Speakeasy: Matt Munn

Posted on | January 31, 2013   Bookmark and Share
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Senior Vice President, GM-Wine at Southern Wine & Spirits of New York

Matt Munn was recently appointed to his new position at Southern Wine & Spirits of New York. Beverage Media had the opportunity to sit down with Matt just prior to his start date to discuss his past experiences and his new responsibilities.

 

 

 

 

ON PRIOR EXPERIENCE

BEVERAGE MEDIA: Tell us a little about yourself and how you ended up here.

MATT MUNN: This is my 21st year in the wine and spirits industry, so from a professional standpoint, this is virtually all I’ve done. I was a Gallo recruit out of Arizona State and got my start in Southern California, working for the winery. Typically at Gallo, they are very proactive about moving you around, so I had every job imaginable within a short time frame. At the ripe old age of 25, they then moved me to Las Vegas where as general manager, I helped launch a new wholesaler for them.

From Gallo, I moved into Schieffelin & Somerset, one of the great companies that we know today as Moët Hennessy USA. At Schieffelin, I worked primarily out of Southern California, but ultimately returned to Las Vegas for the second time, working as a sales and marketing manager for the Mountain region. When Diageo & MHUSA reformulated their business model, I was selected to go inside Southern Wine & Spirits to run the dedicated Diageo/Moët business for Nevada. However, because of the franchise laws in Nevada, that dedicated division never actually came to fruition, yet I remained with Southern Wine & Spirits of Nevada and became vice president for spirits, on-premise. After a few years, I got the call from Brad Vassar in Miami encouraging me to take a little leap of faith and become the senior vice president for wine in Nevada. It was a significant jump. I rebuilt our wine divisions from the bottom up, redesigning the entire wine book. After five years, I then transitioned to general sales manager for spirits in Nevada, which I held for one year just prior to this move to New York.

BM: How do you think your Vegas experience will translate here to New York?

MM: There are a lot of similarities between Las Vegas and New York. First of all, if there is a great restaurant in New York, there is a fairly good chance that restaurant exists in Las Vegas. Conversely, a lot of the night clubs from Vegas are also in New York. From a wine perspective specifically, Las Vegas is very comparable to New York. Many people don’t realize that Las Vegas is the home of the master sommelier. Not sure of the exact count, but it’s something like 23 of the 100 or so master sommeliers that live in the U.S. are based in Las Vegas. At any given time, Southern Wine & Spirits in Nevada employed five of those. The interaction, not just with the master sommeliers, but with the entire sommelier community is a very big deal in Las Vegas. Look at the Bellagio, they actually advertise in Wine Spectator. I think they have five master somms under one roof.

BM: What do you gain from having those relationships with the master somms as customers?

I’ve never been a salesman who thinks I’m going to teach a master sommelier something. I expect a master sommelier to teach us about wine, and I expect us to figure out how we can interact with their business. It’s about making both businesses great. The master somms actually provide a value to our people. But there are things we can do, whether it’s communicating best practices from other accounts, or describing how certain wines can integrate into an MS program.

I think a lot of people are intimidated when dealing with a master sommelier. It’s actually the wrong way. Most of them are not what you would call your typical wine snob. Most of them are really understanding of all levels of wine and they get that not every customer is coming in looking for a great Burgundy. There are so many neat avenues, profiles and price points we can put people in. I think that’s one of the coolest things, figuring out what can we offer the master sommelier.

You know you’re not going to offer him training necessarily. He’s not looking for any product attributes, so what is it that Southern can offer? And that’s where we have to really partner with our suppliers to bring those accounts added value.

BM: Any other Vegas experience which you have had success with?

MM: One of the things we started to do about 10 years ago in Las Vegas was called Grape Nutz. That’s a program primarily designed to get the on-premise trade out of their buildings and into our building for a nice, fun inviting late night. We’d bring in live bands, shoe shiners, cigar rollers, chefs and suppliers for selected tastings. It was sort of taking the formal ‘carry my bag into a restaurant’ mentality and relaxing it, bringing them to a neutral location and having some fun, but also educating them on our products.

BM: How critical is that education piece for you?

MM: Education’s a platform for Southern. It’s kind of how a lot of our reputation is built, having the best trained staff. That said, one of the things I’ve found interesting in Vegas is having the buyer teach us on how they want to be sold and what’s important to them? Sometimes I think that 360 degree teaching mentality is real important and often overlooked. What flips a buyer’s switch? They don’t really care about your quotas. They have quotas too. How do you make the two marry together? What’s the win-win?

ON INDUSTRY TRENDS

BM: With an extraordinary number of choices and wholesalers in New York, how do you remain relevant in such an exploding environment?

MM: It makes the on-premise a real challenge. I read the NY Post yesterday morning; a review of a new steakhouse and the guy went all biodynamic on his wine list. The Post writer killed the guy, saying it was the most horrific wine selection he had ever seen. But that’s happening all over the country. I think it’s important to keep sommeliers updated on consumer trends. Consumer trends are still very important. That is where we can leverage the Southern database to our advantage. Many of our competitors have a cross-section of one market or even one restaurant to evaluate what their customer wants. We have a cross-section of tens of thousands of customers to draw on to learn what’s really happening across all markets, not just in New York.

BM: Speaking of trends, what are you seeing in today’s marketplace?

MM: Sommeliers, wine stewards and customers are just so much more knowledgeable. I mean how many consumer apps do we have on our phones now just to buy a bottle of wine? The value of the sommelier and wine steward is in steering them. You also look at categories year after year and Chardonnay’s still the king; Cabernet’s still the king, but red blends have jumped off the map the last 4 or 5 years. The high end had done it for a decade, but with the introduction of the $9.99 red blends, it’s really blown the whole category up. It’s interesting looking at Australia too. A lot of people like to rap on Australia, but Southern’s Australian business is pretty vibrant. Prosecco, Cava, California Sparkling also come to mind. The millennial consumer represents a changing dynamic, and labels that are vibrant and beautiful are flying off the shelves.

ON NEW YORK

BM: Anything else you can share about your plans for Southern W&S of New York?

MM: I’m a knowledge geek. I don’t mean that necessarily from a wine perspective. I’m a numbers guy, an industry guy, a relationship guy. And being part of the younger regime here, I need to have a longer term vision. What does Southern Wine & Spirits of New York look like 5, 10 and 20 years from now? We know New York is going to grow as Southern continues to grow on the national stage. Growing up as a New Yorker, I understand the desire to be the best at everything. In Las Vegas, sometimes at sales meetings, I would try to impart that New York kind of desire to win; desire to always be the best, but I learned that the further west you go it gets more relaxed. You get to California and things are real relaxed. Go to Seattle and it’s very relaxed. In New York, there’s always a true sense of urgency. It’s nice to be home again.

About Matt Munn
Hometown: Saranac Lake, NY
Favorite sports teams: New York Yankees, Buffalo Bills
Favorite place to travel on business: Italy; nothing like Florence, it’s the best
Places you’d most like to visit: Australia and New Zealand
Proudest accomplishment: My three kids
Favorite pastime: Playing golf
Notables: Our dog’s name is Yogi; we have a Yankee room in our house with Xbox chairs from old Yankee Stadium
Person you’d like most to have a glass of wine with, past or present: George Steinbrenner

Carbonation Nation

Posted on | January 31, 2013   Bookmark and Share
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It started in 2008 with Jim Romdall at Vessel in Seattle and has become a bona fide trend, well publicized last summer as it spread to San Francisco, New York and North Carolina. Carbonated cocktails, by the glass and by the bottle, have added a new dimension to drinking.

Bubbles of course are a key component behind some of the most popular basic cocktails—vodka and soda, gin and tonic, rum and cola. But these drinks can go flat quickly, and are often one-dimensional. The soda fountain phenomenon, coupled with the availability of at-home carbonation systems like SodaStream, and the rise of molecular mixology has created the perfect fizz-induced storm.

Why carbonate traditionally-still cocktails like the Negroni in the first place? Jesse Ratliff, bar manager at Table in Asheville, NC, explains: “The first part is the sheer novelty of having a familiar drink served in a unique way. Drinking straight from the bottle brings back memories of childhood as well. You can’t beat nostalgia. The second part is the actual flavor of the cocktail can change as it sits for a few days and the oils, water and spirits come together.”

As bartenders look for more ways to bring the most of out of their ingredients, different techniques like carbonation become important tools. Expect to see more carbonated cocktails—on tap, pre-bottled and made to order.

Bottles Up

At the forefront of the bottled trend (as well as barrel-aging cocktails) was Clyde Common bartender Jeffrey Morgenthaler. Fresh from a 2011 trip to Aviary in Chicago, he was inspired to create what he called “bottled sparkling café cocktails,” a nod to low-alcohol, bitter drinks traditionally served at European cafés. His recipes include the Bottled Sparkling Americano (Campari, Dolin sweet vermouth, water, orange oil) and Bottled Broken Bike (Cynar, white wine, water, lemon oil).

Morganthaler explains why pre-bottled cocktails work from a service standpoint: “They are, essentially, spirit-driven, so there is no need to worry about spoilage. The entire drink is carbonated, providing a more complete experience than simply adding a sparkling finish, as one would do when building these drinks à la minute. And the whole bottle is pre-chilled, eliminating the need for ice and maintaining perfect dilution from beginning to end.”

Garces Trading Company in Philadelphia sells carbonated cocktails by the bottle for consumption on-premise. General Manager Seth Lieberman says, “Our guests love these drinks. They’re unusual and playful, so they appeal to all types of people.” His team blends the cocktails first, bottles them individually, uses an in-house carbonation system to force in the bubbles, and then seals them to maintain the fizz. Bottled bubbly cocktails at Garces Trading Company include an Americano, the Pepino Fresco (Cuervo Gold, St-Germain elderflower liqueur, celery, cucumber, lemon) and the Avenue 1111 (Tanqueray, lime cordial, ginger beer, mint).

San Francisco is also a hotbed of bubbles. At Chez Papa Resto, General Manager Adam Chapman carbonates cocktails three different ways, using soda siphons, carbonated cocktail shakers and yeast. “We bottle cocktails so that we have more time for garnishing and someone can get a drink quicker. I also use this techniqueto keep a drink chilled by having the cocktail in an ice bath and pouring out as needed into the glass,” he says. Carbonated specialties on the menu include the French 75 (carbonated gin, pressed lemon, Blanquette de Limoux Brut sparkling wine) and Remember The Maine (rye whiskey, sweet vermouth, Cherry Heering, burnt absinthe tincture).

How to Carbonate

In 2011, Perlage (makers of a system to preserve opened bottles of sparkling wine) introduced the Perlini Carbonated Cocktail Shaker ($99), a device that functions like a traditional shaker—just add ice and ingredients—but is pressurized with carbon dioxide. A restaurant version ($496) comes with three shakers and a commercial pressurizer that can connect to a stand-alone CO2 tank or can be spliced into an existing dispensing system. This is how carbonated cocktails on tap work at places like Tavernita in Chicago and Sanctuaria St. Louis.

Table’s Ratliff used to use the iSi Twist ’n Sparkle (the product has been recalled for issues with exploding), but he moved on to a larger Cornelius keg (used by the soft drink industry to store and dispense soda). “The latter allows them to be served on tap, which is the only way we are allowed to serve them now in North Carolina.” (Ratliff is still trying to get the NC ABC to allow Table to serve bottled carbonated cocktails.)

Other establishments have taken to building their own systems, like New York’s Booker and Dax. Dave Arnold, co-owner and the head of culinary technology at the French Culinary Institute, built a CO2 rig and developed a method for carbonating. The key is clarifying all the ingredients using wine fining agents and a centrifuge, and keeping them cold. While some bartenders carbonate individual ingredients before mixing, Arnold batches everything pre-carbonation. Booker and Dax has a dedicated section on their cocktail menu called “Bubbles” featuring carbonated combinations like the Hatchback (Campari, tequila, lime, grapefruit) and the Chartruth (Chartreuse, lime).

Building Better Bubbles

The book Fix the Pumps, by bartender turned blogger Darcy S. O’Neil, has become the manual for fizz. Described by the author as “a wealth of information on techniques employed by soda jerks,” he ascertains the creativity of bygone soda fountains to be very relevant to the current cocktail craze.

However, there are a lot of conflicting theories and methods for making carbonated cocktails. Much depends on the type of system being used, as well as the bartender’s personal preference. Trial and error has elicited quite a few blog posts and chat room debates on the subject.

Ratliff‘s advice: “Keeping the mixture cold is a necessity as CO2 is absorbed more readily that way. I would say for large batches, it’s best to perfect your small recipe first and then build incrementally.” At a seminar during last year’s Portland Cocktail Week, Booker and Dax’s Arnold also spoke of refrigeration, citing 22°F as ideal.

Don’t go overboard with carbonating everything behind the bar, says Chez Papa Resto’s Chapman: “Don’t mess with a good thing, and definitely don’t try to pull off carbonating things like red wine or Fernet. Simply use the bubbles to pull out flavors and texture in a drink.” He cites a drink he calls Margarita Champagne where he carbonates the tequila with some agave, Grand Marnier, lime zest and citric powder. “The drink has the same amount of alcohol but less liquid. It’s cleaner on the palate and has all the essences of a margarita.”

Lieberman likes to use strong spirits in carbonated cocktails. “I find that intense flavors, ones that might otherwise be off-putting to some, do really well in these drinks,” he says. “The Americano is a great example: Campari is potent, bitter stuff, but when combined with sweet vermouth and orange oil and given some effervescence, it’s surprisingly refreshing.”

The Case For Going Flat

Not everyone is pumped for carbonation. Boston bartender Todd Maul is known for his scientific approach behind the bar, but won’t make carbonated cocktails. “I call it juggling flaming monkeys,” he says. “The process of doing something that has no real effect in the glass. Does a Negroni become a better drink with carbonation? No.”

Maul also feels carbonating something over 30% alcohol by volume is dangerous: “Your body absorbs carbonation faster. Think about how quickly you become tipsy with Champagne.”

Beyond the rate of absorption, concerns have also been raised about the safety of the various carbonation systems. In July of 2012, the popular iSi Twist ’n Sparkle carbonation system was entirely recalled due to reported cases of the plastic bottles exploding.

Local NJRA: ServSafe Opportunity

Posted on | January 30, 2013   Bookmark and Share
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As the New Year unfolds, the NJRA looks at the foundation of this association and its members. It is the association’s responsibility both to represent and educate the industry. One of my goals as the new President of the association is to offer NJ restaurants exactly what they need.

As you may know, New Jersey law requires one person per establishment to be ServSafe certified. Starting January 2, 2015, the NJ Board of Health will require all “Risk type 3” establishments (restaurants) to have one person per shift be certified in an accredited program.

We are excited to offer FREE ServSafe Food & Alcohol classes to NJRA members through a grant from the Department of Labor. The biggest benefit of our ONE DAY classes is they cater to the busy restaurateur. Classes are held any day of the week and include the instructor, book, answer sheet and test. Certificates will be mailed if a passing grade is achieved.

We always list our upcoming classes on njra.org under Calendars & Seminars, and our membership coordinator, Allyson, can be reached at 800-848-6368 if you should have any questions. This certification is accepted in all 50 states.

Looking Ahead

On February 12th, the New Jersey Restaurant Education Foundation will sponsor its annual Pro-Start Competition at the Atlantic County Community College. I encourage you to come and watch the future chefs and restaurateurs compete against each other in this rigorous program. Through our generous sponsors we are able to offer scholarships to these amazing students.

I look forward to seeing you at this or one of our many other events!

Garden State Tidbits

• New Jersey is home to 23,000 eating and drinking establishments generating $11.8 billion in annual sales and employing over 300,000 people, making it the State’s largest private sector employer.
• The NJRA was founded in 1942; eating and drinking establishments, vendors, nonprofits, schools and students are eligible for membership.
• On January 7th, Jack Koumbis, of Assembly Steakhouse, passed the NJRA Chairmanship torch to George Vlahos, of Gusto Grill, at the NJRA’s Installation Dinner & Silent Auction held at the Grand Summit Hotel in Summit, NJ.

Bar Talk: The Chameleon

Posted on | January 30, 2013   Bookmark and Share
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Olivier Flosse, Beverage Director, MARC USA

When Daniel Boulud came calling in 1999, Olivier Flosse left bucolic England—where he worked at the acclaimed Le Manoir aux Quat’Saisons outside Oxford—with two suitcases and headed for New York to become the assistant to restaurant Daniel’s well-regarded sommelier, Jean-Luc Le Dû. “Who says no to Daniel?” he recalls. Accepting the job turned out to be a fortuitous move: before long, the Marseilles native was cellar master at Café Boulud.

For the past nine years, Flosse has worked for the London-based Marlon Abela Restaurant Corporation, and has had Italy (and cocktails) on the mind in recent years, overseeing the beverage programs of both A Voce restaurants in New York, on Madison Avenue and Columbus Circle at the Time Warner Center, along with Morello Bistro in Greenwich, CT, and Bistro du Midi in Boston. Here, he discusses how A Voce’s lively cocktail list has become just as important a profit channel as its exemplary wine collection.

THE BEVERAGE NETWORK: With all your years steeped in the wine world, it must have been an adjustment responding to New York’s obsession with cocktails. What is your approach at A Voce?

OLIVIER FLOSSE: Cocktails and the bar is a different relationship than wine and the bar. The focus at both restaurants is on seasonal ingredients—of course Italian produce—and offering different sides to drinks: bitter, sweet, sparkling. My wine background helps me make sure there is a balance between smell and taste.

TBN: Your cocktail list does highlight a range of flavor profiles, from the refreshing Italian-style Kir with Prosecco, lemon juice, Crème Yvette and St-Germain, to the elegant Albicocca with Farmer’s Organic Gin, apricot purée and nutmeg. What is the creative process behind your drinks?

OF: We have a large bartending staff. I give them the produce and styles, they come up with ideas and then we assess cost. If it’s feasible, then we test them. The vision of the cocktail is critical, too; it needs to look good, it needs to look sexy. It may be old fashioned, but glassware is very important. If you see a beautiful cocktail at another table, you will be curious to ask what it is.

TBN: Although A Voce is an Italian restaurant, interestingly your top-selling cocktail is the Margarita in Fuoco, with pepper-infused Montezuma Blanco Tequila, Solerno and lime juice.

OF: We sell about 1,200 a month at each location. It’s a little spicy and delicious.

TBN: Something you are known for is the savory, $33 Il Tartufo, made with Michter’s 10-year-old bourbon, black truffle-infused Foro Vermouth, Carpano Antica Vermouth, black truffle syrup, bourbon honey and garnished with white truffle honey syrup and a sliver of pickled black truffle on the rim. Something that ambitious must have taken a few test runs to master.

OF: We wanted to bring something different to the menu when truffles were in season. Unlike wine, which is already made and we are educating guests on and selling, cocktails are the one thing on the beverage side we make from scratch with heart and mind. Cocktails are like a baby. Even if there’s a due date, we don’t deliver until perfect. I wouldn’t give up on this recipe.

TBN: And now that it’s been perfected, does it prove popular with guests?

OF: It’s mostly a hand-sell. It’s an education because some guests say they don’t like truffles, or they don’t like bourbon, but then they taste it and are surprised. There is nothing better than making someone change their mind. Some people come in just to drink the truffle cocktail.

TBN: Hand-selling is a skill you undoubtedly mastered from convincing guests to explore wines they may never have heard of before.

OF: You can have a beautiful cocktail list, but if you want to sell, the staff must know the drinks and have a deep appreciation and enthusiasm for them.

Season’s Menu: February 2013 Edition

Posted on | January 29, 2013   Bookmark and Share
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MALIBU SPICED & DIET COLA

1 part Malibu Island Spiced
2 parts diet cola

Mix in tall glass over ice.

ABSOLUT KINGSTON BUCK

1½ parts Absolut Hibiskus
4 parts ginger beer
Lime juice from half a lime
Lime peel (for garnish)

Build over ice in a rocks glass. Garnish with lime peel.

MIDTOWN
Signature cocktail from Upstairs at The Kimberly Hotel

2 oz. sweetened chamomile tea
1½ oz. bourbon
5 fresh raspberries
¼ oz. fresh squeezed
lemon juice

Muddle raspberries in a cocktail shaker, then add other ingredients. Shake, then strain into snifter. Garnish with rose petal or lemon wheel.

CRÈME BRU-LOW

1 ½ oz. Voli Light Vodka
¾ oz. Monin Sugar-Free
Caramel Syrup
1 oz. fat-free half & half
Ice

Combine ingredients with ice in mixing glass. Shake, then strain into a chilled martini glass. Optional: rim with chocolate shavings.

RASPBERRY WHITE CHOCOLATE TRUFFLE

1½ oz. Van Gogh Raspberry Vodka
½ oz. White Chocolate Godiva
1½ oz. white crème de cocoa
¾ oz. Raspberry liqueur
3 Raspberries

Place raspberries into the bottom of a martini glass. Combine liquid ingredients in a shaker and shake over ice. Strain into glass.

WILD BERRY-VIOLET SORBET WITH CHAMPAGNE

10 oz. mixed berries
(raspberries, blueberries, blackberries,
strawberries, redcurrants)
6 ½ fl. oz. The Bitter Truth Violet Liqueur
¾ fl. oz. lemon juice
1 oz. sugar

Purée all ingredients and strain through a colander to remove the small kernels. Use an ice cream machine to make a sorbet or put the purée into a freezer until it’s frozen. Scoop sorbet into a glass and add champagne.

 

GRAND CERISE SURPRISE
Created by Jonathan Pogash, The Cocktail Guru

½ oz. fresh orange juice
½ oz. cane syrup (or ½ oz. 2:1 Demerara syrup)
½ oz. heavy cream
2 oz. Punzoné Vodka
1 egg yolk
1 Luxardo Marasche cherry
Fresh grated nutmeg

Combine all ingredients (except for cherry and nutmeg) in a shaker. Dry shake to emulsify the egg yolk. Add cherry, shake with ice, and strain into a 6 oz. wine glass. Grate nutmeg, and serve.

The Connection: Winter 2013

Posted on | January 29, 2013   Bookmark and Share
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TIDAL WAVE TO ENGAGE ON-PREMISE

Many bars and restaurants use social media to varying degrees. One on-premise owner, Ralph Cestone, president of Club 4/Sixty/6 in West Orange, NJ, wanted to do more than gather fans of his business on Facebook. He wanted an app that could help him engage with potential customers and to know how many guests to expect. Tidal Wave for Facebook offers a low, monthly cost for its social media marketing applications and is easy to use. Cestone particularly liked that his guest list, which allows free entry to ladies and discounted cover to men when they sign up for Friday or Saturday night, could be edited to meet ongoing needs. Being better prepared in terms of staffing and food and drink stock helps keep things running smoothly and profitably. To learn more about Tidal Wave’s capabilities for on-premise, visit tidalwaveapp.com

JOIN THE (CANADIAN) CLUB

Beam and Canadian Club want male drinkers to “Join the Club.” Digitally, that is. Video segments viewable on Facebook and digital media star the brand’s new bass voice, the “Canadian Club Chairman.” He imparts “Whisky Wisdom” to live by, like “Drafts are best suited to fantasy football. Order a Canadian Club Whisky.” He also educates about the popularity of Canadian Club in American speakeasies during Prohibition.

Facebook.com/CanadianClub | canadianclub.com

 

L2 RATES SPIRITS’ DIGITAL IQ

L2, a think tank for digital brand activation that brings together leaders in both academia and industry, has released a report rating spirits companies. The “2013 Digital IQ Index: Spirits” study focused on the digital performance of 69 prestige spirit brands, ranking them as Genius, Gifted, Average, Challenged or Feeble. Digital competence was measured across more than 675 data points in four dimensions: site, digital marketing, social media and mobile. Absolut, Beam and Bacardi tied for the top spot. Visit L2thinktank.com/research/spirits-2013 for access to the full report as well as insights about regulatory hurdles and more.

 

 

 

TRINCHERO WINE EDUCATOR UNLOCKS NEW AUDIENCE ENGAGEMENT TOOL

Barry Wiss, Trinchero Family Estate’s VP of trade relations, loves helping beverage professionals prepare for the Certified Wine Specialist and Certified Wine Educator exams. Wiss (a CWE himself) leads seminars around the globe, utilizing hundreds of PowerPoint slides in day-long sessions. Looking for a way to keep his audience more engaged, Wiss found Turning Point Interactive PowerPoint Software, an audience response sytem that enables instructors to embed questions into their presentations. Wiss splits his audience into two teams, and after going over a subject, presents 25 questions which the students answer via a ResponseCard keypad or mobile device. Trinchero now has 150 keypads to engage students.

turningtechnologies.com

 

The Find: February 2013 Edition

Posted on | January 29, 2013   Bookmark and Share
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IT’S OK TO GET KINKY

This time of year, kinky is cool. Kinky Liqueur—a fruity, 34-proof fusion of super-premium vodka and exotic fruit flavors including mango, blood orange and passion fruit—has “date night” written all over it. Suggest an easy cocktail of Kinky Bubbles (4 oz. Kinky, 1 oz. Prosecco) or a Kinky-tini (1 oz. Kinky, 1 oz. vodka, 3 oz. cranberry juice).

SRP $19.99/750ml, $1.49/50ml

kinkyliqueur.com

SPICE IS NICE IN NEW LOW-CAL MALIBU ISLAND SPICE

Bracing for flavored-vodka boredom to kick in? Get rum-antic! Malibu Island Spiced—the first lower-calorie, spiced rum option on the market—may be the perfect diversion. It combines Caribbean rum and coconut liqueur with light spices, smoked vanilla, cinnamon and a touch of natural, zero-calorie Truvia sweetener. “Nearly half of spiced rum drinkers are women,” notes Brand Director Lisa McCann “But most spiced rum brands communication is directed to men.” Malibu Island Spiced has the women covered, she says, serving up “sweetness and strength without packing on the calories.” 60 proof.

SRP $16.99

malibu-rum.com

 

PATRÓN PUTS TEQUILA ON THE V-DAY RADAR

Chocolates and flowers are all well and good, but Patrón Tequila has put together an affordable yet luxurious Valentine’s Day gift to remember. The heart-shaped set contains one 375ml bottle each of Patrón Silver and Patrón XO Cafe Dark (the cocoa coffee liqueur)—plus a convenient recipe for combining both to create a delicious Espresso Cocoa Martini. With SRP under under $40, it’s a sure couple-pleaser.

patronspirits.com

 

 

SALIZÀ: HEARTWARMING AMARETTO FROM VENICE

Looking for love in unusual places? How about Salizá Amaretto, whose neck tag recounts a Venetian legend…. Near Piazza San Marco, set into an archway, there is a red stone in the shape of a heart. It is said that when lovers touch it together, they will love each other for ever after. Made by Bepi Tosolini using crushed almonds (not extract), the liqueur’s final blend includes sugar, caramel (for color) and a kiss of aged brandy. 56 proof.

SRP $32.99

ourniche.com

 

NOT YOUR USUAL BLOODY VALENTINE

If there is one thing bartenders agree on, it’s that better ingredients yield better drinks. But better mixology need not always be from scratch. The concentrated Bloody Mary seasonings from Seattle-based Demitri’s are packed with flavor (not just heat) and kick the average Bloody Mary up a notch or ten. An 8 oz. bottle (SRP $7.95) makes four pitchers; and the bacon rim salt (4 oz., $7.95) is almost too good to limit to cocktails. Multiple varieties, sizes and wholesale pricing available.

demitris.com

 

Fedway’s Perfect Storm

Posted on | January 29, 2013   Bookmark and Share
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Photos by Kevin J. Krapels

After suffering catastrophic damage from Hurricane Sandy, the New Jersey wine & spirits wholesaler rebounds with an equal demonstration of force.

On Monday night, October 29th, Hurricane Sandy hit the U.S.’s northeast coast breaking records and inflicting unimaginable destruction. Coinciding with high tide and the full moon, the storm brought to shore tidal surges of 16 feet in some places. Although the historic water invasion receded after only several hours with the tide, Sandy would cost the state of New Jersey alone a mind-numbing $29.4 billion.

 At Fedway Associates, Inc., one of the Garden State’s largest wine and spirit wholesalers, storm preparations had been taken. After all, with its warehouse and main office in the town of South Kearny nestled between the Passaic River to the west and the Hackensack River to the east, the company was no stranger to storms or flooding, having weathered Irene a year earlier. Trucks had been driven to higher ground, the IT system moved to the office’s second floor and in the warehouse—which rarely saw water enter—a number of pallets had been lifted several feet off the floor.

Yet Sandy proved to be a different animal entirely. “We’ve had storms before, but nothing like this,” says Neil Barnett, Fedway’s President. “We’ve been based here for the last 40 years and never had any reason to worry that our warehouse operation would be in a serious danger zone.”

Security guard David Kengere was on-duty inside the warehouse Monday night. He noticed water seeping in around 8pm, and he began to frantically unplug electrical equipment and move it to the second floor, but he only managed to reach one machine: “I was knee-deep in water, and it was coming in so quickly that I realized I would not make it back to the second floor if I tried for more.” Kengere, who had also been on duty the night Irene struck in August 2011, sat in complete darkness—except for his cell phone flashlight—and watched in helpless astonishment as the destruction began to unfold.

“We’ve been based here for the last 40 years. We’ve never had any reason to worry that our warehouse operation would be in a serious danger zone.”— Neil Barnett, President

 

 Sandy’s tidal surge hit hard, blowing off many of Fedway’s warehouse doors as 10 feet of water forced its way in. The cardboard in stacked pallets was quickly soaked through, and the massive towers began to collapse, each creating tsunami-like waves that caused more destruction. Kengere recalls the first pallet to go down was Castello Banfi, followed by a tower of Cavit Pinot Grigio. By 6am the next morning, the water had receded by several feet, but much of it still stuck inside the building behind closed doors. It was surreal: “When I opened the doors to release the water, I saw fish swimming out,” recalls Kengere. 

Shock & Devastation

Fedway Chairman & CEO, Richard Leventhal, was the first on the scene Tuesday morning, somehow managing to drive to the warehouse from his home in Tenafly. Today, over two months later, he is still unable to fully describe the devastation—“It is impossible to put into words,” he explains. When Leventhal entered the office, he saw the water and debris line at 6 feet along the walls—the entire first floor of the company’s headquarters had been destroyed. With the help of a maintenance worker, Leventhal got into the warehouse and saw the full scale of the wreckage. His first call, from a gas station down the road at 9:30am, was to Barnett, who was unable to leave his neighborhood due to dozens of downed trees and power lines.

“I asked for a meeting of the entire company. I made the decision to go forward with a very well-defined goal in mind: We were going to reconstitute the company… And we were going to do it in two weeks.”— Richard Leventhal, Chairman & CEO

 “Essentially, Richard told me we were screwed,” Barnett recalls. “He told me that we had basically lost our entire inventory and infrastructure and he did not know what we were going to do.” Yet Leventhal, who does recall allowing himself “about an hour of self-pity,” soon called Barnett back. “On that second call, only an hour later, he told me we were going to get through this and we would be back in action before anyone would think it was possible,” Barnett describes. “Right then, he essentially eliminated the mourning period.”

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 “I knew that decisions had to be made quickly—the next 24 to 48 hours at the best,” Leventhal emphasizes. “We’re going to put Humpty Dumpty back together, and I asked for a meeting of the entire company the next morning. I made the decision to go forward with a very well-defined goal in mind: We were going to reconstitute the company and continue as an independent entity. And we were going to do it in two weeks.”

Picking Up the Pieces

On the morning of Wednesday, October 31st—not yet 48 hours after the storm—600 Fedway employees came to work. “The sight of the warehouse made you sick—many people described feeling physically nauseous—and there were a lot of tears,” says Barnett. IT Director Chris Kelly recalls almost a state of shock: “Nothing could prepare you—the photos do not do it justice. I don’t know how you could look at that devastation and even conceive of moving forward.”

“We brought in heavy construction machinery – big front loaders – and pushed out all the bad inventory onto the loading docks where it was crushed and carted away. This went on for almost two weeks.”— John Longa, VP Warehousing & Administration

At the meeting, Richard stood on top of a pile of pallets and addressed the company. Assuring everyone that there would be no layoffs—that every single person in the company was going to have a job—he “explained that people may not be able to do the jobs that they had been doing,” says Barnett. “They may be doing clean-up or taking orders; the sales force, which had nothing to sell, might be triaging cases, but we would all be working towards a single goal of getting back in business.” Invoking Kennedy’s famous decision to commit the country to getting a man on the moon although he did not yet realize what exactly it would take to get there, Leventhal pledged to be back in business by November 19th—a seemingly impossible feat.

“I’ve had only two jobs in my life—working for my father in his retail store, and working for Neil Barnett—and when I saw the warehouse on Wednesday morning, I started to cry,” describes Michael McNulty, VP Brand Management, who has worked at Fedway for 22 years. “I was sure I was out of a job, and for about 10 minutes, I had no hope. But as soon as Richard spoke to us, I had hope again; the whole experience was extraordinarily personal because we really are a family.”

Clean Up, The Hard Work Begins

What happened next was a flurry of action, beginning with the clean-up on November 1st. “You short-circuit all of the discussions and you focus only on decisions,” says Leventhal. “For example, we needed all new air compressors to run the conveyors. The only supplier I was interested in doing business with was the one who could get them here the fastest; it was all about compressing time.” (In retrospect, Leventhal admits without any remorse that he was extraordinarily rude during those first few days: “If you could not assist me in putting this company together in some fashion I had no time to say hello to you. I did not want to know you felt sorry for me. That would not save this company.”)

 

 

 

 

 

While there’s never a good time for a warehouse flood, Sandy could not have come at a worse moment in the company’s history. “It was the beginning of the holiday season and there was a port strike contemplated for the end of December, so we had scrambled to accelerate purchases and have as much product on hand as possible, so our inventory was at an all-time high—we had one million cases,” says Robert Sansone, executive VP, Finance & Operations, “and half of it was destroyed.”

Barnett challenges people to imagine what 500,000 cases of wine and spirits looks like: “One massive delivery truck holds 400 cases—try to visualize how many truck loads and deliveries that represents. It’s more than one month’s worth of deliveries, and we send out 100 trucks each day.”

“We brought in heavy construction machinery – big front loaders – and pushed out all the bad inventory onto the loading docks where it was crushed and carted away. This went on for almost two weeks.” — John Longa, VP Warehousing & Administration

Then picture all those cases collapsed and on the floor. “Every square inch of the warehouse floor had cases so there was no room to work—it took several days just to create space,” Barnett explains. Along with the insurance adjusters who were on the scene from the beginning, the company attempted to triage the sea of merchandise. “We went bottle by bottle and developed piles of good product and piles of questionable product,” describes John Longa, VP Warehousing & Administration. This process—carried out by 50 teams of four to five Fedway employees each, working around the clock separating good bottles from bad—was not moving very fast. Not only was precious time being lost—it turned out that even bottles which appeared salvageable might later be deemed contaminated anyway, if they were at all touched by water. So, the sorting was now down to two piles—just good and bad.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

“We met again with the insurance adjusters two days later, and they gave us the OK to start moving stuff out and get rid of it,” says Longa. “We brought in heavy construction machinery—big front loaders—and pushed out all the bad inventory outside onto loading docks where it was crushed and carted away. This process went on for almost two weeks.”

During the clean up phase, each day began the same way, with employees reporting to the 2nd floor of the office, and McNulty assigning jobs for the day. “Those who couldn’t lift heavy boxes or operate machinery would build cardboard boxes, get pizza, run for coffee,” says McNulty.

 Looking back, the clean-up did more than ready the warehouse to receive new inventory—it brought the company together. “I remember one very late night in the warehouse we formed an assembly line to triage cases of product,” says Sean Weinerman, VP Senior Wine Director. “One of the guys in the assembly line was Richard Leventhal. Nobody was wearing a tie—we were all standing side by side in jeans and work boots working together with one common goal.”

In the end, the clean-up went faster than expected. “We usually have our Friday meetings at a local hotel, but Richard suggested doing it in the warehouse those first few weeks,” says McNulty. “Everyone could witness how much was already cleaned, and see trucks bringing in new inventory. Our comeback was for real.”

Starting Over, from Scratch

As the clean-up was going on, reconstruction was also taking place. Much like New York’s Mayor Bloomberg, who declared power and a working subway system to be the two most paramount concerns for the city in Sandy’s wake, Leventhal zeroed in on I.T. and temporary space. “We absolutely needed an interim location to salvage goods during the clean-up,” he says. “And second, we had to reconstitute our information database.”

On the first priority, Fedway caught a lucky break. The company’s landlord offered them the keys and license to a brand new, just-completed 200,000 square-foot warehouse space next door that had miraculously suffered no flood damage. This meant Fedway could immediately begin receiving merchandise.

 

 

 

 

 

Regarding Leventhal’s other top priority—I.T.—the company again was fortunate. The good fortune this time was less about luck, however, and the direct result of I.T. Director Chris Kelly. “Chris is a very modest guy,” says Leventhal. “But his decision to physically disassemble our web servers and all other critical hardware on the first floor and move it to the second floor on the Sunday night before the storm essentially saved the infrastructure of this company.” Kelly’s other genius move: “The I.T. department took out their cell phones and took pictures of the wires and where they went; this became their wiring diagram for putting it back together,” marvels Leventhal. “Without that bit of human ingenuity, we would have been dead in the water.”

“We all assumed the water was only going to come up to the front door, similar to Irene,” recalls Kelly. “So the plan I made with Richard was to raise the equipment just several inches off the floor.” Yet at 3pm a gnawing sense of dread led Kelly to make the decision to take apart the servers and main frame and move it all up one floor—a process that kept him and his team at the office until 11pm on Sunday evening.

On Tuesday morning, Kelly attempted to make it to the office, but after 6 hours in his car, he was still unable to get there due to road closures and fires. That evening, Richard called him and informed him the entire first floor was destroyed. “‘What do I have?’ Richard asked me,” says Kelly. “He had no idea that we had moved everything to the second floor and when I told him the I.T. system was still intact, he went silent before he spoke: ‘That is the best news I have heard yet.’ He then had two more questions: ‘was my family safe?’ and ‘how can we get payroll out to the Fedway employees?’ That says a lot about the kind of man Richard is.”

 

 

 

 

 

 

Generators were in short supply—and power didn’t come back on for 18 days—so Kelly couldn’t get the company’s I.T. system up and running for four days. “Our goal from that minute on was to get our first invoice out,” he says. 

With a temporary warehouse and I.T. back in action, the company could then focus on the thousand other things that were required to start operating. Fedway created its own fueling operation in order to keep generators going. At the beginning, that meant hand-pumping diesel fuel out of their our own tanks to get them primed. With gas in short supply, Fedway had drivers coming up on a daily basis from South Jersey with 50 to 200 gallon containers of gas per day.

A big help was a disaster relief organization out of Texas that Fedway’s insurance carrier recommended. “They essentially globe-trot, going where the disasters happen—Katrina, Floyd and Andrew,” explains Sansone. “They bring a command center with them and an army of resources, many of which we never thought of, such as a huge power washing company which cleaned our warehouse. They also had access to a second wave of generators when they were in scarce supply.”

Fedway was fortunate that a just-completed 200,000 square foot warehouse space next door was available for temporary use. Fedway could immediately begin receiving new merchandise and have a place to store salvaged goods.

 

In addition to the laundry list of equipment that had to be replaced, Fedway had lost every single one of its 100 trucks. “When you looked at the trucks, they looked fine,” says Sansone. “But because brackish water corrodes immediately, the damage was irreparable. We spent a lot of time changing out the transmissions, making them road-worthy, only to have the computers and transmissions fail the next day.” Fedway was able to buy 21 trucks coming off a lease to Southern Wine & Spirits and quickly arranged to rent 80 additional vehicles until new trucks could arrive.

Replacing Half a Million Cases

Half a million cases were destroyed in a matter of hours, but getting them back wouldn’t happen quite as fast. “You don’t just say I need 10,000 cases of Grey Goose or Captain Morgan here tomorrow,” explains Barnett. “First we had to get our suppliers to change the way they take orders from us and where they ship. We needed them to put our orders at the top of the priority list and get us product as fast as humanly possible—and virtually every one of them did just that. Whether it meant taking goods that were on the way to other wholesalers, or goods that were moving into their own warehouses, they really helped us speed the process.”

Chris Kelly (center) with Bon Zaunczkowski and Kirk Wolthouse

 

Steve Kissel, Bobby Brundage, John Longa and Don Brundage

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Operating in a franchise state, Fedway has many brands that are carried by other wholesalers in the market. But there are many that the company represents exclusively, and it was to these suppliers that Barnett felt particular responsibility: “We were laser-focused on getting up and running not just for our own sake, but for our customers and the suppliers who we represent who were out of the market.”

True Test of Character

“We always thought we had a unique culture at this company,” Barnett confides. “People rarely leave here and we consider ourselves the Fedway family. Our doors are never closed and any senior manager is approachable at any time day or night. The way our people feel about this company is a huge source of pride for us and when it came time to ask our employees to roll up their sleeves and help us get through this, the response was overwhelming.”

At a time when employees were dealing with personal struggles—damaged homes, lack of power, school closures—it is a true testament to the loyalty Fedway inspires that they were there day after day, rebuilding the company. “We had sales people working the night shift; truck drivers, sales managers and clerical staff all working side by side in jeans and sweatshirts,” Barnett recalls. “It created a bond and camaraderie that was really rewarding.”

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

“One of the most difficult jobs I had during this time was refusing people’s help,” says McNulty. “There are only so many people who can be put to work before they start getting in people’s way or risk getting hurt. We had 248 sales people calling wanting to come to work, begging to help with the clean-up.”

It is rare that a company’s character is truly tested, says Sansone: “People often talk about the core values of a company, and the aftermath of Sandy was an opportunity to demonstrate that. Everybody gets knocked down, but you define yourself by how you get back up. We proved that this is indeed a very special place to work.”

Back to Business

On Friday, November 16th, Fedway’s warehouse was open for SPU’s (Salesmen’s Pick-Ups), a weekly occurrence when the sales force can collect emergency goods for customers. “This was literally 15 days from when we started the clean-up, and we had our first batch for salesmen to come and pick-up; it was a great way to test our system and to get back up and running,” says Barnett. “We told the salespeople you can put in orders, we’re going to pick them and pack them overnight. Instead of putting it on trucks, we put it on the floor. I think we took 6,000 cases and we laid it out by company and by salesperson because we needed to test the conveyers, the loaders, the sorters.”

Sunday was the first day of truck deliveries—one day ahead of Leventhal’s ambitious goal. It was far from a cake walk. “We had conveyor issues, electrical issues, mechanical issues,” describes Barnett. “Every breakdown we fixed at night and each day things got a little better and by mid-December we were in full service. We started the first two weeks by selling only 300 products, so we were picking from areas in the warehouse close to the main line. We slowly expanded outward until we were picking from farther and farther away in the warehouse and now we’re shipping all 15,000 SKUs.” Concentrating first on making the highest volume cases available for order, Fedway eventually added back bottle service—the ability for bars and restaurants to order single bottles of anything in inventory—10 days after resuming business.

“I will never forget my first order of replacement inventory just days after the storm,” says Weinerman. “Without power or computers, I had to hand-write an order request for tens of thousands of cases for our purchasing agent who had to call it in with their cell phone. We rely so heavily on computers and software programs now but you never forget how we used to do it—pad and pencil.”

Fedway lost all 100 of its trucks, but quickly arranged to buy 21 trucks from Southern Wine & Spirits and rented 80 more vehicles until the new trucks could arrive.

 Friends in Need are Friends Indeed

 One of Barnett’s most meaningful take-away’s from the experience was the crucial role of partnerships: “Our customer base was truly unbelievable—so supportive and concerned. Many of them wanted to come in and help with the clean-up; same with our suppliers. Without our partners we would not be here today.” Longa fielded countless calls from Fedway’s suppliers: “We had suppliers calling us and asking when they could come and help. I had to turn them away, so they sent food and did whatever they could. The way people pulled together was unbelievable.”

Vendors also rallied around, Sansone describes:  “From the fleet company who increased and advanced our truck order in the queue, to the warehouse equipment company who immediately brought in 34 fork lifts and sourced hard-to-find order pickers, to Cisco, our communications provider, who dedicated their time to us almost exclusively to recreate and reprogram our two destroyed main switches—we have such a supportive group of core vendors.”

Every piece of equipment needed to be replaced and tested before Fedway could become fully operational again, from sorting stations to conveyor belts.

 

 The Road Ahead

While Fedway’s story is one of rebirth and new beginnings (particularly as they prepare to move into brand new offices in Basking Ridge in April 2013), it’s impossible to ignore that the New Jersey retailer landscape is permanently altered. “There are at least 200 accounts who are still out of business and might be out for good,” says McNulty. “Take Jenkins, one of our biggest on-premise accounts in the state. Though they are primarily a summer account, they still get 2,000 people on Friday and Saturday nights. They aren’t even going to open until March, and their other restaurant, Spicy’s in Seaside Heights, will likely not open again, so yes, it changes the economics of our business.”

Chairman & CEO Richard Leventhal addresses the Fedway sales team days after the storm.

Fedway does business with virtually every licensee in the state of New Jersey—the sales force has very close relationships with customers. “Every account that closes is meaningful and personal for us,” says Barnett. “If there are things we can do to help them get back in business, we will do it. We’re just a subset of what New Jersey and the entire Northeast has gone through. People’s lives will never be the same. That’s a human story.”

 

Stronger and Better

It’s a point of pride at Fedway that the company has posted growth every year for the last 34 consecutive years. Thanks to Sandy, 2012 will be the year with an asterisk by it—there was just too much business lost at the most critical time of the year, and Fedway’s business fell behind. Yet no one seems to dwell on that—there was simply too much other growth to be proud of. “Crisis can bring out the best in people. In our case, crisis created a company that is much better, much stronger going forward,” says Barnett.

“I look at this as the perfect storm from both sides,” says Sansone. “Sandy hit at the worst possible time, but the fierce alignment of character, loyalty and core values that our company demonstrated during our recovery was equally powerful.” 

Wine Buzz: February 2013

Posted on | January 28, 2013   Bookmark and Share
Written by |

NEW FROM FETZER… BLENDS HAVE MORE FUN?

California benchmark winery Fetzer has entered the “Splendid Blended” arena with two new wines: Crimson and Quartz. Sub-dubbed “the winemaker’s favorite” and designed with Millennials in mind, both deliver ripe fruit and smooth texture. Crimson (a quintessential Valentine hue) is primarily Zinfandel, Syrah and Cabernet Sauvignon, with toasty oak (ABV 13.5%). Quartz (hey, it ain’t diamonds, but it sure beats Cubic Zirconia) melds Chardonnay Riesling, Gewürztraminer and Pinot Grigio (ABV 12%).

SRP $9.99

fetzer.com

SANGRIA IS EASY ON THE PALATE & WALLET

For those who like their red wines a little sweet and spicy, Vision Wine & Spirits is now bringing in Sangria Térreo. Developed in 2009 in Almendralejo, Spain, Sangria Térreo is based on a proprietary family recipe of Tempranillo wine and all natural flavorings including fruit juices, clove, cinnamon, nutmeg and allspice. Available in both red and white, both in date size (1L bottle, SRP $7.99) and party size (4L bag-in-box, SRP $24.99). Currently in 19 states and Washington, DC.

visionwineandspirits.com | sangriaterreo.com

 

 

SONOMA COAST PINOT NOIR STEPS UP

With its silky texture, exotic aromas, provocative fruit and mouthwatering acidity, Pinot Noir has long been considered the sexiest of table wines. It’s no surprise that Folie à Deux is joining the Pinot parade, but the AVA suggests that Sonoma Coast is ready for prime-time awareness. Said winemaker Joe Shirley: “When sourcing grapes for our Pinot Noir, we naturally turned to vineyards along the Sonoma Coast where growing conditions are so ideal for producing delicious, approachable Pinot Noir.”

SRP $20

tfewines.com

 

SEDUCTIVE NEW VINTAGE OF MARILYN MERLOT

The 2010 vintage of Marilyn Merlot debuted recently, promising to command attention not only for its striking label but also its sensuous character. The label portrait is from the legendary “Red Sitting” series shot by photographer Milton Greene in 1957. It was their last collaboration; the resulting images capture Marilyn at her most flirtatiously alluring.

SRP $29

marilynwines.com

MOËT & CHANDON: PRETTY IN PINK

Never underestimate the romance of Champagne, the power of pink, and the allure of easy gifting. Moët & Chandon just launched its “Declare Your Love” limited edition, which allows consumers to personalize a bottle of Moët Rosé Impérial with multiple peel-and-stick messages such as “I ❤ You” and “Happy Valentine!” The classic bubbly inside offers an intricate bouquet of red fruits and juicy, full-flavored palate.

SRP $52.99

moet.com

Industry Watch: Ultimate Resource

Posted on | January 25, 2013   Bookmark and Share
Written by |

Pernod Ricard USA introduces probevsource to the trade.

In the wild and wonderful Digital Age, it is often the simplest things that get lost in the flood of “content.” Given the scope of the Web, it’s all out there, but getting what you want when you want it can be a time-gobbling exercise in search-engine gymnastics.

With the express intent of streamlining the cluttered online universe of wine and spirits information, Pernod Ricard USA has launched probevsource—a website within a website that sets a new standard, not simply for information on one company’s portfolio, but also for the tools that distributors, retailers, bars and restaurants crave to make their business more efficient and profitable.

One click on the “gotoprobevsource” tab at the top of the revamped pernod-ricard-usa.com home page links directly to a well-organized, in-depth site that has just about anything a wine and spirits re-seller would want to access. Training resources. Product data and images. Management tools. Drink recipes. Even the latest industry news and category-specific trend reports. Simply put, probevsource is a 21st century solution to an age-old challenge of maximizing exactly the right trade assets to grow a specific business.

Filling a Clear Need

While probevsource is the result of two full years of meticulous development, its origins, quite fittingly, are rooted on the proverbial street.  As Pernod Ricard USA Director of Field Communications Larry Richardson notes, the initial “Aha!” moment came when an on-premise account in Manhattan was having trouble finding an Absolut Citron bottle image. “As suppliers, we invest a great deal in developing sales tools, promotional materials and other resources. Unfortunately, it hasn’t always been easy for the trade and even our distributor partners to easily access these resources when and how they are needed,” Richardson explains. “Way too much effort was going into sourcing product images, tag lines, product information, etc. To provide these and many other resources via a centralized open internet site seemed like a very timely idea.”

The needs of site users remained a constant focus through the site’s development, which was overseen by Nova Marketing. Nova Managing Partner Jeff Grindrod says that one of the keys in keeping probevsource totally trade-focused was making sure that the site accounted for the diversity of people and businesses that sell Pernod Ricard products. Their needs ranged from simple—what distinguishes bourbon from Scotch, how Champagne is made, the proper execution of classic Sidecar—to seriously complex, such as server training. In response, Pernod and Nova decided early on that to optimize the site’s functionality, probevsource needed to reach far beyond branded product information. Probevsource aims to be broader, deeper and more in tune with the reality of everyday operations, and in turn more valuable to individuals and businesses at every level of the trade, in every market.

All About the Trade

Googling a wine or spirit will often get you right to the brand’s website, but that’s going to be a consumer site. The probevsource difference is immediately apparent: it caters to the trade. The Training section, for instance, includes not only Pernod Ricard’s exclusive BarSmarts program, featuring Dale DeGroff, David Wondrich and other mixology experts, but also in-depth background at the PRUSA Wine & Spirits Academy and even a direct link to TIPS, a skills-based training program designed to prevent intoxication, underage drinking and drunk driving.

The cocktail database has 1,000+ recipes searchable by brand, holiday, occasion, even channel (e.g, sports bar vs. nightclub vs. fine dining). With every recipe also tagged by difficulty and pictured to show proper glass and garnish, it may well be the most bartender-friendly drink resource on the Web. On- and off-premise managers alike can appreciate the library of image assets, featuring bottle images, logos, reviews and awards—plus scannable UPCs and bar codes as well as POS materials like shelf talkers. Another section, Business Tools & Solutions, includes a drink profit calculator, margin calculator and dozens of links to other sites, for operator/server/merchant education.

On top of the plethora of industry-specific tools, probevsource provides a wealth of content, most notably an original “Cocktail Culture” blog and extensive links to articles on category-specific and overall trends, as well as data-rich studies and management guides.

Sharing & Evolving

Not to be forgotten in the sheer scope of probevsource is the fact that the site never strays from its original purpose as a powerful trade resource. Historically, the wine and spirits trade has always enjoyed a tradition of suppliers supporting distributors supporting re-sellers; probevsource has made this chain that much more efficient. As Richardson points out, “Our distributor partners are very active in creating sales tools as well as developing the knowledge base of their employees and accounts. The probevsource site will offer them a gateway to brand assets and category information which can be accessed not only from their laptops but on the run via mobile devices.”

As is the case with all vibrant websites, probevsource is organized to be quickly navigated, and designed to be easily shared. But it’s also structured to evolve over time. “One of the great things about this tool is our ability to change it quickly based on user feedback,” says Richardson.

Richardson notes that plans are already in place to make the site more social-media-friendly: “We have a designated area of probevsource specifically designed to make that easier.”

The ultimate irony of probevsource may rest in its sheer user-friendliness. Deceptively simple at first glance, the site harbors a prodigious wealth of easily accessed information. And it may well get even simpler—future plans include giving users the option to customize the site, creating a home page tailored to their category preferences.

Even when that happens, though, one thing will remain just as it’s always been: the wine and spirits business is about relationships. Probevsource is essentially a 21st century expression of that truth, and Pernod Ricard is deservedly proud to be reinventing the way the wine and spirits trade works together. “We continually strive to set the standard for trade education, and to collaborate with our customers to develop mutually beneficial business solutions,” said Jack Shea, Vice President, Corporate Communications, Pernod Ricard USA. 

 
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