NYC Beverage Market Watch Quickfire – The Fab Five

Back in the saddle with The Fab Five.


The Fab Five

Canned answers
Canned wines are the fast-casual of the wine world.
I have written about this in the past but canned wines are exploding in the market (not literally). It has broken through the barrier and is now a viable category. This is part of a broader “make wine easier/millennial drinker” crescendo and we will see much more. There will ultimately be some losers, but in the meantime, watch this thing grow…

Who imported this, again?
A few short years ago, this was easy to answer.
Answer today: Who knows?
DTC, acquired from a private collection, etc., has changed the whole game and the impact has yet to be fully realized.
Remember that lockbox allocation of (insert famous name here) and all the trust, dancing, connection, space, budget issues and anger it sometimes produced? Now you don’t have to choose that route.
Someone is importing it who is not that producers chosen importer, and you have access if you want it.

And if you want an old vintage from a cellar in France? No Prob. Some collector in Jersey? Of course! Everything’s on the table…
Throw in the fact that many importers are competing directly with their own customers for producers to bring in and you see how real this is…a giant shift that is not to be ignored.

  • New “rules” + high, flashy, rare wine or new producers + demand = New game.

Don’t @ SevenFifty me
Full disclosure: I use Sevefifty every day and I love it.
But, since I believe some are very confused: SevenFifty is not your sales rep. I am so glad you can search broadly – it is a game-changing tool – but don’t forget that the rep may be able to connect you to something new, delicious, and also, not easily found. The not to be missed shit.
To quote a friend: You will only ever find what you are looking for with this incredible tool.
There are elements in SevenFifty that deliver interaction and we should be using those together much more.

Mouse in a bottle…
I have recently been poured an increased number of mousey as F%^^ wines.  Please don’t try and Jedi mind trick anyone by starting with “this is clean,” and pouring. We who taste are not convinced.
I have to wonder, though, are buyers’ tolerance for this flavor going up? Is the shift towards the mission/story of these wines outshining the actual flavor?
Personally, I rank this flavor up there with burnt rubber and it is not my thing – contrary to popular belief, there is nothing easy to drink about it.

One night stand sales…
For one night only! Bottle shot. Price slash…
Until it is gone! Bottle shot. Price slash…
Just one magnum! Bottle Shot. Price slash…And the band plays on…
What used to be a narrow field of one-night-stander marketed wines is expanding. This is “true follower” driven marketing that varies from restaurant to restaurant. Those who have the following win, while all the others pose and then drink the bottle themselves.

Canned wines are the fast-casual of the wine world.


Out of the penalty box

It is nearly insane how many of the Raúl Perez wines are on lists and shelves in the city right now. Can you keep count? I certainly can’t. These wines are on a huge wave that includes volume and quality with extremely adept distribution. Nothing is stopping them in the short term.


Bonus en Fuego

Eastern Europe – looking good, along with a rebirth of Austrian coming strong.
I am noticing a shift, but haven’t tasted anything particularly moving…yet. All the wines I have tasted so far are perfectly serviceable. But the neophiliacs don’t care – they just see NEW, rare and imminently buyable.

THE REORDER 05/21/18

The Dark Side Part I – The Wine Sales Interview

Are you coming to the dark side*?

With the proliferation of import/distribution companies in NYC, there are more sales positions and opportunities available than ever, but little clarity on what it takes to put yourself in the best position for success as a salesperson at a good company.

I am hoping you will let me throw you a little inside baseball. Let me ‘leak’ some advice…

Below are some key points to consider when you are interviewing for a sales position in the city. As obvious as they may seem, it is exceedingly rare that anyone thinks this through enough to do them.

And just in case it bears repeating: There are many roads to Rome. What is below is not a one size fits all perspective. The market you are in, the standard practices of the distribution companies and the character and scope of the portfolio you sell will impact the below.

#1 Know the props and players

Ideally, you should walk into an interview knowing the company portfolio well. The history, who is behind it, where it is going. Take the reins and do more than a little research. Who are the props and players and who has which producer? The better you have a handle on the market you are interviewing in will directly impact the choice (and level) of companies you interview with. Essentially, the more you know the import/distribution scene, the higher the echelon of company you can go, and in turn, the better choice in companies to work for you will have. No viable company sleeps on someone that really knows a market.

#1a – curveball question: Why didn’t you buy from us?

If you are a buyer (or were) and never really bought from** the company you are interviewing with, you should be ready to answer why, and you better be convincing if you want the job. Also, have you considered that who you are buying from currently could be your most connected contact for a new job?

#2  The playbook no one thinks of…

Inventory is one of the most misunderstood and least talked about elements of a company in sales positions across the city, and yet, it is a vital ingredient to success.

Think of it like this: the inventory, open availability and producers will be your wine list. If you only have a few cases to sell of that sexy Beaujolais customers ask you for – you need to know that you have other options to take them to when that is gone. You need a spectrum of choice in your figurative bag. If not, you are going to run into problems once you really start selling wine (from an availability/volume point of view) – and these problems can be crippling and create a concrete ceiling. I speak from experience and this dynamic isn’t pretty.

Once talks get real (real enough to feel comfortable), ask to see the full inventory with associated availabilities (limited availability wines and their allocations, wines that sell out in a day, etc.) over several months. Ask what the seasonal flow is like. Do they DI offer their Rosé, for instance, or do they stock Rosé?

I guarantee you that most companies will be shocked that you are asking about inventory because most potential salespeople never think of this. Bottom line: You need to know what the inventory looks like and how it functions to make waves. You must have inventory/supply to sell to succeed.
The companies that are serious about hiring you and aren’t transparent about inventory are giving you a hint about what it will be like to work for them. If there is some concern on their side about transparency with you then tell them that you understand that inventory + accounts + passion + thoughtful work + connection = sales.

If you are missing the inventory piece, it is extremely difficult to find lasting success. And don’t forget that the more you sell, the better for the company.

#2a The small ball game

Imagine that portfolio that everyone says is “on fire” with the owner/partner who is also a salesperson. There is a very good reason that the owner is selling. I bet you that there isn’t a good spectrum of wine to sell with inventory behind it. There are exceptions, of course, but this is generally the rule. And this is not to take away from the strength of these types of portfolios, some of my favorites in the city are these portfolio models and I would bet on a few of them, but that doesn’t mean it would be great for you to work for them today.

#3 Culture Club

I would argue that the culture of a company has just as much to do with the quality of the portfolio as the wines in it. It has a massive impact. But, it is difficult to interpret and understand the culture of a company from the outside.  I always advise talking to reps in the market about what it is like to work at the company, both current and former. An importer/distributor with a “good” portfolio may come with owners/managers that are not good to work with. No one says when they are hiring: look, we are shitty to work with, but the wines in our portfolio are great.
Insider tip: if they have a portfolio of note, but a regular turnover in prime sales positions, I would be very aware of what that says about the company culture before interviewing — and if the vibe is right during the interview, I might even ask why they have had the turnover.

It is easy to be hypnotized by the wines in a portfolio and not understand that the culture within the company impacts how it will be to work with those wines.

#4 And…the account goes to…

Always ask what type of accounts will be available to you.

No matter what your level of experience, importer/distributors are generally cagey about which accounts are available, and every once and a while for understandable reasons. Figure out which type of accounts you will have access to as a rep and how the company decides who gets assigned to which account.

And if they say “we have house accounts and dead accounts for you with a lot of potential,” I would ask to see the list. I might even request ahead of time that they note all accounts that have trouble paying or have had recent buyer turnover. Generally, dead accounts are dead for a reason. Pulling blood from a run of dead account stones is a really hard game.

Now, the hard part that is basically unheard of:

#4a The Bait and Switch

Once it has been decided and you are getting an offer that includes accounts, mention casually that you have heard that companies switch runs on new sales reps and ask for some sort of assurance. 

Why? I have seen the bait and switch NUMEROUS times at high-level companies. As in – here is your run, and when you show up on the first day it is different than what was promised. If they are committing to you, they should be open to it. But also keep in mind that you will have to feel out this moment, and trust in the outcome – just make sure you feel comfortable with what you are walking into.

You need to know what the inventory looks like and how it functions to really make waves.

#5 Understanding commission and expectations

The way reps earn money varies wildly. Some are on a draw, some are 100 percent commission (in which you need to know the average commission), some are on salary with bonus opportunities, and there are variants of all of the above. If you have the inventory and know the accounts you will get – you must have a handle on the commission or payment structure you to project how you can support yourself.

Most companies do give 6-12+ months of salary as support when someone starts. This is “fairly” standard, but can vary as wildly as the pay structures.

Question is: what happens when you are off the support? Can you handle it? Look ahead and be realistic.

The Final Decision

If you have a good handle on the people you are working for, the portfolio and inventory available, the accounts you will have, and the way you will support yourself, you should be able to make an exceptionally good decision on whether to take the job, run quickly away and/or keep looking.

Once you have the job, your world changes quickly…This is where the tough part starts. Getting things rolling as a sales rep is a little more complex.

Part 2. Coming soon.

*the dark side is a common term used to describe beverage sales

**there seems to be some general confusion about what “buying from someone” means. It means you bought regularly, you gave a BTG or two, and always kept them in the game. Why would you want to work for a company that you put in the low, non-existent slot in your rotation as a buyer?

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.