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Thinking inside the Box

Gurus would have you believe that breakthrough ideas require “out of the box” thinking.  Not so.  The fact is most of the winning answers are right in front of us, particularly in the wine business where a proverbial turn of the crank can quite literally change the course of business.

So it goes as I let my mind wander while at a catered business event a week or so back, replete with the typical cubed, orange cheese, crackers, fresh fruit of dubious freshness and a small sandwich buffet with ham, roast beef and the unwieldy bowl of yellow mustard begging to dribble onto my tan slacks, leaving a permanent paean to business networking events with PowerPoint slides.

This evening event also catered in beer and wine.  The wines were a Butterfield Station Chardonnay and a Red Rock Merlot, both exceptional in their level of ordinariness.

Since I left Inertia Beverage Group a little over a year ago, after leading the effort to put their Direct-to-Trade program in place in a manner that was legal, scalable and executable, from the back of, quite literally, a notepad, the business has been quiet, a fishing bobber on a calm lake, ebbing and flowing with the waters, not thrashing with a sea change.


For the uninitiated, Inertia Beverage Group is a technology company serving the wine industry offering a software platform for both direct-to-consumer and direct-to-trade sales.
I have mentally displaced most of my experience at Inertia, not because I wasn’t proud of my achievement (I was), but because my last year and the last year of the rest of the world picked up the pace, driving the car of my mind’s eye further past the signposts in the rearview mirror.

One thing I did learn in that sojourn into the wine industry was I preferred my prior view from the sidelines, close enough to the action to understand, but not close enough to get tied into the joy of winning or losing.  Similar to the adult movie star, married, who has to begrudgingly service his wife at night, I found that being too close to wine dampened my lust and turned it into a perfunctory event, less performance and more obligation.

However, the notion of a catered event with wine got me thinking about current circumstance and under-exploited areas in wine.

1) Is there any debate that 9.5/10 catered events have really poor wine?  Likewise, is there any debate that catering companies are a completely untapped market segment in wine sales?

2) I’ve read a number of articles and blog posts about winery owners and winemakers putting a concerted effort into traveling and engaging with retail accounts.

3) I’ve read many articles about various pros and cons of price preservation in sales efforts

4) Likewise, I’ve read numerous articles about boutique wineries having a perpetual, but exacerbated difficult time developing relationships in the three-tier based on their nascent brand development.

Given these swirling circumstances, you might think that a system like the Inertia Direct-to-Trade program that affords wineries the ability to sell direct to retail, restaurants and caterers would be exploding in this market.

I don’t know for fact, but my guess is that growth is steady, but slow.

The system allows you to:

1) Engage under tapped markets

2) Control your sales efforts separate from a ride along with distributor reps.

3) Control your pricing strategy within the parameters of legality for each state

4) Circumvent the stranglehold on the three-tier, by the three-tier

Quite literally, if a winery is small, growing and under-developed in distribution, the Inertia Direct-to-Trade program and some shoe leather can be the difference between contracting or expanding in these market conditions.

Yet, I’m not a flag-waver for Direct-to-Trade, what I really am is a champion for small wineries building their business.

And, the fact is that now is a perfectly good time to build relationships, sell wine and prepare for a future that is less uncertain.

I regularly read R. Corbin Houchins Notes on Wine Distribution.  It’s updated frequently and gives an excellent, perhaps the best available, overview on the current legal selling climate in wine – both direct-to-consumer and direct-to-trade.

In the most current edition, from December, I noted that 17 states are available for some level of Direct-to-Trade sales. 

12 of those 17 states are available for a small winery to self-distribute without aid from anybody else. (AZ, AR, CT, IL, MD, MA, MT, OR, VT, WA, WY)

12 states allow a winery to sell directly to a retailer, restaurant, or, yes, a caterer.

Caterers are a great place to start because nobody really calls on them and a margin play can be hidden while moving some inventory, but the reality is a winery has to start.  They have to do the hard work of selling.

To me, the answers to some wineries growth challenges don’t require out of the box thinking—there are solutions available, now is the time to tap them and build.  It doesn’t take a business guru to recognize this, just a perilous sense of business mortality to think ‘inside the box.’ 

Additional Links

Inertia’s Wine Revolution Direct-to-Trade site


Posted in, Wine: A Business Doing Pleasure. Permalink | Comments (1) |


On 09/29, Microsoft Product Key wrote:

Are they using some kind of software that drills the baselines, or are they just tweaking the parameter knobs in normal software. I have Massive from Native Instruments and was just wondering if I’d be able to do the same.


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