The vintage of a wine refers to the year it was produced, and several factors greatly influence the quality of wine for any given year. For example, whether it was a wet or dry year may suggest whether the vine was stressed and hint at the resulting quality of the fruit. For this (and other) reason(s), wine ratings that score the quality of any given wine are specific to that wine’s vintage. A Cabernet Sauvignon may score quite high one year, and then, for whatever environmental or other reason, score poorly the following year. The point is, vintage matters when consumers choose wine.
This accepted logic seems to be getting certain retailers in hot water and under the scrutinizing eye of consumer advocacy groups. Recently, a class action lawsuit filed in Los Angeles County Superior Court against BevMo! alleged a “bait and switch” strategy in which certain wines are advertised with high ratings, but the wines displayed and offered for sale next to those advertisements were from a different vintage. For instance, a 2011 Cabernet Sauvignon may be advertised as rated with 93 points, but a Cabernet Sauvignon from the same winery, but a different year, was on the shelf or delivered from an online purchase. The lawsuit alleges that this “pattern and practice” misleads consumers and amounts to unlawful and unfair business practice.
The class action lawsuit is not an isolated instance. Just this month, a Connecticut-based consumer advocacy group sent warning letters to over 20 retailers ranging in size from small to large. The letters informed each retailer that the group has alerted the Connecticut Department of Consumer Affairs of the alleged misleading practices and urged removal of all “deceptive” signs, citing specific examples in each letter.
Advertising one vintage, but displaying and offering another for sale is a great example of the importance of accurate labeling and signage—for both in-person and online sales. Ensuring that consumers are provided with correct information upon which to base purchase decisions is imperative for retailers to avoid potentially enormous fines, penalties, and costly litigation.