The Times They Are A-Changin'

Yesterday I spent the day working with a new sales rep for our California distributor. We met with half a dozen accounts in San Francisco in hopes of making some new placements. Tasting through our current releases together and telling the story of Dry Creek Vineyard was invaluable for him. Nothing better than hearing it straight from the horse's mouth, right?  But it wasn't enough. We had lots of great feedback on the wines, and numerous requests to check back when other inventory has been depleted, but at the end of the day I didn't help this poor chap sell one bottle of our wine. The Husband on the other hand was in Florida kicking off our brand with a new division of our distributor. He too had been personally visiting accounts, sampling with wine buyers, and educating the sales representative with whom he was working. Middle of the day I got an update message on my cell phone:  Day 1 he had sold 40 cases. Day 2, 30 cases. Not a bad haul even if he had to travel 3000 miles to do it.

I point this out for those of you who still think that the wine business is glamorous. Sure there are elements of glamour. I'll be the first to admit I enjoy strutting the Red Carpet during my annual pilgrimage to the SAG Awards.  And, hosting a wine cruise for Windstar Cruises in a few weeks isn't a bad way to make a buck either. But at the end of the day, the wine business is tough and only getting tougher. 

This became crystal clear for me at the last account I visited. The sommelier was blown away by the quality of our wines. (Although not as much as he was his own palate, which he kept reminding me was one of the best in the city!)  At the end of the tasting, I asked to see the wine list. (It's always good to see if there's a “hole” i.e., no wines from the Dry Creek Valley appellation, or a lack of great Zinfandels, etc.)  Much to my horror, I did not recognize ONE SINGLE brand name. And it wasn't because they were from Timbuktu or some other obscure region. These were wines from well known California AVAs.  Yet, I had never heard of any of them. My heart starting thumping and my breath became well, sort of labored. In that split second I realized that no matter how fantastic our wines, how amazing our reviews and scores, or how hard we work to promote our products in the marketplace, the industry as I know it has changed. Labels are becoming like bunny rabbits, expanding and multiplying at such an alarming rate that making a placement on a wine list or store shelf is becoming an act of God.

And it isn't limited to just wines. Check out this photo. Never in my lifetime in this industry, first as a kid growing up in it, and later as my chosen profession, have I seen something like this in the Dry Creek Valley.  Some poor schlock using guerilla marketing tactics to market his unsold grapes...

Click to enlarge!

To put it bluntly, and as Bob Dylan once said,

“The Times They Are A-Changin'!”

| | Comments (4)


pigeonofdoom Author Profile Page said:
September 9, 2010 9:16 AM

I am a wine merchant in the UK, and I heartily agree with all of the above! We see hundreds of new wines come through our offices every week, most of which are discarded with little thought to the attention someone has given to making this wine. For me it is both a blessing and a curse that there are so many wineries out there. For one it is great to announce the arrival of a new wine to my customers who might well be getting bored of the range and want something new, but on the flip side, the amount of wine we don't take either because its not tasting good that day, or whether we just cant decide how to market it, or any one of a hundred reasons we don't take a wine, it must be tough for any winemaker to get their products to market.
Thats why it is good to see winemakers out and about getting to know their accounts. Some of my favourite wines with us are by those whose winemakers take the time to come over, do a tasting with the guys on the sales floor and occasionally invite us to go and visit them! (As a matter of fact im going to Bordeaux next week to visit one.) I still believe this is the best way to sell wine because people dont necessarily buy into a brand but into a person... but with the amount out there and the little amount of time people have in their busy lives now, youre right! Its getting harder!

Keep up the great blog and the photos! By the way the early morning vineyard shot is now my desktop background at work!


CHUCK JOHNSON Author Profile Page said:
September 12, 2010 5:03 PM

Wow Kim, what a challenge it must be to sell your wines. I hope one day I will be able to help. Have you & Don considered creating a labeling/branding service where merchants could sell your wine under their own label? This kind of program is currently being done at Windsor Vineyards & Rutherford Ranch winery. The tasting room manager at Rutherford Ranch informed me they have a person employed who runs their program, and the participating merchants are required to buy a minimum amount of cases of wine. The merchant puts their brand name on the wine & sells your wine as though it's their own. I've seen the performance theatre show here in San Fran “Teatro Zinzanni” feature its own wine at their theater. They may be apart of a branding program.

Kim (aka Wilma) Author Profile Page said:
September 12, 2010 9:44 PM

Thanks to both of you for the thoughtful comments. Ironically, I'm leaving in the morning for New York to do just what you speak of Bryn, spend the week visiting stores/customers/clients, etc. As you say, it's the personal touch that makes the difference. Hopefully I'll have good success and create many more loyal fans.

Chuck I'd like to know more about your custom branding idea. I'm only familiar with the Windsor Vineyards model, not the Rutherford one, which intrigues me. I'm hoping to take my tasting room staff on a field trip soon; maybe we can pay them a visit. In the meantime, the old fashioned way of selling wine is best--feet on the street and all hands on deck! Boating pun intended:)

JohnLopresti Author Profile Page said:
September 13, 2010 8:56 AM

There are some wonderful boating-centric demographics along the eastern seaboard. How about emphasizing the already successfully branded boat themed label for the fine Dry Creek Wines in those places, too, as well as NYC proper. I think of some of the inland waterway communities in central NJ, CT along LI Sound, the adventursome and independent cities of the MA cape; this is starting to sound like a vacation again, instead of innocent marcom.

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This page contains a single entry by Kim published on September 8, 2010 1:00 PM.

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