SPLASH DECANT 04/02/19

Market Facts

Market Facts are the easy part – they are the water cooler subjects of the industry.

After recent conversations with high-level experience beverage folks it hit me like a ton of bricks: nearly everyone knows the facts, but very few are aware of the cause and effect. The facts are so obvious, it takes nothing but open eyes to gather them…


The Easy Market Facts

Wine Directors are shifting jobs at an alarming rate.

Sommeliers have a platform.

Natural wine is polarizing.

Riesling sells more in theory than in practice. (the same applies to Sherry).

There are so many importer/distributors.

Restaurants are facing immense challenges and will likely perish.

There is a market correction coming.

Certain groups of buyers elude the three-tier system and sell wine to themselves to get the double dip.

The retail landscape is extremely competitive.

No buyer or customer needs another email.

More sales and less inventory.

Buyers in this market have a short attention span. (Can you blame them?)


All of the above was true more than twelve years ago and will be true again next year.

Do you know the causes and effects of the above market facts so clearly you could write them on the wall in the dark?

Do you know the causes and effects of the above market facts so clearly you could write them on the wall in the dark? I may not be right, but I have an opinion on both based on experience and study. And – I am obsessed, exhilarated and at times tortured by this very picture.

I advise everyone to start here: am I asking the right questions? Am I just another person saying the same thing about this market that was said a decade ago?

Go deeper. Look for the little changes in the currents. This market is an ocean and most are just looking at the first frothy wave.

If you can get clear on the push and pull of the classic market conditions, you can find ways to connect wine better than before. And maybe, just maybe you can see a glimpse of what the future holds.

SPLASH DECANT 03/23/19

We Have a Rosé Situation

We Have a Rosé Situation.

If it were any worse, we couldn’t stand it; if it were any better, we couldn’t get enough.

I correctly predicted a short and awkward Rosé season in 2018 because I saw the writing on the wall. Odd weather + pre-arrival “allocation” offers selling much less than in previous years put the whole season on ice.

Is the Rosé craze over? Are we at saturation? I believe the answer is no on both counts.

Only the industry can shape the future consumer and level them up.

Can we make Rosé great again?

I dive in on where we are and how we can fix it below.


History

A few seasons ago, I commented on Eater about Rosé being a brand. The Grey Goose-like call at the bar with few producer loyalties and a wide open field. I believe this to still be mostly true, though the field has many more players on it now.

Rosé is a category and not just a color. Still today, few consumers know about Cinsault or Saignée, and even fewer actually drink Rosé year round.

The upside of the Rosé Situation today is that a large portion sold in quality places is of much higher quality than it was 10 years ago. The downside is that expanded choices mean the industry has to lead to something specific and not just take the sales like they will always be there.


JUST THE FACTS

Big numbers

Let’s get this over with. An ocean of Rosé will be sold, and an ocean of Rosé will go unsold.
Yep, big ol’ numbers in the city, and likely a lot left over. The volume is real.

The number one deciding factor is actually the weather, and who can predict that?

Weather – The Seasonal Effect

Rosé is still seasonal, no matter what anyone tells you.
The seasonal buildup still drives the foundation of the year’s sales. And, weather still drives consumer choices, no matter what any “rosé all year ’round marketing says.” When Spring starts to feel imminent, consumers picture late afternoons in the park, springtime clothes and drinking Rosé.
If the industry really wanted year-round rosé drinking, then lists and shelves wouldn’t dramatically shrink in the cooler months. Very few restaurants, retailers, importers, and distributors invest in Rosé year round, and this has to change.

Importers and Distributors have to sell all year long and commit to Rosé as a category as valid as any other.

Vintage matters? nah, brah

99% of the time when it comes to higher quality wine, the vintage barely matters. In fact, a significant portion of rosé tastes better with more time in the bottle. But that would supremely screw the pre-arrival allocation offer game up though, wouldn’t it?

The Offer Game

In order to limit the hanging chad inventory at the end of the season that you need to reduce pricing on or closeout, some importers offer rosé before it arrives and purposely sell a “limited/get it while you can” allocation story about the wine — Even if there is so much wine available it is scary.

Many Rosés are treated like a Birkin bag: Buy now or it will be gone. This veiled threat is made to lock up sales and placements without committing to Rosé all year. Can you blame any importer for this? It creates assured sales, so there’s that.

Further, if you do it right when you offer the same limited wine later in the season, the buyer will feel special (even though there will be more rosé to be had). Buyers feeling special + more availability to them of “hard to get wine” usually leads to even more sales – so you get the double-down sales effect.

My fundamental take on this is simple: Allocations have to be truthful.
Allocation liars will get smoked someday, so anyone who lies may win short-term, but not sustain over time.

One crazy added element to the pre-arrival offer race is that it forced a “whichever importer can send the rosé offer out first wins” Rosé race. January offers used to equal Rosé sales in the coffers, now…not so much. In fact, this year I observed apologetic rosé offers galore from top distributors.

Same ol’, Same ol’ Rosé

NOT SHOCKING: many somms buy the same Rosé producer every year.
Cool – if you know what you are saying by doing this as a buyer/sommelier.

SUPER SHOCKING: it is common for buyers to not have tasted the Rosés they have committed to for several seasons.

BOTTOM LINE: If you treat rosé like a commodity, in turn, it will always be one.

it is common for buyers to not have tasted the Rosés they have committed to for several seasons. If you treat rosé like a commodity, in turn, it will always be one.

THE ANSWERS

Bye Bye One-Night Stand Sales

Dear importers, stop DI’ing like lazy fucks. Stop with the one-night stand sales; the “we only order what you order” game. It worked before and works much less today. If you are tiny in scale (producer or importer) and this is all you can do then continue – please.

A monochromatic market is a dangerous one.

To make this absolutely clear: most of the allocated Rosés in the market aren’t small production or actually low in supply – the importers just don’t want to risk going past September with wine in the warehouse. Even further, no one wants to lose the attention that is baked into the functional allocation/pre-arrival approach.

All. Year. Long – The Commitment

To level the consumer up, we need to actually get them drinking Rosé all year round. Originally, customers were attracted to the seasonality of the Rosé craze, the newness of it, the value, and the overall excitement.
The answer here is what is obvious and in the bottle: the color. Darker Rosé in the fall, lighter in the spring summer and everything in between. If ten viable programs do this then the whole market will follow. Expand the rainbow of Rosé all year and everything gets easier.

Expand the rainbow of Rosé all year and everything gets easier.

The Big Brand Game

Higher quality helped the market get here, and we need to stay with it. There will be more White Girl this, Brangelina that. So what?

We can let these brands run, while we sell quality. Tell the story of quality and lean in on the special aspects and there will be more wins long term.

Pricing Amplitude

Trophy Rosé exists. collectibles like Simone, Tempier, etc. We need to expand the spectrum of pricing to have more amplitude. We must create a higher price point comfort.

Finally…

Lean in on Rosé and treat it like a real wine and the whole industry + the consumer will win. Continue to treat rosé like a commodity and it will get struck down like Rome.

If we can expand the choices thoughtfully and get the consumer drinking all year long – then we are off to the races and will triumph.

THE REORDER 03/15/19

My Classic F%*+ ups in the Sales Game

Listing my classic my classic F%*+ ups in the sales game and how to avoid them could be a book.

Here are a few of my greatest hit screw-ups and some insight into how to not repeat my mistakes.

I hope this helps.


My Sales F%*+ ups – the Greatest Hits

Describing Producers

Wines can be anchored by the reference point of an appellation.
Do not sell your wine through the lenses of another wine unless the differences are vivid and elevate your wine, or you are also selling the other wine. You have to have contrast in some fashion or you are just anchoring the reference point wine/producer in the buyers mind. And, most of the time the reference point doesn’t need your help.

Connection Problems

So what if they don’t respond to emails?
Don’t get desperate and barrage them. Learn patience.

Missed orders

Don’t mirror the despair of the customer in trouble. Also, don’t be tone-deaf. Be the honest and reliable one. Even if you lose because of it.

Big Problems and Honesty

If there’s a problem you have with the account, you most likely need to say something.
But HOW you say it is everything.
The facts don’t matter as much as you think – you are working with emotions in an abundant market. I have royally screwed this up by bringing issue up in front of other people. Do not do that unless you are willing to walk away for a long time (sometimes you have to…).

Over Sampling

You can sample too much. Sometimes people just want to buy from you. Let them.

Checking Orders

Have a personal system that re-confims order items and quantities or you will be lost. Having this system won’t be perfect, but you can minimize errors. Distribution involves many links in the chain with a human hand involved. Be prepared to check and adjust on the fly.

Large Deals

I made one of the largest deals of my career and it was a fiasco for multiple reasons, but I didn’t communicate well. If you hope that they will do the right thing and don’t communicate expectations it is on you (the salesperson).  If you are at the figurative table, you have to put it out there.

Dialogue with the person and not the program because a list only gives hints, a person gives answers.

COD

Make it clear that someone else posted a customer COD when you bring it up. It is shocking how many buyers know nothing about the mechanics of COD.

The Buyer – not the list

Lists and selections are often personal. Looking at a list online doesn’t show you history, etc.
You can go online all day and find holes, but the buyer is the contact. Offer to the person. Dialogue with the person and not the program because a list only gives hints, a person gives answers.

SPLASH DECANT 03/08/19

The Future of the “Work With”

What is the future of the Work With?*

A lot of national salespeople will really, really not like this – and for that, I am sorry. But, what worked no longer works, and with what is long long gone.

Today, the Work With is the injured old General leaning against the tree saying goodbye as he takes his last few breaths. Thank you for your wine service.

Where is this old concept of selling come from, where is it now, and what replaces it in the NYC beverage market?


The Old Skool

Not so long ago, it was a rarer thing to meet a producer and connect with them personally. The winemaker or owner coming to a restaurant/retail store to introduce themselves and taste with the team felt super good for all parties involved – Work Withs were viewed as a “special treat.”

It was also a key support point in agreements between importer/distributor and producers/suppliers. Coming into town to help and invest in the market by showing wines was a key part of the wine game; an important tool for connection and sales.

Not anymore. The explosion of availability got in the way.

Today

Today, many importer/distributors are using the same encyclopedia sales theory, but the landscape has shape-shifted. Big problem: nearly everything that worked consistently on the street in sales years ago doesn’t function as it did before.

The paradigm has shifted in the city and the Work With is generally viewed as a necessary evil – a burden (with notable exceptions, see below). Rolling around the city and showing your wine wares with a supplier is normally referred to as “part of the job.”

So, what changed?

More events, more tastings, more companies, more good wine, more options – essentially more everything is available daily in NYC. Because of this, the “specialness” of the Work With has nearly vanished. Buyers are less likely to see producers, and at the same time, the number of producers visiting the city every week has grown exponentially.

The classic work-around for this problem has been the event move: Lunch, office tasting, or an educational seminar. But soon these are going to feel stale and contrived because every distributor will have mimicked each other to such a degree, the event will be the goal. Events will be vanilla custard normal.

Here is what I know: invent a new type of connective work and replace the Work With, and you will win.

The Future

As a producer, unless you have something to say besides “may I have an appointment to show wine?” you should stay at home and save the airfare. And, if you don’t trust your distribution to do the job—well, that is a whole different story for another day.

Here is what is trending today: The takeover. Just look at the insta, and you will see. The next iteration will go towards the virtual. Stay tuned on that. Coming to an inbox near you.

...the Work With as we know it is dying in NYC. It is the injured old general leaning against the tree and saying goodbye as he takes his last few breaths.

The Exceptions Today

As always, there are some exceptions to the Work With death, and those are (in no particular order):

The prominent, most lauded producer of an Appellation.

The new producer with monster buzz that makes special wine. GREAT WINE. (pretty rare..)

The producer that has deep personal ties with the market and could roll in anytime, anywhere and be comfortable. (this is the gold, rare)

The producer that knows this market and is into quality of relationship over quantity.

The Importer/Distributor that picks and chooses producer visits like an expert curator. (EX: Rosenthal)


*The Work With is when a wine producer(owner/winemaker) or representative hired by a wine producer joins a salesperson for a group of appointments to show their wines.

FIVE QUESTIONS 02/28/19

Five Questions with Percy Rodríguez, Bev. Director |Laurent Tourondel Hospitality

Percy Rodríguez (@percyjrodriguez) is the Beverage Director for Chef Laurent Tourondel‘s restaurants (L’Amico, The Vine) within the Hotel Eventi in NYC, (part of the Kimpton Hotels and Restaurant Group), along with Sag Pizza in Sag Harbor.

Percy is one of the most professional and likable Beverage Directors I have ever worked with. He also never seems to be in a rush, which is incredible considering what he is running in the day-to-day.

There are only a handful of Beverage Directors in NYC overseeing multiple concepts like Percy – check out the Bonus question on Spirits buying.


Five Questions

Which producer or area do you believe in that most people in the industry disagree with you on?

Domestic wines that aren’t from either coast. Y’all, Missouri makes PET-NATS NOW!! Y’ALL.

You run the beverage program for multiple concepts within a Hotel – What are the challenges, and what have you found that works to get past those challenges?

My biggest challenges are time and quality staff. I never have enough of either, and as far as I can tell, that is industry standard. We are busy enough at this property that there is never a moment where there isn’t something to do. And when I delegate to my leaders, I need to trust that their work will meet my standards, as I don’t have the time to double check everyone’s work (whether it be syrup production, staff education, stocking, cleaning schedules, etc). I’m now in my fourth year here, and, not to take away from the staff I’ve had work for me up until now, but I am only now getting to a place where I am happy with almost all facets of my team. It’s simply that difficult to find hard-working, dedicated staff. AND THEN, when you have them, you have to retain them. I believe a connection to staff, however small, is imperative to minimizing turnover. I always engage my beverage staff (polishers, barbacks, receivers, bartenders, etc) in small talk, their last shifts, any issues I can help with. It keeps everyone loose and they know I have their back. With my core team, I’m more invested. You have to push their education, you have to push and nurture their drive, you have to ride the waves of personal lives and relationships because at the end of the day, it all affects the bottom line (you can’t have a depressed sommelier on the floor).

With regards to time, it really is a lesson in discipline. Of COURSE, I’d love to go to all of the tastings and lunches and dinners and trips and taste all the wine and spirits and beers that are being hawked. But I also have invoices to allocate, inventory, BEO meetings, PNL meetings, hiring and training, and and AND. If you want any type of longevity in this game, you need to pace yourself and focus on the immediate tasks at hand. When things are consistently good at work, then you can go have an occasional, semi-indulgent lunch with a winemaker. You do it too much though, and people start to ask where you are.

If you could ask one question of another wine director, what would it be?

What are you doing to drive sales while increasing the visibility of your program(s)?

Which trend or trends do you wish would go away?

As a buyer: Rosé season. I like Rosé. I drink Rosé. I hate that every February I have to f**king decide what I’m going to pour in four months.
As a creative: wack garnishes in cocktails. I get that everything has to stand out from a social media perspective and I GET that people order with their eyes as the rum punch with pink sparklers and dehydrated micro production black mission figs gets run through the dining room or bar, but please stop. Please.

What do you want people to know about your program?

I want people to know that we will make time for them. What do I mean? I had this post-middle-aged couple come in the other day. L’Amico was packed and already on a wait at 6pm (any time Billy Joel plays MSG, this is the case). The woman mentioned they were going to the concert and were looking for a quick bite and a drink, nothing fancy, and didn’t look overly hopeful that we would be able to accommodate them. We didn’t have anything in L’Amico but I mentioned I had a few open tables in our other restaurant The Vine, which is through the hotel lobby. I walked them over, made small talk with them, introduced them to the host and got them settled, letting them know they were in good hands. An hour later, I felt a tap on my shoulder, and this couple was incredibly gracious, said they looked forward to coming back, and couldn’t have been happier. Had I just told them how to get to the other resto I doubt their experience would have changed much, but seeing someone take the extra 30 seconds to make their experience personal has a tremendous amount of weight with customers.

I like Rosé. I drink Rosé. I hate that every February I have to f**king decide what I’m going to pour in four months.

DOUBLE-BONUS

What advice do you have for to a wine director stepping into buying spirits, as well?

Always ask if there’s a bigger drop, deeper deal. Ask to be connected directly to the brand’s ambassador/mgr for activations, events, happy hours, etc. Don’t say yes to everything a liquor distributor tries to sell you on. And every now and then, when salespeople reach out for a favor (to hit a sales goal or get a trip, whatever it is), help them out if you’re able. Get that weird bottle of rum they need to move to get a bonus or something. You never know when you’ll be in the shits and you need cases of something ASAP. Playing the game a little bit once in a while goes a long way.

Are there any regions or wineries in Italy that are underrated? Which are overrated?

Amarone is overrated, and Fiano from Campania is underrated, by a freaking mile. I don’t care if it’s from Avellino or Paestum or Cilento or Irpinia or where ever: it’s almost always good if not great, ranging from clean and simple to nuanced and strikingly delicious.


Note*: All answers are edited for spelling and posted without cuts.

THE REORDER 02/22/19

The Closeout Recipe

Want the perfect Closeout recipe so you can avoid the pitfalls?

I can smell the closeout dish from a mile away. Putting a producer in the position to succeed in this crazy market takes thoughtful work, and it is obvious when that doesn’t happen.

Most of the time it has little to do with the actual producer or wine in question…


A Closeout Recipe

The pricing is wack compared to the other prices in the market. (i.e. pricing formulas, not sales formulas)

The wine is launched with a tech sheet and a taste.

The producer has a dusty and shriveled story that is yawn-inducing or as memorable as a bland morning cereal.

The reference point for the appellation is a vivid one and the producer you represent has no relation or anything that differentiates it from the reference point.

It fills a “category.”

The wine is launched with overtly flowery prose.

There is zero plan to market the wine if the first wave doesn’t work.

The wine is “all the rage in Paris.”

When this becomes the answer to everything: Put this in your bag.

Nowadays, I can spot a future closeout from a mile away, and most of the time it has little to do with the actual wine.

[insert Hot shit importer here] USED TO represent them.

The internal attitude of the importer/distributor is you HAVE to sell this to have that.

The wine is hidden in plain sight within the inventory.

The wine is “allocated” out before anyone knows the value of the producer or has tasted a drop.

The internal attitude of the importer is “this will never work.” (often manifested in inventory quantities).

THE REORDER 02/15/19

Building the New Wine Director – Looking Ahead

The New Wine Director will be built. It is possible.

If I could build a terminator Wine Director, the Wine Director of the future – the below is where I would start.


The Real Knowledge

I am sorry to say, but wine knowledge today means much less than it once did. I know, I know, knowledge is power, but let me explain…

Pretty much everyone I work with (sell to) is more knowledgeable about wine than their colleagues were last year. There are multiple reasons for this, but primarily: information is immediately available to anyone who is interested. Anything can be found and recited back in less than a minute on google.

Here is the real wine knowledge: knowing the market.  Knowing what is available and how it stacks up. This is where it is at, and in the more than eleven years I have been doing this, the best of the best have this type of knowledge in common. They know what is out there, and by extension, they choose their partners wisely.

The New Wine Director will be market fluent.

Service

This one I am particularly sensitive about. Decant this, siphon that, pour that person first.  Who isn’t all in on these skills? You have to be able to handle wine.  But, become great at talking to people? Be a great tableside conversationalist with wine and other stuff, too? This seems to be on the downturn.

The new Wine Director will be a GREAT listener and salesperson. A tableside service assassin who can teach others to do the same.

Leadership

There are some that do this well and it is notable. But let me ask this: who is taking the time to create GREAT wine directors today. Who makes those around them advance forward towards their ultimate goals. I know this exists in rare occurrences, but not to the level we need it to in the top market in the world. If we are building the next generation, we need leaders that can motivate selflessly.

The New Wine Director will be an expert leader.

The new Wine Director will be a GREAT listener and salesperson. A tableside assassin.

Business Time

The New Wine Director will have to be business fluent. The level of businessperson that can hold the attention of a restaurateur or an investor and convince them of a new direction that can be validated by the day-to-day. A Futurist. A collaborator. An Excel Spreadsheet Master.

The New Wine Director is a strong Businessperson.

Travel

Travel is currently handed out like free pamphlets on the street because every wine area and consortium is actively trying to build fans, but most have little idea which direction will bring the most lasting effect. Every appellation wants to have a Chianti Classico camp with a superstar sommelier ambassador, but it just ain’t going to happen. Want to go to Georgia, even though you would never buy Georgian wine, or even make a dent as an ambassador? Here is a ticket. Have fun. How many followers do you have again? The best Wine Directors I know travel with ideas for their future list, not to see sights.

The New Wine Director will travel with a purpose.

Mission

The best Wine Directors have an area or charity they want to get behind. They will have a mission that informs their overall direction that isn’t just business building, but community building.

The New Wine Director will be a community builder.