Wednesday, March 04, 2009

Backed, Sacked and Cracked

I have been staring at a computer screen for two days now. With month end comes new reports. I don’t even know where to start.

All of us who aren’t gazzilionaires seem to have our backs against the wall. We’re either trying to sell something, buy something or avoid talking to salespeople. I have noticed that many folks in the wine biz have disappeared behind some firewall. They aren’t on the streets. They aren’t looking after their primary customers. Where have they gone?

They could say the same for me. With all this biz analysis and biz blogging I know only too well how much easier it is to avoid the necessary blocking and tackling these times call for.

Still, with all the running around and sending out information, going to this customer tasting here, and a private one there, what does it all add to the bottom line? Or does it just keep the bottom from sinking even lower?

Oh sure, it is a lot more fun thinking about that 1964 Barolo or the wonderful Friulano winemaker who doesn’t have electricity in his winery. Much more romantic. So poetic. It almost brings tears to my eyes, but haven’t we seen enough lately, of men crying in front of millions of screens?

I have been out in so many restaurants lately. When I think back to the best meal in the last week or two, most often it was in someone’s kitchen. Did the wine matter? A lot more than when I had to order it from an inflated wine list.

I actually saw a 2004 Castello di Meleto Chianti Classico for $14 a glass. That got me as much as the Zenato Amarone I saw last month for $168. Who’s buying these wines at those prices?

Wine directors (or the bean counters that worship at the altar of their COGs) should get sacked for treating their employers business with such reckless disregard for the customer and their dwindling reserves of cash. Or nonexistent cash. Buy a bottle of wine for $20 and charge $35 and sell a ton. Buy a Brunello for $40 and sell it for $65 and make new friends. You have to have that $70 bottle of Barolo? How about selling it, not for $210, but for $95? You might sell two bottles. And $50 to take to the bank is a whole lot better than the big goose egg.

Oh yeah, we still have the hilly vineyards and the romance of the gentrified farmer. Or if you prefer, the Leed certified winery that farms organic and fines with fertile egg whites in a gravity fed facility. All neat and shiny.

I was thinking about a meal in Italy. My perfect meal is not to sit at some fine table with a multitude of small plates parading across the starched linen, hour after grueling hour, with wine after wine and the sorest backside, only to be finished with a 40 minute drive to fall into a bed. We would call that Vinitaly, and it will be here in a month. No, my dream is a little table, even a bench and a carafe of local wine. No menu, only what the ladies in the back have found at the market earlier in the day. Pasta, some vegetables, maybe a protein. Not salmon, not in Italy. Or garlic roasted shrimp. Not even in Tuscany. No, I’d prefer something like what I found last year above the hills of Trento. Just a little eight table affair, with a warm room and whatever the cook had prepared.

So we complain about the economy, but no ones losing any weight. Maybe things need to get worse before we get better?

While we wait for a better computer with more memory that runs faster, maybe it’s time to move from the desk to the epicenter of the industry. To the restaurant, for the Italian wine, to confront the scared restaurateur and try to get him or her to make the necessary adjustments to bring people back into eat from their kitchens. It’s not too late, but it’s pretty damn close. And it would be a good place to start.




7 comments:

Do Bianchi said...

Last night I heard a story about bottles of Moscato d'Asti being sold in a nightclub at $140 a bottle. Seems they can't sell it fast enough. An anomaly no doubt... Reef in Houston uses close-to retail pricing on their list: at lunch the other day, it was remarkable how many tables had ordered by the bottle... Dagueneau at $42? Can do...

tom hyland said...

Alfonso:

You've got it right- back to basics!

Italian meals are about simplicity- a little pasta and some vegetables and some wine and bread. What more do you need?

Tracie B. said...

cheers to that! and i'll cook for you boys anytime

genevelyn said...

So, you notice less guys on the street? In my turf, there is a new distributor every week , hungry and willing to travel for the sales. Unfortunately, they don't have the wines to feed the buyer's appetite. Lots of hobbiest.

Alfonso Cevola said...

Jeremy:
Reef and Catalan have great values.
Congrats on your American Squirrel Wine Blog Award!

Tom:
Amen, brother
Congrats on your American Squirrel Wine Blog Award!

Trace:
Amen, sister
Congrats on your American Squirrel Wine Blog Award!

Genevelyn:
I know Trace and Dobi are on the streets. I'm actually seeing a lot of distribs on the streets but not a lot of importer reps. There's business to be had, but at reasonably priced mark ups. My current rant. Nice to hear from you. Congrats on your American Squirrel Wine Blog Award!

genevelyn said...

I have an American Squirrel award--Holy Moses--I had no idea.
Keep up the blogging from the other side.
Genevelyn

genevelyn said...

Oh--forgot to mention I had 5 work w/ in 3 weeks--want to come to Virginia?

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