The tactics of OG wine buyers have not been documented, but if you are in the NYC market really doing it as a salesperson you may recognize a few of the below moves.
Bottom line is: it is vital to be aware of a few of these tactics because they can really throw you if you don’t recognize them for what they are.
The the upside of being “in” with an old-schooler is HUGE. The OG buyer has had a large impact on my career. Many of them are the most loyal, impressive and insightful that I have had the pleasure of working with. But almost without fail, all of the relationships started wonky, awkward, and with a plethora of mistakes on my part.
This could be a long list – but I chose my own personal favorites. I hope this helps.
Talk to the hand
Nearly every old school buyer In high-level buying positions I have worked with over the years will take the first meeting as a moment to start with no. I don’t mean saying no to everything, I mean the general feeling of no. Don’t worry, they are in the meeting for a reason.
An impossible question
They will most likely mention random things to get you back on your heels. Maybe something only they know the answer to because they go to Croatia every year, or they knew the ol’ man Mondavi. Something that startles you just enough so they exert dominance. No big deal.
The OG buyer will involve a distraction at some point, and it could be completely random.
Whether they are bidding on wines, slinking away to the corner to taste in silence, making funny noises, or throwing a sideways, super insulting comment about the wine in the glass your way – expect them to perform a little.
I once had an old buyer in a tracksuit step away and act like he had some form of consumption and hack away in front of his smiling Somm team. He was aiming to distract all of us and pull focus. I almost laughed out loud because it was so obvious, and it still tripped me up.
Accentuate, Denigrate, Repeat
Any wine that has an element that could be accentuated and then dismissed…will be. VA, oak, sellability, etc.
You can count on this move, at least at first. They may even say a wine is horrible, even when it obviously isn’t.
The most difficult OG wine buyer I ever worked with looked me dead in the eye after smelling a wine I poured in our first meeting and asked me if I liked the wine I had poured for him. I said yes. He then said that if I really liked that wine that we couldn’t work together.
“ The underlying question for them will be: why should we buy from you, or (more likely) why do we need to buy from you?
The Big Deflection
This is a real classic. The OG buyer will deflect the buying to their assistants.
Even if they are doing all the big buying, they will pass you off to their assistants that have minimal buying power while telling you that the assistants have real power.
The only way to get past this one is to know how the OG buyer buys, and why they buy. The deflection has to be followed by a question that leads the big buyer back to you.
Most old schoolers have deep connections with producers or importers and view all others through a careful eye.
The underlying question for them will be: why should we buy from you, or (more likely) why do we need to buy from you?
If you have something to offer that retains a long-held connection for the OG (like an old friend now making wine), you need to bring it up.
The Importer Syndrome
Many of these OG buyers came up when now famous importers were in the early stages of establishment. Because of this, they fancy themselves to have “built” importers. Random hero stories about how they helped importer (insert name here) find (insert hot-shit famous producer) will abound.
Everyone likes to feel important and the OG buyer is no different. They just have a longer history and the connections that come along with that history.
NOTE: Unless you know market history and producers very well (which is rare), just listen. Take it from a guy who has had to take my foot out of my mouth a few times…
No love for distribution
A natural extension of the above is: they probably have imported a few things. Or, they may even have a “brand.”
I was once told “I hate importers, they are so greedy” by someone who bought oceans of wine from one importer. Not shockingly, this OG buyer is now a small importer.
They will have some sort of buying pattern that goes outside the typical buying system (like buying on Auction or via some list that their friends run). In this case, it is really handy to know a lot of producers and their respective availabilities so you can know what not to offer.
Appointments are for a*** holes
This is the current view of the appointment for the OG unless you are in with them. Avoid the word at all costs. Send an offer that makes sense, but realize that this first email better have an impact – or you will likely never get email love.
Many OG buyers love to play hardball, but don’t like when it is played with them. Beware of the many bear traps that will happen if you try and game an OG. However, some of these buyers will not respect you if you don’t speak up. Don’t be afraid to go toe to toe if you feel it is necessary,