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Columns

The Wine Detectives: The art of detecting

Sometimes, even the wine detectives do a bad job detecting.

Last year, in Detroit, we paid for a license to sell wine in Michigan and appointed a small distributor that appeared interested in selling Cardinal Rule to restaurants and wine shops. But – after the introductory sales meeting with the distributor staff, tasting the wines and making key presentations – nothing much happened.

So, we re-doubled our efforts assisting the distributor that was working to sell the wines in Detroit, Lansing and Grand Rapids, thinking that most of the potential would be in the larger markets. And we did have limited success making placements (usually six or 12 bottles at a time). But we gained important visibility.

However, after we left and returned to Chicago, sales activity slowed and eventually collapsed. So, now we really had to become super sleuths to discover what the real problem was. We called a couple of the distributor sales people to offer additional help, and – through some clever questioning – discovered the distributor had switched emphasis to selling craft beer instead of wine.

We have recently selected a new distributor that, after exhaustive scrutiny, we discovered sells only premium wines. In Michigan, since a wine brand can only be represented by one distributor, you have to transfer inventory to the new distributor. We also have to pay the old distributor a dollar amount equal to the profit they “earned” on your brand the previous year in order to persuade them to “release” it. I know this sounds stupid, but every state has unique laws governing the distribution of wine and spirits.

Sometimes, you have to be a better wine detective when selecting a partner to do business with!

• Tom Minnerick is an Elgin resident who has spent 35 years working in the wine industry. “The Wine Detectives” column will run sporadically in the Kane County Chronicle over the next few months. Feedback can be sent to planitkanenews@shawmedia.com.

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