Tuesday, March 23, 2010

Don't let bad marketing get in the way of great wine Part 2

Last week, I wrote a post about producers needing to be savvy to marketing and input. As it turns out, it cuts both ways. I have recently found myself in a strange set of circumstances, and perhaps ironic given the above mentioned post.
Last week I showed the wines of 2 different producers to a large, but boutique distributor. They are just putting their book together, and it would seem that both of these wineries would have been good fits. They turned both down completely. I got a laundry list of issues about these wineries that they had, but almost none of the comments were directed towards the quality of the product. They had issues with the names of the wines, shapes of the bottles, labels, color scheme, you name it.
This shocked me. For one, I am a pretty good judge of the "whole package" and while I can see that they were not their strongest asset (the packaging), for me, it wasn't really an issue. Second, I felt that from such professionals, that this was a pretty rookie take on the wines. If you are a boutique wine distributor, you should be equipped to sell wine you believe in, regardless of what the packaging looks like. Were they using the packaging as an excuse? Do restaurants even care what the label looks like? Where is your conviction? While I ranted against producers that fail to recognize what is going on out there, I doubly rail against the machine that prioritizes packaging over what's inside. Of the 2 wines, one is such undeniable quality, that it is nearly a cult wine in it's home state, and I'm lucky to have any to sell. I respect contrary opinions, and encourage them. I take major umbrage with the prejudice that this distributor took with these products.
Don't forget, no one has ever accused anyone for having a great eye for labels in the wine business.


  1. I once had a wine marketing guy for a very large and popular wine co say at a sales meeting that what's inside the bottle doesn't even matter...
    "Check, please!" Was my response....

  2. Your use of the word rookie sums it up nicely. Sounds like the distributor in question is looking for wines that sell themselves, and not on quality in the bottle. Also sounds like the only time your wines would have been actively sold would have been when you were in the market doing the selling yourself. The world of wine can sometimes be broken down into sellers and order takers.

  3. Too bad for them. Sounds like they are only interested in brands who can afford high priced packaging designers. They will unfortunately miss the little guys who often have superior products but don't have the skills or money to create flash packaging.

  4. Well it sounds to me like you guys are obviously not retailers. YOU are the kinds of people for whom the packaging doesn't matter. You are the minority.
    OF COURSE what's in the bottle matters, but let's face it, there's no shortage of great wine out there, especially in the higher end. What there is a shortage of, unless you live in some awesome wine-drinking metropolis, are customers who are able/willing to spend over $30 a bottle. (I'm assuming the wine you're talking about it not inexpensive, otherwise the label wouldn't even come into play). So let's look at those- you subtract out the third who are looking for something specific or don't want any help, then you have the third who are buying said bottle as a gift. Those customers won't even buy a bottle where the label is smudged, much less ugly. You have no chance of selling to those people. So for the few people you've got left, you can probably sell them something with an ugly label, if it's delicious. And I would. But bottle shape/size- that's a huge consideration. I can't tell you how many bottles I've had returned because the customer couldn't fit it into their wine rack. And if I have several other bottles that are just as good, but in a normal sized bottle, what do you think I'm going to sell?
    Those wax-topped bottles? When a customer has to break out the power tools to open that bottle, who do you think they're going to be pissed off at?
    Look, if it's an amazing value for the price, or in a category we don't have, that's one thing. But how many domestic pinots do we need? Or high end Bordeaux? You didn't say what kind of wines they were that you were selling, but it must have been something common, or the label would never have come into play. You're assuming the product is superior, but it's more likely that the product was equal to the quality of any number of other bottles who didn't have the same packaging flaws.

  5. Thanks for everyone's comments! The latest Anonymous- True, in a retail environment, poor packaging is a major factor (sadly). But with an on-premise heavy distributor (I should have mentioned this), and wineries that are looking for 50-100 cs/ year sold in a top 10 market, these shouldn't be unreachable even without retail sales.

    The fact remains is that these wines were ONLY critiqued on package. There was no "there are 100 other products just like this" comment. It was directly critical and singularly critical of the packaging.

    This was a very frustrating chapter precisely because I feel that they weren't giving the items a fair shot. It was like they made up their mind before they opened the bottles.

  6. What would happen if major buyers like it...a distributor would certainly take pause, right?

  7. For mass appeal wines, packaging is important especially to indicate the varietal type and to not have a confusing label for inexperienced wine drinkers.

    Assuming the "boutique" distributor is selling to retail stores and fine dining restaurants, who in turn sell to the experienced wine drinker, the labels should not be an issue although I agree that odd bottle styles can be a turnoff for every buyer.

    It has been shown in multiple studies that the number one criteria a customer uses to buy wine is previous experience of taste, Number two criteria is recommendation of friends or wine store clerk/wait staff. This is a proxy for taste. The fact that your distributor rejected the wines on everything but taste would indicate:
    1) they did not think the taste was better than other examples at the same price point and/or
    2) they were not very experienced in tasting that style of wine

  8. A wine experience is never just the wine though.

    The packaging, as has been shown in research, influences the experience of drinking it. A gorgeous package makes the wine experience better. So does the glass we serve it in. We're fooling ourselves if we think we're standing up for some kind of wine quality against poor packaging. The two are not really separable except in the rare air of the blending room, the winery conference room.

  9. Sad fact about wine packaging. I had a customer refused to by a bottle of wine with a small rip in the label. Now realise that was was rated 95points Parker, was posted off by over 40%, and was from an established and powerful brand...

    Wine over $30 is for most people a 'luxury item' and 'luxury items' need packaging that makes the buyer feel luxurious.

    anyway, it isn't everybody, but it is easy for retailers or distributors to get 'gun shy.'

    As a retailer you have to find against that mentality, but it is really hard sometimes.

  10. I have worked both wholesale carrying a bag, and retail. Large stores and boutiques. If Randy Dunn or Dominus can sell their wine in a pretty basic Bordeaux bottle, why should a winery struggling to make a profit be spending money on big heavy bottles? I want Bordeaux shapes for Bordeaux varietals, Burgundy bottles for P noir and Chard. etc. I don't think putting Sauvignon blanc in a Burgundy bottle is smart. I can only fit 5 on a shelf instead of 6 with the big bottles. And I can't stack wines in 6 pack boxes too well when the store is arranged for 12 bottle boxes. Does Pahlmeyer sell better because it is in a huge bottle? I almost thought it was a magnum when I pulled it out of a box! If you were to bring in some pros from Proctor & Gamble to watch our industry, they would probably die laughing at all the stupid things that some ego driven wineries do.

    Labels, that is another whole reply. I have too many more harsh opinions right now to write them all down.

  11. Well alright, I'll concede it might be different for on-premise, since the customer rarely sees the label before purchase, but really, there's no excuse for a bad label. Any idiot with a mac can make a decent label, and if your label is unappealing, that says to me that you are out of touch with the customer. You don't need a fancy marketing degree either- just stop by your favorite shop I'm sure the floor staff will give you all the free advice you'd want. i sure would.
    But anyway you'd be surprised at the kind of criteria I use to sell wine all the time. Picture this, a customer walks in and says "I like a cab but want something new, what can you show me in this price range?" I get questions like this a hundred times a day- there are at least a million wines that fit that! Even after descerning how fruity hey might want it, and how adventurous they are, it's still pretty wide open. I sell wines according to how much I like the sales rep who sells it to us. Wineries that send cases with those stupid neck talkers go right on my blacklist (they end up all over the floor, no customer ever reads them, they give the staff papercuts and we make out own signs). Once I ran into Patrick Mata at a tasting, and he gave me a short interview for our store's webpage- I sold Ole products exclusively for a whole week. If a winery's webpage is out of date, they also get black listed (but if they're really nice when I call to ask for info, they get put on my forever awesome list)
    If I read an article about a certain region, I sell tons of wines from there that day. Sometimes, if I saw a good movie set in a certain country, I sell those too.

  12. Wow, lot's of great takes on this, I appreciate everyone's comments. I like the little blurb about liking the rep and selling their wines,and the black list bit is pretty funny. P&G would definitely love our little amateur hour business. Austin-That is amazing, and they didn't deserve that wine!

    The bottom line, and if you didn't read my earlier post on the other side of the same subject, please check it out here:

    Is that we really shouldn't put too much weight, nor should we ignore it. Its that crazy balance we need to strike, because the world is filled with people that care too much about it... like me :)

  13. There are certainly a lot of 'anonymous' posting comments on this post. Hmmmm. Very interesting.

  14. I'm with you on the 6 pack thing, flat Bordeaux boxes too. We use dummy cases for those, though, that are a pain at inventory time because you have to pull the whole thing apart to see what's under there, but at least it looks pretty.
    I also hate paper-wrapped bottles when they aren't collectible. I'd love to just send out an annonymous letter, like, "Dear Lancatay malbec, you are not Lafite Rothschild and your stupid wrappings attract a disgusting amount of dust. Since we have our stock people de-paper them anyway, no customers will ever see them- you're just wasting your paper and our time, so boo, you suck!"

    As for the annonymous, I had never posted here before and didnt realize there was a thing to put your name without registering for some lame account. Sorry. I was the black lister. Either way, when you're non-management, you can never be too careful. But since I never see my boss putting bottles in people's hands, I think you might not want to discount the opinions of the floor staff.

  15. Adam's experience is regrettable. Of course there is more than packaging to consider in the purchase of a wine, or the decision to offer the wine for sale.

    That said, having worked in distributor sales and as a restaurant wine buyer, I am familiar with this and other factors that influence these decisions.

    When we are on the sales side of the table, we often forget, or simply do not realize, the breadth of choices available to the buyer. The means of narrowing these down range from arbitrary to logical. Imagine yourself at a very large wine tasting, where there are many high profile wines as well as some rising stars you may be curious to try, and others you have never heard of. You want to keep up with the current releases of producers you regularly support. You want to try some new stuff. You cannot possibly taste everything that might be of interest. As you are cruising the aisles to determine which unfamiliar items to stop and try, what is exciting your curiosity? It may be a varietal, a region, someone behind the table that you know from someplace else, or it may be a label that is especially classy, clever, or resolutely plain.

    It is true that restaurant guests do not usually see the label until they have chosen the wine, but they still respond to it and it may influence their expectations and experience. The restaurateur, too, recognizes the value of a bottle looking attractive on the table, not only to those seated there, but to others in the room. A bottle that is difficult to open, pour, or store is another consideration.

    I am not suggesting that wines be chosen solely on the basis of outward appearance. I do think the package should reflect what the producer would like our initial impression to be. If it does not, perhaps it should be redesigned.

  16. What is in the bottle is top priority but it can never hurt to be pretty on the outside as well. www.blog.onxwine.com