|Southern Wine & Spirits Director of Sales Joseph Eger (crotch being grabbed) at the Hustler Club. Photo: Facebook/New York Post|
The sales director, Joseph Eger, was upset because Laurent-Perrier was moving its account to Winebow. Hard to blame L-P, when you look at what Southern thought of its product.
But that's exactly what most big distributors think of the wines they carry: interchangeable juice not as interesting as a stripper's grip.
The Post story is lurid, but it's also right on about distributors' attitude. It's an issue nobody talks about loudly in the wine industry for fear of retribution. But they talk about it to each other all the time.
What sucks about this for consumers is that this is why supermarkets and big wine stores tend to carry the same industrially made wines, because those are the ones that move most easily through the major distribution channels. If you want an interesting wine, you have to go to small wine shops that pay attention to small distributors.
Not only that, the big distributors make more money -- a lot more -- on each bottle of wine you buy that passes through their hands than either the winery or the store. You're paying for their lap dances!
Some wineries, particularly those outside the U.S., think they're fortunate when a big U.S. distributor agrees to take them on. Then a year passes and they've had about as many chargebacks for samples as actual sales, and they wonder, why isn't my wine selling?
1) A salesman has to sell, but not your wine
If a distributor has 50 Chardonnays in his portfolio, the salesman can have a good day, sell 200 cases, of only the top 10. He might be very hard working, but he can't lug around 50 sample bottles of only Chardonnay.
Think about the logistics. The salesman might be able to visit 6 accounts in a busy work day. He's got to bring red wines, whites, maybe some pinks. Some big wine company is probably offering incentives -- a free trip to Spain -- for the person who sells the most of its product. Is he going to put your Vermentino in his bag?
2) There's no incentive for a big distributor's salesman to explain a small wine brand
Most wine lovers would be horrified to overhear a conversation between a distributor's wine sales rep and a store's wine buyer. There's no romance of wine; it's all numbers. Nobody from a big company is going to bother to read up on the soils of a vineyard and the way it catches the afternoon breeze. And if one did start talking about in a sales situation, the buyer would laugh and say, "How much?"
3) Wine sucks for distributors compared to spirits
Spirits are reliable, and reliably profitable. A good gin tastes the same every year. Nobody sends back bottles because they're corked. Nobody complains that this vintage isn't as good as the last. Nobody says the New Zealand dollar is stronger so the wine costs more now.
Spirits are also easier to sell. A bar needs vodka, gin, Bourbon, etc. Nobody actually needs your Vermentino.
This is a reality of the wine business that so many people don't understand. It's the frustrating answer to a lot of questions from both consumers and wineries. Why can't I buy that wine I saw recommended? Why aren't wines by the glass in restaurants more interesting? Why does my local store have all these boring big-company wines?
Because big wine & spirits distributors hate you and your wine. Unless you're a stripper. In which case it's grab this, baby. And can I pay you in Champagne? We get a discount.