Varietal Focus (Issue 771)

In which we are reminded that tight focus and strong expertise brings customers to us.

On the road, looking for wine to take to a friend. Two wine stores within 100 yards of each other. I picked the closest one.

After introducing myself to the store’s owner, Jeanne Robert, I asked him, “What’s the difference between your store and the store across the way?”

His first reaction was a facial expression, something to the effect of, “I can’t believe you’re even ASKING that question!,” and then he caught himself, looked and me, and gesticulated:

“We’re not even in the same business. They stock the usual labels and the usual varieties – Pinot Noir, Malbec, Cabernet, Chardonnay, on and on. The people in that store don’t need to know what they’re talking about because their customers already know the wines they’re buying. They say ‘I like oaky Chardonnays,’ and then they don’t drink much else. They’re like 200 other stores in this area. Their wines are easy to sell.

I’m selling wines that are difficult to sell, I’m interested in selling wines made by people who make the wine according to their own beliefs and values rather than making wine for sale in volume at a price point. I’m interested in selling wine that has a good story. I am selling wines made from grapes that people haven’t heard of or don’t know well.

The customers I’m seeking are people who want to experiment, want to learn, want to have something new. If someone says they like red wines with a lot of tannin, I can introduce them to delicate red wines that they may like even better. I’ve been in this business along time. When I go to Italy and meet with the producers, they know who I am, they like the work that I do, they tell me their stories. My customers want to hear the stories behind the producers I stock.”

I looked around, then asked, “How is that working for you?”

“25 years in this location,” he sniffed, again, not believing I’d asked the question. “People come here from all over the state….”

…while the other 200 stores in the area fight to be noticed and fight for market share in the usual blunt ways.


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