The Ancients prayed for it. Gods and goddesses were created for it. Temples were raised and burned because of it. Dynasties arose and fell with it. And through the ages, mankind learned to live with it. Or without it.
So, as one of my childhood friend’s Jewish mamma said, “So now what’s the problem?”
Can abundance be too much of a good thing? Have we reached a tipping point when it comes to wine, and Italian wine, in the New World?
Maybe it is because we’re approaching Vinitaly (April 2-6) but there isn’t a day that passes without at least two or three emails from some hopeful producer in Italy looking to sell their wines. Their web sites still use that abominable interface Flash, even though years ago I admonished the Italian wine producers to lose Flash on their websites or lose potential customers. They didn’t listen. Now the spigots have been turned loose and they just want to get in, under the imaginary (but very real) limbo pole.
Dixie Huey is a bright young person who has a wine consulting company and a website to pass along her advice. Recently she wrote a great post, Seeking Distribution: Tips for New or Growing Wineries on How to Approach the Wholesale System (here in PDF format, great for forwarding), which is required reading for anybody looking to get into the American market. I have already sent it around the world several times this week. Read the post, forward the PDF file to anyone who has the dream of being in America. It is simple to understand, but hard to put into practice. But it’s golden advice for the cost of a few minutes of reading.
Now that is just for folks looking to enter into a traditional importer/wholesale channel. There are emerging and alternative ways to come to market. Several folks I know use a NY based importer that essentially provides compliance help with bringing the wines into the U.S., a warehouse to store the wines, and a delivery and invoice system for sending the orders to restaurants and retailers. My understanding is that this service is available on the east coast. But one of my friends, Andrea, has sold close to a container of wine in three months,by himself. And in these times that is pretty admirable. But let’s have no illusions about it; he worked the streets daily, up and down the subways, bag of wine samples, getting every last order. He didn’t send a fax from Portofino to see about his business. He was and is on the ground. And no, he won’t be going to Vinitaly to look for more wineries, he already has more than he can say grace over. But he’s paying his bills, and soon, he’ll even cut a check for himself.
If an importer actually asked me for my advice, about what to do right now, what would that advice be?
1) Bring us wines that aren’t over 14% in alcohol. They are just too darned tedious to drink. I don’t care if you put an ice cube in every bottle, get those alcohol levels down. If they can invent spinning cones and deep purple, for God’s sake, these winemakers can figure out how to make a wine that doesn’t burn going down.
2) Wean your winery off of small French oak barrels. Put the savings into vessels that can be used longer. The Romans invented concrete, or did you all forget about that?
3) Enough with all these fantasy names. You have line extended beyond all reason. Make a Chianti Classico as well as you can. And leave Merlot and Syrah (and Cabernet) to other countries.
4) Quit using the talking point, “We are making a traditional wine with an eye towards innovation.” That’s just a load of horse manure. Stop it.
5) You want to invest in your future in the American market? Then quit trying to make your Ferrari payment on every bottle. Invest by making less in the beginning, like my friend Andrea is doing. Take fewer vacations to Cuba or Sri Lanka and get back in the game. We don’t need any more absentee winemakers.
6) It doesn’t matter one iota if you are a count or a baron or any kind of titled person or that you are wealthy or famous or powerful. You want to succeed in the wine business in America? Get on over here, or hire someone to live and work here, and beat the streets, daily.
7) Don’t expect the wholesaler or the importer or Robert Parker or Gary Vaynerchuck to build your brand for you. You are the brand; pump your own damn gas.
We are here to work with you, not for you. We are not your slaves or your little young American idiots. We are not the center of the universe, nor are you. If you want to plant your feet in this sandbox and be successful, you’ll have to overcome any fear of work, of toiling in the fields of commerce, and in a setting that is crowded with lots of other hopefuls wanting to get their wines flowing in the American marketplace.