“Will You Accept this Rosé” : How to Write a Blind Query Email to A Potential Wholesale Partner

I have been on maternity leave for the last seven weeks, and for the duration (including the day I got home from the hospital), I’ve been getting terse voicemails on my cellphone from a winery representative (one who my company does not represent) complaining that they need me to call them back about getting their wines into the wholesaler I work for, and that it’s very rude of me not to call them back because they’re on a sensitive timeline. Let me just say this now: if you’re trying to make a good impression on a potential wholesaler, don’t do this.

Having said that, one of the most common discussions I have with my winery friends is about finding and establishing a relationship with a good distributor in various markets throughout the country.

As someone who receives multiple queries a week, and who spent many years building distribution networks, I’d like to share my thoughts on the best way to do it, whether you are a newer winery looking to establish distribution for the first time, or your relationship with your current wholesaler has run its course. These suggestions apply only to those seeking distributor relationships in the USA. International relationships are a different story and worthy of an entirely different post.

First, you need to figure out how many cases you need to sell in that market and what kind of wholesaler partnership you are looking for. I will address that in a separate post.

Once you have identified a potential wholesale partner and you have not met them in person or have not been formally introduced you will most likely need to send a query email. Email is my communication method of choice because it allows me to address it on my time, it is a record of all the information so I can easily search for it in my inbox if I have questions or want to share information with more team members (and is probably better as a record than my note keeping), and if for some reason we decide that now is not the time to work together, but some months down the road I want to re-open the conversation, I will be able to go back to the email and find your information.

The Blind Query Email

#1 most important rule: Keep it brief.

Pro tip: Before you write it, find out to whom it should be addressed. A simple call to the wholesaler or a click on their website should get you the requisite info.

In the body of the email, include the following information:

  • Start with a concise statement about the winery and its history – 3 sentences tops. You can attach more info and pictures, but don’t make the files too large.

 

  • Pricing and priority wines – I can’t tell you how many people send queries without including FOB pricing on their wines. Additionally, you may make 47 different wines, but I need to know what wines are the sales drivers (don’t say all of them). You should ideally have 2-3, but 5 tops – the rest you should be selling to your mailing list or via direct sales.

 

  • Volume/Where you see your wines fitting — How many cases you produce, how many cases you are currently selling in that market (if you don’t have it established yet, share volumes for comparable markets), and how many you would like to sell (and generally what channel mix you see – mostly on or mostly off premise, or what percentage mix). DO NOT BE COY here. I have picked up brands I may otherwise have not have given a second look because I saw how much their existing distributor was doing and thought to myself, “Huh. If THEY can do that much, we must be able to do better.” Additionally, it’s important to be as transparent as possible in all of your communication with your wholesale partner, so if these are the people you will be working with (for years to come, hopefully), you will need to set clear expectations and get off on the right foot.

 

  • Scores from Wine Spectator, Advocate, Tanzer, Galloni, Enthusiast or W&S. They don’t necessarily mean much to distributors, but they can help. Do not include any gold medals won or anything from wine competitions. No one in the wine trade cares about these. Seriously, do not include them. They make you look like a hack.

Some Don’ts:

  • Don’t send samples blind, unless you are cool with admin staff using them for their party on Friday night
  • Don’t call or text the brand manager/owner on their cell
  • Don’t try to get distributor sales reps involved – it puts them in the middle and they usually don’t have much sway over what brands get picked up
  • Don’t offer to spend time in the market unless you are willing to either send principals to do sales meetings and wine events, or if you are a rep that is willing to stand in a retail shop and do in-store demos and go on crappy ride-withs or do work on your own. Offering to go on ride withs is something LITERALLY every winery person will do. That won’t help your distributor, other than to say you will do what literally everyone else will do.

 

Finally: If you are contemplating leaving an existing relationship with a wholesaler, be prepared. First make sure you are following all the state laws to the letter – you do not want to open yourself up to a lawsuit, especially in franchise markets. Make sure you are current with them (ie make sure you get paid for everything they owe you before you part ways with them). Be prepared to have them dump their inventory of your wine at or below their cost – this can potentially affect your depletions for the next 12-18 months. Lastly, be aware that those “friendships” you created with the wholesaler you’re leaving and all their reps may be completely done. It’s the saddest, most heartbreaking part of doing business in our industry.

 

Good luck and happy selling!

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Wine Industry New Year’s Resolutions

New Year’s resolutions are usually about losing weight, eating better, drinking less and are often focused on health and fitness. But I like to use this time at the end of the year to take stock of my work habits, and think about how I can do them better or change in the new year. Below is a short list of things I think everyone in wine sales can use to be more successful in 2018. Let me know if I have missed anything!

Respond with a sense of urgency

I’ve said it before and I will say it again. Get back to emails within 24 hours. If it’s a text about wine availability it’s probably urgent. Within minutes if you can is best!

Bonus point if you don’t apologize for not responding because you’ve been suuuuper busy but your Instagram suggests you were day drinking champagne at some hot NYC hangout (superstar somms/winemakers tagged)

Assume everyone is doing their best

People aren’t (usually) ignoring you intentionally*. Everyone’s just trying their best, so approach your colleagues with a sense of positivity. My amazing hair stylist, Armando, recently told me something so true: your vibe attracts your tribe. A corollary to that: you catch more flies with honey.

Stop talking about yourself (and how busy you are!) and listen

Asking questions about the needs of others can help you tremendously in your business and solve a lot of the problems you can’t stop talking about. It also helps you understand where your employees, customers, brand managers and other colleagues are coming from.

Come prepared

Know your business. Read wine industry news. Keep up to date on trends and happenings in your market(s).

Be proactive

It’s a lot easier to be successful when you’re ahead of the game!

Try more wines, especially those of your competitors

So many people in the wine industry only drink their own wines. They don’t know who their real competitors are or what their wines taste like. And they LOVE to bash natural wines/American wines/legacy brands even though they’ve never had any. Try something new. Regularly.

Take care of yourself

We have lost a lot of great people in the wine industry this year. Traveling, over-scheduling yourself, eating and drinking in restaurants every night – they take their toll. Remind yourself to pause, to get outside and move**, to choose the healthy option, to say no to that last nightcap every once in a while. Hug your loved ones tight and tell the people who mean something to you that they mean something to you!

*Remind me to write about box-checkers and time-wasters in the New Year

** This year I started using the Peloton app for at home work-outs. You don’t actually need their bike to use it – if you have a tablet, you can do the workout in any hotel gym on a stationary bike – you won’t have the ability to see your output/torque, but it’s still a great thing to do to get your body moving. I highly recommend it.

 

I Just Called to Say…[ ]

One of my old bosses used to call me up and ask me random questions, like what my brand manager’s children were named and how old they were, or what featured wineries were on the pre-recorded promo tape that played on XYZ Distributor’s phone line while you were on hold. If I didn’t know the answer, he’d accuse me of being out of touch, and therefore on thin ice with my territory’s sales. I was so paranoid that I started getting into the habit of randomly calling up my brand managers just to say hello so I could check the box. I literally would ring them up and ask them, “So… how’s it going?” And then I would wait for the awkward pause because I had no agenda or any real business to discuss with them, and we’d shoot the breeze for a few minutes before the whole uncomfortable phone call was over. But at the time, I just knew I was supposed to be getting “mind share” from my brand manager and that was how I thought you did it.

If you know me, you know I am obsessed with reading Wine Industry business publications, and something I have been thinking about a lot lately is a picture I saw in the September 2017 issue of Wines&Vines.

Screen_Shot_2017-08-31_at_12_13_05_PM

If you sell wine for a small or mid-sized family winery, you are already painfully aware of this – competing for attention not just from your brand manager, but with distributor sales reps AND accounts, up against hundreds of other wineries in the same portfolio.

Obviously as someone who works on the wholesale side of the (fine wine) business, I believe in the need for wholesalers – the ones who do it well are partners with their wineries and believe in the stories they have to tell and the value it adds to everyone’s business. But the three-tier system is harder than ever to navigate. Consolidation is happening everywhere, and getting time and attention from anyone at a distributor is a challenge. With hundreds of brands in books, and managers stretched thin, time with a distributor brand manager is critical, but how do you make it count? As one friend who works for a winery recently asked me, “How often should I be reaching out to my distributor, and when I do, what do they want to hear?”

On average, wholesalers should be getting monthly emailed updates about inventory and any pertinent vintage changes/releases/personnel news you have going on at the winery. Depending on how much wine you sell in a given market, you may speak to your brand manager once a week, or two times a year. Any time you reach out, you should be adding value to the business relationship by providing useful information in a timely, expedient manner.

To that end:

  1. If you are emailing, keep it short and sweet. The sweet spot for email length is between 50-125 words. Otherwise it’s TL;DR. If you have extra information you just HAVE to share, like a story about the inception of a new wine, or something like that, include it as an attached PDF.
  2. If you are calling, have an agenda and be prepared. Distributors send you depletion data that takes a lot of energy to compile. Please use it and familiarize yourself with the market you are calling about instead of asking them to do it again for you. For example, if you are emailed monthly depletion reports by account, you probably shouldn’t call up your brand manager to ask what restaurants are good supporters so you know where to dine when you visit their market in x amount of days. Just look at the reports.
  3. Call with good news occasionally. Use that depletion data to say, “Hey, I noticed that you made 8 new placements of our Red Blend in restaurants last month. That’s fantastic!” Sometimes brand managers don’t have time to look at data that granular on a daily basis, so being reminded of specific successes helps keep certain wines at the front of their mind and can lead to further sales. Also, most of the time wineries call to complain or push for more business. I am a firm believer that you catch more flies with honey. Recognizing when things are working well often is inspiring enough to get people to continue doing what they are doing, and do more of it!
  4. If you are sending excel files, please for the love of god – format them correctly so they are easy to read. The formatting should be uniform and pages should be optimized for printing (headers repeat across pages, formulas line up. My biggest pet peeve is #DIV/O!. If you don’t know how to fix this, use Google to find out how, or just take a few online tutorials. Excel is the greatest business tool in the world, but only if you use it right. I love when winery reps send me beautiful spreadsheets.
  5. Never call just to ask, “So, how’s it going?” Your job is to know your business – if it’s up or down, and you’re not sure why after going over depletions and IRI/Nielsen data (if you buy it – if you don’t, this is a great resource to look at trends around the country), ask them about specifics. Brand managers appreciate when wineries take the time to learn about their market and understand their business – it feels like a partnership when wineries are familiar with the market, it’s laws, quirks and customers/key players.
  6. Don’t send important business information in a text message. Send it in an email. Otherwise it will be forgotten/ignored/misplaced.

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%

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. 

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!

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!