Tuesday, December 5, 2017

Fire Damage Becoming Clear


When you're standing in the middle of something, it's hard to understand just how big it is, and when the Napa fires were at the early stage and there was no progress in containment, I got a sense of just how big a story it was when I started taking press calls from around the globe. The reporters all wanted to know about the extent of the damage to the wine industry, having seen the pictures from Santa Rosa of utter destruction. It's not the first time I was in this position.

When the Napa Earthquake hit, I was tasked with trying to gauge the damage to the wine business for the Federal Disaster Declaration, but in that case I had some data to work with. This time, I had a phone, spotty cell coverage, no internet with widespread power outages so couldn't see news coverage, and was only keeping current with colleagues, family, and clients using texts and cell phone.

Tuesday, October 17, 2017

How Will We Recover from the Fires?


    Was That Just Last Week?


Without full containment yet, many are already looking forward to begin the recovery, even with still blurry and red eyes.

When I think about the wildfires that scoured the North Coast of California this past week, I come up with a hodgepodge of visuals – waking up to the red glow out of my bedroom window on Sunday night when it all started, a bulldozer cutting a firebreak a half mile from my home Tuesday night and saving my block, watching the heartbreaking sight of a neighbor’s home burn to the ground on a ridge Monday morning, seeing blood red sunsets, the feeling of relief when power finally came back on, and being unable to sleep listening to my cellphone screaming out Nixle Alerts every half hour telling me about a new evacuation, wondering when it would be my turn.

There are so many stressful points from the past week from which I have a lot of new stories to tell, and lots of pictures that I’ve shared on social media. It was a week that seemed more like a month, reinforced by a blur of numbingly shocking scenes.

Saturday, September 30, 2017

How Much Did Wineries Really Make in 2016?

     
One Big Happy Family



Unlike most of the business world, there's a sense in the wine business that your neighbor is part of your support mechanism. They are not a rival nor are they a competitor. Everyone freely offers support in the form of information and time. If you need a tractor because yours is mired in a soggy field, no problemo! Need a little welding and custom fabrication on a pump? I'll be right over with a welding rig. Stuck fermentation? I'll send over a portable heating unit.

Sunday, September 24, 2017

Is Opening a Downtown Tasting Room Smart?


<<click on picture for better view>>

The Regulatory Landscape


Falling on the heels of a growing anti-tourism movement, of late I've taken calls from officials in three particular cities that are now considering tightening regulations, or altogether banning the growth of downtown wine tasting rooms.

What else can officials do to make the wine business more difficult? That's what many are asking. Why are municipalities working so hard to hinder success of an industry that helps pull in millions in local occupancy taxes, and donates many more millions to charity? Answer: It's just politics.

The wine industry isn't sufficiently engaging in the debate so we have ourselves to blame in part. We have a fight on our hands but don't show up in force to planning commission meetings and support applications.

We make it harder on officials who only hear from their constituent nay-saying minority. To the credit of the officials, one thing they are doing is asking around for data and facts that might help balance the debate, but I'm wondering if opening a downtown or urban tasting room is even a good business decision in the first place?

Saturday, September 2, 2017

Premium Wine Sales Decelerating






      The Big Short



It's easy to tell people what they want to hear. It's harder to tell them what they don't want to hear.

In 2007 I saw the above chart that tracked US home prices versus median family income. With other indicators in the market, I was convinced there was a real estate bubble already in the process of bursting and I started talking about it in speeches. The result of my prescience? I stopped getting speaking invitations and in one speech had the organizer ask if I could be a little more cheery. 

People don't want to consider the downside risk in business when things are going well. 

If I told you today what you wanted to hear, I would say that wine consumption is growing in both volume and dollars and consumers are continuing to trade up above $9.00. I would tell you that grape prices are at an all-time high and trending higher right along with land prices. 

That's true and might get me more important speaking engagements, but I'd rather you know about an underlying trend I'm seeing that's more than a little concerning. If I'm right, it's going to change the way you are thinking about business right now.

Sunday, June 18, 2017

Podcast: An Industry View Through Rob McMillan's Wine Glass

 
I had the opportunity to visit Christian Oggenfuss and Geralyn Brostrom at the Napa Valley Wine Academy just after the release of the State of the Industry Report. We sat down to an open mic over a glass of wine and explored several of my perspectives on the business as well as the story of how the Wine Division of SVB was created, and why we started producing the State of the Industry Report.

After you get though the early part of the podcast which sounds a little like a This is Your Life show on your's truly, at about the 15:00 mark we start to get into some of the concepts discussed in the report. The questions I cover are:

Monday, May 29, 2017

Restaurant Wine Sales Collapsing for Small Wineries


      I will Always Love You


Every credible measure that I see regarding restaurant wine sales is trending negative for the small family run wineries. Why? What's behind the declining trend? Economics? Changing consumer attitudes? Conspiracies from wholesalers? Big wineries displacing the small ones? It's not due to a lack of desire from restaurant owners.

Restaurateurs love the wine business. The business is worthy of their love because it enhances the enjoyment of the food served to their customers. It's practical for the restaurant trade to love wine because restaurants themselves make better margins on bar sales compared to food sales. Wine for the restaurant trade is still an important part of success, but sales opportunities to restaurants are collapsing for small wineries.

Saturday, May 20, 2017

Replay: SVB Direct to Consumer Survey


We had a good time on set delivering several perspectives on the SVB/WBM annual Direct to Consumer survey. For those aficionados of our surveys and telecasts, you might note a shift in the title but it's just reflective of how we've evolved the survey questions.

We used to call this survey the Tasting Room Survey but over time we started to realize tasting rooms were only part of the formula for success, so we started asking more questions about wine club metrics. Now we have several years of benchmarks from which we can determine trends in clubs and in tasting rooms.

Sunday, May 7, 2017

SVB Annual DtC Benchmarks




Direct to Consumer sales now represent 60% of the average winery's revenue, but the real growth in direct sales has only taken place over the past decade, dramatically accelerating in the past 5 years. While it might seem like wineries have been doing this for a long time, it's difficult for me to say direct sales have been a professional discipline.

In 2013 I published one of my more popular posts addressing the problem the industry faced in finding good Direct to Consumer Managers. Since it was a new discipline, it wasn't possible to find experienced managers. That is starting to evolve with time, but we are still scratching and clawing our way to direct sales success, learning from each other as we go and playing a little bit of follow the leader. Some of that is good and some not so good which underscores the importance of data.



Wednesday, March 15, 2017

The Tough Questions Wine Clubs Face

 
After many years of flailing away looking for the right strategy, we are seeing DtC sales homogenize around a common theme. Wineries build a tasting room with a design statement. That's 'the experience.' Customers come to the winery, pay a fee and receive a curated tasting of wine. At the end of the tasting, the customer is invited to join the wine club and somewhere around 7% accept. It's working, and if you believe the stats that came out yesterday, DtC sales in February 2017 were 37% higher than February 2016.

Wednesday, March 1, 2017

Annual DtC Survey is Open!



Today, the eleven largest wineries are moving 80% of the wine sold in America, while distributors continue to march toward complete consolidation. The other 9,000 wineries in the U.S. are left to compete with each other for the remaining 20% of case sales.

Not their Fault


I don't blame wholesalers. They have no financial incentive to take on that mass of small customers. Add to that the decline in restaurant sales, which historically have been a large part of family wine sales, and it's hardly an exaggeration to say that Direct to Consumer sales are required for the survival of small family wineries now. It's really their only viable path to market, and yet the industry itself is still barely novices in selling wine direct.

Monday, January 16, 2017

Will Boomers Keep Buying Wine?


The title of this piece is the question all wine companies should be asking today, because boomers are the dominant cohort across all price points above $14. Can they continue to buy your wine? 

I've been saying for nearly a decade the anticipated ascendance of millennials as the top cohort was greatly exaggerated as to both timing and impact, but their coronation is coming and the day when boomers no longer dominate consumption is also fast approaching.

Tuesday, January 3, 2017

2017 State of the Industry Report


Most of the wine business has already developed their strategic plans for 2017 and is starting to execute. The plans had to be put together using history as a guide, laced with a hint of a best guess. That's just the way this family owned industry has to roll.