Tuesday, August 24, 2010

Selling Ourselves

Right now, I am in one of the least appreciated positions in the wine and spirits industry; distribution rep. Granted, the company is fine, my coworkers are all very talented, and I truly enjoy building relationships with clients within my territory, but I recognize that look I receive when I walk through the door.

"This guy, again?" Yes. It's me, again. I am here because according to the three tiered sales system, you can't be trusted to buy directly from wineries. And, god knows, consumers need the protection of wineries being able to come directly to them. It is a drag when you might have a fantastic relationship with a producer, a family working hard to make beautiful wine in the hills of Sonoma, but because their wines aren't carried by a Illinois distributor, you can't sell them in your store. You can tell your consumers to buy directly, or go visit next time they're out there, but you don't see that on your bottom line.

So, here I am, big green bag filled with reds that have been sloshed around on my shoulder all day, and whites that have lost their chill despite the ice packs nestled in beside them. I am here to tell you why my wines work best for you and your retail store or restaurant. I am here to tell you about profitability and points and discounts and delivery days and service beyond compare. The next guy or gal waiting behind me? Forget about them, they're selling discount bulk plonk that will hurt you and your business. I am the real deal. I am the golden calf with the promises of only the best wines and the best deals for you, and only you. What about the restaurant across the street that I sell to as well? C'mon you know that they don't have the savvy that you do, and anyway, you and I are pals. Best friends. We'll talk about your family, kids, friends, the sport of the season, and we'll grab a lunch together because, I just want to hang out with my friend.

Except that this isn't me. I've been the buyer before and had sales reps do all of these things and more. I can't tell you about points and keep discounts in my back pocket. I want to work with you and see if there is anything that might work in my portfolio. I am not going to force it on you. I will tell you about the producers, if I know them. I will tell you what I have read, and if I don't know the answer, I am not going to lie. I like some of my clients very much, but, I don't have a company card to take them out to lunch. Frankly, I wish I could work for some of my clients. They're just good, smart people. People who know what they want to buy. I can show them wines that I think are gorgeous, and oftentimes we'll agree, but perhaps they know that none of their clients will buy them. And the wines will sit and languish, or they'll end up drinking them themselves rather than having them take up shelf space. Nobody wants this. Frankly, I want to sell you wine so I can keep my job, but if someone else has a better wine than I do, I will be the first to admit it.

So, yes, roll your eyes and dread another salesperson comin through the door. I Promise, I will try my hardest not to be the same old salesperson. And we'll never go to lunch together.

Wednesday, February 17, 2010

Old Style

My love of beer, and of the image of the ubiquitous Chicago favorite above, seems at odds with my love of wine. Beer on the tap, drank fresh from the cask or keg. Enjoyed young and fresh. Wine has a long and beautiful tradition of being stored in elegant fragile bottles, sealed with bark from a tree, aging undisturbed and never break or go bad or... wait. Not right. We all have opened a corked bottle, or had a bag break heading up the stairs to our apartment, and whoops. There goes your wine.

I love hearing the stories of the village wine shops that had the cask in the cellar that they used to fill the containers brought in by their neighbors and customers. Of course, there are also reports that these wines were plonk, by today's standards, but still, it was a truly local item that continued to age and serve the needs of the village. In recent weeks, I have been excited to learn about the resurgence of these old techniques being modernized with wine kegs making the rounds.

The wine keg is keeping the old principles in mind with new technology; ease of dispensing, shipping, and providing a larger quantity of wine at a less expensive initial cost to the vendor. The step up is is higher protection of the wine from oxygen, and rapid aging. The kegs pictured above are from Oregon, and are meant to be delivered to the tap via hoses, like any typical beer delivery system. The keg below is meant to be visible, and is available directly to consumers. Smaller, but similar in theory.
One thought that keeps ringing in my ears is the old wooden cask. Of course the common knowledge is that one must protect their wine from oxidizing and aging too rapidly, thus the minimal oxygen exchange of modern kegs is ideal for this. However, what of the wines of the (old) Piedmont, that were kept in cask for up to four years before bottling? What about the barrel tasting most of us have been fortunate enough to enjoy? Were those wines any less drinkable because they weren't in a bottle yet? Perhaps a large cask of wine can continue to age in the corner of a wineshop or corner store, just as well as in a cellar or cave. I have seen such setups still in use in Italy, Slovenia and Croatia. Certainly, not in the corner next to the stove, or in the sun where it would cook into vinegar, but in a cool corner where the bottles line the shelves as well. I am certain that there are a number of laws in the U.S. regarding the dispensing and transporting of wines from cask to home, but one sees brewpubs selling growlers (half-gallon jugs) from the tap, then sealing them with a shrink-wrap collar; who is to say that this method shouldn't be available to wine?

Provided microbreweries are converting to canning beer to save on bottle, label, and shipping cost, perhaps the end result will be wine in a can. Wait, too late. Ugh, that's unfortunate.