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How Not to Sell Wine

Wine is a product that gives pleasure, it brings people together, it can make food taste better, it can be given as a gift, or be a small luxury. Any wine of reasonable quality should express the characteristics of the grape varieties it is made from and the region where the grapes are grown, which opens the door to talking about the people who makes the wine, their story and the place where it is from.

With so many possibilities of telling different stories you would have thought that wine would be something that is easy to sell. Yet in my experience of dealing directly with consumer, it is clear that many professionals in the wine industry don’t know how to sell wine.

In the restaurant sector there is a real problem when it comes to communication. Most wine lists assume that the customer knows all the wines on the list in order to make an informed choice. Given that the majority of the waiting staff and customers are not familiar with the wines on the list it can often result in a missed opportunity to sell a wine.

The commercial teams from wineries or distributors often lack training about wine and how to communicate with customers whether they be locally or internationally. When I worked as a distributor in the UK, I would suggest to the commercial representative from the winery to first study the market and the wines we currently listed. Then if they considered that there was an opportunity for their wines then we could talk about them.

I would like to have a €1 for every time someone has said to me ‘I know nothing about wine’, as they come into our wine store. As customers we tend not to have the same concerns when entering other stores where we are happy to browse and pick items up that attract our attention to check them out. I often say to people, just have a look around and pick up any bottle that catches your eye and we can talk about it.

As most people are unsure about what they are looking for, there are three questions I ask them. Firstly, what is the wine for? Is it a gift or for the person who is choosing it? Secondly, I ask if it is for a lunch or dinner with friends or a party or an aperitif. Just with this information we have now focussed the conversation on a particular set of wines. Thirdly, have an idea about how much you want to spend? It could be €5 or €25, it doesn’t matter, it is important to have figure in mind. With this information we can now focus certain wines. Knowing when it is for and the budget, then it is much easier to offer the customer wines that are suitable.

By this stage we have narrowed the selection down to maybe 3 or 4 wines, have heard about each wine let the customer choose, however, if they are still undecided then make the choice for them. Next time they come in the conversation is different and then we move onto the personal styles and preferences.

It doesn’t have to be so difficult to sell wine.

Written by

I am a Northern Irishman based in Valencia. My career in wine began more than three decades ago, in London. I am the founder of TheWinePlace.es, an online store, where wine enthusiasts can enjoy a selection of international wines and Verde Marte, a company dedicated to exporting Spanish wines. Also, Thewineplace.courses, an "approved program provider" of the courses of the prestigious WSET. I share my passion for wines through my media work writing weekly columns for the Spanish newspaper El Mundo and 5 Barricas, an online wine magazine.

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