The Tasting Panel magazine

April 2015

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52  /  the tasting panel  / april 2015 COUNTERPOINT I  think kids these days have no concept of business eti- quette. So I was surprised after reading Karen MacNeil's well-researched article, "Somms and Salespeople" (January/February, 2015, THE TASTING PANEL), in which some somms suggested this was a one-sided problem on the part of the sales professionals. I think it's from a general lack of age and wisdom on both sides of the fence. Speaking as one of those sales professionals, I took a wee bit of offence. I mean, I shower regularly, so what gives? Sales professionals, the proverbial lepers of the wine colony, deserve a voice. So I decided to interview my peers, most of whom began their careers in the restaurant business and have extensive wine knowledge. Listen up, kids . . . What are the best attributes of a good salesperson? "Punctuality is a must, brevity is important, preparedness is critical," as one put it. A colleague once told me to always remember that you have two ears and one mouth . . . always listen more than you talk. "Let the buyer lead the conversa- tion let the product sell itself." This, of course, assumes you've done the research to bring in the right wine. Passion and hard work are biggies. We get kicked in the teeth, deal with constant rejection and could probably sell anything, but chose wine as our careers. What's the hardest aspect of your job and what are some of your responsibilities? "We have many masters," said one colleague. Sommeliers have a fiduciary responsibility to their restaurant owners to sell wine, as do we to our wineries. You can do all the research in the world but palates vary. What one somm may adore, another will abhor. As a bonus, we carry everyone's options with us all day in a fifty-pound bag. Time management is tough. No one sees you for the same amount of time so it's hard to schedule a day. Like the doctor and the cable guy, we do our best—hopefully better than the cable guy—to see everyone when they want. But, it's not like we can say 'Sorry! Time's up, buddy! The next account is waaayyy more important.' I mean, when we show up to a committed appointment only to be blown off, it's cool. Maybe they're trapped under something heavy! However, we all agree a little communication would help us accommo- date every Somm and reduce this "tension" MacNeil spoke of. Just sayin'. How important are relationships in this business? Relationships are considered to be the most important thing. People often buy wine from people they like. From the labor and love in the vineyard and winery to the passion of the sales force, wines bring people together. From these begin- nings to the relationship between buyer and sales professional, this business is most definitely about how we interact. Is the wines' story as important as its components, or not, as suggested in MacNeil's article? If the somm is classically trained to taste the breakdown of a wine, then why would we tell them what they're tasting? Too many somms we've all worked with like to know that the winemaker isn't some money-hungry earth-raping bastard. I'm paraphrasing of course. My friend "believe[s] that this is a people business and that wines made by good people do taste better." A wine is more than the sum of its parts, said Aristotle. Ok, well he didn't say that, but it's true. "A sense of personality makes a big difference to the experience of the wine," said one manager. Do you feel wine knowledge or business acumen is more important? They're both important but most sales managers would rather have a rep with business experience and train them on wine knowledge. You can't teach street smarts. So somms and salespeople both have tough jobs, but we all have the same goal: to provide good wine to our customers. Across the Table A WINE IMPORTER RESPONDS TO "SOMMS AND SALESPEOPLE" by Anne E. Hay, AIWS, CWE, MBA President of Snarky and Spirited LLC

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