Winemaker/Supplier Do’s and Don’ts: The Workwith

April 11, 2012 · 18 comments

Whew. It’s been quiet around these parts. Spring has sprung, new accounts are popping up left and right, December invoices are being ignored… and between selling, cold-calling, chasing down credit apps and collecting money, I’ve been busier than a three legged cat covering up shit on a marble floor.

I had a special request a few weeks back from one of those “small ‘artisan’ pain in the ass winemaker types” (her words, not mine) for an etiquette post of sorts for newer winemakers, winery sales managers, or suppliers.

I’m in a responsive mood this morning, so rather than ignoring the email for 5 more months or so before getting around to complying to a winery’s request, I’ll get right down to it. (kidding, people. mostly.)

I do ask that my fellow wine reps and even wine buyers chime in below in the comments section… I’m sure there are other guidelines that I’m missing in my list.  I’ll start today with the oh-so-beloved Workwith.



  • … contact me with requested dates far enough in the future for me to put together a good day. Two weeks is almost too short notice. Three weeks to a month in advance is preferred.
  • … check in about a week before to confirm… it lets me know you care and lights a little fire under my ass to finalize the plans for the day.
  • … plan on being on-time to our requested meeting spot. Most times the schedule I’ve prepared is pretty tight, and starting off the day late will most likely cost us at least one crucial appointment later in the day.
  • … sell yourself and your wines to the buyer. Share your story. Toot your horn. I’m happy to help with this, but please bring me your best and most authentic energetic sales face. I’m not asking you to be phony, and I certainly don’t want you to OVER-sell, but if you’re on your 4th week straight on the road, and I hear the monotonous rote droning of a barn-sour sales manager come out in front of my buyer, I am not going to be happy.
  • … bring business cards and make sure they’re on your person. I can’t tell you how many times my winebuyer has offered up a card, and my workwith pats his pockets uncomfortably and mumbles something like “left them in my car” or “gave my last business card yesterday…” C’mon, buddy. Come prepared.
  • … keep in mind that my winebuyer may want to discuss other wines I represent besides yours. If I see a parallel to your wines, I may be so inclined as to try to turn the subject back to you… “That other Sonoma Coast Pinot Noir is a dollar more a bottle by the glass… and you liked this one… how about pouring this instead?” But if we’re talking other regions, other varieties, other styles, please DON’T chime in with your own opinion. If your winery wants me to ONLY sell your wine, offer me a job I can’t refuse. Oh wait, that would be your job I’d be taking. Never mind, keep it.
  • … understand that I only have so much control over how our day unfolds. Winebuyers can be flakey and fickle, just as anyone can at any given time… Sometimes they stand us up. Sometimes they cancel an appointment with 15 minutes notice. Sometimes they make us wait for 45 minutes. Sometimes they treat us both like the dirt under our feet, and to some level, we’re expected to put up with it. THIS IS PART OF OUR JOB, and as such, it is now part of your job. The percentage of workwiths that have actually gone exactly to plan in my time as a wine rep is pathetically small.


  • … show up with any sort of list of accounts you’d like to see that day. Any requests should have been submitted to me at least two weeks in advance.
  • … rave about how many gold medals or silver medals or people’s choice awards you’ve won at any State Fair or the Meeskogee Art & Wine Festival. No one cares about medals. Some people care about points, sadly. Me? I don’t. Unless my buyer cares, and your wine just got a 96 in WS. Then I do too.
  • … expect to start the day before 10 am. Unless you want our first three stops to be kwik-e-marts.
  • … tell me how to do my job. This is not to say that I don’t value a little critical advice from time to time, but don’t pretend that you know this gig better than I do. You may have worked the streets in the past, maybe you were a wine rep just like me. But you didn’t work in my territory, and you didn’t call on these particular accounts. Also…
  • … think you know my account/buyer better than I do. Yes, you may have been visiting him once a year or so for the past 12 years in your arsenal of previous winery sales management employments, but I’ve been calling on him once a week for the past 6 years. I win.
  • … feel it is necessary to taste alongside every account. However, if you do want to taste, please spit. I may be driving you around, but that doesn’t mean I’m volunteering as your DD until I drop you at your hotel later tonight.
  • … be afraid to let your personality shine through. No one wants to spend 30 minutes (much less the whole day) listening to RoboSalesManager. That being said…
  • … talk about yourself too much. It’s like a first date, really. And just like a first date, you’re less likely to close the deal if you yammer on about yourself and your wines the entire time. Ask the buyer about their program, their shop or restaurant, their background. Converse.
You know, despite all my bitching and complaining about workwiths, I do think they can be an incredibly valuable sales tool. Many times at the end of the workwith day, I leave my supplier feeling excited about new prospects, with a deeper commitment to the brand I’ve spent the day building.
But yes, I’m still glad it’s over.
I’m sure y’all have some good input on this one, so don’t be too shy to comment.


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