With the economy still in the doldrums and wineries in Washington and elsewhere feeling the effects, many are looking for creative ways to generate revenue. This is especially true for wineries with limited offerings under the $25 mark consumers are currently focused on. So it was that two ‘mystery wine’ offers from Washington recently showed up on the Garagiste mailing list.

Garagiste is a Washington-based, on-line retailer that sends out e-mail offerings on discounted wines numerous times per week. Garagiste generally focuses outside of Washington with occasional offerings from inside the state. A section of the first Washington mystery wine email offer from Garagiste read as follows:

There was a rumor that a very prominent (famous?) winery in our state was quietly looking to sell a portion of their 2007 flagship wine to drum up funds (see blog above). The economy has hurt everyone but I never thought I’d see the day when THIS winery needed to raise money by underselling their wine. In no uncertain terms, this is one of the crème-de-la-crème entrants in our state with a style that is definitive. I’ve agreed under penalty of flogging to never reveal the name of the winery so don’t even ask – one taste of the wine and many of you will be able to guess. Keep in mind, this is not declassified wine – it is their exact top-drawer 2007 Bordeaux blend that retails (even on discount) for $50-75 (maybe it’s over $100 this year). That’s the only information I can give you.

The wine was offered at $16.94 with Trey Busch of Sleight of Hand Cellars providing the wine through his Renegade Wine Co. (To be clear, this is not a Sleight of Hand wine but rather Busch was serving as the middleman).

The email offering set off a firestorm of discussion on the eRobertParker.com bulletin board as to the possible sources (NB: you could read the thread but the BB has since become member-only). The guesses were more wild than informed. Still, it is a discussion no winery would like to see its name associated with. Personally, I am not interested in what winery it could be (truly, so no point in asking). Rather, what I do think is interesting is how many wineries it could be. Numerous Washington wineries are facing extremely difficult economic decisions and are looking for ways to save money or generate cash flow.

The email offering also set off a mad dash for the wine at Garagiste, which immediately sold out of the several hundred available cases, with requests for several times that. Several weeks later, a second such mystery offer from Washington went out with similar language. It is not likely to be the last.

Wineries selling off additional juice is nothing new. However, these wines are said to be finished wines from high-end wineries. This is essentially a recognition that the winery is not going to be able to sell these wines at their normal retail price in the current economic climate. They are therefore cutting their losses to generate revenue but looking to do so quietly. Other ways wineries have looked to generate revenue is by creating a second label at a lower price point. Most drastically, some wineries have decided to not purchase fruit for a particular vintage. These are all steps some wineries in the state have taken and others are considering. Just signs of the difficult economic times.