THE REORDER 11/16/20

The Art of the Progression

Outside of the very few most talented wine tasters I have been around, the order in which wines are tasted has a massive impact on the context, tone, and experience of every wine in the lineup. Each wine sets the tone for the following wine tasted.

The tasting experience is shaped by the progression. This concept can be less vivid with spirits for a multitude of reasons (like proof, for instance), but the tasting order definitely comes into play.

Incredibly, I rarely see professionals think twice about order progression. This is a colossal error. Look no further than Ye Olde Robert Parker to see where a standard lightest to fullest progression can lead. It ain’t pretty.

EX: Taste a muscadet followed by a white burgundy with oak and the oak will appear to be accentuated – even if the burgundy is balanced like a top.

In the best case, a tasting is like a concert where the songs flow together and follow each other well, and in the worst case, it’s a disjointed set.

When there is a jarring shift like Muscadet to Burgundy, I find that elegant storytelling, an acknowledgment of the difficulty, or a pause can ease the “difficulty” in the transition from one wine to the next.

Bottom line: Don’t underestimate the importance of the order in which you present wines or spirits – next level tasting and presentation pay attention to the progression.  It goes well beyond light to full, low tannin to high tannin, austere to broad – standard practice can lead you astray.

No rules truly apply – except (of course) experience.


Reality Show Wines

Have you had Snookie’s Silvaner, Flava Flav’s Furmint, or the New Bachelorette’s Beaujolais?

Not yet, but with the way things are going they will soon be at your neighborhood shop with a proper label from a high-powered marketing team.

They may come with a large, cartoonish clock, or be as simple as a new sexy wine marketing term like clean wine.  Minimalist labels will have the celebrity’s name front and center with typography that is SO perfectly on-brand. Bonus: they will almost always have a winemaker from a notable winery “making” the wine to add a sliver of market viability (or a questionable veneer of substance).

Celebrities are crossing the rubicon in droves to not just drink on Instagram live, but lend their names to wines and build brands to add to their expanding portfolios. It’s easy to picture the marketing meeting that led to most of these celebrified wine projects.

Just a few months ago, I read that a certain celebrity wants to “create the defining brand of rosé Champagne,” and I laughed out loud. Then I looked into who is involved and it just made me sad.

I will always give any wine a fair shake, but I can’t look out into a multi-layered, under pressure beverage marketplace during this pandemic and not shiver at the reality show wines appearing on shelves in large quantities. I get the allure – these wines bring easy sales or there may be some new customers that call. But I ask you, what has happened to your conviction? What are you left with?

The moment Nate Ready makes a Napa Cabernet for Elon Musk (Flamethrower Cabernet?), I will concede. There might even be short term positives to the celebrification of wine, but there will no doubt be a hefty price to pay.

Sadly, I believe these reality show wines are in large part another symptom of a segment of the wine world that wants reality show wines of low substance, high celebrity, and barely-there soul.

THE REORDER 10/15/20

Which Bucket, Again? The Cliff Noting of Wine

There is comfort in putting things in neat little categories.

That perfect bucket that this producer or wine fits into sure does save a lot of exploration.

It feels good to Good Will Hunting the answers. Placing that Barolo perfectly into that traditional producer bucket sounds good. Drawing a deep line in the sand by saying everybody else cheats in Sancerre except the producer you are passionate about is fun and creates tension.

Declaring that wines or producers belong in these categorical buckets fits perfectly into a 5-second pitch may seem like the viable tactic, and everyone does it. But ultimately these categorical buckets lack stuffing and only create a whisper of context at best.

Before you throw out that shorthand and place that producer or wine in the bucket of the moment, I might ask this question: Why?

Why is that producer traditional or natural or trendy or allocated or modern?

Become a student of these tidy categories thrown about on the regular but look past the veneer, go deeper and you will make many more waves.

THE REORDER 10/01/20

Sustainable Sales Success Lessons

Tradecraft: Sustainable Sales Success Lessons in the Beverage Arena

Very early on, I was lucky enough to run into some of the truly great Jedi salespeople in NYC. These craftspeople knew that longevity didn’t mean Foreau, foie gras, and four negroni lunches. They helped me succeed with simplicity.

Take these to heart and go make waves.

“Don’t take this too seriously.” – Dan Lerner

Wine taken too seriously is a farce and beyond boring.  Dan Lerner said something like this to me at the Core Club in 2008 and it was an over-the-shoulder bullseye. Remember this: If you make beverage sales your life, it will take your life.

“Take care of your relationships at home. It’s a lot harder if that isn’t working.” – John Coyle

If you do not give care to your home relationships, your family, and those around you in your daily life, the beverage game gets incredibly hard, super fast. Imagine being out to dinner with buyers of the opposite sex and not having trust at home. It will crush you. I actually have come to take this as a credo in life in general. Chaos without care at home makes everything harder.

“That isn’t real wine.” – Michael Wheeler

I was out on a tear one night and I ended up at Blue Hill in Manhattan during their last call and I ran into Wheeler and Phil Sareil. I bought a bottle and Wheeler said it wasn’t real wine – as in, it wasn’t a wine of substance, terroir, or nature. Whether I believe he was right or wrong (he was most likely right) is of no importance. Wheeler taught me at that moment that putting wine in buckets is a hard habit to break. I had put the wine in question into a box that I believed he would agree with and I couldn’t have been more wrong.

Context matters. Understanding comes with experience and seeing wine as more than the tech info checklist or tribe that promotes it is vital. It’s easy to like what other people like. But it may be a bucket of fake frosty cake that may not be what you think it is.

“Never open a bottle for a closed mind.” – Robert Chadderdon via Christopher Russell

I think about this one often. You don’t need to push, you need to connect. A lot of wine has been wasted on folks that will never give it the time of day in the name of the appointment or the new sales blitz. To have a strong, curious perspective about what you present and don’t present is empowering. Put yourself in the shoes of the buyer.

“Why would we want to do what everyone else is doing?” – Naomi Rosen

You don’t have to be like everyone else. You don’t have to say what everyone else says. Naomi has her own style, sense of clarity, curiosity, and immense charm. She approaches her work as a meaningful specific. Consider doing your own personal version of this as a practice.

“Orders only matter if you have dialogue, and philosophy over numbers.” – Looper

You need a philosophy.

I once realized that I had sold 175k in a week with no connection whatsoever. Zero dialogue. I could have been an order machine. Avoid this dynamic at all costs. Find a philosophy that you can hang your hat on every day no matter how much or little you sell and you will find much more clarity in what you do.

THE REORDER 09/15/20

The Worst Word in the Wine Business

The worst word in the wine business is…drum roll please…the appointment. 

May I have an appointment?

Imagine looking at your email and having 25 plus people email you requesting the same thing: an appointment.

Appointments are for dentists, therapists, and proctologists.

I wish I could jettison this word forever. It immediately brings a strong connotation of a bothersome necessity that belongs to the old postal service model of sales in the beverage sales game. So, why did we decide to use this word? A question for the ages.

An appointment is supposed to be a dialogue, an interchange, a discovery, a connection, a first dance, a new direction. A new opportunity to see something beyond what is in front of you.

I have said this often: appointments are highly overrated – but if you want to do one, fine – just make sure it means something more than an appointment.


Is it Art or Science?

Asking if the beverage game is an art or a science is the wrong question – it’s almost always too much of one and not enough of the other.

EX: If you can look at your inventory turn over a relevant period and predict exactly what will sell next month, you are selling a commodity, not a handmade product. Everything goes out the window when there is an external force like an economic downturn or once-in-a-lifetime pandemic or a restaurant closing or a retailer gets hit with a wicked fine that leaves them cash-strapped.

Most of the time there isn’t enough art. There is no song, cadence, belief, impulse or feel – an absence of rubato.

Anyone can run a report and think they have the answers. But to weave art into what you do requires a strong, invested core.

Conversely, working purely on artistic impulse without observing data and you are a fool – maybe at times a lucky fool, but a fool.

Relearn to thread this needle every day and you will find a balance that others wish they had.

THE REORDER 08/15/20

Death of a Beverage Salesperson

The classical beverage salesperson that we all knew will not get a do-over. The beverage version of Willy Loman really is dead and there won’t be any kind of sequel.

Gone are the postal routes, encyclopedia sales methods and schlocky promises. Covid-19 has forcefully jettisoned the sad-sack, antiquated practices of the mediocre plus.

For those of us that actively participate in the streets of NYC in the beverage ecosystem, the old way of sales was already on the way out and we saw the last hurrah. Covid-19 just accelerated it.

Here is what won’t be going away: the Connection Artist. The Artisan Salesperson in a new and more perilous landscape.

The salesperson will either evolve and lean into a more connective artist or disappear into the ether. Why? Because the playing field is now a head-spinning, multi-dimensional pitch to play on – a shape-shifting game is now the daily field of play. In short, it just got more complicated.

The Connection Artist is a multi-faceted, tech-forward, learned, fuller-scoped, market-savvy beverage player. This new modality of the connector is fluent in what was done before by the classical beverage salesperson, chooses wisely when to apply past principles, and when not to.

The beverage game today is a freshly-picked paradigm of immense opportunity and the Connection Artist is the star player.