mythmaker? I’ve never heard of ANY of these wineries! Where are all these wines coming from?

That’s a great question. The short answer is that we work with a couple of very reputable wineries to craft these brands for us according to specifications we set out. Not only does this make for better-tasting wine, it saves you money – and it’s a smart practice you’ll find in nearly every industry.

First things first: We encourage you to listen to this recent Freakonomics podcast. In it, economist Steven Levitt and writer Stephen Dubner explore the idea of paying for name brands versus generics. What did they find?

Pharmacists prefer the cheaper generic to Bayer aspirin. Chefs at fancy restaurants use generic flour, salt and sugar versus big-name brands such as King Arthur, Morton’s and Domino, respectively. In all, Americans spend billions of dollars each year on name brands when comparable generic products are just as good.

So why spend the money on a famous wine brand if it’s just going to be more expensive? That’s where Tasting Room comes in.

To give an example, one of the companies we work with to create many of the wine brands featured on our sites is called Plata Wine Partners. Plata owns more vineyard land in California than almost anyone else, and grows grapes and makes wine for nearly every California winery you might know of – including Robert Mondavi, Duckhorn, Cakebread and Geyser Peak, just to name a few. Plata’s vineyards extend from Napa and Sonoma, north of San Francisco, all the way down to Santa Barbara, not far north of Los Angeles.

Now, let’s say you work at one of these wineries – we’ll call it Sonoma Toast. You specialize in Pinot Noir. You normally produce 10,000 cases each year from the vineyard you own in Sonoma, but in the upcoming year, you predict that demand will be closer to 12,000 cases. Where to get the other 2,000 cases worth of Sonoma Pinot Noir to satisfy all your customers?

Fortunately for you, Plata owns and operates several top-quality vineyards in Sonoma’s Alexander Valley, Russian River and Sonoma Coast. And in this situation, let’s say Plata has a tank containing 20,000 cases’ worth of Sonoma Pinot Noir that tastes just as good as your wine – and if you blend 2,000 cases’ worth into your own wine, it actually makes it taste better! So you buy the wine in a big tank, blend it with your own wine, and you’re able to bottle and release 12,000 cases of Sonoma Toast Pinot Noir.

At this point, Plata still has 18,000 cases of Sonoma Pinot Noir left. Some of it will be sold to other wineries just like Sonoma Toast. Also, perhaps in this particular year, Winery X’s own Pinot Noir just wasn’t very good, or maybe a hailstorm wiped out the crop. Winery X can still meet its demand by buying comparable-quality Pinot Noir from Plata. And maybe we at Tasting Room will buy a few thousand cases of the wine. We taste and assess it, and then work with Plata to make sure the wine is of the highest possible quality before it’s bottled. We also work with a design company to create a label and brand we intend to support and strengthen for many years to come.

The reason we’re willing to tell you how the sausage is made, so to speak, is because wine is just like aspirin or sugar. If there’s a smart, experienced person making the purchasing decisions, the wine you’re getting is not only just as good as that of those big brands – it’s often the same wine. You just pay a lot less for it through Tasting Room because we don’t have the associated marketing and sales costs that a big-name winery has. We also don’t own land that costs money to farm, nor do we own and operate a big, expensive winery.

Plata is just one of the many experienced, smart companies we work with to craft some of the wine brands you find in Tasting Room shipments. There are several more that own or farm some of the best pieces of vineyard land in California. Because of our relationships with these producers and our experience in the industry, we’re able to find for you outstanding wines that simply don’t cost as much as wines do in a shop.

So the moral of the story is: Don’t worry about a brand you haven’t heard of before, especially if you find it through Tasting Room. There’s a very good chance the wine is very similar to or exactly the same as a big-name wine brand you know – and you can be absolutely certain that you’re paying a lot less money for it.

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