Wine Talk

Snooth User: Richard Foxall

Genius or insanity? Rimmerman's "German Cellar"

Posted by Richard Foxall, Sep 14, 2012.

Just got this from Garagiste, and have all sorts of weird thoughts.  Like, is this for real?  But more importantly, will Rimmerman succeed in keeping this from going to auction, or is he just rewarding a lucky few who will turn around and sell the most valuable bottles, while others will have overpaid for who-knows-what?  Would it really be worse if these sat in some billionaires basement? (Which, if this was all its cracked up to be, it would have been kept whole and sold to a serious collector, don'tcha think?) After all, it's not like the masses who buy his $10 Creve Couer Cotes du Rhone and his sub-$30 Chateauneuf (that would be me) are going to buy a three bottle pig-in-a-poke for almost $100 per bottle, so it's not exactly democratizing wine all that much.  (Now, if he said, look, I guarantee that you'll get one bottle of a first growth Bord from a good vintage and the rest could be junk, I'd probably bite.

Finally, as my friend asked, Nazi wine anyone?

The German Cellar: 1864-1988

Dear Friends,

This is one of the most important treasure troves of wine I’ve come across in my career and I still can’t believe something like this exists – undiscovered and held in slumber for so many years.

Collected and stored by the same family for generations and held in the catacombs under Europe for decades, this piece of history has been through two world wars, the advent of electricity, motor cars, the Atomic Age, Rock and Roll, an so on. Decades and trends have come and gone in the world above its dark and dank respite but its day of discovery was going to come eventually and today is that day.

Introduced to me by an individual that knew I would care for it with the utmost sensitivity (instead of sending it to auction where it most certainly would have been one of the highlights of the 2012 circuit and a sure cover story for most), this parcel of fine German (and Alsatian) wine defies all logic. 

With bottles dating back to 1864, a prominent German collector I’ve known for many years claims it is potentially the most interesting (and valuable) collection of Germanic wine he has ever seen...but monetary value is not necessarily why we do this.

After inspecting the entire parcel, I'm not sure if the wine itself or several of the incredible original wooden cases with untouched/intact grass and straw are more alluring or more valuable to a collector of historic memorabilia (I’ll post a few photos of the WWII cases, in German “ammunition” 2 x 4’s on our twitter feed this afternoon, Garagiste_Wine ) - the cases are not for sale, they will be donated to a museum or preservation institute.

Ok, all of the above is tantalizing but I'm sure you want or know how you can get your eager mitts on a few of the treasures?

The long and short of your involvement goes something like this: 

• There are so many wines and so many different producers (nearly 100 different producers - many in single bottle lots), there is no way to divide the parcel into any rhyme or reason unless it is done in a random fashion (many of the wineries are undocumented or long extinct - which may make some of the bottles even more valuable). I’ve also spent a large amount of time attempting to divide the bottles into “equal worth” 3-pack sets but it is also an impossibility.

• The range spreads the entire gamut – from dry to Kabinett to Beerenauslese to Eiswein with the deepest part of the collection from 1930-1976. The bonus is that the family spent several decades collecting Alsatian wine as well – most from the late 1950’s through the early 1970’s – that parcel has also been included here and will be lumped into the 3-packs (old Alsatian wine is even more difficult to come by than German wine – it just isn’t found in this quantity with 40-60 years of age, in fact, I have never seen a parcel like this, not even once).  Keep in mind this lot has been at rest for so many years, many labels are tattered and have disintegrated long ago but corks don't lie – they still tell the tale of producer and vintage (in most cases). Ullage is all over the map but I will try to separate the best bottles from those that have lower ullage and not include the lowest in this parcel. In other words, this is a real cellar – the bottles and corks may look old and ugly but the dirt and debris that accompanies them is part of their allure.

• The only fair way to do this is to put everything in a huge group and pull three bottles at at a time, from different corners of the room, and pack them into individual 3-pack time capsules (my guess is that each 3-pack will be unique – unlike any other). Yes, it’s possible for you to receive 3 bottles of 1988 Kabinett but I doubt that will happen - actually, I will make sure that doesn't happen. In essence, there’s no guarantee you will receive a certain wine but this is an opportunity to relish in the experience not in what you didn’t receive – if nothing else, I'm sure most of the packs will have something from the 1970’s, 1960’s and 1950’s...not to mention the 1940’s, 1930’s and 1920’s.

• In the sprit of the community and as a chance to give back to all of you, instead of going for broke at $800-1000/3-pack (more than fair in my opinion), I will do the opposite - $268.70 per random 3-pack, even if it includes an 1864 (which most certainly is worth thousands on its own, $5000-10,000 per bottle? Even the 1940’s and 1950’s examples are worth hundreds per bottle – some of the Eiswein and TBA from WWII is priceless in my opinion).

• My only caveat is this: please share and enjoy your three bottles – DO NOT SEND THEM TO AUCTION (I could have done that and it would have been much easier and less effort), especially if you receive one of the pre-1900 bottles. Please take this opportunity to experience a sliver of history – my hope is that it is worth more than any monetary gain you could realize.

• I have tried a number of the bottles (they were difficult for me to open in an emotional sense, I almost felt bad) and they are indeed in fantastic condition.

Ok, big deep breath...

Here goes...

EXTREMELY LIMITED – 1 x 3-pack/person until we run out...

The German Cellar 3-Pack - $268.70

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Reply by JonDerry, Sep 14, 2012.

I basically have Garagiste on ignore these days, but this is pretty interesting. Would imagine most folks who got a rare and valuable bottle would choose to sell it.

As far as his comment "I could have done that and it would've been much easier and less effort."

Well, ok. But how about the most important question, besides how much your back might hurt. Would it have been as profitable? The Allure of giving a huge list of readers some random chance at hitting the lottery is probably going to end up taking in more money than the auctions would. He takes so many liberties too by putting inflated values on what he's selling: $800-1,000/ 3-pack (more than fair in my opinion). We have such few facts to go on other than knowing there are really old and likely undrinkable bottles here that we're not supposed to try and sell to other collectors.

But we can all marvel at how great he is for acquiring this lot, and if you believe what he says, gladlyhand out your $268.70, afterall it's basically charity, he could've charged so much more! 

Reply by Richard Foxall, Sep 14, 2012.

Yeah, funny how 1) he admits that some of the labels are gone, so how can you price those, or even be sure what they are?  (Corks don't lie? C'mon!) 2) he doesn't name any wines at all.  At all! 

I'm inching him farther into the "huckster" category after this one--I think JD has it right that he might wind up making a lot more this way.  Some of those bottles are going to be worthless, and who knows what the market is for some of those old wines, if indeed they are so unique?  I suspect that, if the lot was all that, it would have been swallowed up by a big auction house or retailer who uses names.  Or was the family only willing to sell it to someone as charitably minded as they, that is, one J.R.?

Reply by GregT, Sep 14, 2012.

I agree with you guys.

He has a great idea in general. The problem is that he's wildly inconsistent.  He says he likes high-acid, low fruit wines that garner 88 or 89 points from the main critics.  And he'll have some Muscadet from time to time, or some Chinon or Chinon-wannabe.  Then he'll have some "great secret juice" from somewhere else. So you give it a shot and it's syrupy, alcoholic, and horrid.

I'm not one to limit myself to those "high-acid" wines, but on occasion I like Muscadet.  But the prose rarely matches the wines so unless I know the wine, it's gotta be on ignore. And a random selection for $278? It would be just my luck to get some Alsatian swill that I'd never give a second look.

Nah.  Same reason I don't like Fresh Direct.  I want to pick my own stuff thank you.

But he's definitely going to get some hype on the internet boards and I think he's a brilliant marketer.  That's not a put down either - it's about selling and if his customers are happy, he and they come out winners.

Reply by EMark, Sep 15, 2012.

19th-century American empresario P.T Barnum had an interesting observation about the birth frequency of suckers.

Reply by Richard Foxall, Sep 15, 2012.

I was really looking forward to GregT and Emark's comments, so I'm glad to see them here. 

I truncated his email.  He does seem to have customers who like him, even adore him, as you'll see below.  I will soon be posting a very long commentary about online wine merchants that tells a bit about my impressions of Garagiste.  Even though I have purchased some really good wines that I haven't seen elsewhere, and some really well known wines at fabulous prices (Ramey Larkmead, aka Mystery Wine Twenty-something), I read the emails for amusement now, mostly, but with annoyance even then-- his misuse of words and frequent typos bespeak a guy who is rushed but will not allow someone to edit him.  Here's the bit I cut off:

Dear Friends,

First of all, I would be remiss if I didn't thank all of you for allowing us to receive our fifth Wine Enthusiast Wine Star nomination in the last eight years ( ). We have now received more nominations over the years than any other entity in any other category (from anywhere in the world) and for that I am not only humbled but give my sincerest thanks in complete humility to all of you. Even Susan Lucci won eventually so let's get it done this year! To celebrate, here’s a little gift...well, more than a little gift...


Reply by JonDerry, Sep 15, 2012.

Well said, inconsistency is the worst for those of us on a budget, which is basically everyone. His favoring of high acid/low fruit wines, but occasionally selling fruit bombs is interesting, though he's clearly high volume and passes along whatever's convenient.

As far as buying from Garagiste, I definitely stick to wines I know or am already interested in (Flaccianello, Rancia Riserva come to mind)as well as other lesser known about world wines that come with some intrigue and a cheap sticker price. 

And then occassionally, you might even learn something.

Reply by GregT, Sep 15, 2012.

Yep. If you know the wine, he sometimes has super deals.

If you only know the region however, it's a crapshoot. From Washington he had some "mystery" wines. One was Nicholas Cole Camille from Columbia Valley.  Very good wine. One was Hightower Cab from Red Mountain. Very good wine. One was Renegade Wine Company Reserve from Columbia Valley. Undrinkable.

All were good deals if you compared to the regular prices, but then again, if you would never have bought one of them in the first place, it's no deal at all.

The reds are all over the map, from sweetly syrupy and alcoholic to fruitless metallic and bitter. That's not only WA either - he's branched out into Spain and those were failures, he's hit or miss in France, and he's looking even farther afield. He seems to be more consistent with whites, wherever they're from.

BTW - he's doing about $30M a year and is essentially a solo act.

Reply by Richard Foxall, Sep 17, 2012.

GregT, where did you find that number?  I'm not surprised, but I figured he kept it pretty close to the vest. 

He does have staff back in WA, but minimally, and it seems to be just him selecting the wines, unlike WineAccess or anyone else I am aware of.

Reply by GregT, Sep 17, 2012.

Bloomberg Business Week

Now whether or not you trust any figures Elin McCoy give you - that's a different issue. But she put the number out there.

Reply by JonDerry, Sep 18, 2012.

Thought it was an interesting number myself, but I think it sounds about right.

Let's break down what a million dollars is anyway, cause it has a habit of sounding bigger than what it is. Ever hear of athletes blowing their career 100M earnings, etc? Well, that 30M is just gross, I'm sure he pays plenty for the wine, storage, employees, extra overhead that makes it go.

Anyway, other ways to look at 30M

300 x 100K 

30,000 x 1K (I'm responsible for at least 2 of these 30,000, and I didn't get involved for long this year)

He really does throw in some high ticket value offers from time to time. Wonder what this German Cellar deal will take in, could be a couple hundred thousand easy.

Reply by GregT, Sep 18, 2012.

It's true Jon - if he has 120,000 people on his list, and I figure it's a dynamic list with a lot of turnover around a hard-core group, say 100,000 people a year buy something. That's only $300 each on average. He has a lot of wines under and around $20, so roughly a case or two per person. And when he had his warehouse sale he caused massive traffic jams, so there are a lot of devoted folks.

He's doing well for himself anyhow - my gut feeling is that most of the expenses go to cost of goods. He's buying directly and selling futures so he's not really part of the 3-tier system. Stuff comes in and gets shipped out right away unless he's holding it for you, so warehousing and inventory shouldn't be major expenses, although I imagine his UPS bill is pretty high.  Same thing for many other retailers though.

If you're a typical importer and buy for 2 dollars at the winery, the distributor gets it for 4 dollars, sells it to a retailer for 8 bucks, and the customer buys for 15 dollars. In each step, you have stuff sitting in inventory waiting to be sold. Rimmerman cuts out at least one, and really 2 steps, but he doesn't have to warehouse as much inventory.  So he's making the same markup as anyone else in the system but having cut out the distributor and or retailer, and the inventory costs, the customer gets a break.  He really needs a  good tracking system, database, etc., and seems to have it - he kept a few cases for me for several years. 

Great model. But at the end, he's finally a retailer and his hype has to be treated as any other retailer's. What he's done that's different is he's really established a personal kind of relationship with his customers - even if they've never met him, the personal e-mails serve to create a relationship different from most mass-market stuff.  No animation, no graphics or illustrations, they don't seem slick, etc.

Reply by Richard Foxall, Sep 18, 2012.

He passes on his UPS costs to the consumers.  This is one of the biggest gripes that his customers have.  There's no upfront shipping costs mentioned (it is spelled out on the website), and it's purely variable--no enforceable promises at all on costs.  He claims to make NO profit off the shipping, but his cost of shipping--about $55 a case, when NO one charged more than $30--is inexplicably high.  He constantly assures customers that he's working on lowering it, and it goes nowhere.  If you are local and can pick it up, then you can get around that.  No help for me there.

On the other hand, although he has your money in hand, he does have storage costs because he hangs onto your wine until he can fill whole cases and only ships twice a year.  Even then, he'll often hold onto a wine that arrived a couple rounds of shipping ago, rather than fill a case with it,  and he breaks up orders (you get two of your three bottles now, and the last one whenever they get around to it--unless you pitch a fit and they send it in a shipment) .  There's not only no rhyme or reason behind what to expect, but his tracking system is almost useless--you have to keep track of every bottle you received or didn't receive yourself.  I recently went through a couple rounds of pointing out to them that they were showing over a case of bottles shipped that had never been sent.  This was my second time trying to get them to ship things rationally, which they seem unable to do, having sent me a box with 10 wines when I clearly had a full case ready to ship--and now I have two leftover bottles that they will undoubtedly charge me full freight to ship, in spite of their endless screw ups.  I feel like they are holding my wine hostage to get me to round out a case so they can mess up again. 

As for the wines, that's a rant for another time.  Suffice to say, some have been really high QPR, some have been mediocre, and at least one of the mystery wines was awful, so far.  Hits were Mayasara Pinot, the Nouvelere Crozes-Hermitage, the Chionetti Dolcetto (a slam dunk--it's the best dolcetto maker in the world, according to many), and the Dioro Valsacro Rioja.  His Creve Couer CdR was fine, but tasted like a fruit-bomb for the most part, not a "high acid" natural wine.  The Dois Irmaos "Mystery Wine #22" takes up valuable space in my cellar and the controversy over that may never fully die down.  I haven't opened my Huet horizontal or my Rameys, but I can't imagine any problems there. But his "cutting edge" talk about natural/bio high-acid wines seems like "emperor's new clothes" talk to deflect problems of people getting wine that is just not very good--better to pre-select  clients who want "difficult to understand" wine to begin with.

Just FYI, I tallied all my purchases with him.  From Dec. 2010 to Dec. 2011, I spent $2180 on wine.  I bought 96 bottles of wine just in that one year period. I haven't ordered since.  My average per bottle was $22.70, with a high of $57 (Aldo Conterno Barolo) and a low of $9 (a case of "value" Bordeaux that I split with friends).  Almost a year later, he is still sitting on 14 bottles.  Like most of his customers, I was put on to him by a wine friend who touted Rimmerman's palate, and off the beaten path sensibility--but that friend has also soured on Garagiste for the same reasons: irregular shipping, pig in a poke wines that turn out to be so-so or worse.  On the other hand, the deals on Huet, Ramey, Vieux Telegraphe CdP, the Chionetti, were incredibly good, at least before the shipping factored in--then they were just good deals. 

Reply by JonDerry, Sep 18, 2012.

Yeah, I'm thinking about taking a road trip to pick up my wine. Maybe a flight up to Oakland, and drive from there, ship the wines back down via GSO myself.

Reply by Mike Madaio, Sep 18, 2012.

Incidentally, after some discussion (and some wine), some friends and I decided to take a flyer on the German 3-pack. The email was originally sent out at 4:45p on a Friday afternoon. I replied at 8:35p that I would take one, and I did not get in before they sold out. Quite amazing how many people can just pull the trigger on something like that with seemingly very little thought.

Reply by Richard Foxall, Sep 18, 2012.

MM, that wasn't JR's low alcohol wine, was it?  Maybe something a little stronger that got your defenses down? ;-)  Seriously, I would love to find out from someone who gets some what their package was.  I'll check some other boards that obsess over things Garagiste after the fall shipping. 

No doubt it provoked thought, which is the main reason I ever read my Garagiste emails.

Reply by JonDerry, Sep 19, 2012.

So we get another interestingly radical e-mail from Mr. Rimmerman changing Beaujoulais apparently. Anyone taking a stab?

Reply by Richard Foxall, Sep 19, 2012.

Best part was the self-reference as The Great Enabler. 

Reply by GregT, Sep 19, 2012.

Fox - you're right about the fact that you pay for shipping, but that's true about a lot of places and sometimes their shipping cost is higher than you'd think it should be. But it does remove some of, or much of, the discount.

Interesting comment about the inventory system - you have more experience with him than I do so I guess I'll defer to you on that. He seemed to get me what I ordered and never bothered me much about it either - I finally sent them a note asking if they were ever going to ship and they said they just needed an address. Gotta say, I really liked the casualness of it. 

:"But his "cutting edge" talk about natural/bio high-acid wines seems like "emperor's new clothes" talk to deflect problems of people getting wine that is just not very good--better to pre-select  clients who want "difficult to understand" wine to begin with."

That pretty much sums it up.  He's had some big hits, but they're diminished by the big fails.

Reply by Eric Guido, Sep 21, 2012.

You know this forum has really blossomed now that we are chatting about the pros and cons of Rimmerman.  List me in the "No longer a Client" field.  I received too many "Hard to understand" wines that I understood just fine, they were bad wines.  I got sick of the crap shoot and I refuse to "read between the lines", unless someone is going to publish a glossary of Rimmerman terms and what they translate to in plain English.

Reply by JonDerry, Sep 25, 2012.

Now, I actually mostly agreed with Rimmerman's take on 2010 Burgundy today, though he focused on whites. Plus, he does well with layups (i.e. good vintages), though I'm sure he also has a knack for using the hype of a good vintage to sell lesser wine that happens to fall into that category.

Anyway, had a question on taxes for out of state buyers.

In my business (cosmetics) we don't charge taxes for out of state orders no matter wholesale or retail.

Does Garagiste charge taxes?

Paul from Full Pull seems to have charged me tax from WA state shipping to CA, is this the right thing or am I being charged taxes incorrectly?

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