Selling wine in America is difficult, and getting more so. Leaving aside the highly constrained ability for wine producers to ship directly to consumers, getting one’s wine into shops and restaurants requires the assistance of a distributor licensed to sell wine in each individual target state. Since 1995, while the number of wineries in America has tripled to more than 9,000 and the volume of wine imports has more than doubled, the number of distributors available to deliver all that wine has dropped from more than 3,000 to fewer than 1,200, as company after company either goes out of business or is acquired by bigger fish. Today, two of those fish alone, Southern Glazers and Breakthru, control more than 60% of the wine distribution in the country.
Distributor consolidation has had wide-ranging impacts on the wine trade as a whole, but they can all can be summed up as: fewer wine salespeople, with an exponentially larger set of products to sell and therefore almost no time to devote to the promotion of any one brand. Whether you’re the smallest boutique winery or one of the best-known wine brands on the planet, chances are that the very people who can help get your wine into shops and restaurants aren’t spending much time thinking, let alone talking, about your products.
So how does a winery or a wine region get people talking about their products in the face of such institutionalised indifference? Enter the brand ambassador.
‘My job is to be the face for the brand’, says Wendy Shoemaker (pictured above in a photo by Josue Castro), who recently took a job as one of two brand ambassadors for Champagne Ruinart, part of the Moët-Hennessy portfolio. ‘What I do is education. I set up events, private-client dinners, staff trainings – my job is to connect with people.’
This article is my monthly column at JancisRobinson.Com, Alder on America, and is available only to subscribers of her web site. If you’re not familiar with the site, I urge you to give it a try. It’s only £8.50 a month or £85 per year ($11/mo or $111 a year for you Americans) and well worth the cost, especially considering you basically get free, searchable access to the Oxford Companion to Wine ($65) and the World Atlas of Wine ($50) as part of the subscription costs. Click here to sign up.
Photo of Wendy Shoemaker by Josue Castro.