Sunday, November 15, 2009

O-N-D Halftime Report: A Three-Tier Crusaders Gamebook

Only 39 selling days till Christmas

There are all kinds of things to distract one in the wine business these days. Confluences abound, yet points of view are so diverse that to troll the top 100 wine blogs is to get a combination of blunt head trauma, whiplash and a serious case of confusion. The last week I have been going around in the car trying to sell cases of wine, and believe me it hasn’t been all that easy. And folks that I am talking to, they are saying the same.

So halfway through the precious holiday season of wine selling (and buying) we’re looking at a slow start. O-N-D, the October-November-December sales season is late harvest so far. There are a lot of unemployed and underemployed folks out there. My second trip to San Antonio in the last six weeks and what I saw on the streets near the bus station reminded me more of New Orleans, post-Katrina, than Alamo city. There are a lot of people on the edges, and not just folks we normally associate with in that category.

College grads, the class of 2009? The Millennials, who are supposed to help save and grow the country ibto a nation of wine drinkers? Reports have it that upwards of 80% of recent graduates are still without a job. And that would mean they are also without any kind of health care. Were trying to get folks to buy a bottle of Chianti for $7 and we have people who are trying to stay one step ahead of illness. Wine is a luxury to these folks. Cheese, bread, food has a higher priority right now. Really.

Austin was a little better. It is a contrarian kind of place and relatively affluent. One of the grads of 2009 (who is unemployed) tells me kids drive to Guadalupe (a main drag near the University) and get away from their car and beg for bucks. Tax free, but what a way to gather funds.

Houston this week, is looking like a town out of a Ridley Scott movie. The hotel we hooked for under $100 a night was four star and very bizarre. Sci-Fi hotel and folks looking for wines that we didn’t have. Meanwhile the wines we brought, folks weren’t buying so fast. Back to the drawing board.

And Dallas, what in the world is going on in this old home town over in flyover country? Well, Dallas is just plain weird. Last night we were invited a ball for a good cause. The dress was tropical. So our group read the memo and came to the party as requested. Meanwhile all of Dallas was decked out in black cocktail dresses and tuxedos. This is the story of my life in this town. I listen to the instructions and comply only to find a society mocking me with their conventions. It doesn’t just happen with Italian wines, it’s the whole gestalt. And online wine marketers think it is just rough for them because the laws and the system have been set up for the alpha-cats of the industry? Not from my perch. It just ain’t all the pretty in any area of the biz.

Speaking of, I headed over to Sausage Paul’s on Saturday to pick up my burrata. The place was jammed with shoppers. But I counted seven wine reps on the floor. About five too many. I got out as fast as I could, but not before a wine import rep accosted me and chastised me and Joey the Weasel for resetting the store. “Where’d you put all the shelf takers?’ He screeched. I explained that in order to clean the shelves which were dirty, we took all of the p.o.s. down. “You didn’t take yours down. Yours are all up.” He was a combination of pit-bull and rhesus monkey. I explained to him that yes I did put up shelf talkers, all new ones, many made by hand, on the spot. As if I had the exclusivity on hand-made shelf talkers. At this point I was starting to get irritated. Why? Because if I do something, it is for the client and the customers of the client. A retail wine store doesn’t exist for importers or distributors. It exists for the end-use customer. Period.

One more swipe, as if he were an out of work samurai from the Meiji Period. “I see you reset the store too.” At which point my coup de grace was simply, “Yes, and thankfully it was done by someone who knows what they are doing.”

I'd had it with this character, who once tried to tell me about DOCG, when I have made the study of DOCG’s and gotten closer than most in actually ferreting out their mysteries. In that same interchange he tried to convince me (or anyone around him that couldn’t escape the boom-varoom of his 300 HP voice) that a Barolo DOP (the new European classification) would also encompass anything made in the district, from Dolcetto to Barbera to Barbaresco. Huh? Barolo DOP now would be what we call Barbaresco? Is this guy nuts? And he is questioning whether or not Joey the Weasel and I know our way around the Italian wine set in a store? Maybe the three-tier system does need a little tweaking? Starting with bloviated reps that don’t do their homework and try to pass off B.S. to their peers and worse, to unsuspecting shoppers who are merely trying to find a nice white wine to go with their burrata.

And we are just halfway in the season. This could be a bloody Christmas.


Tracie P. said...

just had the slowest order monday in a VERY long time...maybe ever.


Unknown said...

"The Crash Test Dummies" can send in the Mounties to save ya! Or, maybe even Superman.

Alfonso Cevola said...

Clark Kent, there was a real gent...

A.M. said...

On the consumer end, I haven't purchased any bottles of wine lately. I rarely can finish one off by myself and my yearning for wine has been rather fickle these days. Instead I put $20.00 on a wine card from a local wine bar, conveniently called The Wine Cellar, which I then use as my mood dictates to enjoy multiple wines from the automated wine 'bar'. In the end I may have spent more than what I would for a single bottle, but the rations are perfect, in wine and dollars, and so is the company, usually. :) Are more consumers following suit or are they really putting that extra $20 toward bread and cheese?

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