Monday, February 25, 2013

Retailer pisses off winery by promoting its wine

Frank's Wine is probably Delaware's best wine shop, in part because of the effort owner Frank Pagliaro makes to offer tastings and events. Frank has personality. Last year he posted this video of a guy stealing a $25 wine from his store on Valentine's Day and ended up getting local media coverage and selling stacks of the wine, which he renamed "Assclown Cab" after the poorly dressed perpetrator.

Last week, a more normal, non-profane promotion -- a simple mixed-case discount -- riled up a tone-deaf California winery so much it threatened to pull its wine from his shelves.

Here's the sequence of events. Frank's weekly email blast featured a laudatory introduction of Peter Stolpman, who has taken over the winery his parents founded. A sample:
"This propelled Pete on an adventure of a lifetime - making Shiraz in the Barossa Valley, Sangiovese in Chianti Classico and returning to California to work under Master Sommelier Peter Neptune at the Henry Wine Group, one of the largest wine distributors on the West Coast.  It was here that Peter was awarded Fine Wine Specialist of the Year in 2008 at 26 years old, the youngest salesman to receive this award to date.  More importantly, he also met his fiancĂ©, Jessica Simmons, here during training!"

It's all nice, all sales promotion talk, nothing objectionable. Then Frank writes about the wines, again all positive:
"Intense and focused on the extremely long finish, which strongly repeats the floral and spice notes. Although this wine will be enjoyable upon release, Peter is confident it will continue to give pleasure for 10+ years."

And then he offers a deal: A 6-pack of 3 Stolpman wines for $99.99. This is two each of wines normally priced $30, $25 and $20, so it looks like $150 worth of wine for $100, or 33% off. 

In fact, like most stores Frank's builds a little extra margin in the regular prices to allow him to give a 15% discount on a mixed case. So realistically, it's only a little more discount than usual, and Frank is promoting a Santa Barbara County brand that, while it has good quality (the winemaker is Sashi Moorman), isn't exactly a household name. Frank promises an all-day Saturday tasting of all three wines with Stolpman sales guy Yves Borquet AND an all-afternoon Sunday tasting with store staff. Stolpman's gotta love that, right?

Here's the e-mail Frank got from Borquet: I copied the way Frank presented it in his follow-up email blast:

And here's what Frank sent back, again copied from his email blast:

I asked Frank what the response to this second email blast has been and he said:
"I've literally spent the last 2 1/2 hours replying to 100+ emails from customers who are pretty outraged by Stolpman and Sussex Wine Merchant's take on this ... Should be interesting to see if they sell me wine when I go to re-order... we've had a pretty crazy day at the shop and this email was all the buzz.  Folks who were not planning on coming in to taste or buy Stolpman wines were here both tasting and buying! I'm sure I'll be out by tomorrow!"
The irony. Maybe Stolpman's anger at the discount was the best marketing of all? Though given the nicknames Frank gives out when displeased, you gotta wonder what Peter Stolpman is being called in Wilmington this morning.

Follow me on Twitter: @wblakegray and like The Gray Report on Facebook
Just don't let Frank name a wine after me.


Rarig said...

Oh wow. The joys of this struggling market. Thank you for sharing an interesting story, this went well with my morning cup of coffee.


Christopher said...

I work for a small winery in Paso Robles, and we don't sell to any place that might sell our wines for less than our Wine Club members could potentially purchase them, so I can kind of see why Stolpman would be upset by the promotion. Also, why did Frank's Wine feel that this private email exchange needed to be aired publicly.

I understand marketing and the challenges of today's retail market, however, that doesn't excuse a retailer from reacting in a pretty unprofessional manner and publicly posting a not-unwarranted disagreement between them and the supplier.

Unknown said...

Please note the email published by Frank and re-posted here was not from me, or anyone at Stolpman Vineyards. As I let Frank know today, I was surprised to see his prices, but in no way did I feel the need to contact him about it.

It was Friday, I was home off the road, and we had a beautiful fish to cook.

Once again, Frank has run with an entertaining, creative approach to selling wine. Good for him for grabbing this extra publicity.

If limestone-grown Syrah, a profit sharing wine for our vineyard crew, and a Roussanne-Chard-SB blend wasn't enough to spark interest in three bottles; Frank definitely had a nice marketing bone thrown his way with receipt of the email from an upset distributor rep. It's certainly an effective sales pitch: "priced so low, I got the producer pissed at me."

At the end of the day, customers tasted the wine, liked it, and bought it. For that, I thank Frank for bringing our wine to the people.

I'm back on the road in NY this week, we have Rose to bottle on Thursday, and new cuttings are in the ground. Life goes on!

W. Blake Gray said...

Hey Peter, thanks for stopping by.

So I have to ask: Was Yves Borguet acting on his own? Because in his email to Frank, he says he got an email from you about the prices.

Hope you enjoyed the fish. I can recommend a nice bottle of sake for the next one.

Cabfrancophile said...

Christopher, what you are saying doesn't seem that common. I don't think I've ever seen a wine sold through a winery below three-tier retail price. Except end of vintage closeouts and those sorts of things. Most wineries seem to price direct sales to protect their distributors, not the other way around.

Unknown said...


I had already been in contact with this rep last week about upcoming bottlings and we did indeed exchange brief emails about this pricing.  I signed off stating "oh well" and did not ask for the rep to contact the retailer.

Keep in mind this is a veteran rep who was only trying to protect my brand.  He has been carrying a wine bag for 15 years and has done so quietly and successfully.  I have no doubt he will continue to sell a lot of Stolpman Syrah throughout his large territory. 

I wasn't surprised by Frank posting the rep's email, but I was surprised to see you repost a private email about me without reaching out.   You've been to our winery in Lompoc and I'm easily reachable with contact info on our website.  KRegarding your tweet "winery hates its backlash for discounting at Costco?": To the best of my knowledge, Stolpman wines have never been carried by any Costco location.  Our brand has excelled because of the people who love our wines and the independent restaurants and retailers who introduce them.

W. Blake Gray said...

Pete: It's a reasonable complaint. If I had written this for a publication, I would have been obligated to contact you.

Blogs simply play a different role and have a different standard, and not just for me.

The plus side is that blogs engender conversation, and you are able to respond, whereas if something runs in print, you can't possibly get your response in the same issue.

I will say that I didn't post a "private email about you" without contacting you. Frank put this first in his newsletter; then on his website. It wasn't private anymore.

But I hear your concern. If you want to discuss the matter further in private, call me or send me an email. Sashi probably still has my contact info.

Anonymous said...

come on Mr Gray you're going to fall for that are you?

its interesting that another local retailor is offering Stolpman's Syrah around the cornor from Franks as we speak at, guess what, a discount!
wheres the outrage?

connect the dots.....

Anonymous said...

Moore brothers Wilmington Del Location.(blocks from Franks shop) on sunday they are pouring the estate syrah and Peter Stolpman is in attendance. the wine is discounted from 28 to 24 with free shipping to new jersey residents.

McSnobbelier said...

This is a very good post and discussion, it is important to the wine industry and there does need to be some dialogue between those that are passionate about wine.

Some luxury brands have ways to protect their brands, the wine industry is lacking in that manner. said...

I guess that's the beauty of small business, Christopher... no one to answer to or no beauracratic red tape to cut thru before making a decision. I read an arrogant email from a guy I write checks to, replied to it, then shared it with my friends and customers. Unprofessional? I don't know... maybe? You lost me on the "not-unwarranted disagreement" thingy. Either way Stolpman makes great juice and I just wanted to spread the good word. I think I spread it pretty good... yup, smoof as butta! said...

Pete... can't wait to taste your Rosé! I'm a huge fan of pink. Just wish that TCV was still repping your wares... but if they were I'm sure we wouldn't be posting on The Gray Report. Seems like some suppliers like to protect the interest of certain retailers, where most tend to look after the wineries they represent. I raise my glass to a successful Santa Barbara campaign... CHEERS to selling every drop of Stolpman juice on North Union Street! said...

Thanks for the heads-up Wino! ATTN FranksWine crew: Flash Mob on DuPont Street this Sunday in full uniform aprons with corkscrew in hand, onward!!