Friday, February 4, 2011

Excerpt: Wine Retail in 2010: Hopeful Reactions from Across the U.S.

by Rob Bralow, Wine Post Editor

This is an excerpt from an article I wrote, published on Palate Press on February 2, 2011.

From across the U.S. you can almost hear the collective exhale of relief by wine retailers. Having adjusted inventories to accommodate the tighter purse strings of wine drinkers, retailers found that while the byword for 2010 was “value,” customers began, once again, to feel more comfortable making the extra trip to visit their local wine shop.

For the rest, check out the article at the Palate Press.

Comments welcome!

Wednesday, January 26, 2011

The Problem with being a Retailer on an Importer/Press Trip

by Rob Bralow
, Wine Post Editor

Do not get me wrong, I am having a great time. But almost all of the wines I am tasting will require at least 3 months before they get into the US, and that only if one of the importers on the trip with me decided they want to start the process of bringing the wines in TOMORROW.

I am tasting lots of great wines and one of the wineries I visited that has truly impressed me is Uniao Comercial de Biera. They have a ton of great brands, all made by a female winemaker Christina, at least I am pretty sure that is her name. And from what I have been hearing, they are really inexpensive, although what that means when they get to the US, I am not sure. The prices I am getting are ex-cellars prices in Euros.

Another great thing is I am tasting varieties that are brand new to me, so I have little to no expectations or pre-conceptions. Grapes like Encruzado and Alfrocheiro are very interesting and make some good wines in the hands of the right people. I am sure I am well over the 100 make in terms of the different grapes I have tasted and I sort of wonder how close I am to 200, but I do not keep track. It is just great to taste new wines.

Need to run on to my next round of tastings, but later in the week I am sure I will be writing more about these wines.

Sunday, January 23, 2011

A surprise tryp to Portugal

by Rob Bralow
, Wine Post Editor

I was extremely surprised when I received an e-mail inviting me to a "tryp" to Portugal. At first I thought it must be spam, but decided it was worth another look.

We would like to invite you on a trip to Portugal.

I had to read that line two or three times to make sure my eyes were ok. I think showed it to my fiancĂ©e (oh did I mention that yet?) and she laughed at the spelling and then got excited. "You are going to Portugal? Without me?!"

And now it is several weeks later and here I am, at the Yeatman Hotel in Oporto.

I may do this in several different ways, depending on time allowance and my level of inebriation. I may do a day-by-day recap every time I get back to my hotel room, or I might save it all up for one longer write-up later. All I know is, here I am, and I am really looking forward to traveling along the Douro river valley and tasting some amazing Portuguese wines. 

If you have any questions you would like me to ask on this trip, let me know. I will be visiting many wineries and tasting whites, reds, and ports, I am sure. I do not know if I will ever have another chance to be so close to Portugal's winemakers, so ask up! And I'll report back what I find out.

It's like the lamp post from Narnia...

Wednesday, December 1, 2010

How to Be a Good Wine Distributor

by Rob Bralow, Wine Post Editor

Have you ever bought a car? You needed four wheels that moved when you wanted them to and stopped when you said so. Therefore you went to the used car lot, because why go for the newest, top of the line model when it will be devalued $5k the moment you drive it off the lot.

And then there's the car salesman.

He (or she - we are all about equal opportunity here) is a pleasant person when you first meet them, but that's the last time you think they are your friend. After that they grate on your nerves to buy this most excellent green car, or look this grey one has a sun roof! What about this one? No don't worry about the mileage, it's a great car, I promise...

You know exactly what I am talking about.

It is a trap that sales people fall into all the time. You want to make the sale, but it's really not a natural way of speaking when you start waxing on how much this one product is so awesome, and so is this one... oh and this one is also amazing.

What if it was your job to listen to people trying to sell you things every day?

Welcome to my world.

That's right, that is what a Wine Buyer does. It is actually in my job description to interact with these people who are trying to sell me their wares. The best distributors are the ones who effortlessly show me their wines or spirits, enjoy a moment of time with me (perhaps not even talking about wine) and then leave.

The worst want to tell me their life story and then the life story of each product they have. They want to know when I am going to buy from them. They want to know why I am not buying at that very moment. They want to know why I did not like this product that they think I absolutely should have. They want to know why...

Chill. I will buy when I am ready to buy. There are hundreds of reasons why I am not buying right then and there. The primary reason is that I don't do that. Then there is 'How much money for inventory do I have to play with?' Then I need to make sure we have a need on the shelf for that product. Just because I like it does not mean I think it will sell (which is another thing I need to think about). Then I need to run it by the boss. And then, if it is sunny and warm outside and we are feeling particularly good, we might decide to put in a small order. That is if your company does not have too high a minimum purchase for your products. If there is, then we are involved in a whole 'nother ball game, which might require another few months of tasting and considering.

If you are not willing to put up with that, then do not come knocking on my door.

Do I break my rules? All the time. The circumstances? If I have the budget and we have a need for that particular product in the store.

And if you think you have a product that I NEED then see the paragraph above about the car salesman.

Monday, November 22, 2010

In Response to the Passionate Food Rant

by Rob Bralow, Wine Post Editor

I posted this comment on the Passionate Foodie, a friend of mine who is extremely knowledgeable about wine and especially Sake. However, I disagreed with his position about carrying niche wines. You can see the original post here:

Below is my comment:

I am forced to admit, there are plenty of stores in the world where all they carry are name brands that have been around for decades because that is what people buy. Yellow Tail, Mondavi, Louis Jadot... we all know the names and they sell because the average wine drinker barely knows the difference between a Cabernet and a Merlot (and I think there was this movie about Pinot something, but I can't remember).

But just because the store carries these items does not make them unworthy. Just because a store does not carry wines from the Jura, or the newest vintage from Nicolas Joly, or a Zweigelt does not mean they do not know what these wines are and their value. But there are harsh realities. The rent bill comes every month, and if you have not sold enough wine, then you can close up shop and all your stock of grower-producer Champagne and Margaret River Chardonnay is not worth a rusty penny.

The reality is that the number of people that really know wine and are interested in those niche products equal a tiny portion of the number of people buying wine. They are great if they can be relied on to come in once a month (that's right, once a MONTH would make it worthwhile), but if they can't then the wine sits there.

The answer of more tastings and more hand selling? There is already a huge amount of that going on with any number of wines that SHOULD be walking off the shelf without a hand sell. I'm talking about simple wines like Riesling and Vaqueyras. You start telling someone about the oxidative nature of a wine from the Jura and you've lost them long before you get to the brilliant flavor and balance.

If I had the budget to stock $2 million worth of product, hell I would have a little bit of everything! But economics are real and limiting, as is shelf space and the number of cases that I have to buy in order to keep the prices sane for customers (because distributors do not give you a good deal when you buy one case, it usually has to be 10 - 25 cases). Storage is a problem. Operating capital is a problem.

I am not saying there aren't mercenary wine stores in existence. I am just saying that just because a store does not carry a niche wine does not prevent them from being a troubadour for the wine industry at large.
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