May 16, 2013

Wine sales update

How about an update on how Vincent Wine Company wine sales are going? Not sure if anyone's too interested, but I once asked and some readers suggested yes, they wanted to hear about it here and there. And after all the detail of making wine in my garage and then transitioning to commercial production, vineyard visits, bottling days, etc., surely you want to know if and where all the wine goes, no?

The short story is this - things are going great. The wines are selling well, reaching more and more better and better places, and generally my issue right now isn't whether or not the wine will sell, but whether or now I'll run out too soon before the next vintage is ready. That's not a bad problem to have.

The longer story is a little more complicated.

I won't lie. The first year of sales - mostly my 2009 Vincent Pinot Noir Eola-Amity Hills - was a little daunting. That's in part because selling wine is hard, in part because things actually went much better than they might have, but still it was hard and the wine took time to sell. In retrospect, my feeling after selling through the 2009 vintage was like a tight rope walker who looks back after a successful crossing and gulps, realizing the peril s/he didn't notice en route. Things could have been much, much harder.

The sales year for the 2009s started well. My nascent mailing list purchased a healthy amount of the first wines. My first winery open house event with a friend and her label was a huge success (would that there were always such big crowds at our open house tastings...). And my first ventures into the local market selling my own wine began wonderfully - a nice shop downtown bought two cases right away. Another couple shops bought cases. I was off and rolling.

Then reality set in. I had a bit more than 200 cases and my early sales moved maybe 1/3 of it. Then I fell into the pattern of stores or restaurants buying some wine but never buying more. Suddenly I realized that instead of 20 accounts that might move a few cases of wine over the year, I needed many more accounts because they would likely just a bit and that would be it. The wine would sit on the shelf. I'd come in a month or two later and see how things were going but there were the same bottles, getting dusty. The owners would say, what can we do, you're new, no one's heard of the point where I stopped asking. I'd see the bottles sitting there and duck out, hopefully without being noticed so there wouldn't be that weird conversation about how they were sure things would pick up.

Throughout the year, my sales days got harder and harder. Some places I really didn't want to be going to weren't so thrilled to see me either. I'd spend a precious day in the market and move barely a case of wine, inside worrying what I'd do it the wine wouldn't sell. A little voice would tell me though - be patient, be charming, know that you're making incredibly special wine and don't give in. And I didn't.

Sure enough, the wine from that first year sold, but I'd be lying if I didn't say I wanted to declare the vintage sold out months before I finally was able to. I'd actually released the 2010s before the 2009s were finally gone, a little out of frustration, a little out of the reality that people were ready for new wine, not so interested in trying that same old wine again. It's a cruel reality of the business, though hardly unique to wine.

By year two of sales, I noticed a few things. One - stores that greeted me skeptically tended to now take me more seriously. I got it - shops wanted to see if I was for real before going to long on my wines. Would I be back the next year? Would the wines be good in another vintage, or were my '09s just lucky starts? Sure enough, yes I was back and yes the wines were good again, and even though I made 40% more wine in the 2010 vintage, the wines sold in half the time.

That was a little problem. Where with the '09s I have wine available all year, with the '10s I was sold out seven months after release. How'd that happen? Mailing list growth, shops ordering and reordering more quickly, restaurant placements picking up, even a special deal with Whole Foods that go my wine throughout Oregon and Washington stores - that all added up to wine disappearing almost too fast. Oh, and I picked up distribution in New York and that definitely moved some wine. Nice.

I'd already planned for more production for 2011, and could have made more still but don't want to grow too fast. My 2011s came out last fall, all 400 cases or almost double what I made in 2009, and as of today I have about 80 cases left. And that's including wine allocated for a local restaurant glass pour list for this summer (20 cases?), as well as an expected order from my NY distributor. Otherwise the rest of the wine will go to the winery tasting room and a few important accounts around Portland that I want to make sure don't run out of wine.

In 2012 we upped production further to at least 550 cases, probably a bit more once everything settles out. We've picked up distribution in Rhode Island and, with the coming year, I'd love to add Los Angeles (my home town). If everything goes well, that organic growth should take care of the increased production, leaving me in position to monitor wine sales rather than push, push, push. Wouldn't that be nice.

Meanwhile, I still do push some to get the wine where I want it. And I hear that voice - be patient, be charming, believe in what you're doing. And I'll just say, again, thank you.


Tim Corliss said...

Thank you for sharing this story.

Vincent Fritzsche said...

Thanks. I'm still early in this business with a ton to learn. One of the luckiest, bestest business decisions I've made is to stay small. I could have made a bunch more wine, sold just the same amount, but be a failure. I see that more and more clearly now.