Back in 1994, I joined a small, dedicated French-wine import company that would later change its name from International Gourmet Corp – as we moved away from including olive oils and vinegars in our offers – to European Wine Group. Our focus was bringing to America what we discovered in the artisanal, family-owned and operated estates of France’s most dedicated of boutique wineries. Expanding our selections to include Spain and later Italy, our name would change to signal our broadening collection, but our focus would never stray from our roots as a primarily French-wine focused operation.
During the 1990s, the job of selling wine was a different animal than it is today. I would spend 5 days a week on the road; visiting distributors on Mondays, their retailers on the following days, and wrapping up my weeks in front of those same distributor’s restaurant clients. If I made it home by Saturday night, I was lucky. Monday came, and I was on another plane, off to another city, checking into another hotel and lugging another set of samples through the streets of yet another bustling city or rural town. There were no Skype meetings, no teleconferences, precious little use of e*mail and most of us still preferred pagers to cell phones.
But perhaps the biggest difference between the prehistoric 1990s and today’s techie style of sales was the reliance on one particular method of promotion in particular. In the 1990s, Robert Parker, Jr aka The Wine Advocate was THE mode of transportation to the top for your wines as an importer/wine-maker/any type of person in the wine business. A rating in the range of 90 points or higher by the man with the golden palate practically guaranteed your wine a place in this country’s wine shops, no matter the size or scope of that shop; you could also bank on a place at the table in just about any style restaurant you sauntered through. Yep, the points got the placements!
Today’s importers face a very different challenge, however. Finding placements in a terribly crowded marketplace, further complicated by an ongoing recession, has forced importers, especially the relatively new ones, to change their approach. The new methods employed by innovative importers reflect this imperative need for creative marketing. Thanks to attacks from bloggers, authors such as Alice Feiring and other professional wine publications, Parker points simply don’t pull the weight any more. Indeed, to place the wines, you need another gimmick.
Enter the phrase, “Natural Wine”. Back in the 1990s, we conservative importers never dreamed of this moniker. We used terms long-considered staples of the industry. Words such as artisanal, boutique, family-owned, un-fined, un-filtered, terroir; these were our selling points. We described our wines with full sentences and long, sometimes drawn out, presentations. Then we concluded the dog-and-pony shows with the coup de grâce, the omnipotent PARKER POINT.
Today, gifted importers turn NOT to Parker, and NOT to long-winded discussions of earth, soil, climate, hillsides, blah, blah, blah. They turn, instead to describing a method of wine-making that succinctly describes every wine offered in their portfolio. Rather than take wine after wine in their presentation and labor over the specifics of Burgundy, the Rhone Valley, Languedoc, Jura, etc, etc, these new wave, highly educated importers spend their time talking it up with young, hip retailers on the theories of “Natural Wine” practices and how those transcendental ideas make better wine. And seeing as these brave new souls of the import world have the writings of Feiring and other respected journals and magazines on their side, perhaps they’ve tapped into a whole new method of self-promotion. And if the placements are coming, that’s the whole point!
One of these new wave importers, whose wines I’ve personally consumed – and loved – on many occasions, is offered below. And while we still cannot find them here in Texas (so typical for our antiquated three tier system and the useless distributors in this State), a search of winesearcher.com, or better yet, a call to them personally will do the trick:
Jenny & Francois Selections:
Importer of Natural Wines
Natural Wine Revolution Prevails!
2009 chemins de bassac isa Rose
2006 Domaine des 2 anes corbieres fontanilles
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NATURAL WINE WINNERS:
Precise elegant wines from Domaine Binner
Excellent natural white – Derain’s Allez goutons
COTURRI 2007 Testa Vineyards Carignane
Domaine Des 2 Anes 2008 premiers pas Corbieres
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