What really makes a great wine buyer
February 8, 2020
Richard Siddle, “an award-winning business editor with over 25 years experience working across a number of fields” (presentation taken from his website) wrote a piece on “What makes a good wine buyer” describing the role as being all about margins and profits and ending with “But having never professionally bought a bottle of wine in my life – what do I know”. And he is 100% right, his interpretation of the role reads like the advice and suggestions we shout when watching a football match on TV, criticising the manager for his/her choices, despite having never played football in our life let alone, managed a team, we are all manager of the year sat on our sofa. No disrespect for Mr Siddle but a good wine buyer is much more than margins and profits, if this was the case, anyone could become a good wine buyers simply reading his or any other manual and a calculator that we won’t really need since we have our Smartphones and out searching, adding and multiplying, choosing profitable but potentially poor wines.
Unfortunately or fortunately, depending on where we sit on the scale, I have been a wine buyer for my own company for almost 20 year and I am fortunate, wine buying is much more than margins, is about discovering wines, yes, wines can now be tasted without travelling the world, sat on a desk on a grey and rainy day in Leeds dreaming of being in Tuscany, but still it is all about the wines the same way is all about the ingredients and the cooking for the chefs. The cheapest ingredient, if properly cooked, can become a Michelin worth dish. A great chef creates great dishes using the cheapest ingredients so that his margins are good but to able to do that, the chef needs to know how to cook them. Same for a wine buyer, a wine buyer has to search and look for the wines and when found, only then, it becomes about maximising margins and profits. Being a wine buyer is also about introducing new wines to our clients, whether sommeliers or retail customers.
Margins and profits without wines don’t really matter. A good wine buyer will discover great, unknown wines, wines that will allow him to have the right margins and profits exactly like a chef will source the best ingredients to make a great dish with good margins and profits.
Too many wine buyers associate great wines with expensive or award winning wines, they don’t need any sales skills, these wines sell themselves, exactly like a new sommelier will run towards the “classic” wines, they are “widely accepted to be good” and because for the first time, they can actually taste them without being told to go away and buy a bottle. We are all tempted to go for the easiest option, the shortcut, but a good wine buyer will go where nobody else goes, no shortcuts, possibly the more tortuous path, certain to get there alone.
Being a wine buyer today is not anymore about travelling the world discovering great wines, it is about sitting on a desk and taste dozens of wines, but it is certainly not about margins and profits, I never wanted to be an accountant, I may be romantic, but this is what I do.
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