Friday, July 09, 2010

Ink that doesn't fade

“Can you help us out?” The call from Dallas sounded urgent, most likely due to the fact that it was June, we were facing two major fiscal year ends and we were also in the middle of a hellacious heat wave. “What do you need?”, my usual response. “We have a Count, Giovanni Bonmartini-Fini, we need you to take him around – go out with him and help sell his wine.”

Simple enough. Two wines – Pinot Grigio and Merlot. I stopped. Pinot Grigio and Merlot? Two wines, popular enough, but wines I don’t normally think of as much in this day of Falanghina and Teroldego. But what the heck, I thought, why not? Everybody says Giovanni is a super nice guy. Let’s go!

Giovanni’s story is that his larger business is in Italy selling printer ink. “Nothing is as boring as ink,” he would tell me. “Nobody thinks they need it until they need it. People don’t want to talk about it, it’s way down their list of things they want to buy or talk about. There is no glamour, and it’s usually all about price. And it is competitive – stiffly competitive.”

"Selling Pinot Grigio and Merlot is way sexier than selling ink or roofs."

It reminded me of those itinerant roofers that roam the neighborhoods after a big storm. Feared, mistrusted, loathed. But 600 printer ink stores later, Giovanni smiles, all the way to the bank. And then there is his Fini family estate making these two wines and Giovanni is so darned charming. Oh, and bonus round, he has a strong work ethic – not afraid to roll up his sleeves (or unbutton his shirt) and get busy. Along with that, his local rep was Gallo trained and doesn’t know the word “no”. His favorite line is “just one more stop.” Music to my ears.

A few weeks ago, during the heat wave, we all piled into my car and hit the road – First appointment 10AM – last call 9:30 – and no 2 hour lunches, not with these guys.

Just one of those days when I am reminded that no matter what my prejudices about Italian wine are, there is always someone who sees it a little differently. People love Pinot Grigio and Merlot. And Giovanni too. Giovanni surely knows how to sell and with joy. “After schlepping toner around Italy, coming to America to sell wine is work, yes, but work with joy. In fact, I have to keep reminding my partners that although it looks like I am having a great time, it is hard work!”

Sure Giovanni, I am here to testify for you, but I reckon I won’t be too successful in pleading your case. But the 9 PM display rebuilding session might.

Wine salespeople, and more importantly, wineries in Italy take notice: Instead of all those emails I get from this or that winery in Italy telling me about their tradition (which I love) and their unusual products (which in these times are not always a plus) come to America roll up your sleeves, work all day on your feet, and before it’s over let’s rebuild a 40 case display. And then tell me how bad you want to be in the American market.

I know one ink salesman from Rome who has already figured it out – you’re gonna have to get on the stick if you want to catch up with this guy. No month-long hanging on the beach in August – git over here and get busy. It sure works for Giovanni and his wine. And it works for me too.

"Catch me if you can."


tom hyland said...


You hit the nail on the head- it's about hard work. I think there are too many Italian producers - large and small - that still think that they're dealing with business as it is in Italy. There's way too much wine out there from all over the world, so if you want it to sell, do something about it!

And you're right - people like us are lucky in that we get to try so many outstanding limited wines and we sometimes think everyone wants these wines and can't wait to buy them. But as you wrote, everyday consumers love Pinot Grigio and Merlot, so good for the Count! By making his wines successful, that means you and I can have the luxury once in a while of trying those limited bottlings.

Alfonso Cevola said...

Thanks, Tom! W are indeed lucky, all of us. And his Pinot Grigio was very pleasant.

Tracie P. said...

So glad the count isn't a princess!

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