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When Mohammed won’t come down from the mountain



So I called up this winery the other day. It’s not too far away from Oakland. I’m putting together another tasting and asked if I could buy a bottle of their Cabernet Sauvignon and have it shipped to me. The guy—the owner-proprietor, I think—said no. He said it’s not worth his while to “drive down the mountain” to send a single bottle. If I wanted to buy a case, he explained, that would be a different story.

I thanked him and told him I wasn’t looking for an entire case, so goodbye. No $ale. But the incident bothered me and so I put it up on Facebook and asked my friends, “What kind of a business model is that?”

Lots of comments, as usual. I suppose I think more about these marketing and sales issues since I’ve worked at Jackson Family Wines than I would have when I was at Wine Enthusiast. I thought the winemaker’s attitude was pretty dumb (not that he was rude about it; he wasn’t. In fact, he couldn’t have been nicer. He simply explained that he was way up in the middle of nowhere). The bottle price, by the way, was $27.

What did my Facebook friends say? You can read all the comments here. Most of them roundly criticized the guy. Jeff Stai, from Twisted Oak, wrote I’m way up in the mountains and I’ll sell you a bottle. wink emoticon.” He added Today’s one bottle sale is next month’s five case sale.” Bill Smart said the guy’s business model is “One that is not going to last for very long?” (Bill did put it in the form of a question.) Chris Sawyer said the business model is a “case study [in] how to inflict bad mojo on your brand.” Sean Piper said “If you ever buy a bottle of my wine I’ll personally hand deliver it to you.”

And yet, the guy had his defenders. Neil Monnens wrote, “More power to him…Imagine you are his friend or family and he leaves you to go down the mountain to sell one bottle of wine to someone…it’s not worth it. Good for him.” Victoria Amato Kennedy wondered “What was the profit margin on the one bottle after factoring in gas/shipping costs/time?” I understand that, but I would have paid whatever shipping cost the guy charged me. The fact of the matter is, he was too lazy to drive down the mountain. As Patrick Connelly wrote, “Bad customer service = increasing selling difficulty.”

If I had a little family winery (which this was) I’d drive down the mountain! How hard can it be? It’s summertime, no rain, easy-breezy. Besides, even if it’s a 30-minute drive to the UPS Store, aren’t there other things the guy can do while he’s in town—buy groceries or supplies, call on an account, have a nice meal, see a friend? I’m sure that people who live up in the mountains always have lists of stuff to do when they’re in town.

As I’m constantly reminding people nowadays, you do what it takes to sell your wine. Establishing customer relationships is one of those things. Although I didn’t identify myself to the guy, how did he know I wasn’t buying the wine for a Parker tasting? I could have been some rich Silicon Valley venture capitalist looking for a house Cabernet. You never know. Sending somebody a bottle of wine can sometimes change your life in unexpected, great ways. But first, you have to be willing to come down from the mountain.

  1. doug wilder says:

    Don’t the major freight carriers pick up at business locations?

  2. Yes, carriers will pick up, or even simpler: we keep a small inventory at the shipper center, adjacent to our warehouse.

  3. Bill Haydon says:

    Sounds like a moron. Even if FedEx won’t pick up on the mountain (and I find that hard to believe), he’s certainly (hopefully) making other shipments and could very easily have just bundled yours with another trip down the mountain. It sound more like Napatude than anything else. You just weren’t important enough.

  4. I never knew you made phone calls to request wines to taste!
    He was a lucky guy.
    Call us – we don’t make a lot of Cabernet but we’ll take care of you!

    And you should think about our Port, Aperitifs or even head into the spirits.
    We’re here for you. Always have been. Thanks for being a good, solid voice.
    [This is off the record, right]

  5. Charlie Herbert says:

    He could have asked you if you are willing to wait for when someone else orders something then ship both orders at the same time. The on-call pick up fee from the major carriers is only $3 per package. Maybe he has a lot of money, retired and making wine for fun is my guess.

  6. Dear Susan K., thanks for the offer. I was looking for a very specific wine for an upcoming tasting. As for “off the record,” well, comments to my blog are on the record.

  7. Logistics: Shipping in the Bay Area from any local “mountain” or valley winery is simple. A single bottle would cost $7.25 and would be at your location Steve in 24 hours, provided the winery has a wine country shipper who delivers locally and the winery keeps inventory off site in a bonded warehouse that ships locally.

    Now, as to not fulfilling your request, that’s just plain silly. You offered to pay for shipping, so the winery is not out any money and profited from a single bottle transaction.

    I personally drove 40,000 miles in a 12 month period visiting customers and prospects in the state of California alone from May 2014-May 2015. If visiting Oakland is a problem from Napa or Sonoma county try driving to Mammoth Lakes from Healdsburg in the winter, oh that’s right, I’ve done it, several times.

    Let me know if you want a bottle Steve, if I can swing it, I’ll deliver it personally. Otherwise, I’ll have it shipped. No excuse not to deliver, especially if you pay the freight, one bottle or 100 cases.

  8. Bob Henry says:


    Not shipping you a single bottle could be an example of what is known as “demarketing.”

    (See my comments summarizing the concept at “Napa’s traffic crisis: Alternate touring days?”


    If this is a California “cult” wine that is allocated and sold in increments of 3 or 6 or 12 bottles, then the winery owner is treating you no differently than any other customer.

    As Bill and Charlie H. rightly observe, the owner could have aggregated discrete phone/fax/mail/e-mail/e-commerce orders and then shipped out en masse at a later — but still convenient — date.

    Steve, you still have other options to explore.

    Call the owner back and ask for the name/phone number of a stocking retailer. Or launch a Wine-Searcher query and procure the wine online. I’m sure s/he would be grateful for the business.

    Napashire Napatude?

    Or just catching somebody on an “bad” day?

    (It happens. Joe Heitz was a curmudgeon — as Bob Benson’s interview book amply reveals. But equally charming in the right setting. I experienced both sides of the man’s personality on the same night when I met him at a winemaker dinner honoring him in La-La-Land.

    Would Joe have grabbed the car keys and hightailed it down the mountain to fulfill a single bottle sale of “Martha’s Vineyard”? Methinks not. He probably would have insisted upon a larger unit volume order. He understood “demarketing.”)


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