How I select wines for my importing companies

There is nothing more important than getting the right wine for your customer in the wine business. If you get the perfect mix of wines for your company, you have a far greater chance of success. However, the best wine doesn’t always walk right through your door. And never are the wines in vogue from unseasoned wine suppliers and friendly introductions from amatuers outside your market.

The first thing to look for when searching for is personality in the bottle that fits with your selection style in product selection which helps your company and product positioning. Don’t select new wines for the purpose of widening the choices for choice sake. We need to accept that we can’t have all wines in our warehouse. New wines do charm customer for a while, but it is difficult to get the right wine with personality that stays in the heart of your costumer. Repeated business is what we want. If you can find wine that is fun, friendly, with good balance and typical characters, you are on to a winner.

Barry Burton the latest Chairman of the Hong Kong Wine Society said, ‘in wine judging I look for that little surprise in the bottle.’ It is not something that always comes out in digging out their personality through tasting them – wines can be shy. But you have to trust your judgement. Put aside your WSET tasting grid! If you have got a slightly introverted wine with a great personality, use your experience to pull it out of them. It is easier with an extrovert, but be wary of wines becoming so good in the first minutes of tasting and become boring later on. It may be wise not to go after the Dolly Pattens.

Trust your customers. They can learn about a wine quickly once it is put to be tasted. Imagine customers coming round a table tasting and discussing about a wine for an hour! Few wines can really escape from scrutinization. The quality and personality of a wine cannot be hidden!

If you are satisfied with the personality, then look at how it can cope with various applications, such as food, particular purpose like wedding, serious or fun type of quaffing, order of tasting. Find people with transferable skills – you need team players who can pitch in and try their hand at all sorts of different jobs. There are wines which best suit particular purposed, versatility in application should not be underestimated.

Some buyers select wines based on scores. I only look at them after everything else. If somebody hasRP, WS, JS etc. which fit on one side of paper, it doesn’t necessarily mean they are the right for your company. Great scores count for nothing if they aren’t partnered with broad-ranging attributes (balance, intensity, length, typicity) and a winning memorable personality.

That doesn’t mean you can’t take risks when building your wine Portfolio. Don’t be afraid of having idiosyncratic styles. Some wine may have that little extra which makes the difference and act as opportunities that inspire creative energy within your portfolio. I note that some portfolio is so boring that they have to rely on scores! Some of the best wines we’ve ever selected didn’t seem to fit in at first, but proved to be indispensable over time.

Don’t miss the big picture. Classed Growths are important, particularly with the great inroad of ‘Strong Country People’ who are our important customers too. If you have to get classed growth, it may be a good idea to contain the offer within control. Equally, bringing in fresh wines can reinvigorate a company: they have brought a lot of fresh ideas to company, as well as front line staff. But grow product hero within your existing portfolio which had won respect from customers and your staff, and has already achieved for the company. We are just too fond of newbies, and we always forget the old loves.

When companies go through growth spurts, they often buy in bulk and company culture like product excellence can suffer. While it may seem a desperate rush to get wines from whoever through the door to help carry the load, it is worth being patient to find the right wine, rather than hurrying and unbalancing your portfolio.

I always remind that it’s better to have a hole in your portfolio than an asshole in your portfolio! A la Santé.


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