Cultural Tips for Doing Business in America

I’ll be giving a series of seminars in Spain next week and one of the presentations is on cultural tips for doing business in America.


What Defines Americans?
• Individualism, self-reliance and the drive to be successful.
• Anything is possible if you work hard enough.
• Getting things accomplished and on time is the primary goal, developing interpersonal relations as a way to get there is secondary.
• The future is more important than the present.
• Don’t like to waste time, always in a hurry, think time is money: time is kept, filled, saved, used, spent, wasted, lost, gained, planned, given and even killed.
• Competition…we love it! It brings out the best in any individual and system.
• We do everything fast: Patience is a waste of time.
• There is a difference between confidence and cockiness…what you’ve done matters, not what you say you’re going to do.
• Education, income, awards, popularity are highly valued and rewarded.
• We like to eat fast, not linger as you do in Europe…the goal is to eat, not socialize.
• Value facts over theory, and especially when combined with knowledge, experience, passion, commitment in others.
• We appreciate persistence. It may take 10 or 15 attempts to get a response. Don’t take it personally.
• Change is good, new/innovative is prized. Old has a different meaning to Americans. If it’s old it’s probably not good.
• Have great teeth
• Generally ignorant of other countries and languages.
• We realize Americans are perceived by others as:Fuhgeddaboutit

• Pushy, abrupt, inconsiderate and    loud….and that describes the average American in a small city or town.
• In NY we consider these as art forms

Work Ethic
• Success is the highest value in American life… The American Dream: Money, status, possessions, fame, respect.
• Action is seen as the key to success. To not be busy can be considered lazy.
• We like to say “rules are meant to be broken,” but we never say “laws are meant to be broken.”
• “It’s amazing how successful I am when I am well prepared.”

Interpersonal Behavior
• Punctuality is expected: 15 minutes early is on time, on time is late, late is unacceptable.
• Keep your distance/physical space…1-1.5 meters.
• Don’t ask someone’s age, income, or weight.
• Politeness: Please, thank you and you’re welcome for everything. It’s rude not to respond to “Thank you.”
• Don’t smoke. If you must, ask permission first, and don’t be surprised to hear “No.”
• Don’t be insulted if someone calls you by your given name if they find your surname too hard to pronounce. And unless it’s “Smith or Jones” it’s too hard to pronounce.

Political Correctness
• Don’t talk about race, gender or sexual orientation.
• Don’t touch, especially between males.
• Americans say “pardon me” or “excuse me” if they touch someone by accident, get too close, or if they do not understand what someone has said.
• Kissing: air kiss as a greeting only if you know someone or they initiate it. (And we tend to be a little bit confused as to how many…1 in South America, 2 in Europe, 3 in Russia?)
• Hand shaking: Make sure to have affirm grip, 1-2 shakes. If you really want to communicate deep personal connection and sincerity,hold their elbow with your left hand as you shake. Do not do this the first time you meet someone.
• When introducing colleagues, give a little info…”This is John Jones. He designed the sell sheet I just gave you.” Or “He looks after our business in Scandinavia.”
• Tipping: Restaurants/Bars: 20% minimum. Doormen $1-$ for getting you a cab, $1-$2/bag for bellman. Cabs 15%, we sit in the back—and remember to fasten your seat belt!
• The person who extended the invitation is expected to pay for the meal.  The convention most of us adopt is we pay when you are guests in our country, you pay when we’re guests in yours.
• RSVP means you must respond. Even if nobody else does, you will gain respect if you do.
• Do not worry about hurting someone’s feelings by responding “No” to an invitation. But people will be offended if you say yes and then don’t attend.
• Times for events are important. If it’s 6-8PM, leave very close to the ending time stated.

Business Meetings
• Americans will assume you understand something if you do not tell them otherwise. (I’ve made THAT mistake a number of times.)
• Don’t be afraid to ask questions if you do not understand things…we ask a lot of questions and expect you to as well.
• If we’re speaking too fast, it’s ok to interrupt and ask us to speak more slowly please.
• Agendas are critical, stick to them.
• The U.S. is a phone-driven culture, and now with the prevalence of smartphones, even more than ever. “Phone” extends to email, texting, What’s App, Skype.
• Handlon’s Razor: “Never attribute to malice that which is adequately explained by ignorance”
• Exchanging business cards is casual, expect yours will be accepted, not looked at, and just put in a pocket.
• “Yes” means yes. “No” means no. And “maybe” really means maybe…more information or time needed.
• Get it in writing. A verbal agreement has little value. A confirming email is a bare minimum to any agreement..
• Hire a lawyer when you’re making important agreements. (need referrals, email me
• Americans commonly begin negotiations with unacceptable conditions or demands….recognize this is just a starting position from which they have room to negotiate.
• Pace of negotiations is usually fast.
• Emails should get answered in no more than 24 hours, keep it short, specific, clear. Include your contact info on your signature line with your personal email address, not info@.

A Few Wine Industry Cultural Things:
• Don’t be intimidated and absolutely don’t be unprepared…unless you want to be intimidated.
• Big companies=hubris. They deliver mass, momentum, safety. Small companies=innovation, creativity, nimbleness, risk-taking
• Talk in our terms: 9L cases not bottles. Degrees Fahrenheit, not Celsius.
• Understand the jargon: DA, bailment, POS, below the line, etc.
• Recognize your objectives aren’t your importer’s…”why don’t they just sell?” Answer, because they’re making more money with other brands.
• When you visit accounts, introduce yourself to the manager as soon as you walk in…you’re in their home.
• Come prepared.

o Have all your materials available in print as well as in emailable form or on a thumb drive (and don’t expect to get the thumb drive back.)
o Be ready with the answers to the questions you expect and expected the unexpected.
o You can expect what you inspect.

• Show that you’re listening by asking, “Can I take notes.” Let them see you do it…it’s flattering.
• “So, help me understand”
• “What I’m hearing you say is.”
• Deadlines and commitments are REALLY important…meet them.
• Do NOT get involved in pricing conversations on work-withs or with retailers. It’s their job, and in some states it’s illegal.
• Your brand is more important than the wine. Having great wine is necessary but not sufficient. You need to have Point of Difference that Makes a Difference.
• We eat lunch between 12-2 and dinner 6:30-8:30.
• We tend toward informality in dress and interactions. Do not mistake it for impoliteness or lack of seriousness.
• Don’t mistake kindness for weakness.
• Lack of deference to age and authority is not disrespect, it’s rooted in the American tradition of equality.
• Try not to be insulted by our directness, we think it’s a virtue.
• To signal the end of a conversation, we say: “Well, I don’t want to take up any more of your time.”
• Small talk is important as a prelude to any conversation. It’s important to show interest in the person and their life before getting to the point. But get to the point.

o Good subjects for small talk: weather, traffic, movies, music, hobbies, food, restaurants, sports and work
o English is rich with polite conditional verb forms…would, could, can, may, might

• “How are you” is not a real question, just a phrase. Respond with: “fine, great.”
• When Americans say “We’ll have to get together” or “Let’s do lunch” or “See you later” it’s not an invitation to or commitment to a next meeting, it’s just a friendly gesture. If no date is specified, it’s just a pleasantry.
• We don’t like silence. But it’s a GREAT negotiating tool. Participate, even if your English isn’t great…silence connotes unpreparedness or not having anything important to contribute.
• Meetings usually end with a summary with action plans and assignments by person. Follow up is mandatory.
• There are many people in any given business meeting who can say “no”, but only one person who can say “Yes.” When negotiating, make sure you know who that person is, and determine if they are in the room or not.


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Hey, here’s an idea, let’s NOT do a Grand Tasting: Vinitaly Visionary, Stevie Kim

She’s about 5’ 2” tall and about 95 pounds soaking wet, but Stevie Kim’s impact is belied by her physical stature. She is the driving force behind the recent success and growth of Vinitaly. (And, oh by the way, in her spare time she’s also managing Vinitaly’s wine pavilion at the upcoming Expo Milano 2015 in May.)

Dr. Ian D'Agata and Stevie Kim

Dr. Ian D’Agata and Stevie Kim

As part of Vinitaly’s outreach to the global wine community Stevie has conceived a number of innovative initiatives including Opera Wine, Wine Hackathon, Vinitaly International Academy (VIA) as well as Vinitaly on the Road, the New York event stop being one at which I’ve had the pleasure of speaking.
While New York dodged a bullet on Tues from the second annual Storm of the Century, Jan. 27 also is notable in something else that didn’t happen—a walk around grand tasting.

For the first time in my experience an international wine event in New York was planned to meet the needs of the market in which it was to take place, as opposed to the mistaken belief in grand tastings by trade marketing consorzia (aka “Generics”) and EU funding authorities.
Instead the VIA planned an event titled “A Study of Sangiovese,” a Focus Level Seminar. Because of the snow event it has been postponed till Jun 2. The session will be led by Dr. Ian D’Agata who is the author of “Native Wine Grapes of Italy.” The seminar will explain and illustrate the tapestry of terroir and the impact of aging expressed by 15 spectacular wines of vintages from 1974-2001.

The bad news was that the event had sold out for its initially scheduled date, but I’m hoping for an invite for the June 2 rain date. Some of the fabulous wines to be exhibited include the Chianti Classico Riserva Rancia by Felsina in three historic vintages, and the 1974 Montesodi Chianti Rufina by Frescobaldi.

Lucky for the Toronto wine geeks, the seminar was held there after being aborted in NY, another first for Vinitaly Canada and homecoming for Dr. D’Agata who’s Canadian born and bred.

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2015 Wine and Spirit Competitions, Events and Trade Shows

Here’s a compilation of the major industry competitions, events and trade shows coming up for 2015 posted in roughly chronological order.


Ultimate Spirits Challenge
Accepts brands not currently imported to the US

Ultimate Wine Challenge
Accepts brands not currently imported to the US

BTI (Beverage Testing Institute)
Accepts brands not currently registered in the U.S.
Deadlines throughout the year for wine, spirits and beer competitions

IWSC (International Wine and Spirits Competition)
Multiple competitions and deadlines by region

International Spirits Challenge
Put on by Drinks International Magazine. Entry deadlines vary by category.

San Francisco World Spirits Competition

San Francisco Wine Competition
2015 date TBD, Entries usually due Mar 1
Deadline May 22, 2015.  Accepts products not currently registered in the U.S.

Berlin International Wine Competition
Mar 1-2, 2015
Berlin, Germany

Spirits of the Americas
Florida, entry deadline Mar. 31, 2015

New York International Wine Competition
May 17-18, 2015 (Deadline for entries May 12)

Melbourne International Wine Competition
June 28-29, 2015, Melbourne, Australia

New York World Spirits and Wine Competition
Sept. 10-11, 2014

New York International Spirits Competition
Oct. 18-19, 2015

Indie Spirits Competition
2015 TBD, usually Chicago in Sept.

American Wine Society Commercial Wine Competition
Oct 2015

SIP Awards (Spirits International Prestige)
2015 deadline TBD, usually March.

Grand Harvest Awards
(Terroir-based competition by Vineyard and Winery Management)
2015 Grand Harvest Awards Deadline: November 13, 2015
Judging: November 17-18, 2015

Los Angeles International Spirits Expo Competition
2015 dates TBD

Beverly Hills World Spirit Competition
2015 deadline TBD

International Craft Spirits Awards
2015 deadline TBD


Fancy Food Show
Winter show: San Francisco, Jan 11-13, 2015, San Francisco
Summer show Washington DC, June 2015

Boston Wine Expo
Feb. 14-15, 2015, Boston, MA

South Beach Wine and Food Festival
Feb. 20-23, 2015, Miami, FL

March 15-17, 2015, Dusseldorf, Germany

March 22-25, 2015, Verona Italy

Distiller’s Convention & Trade Show
Put on by American Craft Distillers Assn.
March 30-April 2, 2015, Louisville, KY

Nightclub & Bar Show
Las Vegas, March 31-Apr 1, 2015

Wine and Spirits Wholesalers of America (WSWA)
April 12-14, 2015, Orlando, FL

Craft Beverage Expo
May 6-8, 2015
Santa Clara, CA

NRA (National Restaurant Association)
May 15-19, 2015, Chicago

Manhattan Cocktail Classic
Mid-May 2015 in New York.

London International Wine Fair
May 20-22, 2015, London UK

June 14-18, 2015, Bordeaux, France

Aspen Food and Wine Classic
June 19-21, 2015 Aspen, CO

North American Wine Bloggers Conference
July 13-16, 2015, Corning (Finger Lakes) NY

Tales of the Cocktail
July 15-19, 2015 New Orleans

San Diego Spirits Festival
Aug.22-23, 2015, San Diego, CA

Australia Trade Tasting
Aug. 31-Sept2, 2015, Melbourne, Australia

Wine Riot US Tour 2015
Consumer event targeting Millennials
Multiple cities/dates

Around the World in 80 Sips
Multiple cities/dates

New York Wine Experience
2015 TBD
New York

Digital Wine Communications Conference (formerly European Wine Bloggers Conference)
2015 dates and location TBD, usually late fall.

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For Immediate Release: “I Don’t Get No Respect”

Amber Gallaty who heads up our New York office forwarded a great post from “A Journalist” lambasting PR folks for robo-pitching.

It prompted me to summarize what I’ve learned from  40 years in PR and the surfeit of crappy pitches I now get because this blog has made it onto someone’s list:

-READ what they write, pitch to their interest and make the pitch personal.
-Don’t pretend you know the person if you don’t.
-Invest the time, energy and money to get to know them in person so you establish credibility with no quid pro quo implied or stated.
-Be formal….no “hey there”, or “Hi!” (“My name’s BRITney!!!!!!!)
-Don’t use exclamation points. As Tish once told me, God gave you three: One for your birth announcement, one for your obit, and one to use during your life. Use it wisely.
-Cut to the chase…open with an insight that speaks to their interest or something they just wrote, then pitch your idea’s value relative to that. “I just read the piece you did about e-commerce and was intrigued by your ideas. Here’s a different perspective on the subject you might find interesting.”
-Follow up with a reason why their particular readers would find the story of interest.
-Don’t ask them to do anything (“let me know if you want some more information, photos etc.”) That’s your job.
-Don’t follow up with an email asking, “just checking to see if you got my pitch email.” If you must follow up,  I’d rather get a phone call than an email…these days it’s more personal.
-Find a creative way to get the answer to the question you’re really asking: “are you going to write anything about the subject I sent you.”

Lastly, recognize that real journalism is a dying craft. Those still employed are getting paid a pittance, and they’re clinging to a belief that what they do matters to the paying subscribers of their  rapidly expiring publications. PR folks need to acknowledge and respect that.

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New Research on Importance of E-Commerce as Behavior Target

I just came across an interesting study by some folks at Cal Poly on the profile of  e-commerce wine
My key takeaway is that online buyers are the center of the target for us for premium (>$12/bottle) wine brands.   It’s an indicator that’s much more precise than demographics or psychographics of their receptivity and likelihood to buy better wines.

-buy more wine
-buy more expensive wine
-consider themselves knowledgeable about wine and talk about wine with friends. They are regarded as the experts in their social circle and are more influential than all the wine magazines and websites …probably combined!

Not surprisingly they’re more likely to use phone apps, websites and search in Google…and less likely to use print as wine information source.

Here are some of the details and conclusions

Online wine buyers are more likely to:
-Consider themselves a wine enthusiast
-enjoy talking about wine
-Consider themselves knowledgeable about wine
-Consider themselves a wine connoisseur

Online wine buyers vs. non online buyers
-buy on average two more bottles of wine/month
-spend more on wine/month:$135 vs. $81.61
spend more than 18.50 on a bottle
-interested in wines that are: premium quality, from a recognized growing region, from a family owned and/or boutique winery. (Also less interested in wine at a sale price)

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States Where Supermarket Sales of Wine AND In-Store Tastings Are Allowed

States allowing supermarket sales and on premise tastings

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Article in Drinks International on entering the US market

Drinks International just ran a piece I wrote on Understanding and Appreciating the US Market…a synopsis of our reccos on how to approach this challenge.

Understanding and appreciating the US market
01 October, 2014
By Steve Raye

Guestwriter Steve Raye of Brand Action Team tells us his practical advice for exporters looking for a US importer.Steve Raye

The US may be the biggest and most attractive market in the world for export brands, but securing an importer to represent your wine, spirit or beer brand can be a daunting task. One great resource is Deborah Grey’s How to Import Wine. An Insider’s Guide. For those of you with limited time, here’s a précis of the key elements that will make success more likely.

The first is to learn and understand the intricacies of the American market and know the fundamental difference between importer and distributor to the shibboleths such as “franchise states.”

Identifying candidates is second. You can create your target list by using tools such as LinkedIn, asking your personal network for referrals and recommendations, and subscribing to industry newsletters and monitoring news of changes and relationships. Beverage Trade Network is a good tool and for larger enterprises able to afford bespoke, our ImporterConnect service may be appropriate.

You have to be specific in identifying what criteria are critical to you: size and scope including turnover, personnel resources, and national vs regional or state coverage etc. Also take into account whether the importer has a distribution arm. Some importers do, and many distributors function as importers via DI orders.

Then there is traditional versus non-traditional. By traditional we mean companies whose primary function is importing and marketing agency brands. This spans the range from transnationals such as Diageo and Pernod Ricard, to specialist importers like Palm Bay and Wm. Deutsch that specialise in certain categories and countries.

Think beyond those to alternative solutions that may be a better fit for your brand. Nationally licensed service import companies such as MHW, retail buying groups like the Wine and Spirits Guild, large state or national chains such as BevMo! and Total Wine. Consider whether setting up your own operation with a family member resident in the US makes sense, or going totally non-traditional with an e-commerce model.

All have differing strengths and weaknesses but you need to do the due diligence in exploring them to find the right strategy for you.

What’s in it for me? It’s not about you it’s about the importer. Make sure you fully understand what they are looking for. They are primarily interested in growing their business. If you can present your company as a solution to their problem, you’re much more likely to be successful. Remember, most of the people you’ll be talking to are very busy running their existing business. Generally speaking, they are not actively hunting for new brands. They may be receptive to what you have to offer but only insofar as they feel they have the expertise to develop and grow, and the brands represent unique positioning that can further their business goals.

That’s the practical side, but also consider the emotional side. You need to make sure you are “sympatico” in terms of personal chemistry, complementary business goals and operating style.

Key questions you need to investigate about them: What is their market reach, portfolio strategy, market niche? What resources do they have in terms of sales and marketing personnel, transparency in reporting, receptiveness in collaborating with you in marketing? Does their portfolio and focus fit with your US strategy?

Key questions they’ll have about you are, do your brands represent a gap in their portfolio they are looking to fill? Do you have existing U.S. volume they can take over and grow? Do your company and brands enhance their image, awareness or profitability? Are you financially sound and have a budget to invest and support the brand?

And don’t forget, finding an importer you want to talk to is step one. You’ll need a strategy to get their attention and then get a meeting. A common refrain we hear is: “I get 100 calls a week; I take less than 10, and might ultimately have a meeting with one.”

Once you have the meeting scheduled, make sure you are fully buttoned up and focused. Do your homework, take the time to investigate and learn about them so you can present your opportunity in its best light relative to their business strategy. Also, have a defined (meaning written) strategy for how and what you want to accomplish in the US.

If you do make it through the constraint of the narrow part of the hourglass, recognise the real work is just starting. You’ll need to consult an attorney with experience in wine/spirit/beer import contracts, a strategy for managing existing inventory, a plan for representation, management and oversight of the relationship, and finally, ongoing support such as winemaker visits and shared marketing support programming.


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K&L Blog Post Sets Boffo Box Office Record in CA

A big thank you and shout out to David Driscoll of K&L spirits for his post on Singani.  They blew through their first 10 case order by 11AM of the next day, and reordered twice more and are now our biggest account.  Kudos to Lindsay Raye and Jon Brathwaite for “directing” this premiere.

Singani 63 & Steven Soderbergh

Looking out onto Bolivian muscat vineyards.

Just when you think you’ve tasted every type of booze known to man, you discover that there are yet more regionally-specific spirits being distilled in places you’ve never considered. Like Bolivia, for example. South America is generally rum country, but in Bolivia they make a pisco-like spirit called Singani, distilled from Muscat of Alexandria grapes grown high in the Andes mountains. Seeing that Muscat is an aromatic varietal, known for its fruity and floral character, the Singani spirit distilled from it takes on many of the perfume-like elements found in the expressive grape. The result is a clean and vibrant brandy that drinks like something in between pisco and a fruity eau-de-vie.

One man who had definitely never heard of Singani was Academy Award-winning director Steven Soderbergh, who happened to be in Bolivia while shooting his 2008 bio-pic about Che Guevara. He was given a bottle of the local spirit as a present while on the set, from which he poured himself a glass and was immediately smitten. He wanted to drink nothing else but Singani from that point on. The question, however, was how to get himself a bottle of Casa Real Singani after returning to the U.S.; a place where Singani wasn’t readily available. Never one to be intimidated by a challenge, Steven decided to take on the task himself. He would find an importer, a brand manager, a distributor, a broker, and an entire team of professionals dedicated entirely towards providing him and his friends with the Bolivian spirit, if need be.

And the fruit of that labor is finally here. Singani 63 is now at K&L: a fresh, floral, fruity spirit that brilliantly captures the essence of Muscat and mixes beautifully into a number of outstanding drinks. Just ask me—I finished an entire bottle in about 24 hours and never drank the same cocktail twice. I was so excited about my experience that I decided to get in touch with Mr. Soderbergh concerning his new Bolivian spirit, as I wanted to feature it prominently at K&L. We spoke earlier this morning about the intricate nature of the booze business and the adventures of importing liquor into the United States.

You can follow along with our conversation below:

David: We’ll often have customers at K&L who come in with a photo on their iPhone and say, “I had this wine in Italy last summer. It was great. Do you think you can order me a case?”  They don’t understand the logistics of getting booze out of one country and into another, with all the laws and middlemen that have to be involved; all the headaches. What was your initial impression about the booze business compared to what you faced bringing Singani 63 into the U.S.?

Steven: I obviously was that person you just described. I began to think, “Oh, I’ll just import Singani into the United States, no problem.” At the end of the shoot for Che so many of the crew members had gotten hooked on this stuff, it was agreed upon and assumed that I would be importing Singani to the states and we would have it on hand in a matter of months. This was obviously naïve.

So then I sat down and started to map out what the realities were in terms of first creating a special label for me; that I would have the exclusive rights to sell outside of Bolivia. We got that sorted out. Then there was the issue of what to order. How many cases? I had no sense of what was appropriate or what would be needed. While having that conversation I hired a broker to navigate the world of the ATF, and the FDA, and the TTB, and that started a very lengthy bureaucratic process. They needed a sample to test it to see what was in it, and then came the classification, which sort of baffled all of us. Then a series of phone calls in which I think they were just trying to ascertain if I was who I claimed to be; was I who I said I was, and why I was doing this.

David: And why were you doing it?

Steven: Selfishly speaking, I wanted access to it. I didn’t want to have to email a friend in Bolivia and say, “Ship me a bottle,” which could turn out horribly. I just wanted to be able to get it and I wanted to be able to tell my friends where to get it. This process ended up taking a little over five years. To get everything cleared, filed—as you know you have to apply for everything state-by-state, which is…boring.

David: Ha!

Steven: So we started that process. Finally, two years ago we had 250 cases of this stuff show up in New Jersey. Then I had to start thinking about the realities of getting this out there. I talked to my broker and my business manager and I said, “You’ve got to hook me up with someone who can tell me how this works.”  I was told I needed a brand manager, someone who brings products to market for a living. So I had a meeting with Steve Raye at Brand Action Team, and that was a very sobering three-hour meeting. If I hadn’t already had 250 cases of this stuff I might have just stopped right there.

There are ways in which this is similar to the business that I am in, and there are some very significant ways in which it isn’t.

David: There are laws that vary from market to market, what works in one state might not fly in another state.

Steven: Exactly. The idea of clicking through, ordering online, and sending bottles anywhere—this isn’t how booze works.

David: No, it isn’t.

Steven: On the one hand, for all the bureaucracy—to its credit—it’s a very tightly regulated industry. And you know what? It should be. So the time scales were sometimes frustrating, but I get it—you can’t have this industry just doing whatever it wants. What kept me going at the end of the meeting was the knowledge of what we have. We have an interesting story. Like in my business, having a good story is very important. This is a 500 year old product that hasn’t been exposed in any meaningful way outside its country of origin. The pedigree is good and the product itself is good.

David: Absolutely.

Steven: There are many products out there that do very well that aren’t that good, but with clever marketing they manage to find a foothold.

David: Yes, very true.

Steven: So we decided to treat this like an independent film. We’re going to have to zig where other people are zagging. So we started with New York, gave ourselves a time-table and a budget, and just wanted to see where it would go. Armed with a proof of concept we might be able to attract a larger distributor to eventually help. That was about a year ago. In the movie industry we would call this “forewalling,” where you rent out a theater and show your movie. So starting in January we began the New York experiment and everything started happening faster than we anticipated.

David: That doesn’t surprise me. Booze is big right now and people are looking for new things.

Steven: It didn’t surprise me that people responded to Singani because anytime I have a dark midnight of the soul moment about what I’ve gotten myself into, I go back to that first night at the start-up party for Che where my Bolivian casting director gave me a bottle as a present, and after drinking two glasses went back up to him and asked, “What is this? This is amazing.” I keep reminding myself, “If I feel that way, someone else can feel that way.” It’s the same approach you use when you make a movie or a TV show: you’re pleasing yourself first and you’re hoping that other people like what you like.

David: That’s the best possible approach, in my experience.

Steven: Soon we were able to pull in some really terrific accounts. Then this summer Steve Raye said we should send someone out West to talk about LA. I was somewhat hesitant because I was scared of our first possible setback; maybe it wouldn’t go as well as New York and I’m going to worry that the momentum’s going to stall. But we brought Lindsay Raye—Steve’s daughter—on board to work with us, and we’re now having the same success we were having in New York. Steve also felt we should capitalize on my own creative content. He said, “If you’re going to keep creating this marketing stuff it would be great because no corporation would ever let anything like this through. It’s too weird” He thought it was hilarious. He said, “You’re not only the face of the brand, you’re also the voice and it feels as if someone is talking directly to you.” You know what I mean?

David: Yes, of course. Everything you’re talking about represents that most important part of my job—being a direct voice to consumers that comes from a real person. It’s tough to keep that up though.

Steven: Right! The key now is me being able to maintain the creative control that I’ve maintained up until now. I’m prepared to do that and keep this material ready to roll out. Luckily though, a friend did me a big favor and gave us a very prominent placing in Gone Girl, which will be out in a few weeks. He called and asked me to send him a few bottles. Then a few days later he sent me a screen grab back with a picture of Ben Affleck sitting at the kitchen table with the bottle sitting right next to him. So that was a very nice thing for David (Fincher) to do.

David: That is a very nice thing for him to do. But you know I’m going to take that as a personal challenge to see who can sell more bottles of Singani: David Fincher and Ben Affleck with their movie, or K&L with the Steven Soderbergh interview.

Steven: Well we’ll see (laughs). I’m not sure Ben was aware that he was about to be the Trojan Horse for Singani, but he’s about to find out.

David: What is it about Singani that you like so much?

Steven: Here’s the thing: I’m a professional. I like to drink and I like to try new stuff. I’m typically a vodka drinker—that’s sort of my default, my go-to. Learning about the industry, what you’re allowed to say and what you’re not allowed to say, has been very interesting. There is a grey area in terms of describing the effects that a spirit may have on you, which is what I enjoy about it. Two things struck me immediately about Singani. I took the bottle, opened it, poured it on ice and was struck by the bouquet of it, and the very subtle floral nature. The other thing I noticed was how easy it was to drink. That really surprised me. This is hard liquor. It shouldn’t go down that easily. I discovered that I could really just drink this stuff like water.

David: I emptied that sample bottle you gave me in less than 24 hours. A personal record, for me.

Steven: Yeah, it just goes down. What I found, and what my camera department found—we all just started drinking this stuff like crazy—was that the next day we were not hurting.

David: No hangover.

Steven: That was our experience. The next morning we were fine.

David: It’s so clean. There are no additives, or coloring agents, or sweeteners. It’s simply distilled from grapes. That makes sense.

Steven: I’ve been lucky my whole life. Insanely lucky. Like I’ve just had weird, coincidental connections take place that mathematically were just astronomically remote. I’ve been in the right place at the right time, I’ve known the one person that I needed to know, and in this case—as we got further and further into preparation for the market—I realized how lucky I was that Singani has this amazing history, that the production is so unique. It has this very small parcel of land in the Andes where you have to use this one grape in this one region in order to call it Singani—I didn’t realize that until later researching how it was actually made. Then later, even though the TTB brandy categorization was confusing at first, it turned out to be a great category for us because there was little competition for other white spirits.

David: Right, you’ve got pisco really—that’s it.

Steven: If they had called it pisco I’d be going head-to-head with other marketing companies that have way more experience than I do. We’re a very unique brandy. It’s not a vodka, or a rum, or another category with tons of money and big companies going toe-to-toe.

David: Well, another way in which you have a very distinct advantage is that you’re coming at this with a fun concept, while remaining focused on the historical specifics. There are so many spirits in the market today that focus only on the specifics and very little on the fun. You’re doing a very good job at keeping both at the forefront, which seems easy, but very few companies are doing it.

Steven: I feel like when I look at how other people bring their products out—at the ads and the image they present of their product and what they want people to think about it—one of the things I noticed is everyone is focused on “cool” instead of “fun”. I thought this is where we are really going to zig where other people zag. I wanted to make people smile. All the materials we have are fun and put you in the frame of mind that the drink itself does—after you’ve had a couple. Plus, we’re not in a hurry. I’d rather see this happen right, than happen soon. I don’t have a timetable for this; it’s just me.

David: And, trust me, customers can smell that desperation when it’s present.

Steven: Right, I don’t think people like being shouted at, or pushed in a way that feels like you’re not allowing them to go at their own pace. I’m fascinated now by this whole cocktail and booze world that has exploded over the last decade of both boutique spirits and mixology. This stuff is really blowing up!

David: Right, David OG and I have made our careers out of that.

Steven: When I was learning to drink there wasn’t this much excitement about booze. There were the staple spirits and that was it. It’s interesting how diverse and complex this industry has become.

David: So when are you going to make a documentary or a movie about booze?

Steven: We did hire someone to shoot photos and videos of our last bottling run. Maybe when we do our next order I can go back to Bolivia myself and shoot some stuff. When we were there shooting Che we got to meet with Evo Morales—the president of Bolivia—who’s a fascinating guy. My goal is to go back and get a picture of me, him, and a bottle of Singani. That’s my holy grail. That would be awesome.

David: So has this experience changed the way that you drink? Do you care more now about what’s in your glass?

Steven: I think about it more, for sure. The best news for me is that I can get Singani now, seeing that I love it so much. It’s interesting because Che was the first time I used the special RED camera, and when I first used it I said, “This is literally the camera I’ve been waiting for my whole life.” At the same time I discovered and also felt the same about Singani. I said, “This is the drink for me. It’s exactly what I want. This is my desert island spirit and it’s just by chance that I ran into it.” Now I can get it. In fact, I went to the store just a few days ago to buy more.

David: To K&L in Hollywood?

Steven: Yes, I said, “Give me six bottles.” Now I don’t have to have it shipped from New York. I can just go down the street. I’ve shopped at K&L for as long as it’s been around, so to be able to go into my neighborhood store and see my bottle on the shelf, that’s fantastic. It’s sort of the equivalent of seeing the poster for your movie up at a theater that you’ve gone to your whole life. That’s what it felt like. In fact, I need to go back there and take some pictures.

David: Hopefully we can do more than just put it on the shelf. It really deserves a big fuss. It’s a very tasty, versatile spirit that I think has a great potential to crossover in a number of different ways.

We currently have Singani 63 on the shelf in the Hollywood store and there’s a huge drop on the way to NorCal for the weekend. I’m very excited to be a part of working with Steven’s team and I look forward to putting the bottle in the hands of our customers. It’s one of the more fun and exciting new products I’ve come across in some time.

Singani 63 Bolivian Muscat Brandy $29.99

-David Driscoll

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Great story today in the Huffington Post clarifying (!?) the various state laws regarding purchase of beer, wine and spirits in supermarkets.




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Steve Speaks at ECRM Panel

ECRM is a really interesting trade show held annually in San Diego in August.  It’s unusual in a couple of ways.

(l. to r.)   Miguel Lugo of Park Street Imports, XXX of RaceTrac, Meridith May of Tasting Panel/Somm Journal, Steve Raye, Sam Lindsley Symon Restaurants

(l. to r.) Miguel Lugo of Park Street Imports, Joe Johnson of RaceTrac, Meridith May of Tasting Panel/Somm Journal, Steve Raye, Sam Lindsley Symon Restaurants

First, it’s different in terms of it being more like ProWein/Vinitaly/Vinexpo than WSWA.  By that I mean its focus is to connect on and off premise buyers, principally national and regional accounts, with sellers.  In this case sellers included importers, wineries, distilleries, multinational bev. alc. companies, generics/regional and country trade promotion agencies.

Second, the model is speed dating with individual pre-arranged meetings, in contrast to more traditional exhibit halls and walk around tasting events.

Those differences are critical to making ECRM one of the more productive trade shows I’ve seen.  Productivity measured in terms of serious buyers sitting down with serious sellers with the mutually understood and expressed interest in doing business.  “Random” and “Casual” are definitely not part of the lexicon here.  Everyone who attended was focused on specific business needs and an effort to understand and identify prospective partners.

The first question I fielded was in regard to technology that I’ve found most helpful for brands that want to have access to U.S. distribution.  Those of you who know me, know that I could do a solid 2 hrs. on just the access question alone.  Here though, my response was that technology is really just a tool, not an end in itself.  And what it is allowing is a tremendous shift in access to information and education in the industry.  The bottom line being  that technology has evened the playing field for small players to go toe-to-toe with the big boys.  Mastering social media, engagement, and dialog is significantly more powerful than traditional paid media budgets, and can create a competitive edge.  The better a brand understands, engages with and relates to their audience, the more powerful that audience can be in building a brand.

Trade marketing was another subject the panel discussed, and one that we passionately promote as a competitive advantage for brands.  One key piece of advice we offer to new brands is to not market to empty shelves.  Getting distribution  in place is a critical first step before you can begin brand activation.  If you can come up with creative ways to link them together AND bring the trade into the equation, the results can be extraordinary.  We’re doing that right now with a new product called Singani 63 from Bolivia.  One of the key accomplishments to date is that we are on the drink menu at 36 off the 42 high visibility on-premise accounts we’re in distro at in NYC.  Places like PDT, Milk & Honey, Little Branch, Dream Downtown and SoHo Grand.

Equally important was finding out the POD that MAD…the Point of Difference that Makes a Difference.  It’s all built around the authenticity of a product with a totally unique flavor profile and back story that really resonates with mixologists and bartenders.  Couple that with the receptivity and interest in craft spirits, and a 500 year history providing authenticity, add a bit of the story of “Terroir” or sense of place for a spirit, and then present the brand to the trade in an interesting, engaging and creative way and you’ve got a recipe for success.  (It also helps to have an Academy Award winning director behind the brand functioning as creative director and copywriter)




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