Thursday, December 5, 2013

Do you get it?

There are exactly 2 kinds of buyers in the world. Buyers that get it and buyers that don't. Buyers that get it, endeavor towards balance, diversity and harmony, buyers that don't, are too caught up in one thing (for everyone, that one thing is different).

The buyer that "Gets it":
Looks for a solid worldview for their selection, diverse enough to have something for everyone that walks in and balances commerce/ profitability with being a great steward for wine. They positively challenge their clientele, educate themselves and build a community around what they are doing. They never brag or bully, rather, they empower. They view the wineries and distributors as partners.

The buyer that DOESN'T "Get it":
Is always chasing after something. They buy to either feed their ego, brag about what they got that no one else could, or ride a wave of popularity. They are likely to buy on scores and articles about vintages over trusting their own judgement. They price shop on the internet. They don't respect the distribution or care about partnering with the people that sell them the wine. They are always looking for the next "deal". They want to gossip about their competitors. They are likely to put a wine on a list or a shelf because 1 customer complains, rather than helping that customer find what works within their carefully chosen set.

Because there are people that don't get it, we have wines where marketing and labels are more important that terroir or character.We have companies that try to fill the price point and demographic. We have concocted animal labels. We have $25 crappy Pinot Grigio and $200 over oaked Napa Cabs. Bordeaux changed their winemaking. Australia Burned too bright and then burned out, because people didn't get it.

If you are a buyer, please, "get it".

Thursday, October 31, 2013

Jiro dreams of..... salespeople?

Sushi is a special and magical product. It may take a lifetime to master the balance of flavors, the perfect cuts, the technique. In the seminal film, Jiro Dreams of Sushi, this is the theme that is hammered home from the start. Jiro seemingly places sushi above everything, even family at times. The 85 yr old master believes that his son is still too green. When Jiro is pressed as to why he is so good, he heaps praise on his vendors. The brokers that deal with the fish markets always take care of him. Jiro believes he can be no better than his raw (literally) ingredients.A lifetime of trust and understanding of needs has helped to propel Jiro to the very pinnacle of sushi.  If Jiro simply price shopped or bullied his vendors, he would not be at the top, and the converse is also true, if his vendors had betrayed his trust, sold him low quality products, wasted his time or tried to make a quick yen, then the relationship would crumble.

Why don't we look at wine in the same context? Salespeople know which are the best wines in their books (if they don't, please excuse them from calling on you until they do). Maybe more to the point, they should know which are the best wines for each account. Which wines do they represent, that they can select to show to their accounts that make their wine program better, and that they can propel enthusiasm all the way down the chain? Which wines are they dumping on their accounts? Which wines are they placing on the reserve list to hit their unreachable goal for some giant, monolithic corporation? Do they even care? If you want a world class wine program, if you want a great wine program, if you want a smart wine program, you must view your wine vendors the same way Jiro views his fish mongers. You must be able to trust (or be trustworthy), you must know that your "wine mongers" have good palates, that they actually care. Salespeople sell, it's the nature of the beast, if you can take time to find the ones that aren't selling but connecting you with the best grade of fish or wine, the relationship can be in perfect balance, just like Jiro's sushi.

Thursday, August 29, 2013

The stupidity of OND is exposed by the S they're trying to sneak into it.

I've got to assume if you are reading a wine sales blog, you are aware of the phenomenon of OND. It's a topic I've already discussed here. For the uninitiated. OND is October-December, and historical conventional wisdom suggests that nearly 1/2 your sales for the year is this time period. The thing is, that's just not the case anymore. I spend a lot of time staring at spreadsheets. I sell the wines of many different wineries in many different markets through many different distributors, and the truth is, OND is about 1/3 of the year's sales. What is so remarkable about it though, is July-September is closer to 1/5 of the year's sales. OND just makes up for the shortfall created when everyone else is drinking beer during the Summer.

Maybe OND exists as a thing, because it's the last chance before you close the books for the year to actually put up some numbers. Maybe it's the total bandwidth our brains can handle. For those of us in the know, OND is not "O", really at all, and frankly, it's these things-Thanksgiving, Christmas, Christmas Break, New Years and Christmas Parties. It's a 5 week run. I mean, Sbarro probably sees a bigger spike than the wine business.  The "O" is just a return to stasis. It's everyone's back to school slowdown is over, it's cooling down outside, etc. The worst 2 months of the year are usually July-August, at least in the "fly-over" states.

The current wine sales buzz term is now SOND, trying to drag September into the imagined melee. Whoever started thinking this was smart needs to go find a new career. Clearly, this is stupid. Dragging S into OND, just exposes how incredibly stupid OND really is. Planning for the holidays, is a big deal, and not anything that should be taken lightly. It's a great time to introduce new wine to new people through sharing. Volumes do increase, but along with it comes stress. The stress of anticipation starts kicking into high gear by late October (because, in their mind, people should have already been buying wine for holiday parties and Thanksgiving by then?). Then you have the stress of higher volumes of sales really starts kicking by the middle of November. It's best to accommodate and avoid as much as possible. Samples, market visits, meetings, they're all done by Nov 1.

But "S"? September is the same as February-May. October is only slightly busier. This all feels to me like misguided excuse. If we paid a fraction of the attention on the 1st 2 quarters of the year as we do on the 4th, maybe we wouldn't be scrambling to hit year end numbers. Desperation during OND is a stink that never leaves a brand. The "O" doesn't exist, I'm I'm fairly certain that means "S" doesn't either.

Friday, March 15, 2013

Autobiographical wines

Damn, I love wine. Wine plays off the exact same pleasure center that great music can. It tickles your brain and captures every nuance of the moment you're in, and locks it away for you to have forever. It also writes the story of you.

You know that scene in Jaws where the guys are sitting around the table comparing scars? Wine geeks do that same thing every day, except, instead of scars, they are talking about moments in their wine lives that changed them every bit as much as a shark attack. They happen without warning and are just as surprising. They stay with you for a lifetime and they shape who you are.
You can't manufacture this moment. Tasting a 30 year retrospective of La Tache may be amazing and quite academic, but rarely does something like that do it. It's the moment you don't expect, the random moment of clarity. It can be dinner with friends or tasting with a vendor. The sun can be shining on you, or it can be gray and snowy in January. No matter the scenario, these moments stay with you for a lifetime. You'll never forget the vintage, the producer or the wine. You'll relive it, and the memory will be at your fingertips whenever you need it. 15 years in, and I still get the moments on a regular basis. They don't buckle my knees quite like they used to, but maybe I appreciate them that much more this time.  Nonetheless, these are the wines that write our story. They are autobiographical wines. You can have any wine geek write a timeline of nothing more than wines and periods of their life. They probably know exactly where they were when they tasted them, they remember what was going on. Time stops when you experience this. As much as we say wine is for sharing, this moment, becomes only yours, forever.

That's why I love wine.

Wednesday, January 30, 2013

Fat and complacent.

Man, there are a lot of household name wineries out there! There are a lot of wineries from California that made their mark in the years between 1975 and 1993 or so, and have done, basically nothing since.  A lot of wineries relying on steakhouses and corporate placements to get them through another year. A lot of 30-70,000 case producers that just sort of continue to slog ahead. About half of them have sold off to another entity somewhere along the line, if their kids didn't want to take over. A lot of old, tired names, making okay, but never great wines, just sort of hanging on to the name they established while most of the people that drank their wines were still young. Now those people are nearing retirement age, and what are these wineries to do? They have gotten, fat and complacent through the years. They have relied too much on the name recognition and haven't evolved to meet the times. Now that the people that drank their wines are retiring or dying, and the stores that bought their wines are switching to concierge/ in house wine steward sommeliers, who is their audience? Their success thus far was set in motion years ago, but failing to articulate a true marketing plan, has placed an expiration date on their success that coincides with the expiration date of their clients. If you continue to make world class wine, like Ridge, Heitz, Chateau Montelena, you will live on through generations  If you once made world class wine, but the world caught up to you, you are forever doomed to be a footnote. On some level, we are just enabling these wineries. If we, as a wine drinking society, continue to reward mediocrity, we will be met with mediocrity.  We will be doomed by dead, tired, artifact wineries that are here only because they are recognizable.

Friday, January 25, 2013

An open letter to Randall's marketing mojo


In response to Randall's Blog Post:

Disclaimer: I represnt Bonny Doon in several markets, and have first hand exposure to both states of Schrödinger’s Cat, errr wine. I have spent a fair amount of time around Randall in the market as well as in the car discussing such processes. 

Dear Randall,

2009 Contra-is a stunning wine. Could the same be said in 2011? Perhaps, but to a lesser degree. While we have certainly grown to love this wine, this wine has grown to be loved and perhaps is not yet even peaking. I know that the topic of the timing of this wine's release is in certain circles, contentious, but this was Problem 1 against raging success. Not that the wine wasn't or isn't great, but it didn't know who it was yet. And based on our chats about the oft-misunderstood grape, Carignane, this wine was totally symbolic of everything that grape is. 

Problem 2: Contra is a great name, a mysterious name. It's a name that allows it to be whatever you want it to be. In certain (surprisingly large) circles, it refers to a NES game of the 80's. The visual irony of the couch, while hilarious when recognized, loses it's hilarity when explained by anyone aside from you. This label also lacks the artistic flair that you have become known for.

Problem 3: This wine falls into the hot hot new trend of "red blends". Even trying to place this wine amongst the swill that currently populates that category and drugstore circular ads is going to end up disappointing the hell out of someone expecting Apothic Red. Similarly, falling into that category, sticks you in a section that anyone that has even heard of Carignane, avoids like the plague. That group of buyers, that you are attempting to appeal to understands how preposterous a category like "red blends" is. It's akin to having a car dealership that categorizes cars based on manufacturer of the chassis. this is the part of the world that is entirely unfix-able, so get that idea out of your head.

Problem 4: People don't entirely understand what this wine is (this is sort of problem 3.5). Old Vine Field Blend didn't necessarily help or hurt. This wine is Carignane driven which brings certain responsibilities. It has Rocks and Raspberries  it has soul, it lingers. as I think about it right now, I can taste it. 

Further muddying your clarity on the matter is the Schrödinger’s Cat phenomenon.  It's worth re-iterating that you are a bit of a celebrity (in many circles). People recognize you on the street.  This carries with it a bit of a cult of personality that sells wine in a manner that sometimes overwhelms the senses. In many situations, when I take a winemaker around, the trade is impressed enough, but not to a point of nervousness or neurosis (no, I don't think neurosis is infectious). It is because you are, for all intents and purposes, a celebrity within this niche. The process of meeting someone and tasting them on your wines, overshadows the merits of the actual wines. They would buy the wines from you regardless of the quality or the state the wines are in. Sometimes, the tasting resonates, more likely, the stories they tell will be about meeting you, and less about what the wines actually tasted like (assuming they can even remember). If you were anonymous, you get your point (s) across much easier. So the Cat thing: The cat is not dead in the box, it is certainly alive, but inside the box, it stops being a cat altogether. It becomes something else that is really dependent on who is presenting the wines, the mood of the buyer and a thousand other factors. In other words, Darwinian evolution is determined by the market. Whereas, with you around, it's always a cat, alive and predictable. So you can never suitably observe the "cat" it's natural state.  

So what's the solution? To paraphrase you: Maybe you're asking the wrong questions.

Solution 1: You are the category. Bonny Doon is well branded and identified in the market. Contra is a good name. The category of this wine is: a Bonny Doon wine for everyday consumption. Period. Even selling it within a category will hurt it. Retailers and wine list category Nazi's will do this on their own. Its unavoidable. By keeping it separate of the category, buyers are compelled to market it on your terms if they love it. You occupy a space on shelves in minds and in hearts that most producers couldn't if they tried. Rather than being something for everyone, be that wine geeks favorite Wednesday wine. Screw mass-appeal. Big House will not be repeated. 

Solution 2: The label: I would simply print (maybe screen print) the "Contra" name in a die cut defined font (the one you use is great) right on the glass with a back label that features Bonny Doon Vineyard prominently. Put the blend on it too.

Solution 3: The distributors: Ah yes, the distributors. I tend to think of distributors as a sometimes okay delivery service (they do own trucks).  Sometimes, one of their employees, when not buried with goals and imperatives from quite unlovable North Coast based wineries that spend more on shiny shoes on the street than quality ingredients, discovers that Bonny Doon is in their portfolio. Bonny Doon is fun to sell and fun to represent. It brings levity and joy to often joyless tie wearing widget-schillers. You mentioned the "black" in the balance sheet. Continue that thread down to the salesperson. If refined in concept, Contra can become something that is both joyful to sell and drink, but also nourishing to the wallet and psyche (the latter of which you endeavor towards, always). After avoiding continued lashings at the hands of well-fed sales managers, a salesperson next aspiration is to try to pay for the car they're beating into the ground. Making a wine that sells through, makes salespeople very happy and success in the form of confidence in the product, amplifies.

Randall-You are asking why you haven't caught lightening in a bottle. Maybe it's time to look at this problem as a new and a good one. Your wines have never been better and now you're faced with a wine whose quality exceeds it's marketing. This alone is a not so subtle metaphor of the changes you have aspired to. Perhaps you've subconsciously sabotaged or reigned in aspects of the marketing on this wine based on it's merits and potential. Maybe with the help of a brilliant National Sales Manager and witty (and snarky) accomplices in the Great Lakes Region, you can refine the concept to a point where the sales are worthy of the quality in the bottle.

Then again, perhaps you're just over-thinking it...