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Untangled Vine

An attempt to sort through all things wine. Specifically of, and about, but not limited to: Food and Wine in Toledo, Ohio. Plus the day to day musings of a Wine Distributor...

No Wimpy Wines?

Wednesday, June 28, 2006

Wine, it has been said, can be the most confusing of all indulgences. Why we like a certain wine is sometimes not understood. It stands to reason that in a sea of confusion, one might reach out for stability and predictability and call it “brand loyalty”, therefore bringing familiarity to an otherwise confusing and daunting prospect, choosing a wine. I bring this up, because a few days ago, a friend of mine asked me what I though of Ravenswood. Not that he cared, but because he knows I’m a wine guy, and he wanted to show me that he’s attached himself to a brand that I would think would make him a credible wine drinker. The problem lies in the very suggestion that Wine Brand Loyalty is good. I am glad that he thought enough to try to start a conversation about something he knows I’m interested in, but it really got me thinking about Loyalty, and I thought that Ravensood would be good case study. It could have just as easily been Yellow Tail, or Blackstone, or Beringer, but today, it’s Ravenswood.

Now, Ravenswood has a long and illustrious history, but they have since sold out in favor of commerciality. And it is everyone’s prerogative to make money, and sell what they will, and approach it however they deem best. But as an advocate for consumers, I disagree with the direction they’ve turned over the last 5-10 years. If they didn’t have a history, they wouldn’t even be a blip on my radar screen, but because of their history, and their new commercial viability, they will be our example today.

Ravenswood started as a winery focused on the top Zinfandels. This was an especially noble pursuit in the 1980’s. Their wines were so good, that they were deemed to be in the “holy trinity” of Zinfandels. But a few years ago, they were gobbled up by one of the biggest wine companies in the world, Constellation Brands. Constellation, with over $4 Billion/ year in annual sales, has so many wineries under their control that they had to create a boutique portfolio to include their small producers, including, Robert Mondavi, Estancia, Franciscan, Columbia Winery, and several other “small” wineries. I would go so far as to say that from the mid-90’s on, Ravenswood was posturing to be purchased from just such a conglomerate for an obscene profit, all the while selling out. Some may argue that the winemaker is the same guy that founded the winery all those years ago, and Constellation has allowed him to stay true to his vision. Yeah, right. Constellation didn’t get to be the size they are today by allowing winemakers creative control. Wine is a tough business, and Constellation is a huge evil giant, existing only in this business to make money.

From a marketer’s perspective, this was a prefect situation: Once prominent cultish winery with great name and logo (edgy looking animals on the label), decided to take mass market approach, and starts making gobs of Merlot and other lowest-common-denominator wines. The name is the same, the product is totally different. What does this mean to the consumer? That these wines, since they have a following, are widely available. Ravenswood has a reputation, albeit newly tainted, for making good wines. The consumer tries it, doesn’t have a problem with it, can easily remember the label, and brand loyalty is born. The problem is that Ravenswood makes 42 different wines, and every vintage the wine should change. So with so much variety under one “predictable” label, why not branch out? Most of the time, predictability is an illusion created by ubiquitous producers in the marketplace. How else can they rise above the artisan producers creating truly special wines? If you are loyalty to a wine brand, dump it for 6 months. Try not to drink the same wine twice. Ask for advice in your local wine store (not grocery store), and be slightly adventurous. I promise, you will never again fall victim to the conglomerate brainwashing, because you have embraced the adventure that is the world of wine.

We've been busy birthin' a distributor...

Sunday, June 11, 2006

Ok, I've been busy, really busy. We, as in Langdon Shiverick in Ohio, have been bought. This is a very exciting and positive time for us.We have a cool new name (see above logo, my brother Brad and his cohorts designed this graphic). If you could build the perfect wine distributor, how would you do it? What sort of standards would the distributor be built upon? We had an existing portfolio, but what needed to change, what needed to stay the same? We felt there was a gaping hole in the Ohio wine market, and we had some strategies on how to fill it. We came up with 5 ideals. These ideals we felt could only work with a small, quality-driven distributor, and we are that company. we hope to get bigger, that is , sell more wine. We want to be the biggest advocates for our artisinal producers. Not a new company for big commercial brands to use and abuse. We belive in dancing with the person that you brought to the dance, or however that phrase goes...

The following is an excerpt from our launch party's program last week. I thought I'd copy and paste, and launch it into the blogoshere.

A birth, or maybe a rebirth. We are pleased to announce the beginning of our new company, of sorts. We are, and have been a Fine Wine Distributor, servicing Northern Ohio. Today began as a dream 9 years ago as Walt Wirth came to be hired by David Shiverick of Langdon Shiverick Imports. David, a Cleveland native, wanted Walt to build to new heights an existing distributor as a conduit for his acclaimed Import portfolio. Walt grew the company under the promise that one day, David would sell the company to him. As Langdon Shiverick grew, so did the sophistication of the market. Walt looked increasingly to new world producers to supplement the already strong French, Italian, Spanish and German portfolio. Not to mention adding a sales and warehouse team.

So today, we celebrate anew Walt’s dream coming to fruition. With the help and support of the Bananno Family, we will look forward to the future. Walt has created such an impression upon many of our producers, that we had no difficulty filling the restaurant with some our favorite Wineries from California. We set forth to become a new Fine Wine Wholesaler. We will build ourselves on Five Attributes, characteristics we all hope to portray and strive towards.

o Integrity- We promise to be forthright, honest and dependable. We will also display unrelenting loyalty to both our clients and our suppliers.

o Enthusiasm- We will make our enthusiasm about wine infectious.

o Education-As we are constantly educating ourselves, we will be a resource for those striving to learn about wine

o Ambassadorship-Translates to a twofold approach to care of product. First is the careful custody of all wine so that it travels from Cellar to glass in optimal condition, the second is the inexorable pursuit of the perfect portfolio, continually searching for the most exciting producers.

o Participation-Continuing support of the local food and wine community. We will offer conributions at every level and for all purposes. With with singular goal to better our partners and thereby the community.

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