This week’s wine news: A wine lawsuit involving a teeter-totter, plus a wine marketer says the industry is its own worst enemy and declining retail customer service
• Another lawsuit: Regular visitors here know how much the Wine Curmudgeon enjoys wine-related lawsuits (and has even been, slightly, part of one). So it is with a fair amount of glee that I report this suit, via Wine Industry Insight – a small Napa Valley winery suing a large importer over a label where an elephant is on a teeter-totter. Yes, I know this is serious business for the parties involved, and trade dress and intellectual property are important legal concepts. But still, an elephant on a teeter-totter?
• It’s not the Millennials? Someone in the wine business actually agrees with the Wine Curmudgeon about wine being its own worst enemy. Leandro Cabrini, the founder and CEO of Wild Yeast Media, writes: “We are killing [the wine business] with our snobbery and a refusal to listen and see what’s going on around us. We refuse to adapt, maintaining that everything is (and should be) the way it was 20, 30, 50, 100 years ago. Do you know what happens when we don’t adapt? We die. We don’t care about our consumers. … “ Wow. Hard to believe, but maybe someone will actually listen to Cabrini.
• Speaking of which: Customer satisfaction with supermarkets dipped over the past year amid an overall decline in all retail, according to the American Customer Satisfaction Index annual report. Why does this matter to wine drinkers? Because grocery stores probably account for more than half of the wine sold in the U.S., and as much as 75 percent in some states. Reported the study: “Service personnel are less helpful and courteous in person and over the phone. The checkout process is slower and rates lowest.” Is it any wonder I always recommend a quality independent retailer for wine shopping?
This week’s wine news: U.S. organic wine may have suffered a serious setback when Frey Vineyards burned, plus customers want top-notch service and more bad news for restaurants
• Organic wine: Frey Vineyards, destroyed in last week’s wine country wildfires, was one of the leading organic producers in the country, one of only two or three with national distribution. Its destruction deals another setback to organic wine, which has never been as popular as other organic food products. It accounts for less than five percent of U.S. wine sales; that compares to the 13 percent market share for organic fruits and vegetables. I’ve written a lot about why organic wine does so badly in the marketplace, but the best explanation is so simple I’m embarrassed I didn’t think of it. Says Tyler Rodrigue, an organic viticulture consultant in northern California. “Consumers assume that wine, by its very nature, is pure and natural to begin with. Ask most consumers, and they don’t equate a vineyard with a factory farm the same way they do for other products. Vineyards are beautiful, and don’t look like a picture of a factory farm.”
• It’s all about customer service: The Wine Curmudgeon is the son and grandson of retailers, so this study from a company that tracks on-line reviews called Trustpilot isn’t surprising. We want better service when we shop on-line, even more than cheap prices. Which is what I heard when the subject came up at the dinner table, which was more often than not. Says the report: “ ‘Price’ only shows up around in 4-5% of 1-star reviews and in 10% of 5-star reviews, significantly behind the top five most common words.” Why does this matter to wine retailers? What’s more confusing than buying wine? What other category requires service to find something to buy that is enjoyable? In other words, fake discounts and shelf talkers blaring 92 points aren’t enough. We want a person to answer our questions knowledgeably and intelligently.
• Restaurant sales continue to slump: How bad has the restaurant sales slump become? So bad that the people who parse the numbers are desperatley looking for silver linings. Throw out the hurricane states from this summer’s sales figures, and the decline in sales from month to month are less than two percent. Not much of a silver lining, is it? Or, as the chart with the story shows, same store sales have declined for 11 of the past 12 months. We’ve written about this on the blog many times, since poor restaurant sales numbers usually mean higher restaurant wine prices, as operators increase wine prices to make up for losing money elsewhere. No doubt this will continue to happen.
? Appreciating wine: James Tidwell, who works for the Four Seasons in suburban Dallas, is not only one of the most knowledgeable people in the wine business, but one of the nicest. So I'm particularly happy to note this interview with James, where he talks about what it's like to taste some of the world's great wines: "I knew food and wine went well together, but this transcended all conceptions of how they can be paired. It really has influenced my understanding of what can be done with food and wine."
? Making the Amazon model work: A rare look at how and what Amazon is doing with its wine marketplace, courtesy of Wines & Vines magazine. Peter Faricy, the executive in charge of the wine marketplace, wouldn't discuss sales or how many wineries are participating, but did note that the Internet giant is "super pleased with the reception so far. ? More importantly, he said, Amazon is working as fast as possible to add other states to the current lineup — 15 plus the District of Columbia, while ensuring complete compliance with the various local liquor regulations. It charges wineries 15 percent of the sales price to be part of the marketplace, but is waiving some fees.
? Want to be a national chain?Then offer better service, says the man in charge of Total Wine & More, whiich is agressively expanding across the U.S. ?If we can have the best people, we win. You ?re not going to find those people in Walmart or anywhere else, ? said president and co-owner David Trone. This is, of course, easier said than done, and I've heard it about a zillion times in the two-plus decades I've written about business. I once spent 40 minutes in a Dallas Total Wine without an employee even looking at me, and the one employee I watched wait on another customer didn't seem all that interested. But maybe that's a small sample size.