Wine and Food are forever linked together. The evolution of the food culture has evolved hand in hand with the evolution of the wine culture in the United States.Read More
The college football world has the Championship Bowl Series. The wine industry has its’ version of this matchup, UC Davis vs. Fresno State. These two California state public colleges have produced most of the winemakers in the United States. If you are not from California you are probably not familiar with the distinction between the UC colleges and State colleges.Read More
I have been an observer and participant in the change of the retail landscape in America for over 35 years. As a CPA in the 80’s, I saw the explosion of specialty retailers. I worked for Touche Ross, once the premier CPA firm for retailers. I saw the beginnings of many power house retailers of the 80’s and 90’s that transformed where and how we shop today (a little thing called the inter-web has changed it again and will continue to change it).Read More
I noticed about 10 years ago, most of the people in the office were younger than me. Then, year after year I began to notice many of the people in the office, and people I was dealing with outside the office were about the same age as my boys. It suddenly dawned on me…I had become the “old guy” in the office.Read More
There is nothing that scares me more about shopping in a wine store than the “German Wine” section. I am your average American wine consumer. I am used to seeing simple wine labels with images of animals, vineyards, people, art, etc. on domestic wine, with simple varietal information and maybe some regional information included on the label. German wine labels take a different approach…
I don’t speak German, but holy moly that’s a lot of words on a label. I feel like they are commanding me to buy the wine. I usually run out of the German wine section as quickly as possible due to the feeling of inferior wine knowledge.
Behind the wine and the labels is the German wine structure:
No, it’s not a new entry in the periodic table or plans to build a weapon of mass destruction. It’s a diagram to help understand German wine. Yikes. No wonder the labels are scary.
Germans never seem to do anything the easy way. I know, I’m German. My maternal Grandmother (Meta Goetz…now that’s German) and all our relatives of that generation spoke German more often with each other than English, so I got a good dose of German-ish culture growing up. I also got a close up view of the German mentality. Most of my uncles were farmers in the midwest. You have to be a physically and mentally tough person to succeed at that life. When I think about the family characters I have met throughout the years and taken my own behaviors into account, it’s not surprising to see why German growers decided to plant vineyards (yes, yes I know the Romans started it, but Germans took it to a ridiculous level) on the side of a steep hill. Leave it to Germans to figure out the hardest place to put a vineyard.
I mean, honestly, who puts a vineyard on the side of a steep river bank? Who else? Germans. Like all things German, the vineyards are very precise. I have only walked through a few of these riverside bank vineyards, but I can tell you they are as steep as they look in the picture. I am sure they are difficult to pick. Just the way the Germans like it.
Someday I will conquer my fear of German wine and not embarrass my German relatives. So to all the Goetz, Dittmer, Fuchs and Meinike family members out there, I apologize.
For right now, I’ll stick to the domestic wine isle and hope Meta Goetz isn’t looking down at me with disdain!
I have spent the majority of my life since graduating high school, “at work”. My college “experience” consisted of riding a bus into San Francisco, coming home and studying in my parents two bedroom apartment, while working in the paint department at Sears (Yes, that Easy Living semi-gloss paint will work great in the bathroom Mrs. Smith). Since graduating college, the past 35 years have been a journey through corporate America, Wall Street and startup ventures. All requiring an obscene amount of hours and energy. Don’t cue up the violins. I am a hard headed German with a streak of Irish stubbornness. In many cases, I made my journey harder than it should have, or could have been.Read More
For the past 10-15 years anyone who sells consumer products has talked about the Millennials. My three sons are part of this huge demographic group that represents the spawn of the Baby Boomer generation. Now this Millennial generation is coming of “consumption” age. Generally they are doing it later than my generation did. They stay in school longer, marry later and start having kids in their 30’s. To date, Millennials are a mysterious group when it comes to consumption.Read More
E mail is a wonderful communication tool for “numbers” and “fact based memos” (just the facts, ma'am). It has made efficiencies in the workplace possible over the past 20 plus years. It has eliminated the need for most formal business letters. However, email has a dark side. A really dark side. I call it c-mail. The "c" stands for cowardice and confusion.Read More
The nerve center of every company I have ever been involved with is the accounts payable department. You probably would have expected Sales, Marketing, Merchandising, Human Resources, etc... Your last choice was probably the lowly accounts payable department. I mean, all they do is push paper and pay bills, right?Read More
Working in a Company is sometimes like being in a family. There is a hierarchy in both families (or at least there was in the 60’s and 70’s when I grew up) and companies, you have peers which can be like having siblings and you have to tolerate personal idiosyncrasies of siblings and coworkers. However, there is a huge difference…you can get fired from your company. To the best of my knowledge you can’t get fired from your family.Read More
Most of the wine sold in the U.S. is packaged in 750ml bottles with a cork closure. I would give an exact percentage, but once again Finn the black lab, my fact checker, is taking a nap (Finn is awake about 2 hours a day). Just take my word for it based on traveling around the country and spending an inordinate amount of time in retail stores selling wine. There are plenty of other alternative packaging offerings in stores.Read More
People who start companies are not “normal.” They start companies for a variety of reasons. Some are successful at it, and some are not. There is a segment of these people that I refer to as “miners.” It’s a term I made up years ago to try to explain the behavior I have witnessed and/or read about by people who start and (to the benefit and detriment of the company) stay involved in running the operations and interacting with the employees of the company.
I have often wondered why wine isn’t as fun as spirits and beer. For example, let’s compare the advertising for spirits and beer to wine (if you can find any advertising for wine). If you watch TV, read or attend events you will find spirits and beer advertising portraying pool parties, football/basketball/baseball games, bonfires on the beach, big houses, “keggers”, vacations, Jägermeister girls, Jello shots, Rat Pack, Moscow Mules, music festivals, happy hour…and on and on and on.
Wine has more in common with fashion apparel and accessories at department stores than it does with any of the products in a grocery, liquor or beverage superstore.
This will be hard for men to understand because for the most part the majority don’t pay attention to what year or season our clothes are from and we wear few accessories (maybe a watch, but that’s being replaced by iPhones/smart watches). By the way, my wife would call this a man-ser, loosely defined as an answer that I say as fact with conviction, which may or may not be supported by fact.
Women, on the other hand, are often more acutely aware of the season and year of their clothes and accessories (this is confirmed by wife’s seemingly never ending supply of different handbags). Since I am at the age where I am going to multiple weddings every year for our friends’ children, I can’t find a better illustration of the difference between the way men and woman approach fashion than the classic, “What are you wearing to the wedding?” question.
I wear the one suit I own (thank God it still fits) to all the weddings. Side note…
What happened to wearing suits in downtown businesses? Across the country I rarely see business guys in suits going to work in major cities. In San Francisco, it is tough to find anyone in a suit. In 1981, I got reprimanded by a partner at a CPA firm I worked at in San Francisco for not having a three-piece suit… I didn’t have a vest! Things have definitely changed.
Back to the wedding… I usually change ties, but not always. I give my clothing selection about 10 seconds of thought as I get out of the shower to go to the wedding. My shoe selection takes less time. I put on my black wing tips. I think I have had three pairs of the same shoes for the past 35 years.
Three months before the wedding, my wife will buy multiple dresses for the wedding - looking for the right fit, style, and of course how the dress goes with shoes, handbag, jewelry, etc. These choices will be vetted multiple times via numerous Starbucks meetings with her girlfriends. I can assure you I don’t discuss my clothing choices with any of their husbands.
So, what the hell does this have to do with wine? Well, wine is far more a “fashion” item than a “grocery” item. How so? Fashion apparel is built for obsolescence. Every season of every year begets a new line of clothes rolling off the trucks into department stores. If you ever wondered why department stores have crazy 80% off kind of sales, now you know… they have to get rid of the prior season, because the new season will be hitting the stores soon. Can’t have last year’s spring line on the racks this year.
Wine is not that different. I have talked about varietals, appellations and vintages in other blog entries. All of those nuances in wine create an inventory item with the built-in obsolescence of this year’s spring collection of dresses at a department store. Just like a fashion line is judged each year, wine vintages are too judged as good or bad. Wine has another issue… while you can make fewer dresses, grapes continue to get harvested every year. Wine has to be made, regardless of inventory levels.
Why did wine do this to itself? Beer and spirits don’t have appellations and vintages (they do have “craft”… I smell fashion creeping into their categories). Coca Cola is Coca Cola. Most consumer package goods have a fraction of the selection that wine has. Could you ever imagine someone saying, “This vodka is a little off from the `11 vintage”. I dare say vodka companies would have an organizational mental breakdown if they had to deal with those types of inventory management issues (FWIW...I am extremely jealous).
Everyone likes selection, but no one likes the economic reality of having to carry large amounts of inventory that don’t sell with high frequency. It takes a great deal of inventory management skill to juggle the multiple levels of varietals, vintages, and appellations through winery, distributor and retailer to keep inventory at reasonable and profitable levels for all the participants in the supply chain.
The other strong similarity wine has with fashion is the label on the wine. Wine quality and pricing are critical components in building successful brands. Just as important is the label. In a sea of product selection options, a wine label has to grab the attention of the consumer in a fraction of a second. In that moment, the label is trying to communicate the essence of this wine.
We have serious labels with pencil sketches of Domaine this or Estate Bottled that. We have whimsical labels and “critter” labels with bunnies and lizards. We have abstract labels with old paintings. Each of these labels is trying to make an emotional connection between the consumer and the type of wine in the bottle. Just like you wouldn’t wear cutoffs to your family Thanksgiving dinner (or at least shouldn’t), there are wine labels you wouldn’t want on your table at Thanksgiving.
Some fashion apparel styles come and go (remember parachute pants in the 80’s, or how about Zubaz?) and others never change (like the little black dress). Wines are the same way. Some have been around decades, but most come and go.
So the next time you buy a bottle of wine, know you are drinking “consumable fashion”.
David Bowie, God rest his soul, said it best: “Fashion! Turn to the left. Fashion! Turn to the right.” Think about that in the store aisle next time.
At some point in a company’s life cycle, outside investments may need to be considered to fund growth that regular bank debt financing can’t support and/or provide liquidity to original investors and owners. When that time comes, chances are you will have to make a “pitch” to a private equity firm.Read More
Disclaimer: this rant will only be meaningful to industry insiders. However, it’s one of the best examples of why selling wine in the United States is one of the strangest, most archaic, socially awkward, humiliating and straight up funny experiences anyone can have while trying to build a wine brand.Read More
When I went to college, computers were an afterthought and computer science was a major for the geeks (yes, I was an accounting major... much cooler). Most people took a programming class in their first couple of years and there were two main programming languages you could choose from: COBOL or FORTRAN.Read More
If you travel around the U.S. enough, everything starts to look the same: same stores, restaurants and hotels. Same everything. You could call it the McDonalds/Starbucks effect. Sure, it can be comforting to have a familiar store to shop at while traveling, but my travels afford me a bit of a different perspective.Read More
Did you know there are over 8,000 wineries in the United States? If on average those wineries have two brands each, that’s 16,000 brands available in the market in one form or another.Read More
Start-ups have a strange addictive quality to them that brings people back time and time again. Intellectually, it makes no sense to keep coming back.Read More