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Joe Dressner’s Brother From Another Mother

I’ve blogged about Joe Dressner before.  Dressner, the eponymous founder of wine importer Louis/Dressner Selections, is something or an irascible sort.  There’s a difference between being a cynic and calling a spade a spade in a deadpan kind of way.

Dressner walks that line, but does so in a way that engenders respect—at least based on writing alone.

Dressner is even updating his site, mercifully now RSS-compatible, on a more frequent basis.

If you’re desiring a little more Dressner-like deadpan, then I’d like to introduce you to Gerald Weisl from Weimax Wine & Spirits in Burlingame, CA

It’s amazing what you find when you Google:  “Wine Trade Tasting.”

Um, yeah. 

Generally speaking, I love these sorts of snarky insider kinds of things about the trade.  It’s like watching the arguing couple while out to eat—thoroughly distracting, but completely interesting.

Oh, the drama.

Weisl has written something of a two-part screed exhorting trade sales people to raise their game a notch.  I cut and paste both articles into a word document so I could print it out and read … the first article on “How to Be A Wine Sales Rep” is 17 pages and the other “How to Hold a Trade Wine-Tasting” is 14 pages.  Pour a glass of wine … 

I’ll leave it to you, dear reader, to determine if Weisl inspires respect or a careful scratch of the head.  Either way, he doesn’t pull punches—while giving plenty of examples of trade sales rep. inanity. 

Some choice excerpts from the “How to Be a Wine Sales Rep.” I’ll do a couple more from the “Trade Tasting” tomorrow.

“When you first get your sales job, you should contact the buyer.  Doing this is in person is a good idea, as it will take the buyer several visits before they even remember your name and what company you are affiliated with.”

“One fellow shows up sporadically.  One year he did not pay a single visit to our account during the Christmas holidays.  When queried he said, “Parking is such a hassle during the holidays, so I try to stay at home!”

“Don’t visit the account and take up valuable customer parking!  We often see sales reps driving up to our front door availing themselves of a vacant parking space. If you are parked there, where does a paying customer park?  If the customers can’t get to the place, the store or restaurant will not need your products, will they?  We are often viewed with disdain by sales reps when we ask them to be more considerate of our customers”

“Some of the distributors in California have thousands of different wines to offer.  One firm’s rep arrives on a weekly basis and yet almost never has even a single bottle to show.  This individual presumes I know everything in their portfolio and since I attend their annual trade tasting, what more could I possible be interested in?  Even though the catalogue is printed every month or two, showing NEW items, this lady never thinks to bring bottles by the shop for “show & tell.”  The same can be said for a fellow who works for a small importer … they have new arrivals highlighted ever MONTH in their price list, but it’s a rare day he even asks if we would like to have a look at anything new.”


“DON’T TAKE “NO” PERSONALLY.  You didn’t make the wine, did you?

“We have a reputation for being a “difficult” account.  We’re not difficult, at all.  We KNOW what we’re looking for.  And, we’re honest about our appraisal of the wines we taste. 

You can find the entire article here.  It makes you glad, almost, that you don’t have to make sales calls in Burlingame, even if somewhat funny in a dramatic kind of way.


What’s the Story in Story, IN?

On Saturday I made the 1.5 hour drive south of Indianapolis to Story, Indiana, a town, no scratch that, a village, on the southeastern rim of Brown County State Park in south central Indiana.  Story sits, as the crow flies on route 135—south of Bean Blossom and Gnaw Bone, but north of Spurgeons Corner; a collection of buildings led by the quaint, charming even, Story Inn.

Founded in 1851, Story is a small set of buildings set off by the grand ole dame, the Story Inn, once a general store and now a restaurant, resplendent in, well, the kind old charm that comes with being a 100 year old + weathered wood-framed building in the middle of hill country in Indiana. 

I have been to Brown County plenty of times; it’s something of a day-trippers vacation and boasts some spectacular fall scenery in October.

I made the trip without my wife, Lindsay, she being busy with a couple of other things and I committed to volunteering for a new wine consumer advocacy organization called Vinsense.

The larger occasion for the trip was the Indiana Wine Fair on the grounds of Story—featuring over 20 of Indiana’s 30 + wineries; pouring and tasting.  Listen to the radio commercial here (no comment on the coherence of this particular gem and example of Indiana creative work).

I always enjoy these sorts of festivals, if only to cut through the crowds and the peach and blueberry wines to taste the dry reds and see how the industry is developing.  It should be noted that I unapologetically do like Cherry wine, but I only measure quality and progress based on the dry reds.  If Lenn from Lenndevours casts a brotherly nudge and occasionally wary eye at the state of New York for quality, he’d be downright snippy at Indiana, but that’s part of the charm, frankly, here and in virtually every other state not California, Washington, Oregon, and New York. 

This trip, in particular, was of interest to me because I’ve been reading about the cold snap that hit the Midwest which is going to have a significant impact on the grape and wine industry.

An article in the April 27th edition of the Kansas City Star indicated that as much as 95% of the Missouri grape crop was lost.  In Missouri, as in Indiana, if I’m not mistaken, Missourian wineries have to use 85% of their own grapes and juices and can use 15% from outside of the state for wine production.

In their wisdom, the state of Missouri is waiving that requirement and allowing wineries to bring in 95% of their grapes and juice from outside of the state.  I have a hunch that this might be a good thing for many, many young, small wineries in states in the Midwest who will now have a legitimate opportunity to put a very high quality product in the bottle, further opening up awareness to consumers of the skill that can be found when winemakers work with quality ingredients.

Meanwhile, Vinsense, a consumer group dedicated to creating a consumer coalition to overturn Indiana’s archaic wine laws, is building up a full head of steam to take the fight to the legislators in order to truly have the laws of the state be in the spirit of Granholm, allowing direct shipping to consumers.

It’s a tall battle, particularly because an accommodation was made in ’05 in the wake of Granholm that, while half-assed and Indiana-esque in its execution, does allow for some direct-shipping while preserving the three-tier.  It also allows wineries to secure micro-wholesale permits and sell to the trade, if under 12,000 gallons (5000 cases).  Despite Vinsense getting some of their facts wrong indicating that 36 states have abolished the three-tier system, their heart is in the right place.  This is exactly where most Indiana wineries find themselves today—with their heart in the right place.

It’s sometimes easy to be critical and very easy to fall into a trap of sitting on the high-horse, but I, for one, am very glad that there are people like Dr. Allan Dale Olson, the founder of Vinsense, willing to take up the fight, however difficult the challenge may be and I’m doubly glad that there are pioneers in the state of Indiana continually refining their craft and striving to make better and better wines.  Usually in periods of strife—whether it be a fight with state over laws or a battle with Mother Nature over her fickleness, things do tend to always get better over the long run.  Here’s to raising a glass to fightin’ the good fight for consumer access to wine and quality improvements in wine from wineries in the heartland.



Why I Blog

Josh at Pinotblogger was kind enough to tag me with a conversation thread making its way around the blogosphere around the topic of “Why I blog.”

It’s simple enough, and restated the question is:  ‘Why the hell do you write stuff (essentially) for free on the internet.’

I got the idea to start blogging in February of ’05 as I read Business 2.0 magazine pool side in Naples, FLA while on vacation with some friends and my wife.  The article was about a 20 year old kid who wrote a cell phone blog and was making $5000 bucks a month and I thought, ‘I can do that.’

At the same time, I was writing a business plan for a wine retail shop.

Ultimately, the wine business plan was front and center for my free time as I legitimately tried to get it off the ground. 

When I realized (actually it was pointed out to me) that if you rub two nickels together you still only have 10 cents and that I didn’t have the financial wherewithal to start a business that was inventory intensive and required, by law, payment to suppliers within 15 days, I started looking at alternative outlets for my wine passion.

I came back to the blogging thing as a way feed the beast, so to speak; a way to express my ideas.

At the point I wanted to finally start a blog (September of ’05) I wasn’t terribly in tune with the blogging services aside from and I wanted to have greater control over the site than what Blogger afforded so I got stuck in a tangle of open source content management software review and chose a program called Mambo.  Mambo, at the same time and unfortunately for me, had the open source project forked by its development team and they went off to create Joomla.

At the same time I couldn’t get the damn Mambo install to work and documentation was scarce.  Nor, in fact, could a buddy of mine who is an administrator for a large-scale content management solution get it to work, either.

Having burned at least four months monkeying around with Mambo, I finally scrapped it for a TypePad account figuring that the most important thing was to just get started—which I did, finally, in January of ’06.

That’s the backstory to how I started blogging, but the real question is, ‘why do you blog?’

I blog because I have a tremendous passion for wine, it’s my #1 hobby, and I also have a lot of creative energy that needs an outlet.  I can’t draw or do anything artistic even though I feel like I have an artistic sensibility.  But, I can write a little bit.  I had neglected this outlet for 10 years, not realizing that I needed to express myself creatively in some form.  If I didn’t blog, I would probably start writing a book.  It’s cathartic to me and a stress reliever to take ideas and put them together in ways that maybe haven’t been put together before.

I think it might be cliché to say so, but for me it’s the process of writing, it’s not the result.  I don’t do it with any motives other than self-satisfaction.

My blogging is completely narcissistic and self-indulgent. 

I really didn’t have any traffic at all for the first couple of months and if you check out some of my posts from early on you’ll see that my style hasn’t really changed in between doing it for myself without anybody checking it out and doing it today for a slightly larger audience.  Blogging for me is really more about me getting stuff down on paper and mentally reconciling ideas than it is for other people’s enjoyment—which is why I write 500 – 1000 word posts when blog wisdom suggests that this is ridiculous.  Nobody wants to slog through 900 words on a blog post, but I approach it like a newspaper columnist would – with context and a narrative where you have a beginning, a middle and an end with an opinion.  And, I also write like a live rock show. One take.  Everything I write is written in one stream of consciousness and one sit down session.  Only, perhaps, three or four times have I ever written something and slept on it to come back to it.  I like the immediacy of tapping a vein and then publishing it for permanence. 

I redesigned the site professionally because I wanted the aesthetic to reflect the content, like a great cover to a book.

Ultimately, I blog for myself; it’s my hobby and is centered around something that I really enjoy—wine.  If other people like the site than that’s great, and if they don’t that’s okay too, because I’d still do it.  The original inspiration of a dude making $5000 a month is a moot point because I do it for free and that’s a part of the creative process and the purity of writing about ideas that amuse me. 

I’m tagging Renee at Feed Me/Drink Me.  Renee, why do you blog? 


Wine Retail Competition:  Coming to a Neighborhood Near You!

Remember in the early to Mid-90s when bagel and coffee shops started popping up on every corner in your town?  It was a phenomenon where you couldn’t really recognize the broader trends until one day it was your turn to pick up bagels for the Friday Breakfast Club at the office and it dawned on you that, yes, there was room for a bagel and coffee shop in your life.

These things have a way of sneaking up on you.

I love reviewing retail trends that are happening in wine—a couple of weeks ago, in a post found here, I wrote about VinoVenue. VinoVenue is a wine tasting bar concept that has aggressive plans to go national, launching from San Francisco.  In that post, I received a comment from a marketer who indicated that VinoVenue was cool, but equally cool was a concept out of Atlanta called “The Grape.”

These are two of several companies planning scaled growth.

I have long thought that a regional or national wine shop had the golden opportunity to gain significant business by going into towns that do not have great wine shops while creating something, anything different.  Indianapolis is one such town.  In fact, most towns not named the state of California, New York, Boston, and Chicago are prime candidates for a genre-breaking wine retail concept.   

This past week I read a trade magazine called Beverage Dynamics, and it looks like the granddaddy of “retail” concepts, Best Cellars, is also eyeing expansion plans.  Best Cellars operates in New York, Boston, D.C. and also has a franchised store in Dallas, TX.  Despite their limited store numbers, their influence has been far more reaching and inclusive to the industry.

Best Cellars has been perhaps the most oft imitated wine shop in America over the course of the last 10 years.

Their main position to market is a highly defined selection of wines—usually 100 or fewer different bottles and most of them under $15 a bottle.  Best Cellars takes the guesswork out of finding a great bottle of wine that won’t break the bank.  But, the real paradigm shift that Best Cellars has caused for small wine shops and restaurant wine lists is how they categorize wine for newcomers and the uninitiated—they use eight broad style descriptors to categorize wine.  No longer does a consumer have to look at a tangle of foreign looking varietals in the Italian section or the German section in order to venture out of a California comfort zone, for example.  Instead, wines are described as, “Big,” “Juicy,” “Lucious,” “Smooth,” and so on.

Perhaps more interesting than their customer-facing market position, which has essentially re-defined how many small wine shops and restaurants categorize wine, is the people they have brought on board to help define and execute their next phase of growth—Dan Dickson as CEO, a veteran of GE and Steve Yacker as VP of Merchandising.  Yacker is an 18 year veteran with stints at Gap and Tommy Hilfiger under his belt.

Generally speaking, you don’t hire big hitters unless you have your eye on the prize.

Unfortunately, the article isn’t online, but below are a few tasty quotes and excerpts from the article.  Read the first paragraph and ask yourself if this is wine related or trying to break the code on the human genome:

From Founder, Joshua Wesson:
“After seven years of operation, we realized it was time to professionalize our management structure and create a platform that could scale the business,” said Wesson.  “At some point, scaling becomes an exercise in applying a formula to reproduce the indicia of success.  That wisdom and those skills weren’t resident among the core group that started the company.  We’ve now downloaded that wisdom and turned it into the formula that is Best Cellars today.”

From the article:
“Best Cellars has also begun to establish intriguing alliances with simpatico brands like Crate and Barrel and JetBlue, though it continues to grope toward how to best leverage these partnerships.”

From Dan Dickson, President and CEO of Best Cellars
“The consumer has to believe that the wines in our store offer the best bang for the buck.  There are a lot of exclusives in Best Cellars, and the credibility behind them is Joshua Wesson:  His credibility is the key point of differentiation between us and everyone else selling value-priced wine.”

I don’t know what the future of wine retailing holds, but I do know that the future is going to be very interesting, particularly with all of the entrants in the field.

Schmear a bagel and watch the spectacle. 


Wine Blog Navel Gazing and the State of the Wine Industry

The wine division of Silicon Valley Bank released their 2007 State of the Industry two weeks ago. 

You can find the full copy of the report here.  If you’re a wine nut, an insider, or both (or reading this post) it should be required reading.

Written by a gentleman named Rob McMillan, the founder of the division, the annual report, in my opinion, is the most lucid, and best written wine report of its kind.  It breaks down major trends in the industry in a manner that is accessible for the wine wonks amongst us (for example, it uses consistent relatable analogies from the movie ‘Rain Man’ and is refreshingly jargon free) and provides a guidepost to the strategic decision paths wineries should be capitalizing on.

Interestingly, the trends play towards our little slice of the online world—blogging and wine direct sales.  The wine blogosphere is and continues to be something of a test bed for winery direct consumer sales in addition to new and emerging concepts in the Web/Wine 2.0 world.

Essentially, the convergence of technology and the wine industry is only going to increase, not decrease.  Buckle up.  We’re already in something of the golden age for wine.  The next three, five and seven years should shake-up the entire industry. 

This excerpt from the report summarizes the excellent industry outlook:

With continuing brand proliferation, and easier access to information and international brands, more than ever before, fine wine is a recommendation-driven industry.  Blogs, podcasts, and the growing list of wine-focused social networks provide the ideal forum for viral wine marketing.  Think of every participant in an online community as a mini Robert Parker espousing an opinion on wine that will undoubtedly resonate with someone else, or at least be noted.  Emerging companies offering online reviews, user-driven wine communities, hyperlinks to online wine sales, or software that helps wineries better understand their consumers, are an attractive solution for the small direct-to-market winery trying to gain expertise.

To take advantage of this new and critical marketing approach, winery owners must find an e-commerce partner, and embrace rapid change and evolving marketing tactics.  In addition, they must be prepared to spend money to provide the same sort of support they might give their other marketing initiatives.  Direct-to-consumer is about customer service.  As a result, when these potential new customers travel from a wine blog to your winery Web site, they need to experience the same type of brand feel, message, service and support they would experience in your own tasting room. That will build the positive consumer experience needed for successful brand building of high-end wines.  And finally, as part of the direct-to-consumer solution, wineries needs to develop appropriate direct sales metrics, determine how to manage information, and staff for or outsource compliance activities.

This past week I was in a conversation with some import/export guys who were considering entering the wine industry.  Their question for me was, “With all of the guys that we see that are coming in and marketing wine on the internet, is there room for other people to do it successfully?”

My answer?  I pointed them to the SVB report online and told them the wine industry is on the cusp of a revolutionary change akin to the way we buy books vis a vis Barnes & Noble or Borders versus the Long Tail and from 1996 to today.  The winds of change are a blowin’ and it’s exciting to be a part of what will be considered in hindsight a revolutionary period of time in the wine industry.


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