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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.






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?


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.


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


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