February 2013
Beverage Media
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.
Any other Vegas experience
which you have had success with?
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-prem-
ise 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 sup-
pliers 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.
How critical is that education
piece for you?
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 interest-
ing in Vegas is having the buyer teach
on how they want to be sold and what’s
important to them? Sometimes I think that
360 degree teaching mentality is real im-
portant 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 togeth-
er? What’s the win-win?
With an extraordinary number of
choices and wholesalers in New York,
how do you remain relevant in such
an exploding environment?
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 up-
dated 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.
Speaking of trends, what are
you seeing in today’s marketplace?
Sommeliers, wine stewards and
customers are just so much more
knowledgeable. I mean how many con-
sumer apps do we have on our phones
now just to buy a bottle of wine? The
value of the sommelier and wine stew-
ard is in steering them. You also look
at categories year after year and Char-
donnay’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 rep-
resents a changing dynamic, and la-
bels that are vibrant and beautiful are
flying off the shelves.
Anything else you can share
about your plans for Southern W&S
of New York?
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 Ve-
gas, 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 re-
laxed. In New York, there’s always a
true sense of urgency. It’s nice to be
home again.
A Conversation With Industry Professionals
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
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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