Caveat emptor: why provenance matters

It recently came to our attention that our 2004 Brunello di
Montalcino was being offered en primeur by a U.S. retailer for a price far
below market value. Needless to say, the Franceschi family as well as my father
and I are very concerned by this: when we see such things, we know that somehow
our wines have been removed from the normal and official channels of
distribution. And this means that the provenance of the wine is suspect.

For winemakers, there is nothing worse than knowing that a
product to which you have given all your love and effort — as you would to your
child — has been taken away and that you no longer can control its condition
and fitness before it reaches the consumer. We work very closely with our importers
and distributors to make sure that our products reach the consumer with the
utmost care possible so that the wine is not damaged by improper storage or
shipping. In the U.S., Terlato is the only importer to whom we issue the
authenticity certification required by the U.S. government for all imports of
Brunello di Montalcino.

We wrote to our friend and noted Italian wine blogger
Alfonso Cevola and he wrote back: “The problem with the gray market is the
provenance of the wines and even the authenticity. A 2004 Brunello such as Il
Poggione selling [at such a low price] on presale is highly suspect. As a
supplier, I would suspect that the wine being offered might not be bona
fide.”

Laura Jensen, Vice President of Marketing and Sales for
Terlato (our US importer) noted that “the gray market should be a concern
to all consumers and retailers. We guarantee the quality and authenticity of
wines that we import and sell and work diligently to ensure that brands like Il
Poggione reach the trade and the consumer in optimal condition. We know exactly
when the wine left the winery, how it was shipped and when it arrived in the
US. We guarantee that any bottle of wine we sell is exactly what is it claimed
to be. If wines are purchased from sources other than the primary source, there
is no way to guarantee this.”

Other wine writers, as well, have noted that the so-called “gray
market” is a risky affair. In the Wine Spectator’s Essentials of Wine
(published in 2000), esteemed writer Harvey Steinman observed: “The gray
market can provide hard-to-find wines and even offer them at a bargain. But if
anything the wine must pass through even more hands than it would going through
normal channels… Caveat emptor.”

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