• May 9, 2016 at 3:57 am #27575

    Many stickers are based on wine competition results, or reviews on websites or in books, including my own ‘New Zealand Wines – Michael Cooper’s Buyer’s Guide’. However, others are from so-called ‘independent critics’, who are effectively PR agents, handing out consistently high ratings, while invoicing the wineries directly for their reviews (and often for the stickers too). Some of the serious wine producers refuse to play this game, but others are openly supportive. I would like to hear about members’ experiences with gold-stickered wines. Do the stickers offer useful guides to quality?

    Jens Hack
    May 20, 2016 at 11:51 am #27588

    My initial reaction was that if the idea that stickers cannot be trusted becomes common knowledge, stickers become no useful guide to quality. They may eventually become disadvantageous to sales – perhaps even pushing consumers to non-stickered brands – or at least until a consumer has the time and can distinguish between an authentic sticker and an untrustworthy example – for which I doubt they have the time or inclination.

    However, while the mass of consumers remain uneducated to sticker shenanigans, they will probably use them as as a guide to quality until the abuse of trust becomes known, taken personally, and results in a change of behaviour.

    Here in Amsterdam stickers are most prevalent in supermarkets, the exception being budget supermarkets like Aldi where an award sticker may feel suspicious. Specialist retail shops have fewer stickers within their higher-priced range; quality cues can come from other sources like knowledgeable staff. Looking about, stickers seem to be more prevalent on New World brands. The worst example I found was a New Zealand Sauvignon Blanc that had six gold stickers! This too may raise suspicions; if a wine is so heavily awarded, why is it being sold at €8.39 – less than NZD$15 – in a retail chain?

    June 2, 2016 at 4:03 am #27593

    Hi Jens
    There is already research evidence in New Zealand that stickers are not universally trusted, and tend to be of greatest interest to ‘low involvement’ wine consumers, keen to reduce their risk when buying wine. See my article in the NZ Listener, ‘Suckers for Stickers?’, published May 20 2014 (www.listener.co.nz/lifestyle/wine/michael-cooper-suckers-for-stickers/). ‘Sophisticated’ wine buyers, more likely to understand that outstanding producers seldom enter shows, tend to be more influenced by long-term factors, such as brand reputation. In South Africa, some critics argue that the organisers of wine competitions gain more from the events (via entry fees) than the exhibitors.

    Jens Hack
    June 2, 2016 at 10:01 am #27594

    Hi Michael
    I find it a shame that it appears to become more culturally accepted, when not legally regulated, to use marketing techniques designed to con the ‘low-involvement’, novice, naive or innocent wine consumer into purchase. It becomes a question of business ethics that I find sadly lacking. At many levels stickers cannot be trusted, from the PR-led competitions to the entrants themselves as was the case with Wither Hills – although cleared – a few years back (http://www.winespectator.com/webfeature/show/id/Controversy-in-New-Zealand_3313).

    Thanks for the link, I read the article and noticed the more recent ‘Can you trust all star ratings on wine bottles?’, (http://www.listener.co.nz/lifestyle/wine/can-you-trust-those-star-ratings-on-wine-bottles/). In that article you discuss the wine labels themselves and how the same mischievousness is used to dupe the consumer. I’ve seen NZ wines sold here in Europe under different brands, different price points and in different retail channels that are very probably the same bulk imported wine, bottled and labelled here. Some producers have admitted to it being so (off-the-record) and that there’s nothing legally amiss in this practice. They are probably correct. The websites behind the labels are cleverly constructed to provide an extra layer of deception for the ‘medium-involvement’ consumers who take the time to check.

    Unfortunately, having been confronted with many of these ‘facts’, I start to suspect New Zealand wines in general. This extends to the BioGro certification that commands price premiums over here – not necessarily a reflection of the BioGro organisation itself which I support – but where the opportunity to make extra profit exists you’ll find those willing to manipulate the process. This must be very costly to police and why I find BioGro labelled wine for ‘around a tenner’ ($NZD15) hard to believe.

    The effect for me is to visit New Zealand every few years and pass by the vineyards. I’ve found talking to the vineyard workers where possible is the best source of information on wine integrity. I also find myself trying more and more French (and European) wine; their passion and obstinate adherence to processes going back generations engenders more trust.

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