Posted on | January 21, 2016
Written by | Kristen Wolfe Bieler
Wilson Daniels Wholesale Sets Up Shop in NY/NJ for Fine Wine Distribution
When Wilson Daniels announced last summer that the company would be setting up a wholesale operation in New York and New Jersey, many wondered: Why now? After all, the Napa-based marketing and sales company—well-known for its curated fine wine portfolio, most famously, Burgundy’s Domaine de la Romanée-Conti—has been a thriving business since it was founded in 1978 by Win Wilson and Jack Daniels.
“The importer-distributor model has proven to be successful; it allows Wilson Daniels to express itself directly and be its own ambassador for its brands,” explains Kevin Murphy, Vice President, Operations, Wilson Daniels Wholesale. “It’s just a more effective way to send our message.”
In a relatively short time, Murphy, along with Benjamin Kirschner, Vice President, Sales, have helped Chris Underwood, CEO, create a company from scratch, with close to 30 employees and a gleaming new office space in New York’s Flatiron district. Wilson Daniels Wholesale opened for business on October 1st, 2015.
The company’s rise is a testament to the need for a wholesaler model like the one they have created, Murphy believes: “We were fully functional in less than five months with some early successes, which is proof that the market was calling for a distributor with the approach to market that we are taking.”
That said, it certainly helps when your new distribution business includes some of the most coveted wines on the planet. The ability to open shop with Wilson Daniels’ portfolio made life as a start-up “easier due to the high market demand for many Wilson Daniels brands,” Kirschner notes. Plus, the prestige that comes with the Wilson Daniels name has been useful in attracting new suppliers: “The Wilson Daniels brand itself has a certain amount of cachet nationally, which is something we were cognizant and proud of.”
Taking the Long View
The establishment of Wilson Daniels Wholesale should not be interpreted as just another wholesaler setting up shop in NYC, says Kirschner: “What’s being created here is an organization entirely focused on premium wine and
Murphy urges his customers to see the investment by the Underwood family as an advantage and an indicator of long-term commitment: “We are a family owned company that has been dedicated to the premium wine business for many years, which should give our suppliers and customers a sense of security. This legacy and vision is certainly why both Benjamin and myself wanted to be a part of Wilson Daniels Wholesale.”
Currently, their distribution footprint radiates outward from their Flatiron office to New Jersey and upstate New York. “We have an upstate manager and four sales representatives to cover that area,” says Murphy. “There are markets in this state which are very different from Manhattan and we want to build up our presence in all of these areas.”
Their ramp-up is being supported by a rapid hiring phase, as the executive team hunts for people who “first and foremost have a lot of energy and are passionate about food and wine and learning,” says Murphy. The Wilson Daniels’ national book has long been famous for its Burgundy bent, perhaps the most complicated wine region on earth. (Kirschner schedules at least one training session per week to keep reps up to speed.)
Yet the portfolio highlights top regions all over the world, and Wilson Daniels Wholesale will aim to be broader still. “We are more than a Burgundy house; we are building a balanced, diverse portfolio, so we’re looking for people who are skilled enough and dynamic enough to be able to sell across a wide range,” Kirschner says.
A Book in Progress
Indeed, that range grows larger by the day. The Wilson Daniels national portfolio, still the wholesale operation’s largest supplier, continues to evolve—most recently with the addition of Arnaldo Caprai, one of the most lauded producers from Italy’s Umbria region. And the wholesale book is growing in its own direction, as well. With access to the top restaurant and retail accounts, Wilson Daniels Wholesale has been approached repeatedly by suppliers looking for representation.
Growth in size and scope will enable them to better serve all their producers, believes Murphy: “The stronger we are as an organization, the greater ability we’ll have to sell even more brands. Our suppliers get the benefit of experienced professionals and a company with nearly four decades of success, combined with the energy of a very young company.”
Balance is everything in a growing book. “Our focus is making sure we are creating a substantive portfolio that is broad, with properties that don’t overlap and compete, but help us diversify as a company,” says Kirschner. “We are a big believer in a variety of wine styles, but the common thread will always be that we chose to work with family-owned producers crafting terroir-driven, expressive wines with natural methods.”
While the company won’t state how large they wish to grow, they are serious about their goal of being the top wholesaler in New York and New Jersey. “We are looking to be the go-to wholesaler for world class properties from regions around the world,”says Kirschner.
Murphy senses a desire from top buyers to simplify their purchasing by doing business with fewer distributors. “Sommeliers and retailers want to find a way to maintain the integrity of their wine program while streamlining their ordering, so we are looking to build a portfolio that can answer almost all of their needs,” he says. “We’re not going to be everything to every account in this market, but we want to be almost everything to our customers, without losing our vision of the company.”
This means capturing different winemaking philosophies and styles, as well as a breadth of price points. “We are absolutely a fine wine wholesaler, but fine wine isn’t only found at $1,000 a bottle—it can be found at $15 a bottle,” says Kirschner. And offering artisan spirits. “There is a reason a lot of fine wine wholesalers are building out spirits portfolios,” explains Murphy. “The cultures of fine wine and specialty spirits are really similar.”
Even with the impressive momentum Wilson Daniels has displayed out of the gate, it’s impossible to deny the challenges of opening a business in the most competitive wine market in the world. “There is nothing simple about what we are trying to do, but I see it similar to the restaurant industry,” Kirschner explains. “There are thousands of restaurants in New York and it’s a very challenging business…. But if you have a great team behind you, the right philosophy, the right work ethic, outstanding customer service and the highest quality, you’re going to succeed.”
New Company, New Headquarters
The 5,400 square-foot Wilson Daniels Wholesale offices and tasting room feature unobstructed views of the Empire State Building in Manhattan’s Flatiron District. “We were looking for a space with tons of natural light, which is critical for keeping your senses alive when tasting and viewing wine,” says Kirschner. “The views also bring New York City right into our office—it creates a great energy.”
With a sleek reception area and exposed wine cellar, the space is more than an aesthetically pleasing place to work, says Murphy—it’s a sales tool: “We wanted to become a destination for buyers, sommeliers and suppliers. Whether it’s wine nights, tasting clubs, promotions or training sessions, people will be ciculating through here and interacting on a very regular basis.”
Flexibility was central to its design: For Friday meetings, the conference room is set up classroom-style, and for parties, the tables morph into white table-clothed four-tops for seated dining.