How to Have a Successful Year End Planning Meeting

I have this really clear memory of a distributor review meeting, sometime in my mid-twenties, that makes me cringe every time I think about it. Not because of the ridiculous outfit I was wearing, though it was – I have pictures of myself from this time period and for some reason I thought super flared jeans and wispy bangs were a good look – but because, knowing what I do now after many years of brand/sales management on the wholesale side of the wine business, basically everything I said in that meeting was a complete waste of my distributor’s time.

Y Tho

Y tho

I think I showed up to the meeting with a legal pad and a pencil, and only possibly my laptop with a wifi connection so I could glance at some shipment reports, but really I just thought you showed, up, asked for increased shipments, and gave the distributor a target list (I think I literally copied and pasted something from Wine Spectator’s restaurant awards) and hoped for the best.

I remember sitting there, asking the owner of the distributor why their numbers were so far down and getting an exasperated sigh after he walked me through their depletions (way up) and accounts sold (also way up). Evidently I hadn’t thought that loading up a distributor the previous year on wine that they didn’t need yet didn’t necessarily translate into increased depletions. (Andy Pates, I am so sorry. I owe you so many cocktails for your insane levels of patience and politeness.)

To come full circle, I had lunch recently with a girlfriend of mine recently who runs sales for her family’s winery. We don’t work together, but she did ask my advice about how to successfully execute a year end planning meeting with her distributors, and so, upon reflection of my many poorly planned meetings of yore, I have come up with a list that, while no means exhaustive, should be a good jumping off point for your own planning meetings.

 

  • Do not bring up shipments. These are irrelevant to any wholesaler. They make their money off depletions and in theory, if the wine is depleting well, shipments should follow.
  • A year end meeting is not a chance to air all your grievances – if there are serious issues, by all means, bring them up. But this is not a time to nitpick every small detail.
  • Come prepared with depletion data so you are both on the same page. This means:
    1. Sampling data (ie how many sample bottles vs how many sold – if the number is low, offer to support 100% sampling for certain periods or certain wines. If the wines are not being shown, the wines will not sell. If sampling is high, and sales are soft, perhaps the problem is with your wine)
    2. Overall depletions by wine
    3. Your account universe – is it getting bigger or smaller? What about sales by channel? Are sales to one retailer or restaurant disproportionately large? If you have targets for accounts sold or actual accounts, have these ready too.
    4. A comparison of your sales in that state with your other national markets
  • Be transparent about goals – starting with sharing your production levels, what your winery growth for the year (and years ahead) looks like, and understand that though 2016 might be the biggest vintage you’ve ever had and it was unexpected, just because your production grew 20% doesn’t mean your distributor can grow 20% too, unless the market/distributor is new for you and is also having explosive growth.
  • Make sure you have pricing information/price grid* and any budget for incentives or deals already figured out. It’s always better to be proactive than reactive – and also to let your distributor know that if you DO have to be reactive, that you have a budget to work with if you need to stimulate sales by dropping prices for a short period, or support sampling, or run incentives.
    1. To that end, if you want to run incentives, have them ready before the meeting. Hammering out details of these things during planning meetings takes an inordinate amount of time and 99% of them are rarely effective anyway.
  • Don’t ask, “how can we help?” unless you mean it. Are you prepared to either pour at retail tastings (or pay to have someone do it for you), work with reps in parts of the market that don’t have all the cool somms and Instagram-worthy restaurants but nonetheless have potential for sales, or host wine dinners at clubs where most people will be drunk before the first course, but again, you still might sell a lot of wine (but you also might not)?
  • Don’t go over an hour. Anything beyond that is a waste of time for one winery.

 

Did I miss anything?

 

*To figure out the gross profit margin and gross profit margin percentage your distributor is making on one of your wines, here’s how you calculate:

Wholesale Price minus FOB (with taxes/freight)=gross profit

then

Gross profit/wholesale price=gross profit margin percentage

So, for example on WINE XYZ:

The distributor’s wholesale price is $13.99 (that would put the wine at $19.99 retail on a shelf)= $167.88/case wholesale

WINE XYZ FOB price is $120/case.

Distributor laid in costs are $120 (FOB) + $5/cs freight/taxes=$125 (freight and taxes vary wildly from state to state so please check with your distributor. This is merely an example)

Gross profit on a case of the wine is therefore $167.88-$125=$42.88

Margin is the gross profit divided by the case price $42.88/$167.88=.255 or 25.5%

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Who Buys My Wine, and Where Do They Buy It?

This past summer, I had the opportunity to attend Oregon Pinot Camp for the first time, and while I learned a lot about Oregon wine, I learned even more about what’s going on in the wine business around the country these days.

One of the people in my cohort was a guy from Chattanooga, Tennessee. He owns a group of restaurants and several retail stores, and in one of our conversations he told me about how he had just purchased a huge volume of wines from (what I would consider to be) a niche importer of natural wines. I was blown away by the quantity, but he assured me there were plenty of people in his city that would happily purchase the wines, either from his retail stores or from restaurants he owned.

Let me remind you that I did national sales for years. I never once set foot in Chattanooga in all those years, and now this guy was telling me he could sell pallets of natural wine to a thirsty and growing market. Of course I immediately jumped onto the internet and started looking around at population and economic trends in the Southeast and it led me to this book: Upside: Profiting from the Profound Demographic Shifts Ahead, by Kenneth Gronbach.

The most important planning question any small to medium-sized winery can ask themselves is: “How big is my market and is it getting bigger or smaller?” And further, how do you determine where you focus your energy/resources when you travel around the country opening markets, and how do you spend your travel dollars when you are trying to figure out how to get the most bang for your buck?

Wineries can use demographics as part of their research to help answer these questions and strategize – forecast sales for each market, and plan spends for each based on potential. The book, particularly relevant to the wine industry, is a fascinating look at how populations are shifting in our country; we’re in the midst of many big sea-changes both in terms of who is buying wine, and where they are buying it.

In the book, Mr. Gronbach outlines the major population groups – Boomers, Gen X and millenials (which he calls Gen Y) are the primary focus near-term for economic impact – and he goes in depth on the four regional quadrants that shape our economy: the West, the Northeast, the Midwest and the South.

Boomers, who have been the most important consumer group for many small to medium sized wineries, particularly those in the ultra-premium category, are now at the end of their consumption heyday. If you’ve put all your eggs in this basket you will (if you have not done so already) see a decline in sales over the next few years. However, Gronbach points out that many Boomers will be retiring to sunnier locales – namely Florida and the SE, so I would wager that if you wanted to keep those sales going for a bit longer, you’d do well to invest in boots on the ground in those markets. For more detailed sales data that backs this up, check out this fascinating article.

Gen X is a much smaller consumer group though they are still worth paying attention to because they are in their peak spending years, but the most important consumer group is Gen Y. They are consuming at 500% of the rate of their boomer parents in adjusted dollars, and there are a LOT of them, particularly in the South. In fact, North Carolina has seen its population nearly doubled since 1990, with a median age steadily DECLINING to around 36.

In fact, the South as a region has seen explosive population growth in the past 25 years. Texas, Georgia, Florida and North Carolina have all seen increases of 50%, and Tennessee? 35%. It would follow that these should become, if they are not already, extremely important wine markets for all wineries with national sales.

These are just a few of the takeaways I’ve gleaned from the book – in practical terms, if I were doing sales/forecasting for a winery with national sales again, depending on the maturity of its distribution network, I would use this demographic information, along with national IRI or Tradepulse/Nielsen data to figure out where to focus my efforts for opening new distribution relationships, where I should spend time doing market visits, and where I could expect to see declines in sales due to shifting population trends in the long term.

There are many exciting things happening around the country – from my outpost here in Oregon, it appears that although consolidation seems to be happening with distribution networks throughout the country, new and interesting distribution companies are popping up every day (particularly in the South and West). New restaurants and dining trends are showing up in places I probably wouldn’t have dreamed of ten years ago, and perhaps most importantly, new wine lovers are entering the market each year.

Figuring out who and where your key consumers are (and how to market to them, though that’s a whole other topic of discussion) starts with understanding, at least in part, with the important topic of demographics.

Everyone Hates Your Powerpoint Presentation

I took a bit of a hiatus the last couple of months because I started a new job, and then I got really sick (which sucked . It’s like, “Hey, I just started, and even though it’s less than a month in, can I please take some sick days?!” Nice first impression.) Side bar–If you don’t know me very well, then you might not have heard that the new job I started is on the distribution side as a brand manager. So far I love it.

Each week in my new job revolves around a sales meeting that happens every Monday afternoon and generally lasts for an hour or two. During that time, we go over sales numbers, new items, upcoming releases and any important information that needs to be shared. We also have suppliers visit and make presentations to our sales staff.

Which has reminded me of a time in my past when I was living in Chicago, dating a guy who worked for a huge, national distribution company. He used to tell me about the hellish marathon sales meetings he’d have to attend every Friday from 7 in the morning until 5 or 6 at night. I remember a time when he came home super psyched up, wearing a ridiculously hideous, tie-dyed t-shirt from some new “lifestyle” winery (the brainchild subsidiary of a mega-corporation’s marketing department, of course). He excitedly told me about how the man representing the brand was super cool—he wore casual “surfer” clothes, and even had long hair (I think I remember that it was later revealed to be a wig). This “dude” was completely out of place in a room filled with guys wearing bad pleated slacks, dress shirts and mandatory ties. Instead of discussing what the wine tasted like or, as was the usual case, numbers and sales projections in a powerpoint presentation, the salesman wanted to promote the bohemian attitude of the wines and winery (completely fabricated, of course). The pitch at the meeting completely won over my former boyfriend, and probably got the attention of many of his counterparts as well (for my part, I mercilessly teased him about drinking the kool-aid, which probably explains the direction our relationship took–the fast train to Nowheresville).

While I have always felt that the “wines” my ex-boyfriend sold might as well have been widgets, and that the two of us were basically in only mildly-related industries (my opinion was that I sold “real” wine, and he just shipped cases of meaningless, industrial crap, which might make me a snob, but I’ll live with it), it certainly made me recognize that a well-planned sales presentation can do wonders for a brand. Though I was unimpressed with the pitch and quality of those “lifestyle wines,” the guy I was dating seemed to love them, and was more than happy to promote and sell them. While I thought the presentation sounded ridiculous and fake, to the people there it was real, relatable and made an impact on sales.

So, after sitting through a number of them in the last 8 weeks, I have found that a few things consistently make a presentation stand out:

  • Know your audience

Who are you talking to? In my company, most of the sales reps are extremely passionate about wine. They see through the bullsh*t. The things they care about and want to know are things like: what makes you and your winery real? Why do your wines matter to this market? and most of all, what makes them worth selling? Of course, there are other companies like the one my former boyfriend worked for where the reps care much less about authenticity and are more interested in gimmicks, flashiness or packaging. It really helps to understand what gets the mojo going when you’re talking to different sales teams.

  • Why are you here?

You should make this abundantly clear, to show that you have a very good reason for the time you’re taking up. Are you: Launching a new brand or product? Pushing for sales improvements on a certain wine? Re-introducing a wine with a new vintage? Offering new pricing or discounts?

  • What are your expectations?

Have clear and concise information about how much wine you made, how much you have available to sell, and how long it will be around.

  • Why should I sell your wine?

What makes it unique? Who are the competitors and why does this wine stand out? So many suppliers these days seem to know very little about their own wines, and even less about their competitors. The reps I work with are pretty knowledgeable about winemaking and wines from all over the world. If you say your California Tempranillo tastes just as good as one at a similar price from Spain you better be sure you can back it up, or the staff (though, maybe not to your face) will call BS on you.

Be succinct, don’t take more than 20-30 minutes, and make sure you are straightforward and genuine.

Finally, I’d wager that 99% of Power Point presentations are a complete waste of time. 

Franchise States Part Deux: Breaking up is REALLY Hard to Do

In the last couple of weeks, I have had a number of conversations with friends in the industry about dissolving relationships with distributors in franchise states. As I have written about before, franchise laws can be extremely tricky. I have gone through a few instances of making changes in those states so here are a few quick tips I have to offer:

1. Although there are laws in many franchise states that allow wineries some recourse, and those laws may seem cut and dried to you, the state heavily favors the side of the distributor and nearly all lawsuits show this as precedence. Do you see provisions that state that if a distributor is a late or slow/no pay, they don’t adequately market wine, or they don’t buy wine at all, then that qualifies as “just cause” for a release? Sorry. It’s hard to win on this one.

2.  If you can prove you have “just cause,” and your existing distributor agrees to a release, it’s common practice in many franchise states that in order to obtain a letter of release, you must buy out your franchise agreement. This means that the winery pays its old, under-performing distributor a year+ of gross or net profits. Even if the distributor still owes thousands of dollars!

3. How about waiting periods? In many franchise states, once a release letter is obtained, they still have 30, 60, 90+ days to sell their remaining product and the newly appointed distributor must sit on their hands and wait to sell your wines until that waiting period is up. Of course, the old distributor will offer a fire sale, which means that for months afterward, who will want to purchase them at regular wholesale prices? This can cause slow shipments, depletions and months of pain for a winery that has finally obtained a release, not to mention a frustrated and dejected newly appointed distributor sales force.

4. Have you considered lawsuits? Many distributors (particularly the big ones) in franchise states retain franchise attorneys to specifically go after wineries that have dropped them. Although you may eventually win the suit and be granted a release, consider that you may end up spending tens of thousands of dollars, and while the suit drags on, you will have months without your product being sold in that particular market. Also consider that your emails are NOT your personal property, so during a lawsuit, anything you have ever written to anyone in that franchise state becomes public record if it is included in the suit.

My biggest piece of advice: leaving distributors in franchise states is rarely easy and commonly very expensive. Do not consult other distributors in a franchise state for recommendations on what to do. Call up a qualified franchise attorney, spend the $2-5k it will likely cost to evaluate your position and possibly obtain a release letter, and do things the RIGHT WAY.

Talking About and Selling Wine You Don’t Like

When I was in college, I worked part-time in a few tasting rooms in Walla Walla. One of the things that used to bother me was when customers would come in, taste the wines, and then, completely sh*t-talk the wines in front of me.  Normally when that happened, I would stand behind the bar with an idiotic grin on my face, while inside I secretly fumed and judged the men on their fanny packs, bad loafers with white socks and comb-overs, and the women on their cheap dye jobs, bejeweled t-shirts with phrases like “How Merlot Can You Go,” and pleated-front, high-waisted mom jeans (which, I’ll admit, were totally immature and sh*tty things to think about).

Wow, this wine is really...dry!

Wow, this wine is really…dry!

I saw that attitude again when I became a supplier rep and participated in retail shop tastings. I’d pour a dry red wine for someone, and she’d scrunch up her face, stick her tongue out and emphatically say, “I don’t like that one at ALL. NO. This one is…I really don’t like that wine!”  Eventually, I learned not to take it so personally, and also to explain to people that they should try to give the wine the benefit of the doubt—tasting it in a retail setting without any food or friends around to share it with probably made a huge difference in their perception; I encouraged them to acknowledge their own tastes, but be open-minded to the idea that it’s hard to taste in a “vaccum.” I always referenced the Pepsi Challenge, wherein most tasters preferred the taste of Pepsi because it tasted sweeter and the flavors were more “obvious” right away, but many people actually chose a less sweet beverage (Coke) over the course of an entire glass or can.

While I (mostly) got over my frustrations with consumers being rude about not liking wine during tastings, what I can’t get over is how rude some people INSIDE the industry are about their competitor’s wine. I hear people constantly bashing other people’s wines, quickly jumping on their perceived flaws. I think a lot of people on the sales side of the wine business treat selling their wine as a zero-sum game and refuse to recognize value in competitor’s products.  I recently got invited to a private tasting and was unable to go, so I gave up my spots to a couple other industry people. I then saw on Facebook that the person who’d taken my spot had a status update that totally trashed the wines, AND tagged the location where the tasting had been held.  WTF?shocked

Trust me—there are wines I’ve tried where I felt personally violated (in fact, just a few months ago at a trade tasting I tried a cult wine that basically raped my tongue with sugar, alcohol and oak). But it did get me thinking about how I would sell the wines that my friend found so “awful” in the Facebook status update. After all, I have had a few occasions where, because of the vintage, the style or whatever reason, a particular wine in my portfolio was not my favorite. Yet I still had to sell them anyway.

So what I want to talk about today is how to talk about and sell wines you don’t like. And a little etiquette…

1. One of the first things I try to remember is that, particularly if the winery is independent, a whole lot of work went into making that wine. At my last job, I became good friends with the cellar and vineyard crews, and I learned that each bottle of wine I opened meant countless hours of work and sweat and maybe some tears. To diminish that seems, to me, disrespectful and callous.

2. Just because YOU don’t like it doesn’t mean it’s not any good.  I went tasting with a dear friend of mine a few weeks ago, and we visited a well-known winery. We began tasting through their lineup, and as we tasted their merlot, she quickly said, privately to me, of course, that she didn’t care for it. I pointed out that for the price, the wine was well balanced, had moderate tannins (that many consumers shopping in that price-point would look for), pretty fruit, the wine was clean and correct, and that the label was beautiful. She nodded in assent and said, “Yup. Hadn’t thought of it that way.”  Here are some general things to consider when selling a wine you don’t like:

  • Is it a good value for the price?
  • Does it taste like it comes from somewhere? Bonus if it tastes like where it’s from.
  • Is the wine correctly made, or does it have some flaws like EA/VA or Brettanomyces (which some people love)?
  • What are the flavors like? Fruity? Tannic? Oaky? Think about what the account’s customers might like—will it fit in with their general taste profiles?
  • Is the label nice? Because hey, it can’t hurt to have a pretty label on the back bar…
  • Is the winery or the people who own it well known (which can help pull-through), or do they have any good stories relating to the wine?

3. Don’t talk sh*t about other people’s wines because you may one day be selling them. That kind of goes without saying—even if you are competing for a placement on a wine list or shelf, I find it’s often better to stress the positive attributes of your own wine (even if you don’t like it) than to stress the negatives of someone else’s. Plus, the winery personnel are probably really nice people–would you say those things to their face?

Dude! This wine is so oaky they might as well call it Chateau 2x4! And hellooooo powdered tannin. Malo anyone? Get out the movies, it's time to watch one with all this buttered popcorn!

Dude! This wine is so oaky they might as well call it Chateau 2×4! And hellooooo Malo anyone? Get out the DVDs: it’s time to watch one with all this buttered popcorn! [Cackles] We are so hilar! Wait, they just switched to our distributor? Oh, well, crap!

4. We’re all in this together (mostly). What I love about living in Oregon is that, by and large, people in the wine business are extremely supportive of one another. However, there are a couple big wineries in the Pacific Northwest that some folks love to bag-on because they’re placed everywhere, they have a massive sales force, a fairly corporate structure and produce thousands (if not millions) of cases of wine a year. While personally they’re not always my first choice to drink (even though I can appreciate that they are generally well made), I can see that those big wineries have made inroads for the little guys—training winemakers and sales people, buying fruit from many vineyards, nationally campaigning for the region—and for those things, I am thankful.

Yep--I am a bit of a Pollyanna about wine.

Ye, I am a bit of a Pollyanna about wine. She tried to see the good in every situation (she called it “the Glad Game”), which is what I try to do with the wines I taste and sell.

And just a quick shout-out to my favorite wine writer, Jon Bonne of the SF Chronicle—I think he’s a great example of someone who can taste wines from a huge range of regions and styles and come up with positive, interesting and extremely well-written things to say about wines of all stripes. Check out his writing if you need some inspiration!

Breaking Up is Hard to Do

I can remember the first time I ever had to “fire” a distributor—I was given the directive by my boss, and for a week, I sat and stewed about how I would do it. I finally wrote myself a little script, and with some resolve got my nerve to pick up the phone to call—my stomach was in my throat, my heart was beating rapidly and my mouth was dry. As the phone rang, I silently recited what I would say. The person on the end of the line answered so good-naturedly—I felt awful for what I was about to do. We exchanged some pleasantries and I awkwardly blurted out, “The reason I called is because I have some bad news. Unfortunately, we have decided we’d like to take the winery in another direction and we have decided to move to another distributor.” Of course, this is when the conversation veered off script. The person on the other end of the line started throwing out numbers and percentages about how our business had grown, and how this was a complete and total shock. As they talked, I realized that they were probably right—that they HAD done what they thought was, at the very least, a decent job, and that the winery had never approached them about the fact that we were unhappy with their performance and given a chance to try to change it.

I mostly just included this picture because it came up when I did a google image search for “awkward phone conversation.”

Even though I’m not working right now, I see my friends at wineries around the country wrapping up their fall travels, and begin looking towards the New Year, while taking stock of the progress and challenges of the previous one. This is a time where people start forecasting for their year-end meetings, and in some cases, start making plans to change distributors. The worst conversation you can possibly have in the wine business is the one where you tell a distributor you are planning to leave, and they have no idea that you were unhappy. I had a friend tell me once that when she left a distributor, it felt like a breakup—they weren’t even on speaking terms anymore.

So before you decide to make a move, please learn from my mistakes and consider the following:

Have you told them exactly what you expect?

  • No one can read minds—and even if it might be obvious to you, remember that distributors have hundreds or thousands of wines they represent so being pointedly honest and well prepared about what exactly it is that you expect is extremely important.

Have you asked them if they think your expectations are reasonable?

  • The sales you want to achieve might seem like a no-brainer to you, but distributors know their business and their market better than you do. They are your partners and so it’s important to remember that you need to listen to their side of the story and take into account their honest assessment of what can reasonably be done.

Have you visited the market regularly or supported them in any way?

  • If you haven’t been to their market, how can you even conceive of how much business they can do for you? San Francisco and Indianapolis have roughly the same population, but the markets are drastically different. Evaluating what one market might against one of a comparable size is like apples to oranges.

Do you have relationships with their Reps?

  • They can often offer valuable feedback about how your wines are received, or if they take them out regularly, if at all.

Have you gone over pricing? Have you offered any programs? Samples?

  • No one can sell your wine if no one knows what it tastes like.

Have you been consistent in your follow up?

  • People have a lot on their plates these days. Gentle reminders (maybe once every month, not daily as I have heard from some brand managers) can be effective—spreadsheets with information on depletions and shipments against expectations have proved helpful for me.

If ultimately you decide you need to make a change, I offer the following suggestions for a smooth transition:

  1. Make sure you are not breaking any franchise laws.
  2. Make sure that before you tell them you are moving, you have paid them for all bill-backs and that they do not have any outstanding invoices.
  3. You have a plan and the money to pay them for their existing inventory—will your new distributor buy it? Will you buy it back?
  4. Make sure IT IS NOT A SURPRISE. One of the people I admire greatly is a guy who has left any number of distributors over the years, but he has been able to do it with class, grace and a sense of dignity—each of the companies he has left has not been surprised—they’ve been a part of the conversation, have been given ample chance to correct or improve business, and ultimately both parties came to the table mutually agreeing that while it was sad, the winery was not a fit for them any more. In all cases, they have remained friendly years down the road. I think that’s something we should all aspire to. 

Saying Goodbye

A few months ago I rushed home from the airport after a long trip so that I could make it into Portland to have beers with a colleague of mine. He was in town on a supplier incentive trip—he and a few other people from his distributorship had been invited to Oregon by one of their wineries and he asked if I wanted to get together with him on his “free day.”

I met him at Hair of the Dog Brewery; it was one of those funny Portland days where the sun is shining, the sky is that classic Oregon bluish-white and it’s dappled with blotchy gray clouds. The temperature is hovering between 55-60 degrees and the wind is softly blowing every few moments, just enough to feel a little chill, but also to remind you that Summer is coming. It’s the kind of weather that I like to call “Goldilocks weather”—if you stand still or sit, you need a sweater, but if you move around, you start to sweat. You’re constantly putting your sunglasses on and then taking them off because the clouds keep moving and the sun flickers in and out. No matter what you do, it’s hard to feel “just right.”

So I came and sat down at one of the picnic benches outside with him and as the clouds passed over the sun, I removed my shades. He looked into my eyes, now uncovered, and told me, “You look tired, kid. How long are you going to keep doing this to yourself?” He surveyed me with genuine concern and I told him, “It’s true. I AM tired. But I also have too much to do to think about that right now. And besides, I love my job and my company.”

We talked for a while and he kept pressing me about what I was going to do with my life and what I wanted for myself in the future. I was adamant that everything was copacetic, and that at the moment I had no complaints. But something was nagging me and I knew that maybe I wasn’t being totally honest with myself.

Then, this fall, over the span of just 60 days, I traveled to Seattle, San Francisco, New Orleans, Dallas, Austin, Houston, Naples, Miami, Boston, Burlington, Portland (Maine), New Haven, New York, Chapel Hill, Raleigh-Durham, Charleston, Detroit, Phoenix, DC and Alexandria, and then I was really tired.

As my travels wrapped up, I sat down with my boss and we had a long discussion about me and my job; the ultimate conclusion was that it’s time for me to take a break. I have learned a tremendous amount in the last few years I’ve worked for him; I know so much more about the business of wine—how it’s made, how it’s sold, how to make a company run well, and how to keep your employees happy. I have worked with the most compassionate, intelligent and interesting people I could ask for, and I have had the luxury working under someone who is truly the most classy guy in the business (not to mention one of the best and most knowledgeable winemakers in the Northwest—where else can you learn about geology and classical philosophy in the same place?).  I am immensely grateful for the experience I’ve had here, and I will miss working with these folks very much. I can’t thank him enough for giving me the opportunity to work at such a fantastic place and I know we’ll be friends for many years to come. It’s only with gratitude and care that I take my leave.

So what do I do now? Well, for starters, I am going to take a little time for myself and re-charge. And then, who knows? I love to travel and I have a ton of great friends and colleagues around the country, but I don’t want to be on a plane every week. I definitely want to stay in the wine business, but beyond that, I’m wide open.

I still have a lot of thoughts and opinions about being a representative for an independent, family-owned winery, so I’ll continue to keep this blog updated. But in case I don’t see you for a little while (since I’ll be sleeping in my own bed instead of a hotel on the road), stay in touch and call me when you’re in Portland!