The Power of Robert Parker and The Wine Spectator
I’ve always contested the notion that Robert Parker’s and the Wine Spectator’s reviews have too much power to move consumer habits. Usually you hear this from consumers who don’t like the wines these reviewers like or from vintners who haven’t gotten the scores from them they think their wines deserve.
Rather, it has always been my contention that it is with distributors and retailers where Mr. Parker’s and the Wine Spectator’s power is really manifested. Here is a tale that explains this.
Yesterday, I was ringing up a sales managers at a client’s various wholesalers and brokers. Our intent was to improve on the monthly email that is sent to them. Now, in this email we deliver news from the winery, sales tools, background on vineyards and winemaking, and a great deal of information we would not release to the public. The basic idea is to give them news and tools the sales staff at the distributors can use to help make more placements of the brand.
My question to all the distributors around the country (I spoke with 20 yesterday) was: "what kind of information can we provide you with regularly that will help in your sales efforts."
All but three Sales Managers, owners or off-premise managers had the same response:
"Give us a great review from Parker or the Wine Spectator"
What can I tell them?: "Well, we’ll see what we can do, but is there any thing else, maybe different case cards or shelf talkers or sales materials or in-market visits?
Half of those who wanted a good review responded, "No, just get us reviews from Parker and Spectator."
Add to this the fact that at 6 of the distributors I spoke with sales were not going well. When I asked why, 5 of them said because we didn’t have a score of 90 or above from Parker or The Wine Spectator.
I’ve been known to express the opinion that too many distributor "sales people" are nothing more than order takers. I can add to that that too many of them are "pathetic order takers".
This client has wines that once on the shelf, regardless of scores and ratings, sells well. The wine is dynamite. Yet at the distributor level too many "sales people" believe in only pushing wines with the top scores. This client has had quite a few wines that scored very well both with the Wine Spectator and Robert Parker. And guess what? When these scores have appeared, the wholesalers have pushed the wines and taken credit for a job well done. Without the scores they say things like, "well, it’s tough out there…you need to do more than just make good wine."
The consolidation at the Wholesale level has created huge books of different wineries at many distributors; so huge that it’s impossible for sales people to adequately represent their winery clients. So, they choose to only push those that have 90 points or above. They do this for three reasons: 1) generally sales skills at this level are pathetic 2) too many retailers and restaurauteurs have become used to being presented with wines that either have high scores or are discounted and 3) generally sales skills at this level are pathetic.
There are a number of markets in which my clients wines are selling briskly. Very briskly. Guess what’s different about these markets. The distributor’s book of clients is relatively small and their sales staff is composed of veterans in the business.
Robert Parker and the Wine Spectator are both good for the wine industry. They are good for consumers. But the fact is much of their power to move the market is based on a generation of sales people having been taught to focus only on score.