News from Napa, BAT’s POV

Some interesting new info picked up in Mark Brown’s Industry News Update today via Drinks Business in the story  below.  Sandy definitely has his finger on the pulse of the consumer, particularly those at above-casual-dining level.  I think the “stories” thought is particularly important.  Think teasers or short stories on the back label, with links online (from/to?) more online.  Example.  Wine profiles are UGC (user generated content) on Snooth, one of the more popular wine websites which gets 1.5MM visitors per month.  Brand owners control the message and can integrate marketing into the profiles.  You could institutionalize stories in Snooth, content which can then get scraped or promoted out to other reference sites such as the many apps that are gaining traction in the US.

Repeatable/tweetable/postable anecdotes can turn an unfamiliar wine into an in-the-know recommendation.

One addition to the trend list…we’ve seen a steady and significant growth in the popularity of red blends.

Napa forum MW asks ‘is wine still cool?’

30th June, 2014 by Catherine Seda Bugue

A group of 80 winemakers, winery marketing representatives and media gathered at the Harvest Inn in Napa Valley’s St. Helena this month for the second annual Wine Conversations: A Global Tasting and Marketing Forum.

Sandy Block, MW, Legal Sea Foods Beverage Director (higher end, East Coast restaurant chain) started by apologising for the negative outlook he was about to share. While wine sales look bright, Block says, there is strong competition in the east coast restaurant market from craft beers and spirits. Cocktails are considered ‘cool’ by the front line gatekeepers, restaurants’ servers. Many of them are in their 20s and find cocktails exciting, leading to recommendations in this beverage category. With beer, their seasonal offerings (i.e., summer blondes, spicy and nutty autumn brews) are particularly popular, giving that beverage segment an added boost. Plus, with each of these other categories, there is no need to learn vintages or worry about corked wines.

Is wine still cool?, Block asked employees across numerous Legal Sea Food restaurants. Those on the front line are not so sure. Staff comments from the survey show they believe:

  • you need specialised knowledge to recommend wine
  • wine is difficult to learn; a bother
  • wine is a grown-up drink, not fun
  • it is too expensive to learn about wine

On the other side of the table, surveys of guests by Legal Sea Foods show that diners want an experience they can’t easily duplicate at home. They believe anyone can buy a bottle of wine, but not everyone can make today’s fancy cocktails at home, so they order cocktails when they dine out.

The desire for experiences and entertainment by diners is a culinary trend that followed the market downturn in 2008, says Block. Before the crisis, the restaurant industry worked under the belief that restaurants existed to provide sustenance – great food and wine. Not anymore, he says. Restaurants are in the entertainment business. Key elements now include: socializing, interaction, and entertainment by staff.

Customers want memorable experiences; they want to watch their cocktails being created (all the better with a bit of theatric flair) in what Block calls ‘the new era of cooking table-side.’

In addition to visualising beverage creations, Block said guests are looking for stories, and conversations with the servers and other restaurant staff. They want ‘take-away’ snippets that they can later share with friends. The conversation can be as simple as a beverage recommendation, something to retell friends over the same drink at some future get-together.

Providing a few factual numbers, Block says that Americans currently eat one-half of their meals out of the home. The annual number of restaurant visits is 60.66. Chain restaurants are 73% of the total visits.

As shared by Block, the percentage of wine sold in restaurants as opposed to other beverages:

  • 2007 51% by value, 23% by volume
  • 2013 44% value of U.S. sales, 19% vol total U.S. sales

(Beverage Info Group, 2013)

Finishing with five-year tends garnered through sales at Legal Sea Foods, Block noted:

  • Blandness is out – which means pinot grigio is out. Sales are down -22%
  • Sauvignon Blanc is up 33%, and continuing to rise
  • Chardonnay is down -6% and continuing to decline
  • Merlot is down – 40%
  • Shiraz is down -55%
  • Malbec is up 59% but levelling off and showing some decline
  • Pinot Noir is up 31% (deemed flavorful)
  • Cabernet Sauvignon is up 22%
  • Bubbles are up 42% and rising.
  • Tasting flights are in.
  • Half bottles are hot (note to producers: Legal Sea Foods would sell more if they could get more).
  • When wine is displayed at the bar, wine orders go up; they are a conversation piece. Wines, not just spirits and liquors, sell more when they are visible.
  • No one seems to be excited about wine on tap – there is no conversation about it, good or bad. Consumers are looking for quality and natural products; they don’t care how it comes.
  • Don’t brand push; people hate it. Memorable stories will stick.
  • Winemaker dinners remain popular, despite the negative outlook on wine in general; meeting a winemaker is still a big draw for consumers as it gives them a great story to tell.
  • All about ‘authentic, natural’ – consumers want natural beverages



Posted in Uncategorized | Comments Off

Meet Steven Soderbergh at the Manhattan Cocktail Classic Industry Invitational

Attending the Manhattan Cocktail Classic’s Industry Invitational?  If so, please make plans to stop the Singani 63 booth and say hello to Steven Soderbergh.Steven Soderbergh





Steven discovered Singani while filming the movie Che! in Bolivia.  He fell in love with the product and has been on an “adventure”, perhaps better titled and odyssey, to bring it to the U.S.

Brand Action Team has been brought on board to lend a bit of industry brand management expertise to the enterprise, and I have to say, it’s been a blast.  Along with our Brand Ambassador Jonathan Brathwaite, we’ve been rediscovering that it doesn’t take millions of dollars to successfully launch a spirits brand.  An Academy Award winner behind the brand helps, as does the magic fairy dust that seems to surround this product.  (and no, I’m specifically not alluding any drugs that may come from this part of the world.)s63bottle_straight_noshadow_CMYK_hires

Industry folks are invited to visit us at the MCC on Sunday May 11 at Convene, 12 Old Slip in NYC.  Steven will be there from 1-4PM.  Please stop by and say hello.


Posted in Uncategorized | Tagged , , , | Comments Off

Distributor Consolidation Continues

The consolidation of distributors in the wine and spirits industry continues as evidenced by Impact’s latest data as of April 2014.

Distributor consolidation 1-5







US Wine and Spirit Distributor top 10

US Wine and Spirit Distributor top 10


Posted in Uncategorized | Comments Off

U.S. Drinks Conference/U.S. Beverage Alcohol Forum Plays to Packed House at WSWA

The third annual U.S. Beverage Alcohol Forum was held at the Wine and Spirits Wholesalers of America convention. The USBAF is a partnership between the WSWA and the U.S. Drinks Conference, in collaboration with Brand Action Team, Next Level Marketing and MHW, Ltd.

U.S. Beverage Alcohol Forum

USDC Organizers l. to r. Mike Ginley, Jeff Grindrod, John Beaudette, Steve Raye

The Forum, held on Tuesday, April 30, was led by top opinion makers in the industry who covered topics such as trends, technology, digital marketing and distribution of wine and spirits brands in America. Over 200 delegates attended the event representing importers, suppliers, wholesalers and on – and off-premise accounts from all over the world. “We were pleased with the turnout and response from attendees,” said Steve Raye, Managing Partner of the marketing consulting company, Brand Action Team. “We received great feedback on both the session topics and speakers alike, most particularly in regard to the usefulness and practicality of the information presented.”

The conference began with an in-depth look at how brands can avoid the common mistakes made by wine and spirit brands entering the U.S. market for the first time. John Beaudette opened with a presentation on the distribution challenges new brands face when launching in the U.S., and identified current and developing solutions for successful market penetration. Beaudette was joined by TTB headquarters executive Gail Davis and United Distributors President Doug Hertz. Gail provided the audience with insight on current and potential changes impacting product labeling, and Doug identified approaches brand owners could use to maximize their chances for distribution.

The second session was moderated by Mike Ginley, Founder and Partner of Next Level Marketing, who gave a detailed overview of the structure, volume and trends of the U.S. beverage alcohol market, supported by a candid panel session led by noted mixologist, Tony Abou-Ganim.  The following session was presented by Jeff Grindrod, Managing Partner of Brand Action Team, and gave a detailed overview of emerging digital tools suppliers are using to monitor and manage growth.  The concluding session, “Digital Retail Marketing” was led by Steve Raye and provided an in-depth look at new digital and social media tools that are available to assist on- and off-premise accounts to drive customer loyalty and leverage word of mouth.  Mike Ginley of Next Level Marketing noted that the turnout was significantly increased from last year, “and we’re quite pleased with the positive feedback we received.”

Conference sponsors included Western Carriers, JF Hillebrand, Overton, Mast Capital Partners and Nixon Peabody, as well as media partners Beverage Media Group, Beverage Information Group (Cheers, Stateways, Beverage Dynamics), Tasting Panel Magazine, Bar Business Magazine.  For more information on the U.S. Beverage Alcohol Forum, contact Steve Raye at Brand Action Team or visit


Posted in Uncategorized | Comments Off

BAT Adds Consumer PR Services, Opens Office in New York

We’ve just announced that we’re opening a new Consumer PR practice and plan to open an office in New York City to house it.  Amber Gallaty will head up the project.  She joins us from the Thomas Collective with a boatload of experience in wine and beer Consumer PR, event management, trade tastings and other key areas.   Location for the office is still pending, but we’ll keep you posted.

Amber Gallaty



Posted in Uncategorized | Comments Off

Meininger’s International Wine Conference

Christoph Meininger

Christoph Meininger, Publisher of Meininger’s Wine Business International

I attended the 2013 Meininger’s International Wine Conference in Düsseldorf last week and came away very impressed.  The conference takes place on the Saturday before the Sunday opening of ProWein and is a full day deep-dive into three current topics of high interest.

This year’s focus was on the China market, E-commerce and the German market.  Stevie Kim, GM of Vinitaly

Stevie Kim, MD Vinitaly

Stevie Kim, Managing Director of Vinitaly

made an energetic presentation distilled from her visits there.  Others speaking included Alberto Fernandes of Torres, Li Demei, Professor at University of Beijing, Michael Thurner of Austria’s Fine Brands,  and the irrepressible and globe-trotting Robert Joseph, editor-at-large for Meininger’s whose insightful questions and deep experience in the market helped guide the dialog. Each presentation contributed to a view of the China market which reminded me of the blind men and an elephant story…but in a good way.  The only way to understand the market is in pieces, and then putting those pieces together to understand the whole.

The China market is  huge, complicated and stratified…and rapidly morphing. The clear message from all was, don’t look at the market as “China”, but rather the many different states, regions and cities. Personal relationships, trust and “face” are at the heart of the business, and trying to force western ways is a one-way ticket to disaster.

A second highlight was a fascinating presentation by superstar winemaker Angelo Gaja translated by Willi Klinger of the Austrian Wine Marketing Board.

Willi Klinger of Austrian Wine Marketing Board, Angelo Gaja of Gaja wines

Willi Klinger and Angelo Gaja

Willi used to be the Export Director for Gaja wines so it was fun watching two old friends talk.  It was real treat to meet Angelo and his daughter Gaia.

     And speaking of legends, one of the recipients of the Meininger’s Awards at the evening function was Margrit Biever Mondavi,

Margrit Biever Mondavi receives award at Meininger's ntl. Wine Conf;

Margrit Biever Mondavi

widow of Robert Mondavi whose presence and presentation brought the house to its feet.

Posted in Uncategorized | Tagged , , , , , , , , , | Comments Off

Chile Sweeps the Field

Chile sweeps the continent in Most Admired Brands

Kudos to Chilean wineries Concha y Toro, Undurraga, Leyda, Santa Rita, and Cono Sur for being named the top five “Most Admired Wine Brands” in South America by Drinks International Magazine.

It’s a clean sweep of the the South American Category for the five.  And the cherry on top was that  Concha picked up the #1 Most Admired Wine Brand in the world award…for the THIRD TIME!

I’ve always gotten a smile from the Cono Sur brand.  It’s a pun in Spanish and English…Cono Sur means Southern Cone in Spanish but is a homonym for connoisseur in English.


Posted in Uncategorized | Tagged , , , | Comments Off

Brand Action Team Meeting: The Company is Growing

Brand Action Team is growing and we had to move the meeting to a neighbor’s conference room to fit everyone in.

BAT team meeting 3 5 13

Front l to r:  Alix Furer, Sue Ritter, Kiersten Peterson, Anthony King, Michelle Marshall.  Back row l to r:  Cort Kinker Michael Moscowitz, Jeff Grindrod, Kayla Joyce, Liz Benyon, Steve Raye.  Missing is Constance Chamberlain who was at an Austrian event in NYC and Meg Casey who is skiing in Spain this week.

Posted in Uncategorized | Tagged , , | Comments Off

BAT Client on Live National Business News

SmarteRita a new ready to drink margarita brand will be featured on Fox Business News tomorrow.  Founder Kelly Shuman will be interviewed on why she developed the brand.  Check it out live or on demand at http://live.foxnews.comSMMslsF01p

Watch Live or on demand at

Posted in Uncategorized | Comments Off

The Most Amazing Wine Bar in the World: Getting There is half the fun.

That’s right, my first…and only…pick for a wine bar that will blow your mind.  The real estate folks say “location, location, location.”  Well, Faust Wine Bar in Budapest not only has the most fabulous location, but getting there is half the fun.  It’s tucked away at end of a labyrinthine pathway in the cellars of the remains of a 16th Century Franciscan church that also happens to be part of a modern Hilton Hotel in the Castle District on the Buda side of Budapest.  We’ll get back to the wine bar itself shortly, but it’s the path you have to follow to get to this place that is equally as fascinating as the wines on the list.


My pictures don’t do the journey justice, but they do give you inkling.  Take a hard left at the lobby of the new part of the hotel and head past the ruins of the “new” part of the church. P1010968 There’s a small sign on a stand and an arch and doorway that seems pretty normal, but definitely downstairs.  You’re wondering if it’s open when you arrive at another sign in front of a wall built of bottles, and some gold leaf lettering on a window reading “Faust Wine Bar”.     But this isn’t it; it’s just the sign telling you to keep walking.  P1010973This leads you through a winding hallway with remnants of the church on display, including the red marble traditionally used for gravestones.  P1010976We’re at the church’s foundation level, but we continue down some more stairs.






Wondering if the place is open, we come to a very old door P1010993with some modern signage; enter and walk down another flight of steps and it starts to feel like the “Faust” name might be a harbinger…you feel like you’re walking into the bowels of the earth with stonework that is getting older and rougher in appearance.


Down another flight of stairs decorated with plastic grapevine and you’re greeted with a tableaux of a desk with wine bottle and glass and a  straw dummy…from the top of the stairs, you could swear it’s a real person until you get closer and see that it’s just a set. P1020010 Feeling a bit more confident that the place might be open you see another archway and think, I must be there.


But no.  Take another hard left through a very, very, very old wooden door with old iron hinges and there’s another hallway and the stonework becomes much older and rougher.  Old looking wall sconces through off a dim light evocative of what this must have looked like pre-electricity.  And there’s another hallway, and another flight of steps….going down.  At the end you see a few white Christmas lights and you think, well this must be it.P1020016

Nope!  Down a spiral staircase, to an entranceway that would do Edgar Allen Poe proud.  Two display cases frame a doorway that is up about 5 steps and lit justP1020032 dimly enough to frame a tantalizing glimpse into the tasting room.  Whew!  It feels like you walked about a quarter of a mile, and about 100 feet down.  Enter the tasting room and you are in a small (50 x 20 feet or so) cellar reminiscent of the Canava caves in Santorini, only this one is has an arched ceiling carved out of the very bedrock of Castle Hill.  Eroded wall niches P1020052are richly lit with candles giving the room a warm, but moody ambience.  Against the far wall are some built-in racks to store the wine, and a small service table to the left of the entrance.  No running water, no internet, the only inkling of modernity are the small electric lights on the racks and the mandatory sprinkler piping for the fire suppressant system. As you walk in you hear “szívesen látott”  Welcome! In Magyar (a language which is said to be related to Finnish, but there are a couple of of Finns in the wine bar who tell me that’s what they heard to, but it’s unrecognizable to them) and you’re greeted by the bright smile of Gabor NagyP1020070, the proprietor who leases the space from the Hilton.  He explains the place has been open only two years, and yes, it’s a bit of a challenge to get to (think how hard it is to get inventory down here!)   but pretty nice when you do arrive.

Check it out next time you’re in Budapest…

Posted in Uncategorized | Comments Off