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David J. Duman

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An Open Appeal to Wine Geek Wine Buyers

Posted: 10/17/11 07:45 PM ET

I love wine geeks. They're my kind of people. Hell, I'm a proud, unrepentant wine geek. If you show me a pre-phylloxera Cannonau grown by a fifth-generation peg-legged Sardinian fishwife, I'll pop a vein and you can shoot that straight into my vena cava.

(I don't think that makes any anatomical sense, but I liked the way it sounded and I think you see my point.)

And as a wine geek involved in wine import and distribution, I take great pleasure in bringing the undiscovered, unheralded, weird and wonderful wines from every corner of the world to California; and seeing the excitement and surprise from even the most seasoned wine buyers when they taste a wine that is wholly new. Over the last few years, we've seen a rapid proliferation of wine bars and retail shops specializing in all the best natural, organic and quirky wines of the world.

But here's the problem: Wine geeks are also fickle folk. That said, a hotel in Beverly Hills might change its wine list once every time a Democrat is elected President, but your friendly neighborhood wine bar specializing in native yeast fermented wines from the former Austro-Hungarian Empire is changing its list weekly, if not daily. While such an ever-changing list is fabulous for any number of reasons, it also makes the job of the importer of geek wines difficult.

Look, when we bring an old vine Baga in from Portugal, we know it's not going to be case stacked at every Albertson's in the San Fernando Valley; but it's frustrating when that initial first wave of orders from every bleeding-edge wine buyer doesn't lead to even one re-order, let alone a three or six-month placement on a list or retail shelf.

Of course that's not entirely the fault of the wholesale wine buyer, it's also the fault of the geeks buying the wines at the stores and bars. A lot of us -- I include myself in this sin of pride -- view drinking the same wine twice as a wine geek faux pas. With so many more wines to discover, what's the point in ever having the same wine twice?

Since you asked, here's the point: If you don't have the same wine twice, you (and everybody else) might never get to have that wine again. As much as a wine geek might scoff at the guy at the adjacent table who "always drinks Rombauer," the fact is it's that kind of loyalty that builds a brand. If we import 100 cases of a quirky white blend from the Alentejo region of Portugal and sell a third of that to excited buyers when it first arrives but it then remains in our warehouse for a year, we won't be able to bring in the next vintage and we'll probably stop working with the wine.

That might be for the best in some cases since maybe it just wasn't the right fit; in others, however, it could result in depriving a market of a wine which, if given more than a few weeks to catch on, might become the next geek wine turned mainstream -- the next Gruner Veltliner or Albarino, the wine equivalent of Arcade Fire or Modest Mouse.

So I've made a pledge to support the cool, weird wines I encounter by buying bottles and returning to buy more. That cool Italian red that smells like violets and bacon? Done. That Hungarian Furmint that tastes like dried peaches wrapped in tarragon and dipped in beeswax? I'll take a case, thank you. And I make an open appeal to my wine geek brethren and sistren at both wholesale and retail levels to do the same.

It doesn't have to be with every wine, but when you really click with something new and different, commit to it. If you're a consumer, buy a case to enjoy and share with friends. If you're a retailer, commit to a small case stack or a wine club feature. If you're a wine bar, vow to reorder the wine at least once before kicking it aside for the next flavor of the month.

If we make those small commitments, it will go a long way to help retain an increasingly diverse range of delicious, dynamic wines in whatever market you live. It could have the added bonus of helping bring prices down since small importers, emboldened by stronger consumer support, will be more comfortable in committing to larger orders from the wineries and can use that leverage to secure more competitive pricing.

I know this sounds like the appeal of an importer to get you to buy more of the wine that he sells, and, at least in part, that's what it is. But importers need to make money too, and if we can't do it with the wines that we truly love, we're going to do it with the wines we only somewhat like but know we can sell. It's the classic 3 AM bargain: After having spent all night putting in our good faith best to secure Ms. Right, we settle for Ms. Right Now which, although somewhat pleasant or even good, still leaves us feeling a little icky in the morning.

(I realize that metaphor is not 100 percent analogous but, again, I think you see my point.)

So please, help keep the great wine flowing and support your favorite geek wines. Buy them by the barrel and help us spread the gospel. Cheers.

 

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