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Mailers: How many wines is too much?

Williams Selyem cork

As I look at the multitude of wines listed in the most recent Williams-Selyem mailer, I find myself wondering if there’s a point where a winery offers too many wines?

Here’s the wines available from Williams-Selyem:

  • Eastside Road Neigbors Pinot Noir – $52
  • Vista Verde Vinyard Pinot Noir – $56
  • Bucher Vineyard Pinot Noir – $58
  • Weir Vineyard Pinot Noir – $58
  • Flax Vineyard Pinot Noir – $60
  • Ferrington Vinyard Pinot Noir – $65
  • Coastlands Vineyard Pinot Noir – $75
  • Hirsch Vineyard Pinot Noir – $75
  • Morning Dew Ranch Pinot Noir – $75
  • Olivet Lane Vineyard Pinot Noir – $75
  • Rochioli Riverblock Vineyard Pinot Noir – $78
  • Allen Vineyard Pinot Noir – $82
  • Precious Mountain Vinyard Pinot Noir – $94
  • Estate Vineyard Pinot Noir – $100
  • Allen Vineyard Chardonnay – $50
  • Heintz Vineyard Chardonnay – $50
  • Drake Vineyard Chardonnay – $65
  • Bacigalupi Vineyard Zinfandel – $50
  • Mistral Vineyard Port – $40

Bear in mind their Spring mailer offers at least 7-8 wines, too. As I read through this list I found myself longing for the simplicity of the Rochioli Single Vineyard mailer, with a mere five wines.

So how should one approach a mailer like this? Buy several bottles of the same vineyard designate so you can follow the wine over a number of years? Buy one bottle each of some specific vineyards, thereby diversifying your purchase? If you take the latter approach how do you know what vineyard designates to buy? How do you know the optimal time to open the wine if you only have a single bottle?

In years past I have purchased a bottle each from some of the less expensive vineyard offerings. Honestly, I don’t think the difference in quality between the Bucher and Precious Mountain is worth the $36 premium. But now I have a new dilemma as I really want to try the Morning Dew Ranch Pinot Noir because it is farmed by Williams-Selyem founder Burt Williams. Does this mean I give up on one of my standbys like Bucher, Flax or Weir?

Carlisle and Bedrock offer dozens of wine as well. I am curious how some of you manage your purchasing when faced with a seemingly endless offering of wines.

Maybe it’s time to focus on wineries that make it easier to decide?

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25 Comments Post a comment
  1. Tom,

    This is the paradox of choice, where the amount of choice you have doesn’t empower you, rather it imprisons. You can see why consumers rely on experts and subsequent scores as just to try one of each of the Pinot Noirs is going to set you back over $1000!

    When approaching this list, you have to buy what you can afford and what you like (not like a $52 bottle of PN is affordable) and hope for the best.

    August 15, 2012
    • Fortunately I have bought from WS for over a decade and have a pretty good feel for what wines I want to buy year in and year out. If one was getting this mailer for the first time it would possibly be very overwhelming.

      August 15, 2012
  2. Anonymous #

    If I get a chance to taste before purchase, no problems. If I don’t, I buy from vineyards/bottlings that I have enjoyed in the past (adjusting up or down in quantity depending on perception of the season). And since I am down to 6-8 that I order from everytime, I email the winemaker and ask what stands our for him/her from this offering. Mike Officer of Carlisle comes to mind. Matt Trevisan of Linne Calodo and Anthony Yount at Denner have been kind enough to respond to my inquiries, too.

    August 15, 2012
    • Reaching out to the winemaker for thoughts is a great idea.

      August 15, 2012
  3. Anonymous #

    Tom, you raise another great point that I would love to discuss for hours…over some “mailing-list” wine of course. I am a fairly new member of the Williams-Selyem list, and this fall’s offering was the first time I placed an order. I have never tried any of their wines and am relying on the good press they’ve received from publications and consumers. I’m sure they will not disappoint. Although I am always delighted to have more wine allocated than I can afford, when faced with a broad allocation such as this, I generally determine what my budget is and hope the producer has provided detailed descriptions. Truffles, minerals, smoked meat? I’m in!

    Consistent with my last response to your “Confessions of a Mailing List Addict” post, I am a big “try-before-buy” guy, so to take the plunge without a convenient tasting lineup, I have to rely on publications, fellow wine consumers and the descriptions provided. I agree that reaching out to the respective winemakers is a great approach. Those who I actually receive responses from, score big points in my book! It’s also nice when the producers have tasting opportunities either throughout the year or in conjunction with the wine’s release.

    In my opinion, the toughest aspect of allocations is associated with purchasing single bottles (and having a budget). With this approach, one does not have the leisure of pressing the “Select Full Allocation” button and cracking a bottle upon arrival (and every several years thereafter for a decade or more) to see whether they genuinely like the vineyard/wine and its respective agability. As a result, they have typically committed to two, three, four or more vintages before trying that first bottle and determining whether they like the vineyard/terroir/producer or not. I definitely agree that it’s much easier when the producer only has several wines (or just one for that matter). Then it’s generally a simple “go/no go” decision. I’m sure with time I will be able to focus on 6-8 producers like one of the respondents and know exactly what I want each vintage, etc. It’s definitely a journey to be enjoyed though; finding the lists, requesting access, finally getting accepted and enjoying what they have to offer!

    August 15, 2012
    • In the interest of trying before buying I do hope to visit the new WS facility next time I am in Sonoma.

      August 15, 2012
      • Anonymous #

        Agreed. It looks pretty slick!

        August 15, 2012
  4. Great post Tom. Agree with you and @yycwine – too many choices. It’s like configuring a Dell computer v. going to the Apple store. I like to have choices, but give me good, bettter, best. Or appellation, single vineyard, super special single vineyard. Too many choices and it starts to feel like work.

    August 15, 2012
    • Thanks Robert. Little do most realize how much “work” goes into this passion of ours!

      August 15, 2012
  5. I’ll be honest, especially if I’m newer to a list, I tend to go more broad buying fewer bottles of more wines, then drink them when the folks on Cellartracker say they’re in their prime. Once I’ve found out which I like, then I’ll narrow it down to those.

    August 15, 2012
    • I do the same. Cellartracker helps. Additionally, even if you only buy 1 bottle per year of a particular vyd. (Bucher for instance) over time you begin to get a feel for how the wine develops.

      August 15, 2012
  6. Ploetzy #

    I work in retail, and we have a merchandising saying that applies here. It’s either depth or breadth. Depth is a high qty of a few bottlings, where breadth would be little qty of alot of bottlings. Me personally, I’m a breadth guy. Life is too short to drink the same wine 6-12 times. If you trust the producer, let er rip I say!

    August 15, 2012
    • Totally agree on breadth. Especially with all the resources we have at our disposal to track how a wine is developing.

      August 15, 2012
  7. Tom – Great thought-provoking post. I think WS offers too many wines. I say that often, but I have to admit when the mailer comes, I am SO tempted to want to try everything. I wonder if I wind up buying more than I would if just a couple of options were offered. I can’t say for sure. If that’s the case, though, WS may be employing a strategy that works.

    That said, I don’t buy everything. My strategy with WS and other mailing lists from which I order is generally to focus on the “core” wines of the winery and what they are known for the most. In the case of WS, this for me means the RRV wines and especially the ones from Westside Road vineyards — e.g., Allen, Rochioli, Flax, Bacigalupi (w/ special exception for Hirsch). Of course, on the fall mailer, there are a ton of just these and they are all on the pricier side.

    Another problem I have is finding it hard to buy just one bottle of a particular wine. One bottle is never enough except when drinking with a very small group and, in any event, if you open one and find it to be particularly special, it’s such a bummer to know you could have had more but left it on the table.

    This fall I weighed all these things and wound up buying singles of a several wines. I did this especially with ones that really are special occasion wines — like the WS Estate. As you pointed out, a wine like this may not be $40+ better than Bucher or Weir, but it’s the kind of wine everyone thinks is really special when you decide to open it. I don’t buy it for some kind of pretentious reason, but everyone here probably does enjoy the experience now and then of sharing a wine that’s really pretty rare. There is some intangible utility there that I find is sometimes worth paying extra for and WS is one of the relatively small group of wineries that offers wines that deliver that. Notwithstanding my strategy of sticking to several singles, the tab still winds up being pretty big when you add everything up.

    I find the WS Spring mailer a little easier. There I hone in on Westside Road Neighbors and the RRV and Sonoma Coast AVA wines.

    August 16, 2012
    • Good stufff Mike. I like your strategy of sticking to the RRV offerings. That said I do like the Weir bottling. I actually had to look at a map to figure out where the Yorkville Highlands were. Do you do the Zin or Chard?

      August 16, 2012
  8. Yes. I love both the Zins and the Chardonnays and, fortunately, they are generally slightly less expensive than the Pinots. My wife also loves a good, rich Chardonnay and Williams Selyem is a splurge/special occasion go-to for us. Went just with the Allen Chard this time since, for my money, it’s as good as the Drake.

    August 16, 2012
  9. My wife and I got to visit the new facility on our last trip to Sonoma. It’s gorgeous, if just a little sterile. We were graciously hosted, though, and got to purchase some of the sold-only-at-winery Chenin Blanc, which was both a bargain and a treat. I definitely recommend it.

    August 16, 2012
    • Good to know. I’d like to try that Chenin Blanc.

      August 16, 2012
  10. Tom,
    Good post. Funny you mention Carlisle, they were first winery I thought of when I read your tweet. I dropped off the Carlisle list a few years ago (after waiting patiently to get on!) because I couldn’t handle the volume of the offers. My palate changed, too, so that was part of it, but getting allocated 3 cases of wine 2x per year presents its challenges. Unless one has an unlimited budget and space. I found it tied me too much to one producer when there is so much wine to try out there. Nice post here.

    August 29, 2012
    • Thanks Dennis! I rarely drink two bottles from the same producer in a given month. To get 6 cases a year from the same producer would be overwhelming to me as well.

      August 29, 2012
  11. kwn70 #

    Another long mailer for spring 2013… Any suggestions given your experience with these wines?

    January 29, 2013
    • I prefer the Fall mailer. It is counter intuitive but I think the SVD Pinots are a better value than the appelation Pinots. The Papera Zinfandel is terrific.

      January 29, 2013
  12. Matt #

    Re-read this one with the newest mailer and I have to say, at some point I feel like I’m just throwing a dart at the thing. In all seriousness, in the end I restrict my purchase to a certain price threshold (purchasing this and Bedrock at full allocation would have been something like $4500, har har) and hope for the best, usually picking single bottles for diversity. As I taste others at release I might amend future choices. I’m newer to W-S so I agree with your comment above, Tom – it can be a bit overwhelming … though the process of working through and discovering all these different wines over time is fun, too, which is why I can’t say I’m that upset.

    August 13, 2013
    • I am as big a fan of the Zin and Chard as I am of the Pinot which does not help matters.

      August 13, 2013
  13. Jay #

    Yet another great post. I’m starting to think about this in detail. Turley for example… As I get on more mailers in starting to think to only order 3-6 bottles and rarely a case. As it’s getting tough to manage

    Some people were talking about why they have started moving toward craft beers as easy access to great producers and very inexpensive

    Great discussion topic

    July 20, 2014

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