The Beverage Network’s 2013 Holiday Gift Guide

Posted on | October 31, 2013   Bookmark and Share
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Good things come in all sorts of packages—and colors and flavors and styles and sizes…

Text by Cara McIlwaine | Photos by Samuel Bristow

Tis the season for giving. Good things come in many shapes and types of packaging—from window boxes and tin canisters to velvet bags, often accompanied by bar tools and branded glassware.

 It is both habit and tradition that have Americans geared up for the biggest gift-giving season. In anticipation, suppliers, distributors and retailers are all eager to catch consumers’ attention with a plethora of fresh pre-packaged bottles in every imaginable shape, color, size and flavor.* Some feature complementary glassware, others offer accessories and recipe ideas, and some can be keepsakes in and of themselves. There  are some unifying themes for all holiday gift items—the festive visual appeal and a major dose of added-value. 

 For shoppers in a rush, gift-packaged wine and spirits can be just what Santa ordered. The trick for most retailers is deciding which items to carry—and where to showcase them. Variety is key—it’s important to stock gift sets presenting a wide range of wine and spirits types, at various price points, featuring both fanciful and functional add-ons.

 It is important to make sure fresh goods make it out the door before January. One tip is to keep smaller and/or less expensive items near the cash register to spur impulse sales. Be sure to educate sales staff so they can speak informatively regarding what’s in every gift pack on the floor. For example, suggesting a package with bar tools to whip up cocktails could seal the deal for someone shopping for an at-home mixologist in-training. Or, cross-referencing a boxed product with an on-the-shelf bottle can help an indecisive customer select a gift boxed liqueur for “the person who likes flavors.”

 For the most part, holiday gift packaging is built around popular brands. Gift items are often more about comfort than experimentation. That makes sense—proven winners in new outfits can be a recipe for added sales as well as happy consumers, which makes all the hard work of the holiday season worth it.

*Note: Availability and pricing for gift packs will vary; check with your local sales reps to gauge what is available in your market

Training Matters: 8 Effective Strategies For Efficient, Effective Staff Education

Posted on | October 30, 2013   Bookmark and Share
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Bar manager Chantal Tseng and proprietor Derek Brown analyze a Sherry pour at Mockingbird Hill in Washington, DC. New employees must train for a full week and pass an exam before starting work behind the bar.

Standing before a wall of tequilas, I tried to make sense of the riot. I know a lot about wine, but very little about tequila, except that it was a favorite of a friend of mine, and I was on my way to his birthday party.

A store clerk approached me and offered to help. Gratefully, I explained my predicament. Could she suggest a bottle? “This one’s popular,” she said, pointing to one with an amber hue.
“Really? What makes it popular?”
“A lot of people buy it,” she said, without apparent irony. “Plus, it has a worm.”
“And that’s good?” I asked.
“Oh, yes,” she said, then added conspiratorially, “Most of the alcohol is in the worm.”

I left empty-handed, thinking: staff training matters. It matters for your brand and for your bottom line. If you stock 30 agave-based liquors—or even half a dozen—your floor staff should know the difference between tequila and mezcal, some basics on why they cost what they do, and maybe a thing or two about alcohol chemistry.

But training is expensive, time-consuming, resource-intensive. Employees turn over, wine lists turn over. Training never ends. What works best? How can you maximize the effectiveness, the efficiency, of your training program? And is it really worth the effort?

To find answers, we spoke with restaurateurs, retailers, bar owners, importers and distributors who run successful training programs for teams as small as eight and as large as 8,000. Tactics differ, but all agree that training indisputably sells more wine.

“You can’t teach passion,” says Timothy Nishimoto of Coppia, a 50-seat restaurant and wine bar in Portland, OR. “I always ask them, ‘Do you love wine? Do you have a passion for wine’” That zeal for wine translates into a desire for learning.

“It’s all about passion,” agrees Giuseppe Capuano, operations manager at Vias Imports, a New York-based importer devoted to Italian wine. “When a restaurant or liquor store hears someone with a passion, who loves what they’re doing, they get the message.”

Wine is an experiential product: to know it, you must taste it. Staff tastings build palate knowledge along with an understanding of the inventory. Tasting with food is especially important for restaurants focused on pairing.

“It’s just constant tasting,” continues Nishimoto, who tastes with his staff before service. “I’ll look at our glass list and say, ‘Which one wine should go perfectly with this dish? What is it about the wine that makes you think it’ll sing?’ They’re not being told what to say—it comes from them.”

Damien Casten of Candid Wines, a boutique natural and organic wine importer in Chicago, likewise believes in the power of tasting, so much so that he recently pulled a cache of aged Muscadet from his personal library for a staff tasting at Pastoral, a local wine and cheese retailer. Pastoral packed the room.

“It turned into an all-staff, all-store tasting, every dishwasher, every cheese cutter— everybody. I was laughing, because I only have a certain amount of aged Muscadet to offer!” he says. “But the questions blew me away, and some of the best comments were from the guy who was a delivery driver.”

This didn’t surprise Mark Hayes, beverage buyer and educator at Pastoral who coordinated the tasting. “You can walk up to anyone in our company, and through training, they’ll have something they can talk about. Like, ‘I love Falanghina and water buffalo mozzarella!’ And then the guy goes off to fix the refrigerator.”

Tasting builds the visceral understanding of the wine, but it’s equally important to develop a vocabulary to describe those flavors and style to customers.

At wine retailer 21st Amendment in Indianapolis, staff are encouraged to speak up during weekly training seminars. All opinions are welcome, but there’s a ban on simplistic words like “big” or “smooth.” Staff are instead encouraged to use more nuanced wine terms, like “full-bodied,” or “fine tannins.”

As staff gain command of the language, even the most shy begin to feel more confident. That makes them better salesmen, says Jim James, the company’s president. If you can teach staff to speak intelligently about wine, the sale will take care of itself.

It’s one thing to be able to describe the difference between Barolo and Barbera d’Asti. It’s another to be able to tell the customer about tasting the ’08 Bartolo Mascarello with his daughter, Maria Teresa, after wandering through the Cannubi vineyard.

Brands come to life through storytelling. Visits from producers—and better yet, visits to producers’ properties—give a product personality customers can connect with. The Craft movement is emblematic of this: customers appreciate that the liquid in their glass was made by a living, breathing, person—a person with a story.

“The key is to travel to Italy, to touch, to feel the story, to listen to the story from the winemaker,” says Capuano of Vias, because after all, “we’re selling emotion.”

Casten of Candid Wines has likewise spent countless hours visiting producers, capturing their work on video. “The single most important thing is to spend time with the producers, to understand why they’re making the choices they’re making,” says Casten. Video is one way he can share that story with those who lack the luxury of travel.

Trade tastings and distributor or importer market work—often with winemakers in tow—provide more tasting opportunities. Larger operations layer-on formal training opportunities designed to build account business through added-value services rather than just sell-sell-sell.

Wirtz Beverage Group has built a 2,000-square-foot bar training facility in Las Vegas: the Alchemy Room. “The idea came to me based on the Tuscan Kitchen at the Bellagio, a training kitchen for chefs,” says Drew Levinson, director of strategic activation for Wirtz Beverage Nevada. “I thought, why not a full-sized bar, with all the bells and whistles, focused on bar staff, for them to learn?”

Since casinos and restaurants are open around the clock, staff need an off-site venue for training. The Alchemy Room is in use eight or nine times per week, and even though training is free of charge, Wirtz’s investment paid off in 18 months. They’ve since opened a second facility—Alchemy Room 2.0—in Chicago.

Republic National Distributing Company developed an online training tool for their 8,000-member salesforce plus RNDC customers (see sidebar). Since going live in 2004, over 15,000 outside users have enrolled in their 101 and 201 level courseware. This service is also free of charge. “We used to say, ‘Pick up The Wine Bible,’” recalls Dean Fiala, director of sales training at RNDC. “Now we have this.”

If you specialize, training is even more critical. Derek Brown is a sommelier and cocktail expert who runs three bars in Washington, DC. This spring he opened a Sherry bar called Mockingbird Hill, styled after Spain’s cozy neighborhood joints. “Being the only Sherry bar in DC—and the only Sherry bar I know of—we want to make sure we’re comprehensive in our knowledge,” says Brown.

Brown developed a training curriculum on Sherry history, production and pairing. New staff train behind the bar for a full week and attend two 2-hour training sessions on the material. Afterward, they must pass a 25-question exam. Anyone who doesn’t pass must go through more training. The program’s critical for his specialty business, says Brown, because “We sell not just drinks. We sell information.”

While most proprietors compensate staff to attend on- and off-site tastings, many also pay fees for formal coursework and industry credentials like WSET Levels, Court of Master Sommeliers certifications, Cicerone, CSS and CSW. Allocating the resources sends a strong signal: training is part of your job.

But does the investment really pay off? Yes, and not just in brand credibility. “You can manage a lot of HR issues through having education in your company,” says Mark Hayes, of Pastoral. “You’re going to have a more engaged staff, and people stick around longer.”

Low turnover isn’t just about cost savings, either: Customers love a familiar face, especially if that face looks happy. Trust and loyalty are the net result. “Education is a protection to be differentiated,” Hayes says. “Even if someone else opens across the street from us, selling exact same products, we’ll keep the customers.”

Monetary rewards for advanced training are fine, but money isn’t everything. Staff thrive in a workplace where they’re encouraged to speak up, experiment, explore and learn, and where it’s okay to make mistakes. Just the mere act of sitting down to taste together—swirling, spitting, talking and swapping stories—helps build culture.

Staff carry that spirit with them onto the floor. “There’s a time and place to sell, but for my team to have a level of trust with our customers, our customers have to feel we’re not giving them a sales pitch,” says Wirtz’s Drew Levinson. “As soon as we become that salesperson, customers close off.”

Capuano agrees wholeheartedly. A staffer who really cares about the product, who can speak about it authoritatively, enthusiastically, knowledgeably, will earn the customer’s loyalty. “They have to be on a mission—not to sell, but to educate,” he says. “Because when you accomplish the mission to educate, you’re going to sell.”


WSET Online Courses: ($)
The International Wine Center in New York City offers online training for Wine and Spirit Education Trust Levels 2, 3 and 4. Students take classes in a digital classroom under the leadership of a WSET instructor, then sit for exams at IWC. Students log-in at their convenience, review the summary of weekly or biweekly topics, study, complete tasting exercises (students must purchase their own wine) and participate in online class discussion. Outside of NYC? The IWC site links to other education centers offering WSET instruction. The site also has a nice section featuring the WSET’s “3-Minute Wine School” videos (free).

Candid Wines: (free)
About 300 video clips featuring producers in the Candid Wines portfolio, mostly small family winegrowers in France, Italy, Germany, and parts of the New World.

Ask A Winemaker: (free)
About 100 short video interviews with winemakers. Topics include whole-cluster pressing, night-time harvests, and German terroir.

Wine Glossaries: (free)
Wine Spectator offers an extensive Wine Glossary at
Wikipedia’s is pretty good, too:

Palm Bay Pronunciation Guide: (free)
Under a “Tips & Info” tab, importer Palm Bay’s site has basic 101-type information, plus recommended reading (books, magazines, blogs); what sets it apart is the pronunciation guide to Italian, French and German terms.

RNDC Academy: (free)
Online training classes in wine, spirits, beer, and mixology, with culminating exams. Visit and register to create a free account.

Bar Talk: The Hospitable Host

Posted on | October 30, 2013   Bookmark and Share
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Nectaly Mendoza, Herbs & Rye, Las Vegas

Myriad casino bars in Las Vegas certainly don’t want for crowds. But locals and clued-in tourists head off the Strip to Herbs & Rye for flatbreads and Moscow Mules in equal measure. At this kitchen and bar, a nod to the glamorous Sin City of yore, owner and bartender Nectaly Mendoza gushes about the classics—both in the form of cocktails and old-fashioned service.

THE BEVERAGE NETWORK: In September you won La Diablada Pisco’s “Become Shaman” competition with your Diablanca, a sweet, warm cocktail that paired the pisco with quinoa. Did that experience enlighten you about Pisco?

NECTALY MENDOZA: I learned so much about pisco while in Peru, like when we went out to the vineyards and I saw how the vines were cut and the dirt was amazingly chalky. Putting the pisco together in a blending session showed me how just hard it is to get consistent grapes in a bottle.

TBN: You started out as a busboy polishing glassware at the Bellagio, then launched venues for the Light Group. What compelled you to open your own restaurant?

NM: I knew what concept I wanted. Everywhere I went it was either a phenomenal bar with an OK kitchen, or an OK bar with a phenomenal kitchen. I wanted an equal balance between the two.

TBN: What was your recipe for a successful beverage program?

NM: Sticking with classic cocktails. I wanted Herbs & Rye to be a place where you went and didn’t have to judge the bartenders on how they were doing because they were going by the book. Some bartenders know how to make exotic syrups, but they don’t understand the past.

TBN: You opened off-Strip instead of in a casino. What were you thinking?

NM: I had been going to this building, when it was an old Italian restaurant, since I was a kid. If you had straight A’s they would give you a free slice of pizza, so I used my brother and sister’s report cards. It was the last bar in Vegas that had true gangsters, so there’s a lot of history here.

TBN: You opened in the midst of the recession. How do you think you were able to find success in that context?

NM: My dad lost his arm in a construction accident and worked hard. We grew up humble, so it’s about dedication for me. We opened and did horrendously the first year, but I had people in my corner who helped me. I sold my house and car and rode the bus, but none of us ever gave up. We knew our time was coming, we just hoped sooner rather than later.

TBN: What is the scene like now?

NM: The place is packed. Some bars people go into to say, “Let’s see how this is.” Here, most people come in to get schooled, in a non-cocky way. If you want to order a Coors Light, order it. If you bring your mom and dad in and they don’t know what to get and order a Piña Colada, we’ll make it if it makes them happy. We’re lenient on our customers. Our main thing is offering a great experience. The bartenders give you a hug, they ask you if you’re hungry, they ask you if you’re having a good day.

TBN: Clearly hospitality is a priority. How do you instill that in your staff?

NM: Every Thursday there is training, and we discuss how to encourage our guests to come back. It works for us: At 1:00 in the morning there’s a 35-minute wait. You know you’re doing something right when these are all people you know and they don’t mind standing up to eat while you hand them drinks.

TBN: What is the biggest downfall in hospitality today?

NM: When people are looking at bars and beverage programs they are often looking at just the drinks. Bartenders used to have to read the newspapers and follow up on current affairs because they were both the politican and the therapist, too. The bartender needs to have interest in you and be willing to get you a cab home if you need it. You want to have a physical relationship with your guests, not a monetary one.

Brand Profile: ‘Anna’ Redefined

Posted on | October 29, 2013   Bookmark and Share
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Spain’s best-known Cava—Anna de Codorníu—is enjoying a significant boost in the U.S., thanks to a packaging redesign and new marketing campaign. We sat down with Aveniu Brands Marketing Director Melanie Pyne, to learn more about the brand’s future.

The Beverage Network: Anna de Codorníu is most recognized Cava in Spain—where do you see potential in the U.S. market?

Melanie Pyne: Anna de Codorníu is poised to grow in the U.S. market with the launch of a new, modern packaging change October 1st. The current U.S. distribution base of Anna is increasing, particularly in key markets such as Texas where the brand enjoys strong distributor focus.

TBN: What was the motivation behind Anna’s recent package redesign?

MP: We are trading in our traditional label for a brighter, more contemporary look. We maintained the white color (and pink for the Brut Rosé) and a clear identification of Anna, but with the new “wrap” material. The packaging has performed well in research testing and has generated excitement within our wholesale network.

TBN: Anna’s target demographic is “sophisticated moms, age 25–54.” What about the brand appeals specifically to this group?

MP: Female consumers strongly influence purchasing choices in the U.S. Anna’s bright, vibrant fruit appeals to their sense of taste and relaxed entertaining. Anna is well-positioned to emerge as a premium sparkling wine, ranking high on style points, but also with the message that bubbles make any day a celebration.

TBN: What consumer and trade programs do you have planned?

MP: Our integrated marketing campaign—“Anna, what are you celebrating?”—was developed to encourage brand discovery, awareness and purchase of Anna de Codorníu. Our consumer and trade programming is designed to build core consumer loyalty through a limited edition holiday pack, local major market activities, social media activation and select digital marketing alliances.

TBN: At $14.99 SRP, Anna is more expensive than most Cavas, yet still represents great value. Do you see competition coming more from other sparkling wines like Prosecco and even Champagne?

MP: With the rise in popularity for sparkling wines like Prosecco, consumers are introduced to Cava for their accessible flavor profiles and favorable price points that fit their more-casual lifestyle. Anna can only benefit from these consumption and quality-to-value trends.

SIDEBAR: Making Anna de Cordoníu
Codorníu practices sustainable agriculture in three distinct areas of Spain, matching each variety with the most suitable conditions. The Chardonnay and Pinot Noir used in Anna Brut and Anna Brut Rosé are sourced primarily from their vineyards in Costers del Segre. This region has a continental climate, which produces grapes with optimum concentration and intensity.

Each plot is harvested and vinified separately using the traditional method (first introduced in Spain by Codorníu in 1872). The free-run juice becomes young, aromatic base wine. After yeasts and sugar are added to start a second fermentation in the bottle, the bottles are stored in Codorníu’s cellars (which were declared a National Historic Artistic Monument) for at least nine months, developing complexity and depth of flavor.

Cappy’s Warehouse W&S Promotes Breast Cancer Awareness in Store

Posted on | October 29, 2013   Bookmark and Share
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Through the month of October, Cappy’s Warehouse Wine & Spirits, in Valley Stream, New York, perked up the store with pink product displays for brands supporting Breast Cancer Awareness including Relax Wines, Fat Bastard, Little Black Dress and others. Staffers wore pink breast cancer awareness pins and with select purchases, Cappy’s made a per-bottle donation to the Breast Cancer Foundation through October 31st.

Pays D’Oc IGP Educates The Trade On Its Wines

Posted on | October 29, 2013   Bookmark and Share
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On October 3rd, members of the trade were invited to an educational seminar featuring Pays d’Oc IGP Wines at Corkbuzz in New York City. Fred Dexheimer, MS and U.S. Pays d’Oc IGP Brand Ambassador, led a tasting demonstrating how Pays d’Oc IGP wines are perfect for by-the-glass pours. Attendees enjoyed a walkaround tasting with cheese and charcuterie.

Adrienne Maloof Signs Bottles of Zing Vodka

Posted on | October 29, 2013   Bookmark and Share
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Recently, Adrienne Maloof, star of Bravo TV’s Real Housewives of Beverly Hills and co-founder of Zing Vodka, toured the tri-state area. She was photographed signing bottles for customers at Westbury Liquors on Long Island on October 5th.

New Yorkers Get A Real ‘Taste of France’

Posted on | October 29, 2013   Bookmark and Share
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On Saturday, September 28th, Manhattan’s Bryant Park was rimmed with booths showcasing varied aspects of French culture—food, wine, music and more. Guillaume Garot, Minister for the Food Industry, was in attendance at a truly grand tasting of regional wines, selected and organized by Jean-Luc Le Dû of Le Dû’s Wines and poured by 20 of the city’s top sommeliers.

Atlantic Wine & Spirits Holds Holiday Kickoff Meeting

Posted on | October 29, 2013   Bookmark and Share
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On September 27th, Atlantic W&S, a division of Empire Merchants, held a fall kickoff meeting at their offices on fall and holiday offerings from several Diageo brands including Tanqueray, Cîroc, Johnnie Walker and Baileys.

Herradura Kicks Off Barrel Art Collection Competition

Posted on | October 28, 2013   Bookmark and Share
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On September 27th, Tequila Herradura and Esquire Magazine partnered for a kickoff of its nationwide “Barrel Art Collection” competition at The Powerhouse Arena. Kim Holleman won the NYC prize of $10,000 for her piece, “The Casa Herradura Spirit Fountain, 2013.” Her artwork is now in the running for the grand prize of $100,000 at the Miami Showcase Event Finale in December.

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