When the 3-tier system works as it's supposed to, it's a beautiful thing.
July 31, 2018
Every summer, I spend a couple of weeks in Vermont. I'm from there, and my mom still spends summers in the house I grew up in. My sister and her family are 50 yards away. And I get a chance to remind my California kids that there are places where it's green in the summer and water flows. It's a lovely tradition, and I always find it regenerative.
Up until a few years ago, my dad, who like my mom traveled back east for the summer season, would always schedule a couple of consumer events near their Vermont home, and since his health began to decline a few years ago I've tried to continue the tradition. I did one of these a couple of weeks back at the small shop Meditrina Wine & Cheese, in my hometown of Chester, VT. Now, this isn't a shop that moves dozens of cases of Tablas Creek each year. But they consistently have a few of our wines on their shelves, their owner Amy Anderson is knowledgeable and passionate, and she's supported Tablas Creek for years. And, as the only legitimate wine shop in town, it was and is a regular destination for the family when we're in town. Amy I discussed doing a tasting together when I was in town last summer, and worked out the details this spring.
About 40 people attended the Wednesday evening tasting, pretty evenly split between people who heard about it from the email I sent out, people who heard about it from the email that Meditrina sent out, and people who were wandering by and stopped in because they saw the (modest) crowd. In the end, Meditrina sold a couple of cases of wine, a few new people learned about Tablas Creek, our Vermont mailing list members were grateful that we did an event (and let them know about it) on the other side of the country, and we helped solidify some relationships. It's the kind of event that is a basic building block the world over for marketing a family winery.
I do dozens of events a year around the country, typically a mix of restaurant wine dinners, festivals, and in-store tastings. Why was this one so gratifying? Well, everything worked as it should, and no one just took advantage of the efforts to make a little easy money. Those efforts began with the promotion of the event. Both we and the shop did our parts in promoting the tasting; it's been on our Web site since the spring, both we and Meditrina sent out emails to our local mailing list members the week of the tasting, and Meditrina posted about it on their Facebook page.
The good work continued with the logistics and delivery. When the wines that Amy ordered didn't arrive as they were supposed to on the distributor's delivery truck, it looked like we might not be able to pull off the event. But Anton Vicar, the wine specialist for our VT distributor Baker Distributing, jumped into action. He made a special run to the warehouse so that we had wines to sell at the event, bringing them himself as the event was starting. And he hung out at the event after, socializing, making sure things were running smoothly, and interacting with the guests.
And Amy completed the trifecta by putting together an event that rewarded the people who came. The tasting was free. She invested in a nice platter of local cheeses and meats for some nibbles. And she offered great prices on the wines we were showing that evening, so people could feel good about taking wine home with them that night.
Where could this have gone wrong?
- The wine shop could have taken the extra business and not done the outreach to help share the winery's story. Or they could not support the wines year-round. (They did, and do.) Or they could have offered the wines at full markup and just taken advantage of the people we brought in. (They didn't.)
- The distributor could have just said "sorry", asked that the wine shop take orders, and delivered the wine later in the week. Meditrina would have done so, but it'd have been extra work, and inconvenient for the guests, some of whom drove nearly an hour. (Thank you, Anton.)
- The guests could have used the free tasting as a chance to try some free wine, not bought anything, and maybe ordered it later. But they didn't. They came with enthusiasm and good questions, and supported the shop that did the work of putting on this nice event.
- Or we, as a winery, could have not promoted the event, and just taken the extra orders that came of it. I hear all the time when I do events with accounts that the last winery they "partnered" with didn't do anything to ensure the event's success, and didn't turn out their own customers. (This drives me nuts. We always send out news about the events we do to our mailing list members, who are generally grateful. Why wouldn't you do this?)
In the end, everyone benefits. The wine shop gets some new customers and some extra sales. The winery gets some new customers, some extra sales, and the gratitude of some mailing list members. The distributor gets some extra sales and the gratitude of both an account and a supplier. And the customers get to try some wines they otherwise wouldn't have tried, and a chance to interact with a winery principal 3000 miles from home.
I know that there are times when I complain about the wholesale market in my blog posts. And it can be frustrating, for all the reasons I explained above. But this was a great example of how it can work for everyone, and why wholesale distribution should be a benefit to a winery's direct sales, and vice versa.
PS Thanks to my talented sister Rebecca Haas for taking the photos that evening.