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Distributors, don’t block up the hall, for the times they are a-changin’


The first thing we do, let’s kill all the lawyers
Shakespeare, Henry VI (Part 2)

So I blogged last week on cult wines and got a private email. The only reason I’m not identifying the sender is because he explained he didn’t want to comment publicly on my blog, which is why he emailed me. (I have edited the original to shorten it).

Appreciated your article on “cult” wines and how to get them marketed…what you said really resonates.  I am a small, “boutique” producer who uses a custom crush (Crushpad), and  am very hands on, basically the wine maker. I am just releasing my 2005 Napa Cabernet – it’s from Beckstoffer ToKalon, and it is fantastic…and yet, it is still almost impossible for me to market it. The sad, general, response I get is “we love your wine but it has no scores and no name recognition.”  One distributor told me it was “the best Cabernet I have ever tasted…” but added “I won’t distribute it because it won’t sell, my clients are shallow and only buy wines Wine Spectator and Robert Parker have rated…”  Oh boy!  What an uphill climb.

Look, we have got to assign some blame here. The distributors routinely say, “Don’t blame us, we just reflect what we hear from buyers.” Well, let me tell you something about wine distributors. They do not have passion for wine. You, dear reader, have passion for wine, or you wouldn’t be reading my blog. I have passion or I wouldn’t be writing it. Wine magazine owners and editors have passion for wine, because Lord knows, wine magazines don’t make a ton of money. Wine merchants have passion; that’s why they work at wine stores. Winery owners have passion, or they wouldn’t have gotten into this business in the first place. Winemakers have perhaps the greatest passion of all. Everybody who works in the wine industry has passion, except for one class of people: distributors. Their passion is for a paycheck.

Without passion, wine becomes a commodity, no different from selling sub-prime mortgages or toilet paper. Without passion, a wine salesman becomes Willy Loman — not an heroic tragic figure, but someone to be pitied for his pedestrian outlook. There can be no moving forward in wine without passion, which is what the guy who emailed me sadly discovered. He put everything he’s got on the line, trying to do something new (not that there’s anything particularly new about another Beckstoffer To Kalon Cabernet, but that’s a different story). And what happens? Distributors break his back.

And it’s not only this guy, it’s hundreds of other small family brands in California, and thousands around the country, whom the distributors are trying to kill off. I don’t buy their crocodile tears: “Oh, we wish we could sell you. We really do. We really, really like your wine, and we really like you. But we’re afraid all we can offer you is this middle finger. Cheers!”

And by the way, who are these “shallow clients” the distributor referred to, the ones who demand Parker/Spectator scores? Certainly not fine wine stores that pride themselves on making their own selections. Certainly not fine restaurants, whose sommeliers or wine managers go to great lengths to choose wines that complement the chef’s food. Supermarkets? I don’t think the typical Safeway shopper knows or cares who Robert Parker is. So what is the origin of this Parker/Spectator thing? Sometimes, we see and hear what we want to, not what’s really there. I think distributors have convinced themselves that they can’t sell anything without Parker/Spectator’s approval. They remind me of the McCarthyites of the 1950s who saw Commies under every bed. Distributors see Parker/Spectator behind every sale, but it just ain’t so.

As for that distributor who told the emailer his Cab was the best ever “but I won’t distribute it”, he’s the poster child for everything wrong and stupid with the system.

We have got to break down the stranglehold the distributors have on the U.S. wine market. I say, the first thing we do, let’s…well, like Shakespeare said.

  1. Excellent anecdote. Reveals one of many things wrong with the current 3-iter system. Two points to add:
    1) Don’t forget that retailers are part of the problem too if they insist on scores before taking on a brand new wine. If the wine is truly that good, then there should be some outlets that will take it directly from him.
    2) I am assuming he is in California. This winemaker is luckier than some in the sense that he CAN sell directly to retailers/restaurants. Not so in most states. In reality, forgetting the scores thing, even if he did get a distributor, he would probably end up doing most of the “selling” himself. He is fortunate that he is in the prime market (Calif) for the kind of wine he makes. Alas, he needs distribs to get it outside the state. Sad.

  2. These statements, “Well, let me tell you something about wine distributors. They do not have passion for wine.” and “Everybody who works in the wine industry has passion, except for one class of people: distributors. Their passion is for a paycheck.” aren’t accurate. You know better than that. And if you don’t, I do.

    It echoes (and high fives) RMP’s recent rant about bloggers when he said they “are the source of much of the misinformation,distortion,and egregious falsehoods spread with reckless abandon on the internet.”

    These kind of things don’t move the discussion forward.

  3. What you hit on Steve was this idea of passion that fuels the wine industry.
    What a risky endeavor. What an outpouring of the soul into the glasses of discerning reviewers this industry is. It takes so much of yourself financially, emotionally, and physically to be a part of this business. And, I know. I’ve seen the people who do it first hand and have tried to help them the best I can. Yet the fact remains, for all the trials and tribulations–for every frost and stone-hearted distributor, passion dusts us off and gives the push forward. This anonymous e-mailer shares in this passion and because of that he has hope. It’s not enough to just be great, talent is so easily walked by everyday, but persistence and patience are virtues any winemakers knows all too well. And the very virtues which helped to produce his wine will help make it known. Just stay persistent and patient, the passion is enough to keep both running high.

  4. Steve – This could be a never-ending topic. The stories I could tell, and that’s just me. I know of some small books where the reps are extremely passionate. And I know a few retailers (and a few winemakers) who treat wine as a simple commodity.

    I met a passionate guy the other day who works for one of the big boys – he was unusually candid when he told me “only 2,500 cases? Talk to me when you are making enough for me to do something with.” He was genuinely sad; he loved the wines.

    The current state of the economy has a lot of folks running scared. Distributors large and small are dropping brands that encounter any resistance in the marketplace due to product mix, vintage, and especially price point. Distributors and retailers are stocking up on everthing sub-$15 wholesale ’cause they are afraid that anything more expensive won’t sell.

    And there is just a pricing bloodbath going on out there. Expensive Pinot Noirs with name recognition are giving DA’s and post-offs that are just astonishing. In the short term I think we will see more restaurants offering “50%-off nights” for certain wines on their lists.

    But your post speaks to a longer-term systemic problem: there are too few distributors, they are too big, and their sales people know too little. In one of my favorite posts ever on this subject, Samantha Dugan wrote “these grease ball ‘Sales Guys’ come in, (and they are salesmen, not wine guys….in fact many of them know nothing and could give a rat’s ass about wine) with their knock off suits, sunglasses perched on the back of their necks, fake tans and cheap shoes trying to offer us a ‘deal’….’we’ll give you a free case on five.’ Or ‘I’ll throw in a case of Brand X vodka…” There ia a real animus between the different levels of the three-tier system, and that ain’t good.

  5. To a large extent, it is sad that those who sell wine actually aren’t working hard to sell wine they believe is wonderful. But at the same time, those who produce cult-style wines have to realize they are targeting the people who buy based on scores. The people who pay $100+ for a cult wine want it because it’s highly allocated, highly rated and comes from a highly regarded source (vineyard or producer). So when it comes to shallow clients, the distributor probably isn’t exaggerating when it comes to ultra-premium wines. These customers are paying for the image of the wine more so than the contents of the bottle. That is the nature of luxury goods.

    As for consumers who are less driven by scores, those are probably consumers with broad interests. If they’re going to spend $100+, though, it probably won’t be on some new Napa Cab. It will probably be on a Cote Rotie or Barolo from a producer with a proven track record over decades whose grapes come from century old vineyards.

    While this cult producer’s passion should be lauded, I guess I’m just not that sympathetic to this situation where someone with the connections and money to buy fruit from a top Napa vineyard just decided to jump to the head of the line and price his wine like it’s a First Growth in its first vintage. Maybe if he started at $25 per bottle and priced higher as a reputation was built, but chances are the cost of buying the highest priced grapes and using a custom crush facility have pushed his costs far beyond a reasonable starting point that an estate winery would pursue.

    There are hundreds of small producers taking their own route who aren’t following fads, grow their own fruit and work to express it honestly. This is the real tragedy, I believe. The world does not really need another 95+ rated cult Cab. But there can be no shortage of wines that express their terroir from quality conscious producers. These are the producers all over the world who are getting the cold shoulder because they can’t be sold by their appellation or rating.

  6. Agreed with John Kelly.

    The repeal of Prohibition has created a perfect system for alcohol distributors to enjoy a quasi monopoly and consolidate quietly. Now we are at the point where only a few have survived this period of consolidation and they are unchallenged in their position. The only way things could change would be to really repeal prohibition and stop authorizing states to chose how alcohol should be sold within their borders (and avoid tons of lawsuits and weird local laws). Not sure how/when this could happen, but it would shake the system enough to open up new opportunities for all brands. In some way we are due for a shake up in the next 5-15 years.


  7. richard says:

    I commented to your cult wine post, but you did not address my points concerning distribution. In this post you choose to simply stereotype everyone in wholesale to suit your rant. It’s sad. There are plenty of “fine wine” shops in my state who only want Parker and Spectator reviewed wines, but you wouldn’t know that, since it’s clear from your statements that you’ve never had to try selling wine.
    In the past, I’ve told people in the trade to pay attention to your reviews, since you’ve often shown a greater affinity for acidity and balance as opposed to Laube and Parker. I’ve also turned people on to your book on the Russian River Valley. After your diatribe about wholesalers, and the way you’re so clearly certain as to the motivations of so many people that you don’t know, I believe I’ll stop recommending your writings. The next time people in the trade are dismissive of the Enthusiast’s impact on the market, I’ll just nod my head and agree.

  8. Left unsaid is the price of the wine. I have spent the past 3 years building distribution for a small central coast producer and we have found over 20 new distributors in that time. Most are very good, and care deeply about wine and the business. We have been successful without scores by selling wines that have a great price to value ratio. The fact is high end wines are not selling, unless it has something behind it (like a great score), and the distributor as a business person has no obligation to take on a product that doesn’t sell.

  9. Lesson #1
    Learn to sell wine before you actually produce your own.
    Lesson #2
    Distributors that sell liquor will never be interested in working for you. And, wine distributors may be interested if you can bring them a few orders.
    Lesson #3
    Good quality at the right price point will always sell. You’ll find it somewhere between the price you think it’s worth and free.
    Lesson #4
    Don’t underestimate the importance of personal relationships. Make friends.

  10. What an incredibly inaccurate portrayal of wine distributors! I work in this business and know dozens, if not hundreds, of passionate sales people that are bring new and exciting wines to market every day. How do you think new producers, emerging regions and obscure grapes hit the wine stores and restaurants? If it weren’t for us, your local wine market wouldn’t have as much diversity as it does today. Think before you speak! Who do you think reads your blog anyway?

  11. Amen to R.P.’s Lesson #4.

  12. Wow Steve. At first I thought I had misunderstood your original statement about all distributors being passionless. But then you repeated it several times with gusto.
    I have worked in the wine business since 1996. Although I am no longer working for a distributor, I did so for several years. With great passion.
    I continue to have many close friends and colleagues who work as distributor sales reps, managers or owners. All of them have an incredible amount of wine passion and knowledge.
    Although I often give them a hard time for being so pig-headed about new sales trends (direct to consumer and direct to trade), I would never question their passion for wine.

  13. Hi Steve,
    Read your interesting post and all the replies. My wife and I own a small Paso Winery and our experience with our small handfull of distributors has been good. They are all retired executives of some sort and are in the game because of their love of wine. They carry small books with small wineries. They nuture and support us. They get us into places that it would not be practical for us to reach. We welcome these types of distributors and appreciate all that they have done to help us grow our little operation.
    I will continue to read your blog, even when I disagree. Open discussions and wine are both on the path to the truth.
    Steve Christian

  14. When I read this blog I was not going to comment on it. But after reading it and the replies to it, I decided to add my two cents worth. What is missing from this story is the word “turn”. A distributors floor space is just as important as a liquor store shelves and cold box. A product must move and turn off the floor and shelf to maintain its relevancy. The mistake this wine maker did was not build any relations first before making his product. Therefore there was no business reason for a wholesaler to carry his product. What he needed was to have a marketeer with those connections who can help get his product into the system.
    Maybe this winemaker really did not examine his business plan properly before crushing those grapes.
    Sorta like someone jumping head first into the water without knowing the depth.

  15. Well, we worked 7yrs before making a wine, because we wanted it to come from a perfect(well, almost) vineyard. Perfect grape first, then try for a great wine. We sell 90% of our grapes and make wine out of the other 10%. Cerro Prieto Vineyard is doing well, thank you, and has been recognized by many wineries as well as others as a premier site to grow world class grapes. The wine part…well, let’s just say that for our 225 cases, we don’t even register on the “be noticed” scale. Instead, and this is for the original poster, we sell our wine to one customer at a time. There is no shortcut, there is no distributor. And here is the winner: We have to sell at 50% of retail to even get an audience with retailers. Our gold medal Merlot is priced at $39 and no one will take it for more than $19. Our Paso Bordo( 85% Cab/ 15% Syrah), is a favorite of all who have tried it, but it is priced at $49 so we can get $24 for it…and few want it at that. Most want $15 -$19 price points, and that includes restaurants, wine shops(here and in So. Calif), hotels, and so on. Honestly, i would love to have sold our merlot for 20 bucks and our Paso Bordo for 24. But we would have had to cut our price to $10 for merlot and $12 for our Cab/Syrah. Folks, that doesn’t pencil out, especially when we are making wine from one ton/ acre. Our bottle cost is $26. Chew on that one for awhile. This isn’t cut throat business. It is much more serious than that.

  16. Steve, you should have been a dentist (or a Vulcan) because you can really hit a nerve.
    No one asked the anonymous winemaker wannabe to go into the business and no one guaranteed his/her wine’s acceptance nor success. No victim here, just another volunteer. Perhaps had he/she taken an actual brick and mortar risk starting with talking directly with the folks who vote with their checkbooks? Your assessment of wholesalers is, of course, historically accurate and the three tier system (as we now know it) is a glutinous dinosaur whose days are finite thanks to the efforts of Family Winemakers, The California Wine Institute, consumer awareness and the global economy. I really liked Greg’s thoughtful comment.

  17. I have to agree with Jim, TJ and My Daily Wine.
    Have you actually sold wine Steve?
    I have worked for two different distributors for the past 12 years. How can you generalize and say that most distributors have no passion? I am passionate about wine. My co-workers are passionate about wine. I sell many unknown producers from California and all around the world. It’s interesting that I can sell 40 cases a month of Txakolina with a grape like Hondarribi Zuri with no Parker review @ $168 a case. It’s unfortunate that the economy has slowed sales of high end “unknown” wines. We have Napa Cab’s in our portfolio for $30-$120 wholesale with all the Parker reviews that are not moving. Our company has to pay month after month to store the wines. You can’t make someone take the wine. Do you buy high end wines Steve or do you just get free samples to write about the wine.
    Give me a break>

  18. Steve,

    You are welcome to give my e-mail address to this winemaker. We have relationships with 18-20 distributors that sell our wines that are not rated at all. We have built these realtionships over the past eight years, so it can work if you are persistent. I would be happy to be of assistance.

  19. Brian Mitchell says:

    For the past 15 years I have been selling wine as a distributor sales rep. I would consider myself to be pretty darn passionate about what I do. In fact, I would consider most of the people that work for my company to be pretty darn passionate about wine.

    Many of us have been doing this job for a long time, and have kept to this industry because of the love we have for wine – it certainly has not been because we are all rolling in money. Many of us have gone to the trouble to take wine courses and certificate exams (at our own expense) to enhance our knowledge and ability to tell the story of wine. One of my associates is about to sit the final MW exam this summer, as I will in a few years (hopefully). Some of us actually teach our own wine courses in order to help others better understand the world of wine (I even do it without sales sheets or in conjunction with any retailers). We belong to tasting groups that meet regularly, taste wine blind and then discuss them over food afterward.

    As far as not being able to sell wine without a high score…for a number of years now I have made it a point of my sales calls to not use media scores. I only work with wines that I like and have confidence in, and only as a last resort might I use a review, butonly after I have made the sale.

    I could go on but you already have your mind made up about those greedy distributor people who are just in it for the money. By the way, I have a portfolio that has plenty of “cult” wines in it. In fact we are sitting on a bunch of them and falling behind in vintages because there just don’t seem to be enough passionate retailers (or any sommeliers) with enough passionate consumers who want to buy these wines that no one has ever heard of (unless of course there is a 95+ scores to prove their worth).

    It is a good thing though that I also have a load of great small family producers who are willing to put up with no scores, little recognition and tons of pressure from big corporate wineries. Do you know why they are willing to put up with this? Because they know that (at least with my company) they have a committed and passionate distributor who is willing to go out everyday, tell their story, present their wines to the right accounts, spend countless nights and Saturday afternoons doing tastings, so that they can stay in business.

    The three tier system is the most efficient and cost effective way to move wine throughout this country. There is no better example of what things are like without the three tier system than the state of Pennsylvania, where the state is the distributor, selection is limited and wine prices are high – especially in restaurants which have to buy their wine at retail from the State.

    Stop bashing wholesalers. We’re not all the same.

  20. Steven Mirassou says:

    The take-away message here is that the wine BUSINESS is hard. Nobody owes you anything.

    In my experience, and my family has been selling wine through distributors since 1966, there are good wine houses and bad, passionate sales reps and those that are taking orders. If you are not willing to go out and sell every case yourself, get another job.

    The three-tier system is a disaster. Too few distributors, too few mega brands that control the salesperson’s time…all this is true. The bottom line, though, is if you’re in it for the “romance” find another line of work.

    Steven Mirassou
    6th generation winemaker

  21. ‘Look, we have got to assign some blame here.”

    Steve, you seem to be a smart guy; why you insist on continually fousting reductive and rather embarrassing comments such as this on your readers is beyond me. You’re not Howard Stern- we neither care for nor require these kinds of attempts at shock, if that’s what they are…

    There is no need for ‘blame’. I make wine. I wish the three-tier system was different or abolished. This kind of post really doesn’t do much for anyone, I’m sad to relate…



  22. Any new business requires extensive ‘market research’. Making good wine is barely 50% of the equation.

  23. Steve this post seems not well thought out. The descending responses hit on great points over and over. Quality importers breaking ground in the US market with great wines that no one has ever heard of requires passionate distribution. It has been mentioned before but the last thing anyone needs in their book is another $100+ Napa Cab (probably 15% alc.). Where is the passion in sourcing fruit from a name dropping vineyard and making your wine in a custom crush? I am sure this person is nice and believes in their wine, but passion is taking years to find the right vineyard sight and making the commitment and having the patience to see through a life long labor of love. Passion is finding the best Romaritan in the Loire Valley and spending years finding the right distribution and restaurants/retail to sell it. I am sorry but your this post is very short sighted and not representative of the reality of wine sales (especially these days).

  24. All great comments…all true. 1) wholesalers are not to blame….some carry over 8,000 SKU’s…what will motivate them to carry another wine…as one purchasing director used to say…there is only one type of good wine…the wine that sells…reality…distributors do not build brands anymore…to the producer…deal with’s reality…the small wholesalers have passion but have serious financial issues…they simply can’t buy a few cases of expensive wine and then hope they can sell it…this is not a good business practice for them…it’s one that will run them out of business.

    Bottom Line…it’s the responsibility of the producer to market their wine and create demand…period…it was not this way 10 years ago…but it’s the reality of the new world of the wine business in the USA.

  25. Steve, Thanks for making us aware of this archaic system of distribution. I am for moving forward and am willing to provide some solutions to the problem. Sell wine to those who are willing to take a chance on some great wines from small wineries by using VINOSHIPPER.COM
    Small wineries need this type of exposure. Let everyone who is a wine consumer and is internet savy that this is the wave of the future for small wineries to market their wines. VINOSHIPPER.COM

    Make lemonade from lemons….John

  26. El Guerillero says:

    I would like to offer a bit of insight to your anonymous winemaker: wine sales are as much about telling the story as they are about what’s in the bottle (in that the story is about the pursuit of what’s in the bottle). That he laid down a whole lot of money for a very sought after vineyard, and then laid down a whole lot of money to have the wine made for him by a very skilled winemaking staff doesn’t give him (I’m assuming this is a him – big napa cab) much of a story. It doesn’t even make him a winemaker, really. My advice is, if he really wants to be in the production side of the business, to put this wine in storage, sell it as he can, and spend the next five plus years working under one or several excellent winemakers. This is a trade, not a business, and you’ve got to put your time in if you’re going to be any good.
    Distributors, more than anybody else in the business, see the breadth of products and can readily identify b.s. when presented to them. That whole bit about your wine being great, they just can’t sell it, they say that to all the girls.

  27. Steve E. says:

    Let’s see…the distributors will not take the brand unless it gets monster scores from the major publications (RP, WS, WE) while they fund the anti-direct wine shipping cause.

    Consumer direct is the only answer for those small producers but the massive rules/regulations for many states make that option very challenging (and expensive).

    I fear a major shake-up in this industry is quickly approaching and having a passion for wine will have nothing to do with survival and, yes, the major distributors will come out on top.

  28. I guess it isn’t too surprising that a small producer is having trouble marketing a no-name wine. Even great wine doesn’t sell itself. However, the winemaker should take some consolation that in CA and in other states, you are allowed to be your own distributor if the wine is produced in the state where it will be sold, up to a certain amount. Fine wine is just like any other luxury item – prestige, name, packaging, and pedigree is 90% of the perceived value. One thing I didn’t catch, what is the proposed wholesale and retail price of this To-Kalon Cab Sauv? I’m guessing at least $50 wholesale? That’s a hard sell.

  29. There are passionate wine sales people and there are order takers. The real challenge as I see it when I’m out selling my wines is consolidation at the wholesale and retail level. No matter how passionate you are about wine when you have, as one comment indicated 8000 sku’s in your book how are you going to get any focus. Then you take into account that distributors are putting pay for performance bonuses for the sales reps based on selling the distributor selected brands which seem to always revolve around brands owned by the big 5. We as the family owned wineries need to figure out how to get the mid to small size distributors back up and running. This has become very challenging when you look at the retail chain consolidation that is happening. As the retailers get larger the big 5 wine company’s put their people inside these chains to do market analysis. Which always seems to shun the smaller wineries from getting stacks or features is the stores which help drive customers awareness and shows sales trends via nelson scan data. Which can then be shown to other chains on how well a brand will do if given the chance. As the smaller distributors have been pushed out of the retail market which helps cube out their delivery trucks and lower their overall cost of doing business. They have been forced to call on restaurants and wine shops only to fill the void in sales. This type of business practice has really hurt the small distributors which are the ones that in the past have been great supports of small brands. If anyone has any good ideas lets start talking about them instead of pointing blame because that will change nothing. Good luck to all in this very difficult time.

  30. “And by the way, who are these “shallow clients” the distributor referred to, the ones who demand Parker/Spectator scores?”

    Are you serious with this question? Take a look on line, on every retail site scores play a huge role. I have worked both sides of the wine business in NJ and I can say without question that there are very large wellknown stores who will not take on a high end wine without scores. I now own a small wine shop and I do not use scores at all, but selling bottles over $50 that have no name recognition is missionary work. This wine maker just has to keep looking.

  31. Steve E. says:


    Re the Larry Stanton and Iking posts:

    they hit the nail squarely on the head.

    Just making great wine is not enough…it’s not 1974 anymore. If you can’t sell it at a profit, why are you bothering? One can satisfy the passion with homewinemaking and not hassle the distribution.

  32. So let me get this straight. Passionate micro producer makes yet another (presumably) high-end Napa Valley Cabernet and is surprised that he can’t find a distributor, tried and true, previously allocated, Napa Cabs with a Parker pedigree are going begging, and you want to blame the situation on passionless distributors?

    Passion is no substitute for a sound business plan

  33. The typical Safeway shopper doesn’t know who Parker is, but they’ll buy a wine rated 90+ points on the shelf talker over the one with no rating.

    Large retailers promote reviews from a limited number of sources – Spectator, Advocate, and Enthusiast – not just anyone’s reviews (sorry blogs and other magazines). And that promotion makes an incredible difference in what products move and don’t move off their shelves.

    It is an interesting thought that the long-term viability of the large wine magazines may rest solely on their retailer-blessed monopoly (tri-opoly?) on ratings.

  34. Steve, i rarely take issue with you, but as mentioned above, to generalize about the distributors( none of whom have helped me out, but all have been courteous), and speak of them in less than complimentary terms, takes away from your blog—it doesn’t add to it. If i were rating your blog here it would be maybe in the high 60’s, say a 68. Whereas no distributors are interested in little guys around here, that doesn’t mean they are bottom of the barrel guys. If you want to point a finger at someone, why not try the consumers? After all, they “know” the wineries they like, and darned if they don’t buy those wines repeatedly, even if there are 30 wines on the shelf that are better than what they are peddling… and maybe at less cost.

    Just recently finished pouring at the Paso Robles Wine Festival, a great event, with 90 some wineries participating. What happened? Well, with 90 wineries, you would think that the attendees would have taken the opportunity to try new wineries and new wines. Did they? Nope, they just congregated around the wineries they knew, reiminisced and had a gay old time. Out of 6000 attendees(so they say), we had exactly 288 stop by to sample our wines, one a gold medal winner in the San Diego Intl Wine competition. That to me says the “blame” for the lousy state of the wine business, and the difficulty start ups or small guys have rests squarely on the shoulders of the consumers. They are the ones, after all, who have to buy the wines. But if they go to a tailor made event for tasting new wines, and just go to the wineries they know,(which seems goofy to me), then how in the world are they ever going to know about new, different, maybe even better wines? So Steve, distributors may not have lily white hands here, but the consumers themselves certainly shoulder some of the blame for particular wine appetites. Frankly, many of the consumers at the PR Wine Fest didn’t show much interest in trying something new or different. Had i been an attendee, i guarandarntee you i would have sampled as close to 90 wineries product as i could. Unfortunately, that was a very minority opinion this past weekend. Were i in your shoes, i might be inclined to do a mini retraction re: your general characterization of distributors. At the very least it was not becoming of you. Mind you, i am not giving distributors a pass, but there is plenty of room to spread around the blame for today’s wine slump, albeit, most of that is at upper end.

  35. If distributors say they have passion, then why dont they back off of the upheavel against letting all states ship wine? I work in the wine biz in MD, one of only 13 states that does not allow shipping.

    If distributors cannot find it worth their while ( I can understand the thought against them not feeling its financially worth it) to pick up many smaller wineries, then they should allow these smaller wineries at the least to ship direct.

    Frankly it seems borderline unconstitutional to not allow consumers the right to shop for wine wherever they please.

    Unfortunately, distributors are in bed with politicians, and some states still wont let the laws pass. In the end the govt. is hurting the consumer, and hurting more open commerce for retailers, who do though also run the risk of losing some $$$ from consumers who may just get shipped wine more frequently.

    If we want to call ourselves a democracy, then we need to fully act upon it in all aspects of commerce as well.

    Some distributors (typically smaller, more esoteric) do have plenty of passion, and no matter how big or small we are all in it to make as much $$$ as possible, but within the realm of reality and making sure that things are a bit more honest then they have become. Larger distributors simply often lack the “feel,” and similarities to the every day wine retail operation, and often sit on short memory, even begging within quotas, and coniving beds of thought.

    They certainly often aren’t wine enthusiasts, and thats where the line can be drawn. You can be in it to win it and still have the consumers best interests in mind. So many wine corporations like Gallo are even more to blame for all of this. for the big conglomerats, Its become a constant fight against each other to be the the most original and dominating figurehead, all at the expense of truth, and all of it at the expense of the consumer. They resemble more of a factory then even a large winery operation. Most of all, its the consumers fault for simply sitting by and acting like sheep and falling for gimicks. You dont buy your food because its shaped differently do you? Why would you buy Voga just because it looks like shampoo or mens cologne.

    We have let ourselves become so pedestrian in the quality of taste we forgot that wine should be treated just like another piece of produce. It’s a living thing, grown, from the earth. Its not fast food, and its not meant to be treated like a value meal or an overpriced cut of ruth chris steak.

    sorry for the extended banter and dribble, but I had to get this off my chest.

  36. As soon as distributors start supporting changes in the law that allow wineries to sell wine directly to restaurants and retailers in their own states and across state lines I’ll believe they have any interests at heart besides supporting their own at the expense of all others, including wineries, retailers, restaurants and consumers.

  37. First, my qualifications: Distributor, 7 years; Real winery, 10 years. High times, low times at both.

    Distributors are important, in fact, crucial to long-term success from a “green” standpoint, and a financial/ efficiency/ logistical standpoint. (Read: Sustainable) Direct shipping is a joke because of how much extra cardboard, styrofoam, diesel, jet fuel, tires, paper, time, etc it takes to deliver- this is where the consolidated distributor excels.
    FURTHER, there are too many newbies who think that having ToKalon (BTW, woo-hoo, ToKalon… no big deal dude, you and a million others have ToKalon or some other famous fruit and it’s no better that the stuff next door!!!) fruit and a fancy name will admit them to the business, did they not ask a single person about how the market was saturated a decade ago? How hard it is to sell wine (and get paid for it) and how many crazy laws there are? How when you make a placement it gets knocked off by the next guy because there’s so little loyalty and professionalism by the gatekeepers at the retail/ restaurant level?
    That said, the distributors are swamped! Great wineries of marketable size that offer unique and fun wines at 1/4 the price of a “cult” wine aren’t even able to get a return phone call from a distributor because of this situation!!! Who loses, the consumer. Who wins, a few people short-term. The solution is not simple, and for sure is ugly. I’ve seen a trend of distributors cutting SKUs now by 30 to 50% and that’s a solid start. When they do bring a brand on now, it’s actually thought out!!! Shocker. This correction will take a couple years, but if the distributors fire the little guys that only clog the system, and bring back the focus to long-term partners, then the consumer will see better wines at lower prices. Don’t worry, there will never be a shortage of variety and quality. The little guys can fill our landfills with styrofoam and our skys with CO2 as they ship their wine air- hey, cult wines are a luxury and should be treated as such, not clogging the system and taking distributor sales people’s precious time.
    MY POINT? Distributors can only give so much blood, and they’re compromised by the excessive amount of brands right now. This recession and correction we are in is simply a reality check that will shake out the un-professionals who thought the wine biz was about all vineyards with goofy names and wine makers who overcharge so you can use their name on the label. Soon, people will be talking about facts again when they evaluate a wine, not smoke, mirrors, animals, famous wine makers, and false claims/ concocted stories. It will get better soon… How can you help? Don’t buy over-priced garage wine that someone is marketing as a cult wine unless you KNOW it is truly wonderful. We’ve all had $80 to $200 disappointments, and to continue to purchase these wines only enables them to continue and reinforces these nut jobs’ belief in themselves.

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