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FREE WINE MARKETING ADVICE

Some Thoughts on Wine Marketing
From a Curmudgeonly Wine Veteran
Written by
Gerald Weisl,
wine merchant

Mr. Weisl has been in the wine business for more than 40 years and has seen marketing successes and disasters.  He is not an "expert," but an observer of the ever-changing market.
He deals with numerous wineries, dozens of importers, distributors, wine brokers, sales hacks, nimrods, rubes and professionals.
He's been asked for advice and suggestions by wineries all over the world's "wine map" and decided to put some thoughts down on paper.
These are offered, gratis, to vintners around the globe in hopes of shedding a few rays of light on the complicated task of selling and marketing "foreign" wines in the American market.

In the U.S. there's a saying that "Free advice is worth what you've paid for it."
Keep that in mind when you read the following.
But you may find some wisdom in this essay and if you do, glory be!

 

TO TRANSLATE THIS PAGE:  CLICK HERE AND PUT THE URL INTO THE BOX, SELECT YOUR LANGUAGE AND, VOILA/ECCO!

 

I'm frequently asked for advice or my perspective on various aspects of wine marketing by local vintners as well as those in Europe (or elsewhere).


First, I should point out that while we may view growing grapes and making wine as a "noble" endeavor, it's not the same as curing cancer, sending spacecraft to Mars or raising the next generation to do better than our generation.  It's not the same as waging a battle for "truth, justice and the American way."

And yet so many vintners seem to think their job is solely grape growing and winemaking.  They often forget that's only a part of the equation.

You have to find "ambassadors" for your wine and with their help, you need to find customers who will actually pay money for your efforts.

Some people blindly go into the wine business, thinking the world will beat a path to their cellar door, throwing hundred dollar bills at them in order to be able to part with a bottle, or two, or more, of their wonderful enological artistry.
And are they often shocked that "it ain't easy."


We've been fortunate to travel throughout the top wine regions of Europe;  places where they have several generations of winemaking history (or a century of farming and wine production backgrounds).

And despite their many years of wine producing, "selling" wine is often a relatively recent activity or interest.
Many wine producers, you see, have had enterprises where their wines were sold in bulk.  Bottling, labeling and actually selling a 6-pack or 12-pack of wine is an enitrely new challenge.
For years, perhaps, a broker or wine merchant would come by, taste the wine out of tank and purchase large quantities of wine by the tanker car or in barrel.  Or the grapes would be sold to a local grower's cooperative cellar.  Or a negociant would regularly buy the wine shortly after the harvest.

Once wine, though, is put into a rather small container such as a 750 milliliter bottle, making it "disappear" is a tricky prospect.

In the United States, we have a chaotic web of distribution channels and this is not easy for many European vintners to understand.

In Europe, for example, a wine shop in Germany may be permitted to purchase wine directly from a wine producer in Italy.
A Swiss wine store can buy wine directly from a winery in France.

But in the United States, we have many complicated laws regulating the purchase and sale of alcohol.


These seemingly crazy laws were enacted following the Repeal of Prohibition.


As a condition of the "national" or Federal "Repeal," each state was granted the right to regulate alcohol as it wished.

This resulted in what is now a chaotic maze of distribution and there are still some places within the United States of America, the "Land of the Free," where people cannot buy a bottle of wine or liquor.

Basically here's how this works:

This means the wine you make in Europe, typically must be sold to an American company which has an importer's license.

In California, for example, there are companies which have an importer's license and which "self-distribute."  This means they act as both the importer and sales company, selling wine to "Retailers" and "Restaurants."

But in many smaller states, those companies which sell to stores and restaurants (we call them "wholesalers") will rely on national importing companies or smaller importers in other states, buying wine through these firms.

Of course, the more "middle men," the higher the price on your wine.  This usually means a consumer will have to pay more money for your wine.
If your "brand" has strong "name recognition," this may not be a problem.  On the other hand, if your wine is unknown, it may make it more difficult for you to sell wine in the U.S. market.

Our shop, which is fairly visible on the internet, receives numerous offers from European wine producers, hoping we will purchase 25, 50, 100 or more cases of wine directly from a winery.
In reality, though, a normal shop buys only a few cases at a time (maybe 2 to 5 boxes).  A good shop has hundreds of wines for their customers to choose from and so buying 10 or 20 of each is relatively impossible and impractical.


Europe has thousands of really good winemakers.  And they're working diligently (most of them) to make constant improvements.

The American wine scene is somewhat similar.  We have more wineries than ever and there's a constant stream of new labels and brands coming on line.

I have seen that few European vintners have a good idea of how wine is actually sold in the USA.   Here are a few thoughts and suggestions for wineries looking to sell a bit of wine in America.


There are numerous wine fairs around the planet where one can expose their wines.  France has its "VinExpo" in Bordeaux.  Italy's annual celebration of its wines is called VinItaly and it's held in Verona.  Germany has a fantastic 3 day fair called ProWein and you'll travel to DŘsseldorf for that.  In the UK, there's the London Wine Fair and that takes place in late May.
There are numerous other, smaller events.  Vinisud in France, for example, is a venue for producers from "the south of France" to show their wines and, perhaps, meet importers or buyers from foreign lands.

These may not be the best conditions for actually tasting and evaluating wines, but they are certainly good places to meet people who are serious about finding wines.

******

I advise vintners to do some research before they decide to make a bet or wager in hopes of finding a market for their wine.

There is a limited number of "National Importers" in America.  Most of them represent fairly well-known brands of wines.
These companies usually add 25% to 40% to the cost of the wine and then they are selling your wine to another more "local" company which will add 25%, or more.  Then, the local distribution sells your wine to a store which adds 25% to 50%, typically.

So...if your wine left the winery at, say, 5 Euros a bottle  (approximately $6.87 on the day I originally wrote this in 2013), it costs roughly a dollar, or more to transport the wine to the US.  The importer will probably try to sell the wine to the next company for $10.50-$11.50.  
If that company is a distributor, they will attempt to sell your wine to a store or restaurant for $16-$18.  And then the wine is going to retail for $24-$27 in a wine shop and perhaps $50-$70 in a restaurant.

One small importer we buy from said the formula he's heard from some national companies is to multiply the Ex-Cellars Euro price per bottle by 5 and that's likely to be the US retail price.  Thus, a 5-Euro bottle would retail in America for $25.
Our importer, though, said, if he paid 5 for a bottle, it would likely sell to us for $128 per case, making the retail price here $15.99.

Ex-Cellars Cost Plus Shipping & Tax Landed Cost Add Importer Margin Wholesale Price Add Retailer Margin Consumer Price
$10/bottle $10/case $130 30% $169 50% $20-$21


Ex Cellars Cost Plus Shipping & Tax Landed Cost Add Importer Margin Price to the Distributor Add Wholesaler (Distributor's) Margin Wholesale Price Add Retailer Margin Consumer Price
$10/bottle $10/case $130 30% $169 30% $220/case 50% $27.50

There are some companies in our state, California, which import and distribute their own portfolios.
You might think this is an ideal situation, allowing these wines to be sold to stores and restaurants for a more competitive price than those being handled by a company which buys from a national importer...But some of these organizations take two mark-ups: 
They take the importer's share
&
They take the distributor's share.
So much for a competitive advantage.
(This is why you must ask what price the consumer will pay for your wine...)


The tax on wine at the US Federal (National) level is quite modest.

WINE Tax per 750ml Bottle
13.99% alcohol or less 21-cents
14.0% alcohol to 20.99% 31-cents
21.0% alcohol to 24.0% 62-cents
Naturally Sparkling 67-cents
Artificially Carbonated 65-cents


Each state in the USA then has its own set of "State Taxes" on wine and most have a "sales tax" (sort of a VAT tax) on top of that.
CLICK HERE TO SEE A US GOVERNMENT DOCUMENT
OUTLINING THE VARIOUS STATES AND THEIR LOCALLY-COLLECTED TAXES.

In California, for example, the State tax on wine is only 5-cents per 750ml bottle.  
Alaska and Florida have the highest state taxes, 50-cents and 45-cents respectively.
The "average" state tax on wine, however, is slightly less than 14-cents per bottle.

The price tag on the bottle in the store, though, includes a modest amount of fees and taxes, but some importers take advantage of the winery and lead them to believe they are paying a huge sum of money in tax.

And, as noted earlier, some companies that "self distribute" believe, these days, in taking two mark-ups.  That is, they negate the possible sales advantages they have by importing directly from a producer and in selling directly to stores and restaurants.   
They will add the "Importer's Mark-Up" first and then add the distributor's margin on top of that, rationalizing they are doing two jobs and so they should be paid twice.

******

It's a good idea, then, to ask of your prospective trade partner this sort of question:
"If we sell you our wine at 5-Euros, what is likely to be the retail price of the wine in your market?"

If their response gives you dollar figures higher than those in the tables posted above, the company is either very inefficient or simply greedy.

We see examples of both.

A local San Francisco Bay Area company was paying $10-$12 to a producer of white wine in France.  I called the producer to inquire if their bottling was somehow different from the wine he sold in Europe.  The only difference was the wine he shipped to the California importer was not filtered.  Apart from that, it was the same as the wine retailing to private customers in Europe for less than the equivalent of $15.
The local importer does not pay, of course, Europe's VAT taxes and they get a quantity discount, so they surely paid a modest amount for this fellow's wine.
The wholesale price here in California was $360 a case or $30 per bottle!
----
Another fellow had an importer in Los Angeles.  I asked him what his wine cost at the cellar door in Italy.  It was perhaps a $6 or $8 cost to the US importer.
I then asked the fellow how this wine came to wholesale for $400 per case here.
He did not know, but figured the importer was wrapping each bottling in gold.  This meant consumers were being asked to pay $50 for what had been an honestly-priced bottle of nice, simple wine at the cellar door.
---
A prominent Barolo producer had the "going rate" on their wine.  It was costing the US importer perhaps $15-$18 at the time.  They tacked on a very healthy percentage, making the wine $640 a case on a "pre-arrival" basis (ordered and paid for before the wine was actually delivered) and then selling it for $800 a case once it landed to those who had not purchased it ahead of time!
I recall the competing brands of the same sort of wine at the same quality level, coming through other importers and distributors were costing $400-$500 per case.

A representative of that importer, when asked why the wines they had were so much more costly than other brands blamed the high prices on their taking a loss on so many white wines which had a much shorter life span!

---

 

 



When interviewing a prospective US importer, please ask them where they will sell your wine.

Now, there ARE a few companies which actually do sell their wines all across the country.

Good examples of these importers would include:
Frederick Wildman & Sons Importers


Dreyfus Ashby & Company


Palm Bay International

Vias Imports, LTD.

Maisons Marques & Domaines

Wilson Daniels

Classical Wines

Weygandt-Metzler

Empson & Company (Italian wine Exporter)

Winebow

San Francisco Wine Exchange

Vineyard Brands

Rudi Wiest Selections/Cellars International   German Specialist

VINTUS

EUROPEAN CELLARS  (French & Spanish Specialist)

VINDIVINO (Austria, Italy, Spain)

KOBRAND

PORTOVINO  (Italian Specialist)

DALLA TERRA  (Italian Specialist)

COMMUNAL BRANDS 

----

There are some good, very localized importers.
In California we have quite a number of really good, seriously dedicated importers who import their own portfolio of wines and self-distribute.

And there are similar companies importing wines directly from good cellars around the world.

The issue which requires a bit of attention, however is where are you intending for your wine to be sold?

If there's a small importer in San Francisco who works, for the most part, in Northern California, you might not expect them to be shipping your wine to some distributor in Louisiana or Idaho.
If your wine is brought in to the US by some company located in New Jersey, you might not intend for them to send your wine to California.

So, please do yourself and your prospective customer the courtesy of delineating where they will sell your wines.

Then, please understand that when you've sold your wine to an importer in a particular state in the USA, you should not sell your wine to another importer within that state's boundaries.

You should make it clear to them where they will sell your wines and you need to hear from them where they intend to sell your wines.

This also should be brought up with importers or sales companies close to home.
If you are sending your wine to a company in Switzerland, for example, you probably expect that firm is selling your wine in Switzerland.  You should consider asking them if they sell wine to other trading companies in other countries.
And if they do sell all over the planet to other wine companies, doesn't this open the door, possibly, to someone counterfeiting your wine (if it's a wine of some significant value, for example)?


----
We had imported some wines from a young fellow and were surprised (dismayed was more like it and seriously upset, if you want to know the truth) when his wines appeared on a price list of another company in California.
"They are in Napa and you are in San Francisco." the winemaker explained.
"We both sell in the same market." we replied.

In any case, having your wine with two competing companies will produce the ultimate result of two importers who will not work with you.


----
A prominent East Coast importer was doing a good job in his local areas with the wines of a famous Italian wine producer.
The winery then sold some wine to an importer in California who had visions of grandeur.  The West Coast kid called the New York veteran and announced the East Coast company would now be obliged to buy the wines through his company. 
That didn't sit well with the original importer who promptly dropped the winery from his portfolio.
The West Coast fellow was a poor business man and never established a strong market, even in his own backyard and today he's out of business.
The winery should have made it clear to both companies where the wines could be sold or, better yet, asked the original importer if selling the wines to the new company would present any issues or problems.

----
In visiting the stand of a good producer at VinItaly, I was shocked when just about the first thing the proprietor of the winery told me is that they would not sell their wine "exclusively" to an importer in a particular region.
That was a bit like the prospective husband telling the fiancÚ that he wanted an "open marriage."
That winery has never found itself a good home in the California market and I suspect it's largely due to their not understanding the market and not understanding the relationship they enter into with an importer.

There was and perhaps still is a certain "convenience"  having your wine sold by a national importer.
You have only one company to deal with...one set of labeling information...one shipment....one payment.

We have seen a bit of a shift, as wines have become more expensive and today many wineries are looking for good, smaller importers who might import & sell to stores and restaurants.
One advantage is that this cuts out one layer of distribution and so the pricing may be more favorable.
I can see, though, that many wineries are thinking they, then, can ask a higher price for the wine since there's just the one company in the middle.

Another point to consider with national companies:  A number of them tend to sell through large distribution companies.  Often, these companies (Southern Wines & Spirits, for example) are geared to selling liquor as their top priority and wine is viewed as a side-line.
If they deal with a few national importers, they have unmanageable, mega-sized portfolios and it's easy for a small producer to be "lost" in the mix.
Sometimes the large distributor simply doesn't want any more new lines which require "selling" (presenting the wines, opening bottles, trying to make new placements) as they are more interested in the easy sale and simply taking re-orders.
Often the big guys talk a good game (and they have money to throw around, too), but after you're signed up with them, you discover you have to sell your own wine.  They are unwilling to do much more than taking an order from an existing customer, billing and delivering your wine.

We know many producers in Europe who now realize their job does not end when they send a pallet of wine out the cellar door and on its way to a foreign market.  Now they have to come visit the USA, tour around for a week, or two and "meet & greet" prospective customers.
Some vintners come every year.  Some come every few years. And some never come and wonder why their wine doesn't sell as well as they think it should.

A smaller company might be new and untested.  There's always a certain measure of "risk" when you ship wine to some new importer.
But, on the other hand, a smaller importer who is interested in your wine might also be more convinced that you have good quality wine in the bottle (unlike the representatives from a large liquor distributor who sells sufficient quantities of merchandise already and isn't interested in learning about your production).

As a small retailer, we prefer dealing as closely as possible to the producer.
As a result, a very high percentage of the wines in the shop from out of the country come from some local, Bay Area importers who have specialized portfolios.
This allows us to have some seriously good values in the shop...some from producers who are highly-regarded on their home turf.
For a small shop such as Weimax, where we "hand sell" wine (that is, most customers come in and ask for help making selections...quite different from chain stores where nobody knows anything about the wines on their shelves), this works nicely for everyone.
Producers have their wine sold by an importer who's tasted the wine and liked it well enough to place and order.  The importer has done their job of "Show & Sell," showing the wine to the staff of a wine-focused wine-merchant establishment and we, in turn, take pride and pleasure in sharing out latest discoveries with wine drinkers who make the effort to come to our shop.

And while the chain stores featuring alcohol offer numerous wines made by large 'factories' and co-op cellars, we are able to offer superior quality wines from skilled grape growers and exceptional winemakers.

I have the idea that a company retains its "franchise" on a particular winery as long as they've purchased wine within a calendar year or if they stay in touch to let you know how they're doing.
If they tell you they're selling some wine and will be making a purchase in the not-too-distant future, they're indicating their interest in continuing to import your wines.
I was dismayed when a winery, which had sold wines to one importer in our market during the month of September, suddenly made a sale to another importer just 4 months later.
The first importer was upset and stopped dealing with the winery.  The second importer discovered they were not able to sell the wines and sold the wines at discounted prices to get rid of them just 8 months after the shipment first arrived.
Now that winery has two importers who won't work with them!

Another importer told me they'd put together a container (about a thousand cases) from a long-time winery.  Just as the wine had been shipped from Europe, the winery sent the importer a letter saying they were changing trade partners.
Now this is dangerous and not especially honorable.
For one thing, the original importer now has a thousand cases of wine which they won't be "building" business, simply depleting inventory.
But the winery risks having a new importer who won't be able to sell a bottle if the original one "poisons the market" by selling the wines at heavily discounted prices.
(We see this practice routinely between the two large liquor distributors:  when one loses something to the other, they'll close out the merchandise at below-cost simply to block the new company from being able to sell anything.)

The internet makes the world a much smaller place.
You can sit in the office at your winery in Europe and "travel" vicariously around the planet.

Before you go ahead and "place your bet" by wagering on a potential importer, why not have a look to get a sense of who they are and how they operate?

A viable web site is not a novelty these days...it's an important tool for the importer in communicating with their customers and, hopefully, for generating some sales.

I'd look to see if the web site is reasonably current or is the most recent "news" or blog posting two or three years old?

Do they have their portfolio of wineries posted on the web site?
If not, that would be a potential "red flag" (cautionary warning)...

If they do, you might get a sense about the sort of wines they offer.
If you're a winery producing artisan wines and they have predominantly low-quality, mass-produced "factory" wines, what are the chances for their having success with your products?
You may damage your image with buyers who may find your brand "tainted" by your association with labels which don't represent similar quality.

Identifying which other producers they work with, you can possibly contact a few of them to get a sense if the new prospect is likely to be a viable one.
"Do they pay in a timely manner?"
"How often do they re-order?"
"Do they ever come to visit the winery to learn about the wines?"
"How long have you worked with this importer and do you recommend them?"


I would visit a particular producer at their stand in Verona's VinItaly and on a number of occasions, I seemed to arrive at just the right moment when the winery manager was expressing his displeasure in the sales results of the importer.

I was an impartial observer and while I like both the winery and the importer, I was a bit dismayed that the producer didn't simply say "thank you" to their "customer."

The reason the winery was a bit ignorant was because they only knew the market from a distance.
"On paper" as we say in English, "America appears to be a big market for wine."
But that is "on paper" and not in reality.

When you make a product nobody has heard of, you can't expect the wines to be so much "in demand" that the bottles fly off the shelf.

Perhaps you, as a wine producer, ought to come visit the markets where your wines are being sold.  You can ride around with various sales representatives and get a feel for how well they work (or don't work) and you can measure the level of interest in your wines.

I tell producers that while the map of California, for example, is large and the population numbers are enormous, the reality is the market for your particular wine is limited.
First, if you are a producer of serious quality wine, you need to understand that not every wine consumer is looking for a compelling, thrilling bottle of wine.
Secondly, most stores that sell wine are full already.  Most wine lists in restaurants are sufficiently large that the dining establishment doesn't need more slow-moving bottles.
Add to this equation that only a small percentage of the store buyers and sommeliers understand your wine and even fewer, still, have any interest in buying your products.
Now, further reduce this number by a significant percentage as only a tiny percentage will pay your importer for your wines in a reasonable time period.

It's not as big a market as it appears to be :  "on paper."

-----
A very famous wine pioneer was in the Bay Area market to finish a small trip to the USA.  They'd been on the road for nearly two weeks and had found the harsh reality of the market.  Despite the producer being hugely famous back home and the brand being highly-esteemed by critics around the world, not many store buyers or restaurant sommeliers were familiar with the label.  Fewer, still, tasted and liked the wines (which are quite sophisticated in our view).
The producer was delighted that on the final day of their long journey, they'd been introduced to our shop where they found a staff of appreciative fans and a nice little display with some point-of-sale material touting (highly praising) the wines.
It may be a big market "on paper," but the reality was nearly nobody cared about these wines.

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Some of the large distributors do their best to dominate the market.
And there is gossip about how they control some of the customers with whom they sell wine:
Some restaurants, it's been said, have been provided wine list printing "services."  The big distributor may even send an invoice to the to the restaurant for its service.  The bill may be paid, but the restaurant might receive a big tip on a dining or drinks tab...or wine or spirits may show up as part of a promotional package, offsetting the charges for printing the wine list.
We noticed the wine list is offered on an I-Pad at one restaurant.  These, we're told, were provided, free, by the distribution company with a provision that nearly everything on the list be from that company's portfolio.
This effectively keeps out of that restaurant all the other little independent importers and brokers who may have exceptional wines.

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A FEW THOUGHTS ON PROSPECTIVE BUYERS

The landscape sure is colorful and in the California market, stores and restaurants are operated by quite a broad spectrum of people.

Many have very little interest in good quality, soulful wine of great character.  For many people, price determines everything as long as the price is sufficiently low.

Some stores and restaurants buy "what they can sell."  For some, packaging is most important.
For others, finding a big discount is a priority (so you can tell them the wine costs $200 a case, but if they buy 2 cases, it's $120 a case...some of these buyers would never consider buying the wine except the discount is too much to resist.  On the other hand, if you offered them a wine such as a Gaja Barbaresco, for example, and told them it's $150 a case of 12 bottles and there's NO DISCOUNT, they would tell you "no thanks...we're not interested."

We see restaurants where wine is given very little consideration.  You, on the other hand, as a wine producer, enjoy dining out (at fairly-priced restaurants where they offer good food, service and wine at an honest price).  But you must know that only a small percentage of restaurants hire a wine director or sommelier (and these people do not stay on the job very long for a variety of reasons). 

We have a lot of "Italian"-themed restaurants in our area.  Many are owned by people who are not from Italy, though they try to show themselves as Italian.
They are often interested only in wines labeled Pinot Grigio and Chianti and do not want to pay more than $3 a bottle for such wines.
On the other end of the spectrum are places where this is a sommelier or wine director and sometimes these people only want to buy "trophy wines."  If your brand is not Gaja, Mascarello, Gravner or the like, these buyers have not interest in your modest bottles.

We see many little French places prefer to buy wine from people who speak French and who might not make too much of a fuss over invoices which have not been paid promptly.

And, in fact, there are restaurants where the wine list changes frequently, not because the establishment is interested in good wines, but because they may have "burnt" all their credit with one company and maybe a second or third and so, with unpaid invoices, they cannot purchase more wine from a distributor where an invoice is unpaid after 30 days.

 

Depending upon the type or types of wine you make, your first order may be the biggest.

This means you should not have such high expectations with the new importer.

Their first order should be looked at as "filling the pipeline."  It does not necessarily indicate future, huge orders.

We know a producer of good, somewhat expensive wines.  The price of their bottles has risen dramatically over the past decade and today their top bottles routinely sell for $60-$120 at retail.
These do not sell as quickly as they did when the wines were new in the market and selling for $30-$40 per bottle.  Consumers tend to stay in a price region which is comfortable for them.  They do not continue drinking the same wines today which they enjoyed a few years ago when those wines become famous and unaffordable.

One vintner sold their new importer many pallets of wine as the initial order.  The importer worked well to introduce these wines to the market and they would re-order sporadically when they needed to replenish what they had sold.
They would place several orders during the course of the year as they needed wine.
The producer never understood that the importer was buying what they needed in manageable quantities (so they could pay the winery).

YOUR BIGGEST ORDER, DEAR WINE PRODUCER, IS TYPICALLY THE FIRST ORDER.
Do not think, then, simply because future orders are smaller, that the importer is doing a poor job.
You are only "new" to the market once (unless you've been out of the market for several years) and those stores and restaurants buying your wines typically only have the excitement of your brand being "new" one time, the first.


The producer abandoned a good company in favor of a new, fledgling importer.
This, in my view, was an instance of finding "the grass to be greener on the other side of the fence."
The producer never asked its customers how the wines were being presented.  They simply bolted to the new company in hopes of greater success.

But let's look at the two companies:
The original company has a huge portfolio of seriously good wines.  And they have wines from all over the planet, with a good portfolio of wines.  They cater to wine specialist restaurants and shops.
The new company is trying to launch itself into the market.  And their portfolio is quite limited with no brands a store or restaurant "has to have."

The original importer has dozens of sales reps calling on all the top accounts on a weekly basis.
The new company has two or three sales reps in the entire state.  They are "new" to selling wine and unknown to restaurant and wine shop buyers.  As their portfolio is small, a bit expensive and less viable than the other guys, buying from the new company will be problematic.  Add to that the fact that the sales rep will probably call on accounts on a very irregular basis and you can understand why the prospects for future success are dim.
{ In fact, since I wrote those words in the paragraph above, I've seen the sales rep from the established company 40 or 50 times over the past year.  The new, upstart firm has sent its rep in twice over the same time frame.  No question which company sells more wine here. }

The original importer would have wines shipped from Europe directly to their warehouses in California.
The new company brings its wines to the East Coast and then sends them by truck (is that truck temperature controlled?) to California.  
This adds to the cost of the wines and the new importer has prices which are averaging 10-20% higher than the original distribution firm.


But depending on the price point of your wine and the prestige of your brand, building sales and increasing market share may be difficult.
If your wine is well-priced and competitively priced, then you ought to be seeing an increase in sales.
If you make really expensive wines which are not sold to "wine drinkers" (as opposed to "collectors" or trophy hunters), then your expectations should not be unduly high.
Wines which sell on a regular basis are more sure to be able to build a market, while "collectibles" are more subject to economic conditions, fashion and other difficult-to-predict situations.


You ought to ask if the importer has a temperature-controlled, air-conditioned, refrigerated warehouse.

You ought to ask if they will ship your wine in a refrigerated container or do they tell you this is not needed because the wine is shipped "below deck."???

We tasted some Italian white wine from a frugal importer who was not interested in spending the few dollars (per case) it requires to ship the wines safely.
We tasted a bottle of an Italian white wine which seemed quite old and past its prime, despite being les than a year old.  The sales rep brought in another bottle and this one tasted fine.  It seemed that it depended upon where the cases were located in the container as to whether or not the wine was drinkable or spoiled.
While it may have been shipped "below deck", it's probable that the container remained out in the hot sun for a week or so waiting for it to be loaded onto the ship.  This probably "cooked" the cases of wine on the perimeter of the container, but the ones in the middle were still in decent condition.

Another local importer had exactly the same issue with a Pinot Grigio.  At their trade tasting, the wine was very fresh and wonderfully fruity.  A bottle brought in by the sales rep for the staff to taste was tired and old.
We later met a fellow who had worked as a sales manager for this company and we asked if they shipped in refrigerated containers. He admitted they had not.

Can you afford to spend all the effort you expend to grow your grapes, make your wine, market your wine only to have the wine damaged by careless handling on the part of your importer?


 



There are some differences in labeling laws in various countries which explains why so many European wineries have large stocks of unlabeled wines.

American wineries selling wines in the U.S. typically bottle and label their wines simultaneously.
European vintners, though, not knowing if the wine will be sold in the US, South America, Europe, Asia or Australia, leave their bottles "naked" until they have an order.  And since each region has its own particular labeling laws, they wait to put the finishing touches on the bottles until they have a firm order.

If you need a bit of help in designing your label for the US Market,
CLICK HERE
to see a brochure from the government outlining most of the requirements.
Your importer should be of some assistance, as they will have to submit your label to the government for "approval."
And getting label approval can cost money.
The importer may have to pay a company specializing in this area to physically take your label to the government offices in Washington, DC to get the documentation allowing your label to pass through US Customs.

MORE DETAILED, INTRICATE LABELING INFORMATION IS AVAILABLE HERE

 

Is your label distinctive and attractive?

Is it easy to read?  Will it be recognized easily once a consumer is familiar with it?

Do all your various bottlings have a common thread (similar logo, for example) or is each and every type of wine packaged so uniquely that nobody would ever connect that Wine A is made by the same winery as Wine B?

Some European wines have labels which easily confuse the consumer.

Is the most prominent name on the label that of your winery or brand (it should be) or is the vineyard designation or the type of wine more prominent on your label (it shouldn't be).
Your name and your brand name or winery name should be unique to you and that ought to be something which you work to build upon.

Is your label legible in a shop under low-to-medium lighting conditions?
Some dark labels are impossible to read under normal 'wine shop conditions'.
Labels with black backgrounds and red type are impossible to read.
Is the font size large enough for someone 40+ years old to read without a magnifying glass?

 
Is there a capsule or foil closure on the bottle or is there a 'naked' cork visible?
I'm a bit old-fashioned and prefer bottles which are "fully dressed" for the dance and are packaged with a foil capsule.

For winemakers all over the world:
Keep in mind the logo and label design you have works best if you are consistent.
If you have a recognizable logo or label, keep in mind you will become fatigued by this much more quickly than will your consumer and trade partners!
You "live" with that design 24 hours a day, 7 days a week, 365 days a year.
Your trade partners "live" with it periodically, working with your wine as best they can, when they can.

But consumers, the people who actually pay money to acquire a bottle, or two, of your wine:
They may buy a bottle every few months.  Maybe even but once a year.
If you keep changing the label or logo what will the consumer think?
The may decide the winery has probably changed ownership...maybe there's a new winemaker...
Maybe the wine has changed from the comfortable wine I used to enjoy to something radically different?
Maybe I should not buy that wine any longer?
Just when the customer could recall what your label looks like, allowing them to find it amongst the hundreds of other bottles on display in the store, you've changed the packaging so they can no longer find you!

Some of California's most recognizable labels have been consistent over several decades...


When you have a successful brand or label, sometimes it's best to not disturb success.



We see all kinds of boxes and cartons in which our wines arrive...and some of them need an upgrade!

First:  Please have the name of the winery noted on one or more sides of the box.  At least two sides should have the name of your winery.
One reason is if a shop has your wine in what we call a "floor stack," your brand name is immediately visible to customers.
A second reason is so that when your box or boxes are in the storage area of a shop or restaurant or warehouse, they are easy to find.

Secondly:  Please put either a label which corresponds to the wine inside the case/carton on at least one side of the box OR have the box printed with the type of wine clearly noted in a large type size/font so it is easy to find.

Third:  Please use a sturdy box.  Your wine is traveling around the world.  Putting it into a very weak cardboard box means there's greater chance for damage to the bottles.  Sometimes the bottles move within the box during transit and emerge on foreign soils with damaged labels.  These are difficult to sell.
A strong box makes your wine easier to floor-stack a number of cases.
This can translate to greater sales.


Most of the boxes are easy to find as they are labeled clearly, but those Scaggs boxes do not have any clear indication on the end of the box as to what wine is inside!


Please help the folks who transport, warehouse and sell your wines by putting them in boxes which are easily identifiable.
Your brand name or winery name is helpful...so is the type of wine, vintage, etc.
Please print your brand one at least one of the long sides of the box and on one of the short sides of the box.
Having your name or type of wine printed on the top of the box is frequently not helpful, especially when other boxes are stacked on top of them.

 


We receive many cartons of wines from small producers in France and Italy which are poorly labeled.  Sometimes the only marking is a label on the top of the box (the side someone will open).  If there is a stack of these boxes, nobody can easily and quickly determine what wine is contained in that carton!


If your wine is well-priced and the sort of wine which would retail for less than $15 or $20 a bottle, please send the wine in a box which is 4 bottles by 3 bottles.
These can be easily floor-stacked, provided you've packed them in good quality cardboard.
These are 4x3 boxes:

And most stores would have a stack of 3 or 4 boxes high.

If you use really thin cardboard, the boxes tend to fall apart in shipping, making them less stable for building a floor-stack.

It is also helpful than the "inserts" in the box are of good quality and not tissue-paper thin so the box has great stability.



A 4x3 box with thick cardboard and a good quality insert to give the box stability and adequately protect the bottles.

If your bottles are cork-finished (sealed with corks, not screw caps) AND your wine is capable of aging/cellaring, you might consider sending the bottles in a 'flat' box which is 2 layers of 6 bottles.

Major league Bordeaux routinely come in 2x6 boxes such as these:

But you need not invest in wood, frankly, as these are best for seriously expensive bottles of wine.
We prefer that wineries spend money on wood for barrels in the cellar (if the wine requires wood aging) than on wood for wine boxes.

If you make some fairly expensive wines, you might consider sending them in 6 bottle boxes which are 2x3 boxes (two layers of three bottles).  And organizing these so the bottles are not all in the same direction will make the boxes more stable and easier to stack.

From a marketing perspective, keep in mind that many distributors charge what is called a "split case charge," so if a restaurant or store wants less than a solid 'case' of your wine, this adds (sometimes significantly) to the price they will pay.

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If you make a somewhat esoteric wine which is not well-known and famous, a 6 bottle box might encourage more customers to purchase your wine for their shop or restaurant.

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If you make an expensive wine, some potential customers will not buy it if they are obliged to purchase a case of 12 bottles as the wine may not sell in a short time period.


We appreciate seeing a notation on the box that the bottles are "screw cap" sealed or "cork finished."
If the bottles are closed with a cork, we appreciate knowing which way to stack the case or box in our storage area, so we can keep the corks "moist" or wet.

Here's a box indicating the bottles have been packed horizontally, this keeping the corks moist.

Here's a 2x3 box indicating the bottles are packed properly...horizontally and the box is weighted evenly.

Bravo!

Here's a box from Ridge Vineyards...easy to identify as Ridge, easy to identify which wine is in the box and we also have an indication as to which way the bottles are packed inside the box.

The box has the Ridge "brand name", a web site address is "advertised" on the box, too, as well as the fact that it contains 12 bottles of 750ml.

Here's a box with a clear indication as to how the bottles are packed and we stacked them so the corks are kept wet.

But this winery makes a small mistake by not having their brand name clearly printed on the box.

 

If your bottles are sealed with a screw cap, Stelvin or glass stopper, why not make a small notation on the case?




There are many wineries which have the idea that sommeliers find wines less desirable if they have a UPC or bar-code on the bottle.

Some California wineries will even have some portion of a batch of wine packaged WITHOUT a bar code in the hope of making the wine more desirable to a sommelier!

But truthfully, a computer system to track or manage inventory is not expensive and most stores and restaurants make use of the "bar code" on the bottle.

If you do put a bar code on the bottle, keep these points in mind:

 

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Each bar code should be unique for each wine and each size bottle.
We have had wineries use the same back label (with a UPC/bar code) on 750ml bottles, half bottles and magnums.  This causes chaos!


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Be sure the UPC or bar code is printed on a sufficiently contrasting background, so the scanner device can 'read' the bar code!
Some wineries have sent bottles with a bar code in "gold" or "white" on a clear class background, making it impossible for the scanner machine to 'read' the bar code.


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There is some debate about using a different bar code for each vintage.
Some California wineries with very expensive and cellar-worthy wines use the same bar code vintage after vintage.  This can be problematic for a shop or restaurant (it has been for us, I can tell you!).
But for wines where the vintage date is more an indication of the age of the wine and not a qualitative notation, probably having the same scan code year after year is okay.



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If you find putting a bar code on your bottle to be, somehow, de-facing the package with an unsightly, "hideous" label, keep in mind your bottle, I think, looks worse with the bar code we (and other stores) affix to your bottle!
I have seen some wineries do a really good job of including the scan code in a low-key, barely visible fashion by having only a few millimeters of the scan code visible on the label.


This back label serves a variety of purposes.
It has all the pertinent information and has been presented to the government label bureau as the primary "font label."

It has the Government Warning, the Sulfite Warning, the bar code and one of those fancy little codes someone can 'scan' with their "smart" cellular telephone to learn more about the wine.
And, notice the bar code is fairly small in dimension on this label.

 

Here is precisely how the U.S. Government Warning should be printed on your back label:

And please notice how the alcohol is correctly listed in the US:

Alc. 13.5% by vol.

In Europe, you see labels with merely some notation such as
13,5%
on the label.

That will be rejected by the US Government because they do not recognize the 'symbol':
,

And it must have the notation of "Alc. by vol." or "Alcohol by Volume."

If your wine is between 7% and 13.999% alcohol, you do not need to have the alcohol percentage specifically listed on the label if you include the words "Table Wine."
But some European countries do not permit this term on the label unless the wine as it may conflict with your appellation or denominazione.
In the US, "Table Wine" is an indication of alcohol in this particular situation.

It must be noted properly to pass or be approved.

We know of a producer who sent his 14.6% alcohol red wine to the U.S. with labels indicating the wine was under 14% and, amazingly, he got caught and his wine was not allowed to pass US Customs until they had re-labeled the bottles...
Now there's a pain in the ass!



Years ago some friends were attempting to write something in English to print on their back label to go along with the Government Warning.

I took a look at what they had written and sat down at the typewriter (that's how long ago it was: no computers but simple typewriters!) and hammered out a back label.
Not only did they use my text for more than ten or fifteen years, but their printer gave my writing to a competing winemaker, changing a few words and numbers to suit their brand!

In addition to your front label needing to be outstanding and, hopefully, elegant and attractive, your back label can help "sell" your wine.  Please consider that your back label can possibly convince the customer who's picked up a bottle of your wine in a shop to walk to the check-out counter to buy your bottle.
Not every shop "hand sells" your wine.
In fact, very few actually "sell" wine.  They mostly "offer wine at retail."  

Having, then, some useful and encouraging text on the back label may be able to make a sale for you.

Our friends used to have a map of their country on the back label with text printed over the map...this was too confusing.  We moved the map off to one side and highlighted their region and then accompanied it with a short history of the winery.
We noted how many generations of the family have been involved in the small, artisan production of their wines and mentioned the short list of other grapes they worked with (in hopes of encouraging customers, if they liked that particular bottle, to go explore some others from that winery).

What's in your wine?
American consumers are typically interested to know what grape or grape varieties have been used to produce a particular wine.

Where does your wine come from?
Sure, you know where you are located and so do your neighbors, but prospective consumers do not.
Most Americans cannot find Illinois on a map, so do you think they know where you are located?
Probably not.
Some sort of vague notation such as Northeastern Italy, west of Frankfurt, south of Lisbon, north of Madrid, south of Barcelona, etc. might be a good idea.

What does the wine taste like?
If it's a white wine, is it dry, off-dry, slightly sweet, sweet?
If it's a red wine, is it light bodied, medium or full?
Is it fruity?  Oaky?  Spicy?  Leathery?




Please have a foil, capsule or something guaranteeing to the consumer that your bottle has not been tampered with.
If you have a screw-cap, you probably don't need a capsule or covering for the top of the bottle.
If you use a cork closure, I suggest having a foil capsule.
If you have a glass closure, most certainly you should have a capsule to prevent someone from opening the bottle, allowing air to enter and spoil your wine.  Or to prevent someone from tampering with the contents of your bottle...


Please fill the boxes in which you are shipping your wine with care!
The bottles going into that box should be clean and ready for immediate sale.
Don't send us bottles where the labels are not precisely affixed to the bottle.
Don't send us bottles with stained labels.
Don't send bottles with torn labels.
Don't send us dirty or soiled bottles which have glue or adhesive on them.

Be sure the box has the requisite number of bottles!
(We sometimes find 12 bottle boxes which have but 11 bottles in them!)

I would urge importers who have tasted a wine at the cellar or winery to bring back a bottle or two of your wine to be sure the wine that is shipped to them is the same wine they tasted when they agreed to buy your wine!
The importer can always send their sample bottle to a wine lab, along with the wine which was shipped, have them analyzed to determine if they are the same, similar or two different wines.

(( I visited a producer who showed me a delightful bottle of wine, quoted a very reasonable price for the wine back home through the importer and had me excited to have 'found' something for our customers.  The importer brought in the previous vintage which I said was a far cry from the new one.  But when the new vintage showed up, I was again disappointed.  I am certain the fellow showed me a tank sample of their best batch of that particular wine.  Unfortunately, he did not ship the same exact wine to the local importer! ))




1.  So-Called "Flash" web sites are showy, but somewhat invisible to search engines.
Your main pages should be such that Yahoo! and Google can find them and find the information contained on those pages.


2.  Your trade partners and prospective trade partners look at your web site in hopes of finding a clue as to which company handles your wines in our backyard.

If you sell your wine through a National Importer, please ask them to provide you with a list of their trade partners who are handling your brand.  This allows you to guide customers to a place where your wine can be found.  
Many wholesalers have a search box or feature guiding consumers as to where wines can be found in a localized area.

But for trade partners, it is helpful to know where we can find your products.
Please, at least point me to your national importer or the importer or distributor in my area!

3.  Your web site should offer the history of your winery.
Tell us something about the vineyards or grapes you work with.
Tell us how you make your wine.
Have an archive of tasting notes on your wines...just because you sold the 2001 vintage ten years ago doesn't mean that year's production is no longer in the sales 'pipe-line'.  It could still be.
How is it drinking these days?
If you've opened a bottle recently, why not post current tasting notes?
Someone sitting in a restaurant, wondering how that ten year old bottle is they see on the wine list...
Your web site might help sell such a bottle.

There should be an archive about each and every wine you've made, with prominent notes on current vintages and the "library" telling about old, sold-out vintages.

These days it's easy to incorporate video into your web site...
Why not offer a guided tour of your vineyards and cellar?

Why not, if you are open for visitors, invite customers to come visit?
Keep in mind, people coming from the US don't always show up, though.
Ask them to confirm and maybe even call a day ahead to confirm once more.
It's perhaps a good idea not to inform them of your cellar door prices as they might NOT BUY your wines back home, knowing how much they cost at the winery.


With this in mind, too, be sure to have a good map showing your location and possibly directions from nearby cities so people can come to visit.



4.  Have some "tools for the trade" on your site.
For some people, this means the latest numerical scores or ratings for your wines.

But you ought to have replicas of your packaging and labels, though given the penchant for some to counterfeit, I would not post the exact design of your label.
Some Bordeaux producers would stamp 'sample' labels with the world "Specimen" so someone could not simply affix that souvenir label to a naked wine bottle and suddenly have a bottle of "Lafite Rothschild."

I like to be able to find what are called "Bottle Shots" on a winery web site, so I might utilize that image in my "P-O-S" (point of sale) material.  
In our shop, we produce 100% of the P-O-S in the store, not allowing suppliers or sales reps to bring us the same material they've posted in other stores.
Sometimes being able to use a label of the wine we have on display is helpful.  I can use this for either our web site (this one) or for signage that is read by customers.

I like to see a "tech sheet," which features the technical information regarding a wine.
Good information on these tells me a little bit about the vineyard and its location.
Possibly noted is the harvest date...was the wine fermented in wood, cement, stainless steel, etc.?
What kind of wood was employed to mature your wine (if wood was used)?
How long in wood?
What's the winemaker's forecast for the life expectancy of the wine?
What adjectives do you use to describe your wine?

Keep your web site up to date!
If you've neglected to post the currently released wines on your site, people may get the idea you've gone out of business or simply don't care.
What information can you share with your "ambassadors" (sales reps for the distributor, people working in a wine store or servers in a restaurant) so they can carry your message to the consumer?

You should also maintain an archive or library of tasting notes or technical sheets of older vintages...keep in mind while your winery may be sold out of a certain vintage of a wine, some bottles may still be in circulation or in the sales 'pipe-line'.
It is helpful, then, to retain information on older vintages to help those wines get sold.


What's new?
Are you attending some trade tasting events?
What can you tell me about your winemaker?
What's your winemaking and grape-growing philosophies?
When are your wines drinkable?

Do you keep up with Social Media?
(This can help humanize a brand of wine, letting consumers know who you are and what you are doing.)

We are frequently invited to attend trade events where some organization such as a consortium of wine producers from a particular area or country sponsors a wine tasting.
We often see small producers who are hoping to find an importer to buy their wine and they've paid thousands of dollars to be part of a tour with stops in various markets.

I've attended a number of these and many of them are a waste of time and money for the wine producer, but a veritable gold mine for the company which organizes such events.

I recall such an event where dozens of small to medium-sized wineries from a large, but not so famous region in Spain participated in such a tour.
Almost every winery was looking for an importer and yet 99% of the people attending the event to taste these wines were from stores, restaurants or were "posing" (pretending) as being in the wine industry .
San Francisco's market has quite a few people whose life is spent pretending to be in the wine business.  One fellow claims to be a consultant for a cruise ship company, but he's never engineered the sale of a single bottle of wine.  Another person attends claiming she "consults" with restaurant chefs who are too busy to taste and evaluate wines.  She has never actually helped some buy a case of wine, though she spends a lot of time tasting, making notes and asking questions, leading the producer to believe she must be serious and legitimate.  In fact, she and he are delusional individuals.

But what is the point of spending thousands of dollars for each tour stop when the people coming to taste have no ability to import and buy your wine?

The chance of actually finding an importer at such a tasting is remote (but it can happen and I do know a couple of importers who have actually made connections and found wineries during such a tour)...much like finding a needle in a hay-stack!

We have found "value" in attending the Union des Grand Crus de Bordeaux tastings which are held annually in either San Francisco or Los Angeles.  Those feature perhaps a hundred, or so, good, well-regarded wineries showing the latest vintage as it's about to be released for sale.

Publications affiliated with groups such as the SLOW FOOD society or the GAMBERO ROSSO wine guides organize events and tours.  These certainly attract a crowd but mainly you're simply exposing your wine and your brand to people who may or may not purchase your wine.  I suspect the wineries who get the greatest benefit, though, are ones which already have their wine in the markets where the tour stops for a tasting.  You might meet some existing customers and perhaps make some new friends, but please know the number of actual buyers or "decision makers" is a very small percentage of the crowd attending.
And sometimes those events have a consumer tasting associated with them...these rarely pay much in dividends, though.

I would simply exercise caution before spending a lot of money with these.
On the other hand, if you need a vacation from your normal work, sometimes a circus tour of the American market can be enjoyable.

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Once you do have a working relationship with an importer or sales company, I would urge you to come and visit the market to see how things are going.

Are the sales people interested in your wines?
Do they have passion for wine?
Are they able to engage their customers?

Many visits to a particular market involve "meet & greet" events such as a winemaker's dinner where the patrons of a particular restaurant pay for a special menu featuring the wines from a single winery.  Often the owner or winemaker will be in attendance to speak about the wines with those in attendance, some of which may be long-time fans of the wines or they may be newcomers and just learning about the producer.

But keep in mind that the competition is fierce and a market such as San Francisco or Los Angeles is inundated with "winemaker visitors."
In the 1980s it was rare to have a foreign vintner pay us a visit.
In 2014 it's a rare week when we don't have an old friend stopping by to show us his or her wines.

Before you complain to your importer that you're dissatisfied with their sales, ask yourself this:
"How much of my wine is sold in, say, Puglia, Italy?"
Unless you're a winery in Puglia (or have relatives there), the answer is probably "Not much" or "Nothing."
And if we asked you "Why not?" you might respond saying "Nobody in Puglia drinks wine from my, region."
And the same sort of answer can be made for any market here in the U.S.
So now we might ask you "What have you done to plant seeds?"
And you might reply "Nothing."
Well,  if you have made no effort to visit your importer in a region, how can you expect them to find great success for your wine?
Maybe you ought to come over, spend some days visiting their customers to see about planting some seeds or even harvest a small crop (maybe making a few new sales or placements of your wine).

This article is "under construction."
I'll add to it when I discover additional issues and topics to explore.
Thanks.




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gerald at weimax.com 

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