Behind the Scenes at …. A Wine Shop Sales CallBy Marisa D'Vari | November 6th, 2009 | Category: Interviews | 1 Comment »
“I gave up selling to restaurants,” the wine representative tells me, lining up samples of wine on the cool granite counter of the upscale wine shop, Columbus Circle Wines. “Every time I’d walk in, there’s be a new wine director, even younger than the last, thinking he knew everything about wine.”
This is the first in a series of stories looking at the many factors that go into how buyers at your favorite wine store make decisions on which wines to buy for their shop, and how wine sales professionals prepare to make a sale. If you’re like most people, you probably have not given the topic much thought. Perhaps you’ve entered a wine store on a busy Saturday when many offer tastings, liked what you tasted, and bought a few bottles or a case of that wine. Or maybe you were late for a dinner party, dashed into a store, and bought the first bottle that catches your eye. Either way, as I hope we will discover in the course of this series, there is a method to the seeming “madnesss” of how wine is selected, bought, and sold.
“I know you!” says the first saleswoman, who remembers me from a tasting of Languedoc wine, as she arranges her six sample wines and pours them for Phill D’Ancona, one of the several sales people who taste and buy wine for the shop. She begins to pour a French champagne, being careful to note its “friendly price.” She pours several more samples, with only one of them capturing my interest. It is a red Gaillac from Southwest France, very famous during the middle-ages. Fer, Duras, and Braucol are the grapes used in the traditional blend. The wine is rough and rustic, interesting and obscure. Wine geeks like myself seek out the unconventional, yet Phill explains that the store already carries two other wines from this region and a third would be a hard sell. In the end, she takes new orders for wines the store already carries from her company, packs the samples neatly into a carry-all, and leaves the shop.
The next wine salesman walks into the little room in the back of the shop, and Phill’s colleague (aka the wine buyer) takes the next turn as Phill goes to take the register and his colleague comes to taste the wine. Upon seeing that the salesman has brought almost a dozen wines, the wine buyer selects a few that would be of interest to him and begins to taste. The first wine to catch his attention is an Oregon Pinot Gris that tastes as if it has been matured in oak, yet there is no oak at all, just a stirring of the lees. Very rich, delicious, and smoky. It is really a very interesting wine, one, incidentally, that can go great with dishes associated with Thanksgiving dinner. The wine buyer likes the very attractive price offered with a five-case purchase, which comes out to $88 a case down from $136 for a single case. But five cases is too much for the wine buyer to take on, both in terms of storage space and selling a first time wine. The salesman suggests that the buyer and another wine store owner, also interested in both the wine and the discount, split the five cases.
During his presentation, the salesman is careful to name famous reviewers and publications who have written about the wine or given them points. “Here’s the #3 on the WSJ list,” is a typical way he introduces a new wine. Many of the producers he represents, for example, are ‘young guys’ driven by passion working two hectare farms (very small) and doing everything themselves.
Before the wine representative leaves, we chat a bit with the wine store buyer about the importance of labels. “Labels sell the wine,” the representative says. “When people rush in to a shop, they grab what appeals to them.” The buyer agrees. “And a black label is the kiss of death. It may look okay on a computer screen, but not on a wine shelf.” And what about the bold new labels to appeal to today’s young millennial generation, I ask. Both men laugh. “The colorful labels do sell the wine, especially more inexpensive wine. But it’s a mistake to put that kind of label on a very expensive wine,” says the representative, saying that many wineries are going through a label redesign to sell more bottles.
All in all, it was a very educational afternoon. Look forward to the next installment of this series, and send me an email to let me know if you’d like me to ask questions on your behalf! (story @ a wine story . com)
Columbus Circle Wines
New York, NY 20029
212 247 6020