Wednesday, January 7, 2015

Who do you work for?

Being in the middle of the supply chain can be a little confusing. On a daily basis, you find yourself serving many masters. Your employer, who at the end of the day, would seem to trump all, but you are also getting pressure from your customers and in the other direction on the supply chain-suppliers, wineries etc. Unfortunately, these 3 are basically never aligned in their needs. You have a very crappy decision to make on a daily basis-Which do you serve?

In order to find peace and the right answer, all you need to do is observe which direction the money flows. It starts with the consumer then goes to the retailer or restaurant then to the distributor, then to the winery. As long as it flows in that direction, the health of the person you sell to is the most important thing. If you are a distributor representative, you need to make sure your clients are getting what they need, and that's not just weekly deliveries, but feedback, honest opinion, ideas, creativity and support. This will help them bring money in. Your boss may have different ideas. They may lock you in a room until you sold the entirety of your quota, or berate you in front of a roomful of your peers. A winery supplier rep may call you and act like your friend as ask favors, they may also fish for info while in your car.

Blind shipping, writing wine lists with nothing but goal items, lying about out of stocks to sub in goal items are all a  violation of trust. This is why so many large distributors have bad reputations: They often behave this way because they don't respect or empathize with their customers. They're numb from being middle managers. Fortunately, not everyone at large distributors works this way. Conversely, I've seen small distributors act even worse on occasion, so the big guys haven't exactly cornered the market on questionable behavior.

The company you work for, the distributor is EMPLOYED BY (or contracted by) your client. If you are acting in the best interest of your client and not violating the trust of your employer, you are doing right. If you employer doesn't see this, you should go find one that does.

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.

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...

Friday, September 28, 2012

What it feels like to switch teams

Almost inevitably, as time passes, our resumes build and competition notices, we eventually are asked to consider representing a new portfolio of wines. This could be at the supplier level or at the distributor level. For some, this doesn't matter, it's the same as selling Brand "X" vs Brand "Y". For me, personally, and most of you that bother to read a wine sales blog, it may feel as traumatic as giving your dog away and replacing him with a different, less loveable dog.

In every career, finding purpose is important. If you are a wine geek, you love wine and wineries. Your "book" is your sports team. Rooting for that team and singing it's praises is a natural inclination. It's that collection of players that complement each other and that you know so well. You probably build personal relationships with the wineries through workwiths, social media and maybe even a visit to the winery. Eventually, for any number of factors, but usually it's either financial or personal, you may consider jumping to another book. This choice is a deeply complicated decision. It's personal, and sometimes it works out great and sometimes, it's a soul crushing disaster. I've personally had one of each.

When it's positive, you look ahead at the new book and spend the bulk of your time excitedly learning about this new and exciting range of producers. When you see the old producers in the market, you have much love for them and have nothing but great things to say, and you mean it. When it's wrong, and believe me, you know right away, you realize that the marketplace perception of the distributor and the internal reality are pretty far apart. You may find you have a hard time loving the wines, and you find yourself longing for the old producers.

 Further complicating the situation is the very strange dynamic of: " I know I used to tell you these wines are the best, but now, maybe you'll believe me when I say I've found an entire set of wines that are better." That isn't really a viable approach, but damn if it doesn't feel that way. The best approach is to acknowledge that there is a whole world of great wines in the first place. My personal take has always been that each book has an assortment of great producers, but most sales reps for the big companies are a little too dim, or have had all critical thinking beaten out of them, to recognize this fact.

Jumping companies, particularly laterally,  is a tough choice. If the book you sell is important to you, that can be one of the most important considerations while making a jump. You have to balance that with the personal and the financial, but don't underestimate how hard it can be to forget about that first team.

Friday, August 31, 2012

So, where are the guys from "High Fidelity?"

I was listening to a podcast yesterday, specifically: The Nerdist interview of JJ Abrams. In the interview, JJ implied that we miss the days of bookstores and record shops, and have tried to replace those with other things, like restaurants. I never thought about it in those terms. There is no doubt we have seen a surge in "foodie-ism" over the last decade or so, and we have also seen the disappearance of record shops and bookstores. Is this possible? Have we taken the vacuum that was created by amazon and itunes  and filled it with bacon and pinot?

It's certainly possible.

There was something about the feeling of community, being in the record shops or bookstores all those years ago. They offered a personal, yet shared tactile experience. Now that the tactility of media has practically vanished (save a movie or concert experience), apparently, we need that sense of a shared tangible experience. Since food and wine is an experience that begins visually, we can share amazing photos of our foodie journeys throughout the inter-tubes. Some people don't get this and think that it's about gloating or showing off. Maybe that's a hidden part of it, but people that are into great wine and food love to share experiences both ways.

Not only do you have the shared e-meal (I like this term!), you also, probably, physically go to restaurants to share the experience with patrons around you. It's almost like an unspoken common energy, so reminiscent of the Saturday morning visits to the record stores with coffee in hand.

As I'm sorting all of this out, I also realize that something else has changed: restaurants look and act more like those record and book stores from back in the day.  The wait staffs wear "chucks" and are tatted up, something that would have only been seen in the aforementioned shops 15 years ago. The music is hip, and the best food doesn't necessarily come served on a tablecloth. Picnic tables and rolls of paper towels are just as likely. Convention has been broken by the needs of the people to have this progressing conversation about the art and love of food and wine. One that has outgrown the boundaries and expectation of the privileged and has found itself squarely in the lap of the literate, art loving, thoughtful bohemians.

While I'm sad that record stores and bookstores have largely gone the way of the dodo, music and books haven't disappeared, they've just jumped mediums. Next time you wax nostalgic about the disappearance of these places, celebrate the restaurants and food culture that have risen from their ashes, subconsciously replacing that need.

Friday, August 24, 2012

Wines of the The Uncanny Valley

For those of you uninitiated in general geekdom, the uncanny valley is (wikipedia): when human replicas look and act almost, but not perfectly, like actual human beings, it causes a response of revulsion among human observers. The "valley" refers to the dip in a graph of the comfort level of humans as a function of a robot's human likeness.

In other words, it's so close, but you know something's not right. You may even be able to analyze the robot or humanoid (or rinoplasty patient), and decide that everything individually looks right, but there's something off.  For more on this ability, check out Blink by Malcolm Gladwell, pretty great read.

As humans, we are trained our entire lives to notice this weird quirk in other humanoids, because we spend our entire lives looking at millions of other specimens making silent, involuntary notes about behaviors, expressions, movements, etc.

I propose that there is now an uncanny valley of wine. This is a theory that I've vetted amongst a handful of wine theoreticians (is there such a thing?). The consensus seems to be that, after you really refine your palate, you begin to notice, not necessarily flaws, but seams in wine. Having never made or aspired to make wine, I can't tell you what the tricks may be to cover shortcomings of wine. I know you can add a ton of ingredients to wine to fix color, acid, etc. I've seen wines I know have been watered back that have this weird quality. Sometimes, and seemingly more often as of late, I'll taste a wine, and it almost creeps me out. It's not flawed, nor does it possess anything out of whack, it just doesn't seem right. The closer it gets to being like actual wine (made from generally natural processes), the stranger it feels.

It would seem that this is not readily identifiable to the vast majority of the population. I would also suggest that I see this most often with larger producers from the U.S..This sensitivity, at least in my world, probably stems from 2 things-a) I have tended to gravitate towards Old world wines produced somewhat naturally as well as the domestic wines in the similar style b) my seeming addiction from ages 8-14 to Ferrara Pan Candy, which calibrated my palate to artificial flavors, and am now hyper sensitive to.

So, now we live in an age where even bad wine is still pretty drinkable for most, but for me, that is an uncanny valley red flag. Better drinking through chemistry? Maybe. It's not for me to say whether this is a good thing or not, but I definitely get the heebie-jeebies from these concoctions.

Monday, June 11, 2012

The wine road less traveled

There is a soothing and predictable hum to the machinations of wine sales. We are all trained to approach the task with a certain autonomy, and with very little deviation from the scripted dance. This forms our wine business sensibility that affect everything from our routes to the events we organize. "5 Course wine dinners" or "pour behind a table" seem to be the only approaches that are used. Once in a great while, we see someone try something new, and it may strike a chord. What we don't see is the inability of many of the people in this business, to adapt and support creativity. Those intoxicated by the dull rhythm resist anything unique at all costs. Their resistance to change can be demoralizing for everyone, and thereby, contagious. Wine people on the whole are striving for that predictability, perhaps born out of the aversion to risk.

Remember the Apple campaign called "Think different"? Different isn't automatically better, but different changes the world. Approaching events and this business differently, can change this part of the world. I have been involved in a few things that have broken convention, and in the end, enjoyed tremendous success from these projects. Success, in this case, not necessarily acutely monetarily. Instead, along with partners and evangelists, we created a couple of events that were among the most memorable wine events in our region's history. Nobody got rich off of the endeavors, but what we did was to create the elusive "I had this wine on vacation phenomenon"1. Wine dinners can blur together. Once you create a unique event, you have the ability to forever connect the thing you are marketing to a very specific memory (hopefully it is a great memory).

The other challenge I have recently encountered has been my counterparts' desire to keep wine programs  simple and predictable. As I often do, I thrown down the wine education gauntlet. I'm not an MS by any stretch, but I believe that we can raise the general education of the population by challenging them to select and sample wines outside of their comfort zone. Seemingly naively, I also subscribe to the belief that actually pairing food and wine together can create an elevated experience. Some reps would much rather work in the Cab/ Chard world and believe that the success of this corner of a wine program is your path to business success, as if they have never heard the term "self-fulfilling prophesy".

What separates us from our competition may not be as simple as how many hours we work or how passionate we are, instead it may be about breaking convention, rewriting rules and forging the path yet to be traveled. If we are constantly working on new approaches, not only to our sales, but more importantly to the way we promote our clients while challenging convention, the better we differentiate ourselves from the guy who makes the donuts.

 1 This is phenomenon that occurs whenever a person travels and has a bottle of wine while on vacation. It will always be the best wine ever. This is observed to be more a function of the moment than the actual quality of the wine. See "Hot dog in a ballpark syndrome"

Tuesday, May 1, 2012

Fête d’ Été

Anne Amie Vineyards, a small, family owned winery in Willamette Valley, Oregon, will be visiting our region for their annual sales call. This year, will offer a twist on the traditional winemaker dinners. Instead of 5 courses in 1 restaurant, they will host a series of progressive bicycle winemaker dinners. In each city, Anne Amie will travel between 4 or 5 restaurants in general proximity, atop bicycles, with the entire group in tow. This should offer not only a unique and incredibly joyful experience, but a fresh look at the fabric of each city. Kimberly McLeod (National Sales Manager) and Thomas Houseman (Winemaker) wanted to bring an element of Portland, Oregon, to the Great Lakes. This event has been embraced by each of the restaurant communities, and everyone has worked together to bring a youth and energy to a format that can often seem stuffy or intimidating. Each dinner is $75 all inclusive and comes with a t-shirt with the Fête d’ Été-logo for the event and the “tour dates”. Fête d’ Été (literally means summer party)-so named, as we are on the cusp of Summer here in the Great Lakes, and there is a sort of magic in the air this time of year, and a hunger to be outside. Each ride, very casual in nature, will encompass no more than 7 total miles round trip. Guests are expected to provide their own bicycle. The event details are as follows, each event begins at 6pm: Monday May 14th-Ann Arbor, MI-Stops include: Vinology, Sava’s, The Earle and Palio- a beautiful ride through campus and downtown Tuesday May 15th-Toledo, OH-Stops include: Toledo Museum of Art, Mancy’s House, Real Steak Seafood Company, Rockwell’s at the Oliver House and Registry Bistro. This is a ride through the largest contiguous Victorian Neighborhood and over the Maumee River. Wednesday May 16th-Cleveland, OH-Stops include: Flying Fig, Fat Cat’s, Ginko, Noodlecat and SoFo. This ride will give a great look at 3 of Ohio best restaurant neighborhoods: Downtown, Tremont and Ohio City Thursday May 17th-Columbus, OH-Stops include Barrel and Bottle, Alana’s, Till and Rigsby’s Kitchen. The Olentangy river trail is one of the most beautiful rides in Ohio and we will include several miles of this trail on our ride. Reservations can be made at No more than 30 slots are available on any date, so early reservations are encouraged.