Evening Land Vineyards—
Evening Land Vineyards is embarked on ambitious plans to import wines from France made under the Evening Land umbrella. The goal is to bring better consumer access to wines only available through gray market channels. These wines will be made by Dominique Lafon for the Evening Land portfolio.
Mark Tarlov's import plans could ignite a new way of doing business with European wineries that could sidestep the gray market channels for hard-to-get wines. Few of Lafon’s red wines get to the U.S. and when they do, they are often snapped up before consumers have a chance to purchase them. Tarlov’s idea could provide a legitimate channel to get the wines directly to the consumer.
The gray market is the trade of wine (or other commodities) through distribution channels which, while legal, are unofficial, unauthorized or unintended by the original producer. (By contrast, a black market is the trade of goods that are illegal or goods distributed through illegal channels). Private interests obtain hard-to-get wine and resell it at a much higher price through auctions or online. The original manufacturer (the winemaker) never sees a penny of the marked up prices, and most consumers pay much higher prices for the wine, if they can find it.
As Tarlov became more involved with the wine industry, he found the gray market disturbing for a number of reasons. Many of the French wines he prefers are brought into the U.S. by an importer and then sold to a distributor on the three-tired system. The three tiers are producers, distributors, and retailers. A producer must sell to a distributor who must then sell to a retailer.
But once the wines hit the U.S. market, they are snapped up by distributors and many of the small, hard-to-get wines never reach retail markets. Eric Asimov, wine critic for the New York Times, has referred to the laws governing the distribution of alcohol as “confusing, arcane, inconsistent, often ignored and rarely discussed.”
After meticulous research, Tarlov approached Lafon about making his French red wines under the Evening Land label and shipping the bottles to the U.S.
“We pick the barrels we want in France, and then the wines will come in as Domaine Lafon produced and bottled for Evening Land Vineyards,” said Tarlov. “We can sell the wines direct to the consumer. This truly becomes a custom crush facility.”
The wines will come in at a more reasonable price, explains Tarlov, thus saving consumers money because they won’t be paying gray market prices through the back channels. In addition, the winemaker will see a little extra money.
“In gray markets, the winemaker never sees any additional money for their efforts,” said Tarlov. “We can get these wines in the hands of consumers and the winemaker will make extra money. I can see other wineries doing it this way, and the winner is the consumer.”
Evening Land Vineyard is dedicated to terroir and the expression of the vineyard in the glass. Tarlov says he wants his portfolio to showcase the terroir from Santa Barbara, Sonoma, the Willamette Valley and France. Wine enthusiasts can taste the wines side-by-side and better understand the place where the vines grow.
“This will lead to conversations and discussions sparked by the wines,” said Tarlov. “That is what it’s all about, allowing wine enthusiasts to taste and smell the differences of micro-climates in a glass.”