Tuesday, August 31, 2010

Winemakers working the streets

How many winemakers does it take to screw in a light bulb? One, They just hold the bulb in the air and the world revolves around them.

I wouldn't be able to pass that along were it not for a very good and self aware winemaker I know. In our little world, the winemaker is the head celebrity. They are the ones whose names are bandied about, and the ones whose mugs end up on the cover of Wine Spectator. It's no surprise that when they are in the market, they sell more wine than us civilians. Most winemakers recognize this is an aberration in the market, and that buyers are ALWAYS more likely to buy wine when a winemaker is there. Many of them further recognize that when they visit a market, it's the grunts that are putting together as good a day as possible. They will see routes that we never really see because of our obligations to run the B and C accounts as well, accounts they never will visit.

That said, there are actually winemakers out there that believe that they are better salespeople than us, and that they understand the market conditions better than we do. This, in part, is because it comes so easily to them. They also can have a valid take in some instances, when the sales reps are really sub par (and we know there's plenty of them out there). But there are winemakers delusional enough to believe that what we do (sales) is B.S. and that we're lucky to even be able to sell their precious products. I'm not going to recite the reasons why the finesse, politics, patience, hard work, timing, hustle, charm, quick wit and wisdom are skills you don't learn from racking or de-stemming. Instead I will simply say this: Unless you want to be a full time salesperson, you're going to need someone with the above attributes to sell your precious juice. No matter what you think of salespeople as a breed, you need to let them do their thing, and understand that it's apples and oranges when you're in the market. You are there to support, not compete. Don't get caught up in the idea that if you can do something we can't do, that gives you a higher rank. All salespeople are really "armchair winemakers", so it's no surprise that the amateurs sometimes actually believe they can outsell us. I'll give you a challenge, go work the market with wines that aren't yours. With wines you have no affiliation with, and give out your cell number, and occasionally show up for a reset at 6 in the morning, the day after hosting another winemaker for another winemaker dinner. Sound unappealing? That's OK, thats why you have us.


  1. My personal favorite 'bad winemaker' trait is when the winemaker is pushing for 20 case stacks in a store that never stacks higher than 7.

    Also, please learn that we as a retailer are POLITE. We are not going to tell a winemaker that we think his wine is crap or priced double what it should be. If we aren't buying the wine, something is wrong.

    A winemaker will know when he is really connecting, 3 things,
    1) We buy the wine for our store
    2) We ask for a business card before you can give us one.
    3) We talk about coming to visit your winery sometime. (we may never come, but it is a way we show respect

    Anyway, nice post Adam

  2. Wow ... feeling a bit under appreciated, eh? ... and hostile, to boot.

  3. Ouch anonymous! Not under appreciated, grateful to the winemakers that get it (and there are many). Just trying to identify and critique an all-too-common phenomenon (as many other salespeople and retailers can attest to). Thanks for reading.

  4. Not the same anonymous here - just a winemaker friend

    Where do wine sellers get their training? I've been in many industries and never found a multi-line sales rep that the manufacturer thought knew even the rudimentary selling points of their product. Is wine any different? Maybe accounts for the lack of respect the winemaker shows wine schleppers.

    Stop worrying about how high cases are stacked and start focusing on what you're selling. No wine customer cares about your inventory problems, but what they do care about is your ability to tell them what they'll find when they open the bottle. Get your priorities straight and help the customer. Heaven forbid, that might even mean you'll have to taste the wine - not just parrot some score or shelf talker.

  5. ok Anonymous #2 (or maybe 3?) You have a point. As I said, there are plenty of bad sales reps out there. The largest companies focus on too many goals, thus never giving their reps a chance to learn the items, and the smallest distributors often lack sales training. It can be very tough to deal with. I just hope that the winemakers understand how tough it is for all sales reps. The onus lies on the management.

  6. unless you have a top ten seller, or above 92 parker wines, the look on clients' faces when they see you pull into the parking lot is enough to get you to sell insurance. the trouble with wine is that there are so many and so few buyers. the market is narrow, with most wine drinkers set on one or two favorites. wine has never been the american beverage, and it won't ever be, but to those mildly interested, it is up to the salesmen and makers to inspire passion, and diffuse the pomposity of a star winemaker who caters to the trial lawyers and people with more money than taste. once a person reaches wine-puberty, passions start to develope, areas start to be explored, cellars are built, and wine life is born. it is up to us to create that.