Wednesday, October 04, 2006

Welcome to the Camp *

Too much wine in the warehouses, more wine in the fields, made-up wine in some marketing office, and everyone’s looking to young adults as the key to growth?

I’m sorry but there aren’t enough in that group to handle the deluge that is appearing, and has been here for a while now.

This is probably more of an industry angle, but it’s something that has been bothering me lately. Recently, it seems that every week one or two winemakers from Italy have been sending wine for our consideration. And while the unsolicited samples have been well made, good labels, clean, fresh, nice wines, where will they fit?

Tie in to that existing supplier relations, folks who are bringing more new items into the fold, new labels, new wine-producing areas, and it all gets a bit daunting. Where are the wine drinkers for all this wine? And where are the salespeople who can assimilate all the information and who will find the clients that will take the time for the presentations? And the wave is just hitting the shores. Are we selling soap?

Reports from the West coast about wine gluts, $5 Napa Cabernet, press releases from France about the Bordeaux identity crisis, with all but the top 50 or so chateaux searching to pour their wine into someone’s glass tonight. Hints from Italy, whispers, suggesting the disparity say for instance, between the Chianti on a shelf for $6 and another one next to it for $30, both selling at levels below their expected “burn rate”.

And not just that. In the past quarter I have had three independent restaurant operators call me and ask me to meet with them. It seems they have a friend in Molise or Liguria or Puglia. They want to bring in their wines for their restaurant. Hello?

Since we were talking "Blue Sky," I casually mentioned to one of them that I knew well enough, and asked him if he could help the company I worked for set up a kitchen, so we could help out a friend we had who was a wheat farmer. He asked me what for? I mentioned that we were looking into starting a restaurant as a sideline to help our farmer friends. He said that wouldn’t be right, that it would compete with his already established restaurant business. Really?

So what makes any sense of their “plan” to bring in their own wines? Other than to skirt the existing network.

I told one of the clients, we could do it, if 1) they bought it all, and that would be a minimum of 800 cases, at margins our company operates on to stay in business. And 2) he gives us 100% of all of his wine, spirit and water business.

I didn’t wait for the door to hit me on the way out. Point being, he thought those conditions were ludicrous. Like delivering 3 bottles of a wine on a Friday night by the salesman isn’t? Which is something that does happen, often. Try and get your internet wine company to give you that kind of service.

Yep, this is an industry rant, and one that will go on for some time. Look, I’m OK with different points of entry into the world of wine-loving. And if a medical post-grad student orders a bottle of Barolo from Wine Expo in L.A., cool.

If that person happens to someday become a partner in a restaurant and decides on Thursday that he wants that wine for his Friday night customers, then another network is needed. It’s called the wholesale distribution network. And it supports many families. And it is a good thing. And it works.

So the next time you head out on a Friday night with your friends and family and decide at the last minute that you want to go to Café X and have Wine X, know that you will likely get it because of a dedicated bunch of people, in the trenches, day in and day out, who have made it possible for your wine to be on the front line, the restaurant.

And that is the bottom line.



* Lyric from The Rock Opera, Tommy, by The Who

1 comment:

Travel Italy said...

It is interesting to see all industries make the same mistakes. I wonder if the current situation is somehow not related to the recent investments in the Italian vineyards by numerous investment bankers.

The 50 year old concept of marketing instead of quality, advertising instead of customer service, and pump out sufficient quantities whether or not their is demand, just lower price has failed once again.

Shall we never learn?

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