Tuesday, January 18, 2011

Wine Industry Analysis: Distribution / Market Analysists?? Part: I

The last time I wrote about my career was probably the last time I updated my resume.  Then again, when was the last time I wrote a blog?  It wasn't always only video blogs, twitter updates and wine tastings for me.  I do have a wine back-ground and I do know the markets.  What frustrates me is watching all these small, independent, family owned wineries continuously get over-shadowed by the big conglomerates.  Large scale wineries such as Chateau Ste. Michelle & Waterbrook in Washington State, Sebastiani, Beringer and Delicato Family Vineyards in California and even those international wineries like, E. Guigal in France and McGuigan in Hunter Valley Australia. All of these wineries have nation-wide US and international distribution. It doesn't seem like they ever miss the boat when it comes to release of new products to a certain market worldwide.  Why is this?  Why can't I find good, small production, family owned and operated, local wineries in such places like Philadelphia, New Orleans or even Montreal?  Who makes up their minds as to what goes where and when?  What are these small to medium sized wineries missing?  I'm going to tell you. Let me tell you how I got here first and why I have the right to tell you.

My career started in Marlton, New Jersey, where I was hired by Joe Canal and his son Paul to work as a stock boy in his newly built liquor store off Route 73.  I worked in several wine shops in and around the Philadelphia area for several years including having opened, as assistant wine manager, the first out-of-state Total Wine store for the Trone brothers. At the time, their third store. I continued until I went to France in '99 to get my viticulture and agriculture degree in Beaune Burgundy. In 2000, I had come home and was working as barista in a local Moorestown, New Jersey Coffee Shop. I was discovered one morning, by Rick Geyer of Allied Beverage group. Rick and I would have brief conversations about wine and what was new and up-and-coming as I'd spread cream cheese on his bagels and handed him his coffee. One day Rick asked me to come work for the company he worked for. Allied Beverage Group, the 5th largest wine distributor and import in the US and the Largest privately owned. That's where my career started. From there I worked for Wines Limited in Washington DC where I met Steven Brown, owner of Seattle's 12th and Olive Wine Company. I kept going with my career and eventually was picked up by Vintage Imports in Bethesda, Maryland. Vintage was a division of Bacardi that handled newly acquired brands. My brands were 42 Below Vodka, South Gin, Alchemy Vodka and Wasabi Vodka. I was responsible for North American sales and Marketing. From Sales, to logistics. to credit terms, to imports, all the way to Canadian liquor control board requests and calls. I did it. This is what opened up my west coast wine opportunities.

When I moved to Seattle to marry my best friend, I was given the difficult task to learn a new market. Not just any old market, but a completely different coast. I had mastered NYC, Philly, DC, Chicago, Toronto and even Paris, Geneva and London. I knew and still do understand exactly how the markets work. It's about Liquor, Wine and Beer consumption, purchase and demography. And now I had to learn the local Seattle and general west coast markets. "Alright", I thought. I went to work for several California wineries doing exactly what I did for Vintage / Bacardi, except I actually started developing brands for distribution and marketing in very specific US and Canadian primary, secondary and tertiary markets. In 2009, I began doing it for Washington wineries. That's when I realized how good Washington wines are and how hard it was to find a good bottle in places such as Annapolis, Maryland, or Austin, Texas or even 6 miles outside of New York City in North Jersey. Couldn't find Bartholomew Winery, Two Mountain Winery, Brian Carter Winery, etc.  You could find Three Rivers, L'école, Bookwalters and Hogue. But the little guys were no where to be found. .......And here's why.

   Beginning my career as a sales rep. for Allied Beverage Group, I was responsible for covering approximately 100 + on and off premise accounts located between Gladstone, North Jersey, east to Asbury Park where I actually handled the Stoned Pony and as far south as the Wine Cellars in Cinnaminson, South Jersey. I covered, what was then known as the *BUSIEST market in the country. It consisted of the *#1 and the *#3 US Markets for consumption and purchase of wine and liquor (not beer). The **market rankings looked a bit like this in the late 1990's:

  1. #1: NYC, Western Connecticut, Northern NJ
  2. #2: Chicago / Gary / O'hare
  3. #3: Washington DC / Northern VA / Maryland
  4. #4: Philadelphia / Delaware / Southern NJ / A.C.
  5. #5: Las Vegas
  6. #6: Los Angeles
  7. #7 Houston / New Orleans
  8. #8 San Francisco / Bay Area
  9. #9 Seattle / Portland
  10. #10 Dallas / Ft. Worth
Today this list has not changed very much. Houston and New Orleans have simply slipped down to either the #10 or the #11 markets and Seattle / Portland now sit at market #7. 

There are approximately 1700 to 1900+ legitimate wine and spirits distributors and importers nationwide. Most distributors have an ***ATF ATTB

One of the major concerns a local small winery, family or locally owned and operated, with a small to medium  case production, is that they think they don't have enough wine to spread out or they simply don't understand the process for which it takes to approach out-of-state distributors. These are not the only reason for why they don't have distribution anywhere but their respected states of production. Last summer I met many wine makers and owners of wineries, both local to Washington and some in northern California. I was shocked to hear their perception of what it meant to send product to a distributor outside the state. Apparently their thoughts are that their wines are too high priced and to even begin the process of shipping wine to another state costs a large amount of money. When in all reality, it is a distributors responsibility to manage and pay any logistics from pick-up point for the winery to drop-off point for the distributor. Product and Label approvals per state can negotiated with, but in general this is also the responsibility of the designated distributor. Unfortunately, there are some  distributors all over the place that try to deceive the producer into thinking they have to make all the efforts by covering for samples, transport, label and product approval costs, sales program, etc...... This is not the case. 

Another concern for these types of wineries is that they don't produce enough wine to justify sending a pallet or two to five or ten markets around the country. They would much rather hold on to all their product and sell it in their tasting rooms or to local on and off premise accounts. My thoughts are slightly different than most wine makers and wineries in Washington, Oregon and California, that I believe in market analyst's, social-media marketing and more importantly, I believe everyone should have the chance or opportunity to taste great small production wine. Especially from Washington State. So you produce 288 cases of Red Mountain petit verdot? Or 402 cases of Walla Walla syrah? Better yet, 133 cases of a Yakima Valley cab. sauv., merlot blend? Wouldn't it be nice to sit at a table in the upper west side of Manhattan, be handed a menu and seeing your wine displayed on the bottle list? It can happen. It doesn't always need to happen for the big boys and it most certainly does not need to be overwhelming. I promise you that. 

NEXT: Wine Industry Analysis: Distribution / Market Analyst's?? Part: II

Foot Notes: Information Sources:

1 comment:

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