How To Improve Your Wine Education

It is most important for premier wine retailers to immerse themselves in the world of wine and educate their palates. One of the best methods to expand your horizons and understand the diverse taste profile of wines and find treasures for your consumers is to attend trade tastings.  

As a young man, I found myself running a retail chain of over 600 stores with $1.7 billion in sales (the Pennsylvania Liquor Control Board) and began a fast and furious education to evolve from simply being a wine lover to a knowledgeable wine purchaser. During the next decade, I read voluminously, visited many wineries and met with top wine retailers throughout the country. It was the large trade tastings that were the most transformational and developed the expanse of my palate. And I highly recommend this for wine retailers that are serious about offering their customers superior and unique wines.

The first major  wine trade show I attended was the London  International Wine and Sprits Fair, in May of 2001,  which inspired me to found the Philadelphia and Pittsburgh Wine festivals. I had an epiphany at that first trade show that made me realize that understanding the world of wine (let alone consumer shopping patterns) was going to take a disciplined and significant commitment.

I highly recommend retail staff attend international wine tasting trade events and develop personal relationships with wineries to establish a more sophisticated and diverse selection of wines for customers. Of course, wine selections must first and foremost be commercially desirable to customers.  There are many trade shows around the world, but the “must-attend” event takes place in Germany every March.  

Earlier this year I returned to Dusseldorf, in northwestern Germany, for ProWein. Düsseldorf is the seventh-most-populous city in Germany and located just over an hour’s train ride from Frankfurt. More than 55,000 people attend this event, which includes over 6,000 exhibitors that are spread out in 17 exhibition halls. It takes a whole lot of work to prepare for the event and then meeting with scores of wineries over three days. It’s such a unique experience and reminds me that the world of wine is vast and can be quite an adventure.

I attended with my 23-year-old son, who is new to the wine business. Certainly there is no better place to get a palate education of tasting diverse wines from around the world.

I especially enjoyed meeting and sampling small growers from family Domaines that make their wines with passion and a long family history of winemaking. The idea of sharing value wines that epitomize the unique terroirs with consumers reminds me of how special it is to be in the wine industry. Many wine consumers are willing to experiment and try new wines from new producers and be adventurous. And they love when their local wine specialist recommends something they can then introduce to family and friends that makes them appear knowledgeable and sophisticated. 

It’s important to broaden your palate beyond your own preferences  (a “house palate”) to introduce your consumers to interesting new wines and suggest innovative wine-food pairings. So my son and I met with many producers of wines that we know will resonate with American consumers and be commercially successful, but we also used this event as opportunity to expand our horizons.

We sampled British sparklers, big reds from Israel’s Galilee Valley, Austrian Rieslings, and Pinotage from South Africa. Then we really got risqué and sampled wines from more obscure growing regions like Bosnia-Herzegovina, Switzerland, Hungary, Lebanon and Uruguay. Ultimately, we spent the lion’s share of our time meeting producers that sell beautiful and correct wines that resonate with American consumers.  

But in the world of wine, it’s important to expand your horizons to have a more holistic understanding of the business. That’s how you serve customers better.

As chairman of the Pennsylvania Liquor Control Board, Jonathan Newman was the nation’s largest wine buyer. Follow him on Twitter at @NewmanWine and visit his website: www.newmanwine.com.

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