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UPDATED September 2023


Thoughts on Selling Wine to Stores and Restaurants
Gerald Weisl
wine merchant


Selling wine to shops and restaurants is not rocket science.

In fact, you need not know THAT much about wine to be able to sell it successfully, but a few "smarts" in the sales department are certainly helpful!

We have a few customers who shop here regularly that are employed by NASA.  And we've asked them, "Do you guys ever look at each other and say, 'You know, this isn't wine sales!' ?"


One "old pro" told us he took three orders his first day on the job.
Get out!  Stay Out!! And don't come back!!!
That would be Mr. John Lasich, one of the more conscientious sales reps.

He will also advise people to not have "thin skin" if they plan to be in sales.



It can be helpful to a sales rep if they actually KNOW something about the products they are selling.  They might actually be able to sell more if they have good product knowledge.

We have seen, however, the sales rep who is knowledgeable and passionate about wine has become a thing of the past.  Many of the sales reps for the large distributors don't even drink wine on a regular basis.

The best way to learn about wine is by tasting it.  Some sales reps routinely congregate and participate in blind-tastings.  Some of them even come to our little tasting sessions, seeking to learn more about wine.

Living in Northern California affords people the opportunity to go visit wineries and, hopefully, to taste at the source.

There are plenty of good books that are clearly written and can be very helpful to those looking for fountains of wine knowledge.

Here are some suggestions:

Kevin Zraly's book is updated regularly and was written to educate staffers in the Windows on the World restaurant in New York.  It is very basic, but well done.

Hugh Johnson's World Atlas of Wine has great wine region maps and tons of good information.  You can get a good over-view of every major wine-producing area, as well as lots of minor locales.

Hugh Johnson also did a wonderful series of videos called "VINTAGE."   This is also worth your time to view.

A sales rep who's had our account for his company for about 6 months told me the other day that he's been hesitant to call on us since "you know so much about wine and I know very little."
Wow...that's sad.  All you have to do is check to see if we need to reorder your merchandise and bring in wines from good producers, open the bottles, pour the wine for us and answer this question:  "How much does this cost?"
It's really not that difficult.

A gal who called on us a decade ago made contact via Facebook...she's in a totally different industry, got married and moved to another state.  "Oh my," she wrote, "I was so intimidated by you at first.  But then I saw you're a really nice and thoughtful gentleman with a heart of gold."

In a similar vein, a former rep (whom we liked) posted a note on our Facebook Page.

He worked for a small distributor whose owner is a bit disorganized, to be polite.
The sales rep finally grew weary of the unstable pricing policies of the boss and he moved on.

I sent a meme to a friend who has a shop in Marin County and he enjoys the humor and creativity.
He posted the meme on Facebook and got a number of responses.

One response was from a rep who had represented a couple of modest portfolios and she weighed in.

You need not be a fan of every buyer you deal with but making it known you have a dislike for some buyers is not the most savvy move when you've done it in a very public forum.


Most distributors and brokers are either not interested in training staff members about wine, or they simply cannot afford to do so.

Even more sadly, not many reps are schooled in "sales."

A rep from one distributor blamed her lack of skills using a corkscrew with the fact that the wine she'd brought in for us to taste was the "first bottle" she's "had to open for tasting with a customer" in her three years of employment!

We were visited by a winery rep from an estate that by-passes a traditional distributor, selling its offerings directly to stores and restaurants.  We asked what she knew of our account and she said "I have sales information going back 6 to 12 months."
Really?  We've been buying their wines since the 1970s!
She then realized that maybe it would be a good idea for the company to provide more information on each account.
It's a brand which likes to see its products in the "right" places.  When she visited all the accounts in her territory, she found they even had a gas station buying their wines.  

A new rep took over for an old pro.  She came to the shop and introduced herself.
We asked her to check on pricing of a few items as we were ready to place an order.
We've been paying $80/case for three 12-packs of a little white wine.
"Let's see," she said, dialing up the pricing data base which the company had provided to her.
"$104 front line.  $100 on 2, $96 on 5 and $90 on ten cases." she said.
Well, we may simply need to discontinue that item.
I asked if her new boss, the fellow who's been a manager for less than 12 months, had shown her how to access best pricing.
He had not.
He simply handed her some sales catalogues and said "Go out and sell!"
The rep was resourceful and invited the previous sales associate out for a beer.
The old pro showed her how to access the various pricing schemes (scheme being a good term in this instance) and the various wines from that company will remain in our shop.
But sometimes you may need to be more resourceful and you can't always count on the boss to be of assistance.



You may have heard that "Showing up is 80% of success."  It's been said for sales reps in general, not necessarily wine reps, that you have to visit an account about eight or ten times before you can expect to make a sale!

The large firms expect their reps to call on most accounts on a "regular" basis.   Some reps consider a "regular" basis to be once a month or every other month.  If you need to make ten visits before taking an order, you're in for nearly a year without a commission!

If you're serious about your job, you ought to consider calling on accounts on a weekly basis until you get a sense of the account.  This gets you "known" to the buyer and staff members.  
Believe it or not, if staff members see you're serious about selling your products, they become more serious about suggesting them to customers!

After two or three months (and your first few sales), you ought to have a handle on the frequency of sales calls required.  It's been said that "success breeds success."  One bigwig with a large distributor pointed out that sales reps tend to spend more time in accounts where they're doing well.  There are reasons to do this, certainly, but a rep might find it a good idea to keep "planting seeds" in barren ground because you never know when some business might start to sprout and blossom into something equally successful.

A successful sales rep suggested knowing the "rhythm" of the account.  He points out calling on a place every week, when they don't require that much service is not efficient.  I concur with this rep, but also would say that each and every sales call doesn't have to have an order as part of the equation for the visit to be successful.  Sometimes  when you're not taking an order, you might show the account new products in hopes of planting seeds for future business.

When you first get your sales job, you should contact the buyer.
Doing this 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.


We appreciate the precautions taken during the Covid Pandemic of 2020 and 2021.

Many reps still made an effort to make a sale during this stressful period.
Some actually visited the shop.
Some would stay in touch using the telephone or email.
Some disappeared totally, not informing customers if they were still employed by their distribution company or if they had been furloughed or laid off.

In any case, reps should maintain some contact with customers to see if the account is still operational.
And, reps who had been laid off should alert customers to this new situation, so orders might be placed directly with the distribution company.

We have observed that some companies and some sales reps defend their performance by playing the "Covid Card" as an excuse for not making sales calls and such.
That's fine if we are discussing the time period from March of 2020 to the present.
But many play this card in defending their poor efforts from a year, or two, earlier.

One observation of the Pandemic Era sales situation:
Many companies are having difficulties in keeping merchandise in stock. 
Numerous container ships sit out in the Bay waiting to be unloaded and so there are many problems with inventory.
It might be advantageous for enterprising reps to check displays and wine lists to see if they might supply an item which is unavailable from a competing company?
Just a thought...

We received a call from a rep who introduced herself on the phone, taking over from the previous guy.  He made but one call here and made a nice sale, too.  His predecessor was one who never showed up with great regularity and it, apparently, hasn't dawned on this guy that 75% of his visits resulted in an order and that more frequent stops might have generated more business for him (he shows up every three to six months, typically).  Three weeks after the "new" rep has phoned, we still have not met her face-to-face.  She sent along a fax telling about some promotional pricing.  We called to ask if she was planning to stop by.  She was and arrived a few hours later.  Busy working on a project, I was summoned by the staff here to meet the new rep.  It took me several minutes (about 4 or 5) to finish my project and when I arrived on the sales floor, I found this lady sitting on a wine box playing with the box of Lego's we have out front for kids to play with while Mom and Dad are shopping for wine.  
This made a wonderful impression.

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!"  Needless to say, his sales suffered.  (Parenthetically, during the course of the 2003 holiday season, this same rep was more difficult to find than Osama Bin Laden.)  During the 2004 Christmas season, this fellow was, as usual, nowhere to be found.  He sent a note saying he's on vacation from December 22 until the 29th.  Given that we haven't seen him since well before Thanksgiving, I'd say he's on vacation for pretty much all of December!  The fellow works for another wine company these days...we saw him in October of 2011 and expressed an interest in tasting a particular wine.  As of mid-April 2012, we'd not seen him!
We saw this character once in early 2014 and then while we were out of town in, say, March of that year.  We were sold out of an item in early April which we had floor-stacked.  We did not hear from this guy until July!
Happily we found a similar (maybe slightly better) quality item and have since replaced that stack.  
The rep whose stack it is now comes to the shop every week without fail!  He deserves the business!

A new sales rep was dragged in by the "boss" of a small distributorship or brokerage.  They have all kinds of expensive wines masquerading as something special or exclusive.  He handed us a current catalogue and we expressed interest in a handful of items.
"I'll try to come by in a couple of weeks." he told us.
A good sales rep would not wait a couple of weeks, fearing the buyer might find someone else's products for their racks or display!
This fellow DID finally show up.  Four weeks later and we were busy with a marketing seminar for some students from France.  He told our associate "I'll try to stop back by one day when I am next in the area."
Good luck!

A sales rep from a local distillery stopped by one day.  We expressed interest in some new offerings she was hoping to show.
There was one sales rep ahead of her and we were quickly wrapping up that visit.
The distillery lady grew impatient after about 10 minutes, came to the counter and said "Here are some informational sheets about our new products.  Good bye!"
And with that she departed...never having made a presentation.
She did not indicate that she had to run off to an appointment (she did not call ahead to say she was coming here, by the way.  She just popped in.)
Never saw her again.

A sales rep for a local importer showed us a half a dozen wines.
We were checking the current inventory of his products and he asked if we wanted "to do anything."
Our response was "Give me a minute...I'm checking stock status on your wines."
Not having heard the reply, not paying attention or simply not caring, the fellow walked out to his car (parked out in front of the shop).  We waited a few minutes, expecting he would return.
Finally we went out the front door to see if he was still here.
He drove off, missing the placement of one of his wines and not taking a reorder for other products.

A fellow who's been with a number of wine distribution companies took a job with a little company from whom we buy regularly.
He's shown up sporadically and we cannot count on him visiting us on a regular basis.
As we write this, he's been with that organization for about a year.
Once in a while he has brought a bag of bottles to show us and we dutifully taste and might re-order some wines from the displays which have been depleted.
They have a particular wine which was sold out on their end and he called to say it was arriving in a few days, so they could fill an order at that time.
The following week we had not heard from him.
A week later...nothing.
The next week, still no contact, either with a phone call or visit.
So I called their office and nobody answered the phone.  A fellow there, though, did not call back, but sent an email saying he just missed our call.
I replied with an order of a modest quantity of some wines.
Perhaps 6 or 7 hours after, the sales rep calls and suggests it would be "better" if I simply call him instead of "bothering" the office.
When I suggested he stop by on a regular basis, he told me "Well, I've brought wines for you to taste and nothing seems to come of it."
Ahh!  Now I understand why he doesn't come by and show wines.
Never mind that he has taken an order from time to time when he has stopped by.
It seems he has not figured out that just because he comes to visit, we may not have room for his wine right at that particular moment as the store is typically over-flowing with wine and we may already have several equally tasty versions of the same sort of wine he is selling.
Of course, if he brings in something we find to be of interest, it is then noted and we would replace some other wine with his when that is sold out.
By the way, we typically have been ordering wine from this company every second or third week so there's an order being placed at least once a month.
I'd be more understanding of the fellow not showing up if we were not buying anything, but we have maybe 40 items from his company in the shop at this writing.
And we even have refrained from ordering by phone so he could write an order when he comes by the shop, hoping this encourages him to visit regularly.

A fellow visited saying he was the new sales rep for an importer/distributor.
We have not bought anything from that organization in years.
The rep had no bottles to show.
He had no catalogue or price list.
He handed us a business card saying "If you need anything, call me."
Over the ensuing four months we have not heard from this individual and, needless to say, we have not purchased anything.
How would we know what wines are in that portfolio?

Don't visit the account and take up valuable customer parking!

We often see sales reps driving up to our front door and 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.

But please:

Imagine if a restaurant parking lot was filled with cars from the owner of the place, the chef and kitchen crew, wait staff, dish-washers, etc.  Where are the customers supposed to park if the parking is taken up by staff members?

If sales reps preclude customers from finding a near-the-door spot, can you please understand why we don't appreciate seeing you park in front?
We routinely hear from customers "I tried stopping by the other day, but there was no parking on your block!"

A rep parked in front and we noticed this and asked "Say, if you're going to park there, where should a customer park?"
"Oh...would you like me to move my car?"
"Would you please?"  And he did.
Ten minutes later, a sales rep pulls in front and she puts a couple of coins in the meter and rolls in with her bag of tricks.
"Say, if you're going to park there, where should a customer park?" we asked.
"You know, I didn't see a sign on the parking meter pole reading 'Weimax Customers Only'."
She continued:  "You mean that meter there?  The one I put money in?"
I reached into my pocket and asked how much she needed, 25 cents or 50 cents.
"No, I don't need your money!" 
I realized this was a lost cause, and I still tasted her wines, even though she did not move her car.


One sales rep from a large, liquor-oriented house did not make sales calls for several weeks.  We politely asked him "How was your vacation?" as we figured he was either on holiday or in the hospital.  "It was wonderful!" he exclaimed.  He might have done well to tell us he was leaving for vacation and with whom to place orders during his absence.  Of course, this is crediting the fellow with more smarts than he possesses!


I noticed a sales rep in the doorway one busy day and was glad to see him, since we needed a few of his wines.  Much later in the day we realized we had not caught up with this fellow and so we called.  He explained that we "looked kind of busy and I didn't want to wait, so I left."


We received an invitation to one of 4 dining opportunities from a small import company rep.  His boss was coming to town and they wanted to showcase their wines in the company of good food.  We were unable to attend any of these events (there's rarely a chance to have a clear 'look' at the wines, for one thing).  We had not heard from the sales rep for nearly three weeks and when he finally called, we asked where he'd been.  It seems his week with the boss was an adequate excuse for not stopping by or even picking up the phone (as he usually does anyway) to see if we need to replenish any of his products.
One of his floor-stacks has since been taken over by a competitor's wine.


One rep with a spotty attendance record took an 18 case order one day.  We had some of his wines in our newsletter.  He did not show up to see the buyer for more than a month when we sent his firm an e-mail suggesting "regular" sales calls, either weekly or every-other-week.
The manager of the firm wrote back saying "I'll discuss this with the rep."  A week went by and we still had not heard from this fellow.
In an attempt to gently spur him into regular sales calls, we put his picture on the side of a milk carton.

(Not this guy, though...another rep.)

Happily this guy has a good sense of humor and got a chuckle out his his new-found notoriety.


One sales rep has a routine litany of excuses as to why he cannot make his weekly sales call.
We have been told he has "car trouble," "back trouble" (this, I suspect, is due to his boss kicking him in the butt on a routine basis, but I don't know for sure) or "the wine I was bringing to show you today is corked."
Having noted these three excuses, I have noticed he seemed to usually cite one of these cases about once a month.
One day I was intending to survey the staff to elicit their "bets" as to whether or not one of these would come into play that week.  But before I could ask them, the fellow phoned to say he was having car trouble and wouldn't be able to make it by the shop.
His boss was amused by the frequent citation of "corked wine" as a reason not to come by, saying "Gee, half the sample bottles I just gave him have screw caps!"


We don't have "appointments," since we're a small shop and, in our mind, customers come first.
But some buyers DO have appointments.  I spoke with a restaurateur who had made an appointment with a sales rep, but the rep didn't show up.  The rep did not call, either.  Since then, this fellow has not purchased, nor will he purchase, any wines from that particular winery.
In fairness, however, it must be pointed out that many restaurant buyers have the notion they are "God's Gift to the wine industry" and routinely do not keep appointments they have made with sales people.  This is equally rude, of course.  One salesman tells of making a trip to a particular "corner" of his territory for a restaurateur who is notoriously missing-in-action for her "appointments."  When he's traveled 30 to 60 minutes to be there for an appointment and the buyer is suddenly "AWOL," you can imagine the frustration on the part of the sales rep.


We have not seen a sales rep from a company which has numerous good wines.
The Covid Pandemic gives this fellow a measure of "cover" for not visiting to a degree.
But then he is unwilling to send us a sample bottle of new vintages of various wines which have worked for us in the past.
And he doesn't visit, so naturally his sales have dropped significantly.
Finally the guy told us he would come to taste wines with us providing we make an appointment.
We have "open call" for three hours Tuesday through Thursday and if there are a few reps waiting we speedily move through the line so they never have to wait more than 15 or 20 minutes.
We find the idea of seeing these reps on a first come/first serve basis to be most efficient as traffic in the Bay Area can be challenging.
This rep is located some 60 miles from our shop and needs maybe 70 to 90 minutes in the car to get here.
There's a good chance he will encounter some traffic, but he has the idea that we should brush off other reps who've been waiting a few minutes when he does finally grace us with his presence.
As a result, we have not seen the fellow in about 4 years.


You should peruse the shop or wine list.
See what wines they sell.

Do they feature mainstream, run-of-the-mill wines or do they have a varied selection?
Where do your wines fit in?

Watch how the store operates!  Do sales clerks sit behind the cash register or watch TV or are they actively stocking the displays and speaking to customers?

Is the shop one that relies upon "canned" point-of-sale materials (signs, reviews, numerical point scores, medals, etc.) or are they passionate about the wines they feature because THEY LIKE THEM?

Some stores expect the sales people to do virtually ALL the work.  Stock the bins.  Keep the bottles polished and, while you're at it, sweep the floor.

Our shop is a wine specialty place.  Some accounts in a sales rep's territory are grocery stores, liquor stores or convenience stores.  Yet distributorships routinely send out their reps to try to sell us items we don't have a prayer of successfully selling as though every account is identical.

And those of your competitor...

 When you arrive in a shop or restaurant, a good sales rep should attempt to make the easiest sale possible: the repeat sale!

This means you ought to cruise around to see how the wines they already have from your firm are selling.  Have they sold out?  Are they in need of a re-order? 

You ought to have a list of what wines they have of yours and survey the place to see what items are "low" in stock.

Is the display filled?  Is it neat and orderly?

Years ago, one firm used to arm its sales reps with a feather duster.  We don't see this any longer, but having the bottles clean and presentable to customers is a great idea.  Bottles with several layers of dirt or dust on them are less likely to be brought to the cash register.

We appreciate it if reps notice that their items are in need of re-ordering or, for example, a particular wine we have in stock is not displayed...

You might also have a look to see whose wines are being featuring in an account.
Which of your competitors is having success?
This can give you some insight into the account.
You can also see if there are some "holes" in the store or restaurant's offering.
If they sell a bunch of Italian wines, for example, do they have anything from, say, Sardegna?  How about Calabria?  Maybe you have a wine, or two, from those places which might find a home?
Similarly, if you're selling French wines, do they carry anything from Provence, Gascony or the Alps?  Maybe there's an opening for you there???

One sales rep came in and set her briefcase on top of an empty display box.  The floorstack featured a wine in her portfolio.  But she never would look around the shop to see if any of her wines were prominently displayed.  She asked, "Need anything?" and walked out without ever noticing her empty stack of wine boxes!


Some stores have newsletters, newspaper ads or websites, yet few sales reps think to ask how to get their merchandise positioned or featured in these venues.


We used to conduct sit-down blind-tastings.  Yet it's only one or two sharp sales reps who even inquire if we'd consider including their wines in these competitive tastings!  Nobody even looks to see what events we're organizing.  Should a wine win a tasting and be priced within reason to attract customers, future sales can be made!


One sales rep determined that since we would not be "tasting" any new wines for the holiday season, there was virtually no reason to stop by the shop from Thanksgiving through New Years!  It seems the concept of our re-ordering wines already in the store, is a foreign one.


One rep, whom we had not seen in more than three weeks, finally stopped by.  She thanked us for making her "Sales Rep of the Year" for two different items in her firm's portfolio.
We are amused by this, since she doesn't stop by with any regularity, nor does she routinely bring in new wines for the staff to taste.
Apparently, she's not able to "connect the dots" and think to have more floor-stacked items in our shop.
The same rep now has a rather good Champagne to sell.  We've even purchased some from her.  She might make note on her calendar as to when New Year's is celebrated, as the week before this rather active Champagne-selling date, the rep neglected to call or stop by.  We would have ordered a few boxes from her had she done so.
Finally, her company gave the account to another, more capable sales rep.  Sales increased, too.


A couple of people showed up one day with a fellow from France looking to show off some Bordeaux wines.
None of the three or four people ever bothered to check what wines we offered from Bordeaux, so it wasn't important to them to note whether or not we might even need something from their portfolio.
We tasted their wines and after the last one said "Look, we already have plenty of wines from Bordeaux and these are more attractively priced than yours."
They all departed and one of the local fellows ambled back in to say that we had really angered the fellow from France who was showing his wines.
I pointed out that no one ever bothered to check to see what wines are already in the store and at what price points.
"I already have those bases covered." I explained.
Five hours later the phone rang and it was that same guy calling to thank me.
"I told them what you said and so each place we visited afterwards, we checked the displays or the wine list.  The French fellow was able to say to the wine director, 'Hey, I have a wine from this appellation which you don't seem to have.  Maybe you'd like to add this to your list?'  And we made a couple of new placements.  Thank you for your suggestion.  It proved to be very helpful."

You're the one who's there to sell!

What new items do you have to "Show & Tell"?

While a large number of places make buying decisions based upon numerical point scores and reviews from various journals, it's certainly a good idea to pull the cork on some bottles and show the buyer some new items.   This allows the buyer (who probably also works on the sales floor) to suggest a wine with greater confidence having tasted it for himself or herself.

Some of the distributors have several thousand wines in their catalogues.  Others have but a hundred or so.

Yet we see many sales reps who show up "without a bat in their hands," yet they expect to take a few "swings."  Pablo Sandoval doesn't come to the plate empty-handed!

You ought to have a small "cellar" in your sales wagon, complete with insulated cooler.  If you don't bring in anything new to show, how do you expect to make new placements???

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 possibly be interested in?   Even though the catalogue is printed every month or two, showcasing 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 smaller importer...they have new arrivals highlighted every 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.


You ought to keep a detailed record of what items you present to the buyer and what their reaction is to them.

Bring in a series of wines, but you ought to have a range of items that don't compete with each other.

Open the bottles and do so neatly.
Don't leave a bunch of foil capsules on the table or counter!
I routinely have to clean up after sales reps...we were shocked on day when a fellow neatly cut the foil tops and pocketed them.  Bob congratulated the fellow on being so professional.  Few people think to be so courteous.

Have a sniff of your wines to detect any corked or flawed bottles.
A wine marketing company rep arrived one day to show us some new releases.  We declared one bottle of their offerings to be "corked" and flawed.
"Hey, someone else said exactly the same thing at our last stop!"
If your bottle is corked, please consider opening a second bottle.
Please consider bringing a set of back-up bottles if they're available...

Pour the wines in an order that gives you a chance to make a sale!

Most sales reps start with dry whites, moving towards sweeter whites...then to light reds and, finally, heavy reds.
Sometimes you might benefit from pouring the reds before the whites (the whites will taste more balanced after tannic, young reds).

Don't pour heavily-oaked reds before lightly-oaked or non-oaked reds.

It's best to "zig and zag" in terms of tasting order.  This concept is lost on most people, but:
If the wines you're presenting are in linear order, better to present them in dry-to-sweet, light-to-heavy format.  

But if you have a line-up of radically differently styled wines, each wine can show well if you pour them in such a fashion as to have the greatest contrast of style between each wine.  Using this method, you would not, for example, pour two heavily oaked wines back-to-back.  You would, for example, pour a non-oaked white, followed by an oaky white, followed by a non-oaked, more intensely aromatic white.  And then, perhaps, another wine with oak after that.

And a savvy buyer will then go back and re-taste, seeing if the wines show as well tasted randomly.

And, please, refrain from using perfume, cologne or aftershave....if your customers are going to swirl, sniff, sip & spit your wares, they won't have a clear view of your products if you're smelling like the perfume counter at Macy's.
((You wouldn't think this would be an issue, but it often is...and keep in mind, if your clothes have been laundered in aromatic soap, they might 'smell'.  If you throw those 'fabric softener' sheets into the dryer, those will make your clothes stink to high heaven with their fragrance, so don't use them!))

These days many reps will show their wines without having pulled the cork on the bottle.
This is thanks to the device depicted above, a "Coravin."
It's a fancy and costly little gizmo which can be helpful to you.
It had a needle which pierces the cork and if you tip the bottle just so, it dispenses a bit of wine and replaces it with an inert gas.  This can allow you to extend the life of a sample bottle so you don't need to open fresh samples each day.
But please!  The wine does change from the first day or two.  It will usually not be in tip-top condition a week after your first pour.
But keep this in mind:  Most young, crisp white wines will still be in pretty good shape a few days after opening.   This device is likely more helpful for red wines which can dramatically change with a day or two of being opened.
The little cartridges with the inert gas are costly, so please use them wisely.

We are amused when some reps (or their bosses) show up with ten dollar bottles of wine and they spend $15 worth of gas to pour the sample.

On fellow brought in several bottles recently.  All were about half full and he was in our shop first thing in the morning.
None of the wines showed particularly well and a couple were clearly tired.
These had been opened for a day or two.
If your samples are not in tip-top condition and you think a capable buyer/taster won't notice, you are making a mistake, wasting your time as well as the customer's.


One fellow stopped by with 6 Italian reds.  Two of the bottles were shot. Finito.
History.  Gone.  Bad.  D-O-A.
We asked how recently he'd tapped into those.
It seems the first pour of each of those had been a month earlier.
This does a disservice to all:  to the winery.  To the distributor.  To the sales rep. 
And to the prospective customers who now has a poor image of the wine.

Having now tasted numerous bottles of wines which have been tapped with a Coravin, it is our view that this device may be helpful for a day or two or three with some wines.  But many are simply not in pristine condition after a few days.
This could be because the bottle is only half full and the inert gas is simply not effectively protecting the wine.

A sales rep arrived with four bottles of German Riesling.
Three bottles had corks and one was a screw-cap bottle.
We were amused when the fellow unscrewed the cap, replaced it with a special adapter and then used the Coravin and its expensive gas to pour the wine.
Perhaps he could have simply poured the wine and we could have provided a bit of argon gas from our tank to protect the wine?

 It's often warm in our area.  Showing the wines in a more pleasant condition is a good idea.
Most reps have an insulated bag or ice chest in the trunk of their car.
Many have an insulated roller bag, too.
A lot of reps have those "blue ice" gizmos or frozen bottles of water in their bags so they can show their wines at 'cellar temperature.'
We appreciate tasting some high alcohol (and low) red wines at a temperature lower than ambient room temp.
Be sure not to have the samples too cold, lest the wines become "mute" and don't show their fragrances and flavors.
Just remember to put these back in the freezer once you've finished you day and take them out when you're off to the races.
(Put them in plastic bags so they don't sweat all over your samples and detract from the appearance of your samples.)

We often see sales reps who arrive un-prepared!
(Kids these days refer to these as "wine keys")



(Many reps these days, present a one page document of the wines they have in their bag with pricing information, the vintage date, name of the wines, etc.  Good idea.)
One fellow has an inexpensive notebook, the kind you might see being used in a school setting.
This allows him to keep maybe a few weeks or a months' worth of orders and notes at hand.


"How much is this wine?"

And you know, many sales reps don't know the answer to that simple question.

Why not take a moment and memorize the prices?
Why not place a sticker on each bottle with the price and quantity discounts?

Of course, California is the Wild, Wild West.


Here sales reps often have multiple sales "schemes" someone has concocted under the guise of "marketing."
Some companies offer "combo" buys at special pricing (buy 1 case of this and for a few bucks more, you'll get 3 bottles of that).
California still allows different prices for the same item, same quantity depending upon whether the customer is an off-premise (store/internet retailer) or on-premise (restaurant) account.
One rep had a Napa Merlot.  $280/case to a store, while the winery was willing to sell the same identical case to a restaurant account for $120!
(( The notion is the restaurant will have greater incentive to offer such a wine, making a relative 'killing' by selling the wine for a huge margin, whereas a store should be charged a higher price to keep them from offering it to customers "too cheaply" and, thereby, "tarnishing" the image of that brand. ))
A famous Cabernet producer offers its Alexander Valley bottling for $560 per case on a small purchase, but if a store buys ten cases, they'll offer the wine for $480/case.  Some restaurant buyers have said they can purchase the same wine for $450/case if they purchase two or three boxes.
One Napa vintner asks stores to pay $250/case for its California Chardonnay, but restaurant accounts can get this wine for $180/case.
We're asked to pay $312/case for a famous Russian River Chardonnay, but our friends in restaurants can buy the same wine for $216 per case.  The same vintner produces a Napa Cabernet.  $408 for a store.  The same wine costs a restaurant $240 if they buy two boxes.
$576 for a box of single-vineyard Chardonnay from a so-called "celebrity" winemaker to a shop.  The same wine is offered to restaurant accounts for $436/case.


A rep from a big drinks company came to show a set of maybe ten wines.
The first wine seemed to have a higher-than-normal wholesale price.
"We're repositioning the brand." she told us.
The previous vintage is selling to consumers for $16-$20 a bottle in chain stores and the wholesale price to an independent shop was $24.
We explained that while we have a modest mark-up, we did not appreciate having customers dial up the internet, see us offering their wine for maybe $32 while another place has the wine for $16.
Finally we inquired as to the wholesale price for an "on premise" account.
((We do have an on-premise license by the way.))
It seems that $24 bottle for our account is sold to other accounts for all of $13!
As a result we pulled the plug on tasting her wines since we are handicapped with an artificially high wholesale price.


One fellow routinely is unprepared to make a sales call.  He rarely knows the prices of the four or five wines he is presenting.  We have politely suggested affixing a sticker to the bottles with the pricing info and he routinely laughs at this suggestion.  But this fellow has misquoted pricing, causing us to send back wines because he did not know the correct price!
One time he blew a sale because he incorrectly quoted a price (too high).  
Only after the staff had tasted and ruled out a wine as costing too much did he check to see the wine could have been a floor-stacked item.  But it was too late by then.  Ouch!!



Some accounts love to hear the word "discount."  We've often thought the discounted price is what virtually all accounts pay, so we are most interested to know "What's your best price and how do we arrive at that?"  But some stores and restaurants think a discount is something nobody else gets, so they won't buy an item unless there is some sort of price reduction.  Even if they were offered Chateau Lafite Rothschild for $20 a bottle, they wouldn't buy it.  But they would buy it if told "It costs $2400 a case but you get a hundred dollar discount for buying two cases."
A good sales rep should figure out who they're dealing with and how best to present the wine and its pricing.

One good rep we know told us "I always tell my customers our best (lowest) pricing.  I sell more wine that way!"
Ya' think?


A sales rep presented a line-up of wines.  I valued one as worth stocking should it retail for less than $40.  The sales rep told me the wine retailed for $50, so our staffers were not shown the wine.  I asked if they had a new sales catalogue, since I had not seen him in five weeks.  He had to run out to his car for a price list (why bring one with you, after all??),  After he departed, I perused the list and noticed the wine WAS AVAILABLE FOR LESS THAN $40!  I immediately phoned him and he told me he had poured me the "new" $50 vintage.  I asked him to stop the car and have a look in his samples bag.  Sure enough!  He poured me the previous vintage, the $37 Cabernet.  He lost a sale because he did not pay attention to details such as the correct price of his wares.

Imagine how embarrassed one might be at having to return to an account to tell them the price you quoted them last week was wrong, the wine this vintage costing 15% more.
Why this fellow is so sloppy about verifying the pricing information can only be explained thusly:
"He's a knucklehead."


A winery rep stopped by and presented her business card saying "I'll bet you that you've never heard of our winery!"  I looked at the card and replied "You'd have lost that bet...I tasted your wines for the first time about three years ago."  She and the distributor sales guy adjourned to the tasting room one busy morning.  I had six wines to evaluate.  The first was a non-descript Sauvignon Blanc.  After finding some character in the second white wine I inquired as to its price.
"Oh, I can't quote prices." said the winery gal.
I questioned this and continued tasting, finally thanking them for coming.
"Well, what did you think?" she asked.
I explained I tasted wines professionally and that without knowing the prices, how could I evaluate these for possible selection for the shop?  I was annoyed that no pricing information was offered, so I did not know if these were five dollar bottles, ten dollar bottles, twenty dollar wines, or what.
Seeing I was a bit frustrated by her lack of cooperation, she finally blurted out, to the penny, the wholesale bottle price of each wine.
Too late, though, as I would have preferred to know these as I was tasting to see if anything, perhaps, would find a home in the shop.  A couple of wines were candidates, but got disqualified by a most silly and unprofessional winery rep.


A rep we had not seen in 6+ months stopped by with the marketing director of a California winery.
We had not had their wines in the shop in years.
The rep presented a price list and poured the range of wines.
I tasted through the portfolio and found a couple of items which might work.  
I asked him to return the following week at a time when the crew would be here and he did.
He showed them the identical price list I had seen on his earlier visit.
A wine wholesaling for $8 a bottle was of particular interest and I was ready to order a number of cases to start a floor-stack display.
The crew liked the wine and they were enthusiastic for this.
But our enthusiasm waned immediately when the sales rep now quoted a price of $10 per bottle. was $8 last week.
Wait, wait!! It was $8 two minutes ago.
"Oh, I made a mistake with that price list." he told us.
Really?  You quote the wrong price when your riding with the winery marketing director?
And you quote the same incorrect price on your next visit when you're showing the wine to my colleagues?
Do you really think we're going to place an order?
Do you think we're going to find time to have you show us other wines?
Get a clue, please!!!


We had been selling a particular imported white wine for more than a year and thought it would be a good idea to taste it again before reordering it in case the wine was not as good as it had been.
Sure enough, the wine was a bit fatigued, so we did not order it.
Maybe 4 or 5 months later, the rep brought in the new vintage and it was good, but not as distinctive as the previous bottling when it first arrived.
We asked for the price and we were told its frontline pricing with a 10% discount as part of a 5 case purchase.
The previous vintage had a 20% discount on a three case "solid" buy.
She did not offer that price, but she asked for an order and we balked, saying it now costs more than we think it should.
Only after a few more minutes of gymnastics did she reveal that they do have a three case price which gets a 15% discount...not as deep of a discount as previously, but deeper than the standard 10%.
We wondered why she was not working more diligently to make a sale.
As a result, disappointed that the rep was concealing the best price, we did not order that wine.
Later...we mentioned this to a friend who works for the same company in a different territory and he told us "I ALWAYS offer my customers the best pricing.  I sell more wine that way!"
Oh...and we also learned the "new" vintage arrived 5 months earlier, well before we re-tasted the old vintage!


A fellow who works for a national importer paid us a visit after a long hiatus.
We asked when he was last in the shop and he was embarrassed to admit it had been 5 years.
The fellow thanked us for supporting one of his wines and indicated that we are the largest single account in the entire country for this expensive wine.

But over those past five years we have seen some local retailers selling some of their wines for maybe a buck or two per bottle over our wholesale cost.
This guy never thought to inform us of their best pricing.

Later that day a customer arrived having been at a place in our town and heard some people "smack talking" (as they described it) about our shop.
When the regular distributor rep came by two weeks later we inquired if they had finished their day with that rep at a particular business in town.
Oh my...that individual was red-faced but said "I was defending you and explained you simply are asking for a level playing field."
I took them at their word, but then they did not show up for a month...and then, two months...and then three months.
We figured they were simply embarrassed and maybe they had not actually been defending us.

During that uncomfortable sales presentation we asked for pricing of a particular item, knowing a buyer at a little place in the Bay Area had purchased it for a greatly discounted price for just a dozen bottles.  We were quoted a price which was 30% higher.
The other day that buyer called to ask for some information about a wine and we chatted about pricing for a few items.
I mentioned we were quoted $48 buying a single case, but they have a $45/bottle price on 5 cases or $43 on a ten case buy.
Our friend said he bought 3 boxes recently and paid $35 per bottle.


A customer sent a snapshot of a bottle she enjoyed with friends and asked if the wine was currently available and what it might cost.
Seeing the name of the importer on the bottle, we knew who to ask.
We sent that rep the photo of the bottle with the name of the wine in the subject line of the email.
"Might you have this and, if so, what does it cost, please?  Also, send along the current price list."

The response was "I don't have it, but I'm really liking the label."
No price list accompanied this missive.

We then asked if she might know who sells that wine here in the Bay Area.
"Sorry, no."
And no price list.

As we are prone to being a bit sarcastic, we then asked if she was still "actively working" for that importer and, oh, by the way, please send along the price books for both the companies you represent.

The response was "You are so silly, you just saw me last week when we tasted some wines" and placed an order.

The price lists were then finally sent.
The winery which produced the wine in question was listed in the previous book she'd sent us 5 months earlier.
The wine we'd been asking about WAS listed in her current price list!

So we chided her for not being more helpful:
You know, I have asked about a particular wine in hopes of helping a customer and making a sale.
You have not been helpful in sourcing the wine.

I'd like to buy more wine from you, but have gotten little assistance from you, even when asking a second or third time.
A few months ago, for example, you brought in a wine and I asked you at least half a dozen times for best pricing...and only after asking again and again did you finally tell me "there's a 15% discount on three cases" after repeatedly telling me the best discount was 10% as part of a five case buy.

I will peruse the current book and present you with a list of wines we want to taste in hopes of finding some new items for the shop.

One of those items I will request (again) is the wine in the subject line of the past handful of emails.
Perhaps you will be able to show it to us???

It's a bit of a partnership and we are happy to discover good, interesting wines which are distinctive and which are well-priced for their quality (not merely inexpensive)...a $600/case of wine can be well-priced if the wine is seriously exceptional.

She then wrote back, apologizing, not realizing, she said, there was a new addition in their book from the importer.

But remember: that winery had been listed in the price list we received from the first month of the year.

Then, having been taken to task for not being more helpful, she said she would ask the boss to reassign the account to another rep since we are unhappy with her (less-than-helpful) service.

By the way, it's a small company and there are no reps in the area other than she.

We responded with a note saying "I am UNHAPPY with you when you're not helping us sell your wines.  You CAN do better and SHOULD do better.  Please consider remaining our rep from this company."

There was no response to this invitation.

But two weeks later the phone rang and it was this same sales rep identifying herself as being from one of the distribution companies, but not the other.
She asked if we needed to restock any of the wines from her "other" portfolio.

"Say, I noticed you did not identify yourself as being from your main company."

"Yes, that's correct.  I've asked them to reassign your account.  You know, my mother taught me you get more flies with honey than with vinegar.  And I've had enough of your vinegar!"

So she is apparently still willing to represent one of her distributors, but not the other???

Frankly, we are at a loss to comprehend this rationale, but it does make for a remarkable story, doesn't it?



Most sales reps have not been trained to "make" a sale.

Most are merely "order takers."  Lots of reps arrive in a store to ask the buyer, "How's your XYZ Chardonnay?"  And, in this day of computerized inventories, many of the "sales calls" made by reps entails their transcribing a recitation of product codes and quantities.  Being "pro active" and "making a sale" are far from what these people actually do!

Take the road blocks out of the way!

A good sales rep might show a buyer some wines and then ask which ones are appealing enough for them to buy.  The attentive rep will have his or her ears open to objections voiced by the would-be buyer and will work to overcome these road blocks.

And just because the buyer didn't pull the trigger right then and there does not mean they have no use for your product.
We often taste wines which are suitable for sale in our shop, but we may not have a display space open at that very moment.  I have saved empty bottles of things we've tasted with the intention of buying them.  But most sales reps figure their moment of opportunity is open on their schedule, not the store's!  This is another reason to make regular appearances in a shop.  You'll want to "get in the loop" of sales.  Who knows?  You might just show up when they're sold out of a product similar to the one you pitched them on a few weeks before!
That's why you'll want to keep a notebook with information regarding previous sales calls.

We attended a "trade tasting" and even saw the fellow who is the sales rep for our account.  There were a number of wines we felt were worthy of purchase and we made a list of these as we reviewed the wines we tasted.  The tasting was held on a Thursday.   The sales rep neglected to follow up the day after the tasting and we figured we'd hear from him by Monday or Tuesday, at the latest.  As I write this, it's two full weeks since that event and we have not heard a peep from the salesman.  Meanwhile, we've written our summer wine-letter and included, of course, none of his wines.  In this instance, the rep must be independently wealthy to be able to ignore an eager and serious wine buyer for such a long period of time. Remember the old adage: "Out of sight, out of mind."  And in this case, to describe the sales rep: "Out of his mind."  Or "lazy."  Take your pick.

We recently had a visit from a small company.  I didn't notice if their pants were on fire, frankly, since I was paying more attention to the five or six wines they'd brought in for us to sample.  My two associates were busy tasting and I had finished, having gone to check a tasting note from a recent trip to Europe.  I was assisting a customer and the two fellows visiting us were intent on heading out the door.  I looked at them and waved as they sauntered out, presumably to douse the invisible flames burning their trousers.  Neither one was patient enough to wait until I was finished handing a customer some change and his bottle of wine, so they missed my ordering $600\+ worth of wine from them!



We think it's usually a good idea to write down the customer's order.  Not every sales rep does this, but it sure is easier to get the order to the customer if you recall exactly what they ordered and any special delivery instructions.


One sales rep became angry with us when we called her, seven weeks after placing an order which never showed up.  She asked why we hadn't contacted her sooner and we explained the order was entirely items we like, but items that customers don't ask for every day.  We suggested she stop by more regularly, perhaps every two weeks.  She bluntly told us "I don't call on my big accounts but once a month."  Not surprisingly, her firm (she's a co-owner) has lost many brands the past few years.   A former restaurant buyer told us he had guaranteed this sales lady a 5 case order each visit if she would stop by on a weekly basis.  She would not, much to his amazement.


One local rep works for a modest-sized importer of Italian and Austrian wines.  We were delighted to know she's able to get for us wines from some friends in Italy.  The local humungous distributor isn't willing to stock these esoteric wines, but they are delighted to have them special ordered, hit the warehouse and then be shipped immediately to us.  We placed an order and the wines arrived, no problem.  We re-ordered a month or so later.  We were told these would arrive in three weeks.  After seven weeks, we sent her a note inquiring if this wine would be arriving sometime soon.  It seems the wine HAS been at the warehouse, but since I am unaware of it being there, I've relied upon the importer's representative to either send the wine or tell me "It's here!"
It seems she's been relying on one of the people at this distributor to keep constantly checking on the arrival of this product.
The woman then sent me this lovely note:
"As much as I would love to put orders in for all accounts in California, my job responsibility does not allow me to. I can certainly get the order in from Chicago but the distributor is responsible there after. if you are not getting satisfactory service from this firm, I suggest you take it up with their management."
I believe this is what's called "passing the buck."

The same lady hosted a wine tasting during the summer.  She solicited orders from customers for some of the wines featured at the tasting.  We ordered six or seven different wines.  By the end of the year these wines still have not been shipped to us.  We know they are sitting in the warehouse.  But, since this sales rep can't be bothered to be certain the wines are shipped from the distributor to the customer, it seems these boxes will remain in custody of the delivery firm.
Now...many years later, we can tell you that import company essentially went out of business.  Someone bought the company and they've not been much of an important player ever since.
This is not much of a surprise.


(Phone, Don't Stop By)

It's very difficult to "taste" and "evaluate" wines over the phone, so we think an in-person sales call is best.  Further, this allows the sales rep to bring in bottles to taste and they can have a look around the shop to see what's sold.

Some lazy reps think calling on the phone is sufficient in making a sales call.  They should keep in mind the buyer may be occupied with other sales reps, or better yet, customers!

And some sales reps will sit in their office playing "dialing for dollars."  If you have something urgent or can save the account some money (or make them some money), then you might phone to have a word with the buyer.  But if your calls are bothersome or unnecessary, then the buyer may be "unavailable" when you call in the future.

And please don't "count" a phone conversation as an official sales call!  It's not the same as visiting the store in person.  Some distributor bosses call this "face time."  They prefer their sales crew see buyers "face to face."

In speaking with other buyers---some tell me they actually prefer to NOT see sales reps on a frequent basis.  You need to figure out which buyers are going to pick up the phone and call you and which ones require an "in-the-flesh" sales visit.

I routinely get sales calls from a couple of reps (in particular) who have nothing to do on Fridays, the busiest day of the week in our shop.  The net effect is, instead of the rep politely waiting their "turn," they barge in by phone.



We notice many sales reps who are waiting for their moment with the buyer will immediately strike up a conversation with other sales reps.  This is time that could best be spent trying to make a sale.  When you're chatting with other reps in a shop, that's time you could have spent poking around and surveying the bins, racks and displays to see if your merchandise is in need of a re-order.  Though I have our inventory on the computer, we may have neglected to display some of your merchandise.  If it doesn't come up on my suggested purchase order, I'm not likely to order more.  If we don't have it displayed, for example, it's not likely to sell and it's probably not going to pop up as an item to re-order since we're not doing a good job of exposing the wine to our customers.  You can help by seeing that your products are available for sale.

A successful sales rep told me he often "networks" with other reps while waiting to see the buyer.  He says this is helpful in learning what's going on at some accounts, for example.  He might get a tip that a particular account is looking for a certain type of wine which he might have.  Or that the buyer from a particular restaurant is no longer at that establishment, but has surfaced at another place.  

Further, when actual paying customers hit the front door of a shop and see a bunch of sales reps standing around, arms folded while they're "waiting", those folks often turn on their heels and head out the door.  They don't know you're a sales rep and are there to sell.  You look like a customer who's waiting impatiently.  That means they will be waiting even longer.  And many customers have less patience than wine sales reps!

You may have seen the mention of a sales rep we first met while she was playing with the Lego's set out for little kids to play with while Mom & Dad are looking at wines.  Needless to say, this doesn't make for a particularly positive impression with staffers or the buyer!

A sales rep had a "ride with" who patiently stood by as we conducted out business.  It was a lengthy order and the fellow had to wait a half hour, or so, before we were ready to hear his sales pitch.
When he was "up to bat" it turned out he'd left the bottles to be tasted out in the the regular sales rep and I waited a couple of minutes for this fellow to go to his vehicle and retrieve his bottles...
And when he returned he could find only one of the two "important" bottles he was intending to show!
The moral of that story:  Check your bag BEFORE you leave the house!
And when ordering samples of a new vintage, please check to see the company sent you the new vintage.
I can't tell you how often they'll send you the last bottles of the old, sold-out vintage.



One sales rep told us "You just don't want to buy wine from me!"  We explained that wasn't true, we DID want to buy wine from her.  Unfortunately, many of the wines we wanted to buy were allocated to other customers.
She told us "You're a cherry picker!"
We explained we HAD purchased a couple of non "cherry picker" wines.
She responded "Well, those are good wines and good values."
"Bingo!" we exclaimed.  "Yes, good wine and good value.  That is why our customers come to shop in our store."

Every buyer is a "cherry picker."  Most are looking for wines they think will make their customers happy enough to return for more bottles.

One firm is of a mind that allowing customers to taste their wines is not a good idea.  They believe selling wine is "all about relationships."  This outfit does not print a price list.  Not even a list of wines they have to sell is available.  Nor is a listing of what brands they represent!
We made the grave mistake of trying to learn what they actually have to sell.  In doing so, we deeply offended the sales representative by sending a note to one of their wineries which stated "Maybe you find it curious that your importer prefers your customers to guess what wines of your they may have for sale, rather than presenting them a list of your products."  Unfortunately, the winery shared this with the importer who called us up to say he'd never, ever, never, ever sell us another bottle of wine as long as he lived (and then he slammed the phone down!).

We placed an order with the area manager who was standing in for the vacationing sales rep.
We asked for two cases of Domaine XYZ's Chardonnay.
"You and everybody else wants that wine. can do." she told us.
We have had Domaine XYZ's wine in the shop, a modest quality $19.99 bottle of wine.  When we explained how we like to be able to accommodate our customers, rather than have to send them elsewhere, this young lady told us:
"Well, the good news is they're not going to find it anywhere else."
I found it that evening while grocery shopping, a three case floorstack being prominently displayed not far from the lemons and grapefruits!
The next day, having replaced a display with another firm's product of similar quality, the manager returned to announce:
"Good News!  We have five cases of XYZ's wine for you!!!"
Of course, what this person should have said at the outset was "Let me check on the availability of that for you" rather than her arrogant "Get in line with the rest of the world, buddy!" statement.
A post-script: This, apparently, was not an isolated instance and her firm fired her several weeks afterwards.
She did find a new position with a small Napa vintner.   It will be interesting to see how long she hangs on to that job.  We wish her well, of course.
Addendum:  The answer to the previous question is "less than a year."


A winery rep stopped by, at our request.  We tasted the new releases and inquired about a case of their Cabernet in magnum-sized bottles.
"Oh, we have only 50 cases for Northern California," she explained.  "Five are for charities and the other 45 are for good customers, so I'll have to see if I can get you a case."
This same rep handed me her business card and said "Now, here's my card.  Please don't call me more than once a quarter."
She did not last more than a year with the winery, by the way.


One sales rep works for a company with a particularly rare wine.  We've usually been graced with the opportunity to buy some of these wines.
For one reason or another, last November we were not "privileged."  I asked the fellow about the new release and he hemmed and hawed.
Knowing he's not gone to bat for us, he has simply stopped showing up.
We even called to ask if we were invited to his company's tasting recently and he returned the call saying "Please come."  And we did.  Tasted a number of wines we liked.
But as I write this, two weeks precisely AFTER the tasting, this fellow has still not stopped by to see if he can make a sale.
I am unaware of his having won a million bucks in the lottery.


We had purchased 84 bottles of a Rosso di Montalcino from the cooties-stricken 2002 vintage.  The winery made a sensational wine and we have been suggesting it to our customers.  I noticed the same producer's 1999 Brunello was in the distributor/importer's catalogue.  I politely inquired if we might have a taste of this wine, as it was likely to be something of interest.
The sales rep explained the firm does have the 1999 in stock, but won't sell it until the 1998 is depleted (we have not been, as sales reps like to say "tasted on" this wine).  And sales of the 1999 are tied directly to the purchase of 1998 Brunello.

"But we have bought 7 cases of this winery's Rosso." I replied.

"Sorry.  You have to buy the 1998 to get the 1999."
I called the winery in Italy.  The person I spoke with was dismayed to hear this, thinking someone who had bought all that Rosso was practically a family member.

We suspect he contacted the importer as shortly after we were "privileged" to taste both the 1998 and 1999 vintages and purchased both!  
The "import specialist" accompanied the sales rep to inform us we would be the very first to taste that 1999.
She made it clear that they had the idea of tying the sale of the 1999 to purchases of the 1998.
When we explained we had not ever tasted the 1998, the import specialist was visibly shaken as she had been led to believe we were merely cherry-pickers.

Nearly a year after the wine arrived, the distributor's import specialist AGAIN brought by the hard-to-get 1999 vintage because it's not selling and they need to move this bit of inventory!

A few years later, the import specialist was working for another company and was pouring a Brunello.
We teasingly asked her for a taste of the winery she used to represent with her former employer.
She was initially perplexed, not recognizing us.
We reminded her of that uncomfortable sales presentation and she said "Good god!  I couldn't wait to get the FUCK out of that job with that outfit!"

And we both had a good laugh.


We ordered a case of Champagne from a rep from a large firm.  The wine did not come with our order the following day.  I called to ask if we would be getting this any time soon, since it was, after all, the weekend before Christmas and people like to buy this famous bubbly.  He told us the product code given to him by the company was incorrect and we'd have to wait until the following week to receive some.  Interestingly, the fellow also told me he was delayed by a three hour line at "will call" at his warehouse.   I asked him why he didn't consider "will calling" a case of this for us since he was already working to put out another "fire."
"Listen," he told me, "I don't have time to listen to your diatribe.  Do you want me to find you some bottles for the weekend, or what?"
My response was "Yes...that is precisely why I ordered a case of Champagne from you in the first place!"
A while later the fellow calls from a store saying they will let me have a few bottles for a price that's higher than we retail it the sales tax!


A customer called asking for a wine which, coincidentally, has the family's name on the label.  I called the local distributor to see if this wine might be available.  I was told it was scarce but he could probably get me a case.  The wine, with a suggested retail price of about $55 a bottle, had recently be reviewed favorably in some wine journal.  The customer was happy to buy the wine, good review or not, on the basis of the name of the wine.
A while after placing the order, I got a call from the big muckety muck who, very pleased with the point score, told me the wine was "strictly allocated" and what precious little inventory he had would be sold to customers who were placing large orders for wines throughout the portfolio.  I was annoyed at having to now call the customer with the bad news.  The muckety muck called back a while later, further explaining the scarcity of the wine and how, undoubtedly, with a 93 point rating, the whole world would be clamoring for bottles of this sensational wine.  He hoped he and his associate could bring in samples of other wines so we might become the sort of customer worthy of "rewarding" with such note-worthy wines.  In the meantime, he'd sent the customer an e-mail (they had made an inquiry with the import company through its web site) and passed along the name of a shop 400 miles away which did have the wine and indicating the chance of our receiving this wine was pretty much "slim and none."   Of course, the whole incident would have been avoided had the local fellow simply said "Let me check the availability for you."  ((We have purchased dozens of cases of a modestly-priced wine and have had more than 6 or 8 wines from this firm over the past year, so we are not totally unknown to this company.))
The customer was really steamed and sent missives to the importer's headquarters, amongst others.  The following day we received a call from the muckety muck saying just to get the customer off his back he would sell us a case of the wine in question and "we'll never hear from them again."  I reminded him that next year, should the wine have an 80-point rating, it will still have the customer's name on it and they might want a box of this again next year when none of the point monkeys are interested.  This slightly long-term view of customer service was clearly lost on poor Mister Muckety Muck.


An e-mail came through with a query about a particular Napa Cabernet.
It was curious in that the name of the sender on the e-mail was different from how the fellow "signed" the e-mail at the conclusion of his inquiry.
I researched the wine and found that the name on the e-mail was the same as that of the owner of this brand of wine.
I sent a query to the winery web site and got a response with pricing.
Now I sent pricing information with ridiculously low prices back to the same fellow at his other e-mail address, deleting the name so he might not see his error in trying to sandbag an account by creating the appearance of a demand for his own wine.
The response from the supposed "customer" said he had to "check with his wife" regarding buying the wine.
We never heard from the fellow, since why would he want to purchase his own wine?
But if you think I'm going to be interested to buy this guy's wine and suggest it to customers, you'd better think again.


We asked a rep from a big liquor-centric distributor how a competitor could be selling a certain item for $39.99 per bottle when their price list shows the lowest price for that product at $39.50 as the wholesale price.
He sent along an unpublished pricing schedule for that portfolio showing a $32 bottle price for a large quantity purchase.
He also included the self-aggrandizing note "I hope you appreciate the extra legwork I've done in getting you this pricing information."
We view this sort of information as a regular part of the job, not as someone going above and beyond the call of duty.
This fellow is a slacker, making sporadic sales calls when he is supposed to visit every week (for example).
We asked for a sample of a new vintage of one of his wines which we have floor-stacked and after three weeks of him telling us he will soon be bringing that bottle, he arrived with the same vintage that's in the shop.
He was angry with us for taking issue with this, saying "You don't understand.  I did my job in bringing you a sample..."
We had asked about contacting an importer whose wines they have...we were trying to access more of an item we had been buying but which was out of stock.
We did not receive a response on this and were able to contact the importer rep over the weekend who said he'd have 5 more cases of this wine transferred to the local warehouse for delivery.  The sales rep who neglected to get us the contact info was unaware of our being in touch with the importer rep and he sent a note the following week taking credit for having five boxes of wine coming to the local warehouse...he wants us to think he did "extra legwork," apparently.
As a result, we are not looking to reward this rep with additional placements unless a wine is absolutely drop-dead gorgeous.

The same fellow showed up with his samples bag wanting us to taste a few wines.
Normally we'd have been delighted to taste those bottles, several of which we had requested.
But this fellow brought these bottles to taste just two days prior to Christmas Day, the busiest week of the year.
He was quite angry that we would not refrain from taking care of our customers to taste his wares.
"You asked to taste these!" he barked at us.
"Yes, but we'd like to taste them when we have time to evaluate those wines, not during the frantic rush of Christmas two days from now!"

This fellow then sent us a note a week later, ostensibly thanking us for our business and informing us the company was shuffling its sales reps and we would soon have a new representative calling on us.
A few years later, we still see his name associated with our account, so we suspect he may still get a commission from sales to us.


You didn't make the wine, did you?

Sometimes the buyer or staffers simply don't find the nectar you've poured for them to be ambrosia.
Please don't take it personally if the account doesn't buy your wine.

Some establishments don't buy because they're over-extended, have too much inventory or the buyer knows their customers are not looking for your particular wine.  Or the wine costs too much.  Sometimes the wines cost too little.  Sometimes the wines are too well known, while other times they're not famous enough.

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.


One Napa winery owner introduced us to her spouse saying "I had my shortest and most efficient sales call with Gerald."  It seems we told her the wine was not much to our taste, especially for the ridiculously high price they offered it for.  She explained that most accounts simply say "Oh, I don't have room right now, but why don't you call me in a couple of weeks?"  She does.  And they say "Oh, I don't have room at the moment, but why not call back next month?"  She does.  The point being these "nice" people have her spending her time and money on phone calls and they have virtually no intention of buying her wine, either.  We simply told her our reaction to her wine.


The rep from a winery whose products are often seen in chain accounts, featured at prices close to wholesale and 10-15%, decided to take a whack at showing us their wines.  They chose to bring by a handful of offerings less well-distributed.  Unfortunately we don't have much of a market for vegetal red wines or a $20 Zin which wholesales for $25.  I'm afraid I was distracted by something called a "customer" and their presentation came to a quick conclusion (I had tasted everything on the table).  They dashed out of the store with their distributor's rep instead of waiting for me to assist someone in the shop.  Oh well...sorry if I offended you by not telling my customer to please wait...


Having called on our account for half a year, a sales rep from a large, liquor-oriented firm kept bringing in wines more suitable for sale at a convenience store such as 7-11.  We finally asked him politely if he didn't have some products in his portfolio "which won't ruin our reputation as fine wine merchants." 
Of course, this might be interpreted as the customer being snarky, but we are aware that many reps simply drag in samples of products which are quota items or "on goal."

Might we suggest that if this is the case, it might be a good idea for the rep to open a few non-quota items so they have a small chance of selling something?


Having a number of reps waiting to show some wines, a fellow from a large distributor ambled in and, in the interest of not wasting his time, we asked what wines he was showing.
When we heard the names of the wines, we said we were not terribly interested in their "focus items" or quota bottlings.
He insisted we taste these and once back in our tasting area he roared at me that "I wound NEVER bring you quota items!"
His company has a marvelous portfolio and we have other renditions of those Italian wines from his catalogue made by good, smaller artisan producers.

Bottom line on this is don't bullshit a savvy customer.



Here's a no-brainer:  If your company is renting a site, bringing wines or suppliers to this location to show customers a bunch of wines, why not be sure to invite accounts who are likely to pay dividends?

It's a good idea to present the buyer with some sort of invitation or written reminder of the event.  But this is not enough!  You should call the buyer a day or two before the tasting to remind them again.  Remember, they're busy and don't always have time to focus on your pet projects.  A gentle nudge is often a good idea!

A sales rep called to ask if we'd be in the shop later that afternoon.  Where else would we be?  Well, we might be at a tasting of Bordeaux wines being shown for several hours by a prominent competitor.  We called that firm's sales rep, who had just been in the shop an hour before!  We inquired about this tasting and were told "Oh, sh*t!  Yeah, we've having a tasting of 2000 Bordeaux.  I can't go.  You might want to go, though.  It starts right about now..." 

Another sales rep had been on vacation for a couple of weeks.  When he returned he asked if we found any new wines at his company's tasting the week before.  Since we we're only at that moment learning about this event, of course we did not make any new discoveries.  We asked him how we were supposed to know about this event, since he had not informed nor invited us to this event.  "I thought you knew." he said.
Meanwhile, participating vendors were charged hundreds of dollars for the privilege of pouring their wines (this person had $1400 worth of samples open) at an event to which many customers were not invited!
A big-wig with this firm with whom we spoke said they attributed the small attendance to Mr. Bush's war in Iraq.


One large firm had organized a lovely tasting with a particular theme of wines.  In fact, some dear friends of mine were to be participating in this tasting.  I knew my friends were coming to San Francisco on their way for a vacation in Hawaii, but I knew nothing of their trade tasting until 48 hours prior to the event.  There were two other trade tastings that day and Mrs. Winemaker and I went to these, asking prominent retail and restaurant folks if they were going to this third tasting that afternoon.  None of them had been invited and none had, as a result, planned to devote time to attending.  We arrived and noticed a couple of sales reps frantically phoning nearby customers, hoping to cajole them into coming.  One of the organizers of the event later told me he was thrilled by the attendance.  "We had 200 people come!"  But despite a strong sales day, it didn't really bother this fellow that a significant percentage of the crowd were people associated with the distributor, not customers.  I would be concerned when I see more people from the sales firm than customers of this outfit!


One firm scheduled a tasting of both its wine and spirit portfolios.  As this particular firm is skittish about giving its customers a price list (go figure), I am not well-versed as to their current offerings.  Being a very small account for this distributor, I felt attending their trade tasting would be a good idea as I could determine if they had products of interest to our customers.  The event was held on a day when I would normally be working by myself and so I asked a colleague to kindly come in on her day off to work.  She did and I drove for an hour to the tasting location.  The event was to take place in a small hotel in the South Bay.  Curiously, there was plenty of parking and this only made sense a few moments later when I asked the desk clerk where the wine-tasting was being held.  "What wine tasting?" he asked.  I showed him the tasting announcement with his hotel's name and address on it.  Befuddled, he called around..."We don't know of a tasting here, sir."  In the meantime, I phoned the distributor.  The receptionist was clueless, but directed my call to someone who might know.
This individual cheerfully told me "Oh, we postponed the tasting.  It's in two weeks.  Would you like me to connect you with your sales rep?"
She did and he was most stunned that we had not received some sort of announcement about the new tasting date.  My colleague was displeased with this news, pointing out this rep had been in the shop just a week earlier and said NOTHING about the new tasting date.
I sent the firm a polite e-mail suggesting each and every rep be sure to contact each and every account that had received an invitation to preclude this sort of calamity.  My message, though polite in tone, did not merit a response apparently as I never did receive any sort of acknowledgement to my suggestion.



If you're lucky enough to have a vacation (or have a "road trip" to visit wineries), please alert your customers that you're going to be away.

Otherwise, if you've been gone for some time frame and have missed a sales call or two, the buyer will think you're unreliable.

We had asked a rep to please stop by more frequently (like every two weeks) so we could buy more wine from her.
After making this request, we then did not see her for three or four weeks.
When she finally visited us, we asked where she's been and how often she will call on our account.
She then revealed that she'd been on vacation for two weeks.
We asked how we would know this.  Had we missed an email message announcing her being away?
"If you had sent me an email, a vacation message would bounce back."
You're making it the customer's job to find out you're away?
That adds to your sketchy reputation for reliability, doesn't it?




Planning ahead is a good idea.

If you have merchandise which is appropriate for a particular time of the year, season or holiday, why not present it?

Our shop carries some wines all year long, but which might be a good impulse item on the counter if we had a gentle reminder to be sure we have sufficient stock.  There's a German white wine with a black cat on the label which is a good item for Halloween.  So's the "Vampire" label of wines from Transylvania (the wines are decently made, not exceptional and not expensive).

How about mentioning or showing the cru Beaujolais of "St. Amour" before Valentine's Day?
The same time is also a good opportunity to sell Rosé Champagnes.

If you have some Kosher wines in your portfolio, why note plan on presenting them to accounts a month, or so, prior to Passover?

But another facet of holidays is that they mess up normal delivery schedules.

Some distributors, which generally deliver Tuesdays through Fridays, often schedule Monday deliveries when it's Thanksgiving on Thursday and a short week.  I'm surprised that some of the reps for large companies don't know their trucks are available to bring merchandise to customers on a Monday if they'll order on Friday before "cut off."

If you have information that may be helpful to your customers, why not drop them an e-mail, reminding them of your available delivery times???
This may save you from having to make those painful "will calls" to put out a fire.

Some sales reps seem to believe if there's a holiday such as Thanksgiving the week they're supposed to make a sales call, oh well, too bad.
Wouldn't you think it might be a good idea to contact a buyer the week before that holiday to see if they need anything.
You might send an email saying "I should see you next week, but it's a major holiday and I can't make it by this week...Is there anything you need to carry you through the big day?"
Instead, apparently, they think they get a pass and don't have to show up.
Are these people paid on a commission basis, or what?



I know some competitors who won't attend certain trade events, saying "Why should I attend?  They show me their wines and then won't sell them to me!"

We view these sorts of functions as an opportunity to taste, evaluate and BUY wines.

If some wineries have sales policies such as "We only sell to restaurants," perhaps this should be noted on their tasting roster or booklet handed out to all attendees.  
Or a sign on the tasting table of such a winery reading:
...Not a can of Chef-Boy-Ar-Dee Spaghettio's like your customers serve!"

Or a sign such as:

I discovered a few new wines at a recent tasting and the sales rep told me to please contact the head honcho of the firm, since she was "tired" of asking.  We wrote a note, receiving word back that one of the producers made 35% less wine.
A call to said winery found that, actually, they had made but 700 cases of wine this year, while the first vintage saw a total of 789 being made.
On the other hand, they augmented those 700 with a new bottling of 300 cases.
I don't know about your calculator, but 1,000 cases compared to 789 is not a 35% reduction on mine!

I did receive a lovely letter from the Head Honcho:

"Believe it or not, it is not all about selling. It is about discovering and educating our customers to our entire portfolio. "
"The wineries you are talking about are VERY SMALL production wineries. Let's face it, they don't need to sell any wine at all in the retail world.."

Why not have all these "special," hard-to-get wineries in one area?  Or, at the very minimum, please note on the tasting sheets which wineries are there to actively sell and promote their products and which ones are there exclusively for "education."


The sales rep for one firm asked me what wines I thought might be appropriate for the shop after their tasting.
I gave her a list, by e-mail, of about 5 or 6 wines from the tasting, saying I wanted the staff to have a look at these so we could select and purchase some of them.  Two weeks after the tasting, she still had not stopped by the store to show these wines.  Three weeks after the tasting she couldn't come by because it was "Election Day."
 I don't know if she was voting in Florida or Ohio.
Four weeks after the tasting she finally stopped by, but had just two wines.  Neither was on my list of possible candidates for the shop.  Five weeks following the tasting we had the start of the holiday season for the end of the year, meaning we will not be stocking her wines AT ALL, this year.  This is a sad waste of time, for she should have taken my list of wines and brought them by to show the crew.


We attended a tasting event of a small brokerage or distributorship featuring many seriously expensive wines.
There were 70-80 tables with each producer or sales rep pouring three to five wines typically.
That means there were perhaps 250+ wines being shown, yet the company allotted just three hours for this event.
Do the math:  250 wines in 180 minutes.
We arrived in time to start, but the venue did not have much parking, so we lost 20 minutes finding a parking space.
We tasted maybe 160-200 wines and found a few of these to be of interest.  We figured we would order a few of these.  The wines are so precious, aside from retailing for $200-$250 a bottle, they come in boxes of three bottles.
We placed an order for a few of these.
The rep informed us "You have to be an existing customer to buy wine from this winery."
We had purchased the 2012 but missed the 2013 as the company did not have a rep devoted to our account that year.  "Sorry, you can't have the new vintage."
We wanted to buy a three-pack of another highfalutin wine so we ordered the 2014.
"Sorry, you cannot buy the 2014 without buying the 2013."
It ended up being a waste of time, attending a trade tasting where wine producers were showing wines they allegedly had for sale.
In fact, they were merely taunting potential buyers, picking and choosing which potential customers were "worthy" of throwing hundred dollar bills at them.
Many of these brands are owned by wealthy people who made their fortunes in other industries.
They live in a different world and apparently have enough moneyed friends who can buy these wines so they really don't need customers and/or ambassadors.



For many sales reps, "ride withs" are a major pain in the neck.  A "ride with" is when someone from a winery or sales company asks to accompany you on a tour of potential customers.  This usually means you're expected to spend your day focusing on their line of products.

We often hear from sales reps that this sort of a day is usually not especially productive.  But we think this sort of excursion can be incorporated into one's regular sales call.

Why not explain you'd love to introduce said "ride with" to your accounts, "but please understand I still have to conduct my regular business."  This tips off the "ride with" that you're a professional sales person and have "work" to do.  You might ask the "ride with" what wines they'll be bringing and if they wouldn't mind putting together a pricing sheet of these products for your customers (and one for you).  You might ask them if there's any special pricing promotions they're featuring and to note these on the sales sheet.

Some "ride withs" are very professional, knowing about their products, their pricing and how to engage your customers in meaningful conversation.

I would suggest you brief this individual as to the sales history of each account you're calling on.
Or consider sending them a list of your planned itinerary on the appointed day.  Some of the brighter lights will take this information and have a quick look on the internet to see what sort of prospects they might have with the various accounts you plan to visit.
It may be difficult to explain to your "ride with" that not every account is going to be interested in their lovely wines.

Given that the number of "corked" or flawed bottles is on the rise, you might suggest they bring a back up bottle of each wine they'd like to show your customers.  Having the bottles chilled to the right temperature is a good idea, too.

Though we have a small collection of memorabilia, I'm surprised more reps don't bring poster-sized labels to tack up in the shop, corkscrews for the sales staff and other little reminders (or "thank you's") to keep their name on the minds of the buyer and, more importantly, the "sellers" of their products.

Former Winery Ambassador Rebecca Chapa posted a wonderful essay commenting on her perspective of "The Work With" on her blog.
Click HERE to have a look...

There's another great article written by a fellow who has made hundreds of sales calls as a "brand ambassador."  He has a terrific essay on his perspective of a "ride with."
Click HERE to have a look at that article.

"Ride Withs" become very scarce during boom times.  That's because they don't "need" to sell wine when it's a seller's market.  When it's a buyer's market, however, the shoe is on the other foot and you'll have an endless flood of people wanting to ride with you every day of the week.

Most sales reps ask if it's okay to bring someone by the shop.  Of course, in doing so, you run the risk of getting a negative response.  On the other hand, that does allow you to bring the "ride with" to accounts which are more potentially receptive to their wines.

As a buyer, I can tell you some days (lately), it's non-stop and we don't have time to SELL WINE!
In 2017, with the market for wine being jam-packed, we've been inundated with visitors.  I often reject seeing various purveyors, having perhaps tasted the wines at some trade event or having ordered a glass of their wine while dining out.  Or I've been on a tasting panel someplace and already had a look at their wines...
I often detect a note of desperation on the part of some sales reps and those who are helpful to our business will get a nod with the notation that "If you're really in need of filling the day, go ahead and bring them by."

In a certain way, many times a "ride with" is nothing more than you holding someone's hand to try to sell their wine.  Or they're holding yours in an effort to woo your customers to their products.

We hope you, at least, get a good meal from this experience.

We had not seen a representative from an un-named winery (let's call it Chateau Chardonnay) in about 10 years.  One day a fellow showed up with the distributor rep to show us their current line-up of Chardonnays.  We find the wines to be rather nice, but this firm has the idea that their product is really at its best in restaurants, especially the $20 entry-level bottling.
We explained that we had been a first vintage customer going back to the 1981 vintage and we are interested in their wines but, over the years, this winery has had the idea that we do not merit carrying their wines.  They have a tiny window of opportunity to buy the wines for retail.  However, restaurant accounts can make a purchase any time they like.
The fellow was not particularly sympathetic, asking "Well, what should we do since we don't have enough wine to meet the demand?"  I responded that taking care of your "foundation" accounts, those who helped you build the place would be a good idea.  "I wouldn't open new markets until the supply is sufficient."   I argued that it might make better business sense to take care of long-standing customers, rather than dropping them to place your wine in the newest, trendiest eating establishment that has never bought a bottle from you and will, likely, be "history" in six to twelve months.
The banter went on for a while and we tasted some lovely, elegant, refined wines.
At the end the fellow placed an informative sheet on the counter regarding a new, deluxe bottling.
"I notice you didn't bring that one in to taste." I said.
"Well, we only have so much and it's quite limited...blah, blah, blah, blah, blah...."
When I inquired as to how we are going to speak knowledgeably about this wine he told me "You sell this based on the reputation of the winery."
I explained "No.  You see, we are a wine merchant business.  WE have a reputation and we'd be most interested to taste your wine so we can tell prospective customers about it."
He was not impressed, it seems.
"Well, you carry so-and-so's White Burgundy, I noticed." he said.
"Yes, and their importer hosts an annual tasting so we might be familiar with their wines." I replied.
The fellow, by the way, never presented a business card (maybe he doesn't want to have customers pestering him for wine?).
The sales rep later noted how interesting that the young wine buyers in the restaurant accounts the winery so desperately seeks had little interest in their wines since they don't have the huge oak, alcohol or slight residual sugar of Chardonnays these "kids" seem to prefer.  As is a frequent occurrence, here is a winery which prefers to sell its wines to customers who want it the least, not to those who are receptive to their products, price point and style.

1. Schedule your "ride with" well ahead of time to allow the sales rep time to coordinate with accounts.  This might be a month or two ahead of time.  And then, please show up on time.  Some folks don't value the time of the sales rep or the account...if I'm expecting you to show up, please know you get "minus points" for bailing out at the last minute.
Please don't plan on accompanying sales reps on "holiday" weeks.
They hate it and accounts are not happy to see you, either...
If there's a Monday holiday, your driving around with sales reps during a 'short' week is impractical as your accounts have less time to deal with reps in placing orders and time is short for putting away shipments/deliveries.

2.  Please know that they have other fish to fry in order to pay the rent, so don't been upset if they engage the account to order other merchandise.
(You're there, really, planting seeds...the sales rep may have some harvesting to do.)

3.  If you've got any sales acumen, you'll want to scope the account ahead of time...why not ask the rep where you'll be visiting so you can have a look on the internet (if you're unfamiliar with the account) to see if they're a serious wine emporium or merely a 'liquor store.'  Once in the account, consider poking around to note a few things including "Do they have room for my wine?" and "What wines of my competitors are they carrying?"

4.  Please have some sort of story to tell.  I'll often ask those riding with our sales rep "Why do we need your wine?"  Amazingly, many of these marketing folks have not given this any thought beyond the fact that "Our wine received a 90 point rating from The Wine Magazine."  Big whoop-tee-do!  So do half the wines made all over the planet.  What makes yours so special?
One "ride with" justified the $85 price tag on their Cabernet with "We lose money on our $40 Chardonnay."
Another fellow told me their wines were costly because "We hired high-priced winemaking talent along with a sommelier to conduct tastings at our winery."

5.  Don't be offended if I ask you some pointed questions about your marketing. 
One marketing genius showed up with a $12.50 wholesale price on a Pinot Noir.  I asked her how I could possibly sell this when a nearby competitor was offering it for $9.99 at retail.  She proudly told me that the two wines were totally different, though made by the same winery.  The one for $12.50 was the entry level bottling, while the one being sold by the competitors for ten bucks was the higher-priced, reserve bottling.  And she said this with a straight face, much to my surprise and the shock and horror of the distributor rep.  The nice distributor rep will never sell this "ride with's" wines and neither will her colleagues.
Another marketing whiz kid was surprised that I'd be unwilling to buy her $360/case Napa Cabernet when it was being offered by an on-line flash site for $372 a case to consumers (with free shipping, no less!). 

6.  KNOW YOUR S#@* !!!
A poor fellow from a modest-sized distributor had a young guy he was dragging along to show a Prosecco.
The Prosecco-Meister mentioned that his was a "Champenoise"-styled Prosecco and it was "the only one in the market."
Really?  We have two bottle-fermented examples in our shop.
I asked him about the dosage in his bubbly, referring to the amount of residual sugar.
He looked perplexed.  Of course he was perplexed...he had no idea what a dosage refers to.
We looked at the bottle, tasting a perfectly dull fizzy white wine and we asked him to show us where, on the bottle or label, it was noted as being a bottle-fermented bubbly.
"Oh, it's not bottle fermented," he explained.  "It's fermented in large tanks."
A member of the distributor's management team confided that this fellow tried to B-S them at a staff tasting and they told him he would be "called out" if he trotted out this misinformation.
He didn't heed their advice, for one thing and he demonstrated he knows virtually nothing about sparkling wine, be it his or others.  

7.  Telling an account which wine you're presenting is "your favorite" is totally useless.  I am, however, glad you've got something in your portfolio that you enjoy drinking.


A fellow who visited our shop some years ago happened to find this web page.  He's working with a distribution company in Deutschland and he sent me a note re-introducing himself (and asking if he could use these suggestions and stories as an educational tool for his sales reps).
He recalls his visits to Weimax and tells about his days riding around with sales reps in an effort to sell wine.

The first visit to your shop was Jake I think his name was Higgins from NW Wines and later with Ms. MS the Austrian lady from R-W Imports.
I was always very surprised by the speed you've tasted my wines and by the clear precise questions you've asked. You were the first, who ever asked me about the age of our barrels and things like that.

By coincidence I found your home page today and was happily surprised by your folder "How to be a sales rep". You're telling totally the truth but I think that you're maybe a little bit too polite if it comes to work or ride withs.

I was traveling throughout the US at least 5 trips each of 3 weeks a year for 6 years and was always positively surprised by shops like yours and trust me there are not a lot which are not point-driven instead of palate driven.
Most shops and buyers are not very well trained to taste wines, they are looking for points and prices and they don't have a clue what their customers are looking for.

Coming back to sales reps and work with. I personally figured out that a lot of sales reps are not very well organized and that they are stealing your time because they are not listening to their customers and they are not taking notes of what competitors wines are in the shelves and what is able to sell and what not in their region.

Jake was the opposite and I've met some more which did a good job, but most of them they don't listen to their customers. 

Let me explain one situation. It was at a wine shop in Georgia, I think near Atlanta. The buyer told my sales rep that he really believes in dry or at least halbtrocken German Rieslings and we've shown up the second time, I think it was a year later with the same sales rep and we were showing Qba off-dry, Kabinett, Spätlese and Auslese and I was looking at my sales rep and was asking him if why he was not doing notes. If I can remember 1 year later what kind of wine the retailer is looking for then I think that I can expect the same thing from my distributor/sales rep.

Most of these guys don't think that we have to pay for tickets, hotels, restaurants ....

A lot of times I really believe that we all would be able to sell more if the sales reps would be better prepared and listen in advance to their customers and taking the right wines to their customers.

Sometimes the sales rep should be more mindful of what might sell in a particular account.  Other times, and what our German friend might not quite understand, is the importer or distributor may be focused on wines they have in greater quantities.
We routinely see visitors with wines which won't at all work for a store such as ours.


A French fellow showed up one day with a good rep wanting us to taste his wines.
When he set the bottles on the tasting counter, I probably rolled my eyes and could not keep my usual "poker face."
I tasted a few of the samples, all factory-made plonk of no interest to anyone with half a palate.  The wines might be suitable for a really dodgy dining spot but they are not the kind of wines anyone will go out of their way to buy, even if they're cheap.
This was a real waste of time for everyone, but the distributor doesn't care about the charade they're asking the rep to pull off.
I explained we have no interest in this sort of plonk and he asked where I might suggest they go to sell this portfolio.
I suggested the wines might work in grocery store chains.
"Oh no," he told us.  "We want to place these in good restaurants and fine wine shops."
All I can say is they're totally clueless.
I felt bad for the sales rep, unless the guy treated her to a nice dinner with wines of greater quality than the crap he's selling.


A local rep was trying to line up an itinerary of accounts to show off a modest quality wine with a sophomoric brand name and label.  It's aimed at young people who will get a kick out of the mildly risqué label.
We had tasted this wine some years ago and apart from the wine being of poor quality, the female staff members were even more offended by the brand than I was (and I was not interested in having this in the shop just because of the label -- and I'm usually pretty open-minded and have a wicked sense of humor--).
I replied with an email saying we have no interest...go fishing elsewhere.
She responded saying she was not having much luck in setting up a tour.
I sent another missive saying here's precisely why we are not interested and this included some definitions of the brand name.  Admittedly, these were a bit rude, so perhaps I deserved the admonishing response demanding I never send her that sort of thing ever, ever again.
Well...okay...but she opened that can of worms in the first place. 



We were reminded recently of a distributor that fired its long-time sales rep in favor of a fellow they viewed as smarter, sharper and whom they figured would make a better "impression" in the market.  The long, established rep was, certainly, not a Rhodes Scholar.  But he did have several things going for him: he showed up in every account on a weekly basis.  He always had a bag full of bottles to show people and he routinely wrote orders as a result.   But his long employment with this firm was, we suppose, not valued, and they cut him loose.
The new rep arrived one day soon after and announced in a loud voice which could probably have been heard from here to a block down the street that he "worked in Acme Liquors down the road for two years and then opened the Zenith Wine Emporium in San Francisco, so I know about wine!"  We didn't mind hearing this, but, of course, the names of competing shops need not be shouted out in another store, especially when the store has customers looking around for wines.
On a succeeding (maybe that's not the right word, but I think you understand) sales call, this smarter, sharper sales rep encountered a customer here whom he'd seen in one of his other places of employment.  As we were tallying up this customer's purchase of a half a dozen bottles, the sales rep tells the customer "If you are looking for good Burgundy wines, be sure to visit Jean-Pierre Le Beauzeaux at Zenith...he's got some great wines!"
Even the guy's top level bosses couldn't believe this fellow turned out to be dumber than the fellow whom they'd regarded as "Doofus."  I don't think the Rhodes Scholar lasted a year and within two years the distributorship actually shut its doors!

As we're placing orders with the sales folks of the largest distributors in the State, a marketing company gal arrives toting her bag o'bottles.
She tells us she's been asked to visit us by the rep from Company A.  The Company A rep happens to be standing right there and politely informs her that he is, in fact, the Company A sales rep for the account.  He's a sharp fellow and doesn't miss a beat.  He asks her to show us what wines she's brought.
I asked what she had and I heard her say "A Sauvignon Blanc from the Loire," so I asked if she could be more specific.  She didn't seem to know so the gal fished the bottle out of the bag and showed it to me.  I then asked what was the price of her Sancerre.
This was another baffling and difficult question as she did not know.
"Doesn't virtually every potential customer ask you how much the wines cost?" I asked.
"Well, yes, but not until after they've tasted them."
This bottle, you see, was unopened, so she still had time to look up the answer.
I suggested she might be better prepared and know the pricing of her wines.  She said her company has, perhaps, 200 items, so knowing them is rather impossible.
I suggested she, at the very least, write the pricing on a card or on each bottle, so she'd make a better impression on customers.
She had 4 to 6 bottles in her bag that day.  Having a clue about the pricing of such a small number of bottles should be easy and simply part of the day's routine.

Many stores are not staffed by wine-savvy people.  We can understand a sales rep trying to assist a store's customer to make a selection or find something.
Recently a rep, making her first call at the shop, butted in as one of our staffers was assisting a customer who wanted to buy a case of wine.
This gal took it upon herself to suggest some wines to our client, which was a bit awkward, since we did not have the items she was suggesting.
This did not endear her to our crew.


We had asked the area sales manager for a particular portfolio of wines to contact us.  One of his wines had changed distributorships and, in the process, the price changed dramatically.
I wanted to see if a wine we'd been buying for $7.50 was really going to now wholesale for $12.
The month of November went by.  Nothing.
In December, we understand, he was planning to stop by on Christmas Eve Day (the busiest day of the year) but was dissuaded by the distributor rep.
In January he didn't bother contacting us, but he finally found time in February.
I asked what took him so long???
I also said we got the message that having their wine in our shop was clearly not hugely important to this company.
"Oh no.  It's really important!" he countered.
"Well, if it's that important, you might have touched base when we first called, not three months later."
( see, this is where I earn my reputation as a 'difficult customer' because I cling to the often-mistaken notion these people signed up to do a particular job and I get a bit bent out of shape when they don't do it.)
So then I asked "What's your best price on the Chardonnay, please?"
"Nine dollars a bottle is the best we can do."
"Alright...well, I was selling it for $9.99, so that's not going to work so well, but thanks for stopping by."
"Okay...wait...okay...Eight Dollars!"
Now you see, I asked what the BEST PRICE was and he quoted $9.
Now that I've said "No," that BEST PRICE is suddenly $8.
I'm one little independent store.  If he can go down to $8, what will he do when some big chain store comes calling?
The same feller came by with a winery rep to show some wines.  One of the wines cost $136 a case, but it's retailing at a local shop for $13.99.  He said he was willing to do something illegal to allow us to possibly be able to retail that wine at a price matching the competitor.
I passed on that magnanimous offer, however.


Years ago we used to have pay phones and phone booths...You didn't hear people conducting business (or having a private conversation, with everyone in the area able to listen in).

Many sales reps carry a cell phone at all times.  This is fine, of course, and probably a good idea.  But we'd suggestion turning them ringer to "silent" when going into a place to make a sales call.  You can have the phone vibrate when there's a call or text message coming in, but it shouldn't distract you (or the buyer) from taking an order.

If you do need to make a call (or receive one), why not step outside the shop or restaurant so you can conduct your business in relatively privacy?
Do you want the buyer to hear you're getting an order for 10 cases of something from a competitor?  Do other sales reps need to hear what business you're transacting?

We've seen some reps using their I-Pad or laptop to make some transactions while waiting to make a presentation...this seems fine to us, as long as the rep isn't distracted to the point of not being able to get our order transcribed properly.

You may want to have a cell phone charger in your car to allow you to recharge your device while driving from account to account.



Mary Redmond Woodworth of the Central Coast wine company called HarvestGate says "Don't forget to say thank you and a note is
always nice.  Make it prompt.  It's a good way to get your name in front of the buyer again.  Most importantly, it shows respect for his/her time."

One young lady would always send a nice little card after taking an order, thanking the buyer (and staff members) for tasting her line-up of wines and for making a purchase.
I'm not sure this is a good idea if you're taking orders on a weekly basis, but it is a nice touch for the staff to know the sales rep appreciates their efforts in selling the wines.



We have been at our "post" for decades and have seen hundreds of sales reps come and go.

In some cases, we are sad to "lose" a sales rep, while in other instances, the rep did a poor job and so it was no great loss.

Sometimes a sales or distribution company changes a rep's roster of accounts.  Sometimes the sales rep quits and moves to Timbuktu, caring little if they burn a bridge (with intent or inadvertently).   The wine business is a small world, though, so if you intend to remain in it, keeping the doors open should you wind up in a different position is probably not a bad idea.

It's a good idea, then, to alert all your soon-to-be former accounts that you are no longer calling on them.

We've been surprised with the sudden changes of sales reps...sometimes nobody new shows up for months, leaving us wondering why So-And-So suddenly became such a slacker!

One sales person, who had antagonized us about "not wanting to buy wine from her" was hired to be the California ambassador for a winery whose wines we featured and sold well.  The distributor's sales person was tasked with "riding with" this woman and they were a bit shocked when she balked at coming into our shop "not wanting to f*@&-up the sales of our wines at that account."
Clearly she harbored guilty feelings about how she'd behaved when calling on us.

One rep said he'd pay a visit in a week.
A month later, we had not heard from him.
I finally dropped him a note and he told me he was no longer calling on this territory.
I told him our last communication was that he'd be here in a week and a month later we had not heard from him nor had anyone from that distributorship contacted us to say there had been changes in their representation.
Sensing I was a bit agitated and having read this web page, he told me he didn't want to be made to "feel like a criminal or like he'd done something wrong."
"Well, put yourself in the position of the accounts you were calling on.  You abandoned those accounts by not sending out a note saying there were changes in the territory and that you would no longer be calling on them.  Maybe thanking them for their business would be a good idea.  But in my case, you told me you'd be here in a week and here it is a month later and I've not heard from you.  You've had the idea someone else would call on your old accounts and they've likely not heard from anyone, either.  So you look like a slacker."

Two days later the fellow sent out a nice note thanking accounts for their business and explaining he was not calling on the territory any longer.
Maybe I'm not as much of a knucklehead as some sales reps think I am!

Another rep felt the need to "fire" us.
Months earlier she'd become enraged when we'd placed some last-minute orders during the holiday season.  She was out of the country and we contacted a couple of her affiliated companies a few days prior to Thanksgiving.  One company was willing to put 5 cases on the truck for the following day, despite our calling after "cut-off."  The rep was 8 or 9 time zones away in Europe, so it was at 10 or 11pm there when we'd have initiated contact.  Not being certain of the rep's ability to respond immediately, we made the "mistake" of going directly to the source.

The rep threatened to give up our account when perhaps a simple "thank you for your order" was more appropriate.
This individual has had a number of European vintners to "ride with" and a couple of these did not go well in her view.  I'd questioned a vintner who claims as a marketing feature, the philosophy of being environmentally-conscious, about the use of synthetic "corks" as a closure for his bottles.  I also pointed out the high level of H2S in one of his wines.  He blamed that on the inclusion of a particular grape in his blend.
Gee, we have varietal wines made of that grape and the wines are perfectly clean.

Another time she arrived, well after our tasting hours.  We were short-staffed.
It took about 20 minutes for the visiting winemaker to explain to a Weimax staffer every detail of his $240/case Pinot Blanc.  Then he explained the next two wines from the vineyard to the glass, leaving out only the details of his flight from Europe to California.
She finished tasting and went to lunch, leaving me by myself.
I tasted the first wine and asked that they only tell me the price.
As he poured the second wine, the phone rang and I told the customer I'd gladly take their order and would be with them in a moment.  I'd been standing by 6 feet from the rep and the ride-with.  I left the room , took the customer's order to be delivered to a birthday recipient and picked up the glass.
This Pinot Blanc is $320 a case. Ouch.
The last wine was a little red which I thought was good if it cost $144 to $160 a case.  It was $192.
I asked, then, how much that wine cost at the cellar door as just that day a German friend had asked for some tips for his little wine tour vacation.
The fellow said the wine cost twelve Euros.
Okay...too much...I knew my friend would be happy if it cost 6 or 8 but it's not worth 12.
The sales rep became agitated and jammed the samples into their tasting bag and said "You know, Gerald, why don't you just go out to SFO, hop on a plane and go buy these wines at the bleeping cellar-door?"
Look, the wine is worth what it's worth.  
I checked the vintner's web site and, in fact, it was selling for 9 Euros, not 12.
I suspect he inflated the price so his wholesaler's pricing would not seem so extreme.

A week later the rep came in with her lovely, charming smirk and said "Bet you didn't think you'd see me again, did you?"
Well, why not?
She said she would never bring in another winemaker because we were so disrespectful.
Apparently, our putting a 'pause' on the last tasting so we could help our customer was viewed as rude.  We should have asked permission, apparently.

A week later, another rep stopped by and announced he was taking over the account for Miss Manners.
(By the way, we are still good friends with Miss Manners and we dine out periodically.  I even bring some killer bottles of wine.)


Another Rep "Fired" Us
We asked a sales rep if the company billed a competitor the price as they billed us.
She said they did.  The price list has most of the wines as "net" priced (not discounted) and a small percentage have a three case "stand alone" price or a 5 case Mix & Match for the same pricing.
We routinely order 5-8 cases per order.
We pressed the rep to ask management if they billed this other account at the same pricing.
The rep seemed a bit embarrassed to admit, after inquiring, that they do indeed offer disparate pricing to another customer.
We might have understood the extra discounting had the competitor been buying a pallet of some wine, but we had paid $10 a bottle for an item and the competitor was billed $8.50 a bottle when purchasing three boxes as part of perhaps a 20 case order.
The company, apparently, is unwilling to suggest if we buy 20 boxes, they would offer us the same pricing.
We have, by the way, assisted this company in getting the "franchise" to import a few brands of note and the owner has asked us to help with some knowledge about previously-imported wines (does the old importer have any remaining inventory?  How much?  And at what price?)
The owner needed to know the current market pricing for a particular type of wine and we did some research, providing prices of competing products of perhaps 30 other brands.
Maybe this assistance is of some value?  Might a "thank you" be appropriate?
We suggested to our rep that equitable pricing would be appreciated and might help them sell more wine.
A 9 case order that week arrived with the usual pricing.
Less than 2 weeks later we placed a 7 case order, but three cases were out-of-stock.
"I'll get you our best pricing even though you don't have 5 cases coming, don't worry."
The four boxes arrived the next morning and that $10 bottle is now $10.67.
We immediately checked the computer for their on-line pricing and this item was posted at $128/case as its "front-line" (non-discounted pricing) and $120/case for three stand-alone or 5 case mix and match.
The rep did not answer the phone at 8am when the delivery guy was here so we returned the order and figured this error was due to our not having 5 cases on the truck.
At 10am the rep called and we explained the situation.
"Oh no, I did get you best pricing.  We raised the price to $136 frontline and $128 now is the best price."
The online price-list shows the same price we had been paying.  $120/case.
The rep should have given us a "last call" on the pricing before it increased.
But even so, they could sell this to another account  just a few weeks earlier (and during the same month) for $8.50 and now every other account can pay $10.67.
"Look" we told her, "send us a five case order tomorrow and send the wine at the pricing you have advertised on your web site.  If the wine arrives at a price different from what you're advertising, I will simply send back the order."
No personal insults, by the way...just a firm demand the wine be sold at its currently-posted pricing.

At the end of the day the owner of the company called to berate us for mistreating his sales rep.
This was a shocking development, frankly.
The rep has been on this job for less than 2 years and it seems was emotionally scarred by being told the wine would be returned if the advertised pricing was not honored.
The owner said he was not sending our order and we would not be seeing this rep in the future.
We tried to explain to this fellow the pricing dynamic was at the heart of this matter.
"I'm not here to discuss pricing," he told us.  "You're changing the subject and frankly I would change the subject if I were you."
We would be more understanding of his admonishments had we engaged in name-calling or personal insults to the rep, but we had been quite polite about this.

We still buy wine from this company as we find a number of good wines in the portfolio.  And we are loyal to our friends who make those wines and have been recommending these wines for many years, so there's a following for them at our shop.
But the onus, now, is on me to place orders, know what new arrivals they have, etc.
The distributor now provides very little service and sales will suffer.
The proprietor could have said "Let's meet this week with my rep and hash this out" or "I'll call on you personally" or "I'll ask another rep to come see you when they can."
Had we been out-of-line in mistreating the sales rep, we'd certainly apologize.
Now we simply place orders by email with the owner of the distributorship.  They don't send us a monthly price list or ask if we'd like to taste new releases.
It's remarkable.


I received a note thanking me for posting this informative and helpful article from someone who had just gotten a job in the wine industry.  They pointed out this page seems more negative and that we, somehow, have contempt for the sales reps who call on the shop.
We don't go out of our way to offend or abuse people.  We merely react to the people who are devoted (in one manner or another) to our account.

In fact, there ARE good sales reps.
The good ones show up on a regular basis, present new products and check on the inventory status of existing placements and make us aware of upcoming tastings and new releases.
Some know the price of various items and will advise us "You can save a dollar a bottle if you buy three cases of that item instead of two."  Or "We have that in six-pack format and our best price is on two boxes."
One rep is very good about checking his merchandise and is so helpful, he'll go do a "will call" (pick it up at the warehouse himself) if he sees we're nearly sold out!

The import buyer at a major shop recently "fired" a sales rep.  He'd been buying two or three boxes of a particular wine on a regular basis and only when the rep was on vacation and he called the order desk did he learn there's been a substantially better (lower) price had he ordered five cases.
This rep had been 'costing' his store money by not informing the buyer of "best pricing."

Some pay attention to the arrival of merchandise we've requested several times.
"We just received 20 cases...can I send you some of these?"

Others monitor the inventory of items we're working with.
"We are running out of that item.  Why don't I place an order for delivery in three weeks for several cases of that so you don't run out before the next release?"
"We just got word the last shipment is many cases would you like?"


Here's an article on the subject of hosting a trade tasting.


(If you're a sales rep with a wine company, please consider sending me your tales of woe about silly buyers.)
gerald -at-
















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