THE REORDER 04/16/18

Wine Sales – A top 5 don’t do list

Wine sales can be tricky. Unlike other sales jobs, there are few “constants” and the sales cycle is shorter and more unpredictable. But I am seeing a lot of mistakes repeatedly made on the street that can be easily remedied. Below are the classic top five mistakes and some thoughts on how to avoid them.

I hope this helps.

#1. Fetishizing the appointment

It is romantic to think that sitting and tasting wine with someone will solve all sales problems and make everyone understand, but I can tell you with confidence that the moment you start fetishizing the “appointment,” you are lost. It is over. Finito.

You must find another way. The answer is in this question: Why would they ask YOU to sit/taste and not the other way around?

#2. Account Hunting on Eater

Trying to find new accounts? Eater should never be your primary source. Do pay attention to it, because it CAN give you a heads up, but keep in mind that everyone else sees it – and therein lies the problem.

Best way to find accounts in NYC? Take a walk. I know, it is a lot less sexy and requires much more time, but you will find much more gold. Many worthwhile accounts in the city never appear on a Heatmap. 

#3. Preparation and the Bag full of “everything”

I used to sit at a bar in midtown waiting to taste behind a line of reps and watch them open twelve bottles of wine for a buyer that was rarely going to buy one case from them. Contrastingly, I would roll in with less than 4 bottles and the buyer would take a few cases. There was no genius in this, I had done my work before I got there. I knew what the gent liked and what in my portfolio had a chance.

Never open bottles for a closed mind – and do whatever work you can ahead of time to know what you have that is actually worth showing. Also, (and most importantly) avoid the trap of trying to have a bag full of wine that has something perfect for everyone. It can really lock you up. This bag of wine doesn’t exist, and you will always be missing something. Don’t worry – this is a good thing.

Many worthwhile accounts in the city never appear on a Heatmap.

#4. ‘Over Talking’ the Wines

Don’t over talk the wines. Want to have connective conversations with some of the best wine professionals in the world that buy wine in NYC? Stop ‘over explaining’ the technical, mundane, google-able aspects of the wine and get to what is true about it.  If you actually know something deeper, artfully share it.

And while you are at it, ask a question and just listen. Watch how someone tastes. Learn from them. Then think about how you present wine to them.

#5. It ain’t surgery, it’s the wine biz

In 2007, a superstar veteran salesperson said something to me that changed my career. He told me that I shouldn’t take this job too seriously. Even though I was struggling at the time just to get by, he was right. I smelled of fear, and no one wants to work with that. Faint desperation is not a good look.

Stay as light as you can with the job of selling wine. If you have to have that sale, you need to re-evaluate what you are doing so it isn’t that serious.

THE REORDER 03/05/18

Reading the Tea Leaves – Classic Wine Buyer responses

Let me read the tea leaves of some classic buyer responses below. All of these interactions can be overcome but can take time and serious investment. It is always going to be nuanced from buyer to buyer, but if you see the meaning, it gets easier.

So, below are translations of some common buyer sayings. Think about this: maybe that the buyer may just not be into you and you need to find another? What you have to offer may not be for her (or him)…don’t be afraid to move on.


I don’t know your book

I don’t want to know your book, or more likely, you need to entice me. Go for the top producer in your book that you can think of and watch the reaction.

I work a lot with consignment

They like historical prestige labels and will like to play with traditional over new finds. They also tend to dislike most import/distribution operations. Look for the producer connection.

I like recognizability

I like big, established brands and my list could have been written in the 90’s. Have you had Staglin? Super tough one to win with unless you have a book filled with big brands.

I can’t take any more distributors on right now

I have my chosen people. This one is VERY HARD to get past. Choose to spend your time wisely.

Email me...


I need to think about this and I want to see your email game. Email them like you know what a buyer wants/needs but without arrogance.

I don’t do appointments

Every buyer does some form of appointment…Every one of them. You just need to figure out what that means for that buyer and be there. Sometimes the email offer is more viable.

What do you have that is on closeout

We look for pricing deals, not quality deals. Question for you: Do you want to play ball with this type of customer?

Most of the time buyers have “tells,” and it is your job to be a good listener and an even better observer.

THE REORDER 02/19/18

White Knuckling the Problems

White knuckling the problems don’t ever work as a sales rep. I have tried and I can tell you this with certainty: it makes it much worse. Below are a few problems that have stood the test of time. I have seen them over and over again, and have made endless mistakes dealing with them by force.

The Classic Problems

Inventory will never be correct. It is the Rubik’s cube that will never be completed.

The market will fluctuate. Up. Down. Up. Down. I have been through both. There is always something to see more clearly, and no matter what anyone says, neither up or down markets are easy.

That buyer you work so well with probably won’t be there forever.
The moment you think it will align and there will be an eternal thunderclap of business, they will move on. Enjoy your time.

They don’t respond to emails, so you have to find another way.

The office isn’t against you. A “back of house/front of house conflict dynamic” will be pushed forward by someone. Ignore it. Whoever wants to instigate the classic “us against them” within a company is a mediocre professional at best and will pull you away from artisan sales.

The blame game trap. There will be pressure to scapegoat all the time. Ignore this, too.

Whoever wants to instigate the classic "us against them" within a beverage company is a mediocre professional at best and will pull you away from artisan sales.


What are you missing? What can you see that others can’t via the work you do and the portfolio you sell?

What do you say to yourself every day that can move you forward without just white knuckling it all?

Selling wine and spirits thoughtfully is ridiculously difficult to execute well. Don’t make it harder.

THE REORDER 02/05/18

Always. Be. Opening.

Orders are rolling in and people want to see you. You have alive accounts, enough wine to sell, and new wines coming into launch. Your run is busy. You feel confident and safe. Your accounts are a train gaining momentum…until…they aren’t.

When your group of accounts seems the most solid, like a battalion of ships that could never sink, do this as a practice:


Not just the referrals, not just the ones that roll your way by chance, I mean actively seek out new accounts.

The Lie

The stable run of accounts only exists in the land where DRC is always poured from magnum and restaurants are open forever…

Even though those around you may talk about your accounts like they are a sure thing, they actually never are. It takes a heroic amount of work to thoughtfully run a group of accounts successfully and consistently as a rep. Don’t ever sit back and think you have a gimme because it doesn’t actually exist.

Once your accounts reach a certain density and size, change is not only probable, it is inevitable.  Buyers will move, restaurants will fail.  What once was an account with a few glass pours will go away because of availability, or that new buyer will think the wines on the list that were working well work a little ‘too well’.
If you choose not to continually and actively develop your account base, you will reach a point where you will start to lose. This is the aging run phenomenon. The old-school salespeople will talk of days gone by when this wasn’t the case..but the market is much faster now.  You have to be active.

Consistently opening new or underserved accounts is the only way to mitigate the volatility of the NYC market.

New Blood

Like a wine list, a run of accounts has to be managed and developed. Keeping a fresh, diversified group coming up into your run of accounts is a necessity.

The opposite is also true: having too many accounts and running around paranoid opening new ones to replace others is an even more horrible road to take… the chicken with the head cut off approach isn’t pretty at all.  The total accounts have to be viewed through the lens of the portfolio–there is no one size fits all approach. But go too far with opening accounts and you will know.  This is why you have to not only open but develop.

When you start to relax into your sales run, think this:

Always. Be. Opening.

THE REORDER 01/15/18

The Hard Road – An Honesty Policy 

Early on selling wine I realized I had to make a choice: be honest and sell less in the near term, or be deceitful and sell more. This was not a difficult choice for me because even the smallest half truth causes me sleepless nights. So, I chose to lose early with an honesty policy and hopefully win later with trust, even though supporting myself was in question at the time.

I have never regretted that decision and would do it all over again. Even though I know some salespeople in this market routinely hide the ball and “play” with their customers for sales, I watched them and learned what not to do.

Some classic maneuvers: hiding a price, then making it look like you made the deal, lying about farming practices, or lessening availability to make the wine seem more valuable…It is a big list of half-truths and it goes on and on. The honest salesperson doesn’t play in this neighborhood.

I definitely could have taken multiple shortcuts and made the numbers look unbelievably sexy. There were opportunities to goose the whole market that I passed on, and I am certain other salespeople would say it was insane to not take them. This may be a harder road, but ultimately,  it was a foundational choice and I am staying put. Anytime I get the chance to give advice, I always mention this choice first because it defines a sales career.

Most buyers are accustomed to schnookery, or blatant sales tactics, that rely on jazz hands and a big finish, not the simple subtlety of an honest salesperson.

The Conflicts

There are conflicts that arise after you make the decision to be honest with your customers. First one: every buyer says they want honesty but very rarely are they prepared for it. It isn’t their fault, actually, it is ours – the wine salespeople of America.
Most buyers are accustomed to schnookery*, or artful (many times deceitful…) sales tactics, that rely on jazz hands and a big finish, not the simple subtlety of an honest salesperson. A buyer of wine will be surprised, and possibly put off by honesty, at first. Don’t be deterred, it is natural to react this way. Stay the course.

The second one is that the delivery of honesty needs to harmonious with you and your style of communication, not used as a blunt instrument. You know what I mean. Honesty can be dropped like an anvil. I am not saying to never do this, but approach with extreme caution. Everyone is the author of their own experience, etc., but the way you communicate impacts the tone of the dialogue.

Stay true, honest, and genuine, and this road will lead you to great people and trusting relationships. Nothing but good comes from this dynamic.

*Schnook is defined as a dunce. In recent years, it has become synonymous with a wine salesperson due to poignant and sarcastic writing by the late Joe Dressner.


Five Questions with Caitlin Doonan, Assistant Director of F + B at the William Vale Hotel

Caitlin Doonan currently works for NoHo Hospitality as the Assistant Director of Food and Beverage at The William Vale Hotel, working with 7 venues including Westlight, Leuca, and Mister Dips. Before making the jump across the East River, She was on the opening team and spent four years at Ken Oringer and Jamie Bissonnette’s Toro NYC as the Beverage Director and GM. Caitlin has previously worked for David Chang at Momofuku (Ma Peche), and Jean-Georges Vongerichten (Market, Spice Market), and others.

Five Questions with Caitlin Doonan

Which wine (or wines) do you believe in that your colleagues in the industry disagree with you on?

I would imagine there are quite a few! Spanish Bubbles is definitely a category I love more than most of my peers who seem to vastly prefer Champagne. Now, of course, there are many Champagne producers I love and drink regularly, but I have a special place in my heart for the traditional method Sparkling wines from Penedes. When you taste fine examples of Spanish Sparkling, from producers like Recaredo, Gramona, Raventos i Blanc, Castellroig and more, there is a core of ripe fruit, provided by the bright Mediterranean sunshine, that doesn’t exist in most Champagne. To say Spanish Sparkling is good if it tastes more like Champagne is crazy. If you travel to both places, you know this would be very odd, but I hope that one day the excellent Sparkling wines from Spain will be a part of the same conversation regarding excellence, complexity, and quality as their counterparts in France.

Which trend or trends in wine (or spirits) do you wish would go away?

Pretty much everything! The only trend I’m truly supportive of is the drive to educate more – ourselves, our staff, our guests. But perhaps I’m dodging the question. The trend that probably annoys me the most is many wine lists starting to look the same. There’s too much “wine list as ego boost.” If a wine list says more about the Wine Director than anything else, it might be full of allocated gems, but it’s probably pretty boring.
And it must be said, the trend of many powerful men in the Restaurant industry turning out to be disgusting predators – yea, I’m ALL SET with that. Achieving excellence in this industry requires passion, vulnerability, dedication, and focus on the highest of levels – this is business and it’s art – the last thing anyone needs is their boss making their workplace toxic. People who need to make others feel small so they can feel big have no place in this industry. I am infuriated that so many people have had to put up with this kind of abuse to pursue something they love. I applaud the victims who’ve spoken out – their courage should be revered by all of us, and I find the response by those who enabled this behavior for decades to be craven, weak and lacking soul. We have so much work to do.

If you could ask one question of other wine directors in the city, what would it be?

How do you approach education? I view this part of my job as the most important, but it sure is a challenge finding the time! I’m always interested in how my peers approach educating their staffs, and themselves.

What do you see as the biggest challenge for beverage directors in the next five years?

One of the things I think about every day is how to make sure my team feels valued. The great thing about millennials is that they feel they have something to say, and they want to say it loudly. Point of view and a drive to share it are marks of an exciting generation! But they also have high expectations of their leaders. I try to meet those, and I’m sure many days I fall short, but it’s on my mind every day. Definitely a challenge. I also think one thing we’ll continue to see as the minimum wages rise (a great thing – living in NYC on $11/hr is a joke) is the consolidation of positions. Seeing the value of a beverage director to a business requires foresight and a bit of creativity – it’s not always as obvious as the value of a General Manager. I hope that will change. I hope the great beverage directors become business owners!

You wrote an important wine list for Spanish wine at Toro NYC with an impressive array of Sherry, Village, and Bodega Rioja, etc. –
What is the biggest barrier for Spanish wine today? And, what has the most promise?

Oof! What a question! First, I have to say that Toro was the best playground for my 4 years there. The wine list evolved considerably over time, and my staff were stars in their dedication to spreading the word about Spanish Wine – they weren’t intimidated by anything – single parcel Garnatxa Peluda from Montsant? Sure! They just got on board. I’m very proud of the successes of that program, big and small, and I recognize that they are 100% shared. Running a Spanish program is like being a Red Sox fan pre-2004. There are small victories along the way, and you love it, but you are championing an underdog. Quite honestly, the biggest barrier for Spanish wine today is $6 Albarino, $8.99 Cava (can we all make a pact to stop buying this?!), and marketing. There is NO better country than Spain in terms of value. For $20, you can buy an exceptional wine. But the US has been flooded with crap from Spain, so people associate Spain with “cheap” wine. The good stuff, even if inexpensive, does not make it out of major markets. My parents live in CT – it’s a train ride away but it might as well be across an ocean for how easy it is to get Spanish wine there. On a “global” wine list, there will be 3 Spanish selections, and one of them is probably the same Rioja that everyone else has on their list. There just aren’t a lot of wine professionals who spend a lot of time with Spain. Even in study guides, Spain gets the same amount of room as one region of France. So this is a multi-layered problem. It’s difficult to know where to begin in tackling it. At Toro, I tried to just get as many different things in peoples glasses as I could, and people were open to it. But I had the luxury(?!) of most people opening the list and not knowing most of it, so needing the guidance anyway! We live in a world driven by the social media “influencer” (call back to trends I hate!) and these excellent, small wines don’t have marketing budgets. Additionally, each region has it’s own marketing machine funded predominantly by the large bodegas so there’s not much incentive to promote the little guy who contributes less (wine, politics, it’s all depressingly the same). So, Spain needs champions!! I’m not sure there’s one region that shows more promise than others. I hope we figure out the Rioja puzzle at some point – a bit of a personal crusade of mine. Rioja should be classified by village, like Burgundy. I know we’re no longer living in a science-respecting country, but there’s plenty of objective evidence to show large terroir variance village to village. But unless some very large Bodegas want to admit they don’t have all the best vineyard sites, nothing will change because they pay the bills. This is getting a bit depressing, so on a positive note, I think the wines from Galicia are getting more good attention. Seaside Albarino from Rias Baixas, indigenous field blends from Monterrei and Ribeiro, and pristine Mencia from Ribera Sacra – it’s exciting to see. I’m hoping that Spain will be an easy entry point for young wine drinkers and wine professionals. It’s tough to go into a shop and buy a bottle of Bordeaux from the 1980s – who can afford that – but 1980s Rioja is much more accessible. Because of the built-in system of holding back wine (Crianza, Reserva, Gran Reserva), even the new releases are older. And many Bodegas have a large stock of older vintages so they’re available on the market. Perhaps that will be a way for people to fall in love with the region and country!

On a "global" wine list, there will be 3 Spanish selections, and one of them is probably the same Rioja that everyone else has on their list. There just aren't a lot of wine professionals who spend a lot of time with Spain.

BONUS Question from Nicole Hakli of Momofuku ssäm bar:

Our profession as sommeliers is more like an apprenticeship and an art that gets passed down each generation. Who mentored you along the way? What made them a great leader? How will you choose a mentee?

I think I view the profession a bit differently. I’m from a family of educators, and learning has always been highly valued. I have learned from a lot of incredible people, but not all Sommeliers. Theresa Paopao took a huge chance on me years ago at Momofuku, and she is still someone I look up to. She made wine fun and accessible and never took herself too seriously even though she was a BOSS!! But, while wine is the medium I love to work in, I’m more an educator and a cheerleader than anything else. I learned everything I know about pairing from working with Chef Paul Carmichael. Ken Oringer and Jamie Bissonnette taught me the importance of professional agility – to be able to adjust and find solutions on the fly. Kyle Eakins and Lianne Raymond (Toro CDC and Events Director during my tenure) taught me the power of tempering my intensity and the importance of connecting to the human part of our staff not just the work part. And perhaps most far afield, my voice teacher at The Boston Conservatory while I pursued my masters, James Javore, taught me that you can only teach if you can listen. I tend towards the impatient. I want to get sh*t done – but stopping to truly listen, with no agenda, is the most important work I do. As for a mentee – I don’t think that’s up to me! I don’t believe that what I am able to teach is meant for one chosen person. I hope my team learns something from me as I do from them each day. Whether someone chooses wine as their lifelong career path, or merely a pitstop, I hope I can make a positive impact on their journey.

Follow Caitlin on Instagram @ccrosbiedoonan

Note: all answers above are posted without any cuts or edits.


What worked in 2017 – A Review

Merry, Happy! We are in the home stretch of 2017, so here we go. Fast and dirty-style: What worked in 2017 — some top-line themes and categories.

All views from the street, not the desk.

2017 – What worked?

I have to start large: I am calling the whole Retail category a winner. It was a good ‘un.
Even in this a super competitive retail landscape with moats forming around states and making out of state shipping an issue, enough people in this city are drinking at home to make Retail really roll. Maybe the customers are drinking to soothe the pain or to save a dime here or there, but either way, the competent retailers who served well made good business happen this year.

Alternative format
I wrote about the alt-format movement earlier this year, and we are still in the middle of a giant crescendo. Millennials aren’t the only members of the alt-format libation nation – it is bigger than anyone can imagine. Cans, Tetra-paks, 40 oz wine that isn’t actually 40 oz., and more, all slaughtered it this year. I see nothing stopping this train in the near future – full speed ahead.

The Sommelier Wine Brand (wines or otherwise)
If you buy mine, I will buy yours.
The Somm Brand was a Gargantuan mover of BTG placements and off of shelves this year. Sommelebrity + Sommpreneur equals #winning.

Alto Piemonte
I love you, Alto Piemonte, for sentimental reasons.
Alto Piemonte is the little engine that could on lists and shelves this year and for my money, still wildly undervalued. AltoP offers vintage depth, spiced, lifted, lesser alcohol Nebbiolo (and Nebbiolo blends) that are just off in the fringe to many of the mainstream buyers on the green. But AltoP isn’t that far off. The upside here is huge, and I am all in. The patient believers in the area win, the bean counters abandon ship…

Somms like us buy things like this
If you were selling wine in 2017 and noticed this phenomenon, you probably moved an extra box or two (or hundreds). The hive mind of buying exists – especially since buyers are obsessed with having all the correct wine answers, at least for now.

Ribeira Sacra
One of the most magical regions in Spain got noticed this year by the Somm crowd – finally. And they like you Ribeira Sacra, they really really like you. The fact that this region has been doing under-the-radar well for years and is now being knighted by the Somm set is worthy of some attention. Who is deciding which regions are now deserving? And does it ultimately matter? There is gold in the answer.

Is there any way we as a community can kill the sabering champagne thing once and for all? Asking for a friend, again.

Huge year for Champagne in the city. Huge. All types did well, but Growers, in particular, got in the Octagon again and tapped more people out than ever before. The numbers the Big Houses did naturally dwarf the Growers, but the attention these smaller houses achieved was ginormous. Marguet, Laval, Bereche, Savart, Suenen, Pierre Peters, Gimmonet, Filaine, Brochet, Chartogne-Taillet, Dhondt-Grellet…the list goes on. These Champagnes were in all the right places.
Sidenote: Is there any way we as a community can kill the sabering champagne thing once and for all? Asking for a friend, again.

Wine Fairs
So many fairs, so little time. Every wine fair that was relatively well executed was PACKED. How did these cut through the noise of this busy market? It is all about the mission. Clarity in mission won the attention of consumer and industry – and deservedly so.

Tequila, Mezcal, and basically anything that could be called an agave spirit ran like the wind this year. Even brands that aren’t part of marketing machines had a more than fair chance to win a runner placement. We are working into the cycle of an impending agave shortage right now but I don’t see any slowdown coming, even with an imminent price increase or two.

And the Comeback of the Year is…drumroll…

Orange wine

Anyone remember this article: “Orange wine hits a wall” by Jon Bonné citing the Richard Betts article in Vogue “Why Tecate is Greater than Orange Wine”?

Up to as recently as early last year, I watched Orange wine barely register a heartbeat and then – the resurrection. Orange wine had a very good 2017. Praise poured out from the journalists in mostly annoying, trite articles about Orange wine – and I actually think it worked on the consumer. And, once customers start calling for it, you get a comeback.
Orange wine is back in the big show.