WINER­IES NEED TO UP E-COM­MERCE GAME

Vancouver Sun - - YOU - AN­THONY GISMONDI

So much is chang­ing so fast in the wine busi­ness, it is dif­fi­cult to know where we will be by the time you read this. One thing is for sure, dis­tri­bu­tion chan­nels are chang­ing and pro­duc­ers, dis­trib­u­tors and consumers are all af­fected.

If you are mak­ing wine, es­pe­cially ex­pen­sive wine — by the way, that’s just about any­thing over $20 — your most cru­cial place­ment venue, restau­rants, are closed. As one pro­ducer put it, “that pipe­line has all but dried up.”

Ac­tu­ally, it’s worse, with so much money sit­ting around in high-end wines at restau­rants, many are liq­ui­dat­ing their wine lists. If you think get­ting on that list was tough be­fore, wait un­til the restart. And that’s only if your client can restart their busi­ness.

Consumers could be the short-term win­ners as more and more cult wines and typ­i­cally im­pos­si­ble to find la­bels be­come avail­able for sale, ei­ther through wine clubs or in­ter­net sales. Even then, it will only be a deal for those who have the cash to burn. With so few peo­ple work­ing, buy­ing fine wine (that’s wine over $20, and for many that num­ber could be $15), is not go­ing to be a pri­or­ity for any­one un­less it’s avail­able at fire sale prices.

Small dis­trib­u­tors have been strug­gling to keep their heads above wa­ter for the last decade as winer­ies con­sol­i­date into larger and larger groups, and those groups con­sol­i­date their dis­tri­bu­tion.

It’s par­tic­u­larly no­tice­able in Canada, where pro­vin­cial mo­nop­o­lies have re­tuned their prod­uct lists to serve the largest dis­trib­u­tors and their brands, all but aban­don­ing the bou­tique, in­di­vid­ual win­ery mar­ket and small agents. That sec­tor has been try­ing to hang on, sell­ing its hand­made wines to pri­vate wine shops and those restau­rants men­tioned ear­lier, but it is a los­ing bat­tle.

Why is it im­por­tant? Think of con­ven­tional farm­ing in vine­yards. We know that ap­ply­ing her­bi­cides and pes­ti­cides are harm­ful to the en­vi­ron­ment and that in the long run, the chem­i­cals are killing the ecosys­tem: the bees, the micro­organ­isms, the birds, and all the preda­tors that keep the ecosys­tem in bal­ance. Even­tu­ally, the vine­yard dies or pro­duces wine of lit­tle or no in­ter­est.

The same story was al­ready hap­pen­ing in the wine busi­ness be­fore COVID-19. Con­sol­i­da­tion has dumbed down se­lec­tion and forced out any wine that has a story, or needs its story told to con­trib­ute to the mi­lieu and, ul­ti­mately, the mys­tery or magic of the wine world.

This sce­nario will no doubt in­ten­sify over the rest of 2020 un­less pro­duc­ers can find a way to al­ter and main­tain their dis­tri­bu­tion chan­nels (agents, som­me­liers, wine and drinks me­dia, crit­ics et al.), so that they are ready to re­spond if and when the virus has run its course.

The time to plan is now. Lo­cal pro­duc­ers can start with the eas­i­est and safest thing to do — get some tech­ni­cal help to up­date your web­site. I’ve seen bet­ter take­out sites put to­gether by restau­rants in 24 hours than some win­ery e-com­merce plat­forms that have been op­er­at­ing for three years. Search the web for im­ages of your win­ery and wines and be hon­est, are you sat­is­fied with what the world sees ev­ery time they Google your busi­ness?

Pay at­ten­tion to the “story” sec­tion of your web­site, usu­ally one of the worst drop-downs if it even ex­ists. Make sure you craft a com­pelling nar­ra­tive or, bet­ter yet, hire a writer who can put your story to­gether and tell it con­cisely and per­sua­sively. Those few para­graphs are a cru­cial win­dow into your busi­ness and what your win­ery is all about.

I can as­sure you consumers are flock­ing to the web to com­mu­ni­cate with friends and buy prod­ucts on­line that they never thought they would. It’s up to you to be ready when they come to your e-door.

Try an aro­matic Sau­vi­gnon Blanc or fresh, un­pre­ten­tious red with Pad Thai with Kelp Noo­dles from Love is Served.

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