Sunday, April 24, 2011

Barriques: Finn and Matt bring great wine to Madison’s masses – Part II of III

MadisonWineScene (MWS) recently interviewed Finn Berge, co-owner of Barriques, (, @barriques on Twitter, at the Monroe Street location (1831 Monroe Street, Madison, WI 53711, 608-284-9463) about their wine business.

A previous post discussed Barriques’ place in the Madison wine market.  This post discusses how Finn’s tastes affect Barriques’ selection of wines.

MWS: You have your comments on nearly every wine out there. How did you develop your wine palate?
Finn: My father and my uncle used to make homemade wines. I helped my uncle a lot making blackberry and dandelion wines and so I developed an interest in how cool it was to make wine. My mother allowed us to have wine at dinner on Friday and Saturday nights when we were in high school.  

The big change was when I moved to Colorado and I worked for a 5-star restaurant and it had a big elaborate wine room and a guy whose sole job was to take care of the wine room – this was before there were formal Sommelier programs in the States.  We had to be involved – at staff meetings each group of employees had to come up and talk about Burgundy, or whatever, so there was this kind of building block.  

Then I moved back to Madison and we opened our first restaurant, the Blue Marlin, and I was the only one who had been a bartender and had any knowledge of wine so the wine list was mine. My first wine list was 18 wines, but I was young, I was a bachelor, and I had time on my hands so if there was a wine event in Milwaukee or Chicago or whatever I was going.  I continually went to all the different events that were accessible.  

Then I started going to France and Spain and Italy and going out and seeing the process.  It builds off from there.  It is a game changer every day. That’s what makes it cool.  Nothing is set in stone – marketing-wise, product-wise.  There are only a few, consistent products out there like the first-growths – Latour and so on -- and the ones that need to follow suit to maintain their status.

MWS: What do you focus on when you visit a small vineyard in Italy and sample their wine?
Finn: It is always a learning process so you are trying to taste regional and individualistic qualities.  

If you are travelling in a river valley north of Florence, that Chianti is going to be markedly different than what you see in Radda or Gaiole south of Florence. They call it a Senesi – you are not going to find that style anywhere else in Tuscany. So now when a distributor comes in and says that I have a Colli Senesi Chianti and I try it, and the winemaker went to the University of California – Davis and it came out as a juicy fruit-bomb, then you have kind of lost the soul of the region and the style.

MWS: Do you try to feature any special types of wine in Barriques Wine of the Month club?
Finn:  I try to keep it interesting.  

Once in a while I will get a comment like “Can’t you do more Shiraz or can’t you do more German Rieslings?” but the Wine of the Month club is for people who want to learn about wine – different styles and different flavors so I would rather not have a mono-varietal profile.  

I don’t even like doing mono-varietal profile tastings.  I find them to be slightly boring, especially like a California Zinfandel tasting.  We break it up by doing it with blue cheese to help break up the palate with the high-alcohol, glycerally fruit-filled wine – it is not fun to sit there and drink wine like that.  They are fun to drink but I would not want to drink them consecutively.

MWS: How easy is it to still find wines that meet your standards of value and quality for the Barriques Wall of 100?
Finn: Especially now.

I have held firm on the $10 price point and forced our distributors to work up the chain to fit that price structure.  They can’t get used to that “it is this wine and only this wine every year”.  They have to do their research.  

In Spain and Italy there are tons and tons of mom-and-pop wineries – there are plenty of new wines and new wineries popping up that offer great value. Spain is on a tremendous growth spurt. California is a tough nut to maintain high quality at a good price, though there are a number of them that have really done a nice job.  Lot of wine out of Lodi – Zinfandel, Syrah.  But finding the $10 Napa Cab – that is not going to happen.  Surprisingly though there are a lot of great $20-$25 Napa Cabs, but they are just not labeled with who actually made it. In Australia, I am told that in 2010 there were 40 million cases of wine that have been produced for which they do not have markets.

MWS: Hidden gems?
Finn:  One of the big sleepers out there right now is inexpensive Bordeaux.  That’s where the steals are. Anything since ’04 or ’05.  

The quality of low-end Bordeaux and how they handle it has completely changed. Their skin contact time, maceration and barrel aging  -- it may not have been new barrels – but they were still emulating what the top wines were doing and you were ending up with this nasty green-pepper super-dry tannic monsters that were a roll of the dice as to whether they were ever going to open up.  

Now they are pulling back on the wood and they are making much more approachable wines so you can get really great Bordeaux for an inexpensive price.  

However, you have to do your research – unfortunately they do not simply label it as Chateau Ausone Class A and Chateau Ausone Class B – Chateau Ausone’s second wine would have a completely different label. [MWS: Helpfully in this case it is called La Chapelle de Ausone].

MWS: Have you made any mistakes?
Finn: Definitely – I have my beliefs.  

Sometimes I buy wines and they are completely self-serving and they are out there.  There is a 98-point Syrah on the shelves right now but I know no one is ever going to buy it. Not because of the price – people just don’t know what it is, Syrah never became the great panacea everyone believed it was going to become, and so unless somebody is in the know it is just going to sit there.  

There is a La Reine des Bois Domaine de la Mordoree Tavel Rose that I think I will buy every year. I still have nearly all the ones I bought last year. I just tried the most recent vintage and it is out of the park.  If you were to have a portfolio of the greatest wines made today, that is one of the greatest wines made today.

MWS:  What is your preference in wine?
Finn:  Brighter, more minerality, more structure, usually more esoteric and not just opulent fruit or the true-blue, big, in-your-face California or Bordeaux style of wine.

MWS: Personal favorites?
Finn: Most of the wines we consume are in the aroma state and not the bouquet state. It is all the qualities of tasting the fruit rather than all the components that come from long-term aging.

The next posting will discuss the role of wine importers and wine distributors

Saturday, April 16, 2011

Barriques: Finn and Matt bring great wine to Madison’s masses – Part I of III

MadisonWineScene (MWS) recently interviewed Finn Berge, co-owner of Barriques, (, @barriques on Twitter, at the Monroe Street location (1831 Monroe Street, Madison, WI 53711, 608-284-9463) about their wine business.

MWS:  Barriques has been open since December 1998 (at Monroe Street in Madison). How have Barriques wine offerings evolved since then?
Finn: When we first opened we didn’t know anything about retail.  

I knew a lot about wine, I just didn’t know anything about retail. We opened up and I bought like I was still buying for a restaurant – whatever was the top wine with the top label and the big points.

You can have your trophies, but people don’t drink trophies every day – that’s the reality of it. People who drink wine every day -- like myself -- I don’t go into my refrigerator and pull out a 97 point Chateauneuf du Pape – if I am having a bottle of wine tonight I will have a Wall wine - something good that you can enjoy, and if you don’t finish it that’s ok.

MWS:  How long did it take you to figure that out?
Finn: Couple of years.  

It is only economically viable if you have your little black book of people who want their box filled up for them with trophy wines, and in this economic world there are a lot fewer people like that.

MWS:  When you worked in the restaurant business in Madison, did the high point wines sell there?
Finn: Oh yes. Especially with fine dining – clients entertaining, expense accounts… and so that old adage: the more expensive it is, the better it is, so wine lists tend to be inflated a lot more.  

Whereas, retail where people are buying for themselves, and they are buying multiple bottles, well that price tag adds up pretty quick.

MWS:  You have always had the Wall of 100 that features wine under $10.  What was the thinking behind that?
Finn:  The Wall is the opposite of the way most stores approach inexpensive wines.

Most stores you go in, the inexpensive wines are in stacks or on the floor, and the trophy wines are in the nice wood cases, lit up and everything else. Well, the people who are looking for the trophy wines, they know what they are looking for and will find them, but the common consumer who wants to learn about wine, this is a vehicle for them to be able to go in, and read the information clearly, and it is all at eye height rather than the floor.

In the US we have huge potential for greater wine consumption; in total consumption we are now first in the world, but our per capita wine consumption is only about 9 liters per year, while it is either 27 or 29 for France.  [MWS: Americans drink only 9.6 liters of wine a year per capita. That's less than Bulgaria, and only a bit more than the United Arab Emirates, where alcohol is pretty much illegal. In France annual per capita consumption is 46 liters. Topping the charts is the Vatican with 70 liters]. If we start hitting those numbers there will be a Barriques at every corner.

MWS: Are there differences between Barriques locations in Madison in terms of the kinds of wines that are featured?
Finn:  There is definitely a difference between suburban towns versus city proper.

Here on Monroe Street, because we are in the middle of the University, there are a lot of language department professors and those individuals will try anything and drink anything but they are definitely much more budget-minded also.  They buy smart, but they will try obscure varietals or blends or different countries.

Fitchburg – California chardonnay still reigns as king.  You wouldn’t believe that in most markets but that place we can sell lots and lots of California chardonnay.

In Middleton they buy in the mentality that if it is more expensive it will therefore be better.

MWS: How has business been?
Finn: Good.  Of course the combination of what we do between café, food, wine, and wine tastings helps  – we are kind of an education center.

MWS: A common comment by others in the business is that Barriques has done an outstanding job of educating Madison consumers about different wines.  Has that educational mission always been explicit in Barriques’ history?
Finn:  In the beginning I was the only wine person on the floor, all day every day, so I had a one-on-one relationship with customers.  

Now, unfortunately I spend more time on the computer writing tasting notes so that each of the stores has the information. When we started our wine tastings our intention was to follow the mold – having periodic tastings with wine distributors or wine makers.  

When we did our very first wine tasting we had a visiting distributor from Chicago to do a tasting – and there was a major snowstorm in Madison that night but we still had 80 people show up – they came on cross-country skis, snow shoes, they brought dogs – it was hilarious.  The store was just packed and we said we need to do this more often. To logistically pull off having consecutive wine makers visit us every week was just too hard to arrange, and that is what I did naturally in any case, so we decided to start doing it ourselves every Friday night. Ever since then, Friday night has been mine, here on Monroe Street for the last eleven years.

MWS: Are there certain wines that are a hard sell to Madison wine consumers?
Finn:  Anything that is one step off the beaten track.  

The names that people know and react to are names like Chianti, Tuscany, Chateauneuf du Pape, Rioja – those types of names were developed for marketing purposes. We had an email special a week ago, it was a Morellino, which is a DOCG [MWS: Denominazione di Origine Controllata e Garantita – a protected designation of origin] from the heart of Tuscany – it is everything that Tuscany is -- but it is called Morellino -- it doesn’t say Chianti. [MWS: Morellino is the name for the local variety of Sangiovese (which is also the basis of Chianti and both Brunello di Montalcino and Vino Nobile di Montepulciano) and comes from the Maremma area of Tuscany]. So you can’t have five Morellinos on your shelf – people may pick it up here or there based upon my notes  -- but you can have several Chiantis, and they will all sell because people are familiar with that.  

Even more so with Tuscany: if I do a Chianti tasting I will have 25 people show up, but if I do a Tuscany tasting I will have 45 people show up – even though I am showing all Chiantis.

MWS: Are there certain wines where you have been surprised with their success in Madison?
Finn:  I am not out to bash certain products but there are companies that have done an excellent job in marketing but have forgotten what is supposed to go in the bottle.

MWS:  Another comment is that Barriques staff is very knowledgeable about the wines Barriques carries.  What does Barriques do to train its staff?
Finn: The people who work on the wine side came in looking for jobs that would somehow involve them in wine.  We can always tell which ones will be good at selling wine: we have an open invitation to all our staff  -- it is almost mandatory -- to our wine tastings.

Wine tasting is something that you have to keep up on so you have to be constantly tasting and learning.  

I am still learning – things that I always thought were a reality get debunked somewhere along the way.  I just found out that everything I thought I knew about Rioja was completely wrong as far as what the label and the blend could be – I had always believed that it had to be a majority of Tempranillo – that is not true, and they can put Merlot, and they can put Cab in it, they just can’t put it on the label.  We also have an in-store Intranet so if I get a cool fact or a visiting winemaker I can do a little bio write-up and all our staff can see it.

The next posting will discuss how Finn’s tastes affect Barriques’ selection of wines.

Friday, April 15, 2011

Killer B’s on the Wisconsin River

MadisonWineScene (MWS) was at the Piedmont Killer B’s wine tasting, April 14, at the Blue Spoon, 550 Water Street, Prairie du Sac, 608-643-0837,

The Killer B’s denote the great wines of the Piedmont region of Italy (the area near Turin, site of the 2006 Winter Olympics) -- Barbera, Barbaresco and of course Barolo.  

Barbera grapes produce high acid, moderately tannic wines that are sometimes used in blending because they can add structure to a lighter wine and softness to a tannic wine. Because of this versatility it is often bottled as a varietal with labels such as Barbera d’Alba or Barbera d’Asti – Alba and Asti being sub-regions of Piedmont. Barbera is the most commonly planted grape in the Piedmont, and the third most commonly planted grape in Italy after Sangiovese and Montepulciano. A Barbera would be typically paired with Italian fare like pasta or any dish with a tomato-based sauce

Barbaresco and Barolo are made from the Nebbiolo grape, which is only grown in Piedmont.  Barbarescos are required to be aged a minimum of two years while Barolos are required to be aged a minimum of three years.  The wine is light colored and takes on a brick-orange hue at the rim of the glass as it ages. Both wines are very tannic and require long aging (although the tannins in Barbaresco soften faster than those in Barolo, and therefore make them more approachable to drink at a relatively earlier age).  Adjectives frequently used for those wines are big, muscular, and chewy. However, mature Barolos, if you are willing to cellar one for 30 years, are described as having the velvety texture of rose petals.  Food pairing: Beef, It’s What’s for Dinner.

In terms of deals this was better than anything that Groupon could ever offer.  For $30 a person one got a generous pour of 11 wines. No, really, 11.  All 11 of the wines were of superior quality but the four Barolos described below were outstanding. It would be rare to find them in a retail store in Madison, and most restaurants anywhere would price these wines at several hundred dollars a bottle.  

On the same day, the Wall Street Journal carried an article ( -- Introducing the Other B: Barolo about the attempts of Barolo producers to stimulate interest in China in top Italian wines. Bottom-line: buy these wines before the Chinese bid up prices to insane levels as they have done with first-growth Bordeauxs.  The article also offered this incisive observation: “Often you see people drinking French wines with Italian food, and you’re thinking, ’It doesn’t make sense,’” said Nick Pegna, managing director in Hong Kong at Berry Bros. & Rudd, which recently hosted five visiting winemakers from Italy’s Piedmont region.

Props to Mike Boss of the Blue Spoon and to General Beverage for finding these wines and arranging this event. The tasting was held in a room overlooking the Wisconsin River – which was running high and fast and white-foamed that evening – seemed to be in a hurry to get to Prairie du Chien.  

The finalists for best of show in this tasting were:

  • The 2005 Barolo Bricco Ambrogio, from Scavino, was a full-bodied wine with lots of dark fruit.
  • The 2005 Barolo Bric del Fiasc, also from Scavino, was rich but softer than a typical Barolo. The fruit was strong and the wine certainly lived up to it’s title of King of  the Scavino cellars.  This was the best of the three offerings from Scavino.
  • The 2005 Barolo Cannubi – the third offering that night from Scavino – had an aromatic bouquet, fruit, length, balance.
  • The best of show however went to Sandrone’s 2004 Barolo Cannubi Boschis.  Beautiful color, well-knit fruit and tannins.  All that was needed was a medium-rare ribeye.
The Scavino label includes 14 different wines, including some Barberas and an entry-level Barolo, but their single-vineyard Barolos – three of which are listed above -- are typically among the finest in the region. The Cannubi vineyard is the most famous historical cru of Barolo with the first bottle being made in 1792, and the vineyard has mythic status among Barolo lovers.

The other seven wines that were showcased were:

  • 2008 Luigi Tacchino Barbera del Monferrato
  • 2006 Ca Bianca Chersi Barbera d’Asti
  • 2007 Venti colle dei Venti Barbera d’Asti
  • 2008 Marziano Abbona Rinaldi Barbera d’Alba
  • 2007 Boroli Langhe Rosso Anna (not technically a Barolo since it is blended with Merlot)
  • 2004 Poderi Elia Serracapelli Barbaresco
  • 2004 Eugenio Bocchino Lu Barolo
Of these, the Ca Bianca Chersi and the Boroli Langhe Rosso Anna dominated the others. The former was rich, earthy and fruity while the latter will be an ideal pairing with summer grilling being light, drinkable, and approachable.

The Blue Spoon has similar wine tastings every month.

Friday, April 8, 2011

Steve’s Wine - European wines on Mineral Point Road: Dominique Taquet– Part II of II

MadisonWineScene (MWS) recently interviewed Dominique Taquet of Steve’s Wine Market ( at 8302 Mineral Point Road, 608-833-5995.

Dominique has worked for 10 years for Steve’s Wine Market and prior to that worked for 10 years in Paris for a Japanese company buying wines, gourmet food and luxurious tableware. He has a BA in English and Japanese, studied wines at l’Institut d’Oenologie de Paris for 1 year, and tasted thousands of wines since!

A previous post discussed Steve’s wines from France.  This post will discuss Steve’s wines other parts of Europe.

MWS: What about other European wines that are available at Steve’s?
Dominique: I learned about Italian wines after coming to the US.  The French are very protective and they think that French wines are the best.  But with Italian wines there is so much diversity it is pretty amazing – hundreds of different grape varietals, different traditions of cooking and making wine.

Unfortunately there is now the “world palate” and the big importers go to the winemakers and asking for a certain style of wine which any one can make – cold-soaking, carbonic maceration – to bring out more fruit and flavor and that is crushing and erasing the flavors of the soil.  But Italian wines overall offer a lot of acidity, a lot of earthy tones and are a great complement to food.

MWS: Which Italian wines do you carry?
Dominique: We are strong in Tuscany – the Sangiovese grape -- and also strong in Piedmont – the Nebbiolo based wines – but those are expensive – Dolcetto and Barberas, and wines like Barbaresco and Barolo also require a lot of aging.  Chiantis from Tuscany are available for under $10 but other Sangiovese-based wines like Brunello can be quite expensive.

MWS: What about German wines?
Dominique: We have all four regions represented – the Mosel, Rheingau, Nahe, Saar. Mosels tend to the profile of pear, apple, little bit of peach and the other regions will have a little more fruit or more acidity and minerals. They are mostly white.  They do have some reds – they do grow Pinot in Germany but it is pricey.  Even Switzerland has some good Pinots.

MWS: Spain is the largest remaining producer of wines that we have not talked about.
Dominique: We have a good representation of Spanish wine.  There is a lot of US money – importers investing in Spanish wineries – trying to match a “world palate” asking for winemakers to make wine in such a way that it matches US consumer demands.  For example, the best-known Spanish wine is Rioja but they have started using American oak barrels to bring in a lot of vanilla and toasted flavors to please the market. Just as an aside, there is also a lot of American money invested in French wineries, for example in Bordeaux, so that when there was a boycott of French wines a few years ago, some American investors got hurt.

MWS: What wines do you recommend to your Madison customers?
Dominique: I ask them what they like.  If they like plump and oaky wines I would probably recommend an inexpensive wine that has been heavily marketed – Parker’s points are pretty good for that – Parker likes those kinds of wines.

MWS: Are your wine customers influenced by points awarded by wine reviewers?
Dominique: The ones that do not know a sales person, and do not want any help usually are.

MWS: The Bordeaux ‘09 wine vintage has received great reviews. Are you investing?
Dominique: This is a business and there are reviews of the vintage and so people will come in and ask for it, so we need to be there.  But not only that, when we decide to put a wine on the shelf and are not afraid to invest, it is because we know it is a good vintage and it will last forever.  So ’09 is a vintage which is structured, and has fruit which will please a lot of people, so we know that if we sit on it for hopefully not too many years, we will be able to sell it, so then we start investing. So with ’09 we are investing.  Whatever we can find, whatever we can get hold of – if it is not too expensive. If there is a good vintage coming in – not just France but anywhere in the world – we have to go deep and reach as far as we can into a vintage.  We know that we will sit on the products for a while but that is not a big deal.

MWS: On buying days – Tuesdays – how many wines do you taste?
Dominique: Usually about 30 wines.  I try to taste American wines too because I need to compare and know what is going on.

MWS: What are you looking for in these wine tastings?
Dominique: I look for a wine that delivers a lot for as little as possible.  Always keeping – because European wines are food wines – keeping in mind some food. How the wine will match.  

For me the wine needs to complement a food.  It is a different tradition of drinking – Europeans do not drink wines the way that Americans do. It is not an aperitif – it could be, but most of the time it is not -- and it is not an after-dinner drink, it is mostly complementing the food. So going in the direction the food offers and the wine is there to promote a special flavor.  

So when I try a wine I am thinking about the kind of food I would be matching with it.  I am not thinking about the food first and then the wine – I am going the other way – what food would be interesting to match with that wine. So I try to see what I am picking up in the wine and thinking about recipes – maybe picking up some spices or herbaceous tones as well as the fruit -- but the fruit should not be too strong or too powerful.  

I try to be exposed to as many different types of cooking and I am very curious about spices – I have a memory for their aromas.

A customer came in today and he was making a beef soup and he took pride in mixing a lot of ingredients and he wanted a red wine. Since it was a soup I wanted a grape that would not be too overpowering so I went for a grape that I would probably have never bought if I hadn’t thought about food when I first tried it.  It was a Trousseau from the Jura [Domaine Rolet-Arbois] and it is a wine that has nice fruit but a little bit of earth in the back that I thought it would be subtle, and would make the dish shine, and not be too boastful.  

So when I taste wine, that is what I think about mostly, I think about food.

MWS: How much do you talk to your wine customers about that?
Dominique: As much as I can, trying to gauge a customer’s palate each time. We have a lot of knowledge and experience and are so eager to share and help! Most people like bolder flavors, but people who love to cook are really open to recommendations.

European wines are really about elegance, subtlety, and depth, in order to enhance, flatter or even contrast people’s dishes!

Thursday, April 7, 2011

Selling wines and selling books

Madison Wine Scene (MWS) recently attended a Washington state wine dinner organized by Jason Markgraff of Steve’s Wine ( at Osteria Papavero (, 128 E. Wilson, Madison.  Justin Vajgert of Reininger Winery ( from Walla Walla presented their Helix Aspersa (a blend of Chardonnay, Viognier and Semillon), Carmenere, Helix Merlot, Cabernet Sauvignon, and Helix Syrah while Justin Basel of Basel Cellars, also from Walla Walla (, offered their Cabernet Sauvignon, Syrah and Merriment (a Bordeaux blend of Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot and Cabernet Franc).

The wines were definitely food-friendly, tending to be fruit-forward, soft and round, and like most reds from Walla Walla, tending towards 14% or higher in alcohol content. They provided a good showcase for the variety of wines that Walla Walla and the Columbia River valley in eastern Washington have to offer. Having visited the area, MWS strongly recommends it – the landscape is beautiful, a surprising variety of high-quality wines are made in the area, the winemakers are friendly and accessible, Walla Walla has great restaurants, and a major stop on the Oregon Trail, the Whitman Mission National Historic Site, is just outside of town.

The Aspersa was served as an aperitif but the rest of the wines were well paired with a variety of foods, showing their versatility.  The Carmenere and the Merlot were paired with Fritto Misto alla Bolognese (a mixed fry of meats and vegetables); the two Cabs with Galantina di Coniglio Tartufata (truffled rabbit galantine); the two Syrahs with Cappe Sante e Scafata (seared scallops with pancetta) and the Merriment with Ravioli all’Ortica e Funghi (ravioli and mushrooms). The service was friendly and efficient, especially given the challenges of coordinating the different wines with the food courses.

In all, it was a significant investment of time and effort by Osteria Papavero, Steve’s, Reininger and Basel Cellars in staging this event.

Why do wineries go to the expense and inconvenience of hosting wine dinners? Neither Walla Walla, WA nor Madison, WI is the easiest place to get out of, or to get to.

In many ways, the business of selling wines may be compared to the business of selling books.

A struggling young author, having finished a masterpiece still has to get people to buy the product, preferably at full price.  With the costs and risks of the book distribution business, publishers prefer to rely on well-known names, whether they are Stephen King or George W. Bush, and even well known authors have to make the obligatory pilgrimage to Jon Stewart and David Letterman. Technology is changing the economics radically, but it is also lowering the barriers to entry thus bringing in more competitors for those Amazon rankings.

The options for a new author include:
  • An endorsement from Oprah really comes in handy.
  • Winning a Pulitzer helps too.
  • Getting favorable book reviews from publications such as the New York Times.
  • Placing ads.
  • Trying for direct contact with readers - book tours with book signings at stores, interviews on local radio.
  • If all else fails, having friends and family buy up copies of the book.
A struggling young wine maker is in many respects in a similar position, with the major difference that there will be no ewines to be consumed in the Riedel version of a Kindle.  Having produced the wine masterpiece, the wine maker still has to get people to buy the product, preferably at full price.  

The winemaker has to convince a distributor’s rep to carry the wine, the distributor’s salesperson has to convince a retailer to sell the wine and the retailer’s salesperson has to convince the consumer to buy the wine.  That’s a tough nut to crack – given the costs and risks of distribution, distributors are reluctant to take on unknowns. It is even tougher to get exposure through restaurants and wine bars, which usually have relatively narrow offerings, and tend to rely even more on well-known varietals and recognizable labels from familiar wine-growing regions.  

The options for a winemaker include:
  • A 100-point ranking from Robert Parker really comes in handy.
  • Winning prizes at wine competitions helps, but probably lacks the cachet of a Pulitzer.
  • Getting favorable reviews from publications such as the Wine Spectator.
  • Placing ads.
  • Trying for direct contact with consumers – having wine tasting dinners at restaurants with a winemaker in attendance, building tasting rooms at wineries, starting wine clubs, hosting wine tastings at stores, having an active presence in the social media – even Haut Brion and d’Yquem, which were favorites of Thomas Jefferson, have Twitter accounts (@HautBrion and @mYquem respectively), although Screaming Eagle has neither a Twitter nor a Facebook presence, but with their cult status they have a waiting list to get on their email list.
  • If all else fails, having friends and family buy up cases of the wine.
Thus, wine dinners can be seen as an attempt to connect directly with the consumer, and bypass an expensive and cumbersome distribution system for a product where most consumers rely on ratings, or sales recommendations, to make their buying decisions.