It’s the history, structure, flavor profiles, and marketing that make wine such a unique and wonderfully complicated beverage. Every bottle came from somewhere special and made available to you based on some preconceived understanding of your tastes and preferences in alcohol. In every glass, there is an interesting story on why the winemaker chose certain grapes and why they chose special labels and a hallmark style. In every glass, there’s an opportunity to share these stories that educate and impress guests, family, friends, and colleagues.
In the beginning…
So, let’s break that story up into three bits that the U.S. wine industry is organized into, and that is:
- Distributors (wholesalers)
As consumers, we’re very familiar with the retail side of the business, for example, restaurants, hotels and liquor stores. However, before a wine makes it to our wine cabinet, it passes through some very interesting channels. Take for instance: Distributors. These folks ultimately decide what is made available to you in the wine shop or what’s added to the menu by the wine director at your favorite restaurant. Keep in mind these middle men are supposed to be independent of retailers and producers so the wines they push play a major role with determining what brands you’re exposed to and possibly become loyal to. Distributors spend a lot of time chasing new wine producers and nurturing relationships with established vineyards. They then have salespeople who sell to retailers so that their products get in front of you.
The producer level is made up of essentially wineries and foreign wine importers. Producers determine what’s grown out in the vineyards and what fermentation and blending techniques will yield the best wines. Producers are the magicians of the industry and the most romantic of the experiences you’ll have with wine. It’s at this level you can skirt the distributor selections and limited options of your local wine shop. Because U.S. wine law prohibits the sale of wine from wineries directly to consumers, the only way to get a bottle directly from the source is to join that vineyard’s wine club or go directly there to taste and drink the wine on premises. At the winery, you can meet the winemakers, see the equipment, tour the grounds, and taste everything in their portfolios. There’s really nothing like enjoying wine right where it is grown! Distributors spend a lot of time tasting wines to determine what makes it to market and winemakers even send their wines to wine rating organizations so they can promote the quality of their wines based on the subjective scores they receive.
So, every time you buy a bottle I challenge you to not only appreciate the flavors but to do a quick search on the internet for the winery’s story. Better yet, book a flight and visit them. Some of the coolest things you’ll learn can turn into the very stories you use to strike up conversation with business contacts or the eye-candy at next week’s holiday party…