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05.11.2009

The Soft, Hidden Underbelly of Wine Sales

Here's an e-mail that a little bird forwarded to me the other day. Names have been redacted to protect the innocent.


Hey [winebuyer for fancy restaurant],

I am going out on a limb here, I know, but I want to ask you for your absolute honesty. Please...

I will be disappointed, but not unsurprised if you do not answer.

Tell me why you are and have always been uninterested in [my winery's] wine? You are a true professional - I know this - that is why I am asking. What is it about our wines that does not attract you?

We obviously have all the right hatted restaurants on side - they easily sell out our wines in quick time in [major metro area]. We are favourably reviewed and have 3 times as much demand as supply, yet there are always two or three very respected places in both [major metro area] and [major metro area] that politely decline every year. You are one (at [big name restaurant] and now your own joint). I should not complain as my job is really very easy...I enjoy coming to [major metro area] 3 times a year to chat with the [big name sommelier]'s, [big name sommelier]'s, [big name sommelier]'s, [big name sommelier]'s, [big name sommelier] and yourselves....but to be truthful, [wine buyer for fancy restaurant] - you always come across as far too cool for school? Why is that? Most other professional [major metro area] Sommeliers are nothing if not honest and upfront. I have great respect for most of the [major metro area] Sommeliers. They certainly put [other major metro area] Sommeliers into a lesser league.

I don't ask for you pity or your custom - just your honest opinion. I cannot be offended. I did not make our wine. I care for it, yes, but ultimately it is not my baby. I have a few goals in life (like you) that I am currently exploring. But I am truly interested why you apparently have a disdain for our wine brand ([one of your employees] said she saw you roll your eyes several times when I was getting wine ready for you last week), yet you put on such an affected display of interest when I come to see you? Are you a fake wanker or merely mis-understood? Is the search to be truly unique and a trend setter in the [major metro area] wine scene/press enough for you to lose your objectivity?

Why not just tell me when I ring that you are not interested? I respect that honesty a lot more. I have little interest in wasting my time showing you wines we both know you are never going to buy.

I mean nothing untoward by this email [winebuyer for fancy restaurant]. Seriously, I do not. I am just interested why such an intelligent well respected and influential [major metro area] wine guy would be so fake and disingenuous to us on a regular basis? You would be crucified by such behaviour in [another major metro area].

We are one of 5 [wine region] wineries that [major wine publication] rates with 5 stars year in, year out. We have exceptional vineyards, our vines are nearing 20 years of age, our winemaker was just nominated for the [fancy award program]. We keep yields lower than any others in [wine region] (900kg per acre!), and pursue excellence over financial success all the time. Shit [winebuyer for fancy restaurant], I drink not much else but Champagne, Riesling, Italian reds, Gin, Beer and Single Malt Whisky - but if I had to drink New World Pinot and Chardonnay...I dare say, [my winery] would be in the mix with [wine region], [wine region], [wine region] and [wine region].

But you are not a fan? Why is that?

Your honesty will be appreciated. I promise I will not ever bother you again if you respond truthfully.

Regards,

[winery salesman]

I think this needs to be made into a movie. And I'm seeing Big Name Sommelier being played by Ben Affleck and Winery Salesman played by William H. Macy. Directed, of course, by the Coen Brothers.

Comments (35)

1WineDude wrote:
05.12.09 at 6:07 AM

Well, the Coen Bros. are THE choice, obviously! ;-)

Jim wrote:
05.12.09 at 6:12 AM

And so what was the response? I want to see the movie... Yeah, they went on too much, but what sort of thing often keeps a particular wine brand out of a given restaurant?

Curious minds, etc...

Swoods wrote:
05.12.09 at 6:42 AM

Classic high pressure sales tactic - except for calling the buyer a wanker (wow.) A reputation built from steam roller marketing rather than individuality or merit. You have to question why a "successful" brand would be pushing so hard for a placement? I applaud buyers who stand up to brand bullying. "You have to have this wine, your competition is going through 15 cases a month!" Insert eyeroll. When a customer asks for the brand by name I have no problem telling them that the salesperson is a "wanker" may I interest you in something else?

Emily H. wrote:
05.12.09 at 7:23 AM

Coming from the retail side, this is not too unusual. Generally we try not to respond to this kind of behavior, but it doesn't keep people like this from operating. I don't know what's worse--complete incompetency or high-pressure salesmanship like this. Thanks for a little more insight into the non-consumer side of the wine biz.

dave wrote:
05.12.09 at 7:31 AM

The truth is, great wine does not need such tactics.........


Jim wrote:
05.12.09 at 7:37 AM

That makes sense. I guess I was thinking more in terms of the overall message (I'd like some feedback, etc.), instead of the tactic. I gave up reading part of the way through, so I missed some of the really wankerous stuff.

I am still curious what tends to go into developing a wine list for a restaurant. Being a complete amateur, I just have no idea what sort of strategies are used.

Joe Public Wine Drinker wrote:
05.12.09 at 7:44 AM

I would like to hear the response, but I am afraid it will not come. The Salesman (yes, I am assuming this is from a guy, a lady would never stoop this low) obviously has an ego that needs to be stroked. I feel one of the Salesman’s problems is in the varietal he is selling. He needs to walk into a wine store and look at all the Pinot just sitting on the shelves. I have a friend who said that they still have last years bottles of Pinot sitting on the shelves, and the same wineries are trying to sell them more of the same at a discounted price. Can you spell “glut.” Plus, given the attitude in this letter, I am sure this Salesman has been a real “pain the neck” for awhile. I would rather see Jack Nicholson playing the Big Name Sommelier, because this guy “can’t handle the truth!”

James F. wrote:
05.12.09 at 9:45 AM

If the salesman only wanted to know "What is it about our wines that does not attract you?" then the letter would end after that line. There is more going on here. Calling someone a "fake wanker" ... (does that mean: "dildo?") is not proper. The letter sounds desperate. It sounds like (1.) the salesman would like to dine out at this account but his brands are not on the list to justify the expense and (2.) his feelings got hurt somewhere.

Tommy wrote:
05.12.09 at 9:47 AM

Great post Alder. I actually get to see both sides of the equation as I sell wine for a small family importer and also buy wine for a small family run restaurant. Hard sell tactics never work when someone tries to sell me wine nor does is really work when your trying to sell. Good wine speaks for itself, but sometimes the timing is off meaning, the restaurant already has something similar in that price range, there not adding anything new, they like to buy only from there existing relationships, etc. As for buyers honesty is always the best policy, I have no problem telling other salesman I'm just not looking for anything new right now and try back in 3 months, 6 months etc. Speaking from experience many buyers, just don't follow up, return phone calls, emails, you name it. I understand everyone is very busy nowadays but communication is key. If you don't like someones products for what ever reason just communicate the fact. Being a buyer is not easy and they have many responsibilities other than just tasting wine. On the flip side I know many buyers who have moved to the sales side and have found that side of the business very challenging and quite after a few months. I guess what I'm trying to say is communication and respect flows both ways, besides it's a small world and your reputation follows you everywhere whether it be good or bad.

Matthew wrote:
05.12.09 at 10:16 AM

I agree with Tommy. I have a long history of working in restaurants and am currently on the selling side of wine. What I think is the point of the letter is not the hard sell but the fact that the buyer isn't being honest and communicating with the salesperson. Obviously from the tone of the letter the sales person is frustrated with the buyer not because he/she doesn't buy the wine but that the buyer goes through the motions and feigns interest by even having a tasting appointment with the salesperson. Not only does this waste their own precious time but wastes the salesperson's time too. If your not genuinely interested in buying something, why shop?

clare carver wrote:
05.12.09 at 10:28 AM

being new to selling our own wine this is pretty staggering - wow -

Pinotmom wrote:
05.12.09 at 2:01 PM

It sounds like there may be pressure from above--but what's more glaring is the lack of interest on the rep's part to figure out how the wine makes sense for your wine list. Does he know the menu, price points, how it would pair with food and fit in with other wines that are already selling well?
All he talks about is where else he's sold it. And that he's going to move on someday...
Do your homework whiner.

05.12.09 at 5:17 PM

Alder,

I love that you posted this letter. I have to say that I am quite suprised at the responses though. I have the opportunity, as a winemaker doing work withs, to see both sides of these sort of things as they unfold. I think this is likely a case of simple personality conflict.
Yes the salesperson was pushy, but nothing else worked and making the placement is simply his job. Short of an armed insurrection I would expect a sales person to do "whatever it takes". Now if this was there first interaction I would advocate removing the salespesons head. No one claims to respond to pushy sales people but the tactic wouldn't survive if it didn't work at least some of the time.
I know this type of buyer all too well. Some buyers are incredibly full of themselves and as a consumer you don't see it. I promise you the friendly face the walks you down the riesling isle is a completely different person when you walk in with a bag full of wines for them to taste. I have had buyers be nothing short of rude to me and honestly prefer it over the " oh ya call me on the first of the month " or " I'll need to taste it again " bullshit. I can certainly understand the salespersons point of view.
But being the horrible sales person that I am ( hence I am a winemaker ) I simply don't come back to accounts that roll thier eyes or play games.
However I have to say that the e-mail you posted has been written in my mind dozens of times but never sent. I've never felt that desperate to get my wine on ANY list.
The moral of the story might be that no matter how great your wine is, one asshole can ruin your brand.

ali smith wrote:
05.13.09 at 6:43 AM

I 100% agree with Jerry...it's relentless out here!

Dean Tudor wrote:
05.13.09 at 8:07 AM

Yes, I get emails like that quite frequently. But the topic is "why didn't you REVIEW my wine"? -- I review wines in Canada, and I usually make note of the few samples I get. Yet emails come in asking why I didn't note a particular wine at a trade show...

Tommy wrote:
05.13.09 at 9:41 AM

Jerry has some great points, never get desperate as a salesman. I once had a supposed hot shot Wine Director taste wines with me and during the middle of the appointment took a cell phone call and proceeded to tell me to keep pouring while he was talking on the phone. Then he had the balls to tell me after the phone call that he was a professional and could do two things at once. Never went back there again. It was no surprise when I found out his nickname from other sales reps on the street was douchebag. It's guys like this that make me wonder why their even in the hospitality business.... That aside I do have some great relationships and friends I've made over the years. Just hit the delete file in your mind for the bad ones or they can ruin your whole day!

Barbara wrote:
05.13.09 at 12:54 PM

Hi there,

I understand the salesman’s frustration but using this tone is not the right way as it is not professional at all and might leave an ugly mark on his reputation. According to the letter the buyer was faking interest, making the salesman waste his time. But I wonder, why did he not just ask him direct “What’s the reason for your rejection? I would appreciate your opinion. Please help us to improve and work on our defects.” The buyer was just polite, leaving himself a door open - what is wrong with that?
I am also selling wine. I am sending out offers, proposals etc. to potential buyers and yeah I also sometimes get frustrated when they don’t even bother to tell you why they have rejected you. But insulting the buyer in the cynical way the salesman did is semiprofessional. Sometimes consistency and steadiness come back to you; however this door is probably not open anymore for this salesman and to call it in his language “he simply fucked it up”!

Saludos from Barcelona

Mike Petonic wrote:
05.13.09 at 12:56 PM

It has to do with good faith vs bad faith. Just reading the letter, I don't find anything wrong with what the salesguy did. It sounds to me as if the celebrity winebuyer is operating at less than good faith.

I don't care who you are, but if you string someone along in business, sooner or later, you're going to be called on it and you probably deserve it. We really can't get the complete picture from just the one side of the story, but it appears that all the writer is doing is either a combination of a) asking for the buyer's frank opinion, or b) calling him on his behavior.

Dylan wrote:
05.14.09 at 10:01 AM

This is very all very interesting for me to read. Especially the additional comments made by Jerry and Tommy. I agree, out of respect to yourself, it's not worth pushing as hard as this salesman has. It's obvious there's a repeated history of offense and the best policy here would be to ease off and foster relationships that will matter to his/her brand.

Rod wrote:
05.14.09 at 10:51 PM

You have characterized this as some egregious example of what happens when wine sales goes wrong. And I agree to some extent that this is a desperate attempt to elicit a response from a client. I'm not a fan of pushy sales people either.

But it looks to me like the sales person is trying to get a direct response from his customer. I don't begrudge him for doing that.

What I do find curious is that the buyer (assuming that is the "little bird" you mentioned) would forward the message to a blogger with obvious hopes of getting it published.

That is a very passive-aggressive response that is equally as unprofessional as referring to a customer as a wanker.

I wouldn't want to do business with either of them.

Alder wrote:
05.15.09 at 9:06 AM

For the record, this e-mail circulated widely in the wine industry before being forwarded to me by a sommelier who mentioned the incident to me over dinner. It was not sent to me directly by the wine buyer.

Pim wrote:
05.15.09 at 10:59 AM

Is this a blind item Page Six thing? Ooh it'll be fun filling in the blanks. ;-)

Emily wrote:
05.15.09 at 11:03 AM

SO hard not to start guessing the names....

tannic wrote:
05.15.09 at 11:27 AM

I'm a GM of a winery now, but I have been both a buyer and sales person. Wasting either party's time is rude and unprofessional. That buyer should not accept the appointment request and that sales rep needs to get over it and move on. Evidently, he has 90% market share and can't sleep until it's 100%.

rs wrote:
05.17.09 at 1:28 PM

Folks, this conversation is completely foreign too me. I'm not in the business. I'm a consumer. I've had friends on the wholesale end who have never shared horror stories like these, but two of them told me that 1 They had to pound the pavement and 2 Offer services, over and above taking orders and delivering the wine, e.g helping with a wine list for a restaurant who did not have or couldn't afford personnel to do that for themselves. Yes, I know a wine list made by a sales person will be skewed. To give you perspective how out of sight this is for me, I have been a wine lover since '65 and have never heard about the ugliness that goes on. My guess it's like other businesses tho. Lastly, in this economy, and with "dumping" of wine, I suspect the dialogue will deteriorate even more .

Anthony wrote:
05.18.09 at 12:26 AM

There is also just the simple fact that not everyone is going to carry every bottle. The guys sounds like he needs to get over it a bit. And as a "salesman" - if he can't see this guy once a week or once a month and greet him with a smile and a compelling reason to buy, he should give up. The letter is unprofessional -

Paul wrote:
05.18.09 at 7:59 AM

I think this is a little over the top. As for me, I just carry empty wine bottles, gasoline, rags and a book of matches to deal with buyers like this.

phil wrote:
05.18.09 at 10:51 AM

I have had this same, in the beer trade.
Funny, I forgot to order from them again...

If the buyer is being honest, true and right then I don't believe that wanker was necessary. But, if he wasn't, shame.

I believe like many, that the marketeer was just being plain arrogant and rude.

and, remember it takes a helluva lotta great beer to make one bottle of great wine! ;-)

ProWine wrote:
05.18.09 at 10:51 AM

Right on...
If your passage enlightens and evolves the mindset of just a hand full of “Buyers” then your time has been very well spent. // As a passionate veteran of almost exactly 25 years in the wine bizz, having the pleasure and too often displeasure of dealing with the wine buyer "persona" while celebrating great restaurants, I can relate. What has happened to the days when the Wine Buyer was a Professional who had a vested interest in the program and dedication to the dining experience of the guests? Can there not be middle ground between the pre-Madonnas and the true devotees of all great wines both modern and classic? // Apparently too many rhetorical questions.
Salute!

mydailywine wrote:
05.18.09 at 3:57 PM

I am with Jerry and Ali on this one.Anyone who has sold wine professionally to the trade has written a letter like this...but only in their own minds, not on paper. Inside voice people! Not outside.
Agreed, this guy was not trying to make a sale any longer. He was simply venting and yes, it was unprofessional. But so was the 'sommelier' rolling his eyes behind the salesperson's back.

Dave Brookes wrote:
05.19.09 at 11:29 PM

As Alder mentioned this did the rounds last year and was forwarded to me by the sommelier in question when it happened....needless to say the sales rep no longer works for the winery in question any more....a message in there for us all methinks....don't send an email if you've had a few sherbets (beers).

Wine Piper wrote:
05.22.09 at 9:58 AM

Let's switch the players around a bit, just for giggles. Say you frequent a particular restaurant and always ask for the same server and said server consitantly recites "specials" and recommends his/her favorite wine. And you the consumer enjoy listening to the "specials" and the server's wine recommendation but you order your favorite dish and glass of house wine, every time. Then one day something snaps in the server's mind and tableside they start to repremand you for NOT ordering the "specials" and NEVER taking their recommendations on wines. Furthermore the server says that because you never order anything more expensive than the house wine and your favorite entrée that he/she has been missing out on a larger gratuity and that you the patron should tip more because you are not ordering a "complete" meal or a more expensive dinner. What would it sound like then? Are some of you still comfortable with this attitude?I'll tell you what would happen in real life. The patron would never come back, the patron may complain (but unlikey), the server would lose that regular customer/tip (and wonder why) and the patron would probably tell friends what a horrible place the restaurant is. The reality is, we are in a service industry, supplier, winmaker, salesperson, somlier, manager, server. If you don't like people and have trouble dealing with said people go do something else! Stop whinning about how hard the job is and figure out how to do the job. In my 20+ years in the food & beverage industry I have seen all kinds of things but being out of place is just wrong. We live in a day and age where things like compassion for your fellow man and common curtosey do not exist. Everyone is in a hurry, everyone has something to do that's more important than anyone or anything else (hell people barely have time to stop for a stop sign). I'm just saying step back, slow down, yeah it may be wrong to string along the salesperson or to send the email to the buyer but if we all just stepped back and thought a moment we'd all be better people.
Cheers!

grandkrew wrote:
05.24.09 at 4:40 AM

Hi All

I work in the market that this occurred and know the protagonists - I believe the wine buyer didnt respond to the letter because he was so taken back by the bizarre tone and misinterpretation of his actions by the sales person. As the wine buyer for one of the best wine establishments in this market he is in fact one of the most approachable, time giving, honest and available wine buyers around. The sales person has perceived differently, which can occur at times in sales calls. The wine buyer is a personable, quiet, humble individual. I feel sorry that the sales person has felt adversely about his experience with the wine buyer. The sales person finished employment with the winery shortly after this email was "leaked". The winery is a reputable, well respected boutique producer with a good market presence, as the sales rep describes. The winery continues to produce good wines from a good region and as far as I know sells through well. His individual right to not stock the wine in my mind doesnt warrant an accusatory email of this tone. Open dialogue is always good, but this kind of personal response exceeds reasonable behaviour by a sales person - it burns his/her bridges. Regardless, its a cautionary tale for where your emails can end up, and how your personal commentary can come back to bite you.

Cheers

Mark wrote:
05.25.09 at 4:26 AM

Like Grandkrew, I also know a little about the protagonists in the above email. I know the restauranteur only by reputation but had several dealings with the sales rep at my own business and can see good and bad in both sides of this email. The sales rep was originally vilified (and lost his job) after the publication of the email but it seemed to me that when people read it closely, that the tide bagan to turn. Grandkrew suggests that 'The sales person has perceived differently, which can occur at times in sales calls' which I would totally agree with, yet this was not a random occurrence - the rep calls three times a year but always gets the same response and in the end would rather just have the buyer tell him that he is not interested, rather than stumping up each time and going through the pretence! There does seem to have been a bit of a personality clash here and unfortunately, the rep appears to have become so maddened by the whole process that he wrote what in hindsight he must regard as a very silly email. He felt what some or many of us must have felt at some time or another about others in our industry - his mistake was in committing it to writing for which he has paid the price - it is indeed a very cautionary tale. Does this make the buyer the 'nice' guy in all this - far from it.

Ed Thralls wrote:
05.27.09 at 4:08 PM

Hilarious. The salesman talks about honesty, but the fact that he asks for "honesty" yet uses an email vs. direct call or even asking face-to-face while peddling at the restaurant. It almost seems fake as you read through the text, but I am sure this is real... these types of people really exist. I agree with many of the points above about both parties moving on, but I think they both owe some up-front honesty to each other so that should their paths cross again in the industry, possibly working for other entities, a partnership or relationship could be beneficial at a later date. You just never know.

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