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Copyright © Ric Einstein 2009
Is The Cleanskin Business Clean? (10 March)
Originally this story was titled Get Wines Direct Get Caught Out Again, but that title is no longer appropriate. Here is how it all started.
This recent advert on the GWD website claimed the wine, a cleanskin 2007 Margaret River Shiraz, was awarded 95 points by Halliday and was listed in the 2008 Halliday Top One Hundred. It doesn't name the wine but does say, "This is what Mr Halliday had to say about this wine under its normal label, "'Densely coloured, intense, spicy blackberry fruit aromas lead into a striking full-bodied palate, with deep fruit and licorice flavours supported by ripe tannins.""
It went on to state, "You don't have to be a brain surgeon to work out what this wine is so we encourage you get your case quick!!"
The only wine in Halliday's top 100 that matches the description is the Wise 2007 Shiraz.
According to Michael Tedj, who purchased the GWD cleanskin, "I was pretty certain it wasn't the same as the labelled bottle though quite similar in some respects. When I received mine from GWD they weren't in the same bottle style as those from the winery. I assumed it was a different bottling run.I contacted WISE wine. The GM said all the 2007 Shiraz they bottled were bottled in Burgundy style bottles. The GWD version are standard 750ml tall bottles, and that in no way any of this wine has been released as a cleanskin. "
The advert also states, "This premium Margaret River producer has an oversupply and have amazingly released this wine as a cleanskin. We are sworn to secrecy on the name of this wine under its normal label but we can assure you this is excatly the same parcel of wine that was awarded with 95 points."
I wonder who swore GWD to secrecy? According to Bill Hillbert, the Wise Wine GM it certainly wasn't the winery. Bill stated they knew nothing about this wine until it was brought it to their attention on 6th March. Bill also stated, they also did not, let me repeat, did not, release any of the Wise 2007 Shiraz as a cleanskin, however they sold off a parcel of unfinished wine in bulk. Bill categorically stated the bulk, unfinished wine "was no where near the quality of the Wise 2007 Shiraz. Bill also told me that was the only parcel of Shiraz sold off from that vintage.
In fairness to GWD, as soon as they found out about this situation they pulled the advert, but was this another case of what amounts to false advertising? Based on what I had been told, that certainly looked to be the case, so I wrote an article and in part, as well as what has been written above stated, The fact that it may be by accident and not by design, is not the point. If GWD buy unlabeled wine from third parties and makes claims on the GWD website about those wines based on what they were told , it is GWD's responsibility, not anyone else's, to verify the facts. Considering the hammering they took the last time, readers could be forgiven for thinking they would have been more careful." The reason I was concerned was that in these circumstances, it could impact on the wineries reputation.
The first thing that happened was I received an email from Tony at GWD stating that he had pulled the advert. Tony stated they had been dealing with the supplier in question for the last 5 years, and have never had an issue with them, and that he was looking into this matter urgently. Tony also sent me a copy of some of the correspondence from the company he had purchased the wine from; it fully supported the GWD claims about the wine. So what the hell was going on???
Later that day, I received a phone call from 'Andrew' who had sold the wine to GWD. To say the least, he was not happy. He was impeccably polite, but obviously pissed off. Andrew told me he had a statuary declaration written by Jake Bacchus, the Wise winemaker that categorically refuted the majority of the comments made by Bill Hillbert, the Wise GM.
Andrew did confirm that he had the wine bottled.
(As an aside, but an important one, apparently when parties are signing a contract to sell bulk wine, it is normal practice to spell out the provisions of what can, and can not be said, about the providence of the wine. This goes right the way through to advertising. )
That threw a gigantic spanner in the works, in more ways than one. Due to reasons of confidentiality, I am not at liberty to go into the detail of the declaration, but I do have a copy of it. In summary, lets just say it completely supports GWD and Andrew's positions. This was now absolutely not a clean situation. Two conflicting stories and only one can be right.
I tried to ring Bill Hillbert for more information, but he doesn't work on Tuesdays, so I went to the man that owns the outfit, Ron Wise. Ron didn't sound like he was overjoyed to hear from me. The word terse comes to mind. Ron said, "The sale of wine on a commercial basis is between buyer and seller. We are not in a position to talk about who we sold what to, or what anyone else may have done with it."
I then pointed out I had a declaration that refuted everything that Bill had told me, and Ron's response was, "Then what are you ringing me for?" That threw me, so I shut up!
Ron then went onto say, "Bill is not the winemaker and has nothing to do with the winemaking, and I suspect that he made a mistake."
Readers can and will draw their own conclusions from this situation, but one thing is for sure. The cleanskin business is not always as clean, or as cut and dried as the rest of the wine business. To their credit, GWD do have an exceptionally good, no questioned asked refund policy, so the risk to consumers from them is reasonably small.
Finally, as far as reputations are concerned, some part of this commercial chain of events owes other people in the chain an apology; I wonder if it will be forthcoming? From my perspective, I was very careful when I wrote the original article and (very quietly) put it on TORBWine, to ensure I did not slate or denigrate GWD, however the conclusion and comments (in yellow above,) I came to were incorrect and accused GWD of not being careful enough with their advertising. And for that, I do owe them a sincere apology, which is now freely given.
My concern about the wineries reputation being tarnished by a
third party, which was one of my major concerns when writing the original
article, was misfounded; it seems Wise Wine are capable of 'representing'
Feel free to submit your comments!
From Roy Nixon: Wednesday 11 March
I have quite a lot to say about this!
There is a real fascination in many circles for finding out which EXACT wine is in a cleanskin bottle. Of course we all love a bargain but I wonder if the "thrill of the chase" is blinding people's judgement? If you buy a "cleanskin" surely with no label on it, no intellectual property to worry about, it is "caveat emptor" from Minute 1 Day 1. Sure, the blarney from one wine e-tailer may convince you to try that cleanskin over another one but at the end of the day it is a cleanskin.
You may of course get some bragging rights with other wine buffs with the "real bottle" who you tell with a swagger that the wine in this bottle is worth $40 but you only paid $10 for it. But remember, out on the street, his bottle is definitely worth more than yours no matter whether they taste exactly the same. The point I am getting to on all of this is that buying any wine - label or no label, hype or no hype - comes down to the taste and whether you like the wine or not.
I could not detect in any of the exchanges that the wine was not worth what you paid for it. The only bit in your article on this was: "According to Michael Tedj, who purchased the GWD cleanskin, "I was pretty certain it wasn't the same as the labelled bottle though quite similar in some respects. When I received mine from GWD they weren't in the same bottle style as those from the winery. I assumed it was a different bottling run. " Again hardly convincing evidence on taste. And as I have said before about GWD, they don't deserve to be pilloried in this way and I am glad you apologised.
From Cameron Jackson: Wednesday 11 March
I am not sure what Roy Nixon’s
interest in this matter is, however, I disagree entirely with his post, and I
think he misses the point.
From Mark Cohen: Thursday 19 March
This is the same situation as a winery bottling a second run, of inferior quality, under guise of the higher score.
From Osman Mewett: Tuesday 31 March
I bought 6 bottles of the 2007 Margaret River Cleanskin Shiraz from GWD on 16
March, advertised under the description that your article said had been 'pulled'
by GWD. I tried a bottle last week and it was truly awful. I decided to do a bit
of research and came across your article - it explained a lot. The wine truly
did taste "unfinished" and was far from the description furnished on the GWD
Copyright © Ric Einstein 2009