Crazy about the quota or when money can't buy any wine

Mythical beasts are always alluring - the fact that they are rare, unusual, and hard to spot is part of their allure.

Oliver Thansan
Oliver Thansan
15 August 2023 Tuesday 10:31
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Crazy about the quota or when money can't buy any wine

Mythical beasts are always alluring - the fact that they are rare, unusual, and hard to spot is part of their allure. In the world of wine, as in the rest of the worlds, there are also unicorns that are highly valued due to their scarcity. We are talking about wines by quota, of which there are few bottles and a lot of interest.

"A quota wine is a wine with limited production and high demand, regardless of its price," explains Julián Talaverón, co-owner of the distributor Clos Terroir. “There are high-priced wines by quota and others that are relatively cheap given their quality, such as Albamar and Guímaro, in Galicia, or Antoine Sanzay, in the Loire, which can be great bets for the future. And the grace of all this is to get those high-quality wines at a good price. That is where the work of both distributors and sommeliers is”.

For his part, Arthur de Gaulejac, co-owner of the distributor Caskadia, who also has a career as a sommelier, explains that the existence of quotas lies in the law of supply and demand. "The raison d'être of the quotas is a high demand and they allow speculation to be stopped: instead of selling all the bottles to a single client, which would make him control the brand of that wine and be able to apply the margins he wanted, quotas are a system that allows these bottles to be distributed among different customers”. On the other hand, from his point of view, it adds more value to the wine than it already has and also allows some control: "it allows us to make a fine distribution, which is what the winery expects of us, the distributors: we choose in what restaurants and rooms the wineries will be in, what kind of service will serve them, what is the level of the sommelier who opens those bottles”.

The creation of a quota, says Joan Valencia, owner of the Cuvée 3000 distributor, has a lot to do with both the distributor and the winemaker doing their job very well. “The winemaker will create a quality product and the distributor will value it in such a way that, one day, its demand will exceed the supply. However, that has never been the goal: the goal is to sell well and distribute the bottles we have well."

Thus, a wine quota is the allocation per customer of that wine whose volume is limited. "It is the most equitable way for wineries to distribute their wines throughout a territory, which is very necessary for them," says Raúl Álvarez, from the Toledo distributor Vinnac. Álvarez reasons that the quota system can be beneficial for all the actors involved in the wine value chain, from the viticulturist to the end customer. “A limited supply and high demand means that the wine gains value, but not just economically. For example, the interest in drinking a wine will make us go to that restaurant that we know has it, which will generate fame for the restaurant”. Talaverón agrees: "above all, small projects benefit from the demand that will lead to quotas, as well as restaurants, which will differentiate themselves from the rest by having something of which there is little."

“We have moral contracts with the wineries,” says De Gaulejac. “For example, the large wineries choose which distributor they sell to in that country and how much they sell to, and we have the moral obligation to sell it only in the assigned country. There are unspoken agreements and common sense rules in the world of fine wines that, if you skip them or make a mistake, you lose the distribution of those wineries that it has been hard for you to achieve with solid work and effort in creating a recognized portfolio”.

Talaverón emphasizes that, once again, the allocation of the quota is not a matter of money. “It is more complex. We try to reward the most loyal customers with these quota wines. We are more lovers of wine than money. That is why we also take care of getting these wines to the restaurant and specialized store, so that these bottles can be opened and enjoyed, because for that the winery releases that quota to a distributor with full confidence and not for a resale that is benefit from a large margin, which would make you more of a broker than a dealer.” Selling at an oversized price, says Talaverón, can harm the distributor: "the wineries are sensitive to the sales of their wines and they know where they are, and at what price, and if they do not agree with any of this, it can play to the detriment of the next quota assigned to you”.

The scarcity of the product added to the desire to obtain it can generate real tensions. To avoid this, Valencia says that he applies a simple criterion: "I respect the seniority of the customer, and it may be a customer who buys a lot or buys little, but that's how I distribute the quotas." He defines "quota" as "the best distribution of the wine that reaches the distributor, wines for which there is already more demand than supply" and emphasizes the importance of an intangible (which will later materialize) between both actors: "the The trust placed in buying and selling is very great and, at times, it has been underestimated”.

"Money does not give happiness and it does not give wine," says Álvarez. “The attitude of thinking that because I can afford it I can have it is very childish. We don't have the right to wine because we can afford it." De Gaulejac expresses himself in a similar way: “Money does not allow you to drink all the great wines in the world. Of course, if a wine is on the menu, it becomes a commercial proposal, so the restaurant is obliged to sell it, although it may happen that they sold it hours before you arrived or that it is at a very high price so as not to promote a quick sale. ”. However, he clarifies that in Spain large margins are not usually applied on large wine lists. “It is the best country to drink fine wines. Getting certain bottles, sometimes, is a matter of connection and networks. Money is not worth it with this theme: you have to be able to appreciate that wine and, in less than a minute and a few words, the sommelier can find out if you are an aficionado or just a label collector”.

"Access to a quota for a distributor depends on both your needs and the relationship you have with the winery, including your impact on the value chain," says Álvarez. For this, the communication between distributor and winemaker becomes extremely important, although in advance many know the line of work of the distributor: “how it positions and how it defends the references. You try to do what is best for everyone, value all the wines, from the cheapest to the most exclusive, and thus the value of the chain will always be higher, from the base of the pyramid to the top”.

For Israel Ramírez, sommelier at the Saddle restaurant, the quotas are “a fair way to spread culture in different parts of Spain and the world so that many can try it. Imagine that the entire production of O Diviso, by Telmo Rodríguez, is kept by the same person: it would be like the chimes of Sol being given to a single family: we would have a very happy family and the rest would not know they existed”.

On the other hand, loyalty, both on the part of the distributor and the sommelier, is always rewarded. This is how Álvarez expresses it: “You distribute with more pleasure to whoever buys you the best, although distribution is always screwed up, you will always look bad and people will always want more than what you give them. But there is no more! If someone who never buys anything asks directly for a quota wine, I feel like he wants to make money at my expense. In this business, you trust the people who support you all year long.”

"We understand that suppliers are part of the team and that if we take care of them, they will be our best allies and participants in our success, which is nothing other than customer happiness." The allocation of a quota will depend on the relationship with those suppliers, he explains, and the decision to save it or drink it will rest with the restaurant. "We always try to make all the wines that our customers like available and, if we have enough bottles, give them the necessary time to reach their optimal point of maturity."

In a different way, Ramírez explains the procedure in his restaurant: “At Saddle, all wines are for sale, whether we know you or not. However, with our personalization system, we know if you married that wine, if that is your favorite wine or if you have been looking for this other wine for years. In that case, and without the client asking for it, we save a bottle for him because we want to make him happy. What's more: even if they only give us one or two bottles a year, if we know that they like it a lot, it is very likely that the day they come to see us that wine will be by the glass, since that way we can distribute it among more clients”.

The obsession with these wines is growing more and more within circles of wine insiders. “People are very aware of special wines just as, in general, society seeks to enjoy unique things. We live looking at social networks and you want to show that you have also tried that rare wine that is difficult to find, or that you have it in your business”, explains Talaverón, who reads the situation as a growth of curiosity towards wine and an attempt to drink better, regardless of the high or low price of wine,