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How to sell Washington wine: Distributors, retailers speak out

Washington is the second largest producer of wine in the US, so how do we sell all of that wine? That is what Washington wine makers gathered at the Taste of Washington Industry Seminar to find out. Chris Stone, Washington Wine Commission, moderated the panel that include wine distributors, retailer and restaurateurs from across the nation.

Panelists

The combination of regional and industry perspectives was intriguing to me. As a die-hard Washington wine fan, I have had a difficult time finding Washington wine on my travels and I put some energy into it. Lots of wine drinkers are still naive about Washington wine, they don’t know what they don’t know. How can Washington wine compete? The industry panel tackled several obstacles and solutions to selling Washington wine.

Price Points

Knowing your audience is key when targeting price point. $10 is often considered the high-end for restaurant glass pours but that is not always the case. Daniel’s Broiler is a luxury brand and their customers are seeking a luxury wine, they are not looking for a value wine. These customers are seeking a special wine that elevate their luxury dining experience. It is a totally different audience than the diners at the corner trattoria who want a nice wine to enjoy with their pasta for their Wednesday night dinner but not break the bank.

There are some sweet spots for pricing. They love a $15 Cabernet that they can retail for $22 and sell a bottle on a restaurant list for $66. There is not a lot of quality juice that can be sold at that price point, and most is available from Old World, not Washington. Although $15 Chardonnay maybe an attractive price in Washington, Washington Chardonnay doesn’t usually have the reputation to demand that price outside of the state.

Second Labels

Retailers like second label wines because they can use their staff  and shelf talkers to inform the consumer about the pedigree of the wine maker. Restaurateurs think that it often confuses the customer or they want the “real” wine. Wine makers have to make a LOT of juice to create and carry a second label, often requiring additional facilities to process the wine but it is a way to move a lot of wine.

Push and Pull

Panelists from outside of Washington stated that the have very few customers that are specifically seeking Washington wines. They are just looking for a great glass or bottle of wine. It requires a knowledgeable and enthusiastic sales person or sommelier to educate and entice the customer to try Washington. If time is short and there are a lot of more familiar wines on the list or on the shelf, the customer is going to reach for what they know.

Panelists acknowledged the inroads that the Washington Wine Commission has been making in educating different markets about Washington wine but there is a LOT more work to do.  Scott Larsen, from Maverick Wine, talked about his experience at Taste Washington in Chicago event where there was good exposure to Washington but it wasn’t necessarily showing Washington wine at its best.  When you are out visiting others on their turf you really to showcase the best of the best because you only have one chance to make a first impression.

Scores

Although most panelists had a love-hate relationship with the 100 point scoring system, they all agreed that high scores helped move wine. People come into the wine shops and restaurants with a copy of Wine scores or using their smart phones to look up wine scores. Ryan Allison from Cellar 46 sees wine selling out within a day of scores being posted on that wine.

Smart phones and scores are a potent combination. In some cases, customers are using wine apps for their wine information even more than the restaurant sommeliers.  It is the ease of use of the wine apps and the ease of understanding the 100 point score.  They may not understand about malo-lactic fermentation but they do understand that a 94 is supposed to be better than 88!

Social Media

Although scores influence purchases for many consumers, Millennials use word of mouth and social media influence more than published scores. Social media is exerting more  influence over this population of consumers than scores and wine packaging. Inside and outside of the state, social media is an effective means of building awareness of your brand. Inside the state, it helps establish identity and distinction amongst the 700 Washington wineries. Outside of the state, social media like Facebook and Twitter are tools to increasing Washington wine awareness as well as individual branding.

Deal Breakers

The wine industry panel presentation concluded with a discussion of deal breakers for buying your wine.

  • Make sure you test your wines. Don’t pour a corked wine for industry tastings. Not only does it not show your wine it instills doubts in the buyer about your skills overall.
  • Research who you are selling to. All of the panelists asked that you do your home work. Take a look at their current wine list. If they have  40 $30 Cabernet Sauvignon what do you think the chances are that they will add your as 41? You want to offer something a bit different but something that will be a good fit. Think price point, audience and style. Your Rousanne may not be the best fit at the classic pizzeria but it might be a hit at the patio bistro. Don’t waste your time or the buyers’ time by trying to sale your wine where it won’t sell.
  • Don’t tell them that potential buyers that they will love your wine. Let them form their own opinions. No one likes to be told what they feel or what they like. This was a big pet peeve amongst the buyers!

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