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Sep 8, 2007 03:32 PM

Second label wines & excess juice

I'm always being asked about second labels from higher-end wineries. The logic, obviously, is that a secondary offering form a top-notch winery will likely be a good value. I suppose this is really an open issue as there's no guarantee of QPR except maybe when the higher-end winery openly markets the second label (you'd think they'd have a larger stake in the quality relationship when they do). But the weight of logic is still that these should be good finds.

Opus One has Overture but they don't sell it outside the winery. Oregon's Domaine Drouhin has a second label called Cloudline. But it seems like not all second labels are openly marketed. I found that Napa's Signorello is the grower and winemaker for a terrific Cab called Edge, but has no marketing connection to that wine. Caymus used to have Liberty School,and now has taken their name off Conundrum.

Is there a source out there that summarizes second labels? It would seem to be a great subject for a wine site or blog. Even better........ is their a legitimate source for info on wines that are made from fruit or juice normally used by high-end wineries, but are sold as excess?? I understand that this is probably not something the original winery wants made public, but is there an intelligience network out there on this?

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  1. You might try Wally's...I'm on their email list and often receive notices for good value 2nds. I've never delved into their site for more detail regarding other 2nds but I suspect a good wine shop would have lots of info...Perhaps even on Wine Spectator sight? So far, I've had really good luck with the 2nds I've purchased through Wally' much more affordable yet often quite special.

    1. I don't think Conundrum's a second label in the usual sense. It's quite expensive for that sort of blend, and there's no higher-priced counterpart in Caymus's line.

      The good values come from when a negociant buys excess wine and markets it under another name. In the 1990s I got a dozen or so cases of a 2/3 cab franc - 1/3 malbec blend from Trader Joe's for $2.29 a bottle, clearly the wine was left over from somebody's Bordeaux-style blend that cost 10 times that. I heard rumors about where it came from but never knew for sure. If the producing winery bottled it, sometimes you can figure out who they are from the bonding number,

      Fred Franzia claims that his new $6 Alexander & Fitch label cabernet contains wine from a winery that charges $75 a bottle.

      2 Replies
      1. re: Robert Lauriston

        I agree that Conundrum isn't a good example of what I'm really looking for, but I was just trying to illustrate the relationship between a winery and another label that doesn't appear to be from the same operation.

        The type of situation you found at TJs is the real target here, but I think, by definition, it is going to be hard to find definitive sources for this kind of product. The original source certainly would not want such info to be public in they could avoid it. I keep asking wholesalers about this subject but get very little feedback. I would think that whoever has such wine for sale would share the 'secret' source with their retail customers. so, as CynGriff said, this is likely a 'trust your local shop' thing. Just seems like there'd be an online blog or such source for the inside skinny on this stuff.

        1. re: Midlife

          Presumably the contracts for such one-off negociant deals have nondisclosure clauses. Those who know can't say and those who say don't really know.

      2. >> there's no guarantee of QPR except maybe when the higher-end winery <<

        and you are right here, I had a few bottles of Stag's Leap second label (forgot the name) and it had little to do with its flagship products in terms of quality.

        2 Replies
        1. re: olasek

          Hawk Crest is the second label for Stag's Leap.
          Another difficulty with the whole "second wine" concept is that it can mean different things. Though I suppose traditionally it's thought of as wine made from less than the highest-quality juice by wineries that own their own vineyards (most often in Bordeaux but I suppose more recently in Napa as well), it's also lately been used for any wine other than the flagship wine of a particular high-end brand - even if the grapes don't come from the same vineyard as the flagship.

          1. re: Frodnesor

            >> Hawk Crest is the second label for Stag's Leap.<<


        2. Every winery/producer that does a "second label" does so differently. Chateau Lafite does their second (or at least, used to) primarily from a section of their estate that isn't quite as good as the rest. Chateau Latour does their from younger vines.

          Some California producers use it for wine that doesn't "make the cut," so their "primary" label quality remains high (like Overture), other bulk in wine to use . . .

          Check the winery websites.

          * * * * *

          Caymus sold off both Liberty School and Conumdrum.

          9 Replies
          1. re: zin1953

            I believe Caymus still owns Conundrum, they just market it as a separate brand.

            1. re: Robert Lauriston


              Caynus has no connection with Conumdrum. The label was sold off by Caymus and is now owned by the Wagner family. This may seem like splitting hairs to you, but the "hairs" are legally important ones.

              1. re: zin1953

                The Wagner family also owns Caymus. I wouldn't call that "no connection."

                1. re: Robert Lauriston

                  As I said, Robert, YOU may think it's "splitting hairs," but a) they are legally important hairs to split, and b) the winemaker for Conumdrum LEFT Caymus to make only Conundrum.

                  You wrote, "Caymus owns Conundrum." It doesn't. It USED to, but it no longer does. It is its own, separate entity and "Caymus has" -- as I wrote above -- "no connection with Conundrum."

                  1. re: zin1953

                    The family owned one business, and as it grew they split it into two.

                    Common ownership is from the consumer's perspective almost as significant a connection as a subsidiary relationship.

                    1. re: Robert Lauriston

                      Whatever, Robert -- I'm not wasting bandwidth arguing with you.

                      "Conundrum used to be made by Caymus. Now it's been spun off as acompletely separate operation."

                      How's that?

                      1. re: zin1953

                        "Spun off" suggests it was sold. It's the same owner and the same winemaker.

                        In my experience, as regards style and quality of wine, such continuity matters enormously. As a consumer I don't find branding and corporate structure very significant.

                          1. re: zin1953

                            I'm not disputing your point, just noting that there's little reason any fan of Conundrum should worry that the change would affect the quality of the wine the way that many "sell-offs" do.

          2. I was once told by the owner of a very well known winery in Sonoma that they only fill so many cases of their first line cab. If there is wine left, that same wine went into their second label bottles. They did this to control their top cab, only wanted X number of cases released. I wouldn't be a bit surprised if this is a somewhat common practice.

            12 Replies
            1. re: rtmonty

              >> They did this to control their top cab, only wanted X number of cases released. I wouldn't be a bit surprised if this is a somewhat common practice. <<

              If this is the case I bet the amount of such "surplous" wine is not huge and this wine is distributed among friends, best customers, etc. at a disount and most likely represents a phenomenal value. I doubt such wine ever finds its way to a market. Judging the quality of second-label wines you can actually find in stores they don't represent such terrific value after all.

              1. re: olasek

                In my opinion you are all are missing the point here. Screaming Eagle vs. Wispering Dove.. Most major producers have extra juice. What they do with it is second. Some make second lables.. some negociants buy it up and blend it what ever. I collect Bordeaux and my palate would not discern a second label from the first in a " B L IN D T A S T I N G " yes Blind will tell all. May I suggest that you try all that you can, take away price and let your palate chose. I am sure you will find better wines than WA/WS would tell you and heck Parker as well. Taste all that you can and find the values that you like not what someones else likes. Heck your drinking it,,

              2. re: rtmonty

                I cannot confirm or deny what some owner of a winery once told you, but what is common practice is similar to -- but in reality quite different than -- what you describe.

                Everyone makes roughly the same amount of (e.g.) Cabernet every year. Production may go up or down, say 5%, but no one is going to double the production level overnight. The market just isn't there for such a dramatic increase.

                Thus, perhaps (round numbers for the sake of discussion) Château Cache Phloe grows some Cabernet Sauvignon and Merlot grapes, and has contracts for another 200 tons. Maybe their own vineyards, which generally supply 50% of their needs, in 2007 yield a little more than normal. Perhaps the grower from whom they contract some grapes actually deliveers 210 tons. O.K., there is some extra grapes this year, and thus the POTENTIAL of extra wine.

                Normally, each day's harvest -- as well as each vineyard block -- is crushed and fermented separately. So, too, is each grape variety (unless it's planted as a field blend).

                Just one example: in doing your blending trials for the 2007 vintage (this would take place in all likelihood in 2009), it's agreed that the best Cabernet is 88% Cabernet Sauvignon, 8% Merlot, and 2% each of Cab Franc and Malbec. However, by volume, you crushed (and have wine) in the following percentages: 80% Cabernet, 10% Merlot, and 2% each of Cab Franc and Malbec. That's fine, because you crushed extra grapes in 2007, and so you can still make the same production level. You use all the Cab, most of the Merlot, and some of the Cab Franc and Malbec. What is left over is not the same blend as your "first line" Cabernet.

                But that doesn't matter anyway, because one lot of your Cabernet -- the one from young vines -- doesn't have the depth and complexity of the rest. Sp you have 500 gallons of Cab you don't want to use in your "reserve"/"first line"/"hot $#!+" Cabernet anyway. So you recalculate the amount of gallons of each variety that will be needed.

                You now have some Cabernet left over, too, but it still isn't the exact same wine as your $$$$ wine. You can make more money if you bottle it and sell it, as opposed to bulk it out, but one way or another, it's sold.

                Everyone does this. I don't know of any winery that ever bottled the EXACT SAME wine as their $$$$ under any sort of second label. There is/was always a difference . . .

                  1. re: zin1953

                    When wineries have a large surplus of a particular wine, they may sell it to a negociant, who may then sell the exact same wine under a different label.

                    1. re: Robert Lauriston


                      Having been on both sides of that equation for years -- as the winery selling off in bulk, and and the one buying on the bulk market -- what you saycan and does happen, but it is the RARE occurrance, not the NORM. Most wines that are sold off in bulk are not yet "finished" wines. They need more aging in barrel, for an example. Also, most bulk wines are not yet blended with other grape varieties . . .

                      In 12+ years of buying wines for several California negociant labels, I can count on one hand the number of times we bought wines from one winery that went straight into the bottle. It happened exactly twice -- once was a Pinot Noir from Carneros Creek Winery; the other was a Chardonnay from KJ. Every other time, regardless of variety or source, the wine was blended.

                      In some 10+ years of selling wine into the bulk market, I do not recall ever selling a finished wine. We'd sell x number of gallons of Cabernet -- for example -- that was a bit "too green" in a cool vintage, or that was too tannic (and we only needed to use a little bit). We'd sell off some Pinot Noir that was too light in color, or some Chardonnay that was picked too ripe; etc., etc., etc.

                      The reverse is also true -- we'd buy on the bulk market precisely to find some tannic Cabernet to give it some "ooomph," or some Malbec to add to the Cab; maybe some unoaked Chardonnay to blend into our barrel-fermented version; etc., etc.

                      1. re: zin1953


                        So........... bottom line answer to my original question.......... you would say there is virtually no existence of wines that are the same as a higher-end wine but under a different label and anyone telling you that is BSing? On the other hand, there are situations in which wine originally destined for much higher-end bottling winds up in lower-priced bottlings, but virtually always blended. Is that correct?

                        Given that set of facts, I would gather that the only way to 'score' great value secondary bottlings of such product is to have some degree of information as to where the primary juice comes from. But that seems to be a very difficult thing to determine. Are there any sources you know of for such information? I'm talking about at the wholesale level. It would seem to me that brokers and wineries selling such product would WANT such info known unless they are legally or morally prohibited from divulging it. I don't think I've ever had a wholesale rep offer such info yet I know such wines exist.

                        1. re: Midlife

                          >>> So........... bottom line answer to my original question.......... you would say there is virtually no existence of wines that are the same as a higher-end wine but under a different label and anyone telling you that is BSing? <<<

                          That would be my take on the situation, yes.

                          >>> On the other hand, there are situations in which wine originally destined for much higher-end bottling winds up in lower-priced bottlings, but virtually always blended. Is that correct? <<<

                          Yes -- on both sides of the Atlantic, as well as Aus and NZ.

                          The facts of second label Bordeaux are well-known and in countless books. But it can vary tremendously in New World, and specicially with American, wines -- from year to year.

                          Keep in mind that, in the "old days," that was what "burgundy" and "chablis" was for -- all the wines that didn't make it into your varietal wines could be blended into your semi-generic or generic wines. Today, not only do grapes cost too much, but semi-generic and genereic wines have all but disappeared from high(er)-end wineries.

                          Think of it this way: what doesn't go into Château Cache Phloe's Reserve Caberent Sauvignon might end up going into their regular Cabernet Sauvignon; what doesn't go into their regular Cab might go into their "Coastal Selection" Cabernet; and what doesn't go into that might end up intheir low-end red table wine or on the bulk market . . .

                          Because the REASONS behind why"this" didn't make it into the "reserve" / "first line" Cabernet vary from year-to-year, and because there is really no way to make "It wasn't good enough" sound like a reason to go out and buy it, the information is not widely disseminated. Everyone knows; not everyone tells . . .

                          1. re: Midlife

                            The rare winery that sells off high-end wine to a negociant who sells it significantly cheaper under a different label is probably struggling to avoid bankruptcy.

                            They'd have a nondisclosure clause with the negociant to ensure that the cheap stuff wouldn't undercut their regularly priced and labeled wine.

                            1. re: Robert Lauriston

                              Aha!!! That's what I've thought was the case. So it is pretty much BS when/if someone says that a wine is from juice that should have been part of XXX winery's bottling. Or at least there's likely no way to substantiate it. In contrast, though, I've been told that Opus One's Overture is virtually the same juice that's in Opus One; that they limit the number of cases of the one and any excess goes into the other. It's only logical that they would make that choice through a grading process, so if that's true, it's a matter of relative quality.

                              1. re: Midlife

                                Let's be specific.

                                Opus One, the winery, produces one wine: a Napa Valley Table Wine. (Check out their website: people confuse this with the name of the winery itself, and call the wine "Opus One."

                                Quite understandable. Oh, wait -- they make a second wine, too. That wine is called "Overture." OK?

                                Opus One
                                A Napa Valley
                                Red Table Wine

                                Opus One
                                Napa Valley

                                See what I mean?

                                OK, the "best" barrels go into Opus One's flagship Red Table Wine (RTW). One year, Opus One's Red Table Wine maybe 91% Cabernet Sauvignon; another year, 85% Cabernet Sauvignon; or maybe it's 96% . . . whatever. Whatever doesn't go into Opus One's RTW will be the "raw" material from which Overture is produced. But it isn't automatically tossed into a blending tank and bottled. It, too, undergoes blending trials and is crafted to be their second wine. If -- for example -- some Cabernet Sauvignon and Cabernet Franc are left out, they may be bulked out (depending upon volume), OR a winery (not Opus One) might even bottle the excess and sell it only to employees. (Chandon used to do that with their "seconds," but that's a different story.


                                More importantly, WHY were the wines left out of the blend in the first place? Is it because the wine is bad??? Unlikely. Is it because the best blend this time is 91% Cabernet Sauvignon, 7% Merlot, and 1% each Cab Franc and Malbec -- and that means there is some of each left over??? Far more likely.

                                It also could be that -- as I alluded to before -- the flavor and depth of (e.g.) this young vine Cabernet lessens the overall character of the old vine CS, and so the winemaker decided to put all the young vine CS into Overture. And so on and so on . . .

                                You write:

                                >>> So it is pretty much BS when/if someone says that a wine is from juice that should have been part of XXX winery's bottling. <<<

                                In the case of Opus One's Red Table Wine, all 169 acres (well, only 140+ are planted) of vines have an equal chance of producing grapes that will end up as a part of their "flagship" wine. As the growing season progresses, as each day's harvest and each variety is crushed and fermented separately, and as those separate wines age separately, some may fall to the side for one reason or another OR -- as great as they might be -- aren't needed at the end of the journey (as the best blend only requires 1% Malbec, and not 2%).

                                1. re: zin1953

                                  WOW! Jason, your knowledge is astounding! I learn something everytime I read your posts.

                                  Just to add my .02. Overture is sold only at the winery and is not available anywhere else. Also Overture is non vintage, which allows the winemaker to blend different vintages of wine. This is not the case with Opus One. OO is vintage specific.