Why do you buy a new wine?

This one goes out to the buyers at restaurants and retailers everywhere. It’s a simple question with far reaching implications, and one that I want you to think very carefully about.

Why do you buy a new wine?

The quick and cheap answer is “because it’s good” which means nothing because everybody’s definition of good wine is different.

Another quick and cheap answer is “because it’s popular” which means that you can buy from top 10 brands lists to make all of your decisions. In other words, you’ve devalued your job or eliminated it altogether.

Maybe buying a new wine is driven by the ever popular “because my customers want it,” which flies in the face of the greatest Steve Jobs marketing quote of all time.

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So why do you buy a new wine?

Is it to fill a stylistic niche on the wine list? If you’re lacking a crisp and lively light bodied wine by the glass, then you need to bring in a new wine. Makes sense, good idea. But do you need a Sauvignon Blanc AND a Pinot Grigio AND the two light Italian whites nobody has ever heard of?

Is it because it’s new and shiny, or that the sales rep presenting it to you is new to your world? This is an interesting question. People are attracted to the new and novel, and science backs up this claim. So if a new wine gets presented to you, there are parts of your brain that start firing unlike when presented with yet another California Chardonnay. (Read Lifehacker’s article Novelty and the Brain: Why New Things Make Us Feel So Good.)

So here’s a twist: If that same new wine is presented by the rep that you do 80% of your business with, are you as tempted by it as you are when the scrappy upstart new cool kid distributor brings it to you? Maybe it’s the sales rep that matters even more than the wine. Maybe it’s your impression of the sales rep and who they work for that’s more important than the juice in the glass. Is this a bad thing or a good thing?

Is it because it’s unlike anything else? The rise of the hipster wine rep or sommelier, combined with movements such as Orange Wine, Pet-Nat, and The New California have made many odd wines very tempting for many buyers. “Odd” might be the biggest complement of the year for some of these wines, but nonetheless they are being poured successfully all around the country right now.

Is it because you can make some serious profit margin? Maybe it’s a wine that has basically no presence in your market, tastes great, and is cheap as can be. If as a retailer you can hit a 200% markup and still have happy customers, why not? Or if that $8 glass pour lands at $1.15 per glass cost? The boss won’t complain about that. If you have guilt about making money, you shouldn’t be a buyer.

Is it because it fits your wine mission statement? Now we’re getting to it. What? You don’t have a wine mission statement? We’ll detail this in a future post but start with the Theise Manifesto. Wine importer extraordinaire Terry Theise puts this at the start of all of his catalogs, and has for many years. It lays the foundation, it explains his thinking, and holds the door open as you enter his world. (Check out the fantastic Wine-Searcher interview with Theise. Greatest exchange: Q:”What has been the highlight of your career?” A: “The fact that I haven’t reached it yet.”)

Start to work on your own manifesto, make sure the wines you pick fit it, and proudly bring them to the world.

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