New Products & Promotions: May 2013

Posted on | April 26, 2013   Bookmark and Share
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Cruzan Rum bottles the lifestyle of St. Croix, and has added two innovations to its portfolio: Key Lime Rum and Passion Fruit Rum. Key Lime offers a sweet and tangy taste, while Passion Fruit offers a bright aroma and citrusy finish. Both are handcrafted by the Nelthropp family using natural flavors and cane sugar blended with Cruzan light rum. 42 proof.

SRP: $14.99


Svedka Vodka is introducing two new decadent flavors: Svedka Orange Cream Pop and Svedka Strawberry Colada. The former is a nostalgic blend of Swedish vodka, icy orange cream and vanilla flavors. Strawberry Colada is a tropical blend of vodka that is infused with strawberry, coconut and pineapple flavors. Both flavors are available nationally starting April 15th in 50ml, 375ml, 750ml, 1L and 1.75L sizes.

SRP: $12.99/750ml



Primosole Wines are fresh, fun and affordable organic Italian wines new to market with bright, eye-catching labels. Winemaker Sabino Russo notes the Pinot Grigio with aromas of pear and citrus pairs best with light cusine like shellfish or soft cheeses, while the Sangiovese offers good body and notes of blackcurrant and integrated tannins—a “go to” wine for nearly any occasion. Marketed nationally by Bronco Wine Company.




New Shellback Rum is named after the naval tradition wherein brave sailors who have crossed the equator are awarded the title “Shellback.” The Caribbean rum is produced at the West Indies Rum Distillery on Barbados, and is available in Silver and Spiced expressions. In March, Shellback Rum and Tony Abu-Ganim kicked off a six-city tour that explores the versatility and mixability of Shellback Rum.

SRP: $17


Pernod Ricard has introduced Mama Walker’s, a proprietary line of three breakfast-inspired liqueurs in Maple Bacon, Blueberry Pancake and Glazed Donut. These flavors tap into the comfort food and fun flavor trends. All three are bottled at 70 proof; retro packaging features an oven mitt holding a martini glass.

SRP: $12.99/750ml





Rolling out this month, Bacardi is introducing Light Strawberry Daiquiri to its Classic Cocktails RTS portfolio. Made with real lime juice, natural strawberry flavor and Bacardi Superior Rum, this addition presents light summer fun in a bottle with 95 calories per serving. Recommended served chilled over ice in a tall glass. 12.5% ABV.

SRP: $14.99/750ml | $19.99/1.75L




Nectar is the mascot of Nicolas Wines. The famous cartoonist Dransy designed Nectar to promote the Nicolas shops in France. The first Nicolas posters date from the 1920s and have remained a popular example of vintage advertising. Celebrate the history of Nicolas with a bottle of 100% Bordeaux Cabernet Sauvignon.





New from the award-winning distillers that crafted New Amsterdam Vodka and Gin: New Amsterdam Citron Vodka and Coconut Vodka offer tastes of the tropics. Citron pleases with a zesty lemon aroma and a clean finish; Coconut has creamy flavors of coconut and a mellow finish. Both are five-times distilled and bottled at 70 proof.

SRP: $13.99


Made from Merlot grapes, “Forest Fire” White Merlot is unique among California blush wines. The result is an affordable, balanced tart yet sweet wine with powerful fruit. The 2012 Forest Glen “Forest Fire” White Merlot scored a triple crown and double gold at the 2013 Jerry D. Mead New World International Wine Competition, winning Best New World Rosé among other awards. Sourced from Franzia family vineyards across California and best served chilled.




Following its successful 2012 debut, Alizé COCO Liqueur has two new additions—COCO Pineapple and COCO Peach. Both bring together premium French spirits and passion fruit with their individual flavors of Pineapple and Coconut. The new creative design reflects the chic personality of Alizé consumers. Both can be served on the rocks or mixed in a variety of cocktails. 20% ABV. |

SRP: $19.99/750ml


Absolut Craft, co-created with master bartender Nick Strangeway, has been designed exclusively with professional bartenders in mind, with added complexity from maceration and distillates. The first expression, available now, is Herbaceous Lemon, which uses 12 macerates and distillates. Craft comes in an eye-catching silver-gray bottle. Two additional profiles will be released later this year.41% ABV.

SRP: $22.99




Soleil Mimosa, a RTD blend of premium wine and fresh-squeezed orange juice is now available in a slim 187ml aluminum can. The refreshing, low-alcohol (8%) bubbly is now light, recyclable, convenient and primed for impulse buys in four-packs and singles. The cans can be enjoyed anywhere glass bottles are discouraged (sporting events, campgrounds, around the pool, on the golf course, at the beach).

SRP: $10.99/four-pack



Wine Buzz: May 2013

Posted on | April 25, 2013   Bookmark and Share
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The Indelicato family (the folks behind DFV Wines) have launched Sequin, a line of casual varietal wines with a touch of fizz. The refreshing, slightly sweet wines debuted nationally in three versions: Moscato, Pinot Grigio and Rosé. Sleek, playful packaging—crowned with a screwtop and labeled as “Delicately Bubbled”—communicates the new brand’s appeal as a chic yet carefree wine experience. As a bonus point of distinction, Sequin is low in alcohol: the rosé is 11% ABV, and the other two are 9.5%.

SRP $11.99 |



Vision Wine & Spirits is launching Wines For Dummies, a new line of wines named after the best-selling reference books. Designed to demystify the often daunting world of wine, this new range caters to novices. Four wines are being introduced at the WSWA Convention, priced at SRP $9.99—Chardonnay and Cabernet Sauvignon from California, and Pinot Grigio and Chianti fro Italy. Each wine is sourced to reflect its appellation and the labels include phonetic spellings of the grape varieties, easy-to-understand descriptions, and simple food pairings.




Stack Wines, the nifty single-serve wines making waves in California, are going national now that Shaw-Ross has been appointed for sales and marketing. The Stack line-up—Cabernet Sauvignon, Pinot Grigio, Chardonnay and a Charisma red blend—combine quality wine with portable style. Each stacked, shrinkwrapped sleeve contains four individual 187ml servings in 100% recyclable packaging; ideal for sharing with friends at home or on-the-go, without cumbersome glassware and corkscrews. SRP $12.99/$11.99 per sleeve of four. As of May, it’s in CA, FL, IL, MI, NY & OH.



Fresh from Italy, where they know a thing or two about both wine and fashion, STLTO Wines (pronounced stiletto, just like the shoe) are now kickin’ it in the U.S. with a Pinot Grigio, Unoaked Chardonnay and Malbec-Merlot, line priced at SRP $10.99. STLTO wines are made by women for women. The name conjures up high heels, naturally, but it was derived from (S)ophisticated, (T)imeless, (L)avish, (T)rendy and (O)utstanding. STLTO wines. Currently in MA, NY (MS Walker) and RI, with more markets opening soon.


New Zealand vintners Kim and Erica Crawford, in partnership with Terlato Wines, are launching a new wine, Loveblock. The Kim Crawford brand, now owned by Constellation, sells more than 500,000 cases. With Loveblock, the husband-wife team’s focus is on organic and biodynamic estate vineyards in Marlborough and Central Otago. The initial release: 2012 Sauvignon Blanc and 2011 Pinot Gris (SRP $23.99) and 2011 Central Otago Pinot Noir ($33.99).

Ultimate Beverage Challenge’s Ultimate Spirits Challenge 2013

Posted on | April 24, 2013   Bookmark and Share
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Ultimate Spirits Challenge (USC), started in 2010 by ULTIMATE BEVERAGE CHALLENGE LLC (UBC), is recognized as the world’s foremost spirits competition. Over the course of a week, fourteen of the world’s most respected spirits authorities —journalists, authors, buyers, bar owners, consultants and educators—carefully blind taste hundreds of entries to determine which spirits are the best that year in over 30 categories. Utilizing the easily understood and accurate 100-point scale, entries that are scored 90 or higher in the first round get assigned to a second panel of experts to determine the Chairman’s Trophy winner, the top scoring spirit in each category.

This year’s USC took place March 11th-15th at New York’s Astor Center. Judging was lead by UBC founder and judging chairman F. Paul Pacult and co-chairman Sean Ludford. In addition to Pacult and Ludford, the USC judges featured spirits experts Jacques Bezuidenhout; Tad Carducci; James Conley; Dale DeGroff; Dan Nicolaescu; Jim Meehan; Julie Reiner; Jack Robertiello; Steve Olson; Jennifer Simmonetti-Bryan, MW; Katie Stipe and David Wondrich.

Ultimate Spirits Challenge 2013 had record entries (up 8% over 2012) representing more than 70 companies and 30 countries. The judging super-group named 33 Chairman’s Trophy Winners and 151 Finalists. Pacult noted, “The increase in entries we’ve had for Ultimate Spirits Challenge each year is a testament to suppliers who appreciate our meticulous attention to rating and scoring their products.” ULTIMATE WINE CHALLENGE 2013 takes place June 3rd-7th.

Full results at this link.

Personal Page: May 2013

Posted on | April 24, 2013   Bookmark and Share
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William Slone, Jody Slone-Spitalnik and Jason Glasser of Beverage Media Group



The Center on Alcohol Marketing and Youth at Johns Hopkins University has determined that each liquor store added to the city of Los Angeles was associated with 3.4 incidents of violence per year. Therefore researchers concluded it is urgent that “alcohol outlet density” be reduced nationally.

Gee, that’s really going to the heart of the problem! While they are at it, how about reducing “parking lot density” to reduce the number of traffic accidents. Oh, you are afraid that people will have to drive around, and just get into more accidents?

Speaking of accidents, efforts by our industry to better educate the public to the dangers of drinking and driving have contributed to a 65% decrease in alcohol-related traffic fatalities, since 1982, according to the Century Council.

Seems that educating people is a lot more effective than inconveniencing them.

William Slone, Chairman


Law is defined as “a binding custom or practice of a community.” How that is defined in legislation can be challenging, but the intent of the law is generally clear.

So it has played out in the case of ShipCompliant’s MarketPlace platform. This system was developed for direct consumer sales of wine, but the SLA has determined that they are not compliant with state rules.

They determined that although these products passed through the retailer and wholesaler, they did so in an entirely passive way. According to the SLA, licensees played no active role in decisions regarding stocking, pricing or promotion of these products. The goods merely passed through their hands for a flat fee.

I suppose this idea could hold a passing appeal. However, I believe that the intent of the law is to have licensed individuals fully responsible and engaged in these decisions and not be a passive transfer point. If I am right and those standards ever began to erode, one ‘binding custom and practice of the community’—called the three tier system—might also be challenged.

Jason Glasser, Chief Executive Officer


It has become clear in the past few years that the Millennial generation is full of educated, curious 20-somethings who hold a lot of buying power in their hands…along with their smartphones. Today’s young wine consumers are proving to be shrewd, savvy customers who don’t exactly drink what their parents do. Millenials are also the group that has grown up with social media. See “Social Media for a Social Business” to better understand how the wine business in particular is enhanced by strategic social media.

As I write this, we are preparing to head to Orlando for this year’s WSWA Convention. For the past few years, it’s been amazing to see the flavor spectrum expand from vodka, to whiskey and tequila and beyond. Check out “The Fervor for Flavor” to see how the infusions continue to make waves both on- and off-premise. We also recently sat down with Craig Wolf of WSWA to get a preview of this year’s event. Lastly, when it finally warms up in New York, I really start to think about gin-based cocktails. I’m not alone. In “The Gin Game,” discover how gin is integral to the current cocktail renaissance.

Jody Slone-Spitalnik, Chief Operating Officer

Social Media for a Social Business

Posted on | April 24, 2013   Bookmark and Share
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Wine is social. Sure, you can drink it solo, but it’s best enjoyed with friends, food and conversation.  Selling wine is social, too. Canny wine marketers know this in their bones. The job isn’t about moving a bottle of wine across a counter. That’s just the transaction. The job is about great service, gonzo enthusiasm and killer personality.

They approach a customer, ask the right questions, listen carefully, suggest wisely. If the customer goes away smiling and the wine is a hit, the customer will come back. And next time, bring friends.

If any industry is tailored for social media, it’s wine. The proof is in the data. According to VinTank, a social media software company for the wine business, 14 million people have mentioned wine online at some point, a number that grows by 450,000 people every month. And they’re talking a lot, having 1.5 million conversations about wine online—every single day.

The bulk of this chatter happens on mainstream social networks like Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram, plus wine-centric apps like CellarTracker and Delectable. People post tasting notes, bottle shots, and ratings from 88 points to Yuck to Wow! They tag their friends, who share it too. Think of social media as the breeding ground for digital word of mouth.

Now, producers, retailers, restaurateurs and buyers have joined the conversation. Getting up to speed in social media means learning a new technology, but that’s not so different from learning a new point-of-sale system (and arguably a little easier). Happily, many wine pros find that success online requires the same kind of sensitivity and savoir-faire their jobs demand in real life.

“Customers are going to talk whether you’re listening or not,” says VinTank’s CEO, Paul Mabray. “You’d answer the phone if they called you. You’d answer an email. It’s fundamental customer service to answer a tweet, or a post on your Wall. And you don’t answer in stupid promotional ways. You just say, ‘Hey, how are you doing?’”

But social media success does require a slight shift in thinking. Traditional marketing was about push. A marketer publishes a notice about a holiday sale, or the arrival of a scarce Bordeaux, hoping customers will come pouring in.

Social media is about pull. Instead of broadcast-and-pray, a marketer goes where the customers are, connects with them, and engages with them on their terms.

A restaurant, for example, might monitor their mentions on Twitter and follow and reply to customers who tweet about them. A retailer might set up a Facebook page and run a promotion targeted at locals with food and wine interests. Or they might share a photo of a bottle one of their staff had on vacation and loved so much that the store is now stocking it. The engagement happens in bits and pieces, and not just between one customer and one marketer, because others can chime in, too. It’s a conversational marketplace; and not just two-way, it’s multi-way.

Over time, the conversation takes on a life of its own. Alex Moskovitz, who runs social media marketing for Anfora, a wine bar in New York City, might post a tweet about what’s happening in the bar, then watch as followers start kibitzing with each other. “I don’t have to be the only one talking with them all the time,” she says, “And that’s what a bar is.”

Not surprisingly, the online chitchat reaches a peak on evenings and weekends—and it’s always wine-o’clock somewhere. Hospitality pros can’t expect to connect with their core customers if they’re only online from 9 to 5, Monday through Friday. “It takes constant monitoring,” Moskovitz concedes, so that “you’re always able to reach your guest, and you’re always reachable. You don’t want people to feel unimportant.”  

This always-on nature makes it important to commit first to one or two services, then add others only as bandwidth permits. “I don’t believe in trying to be everything to everyone,” says Pia Mara Finkell, director of social media for the award-winning Vibrant Rioja campaign. “I’d rather do a knock-down job on fewer channels than try to be everywhere and do it poorly.” Facebook and Twitter are the best places to start, with Facebook a bit more effective for consumers, and Twitter slightly more weighted toward industry.

One advantage of digital is that it’s easy to measure. Google Analytics tracking on a company website can show which social media services drive traffic and sales. Facebook’s tool called Insights offers stats about engagement. For Twitter, third-party services can show growth in followers, mentions and re-tweets. But be careful what you measure. Facebook promotes a sketchy metric called “Reach,” which is merely a rollup of the number of times your content has appeared. True engagement is better measured by the “Likes” and “Talking About This.”

Knowing what’s working lets you divert effort away from what’s not working, and balance your communications mix. Recently, after selling 400 event tickets using only electronic channels, Moskovitz realized that social media is a great starting point. “I’m more likely to post to Facebook and Twitter first. I can sell out on Twitter. That means I can send less email, and use it more strategically,” she says, adding, “No one wants another email.”

But can social media really sell wine? Yes, and many stories prove it. Melissa Sutherland Amado, former marketing director at 67 Wines in Manhattan, used analytics to demonstrate that on average, social media accounted for five to eight sales per week last year, worth from $250 to $500, and mostly to new customers.

Sue Guerra, director of marketing at Gary’s Wine and Marketplace in New Jersey, said that within hours of posting a recipe for homemade Limoncello—a slightly counter-intuitive move, since Gary’s sells Limoncello—a customer came in asking for the exact vodka used in the recipe.

Similarly, Jameson Fink, of Seattle’s Bottlehouse wine shop and tasting bar, snapped a picture of an unusual sparkling rosé and posted it to Instagram. Within minutes, a customer replied he wanted two bottles.

I leaned heavily on Twitter and Facebook when I headed consumer marketing for Bonny Doon Vineyard. Tracking let me identify all e-commerce sales resulting from posts by the winemaker, the corporate account, the restaurant account, and my own accounts on social media. All of them moved wine, sometimes by the case.

Stats and success stories like these can help colleagues can get on board with the effort, which is critical in a business driven by engagement. Still, social media is primarily about conversation, not conversion. Sales directly resulting from tweets and posts are indeed possible, but they’re not the main point. The value accrues over time, with persistence, as the brand and customers get to know and trust each other.

“Social media is not a tool for marketing. It is a tool for relationships,” says Shana Ray, a social strategist at Resonate Digital, which counts wine businesses among its clients. “We have made it into a tool for marketing, but at its core, it’s about relationships.”

In other words, in the old days, commerce was based on recommendations by real people. Nowadays, commerce is based on recommendations by real people. The technology has changed, but the story remains the same.  


Get an account (or two). Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram are my top recommendations. Add Yelp and OpenTable if you’re a bar or restaurant. If only one account seems manageable, focus on Facebook if you’re a retail store or restaurant, and Twitter if you’re an importer, distributor, producer or brand manager.

Start by listening. Find and follow people in your circles—retail shops, restaurants, neighbors, customers, writers, winemakers. What are they saying about your category? Also monitor mentions of your brand and staff. Use a dashboard tool like HootSuite or TweetDeck to keep track of several threads at once. Hashtags (e.g., #malbec), are used on Twitter to categorize tweets and facilitate searching.

Engage, share, link. Ask questions! It’s a great way to get conversation started. Thank anyone who praises you publicly, and re-post to your own accounts. Respond open-mindedly to critiques and address problems quickly. On Twitter, follow-back anyone who looks legitimate so you can communicate via Direct Message—another demonstration of trust. A common misperception is that channels are awash in people (over)sharing mundane details of their lives. Tweets and posts are frequently executed with links that connect to more content on a website.

Be yourself. Remember that companies don’t talk, people talk. It’s OK to post an occasional update about your ski trip or your car breaking down. Christy Frank, of Manhattan wine shop Frankly Wines, has only one Twitter account for both her personal and professional life. “That’s one of the reasons my Twitter strategy has been successful,” she says. “People know who they’re talking to. It’s not just a black box.”

Tell stories. Show people what’s happening in the trenches. If your buyers are in Spain, have them take a slew of pictures. If a winemaker or rep is pouring wines in your shop that evening, post it or tweet it. Visual media is especially powerful.

Monitor, measure and adjust your mix. If you don’t have Google Analytics on your website and online store, get it installed. Track inbound traffic from social media and tie it to resulting sales.

Be opinionated. Tell your customers why you think this wine matters. Share your enthusiasm, and ask for theirs in return. “Brands can have a kind of heart—a pulse,” says Melissa Sutherland Amado. “If you show that, you’ll get that love back.”


Like any business communication tool, social media is used variably. Different strokes for different folks. Here, some wine pros at a retailer, an association and a distributor offer input on what aspects of social media work best for them.

Samantha Dugan
General Manager and Buyer
Signal Hill/LongBeach, CA

We use Facebook quite a bit. We like the immediacy, as well as the fact that multiple team members can interact directly with customers. The key for us is fairly constant usage and postings. Nothing long or drawn out. Our customers seem to like the postings we do from home, where we are actually eating and drinking.

I also recommend some Facebook-only promotions, little 10% off deals or what have you. This keeps them checking to see what deals are going. We’ve also had classes go from four sign-ups to sold-out at 40 in two days thanks to Facebook.
Because we are a wine store we have freedom for a little more adult humor, if you will. We get to show that we aren’t a big box store; we have a staff of smart, funny people and social media helps us convey that. The funny stuff gets the most shares, which are so valuable as each time someone shares something we end up gaining new followers.

Michelle Kaufmann
Assistant Communications Manager

I prefer Twitter. I know that Facebook has more users, but we get more engagement on Twitter and two-way communication from our followers. On Facebook, consumers may like a post and occasionally comment. But on Twitter people will shout out wines they are drinking or ask for help finding specific producers of specific types of wine daily.

We’ve also had wineries reach out to us on Facebook and Twitter about being involved in various events. And bloggers shoot me direct messages to check facts/stats on articles they were working on. These types of intersection are usually done behind the scenes from consumers, but it’s still an easy way to quickly track down information.

As general advice, post multiple times a day and make the content engaging. Make sure you’re checking direct messages and mentions often and respond, even if it’s just a retweet with a “Cheers” added.

Anne Drummond
Marketing and Public Relations Manager
Kalamazoo & Plymouth, MI

Our social media efforts are about four things: our brands (what’s new and exciting); industry trends; Imperial Beverage (our activities, institution, et al.); and “just for fun.”

Periodically, we do snapshots of logos. Day one, we publish a tiny piece, such as small piece of the landscape on a Sierra Nevada label. Day two, we publish the entire image. Over the course of the 24-hour period, we get a great deal of interaction from our followers, guessing what logo or label it represents. We’ve also published photos of a product display in one of our accounts, and invited followers to guess its location. This is a fun way to support our accounts.

One trend that we are witnessing right now is the transition of key buyers. Long-term, well-credentialed buyers aren’t a thing of the past, but their numbers are decreasing. Our accounts are employing (while not always younger) less-seasoned staff, which make our points of contact, relationship-building, training efforts and social media even more important.

Boom Go the Millenials

Posted on | April 24, 2013   Bookmark and Share
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John’s Grocery in Iowa City is an upscale wine retailer whose customers include doctors and employees of the nearby University of Iowa Carver College of Medicine. As such, says wine buyer Wally Plahutnik, his customers are knowledgeable and service oriented, regardless of age and demographic. Except for one very intriguing thing.

“I can’t get the older ones to use the camera on their phone to take a picture of the wine label,” he says. “The younger ones, no problem. But the older customers still come in and tell me they had a bottle of wine, but can’t remember the name. And when I ask them why they don’t use the camera, they just sort of look at me.”

In this, Plahutnik is in the middle of one of the biggest changes the wine business has ever seen—the revolution in consumer demographics, of which the role of new technology is just one small part. The Baby Boomers, born between 1948 and 1962 and widely regarded as the best friend that retailers and restaurateurs ever had, are becoming increasingly less important in the marketplace. Their replacement? The Millennials, two generations behind them but already numerically more significant among core wine drinkers, according to the 2012 Wine Market Council report. Though the Boomers make up 38% of wine drinkers, they consume only 32% of the wine. The numbers for Millennials are 29% and 38%.

 More broadly, Boomers will account for less than 20 percent of the U.S. population over the next eight years, and the number of Baby Boomers younger than 60 will fall by more than two-thirds, according to a 2012 study by Jeffries-Alix Partners. Meanwhile, Millennials (born between the early 1980s and the early 2000s) older than 25 will make up almost one-fifth of the country’s population. And that doesn’t take into account the 8 million Millennials who will turn 21 and start buying wine over the next three years.

“The Boomers are famous for consuming more stuff than anyone else in history,” says Dan Graham, a vice president with the Dechert-Hampe marketing consultancy in southern California. “The question is not so much whether the Millennials will be like them, but how to reach them, since they’re so different from the Boomers.”

The key is understanding—or, first, trying to identify—those differences. It’s one thing to market to Millennials with cute wine names or to approach them through social media because they use it, but that doesn’t mean it’s going to work. The Millennials may not be as jaundiced as their older cousins, the Gen Xers (born between born the mid-1960s and the early 1980s) about marketing, but they’re still more wary than the Boomers.

Also important, and often overlooked: Any discussion of the Millennials must take into account three things. First, that since the end of World War II, the U.S. economy experienced unprecedented growth. Will that continue? Many of the projections on Millennial spending assume they’ll have the same economic opportunities that the Boomers did, and that may not be the case given what appear to be major structural changes in the U.S. economy (to say nothing of ongoing wrangling about government spending).

Second, the Millennials are saddled with $1 trillion in college debt, which could limit their spending in a way that didn’t bother the two older demographics. One guess is that the Millennials’ penchant for low-cost social events like Wine Riot and the success of companies like Groupon represent evidence that they want to go out but can’t afford the bars and clubs that the Gen Xers and Boomers could.

Third, says John Gillespie, president of Wine Market Council, there appear to be some differences between younger Millennials, ages 21-28, and those 28 -36. The latter, he says, act more like Boomers—more willing to spend money, for instance. The younger group may change as it ages, too, but no one knows for sure.

Moving forward, every business looking to capture Millennial dollars needs to know what sets them apart from the Boomers—things that take into account not just demographic but economic and cultural differences:

  • How they use technology. It’s not just that Millennials (and Gen Xers) are more tech savvy than Boomers, as Plahutnik has seen. It’s that the two demographics grew up with technology and see it as a normal part of their life. So it’s not unusual for them to Google a product while they’re shopping, or to text a friend for information. In this, they don’t see a need for traditional customer service (which they’ve never experienced anyway), since they do it themselves. In their world, warehouse stores like Costco are the rule and not the exception, and it shouldn’t be surprising that 75% of the customers at, the biggest Internet wine retailer, are between 21 and 49.
  • Where they shop. Millennials don’t shop at grocery stores the way Boomers do, something that has the national supermarket chains worried, according to the Alix Jeffries Partners study: “This transformation has the potential to create a chaotic marketplace that markedly changes where and how consumers shop for groceries, as well as what products they bring home.” Instead, says Graham, Millennials prefer retailers that are local and interesting, hence their fascination with stores like Trader Joe’s and Whole Foods.
  • Local means local. Community matters, and a local retailer is not just someone who is located in the neighborhood, but is a part of the neighborhood, meaning the retailer sponsors events, participates in local fundraisers and works with neighborhood groups. If the retailer doesn’t meet their high standards, Millennials won’t shop there. Convenience is important, because they’re so pressed for time, but they also want products that are sourced and manufactured safely and humanely. They don’t pay lip service to green labels the way Boomers do.
  • Who they trust. It’s not the traditional wine experts—critics, magazines and the like—that drive consumption among Boomers. Plahutnik says his younger customers are usually surprised when he shows them less expensive, quality wine; they’re not used to getting advice from someone like him. Rather, says Gillespie, they ask their friends and family; if their circle likes the wine, then it’s good enough to drink.
  • Private labels. Millennials love them, says Graham, especially when they come from a trusted retailer like Trader Joe’s. This gives them an emotional connection to the product, so they’re buying on more than a cheap price. In addition, buying a private label from a trusted retailer makes the purchase decision easier.
  • The interplay between price, value and status. “Millennials are at the cutting edge in the industry in getting away from statusy brands,” says August Sebastiani, the president of California producer The Other Guys. “They’ll spend money for quality, but they also want value. They won’t buy something just because it’s expensive.” This, he says, is a key difference between Boomers and Millennials. The former will serve a bottle of wine because it got 98 points and they want to impress their friends. The latter, on the other hand, will serve wine they like, and they don’t really care about scores, if it cost a lot, or if anyone else has ever heard of it (one reason why Millennials are at the forefront of the local wine movement). They like making discoveries, says Sebastiani, and they want their friends to like what they find as well. Then word of mouth takes over, and texts, posts and tweets follow about the wine. 


Gen Xers, the demographic between the Baby Boomers and the Millennials, are often overlooked. One reason is that there aren’t as many of them—only 50 million or so, about two-thirds of the Millennials. They’re also among the most difficult to reach, more cynical about marketing and less trusting than the Boomers.

But they’re entering their peak earning years, and the 2012 Wine Market Council report notes that they are playing a crucial role in the wine business:

  • They account for one-fifth of the study’s core wine drinkers—those that drink wine at least once a week.
  • Annual household incomes were significantly higher among Gen Xers than the other demographics—$81,900 vs. $73,700 for Millennials and $78,700 for Boomers.
  • Almost two-fifths of Gen Xers said they were drinking more wine today than they did a few years ago, the second highest number after the Millennials.
  • Core Gen X wine drinkers are more confident than Millennials—only 28% said they worry about making a mistake when they buy wine, compared to 38% of Millennials.

The Fervor for Flavor

Posted on | April 24, 2013   Bookmark and Share
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The rainbow of flavored spirits continues to expand—on shelves and at bars.

Rob Floyd helms the cutting-edge cocktail program at The Bazaar by José Andres at SLS Hotel Beverly Hills photo: Amanda Rowan,

Flavor in spirits is nothing new. When Dr. Sylvius, of the University of Leyden, used juniper berries to create the original gin in 1608 and when Carthusian monks in France added 130 herbs to distilled alcohol to make Green Chartreuse in the 1740s, they were flavoring spirits.

Over the ensuing centuries flavored spirits were anchored by cordials/liqueurs, not surprisingly, since those products are flavored by definition. Then, in 1986, Absolut Peppar debuted. At the time, this pepper-infused vodka was seen more as a Bloody Mary helper than a standalone sipper or shooter, but the seed-notion of vodka being an ideal blank canvas for flavorization was planted. Taking advantage of modern food-science technology, creative marketers wasted little time populating the vodka category with a rainbow of fruit and spice expressions, giving birth to an entire category that has just kept growing.

Buoyed by the success of infused vodka, flavors are closing in on being the rule rather than the exception. According to the Distilled Spirits Council of the United States, over 40% of all spirit products in the U.S. feature a flavor component (cordials included). Flavors now extend effortlessly from vodka to rum, tequila and whiskey. We’re talking about much more than plain vanilla, too. DISCUS documents more than 220 different expressions, from wasabi to watermelon and PB&J to pickle. Perhaps most important of all, the flavor revolution has proven lucrative for both new and iconic brands. Could we be upon a Golden Age of Flavor?


As the first flavored spirits category to take off in the U.S., and one whose neutrality lends itself to flavor extension, vodka reigns among flavor thrill seekers. It drives the diversity of flavors and the imagination of the people who love them, with options like buttered popcorn, bacon, key lime and fig. While the category is often teased by outsiders, the vodka flavor train just keeps chugging: in 2012, flavored vodka experienced a dollar sales increase of 17% over the previous year, according to Danny Brager, vice president group client director for Nielsen. This far exceeds the 3% increase of unflavored vodka sales and places a hefty 21% of total vodka sales in the flavored realm.

Brager suggests the diversity of vodka flavors acts as a fertile testing ground for flavors that may come to other spirits, and is typical of a more mature and accepted flavor market—one he compares to ice cream. “In those categories where flavors have taken hold, I believe there will continue to be new extensions and established flavors moving across spirits segments,” says Brager. “I think what drives flavors is initially the single flavors, as those are usually quickest to market, but then exotics and combinations are almost always soon to follow.”

Right now we’re watching as established flavors of cherry and honey begin the boom in flavored whiskey. With these on solid footing, there is certainly a potential to widen the flavors of whiskey as well. While flavored whiskey still represents only 5% of category sales, the ascent of this slice of flavor has been astounding, up 90% in value for the year ending 2012 according to Brager.


While many top mixologists prefer to concoct their own flavors, Rob Floyd, who helms the cutting-edge cocktail program at The Bazaar by José Andrés at SLS Hotel Beverly Hills, says commercial flavors are too big for any serious bartender to ignore. Floyd is genuinely excited about what flavored spirits portend for cocktail creators like himself—welcoming spirits for previously underserved consumers. “It’s often a younger drinker looking for flavored spirits,” says Floyd, “and they have really reached out to the female demographic. There is nothing more sexy than that young female professional who comes in and wants to expand her taste and take a chance on a flavored whiskey like Jack Daniels Honey.”

Floyd sees a female consumer who orders a Beam Red Stag and Coke or a Jack Daniels Honey and ginger ale as a “golden opportunity” to grow a savvy spirits consumer. “You are introducing bourbon or whiskey to a person who did not consider it before. This is the opportunity to create a whole new following for spirits and cocktails. In a few years I think it will be amazing, just amazing,” he adds.

While men who already enjoy traditional whiskey are less likely to trade it in for the flavored variety, Floyd says he sees them adopting high-end flavored vodka on the rocks as their drink of choice, drawn by the diversity and purity of these flavors. “In the past six months, businessmen are sipping more flavored vodkas on the rocks, especially Grey Goose, Hangar One and Belvedere flavors,” says Floyd.

At Bond at The Cosmopolitan in Las Vegas, Jerry Vargas, general manager and mixologist, finds that spicy flavored spirits are the perfect fit for Bond’s steamy nightlife. While the kitchen creates a bevy of custom culinary infusions, Vargas also turns up the heat with cocktails that include branded spirits like Tanteo Jalapeño Tequila and Hangar One Chipotle Vodka. “This is a high energy lounge. I tend to gravitate toward spicier, like the chipotle vodka, where the aromas and bouquet really come through in the Nikita cocktail,” says Vargas, noting the drink includes lime ice cubes, cilantro simple syrup and Perfect Purée of Napa Valley caramelized pineapple concentrate.

While Vargas agrees that women are the first to reach for Jack Daniel’s Honey, they are often evangelizing to male drinkers. “Men see their wives and girlfriends stepping outside of the box and they tend to follow and enjoy it, too,” he says.
At the Cielo Bar at the Four Seasons Hotel St. Louis, Cory Cuff shakes up lots of creative flavors as the assistant manager of food and beverage, including Duck Fat–Infused Pinch Scotch and Jalapeño and Thyme–Infused Avión Reposado. However, commercial flavors appear as part of his long-term strategy to educate the existing bar crowd. “If I see a product that has established itself in the market, and it has a foothold, I’ll use that in the best application I see fit,” says Cuff.

His Elevated Long Island Iced Tea includes Three Olives Cherry alongside housemade sour mix and maraschino liqueur. “The guest is not necessarily going to buy more of that drink if I make my own cherry vodka, and the same thing is true of drinks with Captain Morgan Spiced Rum. In some applications, a well-loved flavored spirit will get the drink sold,” he says.


While the rise of flavor has the makings of a long-term, category-shifting trend in vodka, and possibly other spirits, on a more micro level, it comes with a catch. Steve Malloy, vice president, of Malloy’s Finest Wine & Spirits, a family-owned retailer with three stores in the Chicago area says the proliferation of flavored spirits can seem so great, he often jokes, “Does that come with shelf space?” For many smaller stores, taking on yet another flavor is a challenge.

While quality is paramount for Malloy, and he makes it a point to taste every new product, he notes that the success or failure of flavors is difficult for anyone to predict. “I don’t think 10 years ago anyone could have guessed whipped cream would be a dominant vodka flavor. But with everyone adding it to their arsenal, especially with the big conglomerates now jumping on board with advertising, I believe it’s a flavor that is here to stay,” he says.

According to Malloy, many of the 40 flavors of Pinnacle vodka remain niche players, but Whipped is widely successful because it walks the line of innovation and mixability. “With the crowd buying entry-level vodka, you find them mixing it with Coke, keeping it simple. They are happy there is so much flavor already in the bottle,” he says.

Malloy feels that flavors of honey and maple will show good staying power among the American and Canadian whiskies they complement so well. “The appeal for consumers in their twenties and thirties is: this is whiskey they can call their own. It’s not their grandfather’s whiskey,” he says.


That’s not to say that seemingly off-the-wall flavors aren’t worth a gamble. Malloy’s has been doing brisk sales in both Three Olives Loopy, unofficially based on Kellogg’s Fruit Loops cereal, and RumChata, based on the Mexican creamy rice refresher horchata. (Interestingly, older consumers will say RumChata reminds them of rice pudding; for those under 40, it is reminiscent of Cinnamon Toast Crunch cereal.)

Shelves at Northwest Wine and Spirits in Columbus, OH, are brimming with flavored vodkas

Sunny Patel, owner of Northwest Wine and Spirits with four locations in the Columbus, OH, area, says people are always attracted to the new and offbeat, but only time will tell whether a flavor joins the shelf indefinitely. “Whipped cream was a big thing when it came out and now is a regular item. People expect to see it. Now customers are coming in and they want Naked Jay Dill Pickle and OYO Stone Fruit Vodka. They are really popular and doing well here in Ohio,” says Patel.

Patel says the newest flavor boom is neither vodka nor whiskey, but lies somewhere in between, combining the Moonshine and flavor trends. “I think it came as a huge surprise, but Ole Smokey Moonshine is one of our biggest sellers overall. Flavors of apple pie, cherry and blackberry. They all sell out,” says Patel.

There may be little chance of predicting the next breakout flavor, or even in which category it will occur, but as long as producers keep the quality high and the creativity coming, it appears younger consumers, and imaginative bartenders alike, are open-minded enough to give any flavor its fair shot.  

Bar Talk: Stay the Night

Posted on | April 24, 2013   Bookmark and Share
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Jeff Josenhans, The US Grant Hotel, San Diego

Since arriving at San Diego’s famed US Grant Hotel four years ago, Jeff Josenhans, director of venues for the property, has rejuvenated the Grant Grill’s beverage program. The beer list is flooded with local micro-brews; half-bottles of wine from small producers are plentiful; and one of the star libations is a Centennial Manhattan, barrel-aged in oak for 100 days. Still, this talented sommelier and bartender is best known for his pioneering “Cocktails Sur Lie”, which embrace the Champagne method. Here, Josenhans reveals his flair for the bold at the hotel bar.


THE BEVERAGE NETWORK: The US Grant is a historic, luxurious property. But the meaning of luxury is shifting. How does that translate to your bar program and the type of customers who come in?
JEFF JOSENHANS: I think luxury means to exceed one’s expectations, and it is the expectations that are shifting. Our bar program aims to offer menu concepts and ideas that you simply can’t find anywhere else in terms of innovation, service and quality.
TBN: One of those concepts is Cocktails Sur Lie (Sur lie is a French term that means having been rested on its yeast.
Josenhans’s Cocktails Sur Lie are bottle-conditioned; added yeast, sugar and spirits create carbonation in accordance with the Champagne method, while the hopping process adds the brewer’s flair.) What was the inspiration?
JJ: From a combination of wanting to push the envelope in a competitive market, needing to utilize my other skills (sommelier, working on a corporate level) and wanting to build upon the progression of cocktail programs put in place previously. We currently serve the Moscow Mule-inspired Mule (vodka, ginger, Muscat, Cascade hops) and La Granade (Cognac, hibiscus tea, pomegranate juice, bay leaves, black pepper.)

TBN: What are some of the new concepts you have planned for the lounge?
JJ: The next challenge is taking on the Cosmopolitan. This worn-out classic is due for a revamp. We are also moving on to a raw cocktail menu concept where we use one whole fruit, like a Granny Smith apple, fresh-squeezed per cocktail.
TBN: You worked hand in hand with the chef to develop a rooftop garden. What are you growing up there that find its way into cocktails?
JJ: We plant all of our cocktail ingredients from seed and only use heirloom varieties. Right now we are growing Atomic Red carrots, Paquito squash, mini sunflowers, Chioggia Guardsmark beets, lavender, Buddha’s Hand citron, kumquats, Meyer lemons, chocolate mint and lemon verbena. I like to be seasonal in all aspects when it comes to cocktails. Many people will think along the lines of produce seasons, but I also like to incorporate culturally seasonal spices. Nutmeg, for example, is great around Thanksgiving and Christmas even though it can be purchased of equal quality year-round.
TBN: What trends are you noticing among your guests?
JJ: One is that they are no longer gravitating towards brand comfort, but are more interested in exploring new spirit (and beverage) brands. I think the speakeasy-driven cocktail scene has been around for over a decade now and guests are primed for new cocktail experiences. We typically dabble very little in vintage cocktails and try to have a modern approach with an equally stringent devotion to quality.
TBN: What do you deem the biggest challenge of working at a hotel bar?
JJ: The most obvious one is probably the hardest challenge: that you have guests in the hotel bar because they are hotel guests, and therefore their primary interest is the overall hotel stay. So the quality of the bed and the food they ate for breakfast all affect their evaluation of their bar experience. In many cases the bar experience is just playing a supporting role of the entire hotel experience. Beyond that, hotel bars operate with a much leaner staff than most private bars, so managing a sound budget is an elevated skill to have at a hotel.

The Find: May 2013

Posted on | April 24, 2013   Bookmark and Share
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Following in the footsteps of 2012’s Thor, Highland Park has released its second limited-edition single malt inspired by Norse mythology. Loki, named after a god known for mischief, is a 15-year-old whisky, aged in Sherry casks as well as heavily peated casks and bottled at 48.7% ABV, giving the whisky a sweet, spicy and smoky flavor. Like Thor, it is housed in a wooden frame echoing a Viking long ship; SRP is $249. There will be two more entries in Highland Park’s Valhalla Collection.

Is America “ready” for bubbly, bottled margaritas? Sauza thinks so, and just like that, the ready-to-serve cocktail category just sprouted a new branch. Sauza Sparkling Margarita comes in three flavors: Original Lime, Wild Berry and Mango Peach. All three check in at just under 10% ABV, and stylistically display a sense of subtlety—fruity but not overtly sweet. Designed to be served over ice, they are hitting the market just in time for warm weather.

SRP $12.99/750ml |



For the past 26 years, the Early Times Mint Julep has proudly served as the “Official Drink of the Kentucky Derby.” In celebration, Early Times Kentucky Whisky has released the 2013 commemorative Kentucky Derby 139 bottle, a 1L pre-mix available in limited quantities at SRP of $14.99. The artwork, entitled “The Derby Dance,” is by equine artist Celeste Susany from Saratoga Springs, NY. More than 120,000 Early Times Mint Juleps are expected to be served at this year’s race, on May 4th at Churchill Downs.



Honoring the brand’s 310th anniversary, Mount Gay Rum has launched Mount Gay Black Barrel in the U.S. All Mount Gay rums are made from a blend of single column and double copper pot distillates matured in toasted oak barrels. Black Barrel (SRP $29.99) has a higher proportion of double distillates and, after hand selection by Master Blender Allen Smith, is the only marque finished in charred bourbon oak barrels. The result is aromatic with a mix of fruit, oaky vanilla and sweet caramel notes leading into a full-bodied, bold-tasting rum with notes of pepper, spice and wood. In recognition of its anniversary, new packaging will be introduced to the entire premium portfolio: 1703 Old Cask Selection, Extra Old, Eclipse and Eclipse Silver. Black Barrel is the first rum to sport the new look.


Industry Watch: Value’s New Toolbox

Posted on | April 24, 2013   Bookmark and Share
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Retailers go beyond pricing to appeal to tight-fisted consumers in tricky times

Much has changed since the re-cession ended, but one thing hasn’t: Consumers are still looking at prices and gauging value in wine.

“If there is a reason to buy wine, they’ll still do it,” says Melissa Surdyk, whose family has owned the same-named Minneapolis retailer since 1934. “So you have to give them a reason to buy it—a really good deal.”

So what’s a retailer to do—especially since no one wants to go back to the bad old days, when the only prices consumers cared about were on the shelf, and they waited to buy until those prices were marked down? The answer, increasingly, is to approach value and price with flex-ibility, leaving shelf prices more or less where they are but using tools like case and six-pack discounts, one-day specials, five-cent sales, loyalty clubs, wines of the week, and even producer initatives.

“This is a huge dilemma for the indus-try, and especially for wineries and pro-ducers that had to cut prices,” says Paul Tincknell of wine marketing consultancy Tincknell & Tincknell in Healdsburg, CA. “To be able to restore the profitabil-ity that they need is a big challenge.”

That price still matters was evident in a recent national survey of the fastest-growing wine brands in the country. Al-most all of the 27 wines on the list had suggested retail prices of $10-$12 is the sweet spot that consumers discovered during the recession and now seem re-luctant to abandon.

In addition, say retailers, they’re more savvy about pricing and reluctant to pay pre-recession prices, especially for pricier wine. Says Scott Spencer of the upscale Houston Wine Merchant: “My customers have discovered, and that means I have to use it, too. I’m more price conscious than ever before. In some ways, my competition is just not local, but national.”

Many of those tools have proven surprisingly effective, say retailers and consultants, and especially if they’re used in conjunction with traditional sales and discounting.

“In addition to traditional POS and print advertising, Banfi Vintners makes significant investments to support our brands with social media initiatives, seasonal programs, and wine education tools—all geared toward turning pur-chasers into loyalists, and loyalists into zealots,” says Cristina Mariani-May, co-CEO of Banfi. “We’d love to see more re-tailers take advantage of these resources in creative ways to develop tailored pro-motions that engage their customers.”

Among those new value tools that have and are being used:

Six is the New 12

It what’s all that long ago, says Sean Oliver, the operations manager at Hazel’s Beverage World in Boulder, CO, that case discounts were few and far between. Now, he says, they’re almost old hat, and Hazel’s has moved on to 10% discounts on mixed six-packs for wines that aren’t on sale. “They get to buy a variety of wines and get a discount even though they aren’t on sale,” he says. And they don’t have to spring for a full 12-bottle case to feel like a winner when they walk out the door.

Loyalty Has Its Rewards

Loyalty clubs can take many forms, but their common thrust is rewarding customers who shop regularly over time. Some require customers to accumulate “points” based on the value of their purchases; others are based on number of bottles. Some loyalty clubs involve physical cards that get punched; others enter people and their purchase history into a database.

Hazel’s loyalty program is based on a “Z Card,” which patrons can sign up for without a minimum purchase. Card holders receive email alerts about special events; can instantly qualify for special in-store discounts; and earn “frequent flyer miles” on qualifying purchases, which can be redeemed for dis-counts or merchandise.

At Suburban Wines & Spirits in Yorktown Heights, NY, the loyalty parameters are fairly hardcore: to join their “50’s Club,” shoppers need to purchase 50 different wines. But then the rewards are hardcore, too: 20% off even single bottles (excluding weekly specials).

Whatever loyalty conditions a store sets, the criteria and rewards should be clearly spelled out, via signage at the checkout counter and on the store’s web-site. It doesn’t hurt to play up the loyalty program via social media as well. Loyalty programs are designed to reward the faithful, but they can also be a means of attracting new frequent shoppers.

Once and For All

One-time-only deals are making a big splash, whether they’re one-day blow-outs at 20-25% off or less spectacular special offers. Surdyk’s brings in specific wines, especially direct imports, for their one-time sales. The wines, says Melissa Surdyk, are priced effectively, and the store adds a 20% case discount to that. “We’ve been real heavy on those over the past couple of years, and they always sell out,” she says.

Kick the Tires

In-store tastings, with and without discounts, are proven winners. Pouring from their own inventory can be expensive; still, retail-ers love them. Sur-dyk says the appeal is natural: tastings give consumers a chance to try before they buy, which is always welcome given all the labels to choose from. Hazel’s holds tastings twice a week, the most allowed by Colorado law. Typically, discounts on the wines in the tasting run 10%, but that’s not always necessary, says Oliver, since “it’s no longer a guess for the consumer.”

Another sign that in-store tastings are more vibrant than ever: in New York City, a dedicated calendar web-site, The Local Sip, that details what’s being poured at dozens of shops around town, encouraging merchants to uncork the good stuff and giving savvy shoppers a chance to strategize their try-and-buy activity.

Promotions Put in Motion

Banfi Vintners’ Mariani-May alluded to some of what’s being done, but also expect to see more high visibility efforts. Earlier this year, Treasury Wine Estates offered a money-back guarantee for several of its Rosemount wines. The offer was included on a neck hanger. All the consumer had to do was buy the wine, save the receipt, fill out the form on the other side of the neck hanger, for a re-fund if they didn’t like the wine.

Revamped Packaging

Does it seem like more producers are changing their labels and look? “That’s because they see an opportunity to up-grade their wine’s value with better packaging,” says Tincknell. “If it looks more polished and more elegant, that’s going to help with the consumer perception of the wine. And that change in perception helps throughout the chan-nel—it makes the job easier for the distributor, restaurant and retailer.”

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