On the eve of the ouster of Groupon CEO Andrew Mason, I thought I’d tell you about my least favorite Groupon offer — the one I accepted from Wine Insiders. About two years ago, I jumped for the Wine Insiders deal without checking any ratings or reviews. They make a good offer, after all: “sensational” wine finds at great prices.
Whining about Wine Insiders
It looks like a lot of folks have problems with Wine Insiders delivering on time and delivering what was ordered (take a peek at Yelp or scam alert sites). Others aren’t super-pleased with the quality of the wine. I fall into that camp, and I’m taking time to write about it because the way they market their wine (on Groupon and elsewhere) is downright deceptive.
When I first saw the Groupon offer, it looked like Wine Insiders was really digging deep to find wine from out-of-the-way winemakers. In fact, I hadn’t heard of a single one of their California wines. These were great finds — or so it seemed. Had I dug deeper, I would have realized many of the wineries they advertise don’t exist at all.
Inside Wine Insiders
Wine Insiders appears to be bottling (or working in conjunction with middle of the road winemakers to label) wine themselves. Whatever the mechanism, they pass the wines they’ve likely had a hand in creating off as a “find.”
Check ‘em out:
- La Mer Vineyards
- Longchase Vintners
- Pearce Cellars
- Owens Crossing
Google yields no websites. Nothing.
Wine Insiders tips their cards a little when they talk about the Owens Crossing Zinfandel: “Owens Crossing is a legendary path in the San Joaquin Valley first forged during the 19th century as gold miners spread out to settle throughout California. Today, the saga of the Owens Family has faded into history, making room for one of the largest, high quality, state of the art vineyard [sic] in the world.”
OK. So this Wine Insiders “find” comes from one of the largest vineyards in the world. And no amount of googling yields any folksy gold rush tales about a place called Owens Crossing. Got it.
Similarly, their About Us page boasts: “I used my connections in the industry to gain access to both well-known and hard-to-find wines.” And: “ We approve only 5 out of 100 bottles we sample, ensuring you get delicious wine every time.”
The truth is probably something more like “we partner with central valley California mega wineries (who produce well-known wines you wouldn’t want to drink) to create and market niche-looking wines from so-so or remaindered grapes.”
Why it’s a Groupon scam
So what makes Wine Insiders’ practices a Groupon scam? It’s the fact that they position themselves as people who have travelled the world to find you something you couldn’t otherwise find. Trader Joes and Costco do their own private labels. Trader Joes even does “TJ’s exclusives” that get their own names/branding. But they always position it as “this wine comes from one of our favorite wineries–we were lucky to get it.” They’re open about it. Similarly, the Kirkland label is a declaration that you’re getting a generic version of a name brand. Wine Insiders stretches the the truth.
To Wine Insider’s credit, they once offered almost no wines that existed anywhere else. Now, you see a few (like the z52 zinfandel) that can be found elsewhere. Bottom line, though, you’re better off getting the same (or similar) wines from the grocery store. If you randomly pick bottles that cost $5-$10 less than their Wine Insiders analogs, you’re likely to do just as well. For example, that 2007 z52 zin costs $4 more from Wine Insiders than the winery charges, and you have to pay a big shipping charge.
If you want a wine club with real finds, check out Lot 18, subscribe to the K&L newsletter, find a favorite wine blogger — just don’t expect Groupon to deliver it.