Wednesday, December 17, 2014

The peril of becoming "An Industry of Cool"

We're all guilty of it, judging people by the wine they (think) they like. Some of us actually (but not sincerely) tell people to "drink what they like" There are certain things you are supposed to say you like at every juncture of your wine evolution. Eventually, you start saying things like "Americans are so dumb, they don't even know the  wines of (blah, blah, blah obscure region). This reminds me very much of the rise of College/ alternative Radio in the 80's/ 90's. There were certain bands you were supposed to say you liked. Instead of risking turning this into a musical discussion, I'll just say this-It's The Replacements. That's the answer. It took 25 years to prove what I always thought, that most of the stuff was trendy, but shit. The Replacements are still great.

See how this can go? Everyone has an opinion. Most of that stuff was actually just noise. all of the bumper stickers, skateboard stickers, hand painted names of bands on denim and leather jackets, bad tattoos. Just noise, that we let define us by making us think that it validated our coolness, because we liked the seemingly unlikable, and related to the seemingly unrelateable (not a word), We judged people by their specific tastes. See the correlation? The scary thing is-we're not 14 anymore.  

We love largely undrinkable wine far too much right now. And when I say we, I mean the wine dorks, and somms. Yellow wine, Orange wine, Natural Wine, wine from untraveled roads and obscure grapes. While these are all noble pursuits and fascinating, rarely are they enjoyable on anything more than an academic level. I never understood Vin Jeaune. It's the hottest thing in the biz right now. These oxidized yellow wines of Jura, But I never liked them or enjoyed them. Now I can say I think I get them, but not because I drank so many, but because I visited one of the great producers and tried their 40yr old version. That was the yellow wine that made sense. The rest was just like trying to The Misfits or something. Was I supposed to love this unlike-able stuff? I was sold on the idea that this stuff was the next hottest thing, but restaurants aren't putting 1973 Vin Jeaune on their wine list, they're putting 2003 on their list. At this point, we're trying to one up each other in obscurity. To paraphrase the Lester Bangs character in Almost Famous: "And then it just becomes and industry of... cool".

He have to be careful here. We absolutely don't want homogeneous palates or wine lists.We want discovery, nerdom, obscurity and curiosity. These things help us understand all things wine that much more. And a sincere fascination, appreciation and application are all equally vital. However, there is a group of us that won't admit it out loud, but our inner 14 year old self knows it- "There are some things we say we like, to make ourselves sound cool".

Thursday, February 6, 2014

"Have an extra shot of tequila and move on"

I've been wanting to write this post for some time, but each time, it became too specific and autobiographical. You see, breaking up with someone in this business is more emotionally complex than one would expect. I've done it many times. I have parted ways with 17 different wineries in 5 years. 17! I've stopped working with some half dozen distributors. I've had brands traded a bunch of times that I had no control over. Each and every time, emotions, to varying degrees, were a side effect.

Then, yesterday, something happened, that had nothing to do with me: Allegrini dumped Winebow in favor of Gallo as a U.S. importer. Now, I could rant for 1000's of words about how Gallo is a bully and plonk factory, intermittently gobbling up formerly famed producers to try to add credentials to what is essentially a lowest common denominator operation. I could tell you all about how in some markets, they'll  (allegedly) dangle 1 on 2 deals, just to grab points of distribution. But I won't mire in those details, let's just say, I don't love the way they (allegedly) operate and we don't exist in the same universe. On the other side, Leonardo LoCascio (Winebow) has built one of the most respected Italian portfolios in the country. I sold his wines 10 years ago while I lived in Southern California, and I liked their operation then and I respect it today.  Oh, and I've always really liked the Allegrini wines.

So, Shanken Business Daily sends out their Wednesday a.m. news blast yesterday, announcing the Allegrini news. I read it, was dismayed, but didn't think much of it. Then a Facebook friend posted on our local Ohio Winebow reps wall-WTF? Allegrini? Here's the bummer-he didn't know yet. Winebow was assembled in Mexico for their annual company meeting and they were about to be told when Shanken and then Facebook broke the news. I can imagine how they all felt. Betrayal, frustration, heartbreak, depression. These are all normal. You spend your time and energy selling and promoting the wines, but once you get to a certain level and you start selling certain wines, you must become emotionally connected to those wines. This must have been the case here. We all spent time on our friend's Facebook wall consoling and bashing Gallo, and then word comes in that Leonardo said the following to his team:  "Have an extra shot of tequila and move on". Boom. That's it. It's done. He's a smart man. Shit happens. As a bystander, this Gallo move bothered me. Leonardo was exactly right. You can't dwell on it. It's tough, but you can't. You will lose brands. You will lose friends. It's still, mostly because of the business. As much as I'd like to vilify Gallo, I can't. I don't know why they left, it may not have been anything juicy, it may have just been a better fit. Maybe the companies had grown apart. We can't worry about the salacious details. This is something that happens to EVERYONE in this business. Brand movement happens at every level. distributors, brokers, salespeople, owners, importers, winemakers, all change.

I've learned over the years that sometimes, things just don't make sense from a business perspective. Even though I'm 17 wineries lighter, I just had my best year by a mile. Sometimes subtracting makes you better. Most of us call upon the ancient art of Schaedenfreude to imagine that the winery will be worse off without us. Sometimes that's true. Sometimes its not. If you are in this business, know this-you will love and lose and love again. It's life, you do an extra shot of tequila and move on.