A tough road to hoe

by Jeff Miller of Artisan Family of Wines (Seven Artisans, Sly Dog Cellars, Red Côte)

jeff-smPalate Press posted a blog entitled “One Hundred Years in the Making, Romania Seeks Global Recognition” which can be found at http://palatepress.com/2012/08/wine/one-hundred-years-in-the-making-romania-seeks-global-recognition/.

The gist of article is that Romania, after the fiasco of Communist controlled winemaking, is experiencing a Renaissance in winegrowing and production, and hopes to expand its market here in the USA.

I have no idea how good these wines really are, but my bet is that they are pretty good.  After all, winemaking expertise is available to pretty much anyone anywhere these days, and as long as you are trying to make a good wine, there’s no reason why you can’t succeed, at least most of the time.

But the “expand its market here in the USA” part is an entirely different matter.  I wish them the best, but if I were a betting man, I wouldn’t put too many chips down on that bet.

While we like to think that the best wine will win its market share, the truth is that the quality of the wine is but one of many parameters that determine the success of a wine.  I was talking to one our distributors recently, who rated packaging and marketing (preferably backed by lots of dollars) as far more important to the success of a wine than the quality of what was in the bottle.  (A major contributing factor to this fact is that few people buy a wine that they’ve tasted before.  So how much can the quality of what’s in the bottle count?)

If you have any doubts about that, let me throw out a hypothetical.  Some Aussie winemaker that no one has ever heard of produces a truly spectacular wine, and seeks to sell it in the US.  So he approaches a US distributor or importer to market his product.

The distributor tastes the wine and agrees that it is top-notch.  But from there, it’s all downhill.  The wine is, first of all, well Australian.  Most of the American wine buying public isn’t’ infatuated with Australian wines.  Those that are expect them to be dirt cheap.

There’s a second main problem.  The wine is a Shiraz.  Which is the same as Syrah.  And anyone in the wine business knows how well the American public takes a shine to Syrah.  For some reason, Shiraz (even though it’s the same grape under a slightly different name) isn’t faring quite as badly.  (The fact that most consumers probably don’t know that Syrah and Shiraz are the same thing says something else about the uphill battle against a sea of ignorance that is the US wine market.)  But Shiraz isn’t exactly a barnburner either.

But maybe the wine can succeed through a good review.  Again, that’s possible, but very far from assured.  First of all, if you compare the number of wine reviews every year in the Wine Spectator and Wine Advocate to the number of wines produced in the US (much less the rest of the world), you quickly realize only a very tiny percentage of wines get reviewed.  You also realize that the same wine reviewed in different places will usually get very different ratings (showing that there’s no real objective consistency among wine reviewers).  So maybe you manage to get one of those rare reviews by one of the prestigious wine publications, and you get a high one.  But more likely, you get no review.  Even if you get one, it’s far from assured it will be the stellar one that you need.

But let’s suppose that, against the odds, you get a good review.  That’s still no guarantee of sales success.   After all, you’re still an Australian Shiraz.  That review would be a road to the bank if you were a Napa Cab, but you’re not.  Most wine shoppers aren’t even going to go to the section in the wine store (assuming you can get into the wine store) where your wine sits on the shelf.  In all likelihood, unless there’s a shelf-talker touting your high score, your score will be unknown to the consumer.  (And getting that shelf-talker to get on, and stay on, the shelf, is no mean feat.)

So, bottom line, the fantastic Australian wine is screwed.

So let’s assume that our Romanian winemaker makes an equally good wine to our Australian winemaker.  It may be daunting task for the Australian to try to market a “Shiraz”; but that’s child’s play compared to trying to market your finest Romanian grape, “feteasca neagra”.  I’m in the wine biz, with a fascination with obscure varieties, and I’ve never heard of it.  Damn, I have no idea even how to pronounce it, or even if I could pronounce it.  There’s a truism in the wine business that a consumer isn’t going to buy a wine he can’t pronounce.

So I have my doubts about how well the Romanians will do on the wine marketing trail here, and I do wish them well.  And I hope they draw to that inside straight as well.

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2 Responses to “A tough road to hoe”

  1. Sherman says:

    I agree with everything that you’ve said — I read the same article and had much the same thoughts, that they have a HUGE uphill battle trying to bring awareness of their wines to this country. It might be the best stuff since Hill of Grace but how are they going to get US consumers to buy it on a regular basis?

    Money and an innovative marketing campaign would most certainly help, and lots of time. Will Romania achieve the desired results? Only time will tell –

    Incidentally, being in the biz myself and being a bit of a geek, I further researched the grape and how it’s pronounced (since I had no clue). Try the website Forvo for word pronunciations of foreign languages. Pick a language, type in the word and (most of the time) you get to hear it pronounced as a native speaker would pronounce it. Worked in this case for “fateasca neagra.”

  2. Kerbs says:

    I actually thouroughly liked this point A tough road to hoe Artisan Family of Wines it had been a valuable wonderful browse through many thanks

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