Contradictions in the Wine Business

By the time you read this, I'll be 35,000 miles above ground headed to Minneapolis. This will be the first of 4 cities in 4 days visiting distributors who sell Dry Creek Vineyard wines. I've armed myself with plenty of vitamins, Tylenol PM and sensible shoes to last a trip twice as long. I've learned the hard way, getting stuck on more tarmacs and living through more delayed business trips than I care to remember.

It will be a very different experience than the one I had this past weekend. Before it's a distant memory, I need to say thanks to all who came to our Day in the Loire Valley event.  Other than the sweltering heat (temperatures soared to over 100 degrees) it was a delightful gathering of Wine Club members, Loire-inspired wines (including a 1995 Cabernet Franc that was a real eye opener!), delicious foods, musique à la francaise, artists in residence and pétanque under the trees. There were familiar friends and faces, along with a lot of newcomers who quickly became part of our extended winery family. Kevin, I sure hope you and your group from Iowa had a good time!

Duo Gadjo - musique francaise  CLICK TO ENLARGE! L'artiste  CLICK TO ENLARGE! nos invités  CLICK TO ENLARGE!
mes amis  CLICK TO ENLARGE! d'Iowa  CLICK TO ENLARGE! plus d'invités  CLICK TO ENLARGE!

These types of events have become a very important sales and marketing venue and they give us immediate feedback that is invaluable. For example, people loved the new '08 Chenin Blanc, but several were less than thrilled to see we've joined the screw cap nation.  I'm with ya folks, but that's a very different message than what we've been hearing from distributors and trade customers who have been screaming for us to make the change for some time now.  The new Dry Creek Valley focused Sauvignon Blanc was a big hit, as was a charming little Rosé we just started making called Petite Zin. It seems to have tickled quite a few fancies as a delicious and refreshing new summertime sipper.

In chatting with people, I found it fascinating that what our winery direct customers (consumers) tell us is often quite different than what we hear from “the marketplace.” Consumers want unique wines, wines for special occasions, and wines that appeal to all five senses.  As an example, that new Rosé we just released is nearly sold out! But I can just imagine the rolled eyes and frustrated stares if we wanted our distributors to start selling it in their market. The last thing they want is another obscure wine that needs a lot of explaining.

This contradiction between the consumer and wholesale side of the wine business is perplexing. I mean, aren't consumers supposed to drive product development? Aren't end users the ones who determine the softness of tissue, the number of chips in a pint of Ben and Jerry's (which by the way,  has gotten rather skimpy as of late!), or the desire for more fuel efficient cars? I'm honestly not sure anymore.

I'd love to hear your thoughts, as a consumer, distributor or member of the trade.

| | Comments (9)


Mark said:
May 20, 2009 7:06 AM

I think the difference you are seeing is due to how wine is sold. People coming to the wine country are curious and have made an investment to get here and curious about how wine is made. In this environment, they are allowed to taste wine, meet winery staff, and sometimes pair the wine with food. All of these factors will breakdown the fear of trying something new. Alternatively, when they walk into a wineshop, they are faced with the "wall of wine". The choices are overwhelming. It is here that people fall-back on scores, labels, or familiar bottles, and price to make their decisions. Many are afraid to make a mistake so they take the easy way out. Distributors are likewise carrying too many labels. The people they sell to help feed into the "dumb down" approach to selling wine. Price, scores, animal labels,...anything to make the sale and turnover inventory.



Kim (aka Wilma) Author Profile Page said:
May 23, 2009 2:42 PM

I agree on all accounts Mark. Especially true is that distributors have far too many labels to sell, making it nearly impossible to have the time or knowledge to intimately know each and every wine they represent. As a result, they often sell what's easiest or what's "on deal", which isn't necessarily what consumers want or need. That is why wine clubs and tasting rooms are so valuable and fun for people to experience.

richard said:
May 25, 2009 7:43 AM

"The last thing they (the distributors) want is another obscure wine that needs a lot of explaining."

This sentence explains your problem. Using automobile advertising as an example, it is a know fact that mos people decide on a car before they walk into a showroom. They decide based on the appeal of the advertising to their demographics. It works. Just think about the people portrayed in certain ads and you will understand what the vehicle's market is.

It may be that you just have to sell one bottle at a time. Word of mouth, person to person, emphasize the name as well as the wine.

The alternative is to combine print advertising in the right publications with your discussions with distributors. Maybe flyers, handouts.

Oh well as a salesman once told me 'the world will not buy your better mousetrap if they don't know about it."

Leslie said:
May 26, 2009 10:00 PM

As a "regular consumer", I can tell you price and lable are what sell me on a wine. I'm willing to try everything once, but who wants to spend $20 on a bottle of wine to find out they don't like it? I make a point to try a different wine everytime I go to a restaurant, but I rarely buy an expensive bottle just to try. As a housewife in a lower middle class family, I have a hard time justifying a $15 bottle of wine, unless it's one I've tried before. That being said, I've tried your Chenin Blanc at PF Changs. I've purposely sought out your wines in different venues since I started reading your blog. I really enjoyed the chenin blanc and will be trying even harder to find your other wines because I know how good the first one was.

Kim (aka Wilma) Author Profile Page said:
May 27, 2009 8:34 PM

Thanks for the insightful comments everyone. I learn a lot from your feedback.

Mark,unfortunately advertising is way too expensive for most wineries. In fact, I can't think of a single family owned winery that does much advertising at all. Most ads you see are by the big companies with bigger budgets. So, it's word of mouth, personal introductions, and sampling that most of us rely on to get the word out. And, when we get a good piece of press, we quickly create hand-outs to send to our distributors.

Leslie, I love that you tried our Chenin Blanc as a result of reading my blog. By the way, did you happen to see the June 15 issue of Wine Spectator? Our Chenin is recommended as a top value in the "alternative white wine" category. Yahoo! I hope you'll try some of our other wines, as we make quite a few that are under $20. Thanks for taking time to comment. And, keep experimenting with wine; it makes life much more enjoyable!

Leslie said:
May 31, 2009 9:52 AM

I've looked in prolly 15 stores over the last few weeks and can't find your Chenin Blanc on a retail level :(

Kim (aka Wilma) Author Profile Page said:
May 31, 2009 12:01 PM

That's dreadful! If you let me know what state/town you live in, I'll call our distributor for a list of stores that carry it in your area. Or, you can ask your favorite store to bring it in, and I'll give you the name of our distrubtor for them to call.

Now you know how frustrating it is to sell wine!

Pinger12 said:
July 10, 2009 12:05 PM

Hi Wilma. I am astounded by your last answer--to Leslie. It IS frustrating to sell wine through wholesalers (I've worked for them and worked with them as a supplier for many years). Why didn't you simply point Leslie to your web site ( so she could buy the wine direct from your cellars? There are so many benefits to both Leslie and to you. She gets the latest vintage of your Chenin in pristine, cellar door condition (some of us know the conditions wines are stored in by wholesalers...and retailers). You get a dedicated customer who you can merchandise to, add to your "friends and family list" all the things the retail trade isn't good add summed up as "coddling".
Your blog provided you with the best possible opportunity--to get a new direct customer.

Kim (aka Wilma) Author Profile Page said:
July 13, 2009 12:05 PM

You are absolutely right. I missed an excellent opportunity that was right under my nose. Unfortunately though, without knowing where Leslie lives, I can't suggest she buy directly from the winery as there are 14 states that are prohibitive to ship to--either due to state regulations or excessive permit fees. Hopefully Leslie is still reading and can let me know where she lives...if it's in a legal state, we'll gladly send her a couple of cases of our yummy Chenin Blanc to quench her summertime thirst!

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About this Entry

This page contains a single entry by Kim published on May 19, 2009 11:21 AM.

The Evolution Continues was the previous entry in this blog.

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