Wineries need ambassadors. They need them because in the world of wine the role of the wine sales rep has changed so much, partially because of Covid-19, causing many to be furloughed, but really because so often they are so overloaded and time-famished: many worthy wines are rarely presented to those who really would enjoy selling, offering or yes, buying the wine.
The role of the wine rep, at the distributor level, is to present the right wines to their customers, most of which are, or were, restaurants or retail shops and get the order. But let’s face it, they are so jammed up with an ever-expanding portfolio, stiff competition for appointments and mindshare, they have to match up with the buyers’ share of wallet, and mostly, there is just too much wine available.
But with so little time to get in front of buyers, many reps’ jobs have largely become more of being an order taker, not an order getter. This delegation, or perception, really hurts the boutique wineries, and the many small producers of fine wines versus what’s best known as supermarket plonk in the trade.
Enter the wine ambassador. Just like the emissaries of olden days, the wine ambassador carries the message about the winery to the right people, often wine buyers, sommeliers or shopkeepers who simply don’t have the time to taste every wine. And in turn they help the reps get the orders.
If done right, the wine ambassador, who is part evangelist, part brand representative, will result in wines being presented to the right buyers, who have often been skipped over by the reps simply due to the pressure placed on them of selling the flavor of the day or wine of the week.
How do I know this? Years ago, at one of my earliest moments of seeing a wine rep in action occurred at the now long shuttered Piret’s in Encinitas, CA.
Here was the quintessential Parisian-style bistro in San Diego County, and perhaps all of the West Coast. It was run by the affable and outright gentile Rick Alles, and featured a slice of Paris and the French countryside that was so en vogue in the ’90s. Much like Paris’ Willi’s Wine Bar, the food was imaginative, without going too far off the traditional bistro fare, and featured wines of the country. And that country was France. One weekday, I was lunching and…