Sunday, January 23, 2022

Is there a Rolex of the wine world?

The world of wine, for those who follow it, can appear to be unpredictable and chaotic, an organized ferment of a sort. In the world of horology (watches) there are similar furors. One element though in the watch world, that I’m searching for in the wine world, is the domination of one brand at the highest (super premium) level. In the world of watches, that brand is Rolex.

With a wide array of styles, shapes, sizes and upscale price ranges, Rolex is considered to be one of the top watches to own and the top watchmaker in the world. Agree or not, this is a recognized matter by watch enthusiasts, as they routinely and regularly emphasize to me. Being a novice in that world, I concur to the opinion of those with more experience and expertise in this matter.

What is interesting to this wine (and watch) lover, though, is how Rolex, which I am told makes about a million watches a year, manages to influence and lead that world. That’s a lot of watches. In the world of wine, when we hear of a winery making a million bottles, they seem to escape that rarefied air which marks them as exclusive. Not so, with Rolex. In fact, try going down to your local jeweler or Rolex dealer and see if you can buy a watch in the store. And good luck with that. They are virtually unobtainable from their primary source. Oh, you can find one in the lively secondary market. And you will pay perhaps a 100-200% or even 300% premium for the privilege of strapping one of those watches on your wrist. If it ever makes it past your safe deposit box.

So, do we have anything like that in the wine world? I’ve been racking my brain, and I’m befuddled to find anything like the phenomenon of Rolex in the wine department.

I know. You’re raising your hand with your “Screaming Eagle” or “Chateau Le Pin” answers. Or “Petrus” or “Gaja” or “Monfortino” or “Sassicaia.” All good attempts. But in my reconnoitering, I keep asking the question, “Is there a Rolex of the wine world?”

My thoughts went to the power house wineries, like Lafite, Opus, Mouton, Antinori. But even with their largish production standards, one can still go into a Total Wine, for example, and pick up a bottle. Or Moet. Dom Perignon is an ultra-premium wine, hundreds of thousands of cases made yearly. And still with a rather good reputation for quality. But unobtainable? I could go to my local supermarket and secure a bottle in minutes.

No, Rolex belongs to its own universe. Huge industrial production (by wine standards) and super premium priced. But virtually impossible to find in the normal channels. Oh yeah, you can find a replica, easily. More easily than a DRC fake.

Which made me think of DRC. The pinnacle of Pinot Noir. But still a small production. More like a Richard Mille or Roger Dubuis, two iconic watch makers that make far less watches than Rolex. And far  more expensive too.

Yes, one can find examples of wine and watches that run parallel in their respective worlds. And watch brands like Cartier, Patek Philippe or Audemars Piguet can easily be compared to the Screaming Eagles and Le Pin’s of the world. Still, the Rolex example, in the wine world, eludes me.

Gallo? Is Gallo the Rolex of the wine world? More like the Timex of the wine world. Sorry Gallo, no go.

I truly cannot come up with a wine in the wine world that models what Rolex does in its world. I’ve scratched my head so hard I have a bald spot in that place. Nada. Zip. Niente. Nichts.

This is truly a Swiss marketing (and manufacturing) marvel. They’ve done something the world of wine has not been able to do, so far. And to make it even more compelling, Rolex is a not-for-profit foundation. They don’t need the money. And they don’t need to make any more watches than they already do. So what if the watches aren’t available in retail to mere mortals? That’s not their problem, is it? The wine world has long ago not worried about that little detail. It’s a matter of allocation. The vines make what they make in any given year. Some years better than others. But Rolex keeps making watches, even during the pandemic. It’s a miracle. Wine has nothing on Rolex and the Swiss. Nothing.

I just find it fascinating that another world has done what the wine world has yes to figure out – and that is to make one of the top (if not the #1) brands in its world, at large scale, and to be almost impossible to procure through normal channels. That’s a winemaker’s wet dream, it is. But for now, it is a dream that belongs to another world.


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