Quality is no longer enough

14 May, 2010

First, said Michael Yurch, president of New York City’s Sherry Lehmann wine store, the good news – then the bad.

“The good news is never before has there been so much fine wine produced in the world,” he told the Fine Wine 2010 conference in Ribera del Duero. “The bad news is never before has there been so much fine wine produced in the world.” This presents, Yurch noted, certain challenges for retailers and producers alike.

“There are more than 6,200 wine choices when you come into our store, – and we don’t even have that large a store by US standards,” he said. Consumers are confronted with a daunting choice, he admitted, made no less challenging by the unprecedented volume of fine wine available from across the globe.

“There’s fine wine coming from all over the world and it’s our job to differentiate,” he said. “The consumer has never been luckier, but we’re entering into a world of experimentation where a consumer gambles on a bottle of wine and rarely loses any more. It’s more important than ever to discuss the characteristics of the region, whether it’s cuisine or tourism and a lot of that involves coming to the market, or working with the press.”?Sherry Lehmann conducts five in-store tastings each week. To make such events work, Yurch believes his staff need to have gained some personal insight into the wines they’re recommending – and that means visits from producers.

“I walk the vineyards – it’s very important producers come and walk the market.

“I need to understand what you’re doing and you need to understand what I’m trying to do,” said Yurch.

“Quality is not enough any more. Quality is almost assumed. Scores are not enough. By now most wineries have at least a couple of good scores.” Yurch also warned that “you can’t rely on your importer to sell wine for you”.

Yurch believes wine retailers can risk alienating consumers by moving to new ideas too quickly. “Everybody who makes wine, and most of us who sell it, are very passionate about what we do. But we get so wrapped up sometimes we don’t let the consumer catch up,” he said.

“We need to remember that we need to translate our passion through a process of education. I think I run my store, but I don’t really. The consumer runs it.” Ryan Opaz, wine blogger and founder of the Catavino marketing consultancy, said wineries were failing to harness the power of the internet.

“A map on your website that tells people where to buy your wine anywhere in the world, and a phone number: that’s e-commerce,” he said. But, he said, both elements were frequently missing.

Opaz argued that many wine producers do not really own their brands, partly because their own websites are less helpful than sites run by third parties. “The first thing you do as a journalist is go to Google,” he said, adding that some wineries are missing from search engine results. “Even if you find a website it might offer no way of getting in

contact.”?Inevitably, journalists and consumers get their information elsewhere – and there’s no guarantee it will be the right information. “You don’t own your brand yet,” said Opaz. “Somebody else does.”?Opaz said that investing in a good website makes sound economic sense. “A 1% increase in spending in making your wine in most cases doesn’t have any correlation with how much wine you’re going to sell,” he claimed.

“A 1% increase in marketing could have a dramatic increase. It’s kind of shocking.”?Producers should even consider using their website as a source of information about their region, not just their own wines, Opaz said. He cited an example of a producer whose vineyards were severely damaged by an ice storm. He videoed the damage, put the film online and explained how serious the problem was. The next day, said Opaz, he sold all his stock to people who had learned of his disaster and felt moved to help.

Twitter, Facebook, Google and Flickr are the places your customers frequent, Opaz told the conference. “This is becoming something you cannot live without. You might not understand it: that doesn’t bother me. Don’t stick your head in the sand,” he warned.

“The biggest peril is not your competitors, it’s your invisibility.”

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