The Q4 shuffle. The race. The middle of OND.
After a hiatus, I am back. The NYC market brought some serious challenge in the months leading into this fourth quarter we are now in the middle of and I had to focus or lose big. From here on in, 2017 is a sprint to the finish line.
Articles will come more regularly going forward.
A couple top-liners below. Enjoy.
Raw and the Anti-Naturalistas
More on this to come soon, but RAW WINE NYC was strong. Besides the terrible faces and horrendous “hospitality” I got at the door, once I got inside, I was blown away by the obvious, vibrantly growing consumer interest in the Natural Wine Movement*. I think we are a few more rounds away from the RAW tasting jumping the Action Bronson, but until then the anti-natural journalists and other non-believers are going to scratch their heads and vehemently defend their anti-NWM positions. They will continue to focus on the wines, the lack of definition, and pay little attention to the movement behind them driving the whole shebang.
Is a trend still a trend in this market after fifteen plus years? I am no genius, but I think these folks may be missing something. Or maybe the journalists that write on both sides of the natural aisle are using the sexiest click bait around next to Rosé to get clicked all day long. It is probably both.
One thing is certain after the RAW experience: the Natural Wine Movement has galvanized and is going to gain attention.
Welcoming the Sommpreneur
First, we saw the Sommelebrity come up, and now we are witnessing the arrival of the Sommpreneur. Brother and Sister Somms have a wine brand to sell through their restaurant wine program and to their colleagues that make a brand as well, an alternative packaging project, a fast-casual concept, book #2 on the way, a retail wine partnership, and all the while they have a busy restaurant with a team of sommeliers that execute service on the floor — pretty amazing, right?
Enterprising Somms are grabbing the vine by the cluster and I am happy for them. Opportunities abound. I have said this often before and am on the record on I’ll drink to that, but I love that the Sommelier is getting the star treatment. I believe it is good for the entire wine industry.
But a word of warning to all the budding Sommpreneurs as this world grows: Two roads diverged in a wood, etc.
Exit Stage Left – the vanishing Wine Director
There have been more high profile exits this year from top wine director positions than ever before and I am not shocked. Several of the upper-level buying positions in play had been held for years and are a little like Brando in Streetcar on Broadway: incredibly tough to replace. Turnover happens, but I have to wonder: is there a reliable place in this country where Beverage/Wine Directors are being developed? It must be exceedingly rare.
The trend towards younger wine directors of the last few years continues with the current landscape. While they are crazy talented with wine, they lack the secret sauce of experience and this dynamic creates some increased velocity of turnover.
Along with this multi-year, overall sea change towards the young buyer, a peppering of old guard buyers from the past are making comebacks. These experienced buyers are coming out of semi-retirement and moving back into buying as high-level beverage director positions come available via rookie turnovers.
We will see some rookies become heroes and some move on in a flash, but the bottom line, for now, is this: younger, knowledgeable, motivated, cheaper, and less experienced is the overall rule in the Wine Director role.
Gray is the new black
The Epic run of wine sold outside the three-tier system continues…
Has more been sold outside the three-tier system so far this year than any previous? Yep, no need to crunch any numbers. Is it growing through this holiday season? Obviously, yes. Old and rare wine is the recipe to make Sommelier/Wine Directors, (and myself…), weak in the knees. Also, buying these types of wines creates a cycle of constant searching. An addiction to the old that is hard to pull away from. So, here we are: Gray is the New Black.
If more players dive into this game it will get decidedly more competitive since there aren’t a vast number of consistent sources for these coveted wines. However, one constant will remain: Wine Directors buy the Gray stuff from their friends. Attention remains the key to the castle.
Sidenote: I have to wonder what it is like for heritage producers to come into this market to sell their current release wines and see old bottlings featured in many restaurants bought from sources outside their chosen distributor. They must they find themselves between a mother rock and hard place: It is decidedly more difficult to sell their current release wines and it is difficult to argue with the broad support on a list of their historic vintages. The lucky few have both rolling…
“ Empire is like the brother-in-law you never want. Buyers today generally buy from them because they feel like they have to.
The Empire strikes…back?
The Empire Merchants distribution animal (Evil Empire on the street..) went on strike and I took a few surprising phone calls that made me very happy. When one of the juggernaut companies gets interrupted by a Union strike and buyers in the market are already fed up with the horrendous service experience of working with them, we smaller players are presented with an opportunity.
Empire is like the brother-in-law you never want. Buyers today generally buy from them because they feel like they have to. Good service from them is as rare as a pleasant ride on the L train at 4 am.
Empire has been on strike before but never before have there been so many companies poised to take some biz from them. Stop and think about that for a moment. This was near impossible five years ago. Now the volume placements are in play. This is beyond huge.
And, the Winner is…
The Wine Spectator #1 wine of the year is…(wait for it)… Duckhorn Merlot Tres Palmas Vineyard 2014!
According to Tom Matthews, Wine Spectator executive editor, it is a comeback story that has quality, value and the so-called “X-factor.”
This may strike you as a total spinfest from an alternate universe at first glance, but after a little thought, this choice makes a lot of sense. The Wine Spectator business must work for advertising and towards a large market, so a 5k case production Merlot from Duckhorn as the #1 wine is a perfect choice.
Print (and digital) media companies in the wine space are generally behind and more mass market than we experience in the trenches of NYC.
Duckhorn is now owned by a private equity firm (and for me the wine equivalent to a dusty, mallard duck rotary dial phone), but the truth is that Duckhorn is on a lot of lists and shelves, and sells better in NYC than most of us would ever believe.
*The Natural Wine Movement (NWM) is a tribe defined by the Seth Godin principle “people like us do things like this” and has little to do with exacting vineyard or cellar practices and much more to do with the people behind them. This is my current definition of the movement. Happy to discuss in person. Email me.