Friday, October 10, 2008


So I just received the October 2008 edition of the Kentucky Beverage Journal, a sort-of haphazardly thrown together magazine put out by the Kentucky ABC that primarily serves as a directory for Kentucky wholesalers and their products. The magazine does however, offer a few articles pertaining to the latest trends in spirits and wine. This month, I was stunned to see a feature article on Southern Wine and Spirits and their recent merger with Glazer’s. The reason I was stunned is that once again, the wine leviathan professes their emphasis on customer service and wine knowledge, the kind of which I have not really seen.

To be fair, the staff of Southern operating in Northern Kentucky, as well as the folks at the American Wine & Spirits side of things, have been really great, and extremely cooperative, even in the face of the company’s obtuse bureaucracy. Our stores have always had issues with Southern, though I must admit, they have come a long way.

The problem I have these days, is that as their wine portfolio grows exponentially, thanks to all these importer mergers and acquisitions going on in the business, is that their sales staff can’t keep up, and that they also don’t really have the passion or the knowledge required to sell the vast majority of the brands they now represent.

Importers like Vin Divino, Empson, Negociants, and others, tend to get lost in a book of Southern’s size, mainly because a lot of these wines are small-production wines, extremely limited, and fairly pricey. Many of the sales reps in Southern’s stable are still “spirits” guys, more concerned with turning boxes than generating buzz about wines like Gruner Veltliner and Nero d’Avola.

And for a company that employees more Master Sommeliers than anyone on earth (I believe there are currently 10 working for Southern/Glazer’s), you would think that these folks would just dazzle you with their wine knowledge, but I am sad to say, no. I might be tough on them, and the guys that I personally deal with are hard-working, extremely cooperative, and fairly knowledgeable, but I expect a lot more when I read articles such as this, where the father-son team of Harvey and Wayne Chaplin (CEO and COO of the company respectively) profess a fourteen-point outline of how they succeed in working with retailers.

I would like to see, in the near-future, wineries at least insistent on stronger product knowledge, stronger general wine knowledge, and a greater passion for their products, and I would love to believe, as the executives of this company want me and everyone else at my level to believe, that they really care about us, and that there are not suppliers, but partners. I have never really had any issues with any of my other distributors, yet have always felt as though SWS is out to “complicate” things. We are left with a “you’re stuck with us” attitude that serves no one very well, except maybe them. Wineries and importers get the shaft, retailers get the shaft, and the wine consumers get the shaft.

This megalith has the wherewithal to put together the best wine company on the planet, but from my vantage point, they seem to be content with just being the biggest.

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