New York Wine & GrapeNews
Field Notes: Framing the Wine Sale...
From Paul Brady, Brand Ambassador
Framing the Wine Sale...
When a winery owner, winemaker, or tasting room staff is faced with a consumer or member of the trade who asserts a preference for a style of wine that their winery may not produce, it can admittedly be a bit frustrating. Learning how to decode that preference and frame a winery's offerings through that buyer’s lens is a useful tool, and I’ve seen it in action – and it results in sales. If this is not an ability that has yet been developed by everyone on your staff, we invite you to consider re-exploring the following options as a way for them to expand those valuable skills.
Understanding most current wine circle’s buying preferences can, in one part, be further understood through recognizing benchmarks throughout the global industry of wine. Having a sense of how wines produced from grapes like cabernet sauvignon, pinot noir, or chardonnay from elsewhere in the world, what their structural identity is, and how they are typically priced, would be a good place to begin. Learning to taste wine for the purpose of assessing quality and identity takes time and dedication, but there are a few easily accessible outlets for such learning.
Tasting groups abound in wine circles and at all levels. Being in a tasting group is like having a gym membership – sometimes life gets in the way and we forget to make use of it, so whether you’re joining a tasting group for the first time, or are already in one that has been meeting regularly and likely already has a curriculum in place, or if you’re starting one from scratch, it’s important to have focus and to be open to wines from all corners of the world. No one in 2019 is asserting that we only need-be tasting wines made from, say, noble Bordeaux grapes. But, having that classical understanding of what has been considered cannon will only help further sharpen your palate and understanding of where our New York wines sit in terms of a global, quality-identity. When involved with wine marketing or production, it can be very helpful to taste our own region’s wines in the company of those from places with an equal or longer history. Consider looking for multiple tasting groups -- it’s important to taste with those at your level, but also with anyone at a higher level for learning purposes. And as you advance, you’ll then be able to teach those around you who may just be beginning.
Taste with Winemakers
Luckily in this community, many of us can spend time at wineries and with winemakers. Tasting with like-minded front-of-house wine professionals is valuable but tasting with winemakers is opportune. Drinkers have preferences (types of oak aging, fermentations, levels of sugar, etc.) and tasting with winemakers is ideal for learning about those fine details. While at a winery, perhaps ask to taste a barrel sample of wine from American oak versus wine from French oak; or a tank sample of wine from grapes from a certain block of a vineyard versus another block. These closely detailed lessons with winemakers are really what makes any “civilian” a better, more experienced taster, and therefore better equipped to make on-the-fly decisions when guests inquire about potential wines of a specific style. Do what you must get those VIP tastings with your favorite winemakers.
Without question the most expensive option, though highly accredited, would be to enroll in one of the various wine certification sequences, such as the WSET (Wine & Spirit Education Trust), CMS (Court Of Master Sommeliers), or those available at colleges and universities (and there are more). And more and more now, we’re evening seeing consumers putting themselves through certified sommelier exams. Again, these types of survey curriculums will offer a broad and international approach to learning to taste and understand wine. I spoke to winery owner Shannon Brock, of Silver Thread Vineyards in the Finger Lakes, about her take on having earned the WSET Diploma:
“As a producer/owner of a winery since 2011, my WSET training continues to help. First, many buyers are graduates or students of the WSET program and we can easily form a connection based on that shared experience (even though our day-to-day lives are very different). Secondly, it allows me to compare our Finger Lakes wines to other benchmark styles from around the world that they might be familiar with. Thirdly, it helps me appropriately price our wines to stay competitive with similar styles that compete with our wines.”
So then if a consumer or member of the trade walks into Silver Thread and expresses their love of the wines of Vouvray from the Loire Valley in France, Shannon, as a WSET Diploma graduate, would know that the guest likes wines from the chenin blanc grape. And while there is not much chenin blanc planted yet in New York, a good alternative could be perhaps an unoaked chardonnay or even a Riesling with some sweetness, if the guest enjoys sweeter Vouvray. Well-rounded training will teach confidence when it comes to offerings.
August Deimel, winemaker at Keuka Spring Vineyards and a WSET disciple (and on the path to Master Of Wine) is also poised during trade visits under trial-by-fire circumstances. So, if a guest walks in a says, “I like to drink natural wines, do you have any?” By being up to speed on tasting and industry trends, August recognizes that natural wine is a vast category encompassing not only grape growing and winemaking practices, but also a range of stylings that sometimes includes simply what is new and exciting, or unfamiliar. At Keuka Spring, in that case, he may offer a wine made from the lesser-known Vignoles grape; or an un-oaked Lemberger… Ideally what will not happen is the loss of an otherwise potential sale.
“It’s a delicate balance to figure out what someone is looking for when you’re not absolutely sure,” August says. “So, understand what you have that they could groove on, if framed right.”
A fluent familiarity on wine from a global perspective can seem daunting, but it’s never been so easily within our grasp, whether it’s for you the wine drinker or winery employee, it can help with both the buying and the selling.
Paul Brady, Brand Ambassador
New York Wine & Grape Foundation