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Copyright © Ric Einstein 2009
Orlando /Jacobs Creek – TORBWine Trophy winners for Bureaucratic BS and Bad Customer Service (9 November)
In Australia, getting replacement for defective wine is normally extremely simple. The two most common methods are; returning it to the bottle shop where it was purchased, or contacting the winery. (It is important to note the retailer and distributor do not wear the cost of replacement, under our Trade Practices Act, the local producer is responsible.)
Most wineries recognise that cork taint is an issue. Many are pleased when customers recognised a bottle of wine is corked, rather than just thinking that the producer makes "very ordinary wine". As a result, the vast majority of wineries are both extremely good, and very proficient at replacing defective bottles.
When you are on a mailing list with a small winery, it's normally a no-brainer situation. When it comes to dealing with the large wineries, for many years, Southcorp was undoubtedly the most professional in looking after their customers. After a couple of beat ups and public shaming by me, BRL Hardy’s improved their act dramatically, and became the second-best of the majors in Australia.
Based on my dealings over the years with Orland/ Wyndham/ Jacobs Creek/Pernod Ricard, I have always found them to be the worst of the majors when it comes to replacing defective bottles. They have always been full of excuses as to why it was, "just an unfortunate experience and that is not our normal procedure; sorry something went wrong.”
When contacting wineries, the normal procedure is to often ask for the bottle to be returned to the winery (at the wineries expense) so that it can be verified as defective. (Southcorp and Hardy’s realised a long time ago, that when it came to inexpensive wine, this was a costly exercise that was more trouble than it was worth, and frequently only asked for the more expensive wines to be returned.) Bear in mind, by the time the wine gets back to the winery, it could be a week or even two since the cork was first popped, so it would be rank with oxidisation. It is doubtful that staff would be able to do more than smell it, because there would be occupational health and safety issues if they were to actually taste an open bottle that had been returned.
The only definitive way to determine if the wine was actually corked is to do a very expensive scientific test, something that would be ludicrous on a bottle of wine that costs $10 to produce. Yet when the replacement bottles are replaced, some of the large wineries go to the trouble of metaphorically nodding their head and agreeing with you, stating in the covering letter, that indeed, the wine was corked.
Okay, so that's good marketing practice and keeps the customer satisfied.
For the uninitiated, that have not run the gauntlet of Jacobs Creek ludicrous replacement procedures, the wine has to be returned to them, and then, “because they are trying to look after their customers,” the replacement bottle is sent to their local rep, who personally delivers it to you. The fact that this can take a month, is completely inefficient, not cost-effective, achieves absolutely nothing, and because of the time delay, often disappoints the customer even further, is of no consequence to the company. That is the procedure, and despite the fact it makes no sense and some of the staff involved in the process actually think it is completely asinine, the bureaucracy still rules.
On a number of occasions, when I have been in South Australia, I have encountered corked bottles of wine that I have taken with me from my cellar. During my travels, I have returned them to the winery, and in every instance, they were replaced with no questions asked, even when they didn't know me from a bar of soap.
Naturally this is what I expected when I opened up a bottle of Orlando Lawson 1994 Shiraz (RRP $55) that was corked. As I happened to be in the Barossa, the next day I dropped it off at their Visitors Centre, stupidly expecting that they would hand over a bottle of the current vintage in return. How silly of me to expect something so simple.
The person who was dealing with “my problem” had to ring a higher authority to get instructions on how to handle the procedure. She was told to fill in “the form” and collect the defector bottle from me. I was informed that “in due course I would be contacted and a replacement bottle would be arranged."
I walked out of their shaking my head at the stupidity of the situation. Surely it would have been much easier and less costly to hand over a replacement bottle of the current vintage there and then, but no way; the bureaucratic rules must be followed.
That night, we went out for dinner. You wouldn't believe it, the bottle of Jacobs Creek 1996 Limited Blend, there marquee wine was also corked (RRP was about $60). Next day it was returned to the winery. The same person I was dealing with the previous day, now well versed in the company's procedures, filled out another form, and once again told me I would be contacted.
That was eight weeks ago, and so far I have heard nothing.
Contrast that experience with Petaluma, now part of Lion Nathan. A couple of nights ago I open corked bottle of their Petaluma 1995 Coonawarra. The next day I contacted the winery and the very helpful person (who didn't know me because I only used my first name) apologised for the problem and was even more apologetic when he told me he was unable to replace the wine with the same vintage. However, I was offered in 1996 instead (which is a better vintage). Although I was asked to return the corked bottle, I gently explained that I had been drinking wine for almost 40 years, had an extensive cellar, and knew when a wine was suffering from TCA, but if they want to go to the expense of getting it back, I would gladly send it. Once they realised I was genuine and knew which side was up, they were quite happy to take my word for it. The person then apologised because their next delivery was not leaving their premises for another five days, so it would take a week to get the wine to me. Now that's fantastic customer service.
Jacobs Creek/Pernod Ricard has a unique way of looking after their customers! They tie them up in bureaucratic procedures that make absolutely no sense, and then ignore them!
I have heard all their excuses a number of times before; basically when it comes to replacing corked wine, this company couldn't organise a beer in a brewery with a fistful of dollars in their pocket. And to add insult to injury, their service in this area is declining; I would not have thought that was possible.
Congratulations Jacobs Creek; you win the TORBWine Trophy for Bureaucratic BS and Bad Customer Service.
Feel free to submit your comments!
From: TY11/15/2006 04:50:40 Ric,
I have a slightly different story but relates to bad customer service. I was recently at a tasting in Sydney and was being served by the Seppelts rep. I started with the Chalambar Shiraz (2003). There was clearly something wrong, burnt rubber etc.
I mentioned it to the lady who just nodded and gave me the typical &amp;amp;quot;not another smart arse&amp;amp;quot; look. The next person tried it and, not knowing my comments, said it did not taste quite right. The rep remarked that I had commented about there was something wrong with the wine. Meanwhile, I was trying other wines and another 2 ladies tried the wine. They did not like it either. The rep then repeated that 2 other people had made similar comments!
To her credit, she then gave the wine a cursory taste and went on serving the same wine!! For a sub $20 bottle, I would have thought another bottle could be tried. I really do wonder about how people are trained in not only tasting their wines, but in public relations. Over the years, the quality of reps have really fallen off.
From: Stuart Hutson11/15/2006 14:55:12 Just read your article on bad customer service on corked wines and just had to relate my story. Out for diiner one night with a bottle of Red Edge Estate Heathcote Shiraz that turned out to be corked. After a fair degree of difficulty I was able to get the contact details for the winery.
I telephoned Peter Dredge of Red Edge and explained that I had a corked bottle of his flagship shiraz. Firstly he asked me where I had purchased the wine, I stated from retail, not cellar door or off his mailing list. At first he was very reluctant to even deal with me, but i stated that the wine had a fault and that was the manufacturers responsibility. In the end he said that he would replace the bottle with the current vintage as the one I had had sold out.
I organised a relative to pick the wine up directly from Peter Dredge as I could not do it in person. Imagine my surprise when I meet up with that relative to be handed a bottle of Red Edge &amp;quot;Jacksons Vineyard&amp;quot; shiraz ($25)and not their Estate label ($50). A letter expressing my dissapointment is still unanswered. Hopefully your article and reader&amp;#39;s experience&amp;#39;s helps to lift the game of some wineries.
From: Murray11/28/2006 18:56:04 I was in the management team of a winery some years ago. There was a clear company policy on - total and immediate replacement at the cellar door and if by mail-order - the same policy, with no need for the bottle to be returned.
The real problem was the loyalty of the cellar-door staff. It was (to them), unbelievable that one of our wines could be off, it always had to be checked by a senior member of the staff. At weekends that was inevitably me. I do not know how many times I was called on to ajudicate on a spoilt wine! Always, I would march through to the tasting room, pick up a replacement bottle and thank the customer for bringing it back - and give an additonal bottle of something else.
Eventually the message got through - but it took some months (everytime we had a new tasting person too).
There is a negligable cost to the winery - you are gaining a loyal customer at the nominal cost of making the bottle, NOT its retail price even.
From: TORB11/28/2006 22:45:56 This article finally drew a response from Orlando/Jacobs Creek. Bruce Thiele wrote, Your article is being forwarded to all the right places to hopefully shame someone for their inept way of dealing with this situation. I have been checking into the replacement of your wine which has not happened yet. I am going to by pass the system for this and action it from here. I have also been in touch with a few people and the policy at the Cellar Door has been changed already. As from this morning all complaints will be dealt with on the spot which is the directive that should have been in place. All I can say is I am very sorry for the stuff up.
The immediate replacement of defective wine at the Cellar Door is a good start, but it remains to be seen if the overall system for replacing defective wines improves, or if Orlando/Jacobs Creek remains the worst of the large companies. I will believe the changes when and if I see them. With the amount of Orlando Limited, St Hugo, Lawson, Centenary and Jacaranda Ridge in my cellar, sooner of later I will need to have others replaced, so will find out in due course if this is just talk, or if they actually get their act together.
From: Ian n4sir12/14/2006 21:59:19 I think we have a new contender for this award Ric...
Someone on one of the forums struck a corked bottle of 2000 Pothana Shiraz. They rang cellar door where they bought it and was told "they don't replace corked wines, especially one that old."
When the forumite was informed of his right to insist on a replacement bottle, he emailed them immediately and still hasn't received a reply.
What a dumb policy - not only is it a clear violation of the Trade Practices/Fair Trading Act, but they also will get a bad name among wine consumers very quickly with such a bad attitude.
Copyright © Ric Einstein 2006