Thursday, October 29, 2009

Sometimes you just need to take out the kick ass wines to show 'em who's boss!

A wine rep always struggles with what to sample. There are dozens of factors that go in to every choice in a bag. Yesterday, I just decided to go out with guns blazin' and knock em' dead. I picked the entire lineup of Jaffurs, an elite Rhone producer from Santa Barbara. The wines aren't cheap, but they're amazing. I took 4 wines around,and at the end of each stop, the line was, "I can't remember the last time I had such amazing wine". at that point you're not even selling, you're just agreeing with them. This is a great approach for 3 reasons a) You sell a bunch of great wine b) for whatever isn't bought that day, surely the wines will be remembered for years to come c)it helps to give you credibility for not wasting anyone's time. I especially love when the guy in front of me a s crappy $9 Malbec. Always make sure you're the one they want to see.Next time you balk about taking out the pricier models, throw caution to the wind, you be glad you did, and so will your customers.

Wednesday, October 28, 2009

Distributors on the Defensive

My world has flipped upside down. My new role is to hold distributors accountable, while my old one was being held accountable. On the receiving end of the accounting, I had a great rapport with wineries. I was always brutally honest, built evidence to back up claims, and most importantly, knew what needed to be done to make each brand succeed and make sure we were giving it the best effort. I rarely needed to go on the defensive because as I laid out the evidence and gave my input, the wineries all knew that we were their best chance at success.

Now, I am in constant contact with many distributors. Very few act as if they are ahead of any issues that may be brewing. Disseminating information is practically non-existent. Getting valuable work-with time is tough. Want to schedule time in front of a sales meeting? You can get a reservation sooner at The French Laundry. Many distributors are doing everything they can to keep their head above water. They are all stressed about the season. I understand and appreciate all of this, and all of their competitors are going through the exact same thing right now.

While each of these complaints are frustrating, ampelography is built on the notion that all of this is going to happen. Distributors, when it comes to handling small brands on a large scale, suck without exception.This is why we have a job, to shine through their challenges, and elevate the conversation back towards artisan producers.

My knock on distributors is when they don't own up to the obvious. They aren't pumping their sales teams up about our producers, they are sending out sales sheets, they aren't stocking products to the appropriate par levels,and frankly, they aren't educated on our producers. I don't expect them to do all of these things, but when sales fall flat, it's my job to identify what needs to happen on both ends. When confronted about what is happening, the distributors end up acting like children that broke something of daddy's. I know admitting failure is tough, I expect them to fail, I just want to know how they're failing. I know I'm small potatoes in their world of $7 Malbecs and $6 Pinot Grigios, I don't help them "move boxes". But what I represent to them is a chance to exert minimal effort and have success. I am a boost for their more stagnant products. I'm not their competition, but they treat every supplier like they are. It's time for distributors to see the big picture. If they'd quit being so defensive, we'd actually both benefit.

Tuesday, October 20, 2009

OND has lost it, Don't Panic!

Once upon a time, wine sales, as were many retail item sales, were driven by OND. OND or October, November & December, the last sales quarter of the year, historically represented 40% of annual sales. It is when companies were made or broken. Many retailers didn't go into the profit column for the year until black Friday (you know, the day after Thanksgiving). Last year, OND, or lack thereof, killed many businesses,and just about every one's business plans. The remaining inventory clogged up the 1st half of 2009 wine sales. Now, 2 weeks into OND, what is happening out there? Nothing. Seriously, nothing. Sales haven't picked up yet. In fact, they probably won't pick up that much.It's been years since the "O" in OND meant anything except everyone talking about how the season would be.
As a wine culture, we've changed forever. The economic downturn only clouds people perception of wine sales trends. Here has what has happened to kill OND:

1) Wine Gift Giving has decreased-There was a time when everyone gave bottles of liquor or wine at holidays, that has gone away quite a bit. And with corporate tightening, the big companies that used to buy dozens of cases of Jordan or Ferrari Carano to give as corporate gifts has also dried up.

2) Wine seasonality is changing!- Americans now drink wine everyday, and this is a great thing. Wine is no longer the domain of special occasion only. Americans have grown their wine consumption "JFMAMJJAS" (that doesn't exactly roll off the tongue does it?), or the other months of the year so much, that the expert predict the growth to be constant, and the fact is, people already drink wine routinely, they're not going to drink extra wine on Thanksgiving. We are reaching good velocity through the season change that the increase, while existent, is not dramatic. When the last time you went to a big party on New Years and really whooped it up?

3) Wine purchasers have lost their bearings, and as a result, their "balls"-As a result of buyers failing to recognize point #2, they have over purchased, over projected,and in general been their own worst enemy. Buyers do 2 things when times are weird, they either try to buy themselves into higher sales, often jumping on closeouts,which in turn knocks down their avg sale and profitability. Or they flat-out stop buying. Keeping their inventory in check, but now are relegated to stock monkeys. If a buyer doesn't buy, what is their job? Advice to all wine buyers, please plan accordingly in the future, budget less seasonality into your annual plan, and prepare your bosses for the inevitable disappointment come November, regardless of the economic conditions.Your sales will continue to grow,just be cool. Nationally, we are still growing wine consumption around 5%, it's not the 10% it was a few years ago, but it is still growth.

In this business, people's memory's are very short. I have vivid memories of 2001 OND when everyone said things would never be the same, and they weren't, we grew this industry faster between 2002 and 2008 than any other 6 year span in the last 50 years. In the late 90's all of the money spent was on obnoxious high end cabs, now it has been converted to dozens of different categories. Americans have never been more sophisticated,and are only getting more interested in wine. everything will be fine, just don't panic!

Thursday, October 15, 2009

Lange Estate

I've been waiting to post about Lange for some time. It's really all their fault. They sent me a book called The Grail, which is all about a year in the life of Lange Estate. Great read, but I haven't finished it yet.This is the crazy season after all.
Tim Brislin, who we've known since his Anne Amie days a few years ago and now National Sales for Lange reached out for me over the Summer. He was looking for a little help in our neck of the woods. Having been to Pinot Camp,and knowing they were a participant, I rushed home to check my notes. Sure enough, they were a host the year I attended. Oddly enough, I had no notes about them anywhere. I had comments good or bad about pretty much every wine I tasted sniffed or saw, but they were noticeably absent. To this day, I can't figure out how I missed them.
Hidden in plain sight is how I describe Lange. I somehow missed them my entire career. When Tim contacted me over the Summer I was intrigued, and agreed to first taste the wines. I was absolutely blown away. The wines were stunning. Each of the reds displayed a house style of balanced acid/ tannin structure. These were Dundee Pinots for sure, but even more so, showy and from the challenging 2007 vintage. Perhaps most impressive was their Chardonnay. All you cynics can just shut up, I still love great Chardonnay,and so do you. Lange makes good on the promise that Oregon produces the best Chardonnays outside of burgundy. Clearly I had missed something along the way. Proud of my new "discovery" I immediately signed them up. As I began talking with my colleagues that had also been to Pinot Camp, they all went bonkers for Lange. Somehow, I was late to the party, but very lucky to have them on board.
Don & Wendy Lange started the winery conceptually while in California. Their first vintage was 1987,and their lineup hasn't changed much since then, except the addition of Jesse, their son, to the team. The Langes have built a reputation for consistency and a blend of Estate and contracted fruit. Along with our other great Oregon producers, Lange represents another facet of what needs to be considered the true Oregon style (which probably consists of at least 6 different Pinot Noir styles).

Friday, October 2, 2009

Finally catching back up...

Great news, we've been busier than we ever imagined! That means that we've been showing hundreds of consumers and trade our wines. The drawback is that we've been away from the daily routine and our homes so much that the blog has been neglected, although, it has been on our minds and we've seriously missed blogging.
Sincere apologies to all producers we haven't yet blogged about. You've been on our minds, but we've devoted more time to showing and placing your wares than talking about them in Wine Web 2.0 (Tim-you're up next I promise).

So what's been happening in the world of ampelography? First, we hosted our launch parties in Cleveland and Toledo. Thanks to everyone that came out to support us! Our invite is pictured above, that would be "Tangle" by the amazing artist Amy Casey who generously gave us permission to use her image. We have a business concept that can sometimes be difficult to describe in one line, so your support and appreciation is amazing. We had over 200 attendees at our events, we showed over 120 wines at each event. Collectively, we've been in Indiana, Michigan, Tennessee and all over Ohio. Nashville has a found a place in Walt's heart, and he's been there twice as opportunity has presented itself. This will be a great market for us moving forward, and is a great example of how a market that wasn't originally part of our master plan presented itself, and is now a vibrant segment. Adapting as opportunity arises is a major component of success. We've been fortunate enough to participate in some great trade events along the way, with a few more coming. The 55 degrees shows were great. Cleveland and Cincinnati really embraced the wines. We've made new friends at Wine Trends, and Domaine and Estates in Ohio, 3 Tears and Vinture in Indiana, Best Brands in Nashville, and re-upped with the good folks at Cutting Edge and 55 degrees in Ohio.

Here is what we've learned:
1) David Shiverick is the man, seriously, check out the confidence to which he brings thrift store fare:

2) Chinon rocks-duh, right? There's so much great wine out there that sometimes you forget how much you love a tiny corner of say the Loire. Domaine du Roncee, nicely done.

3) There is something special about Europeans with class. Michele Scamacca- you are a true gentleman. amazing Italian wines, proud to have you in the fold!

4) I heart the Queen City! My brother lives here (Cincinnati), so it's always held a place in my head, but aside from the seriously f-ud up layout and duplicity of streets on the west Side, this is one of my favorite places to visit. The people are great. sophisticated without having an ego. The perfect mix of wine geeks. Go Bengals!

5) Showing people Chave is one of the great joys in life.

6) Wild Hog has aromatics in Pinot Noir that I've never seen that are nothing less than enthralling.

7) We have a seriously kick ass portfolio

8) the World wants and needs more French Wine-The long national nightmare may finally be over, time to break out my neckerchief

9) Randall Graham is back in a big way!

Cant's wait to see you out on the streets!