Friday, December 18, 2009

There is no good vs. evil in the wine business.

Recognize the image to the right? Every city has one. It's always home to the most shameless, sell-out wine distributor in your market. You will see their trucks around town constantly, their headquarters is always referred to as "The death star". Sometimes, their competitors will hum the Imperial Death March under their breath as these reps enter an account. Evil has a name, and it is [yellowtail].

Just kidding. Here is the shocking truth.. There is no evil in the wine business. Business is business. Most of these reps in the cheap ties and Chevy Malibu's are really just trying to make an honest buck, feed their family, pay their taxes etc. It's really not fair for the wine elite to target them, as they are just doing their job. And if they weren't so good at their job, our job wouldn't be so hard. Many of these companies are philanthropic and stalwarts for the community.

That said, they do make money off the inexperience of others,and that's what frustrates us. They sell brand names that are lazy choices in the supermarket, and this competes against complex, terroir driven wines. We take out our frustrations on these people that are just doing their jobs. Their bosses are no different. They are simply reacting to what the consumer is asking for. as long as demand exists for [yellowtail], it will be sold and presented. So should we just submit? No, but here's what to do...
  • Stop treating them like they're the enemy, they are better financed by you, and you don't get in an argument with someone that buys ink by the barrel... or something like that.
  • Understand their products' appeal. Knowing what you re going up against is one area where you can beat them. There is little chance they will ever get what you are selling, you gain credibility by understanding theirs. That means taste it whenever possible.
  • Educate your customer! Explain what oak, butter and .8% Residual Sugar taste like, so they will recognize it on their own next time.
  • Inspire your customers. If you get your base pumped, they will turn around and become evangelists for your wines.
  • Understand that the wine business moves glacially slow, but you can still affect change- We are infinitely more sophisticated now than 5 or 25 years ago. Keep that in perspective and continue to spread sophistication. Who knows, maybe one day, the consumers will be so sophisticated that you yourself may end up driving a company Malibu, and be able to sleep at night.


  1. I own a very small online wine business and I often think back to the quote from the movie, "You've Got Mail" when Tom Hanks puts Meg Ryan out of the book business...

    "Go to the mattresses. You're at war. It's not personal, it's business. It's not personal it's business. Recite that to yourself every time you feel you're losing your nerve."

  2. Catie is right. When you are in the trenches every day at the retail level, you seem to be caught in a crossfire between the big behemoth distributors who couldn't give a rat's ass about you and the little guys who are struggling to stay in business thanks to all the consolidation going on. It is ridiculous to think that it's not personal. Retail wine sales are hell, and yes Virginia, there is a Darth Vader, and his name is Mel Dick.

  3. Thanks for reading Catie & k2

    Ahh, Mel Dick. Perhaps he really is Darth. another perspective to consider is that this is not about morality, but about demand. While I have always abhorred the methods and the message the big evil giant companies convey, they are simply reacting to their perception of the market. They don't care which way the tide goes,as long as their boat is heading in that direction. It's the small guys that need to take control of what is important, lead the education charge,and give small retailers better service. They are the ones that will change the industry.

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