Sunday, September 7, 2008

Are we delivering on our promise?

As the summer comes to an end (autumnal equinox notwithstanding), I felt it would be appropriate to pause and assess whether we at CoolVines are fulfilling our mission. From the outset, we have sought to bring something new and valuable to the market of wine lovers – an environment where artisanal wines - hand-crafted in hundreds, not millions of cases; made by family wineries and innovative non-traditional wine makers, as well as top producers from classic regions - are accessible to everyone; not just the experts who comb the wine publications to stay abreast of the best and brightest.

Why do we pursue this mission and how do we hope to achieve it? For those interested in the musings of a kindred soul - after all, I still consider myself a CoolVines customer as well as its Founder, having created CoolVines out of my own frustration at the complexity of the consumer environment for such a simple product, then read on…

Why do we focus on artisanal wines and how we make them accessible to you. For two simple reasons, one noble and one, well perhaps less noble.

Reason 1: We believe that small-production, authentically produced wines represent the best value for the wine consumer today…which is why we don’t focus on expert-rated, big-label wines. Wine ratings, at one time serving the American public to help them find the best wines at any price, now, in my humble opinion, have reduced the diversity and value that is available to wine drinkers, as many wineries feel economically compelled to produce wines that suit the palates of the influential wine raters…even if this is not in keeping with a given winemaker’s traditional style. Kind of reminds me of bad movie sequels – Producers make these movies because they make money, not because they make great art. (Caddyshack II, anyone?) And far from serving the customer in finding great values, nothing drives the price up and availability down faster than a high point rating from Robert Parker or Wine Spectator. Is there any alternative? Yes! To find high quality, but not overexposed, wines from producers who focus on making good wine, not good wine ratings; who sink their resources into grapes, barrels and aging, rather than advertisements and label design. The bad news, though, is that today’s wine market – with over 100,000 wines released into the market every year - makes it challenging for wine lovers who don’t want to spend hours every week researching the wine market to find these wines. The good news is that there are thousands of passionate and dedicated winemakers like this and we LOVE searching for them!

Reason 2: Willy Sutton said it best. When asked why he robs banks, he replied simply: “Because that’s where the money is.” Applied to the wine business, the movement toward artisanal wines, while perhaps still a blip on Yellowtail’s competition meter, is definitely where the action is. Wine consumption continues to grow in the US, whether it’s Two-Buck Chuck ($2.99 in NJ) or Chateau Margaux 2000. But the most interesting subsegment of the wine consumer market (at least to us at CoolVines) is the emerging category of authenticity-seeking, adventurous wine drinkers who get excited about trying new wines that have a story behind them, rather than a lot of marketing dollars behind them. So, yes, we ARE in business to make a little money at this, but we chose our focus on artisanal wines mostly it’s because we want to enjoy hanging out with our own customers, and these customers are the most interesting to us!

How do we serve this market? Through our wine sourcing strategy and our in-store presentation of wines. Tune in for Part II of this blog to hear how we:

1. Choose only wines that fit our criteria of great wine and great value
2. Arrange the wines in our stores by how they taste and pair with food; not by their region of production or grapes from which they are made.

...to be continued...

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