Marketing,Wine,Wine Business

Why Small Producers *Will* Matter to Some Wholesalers

So, yesterday’s numbers went through my roof. I’ve yet to have any blog entry get so much traction from my readers, and from people who have never been to Juicy Tales before.


  • Wholesalers are getting a lot of attention.
    • Some of it deserved (H.R. 5034)
    • (Wines don’t/can’t sell, because small companies can’t get into the three tier system, and it’s not the wholesalers’ responsibility to take on everyone.)

Having any kind of discourse (thanks Web 2.0 for humanizing media) really flushes things out.

The most significant one for me was a reader’s objection. In sales, an objection (for me) is just a request for more information. (It’s not a road block. It means, here comes the debate.) This comment from T.J. touched on a lot of points with certain validity, and it’s worth sharing.

Here’s T.J.’s comment to me:

Your scenario only paints one picture of “national” brands, and “national” stores. This is completely biased against wholesalers. True, many don’t care about smaller wineries. But that is an inaccurate stereotype of our business. I doubt you, or any real wine lover, even shops at those national stores. If you’ve ever been to a retail store and found a bottle of Txakolina, Kerner, or a Oregon PN w/ a case production under 300 cases, you can thank the wholesaler for presenting a case for these wines. Please stop using us wholesalers as a lightning rod for what’s wrong with this business. You don’t hear me complaining how often wine bloggers like to get up on their soap box.

As I thought about all of it, T.J. had some great points…

  • Yes, this was about national brands and national stores, but anyone reading this from outside of our industry might get the wrong impression and not consider another factor… The smaller wholesalers. It is they who build brands. They work really hard doing that. Sadly for them, once a brand’s established, some of those brands even segue to a larger wholesaler… Wham, bam, thank you ma’am…
  • Real wine lovers shopping in national stores… I found myself doing it in Maine when I had gone back for a family reunion. I had no clue where any wine shops were, I went to a supermarket and was so disappointed that I couldn’t find anything eclectic… Hence, the beginning of this saga.
  • Just back from Oregon, there all last week, and was at that very winery(s) with only 300 cases…
  • And, yes, I went to a small wine shop ~ The Friendly Vine ~ in Forest Grove. (I plan to write about it this weekend.) T.J. was dead on. I saw lots of small production wine companies in Randy Reeder’s shop. So… thanks Mr. Wholesaler for that one. Was it the big guys bringing that in? You know ~ maybe ~ because they can/do pick up small artisan wines… a case at a time. It’s on the people to be buying it, so they’ll restock it. It’s also on the winery to invest in a little PR and marketing, because if a tree falls in a forest and no one’s there to hear it, does it even matter?

So, I’m going to say that I heard a complaint from T.J., (“You don’t hear me complaining how often wine bloggers like to get up on their soap box.”) … I’m going to tell you that what I heard was a request for more information.

I first established my credentials with him, because I’ve got a lot of history to justify my thoughts. I’m thinking that many of you read what I wrote to him, because my numbers quadrupled any other day… Amazing.

Also, the power of being aggregated… This story was picked up by colleague Cyril Penn at WineBusiness.com and Lewis Perdue’s Wine Industry Insight. Putting this story out  to the industry perhaps drew out more wholesalers like T.J., who just didn’t voice an opinion. (Most people read, not comment… me included.)

I went to T.J.’s work site, Skurnik Wines and was really impressed.

We exchanged Emails behind the scenes, and he added more to his thoughts… Words that are very enlightening. In the interest of fair play here are a few more valid points for why small producers will matter to some wholesalers, like Skurnik Wines.

“I know your post was meant to champion the small guys. And hey, I couldn’t agree more. Their wines have so much more personality (whether good OR bad). But many bloggers have made a target out of the three tier system (and you know what a EASY target we are)…

“I see a new kind of wholesaler emerging lately here. Small production, hard to find stuff. Also, new boutique store are popping up too. As wine enters America’s mainstream, of course it’s going to naturally end up in the big box stores. And the wine lovers will move down the trough to the geeky wine stores to find the real stuff. We often bemoan the plight of the small grower, but we often forget that it was THEM that decided to enter a crowded market. How much more wine is being produced out west (not to mention in every single state) that must find a way to get sold. If you ask me, WE are the small producers best friend in many ways. I work hard for every single guy in my book. I know what to show the big boys, and what to take to the quaint bottle shop or cafe. There’s room for both.”

So… summing up, T.J. was the kind of wholesaler that I used to work with in my states. The wines were already placed, and I didn’t have that struggle. What I had to do was go to the markets and work with the passionate T.J.s of the world who would listen to my story, brainstorm with me on how to best sell the wines (including me doing whatever it took to help the process), and get the job done. I sold a boatload of wine, because we all cared so much and did the work.

There’s room out there for you all, but you must be patient and take baby step, Grasshopper.

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