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.


{ 18 comments… read them below or add one }

Kyle April 11, 2012 at 6:25 am

As a buyer, major +1 to not wanting to hear a tired, repeated sales speech. Also a major +1 to wanting to know the real story behind the winery, at least, if it’s interesting. Your story not only makes your company more intereating to me, but being able to regale my customers with tales of winery upstarts and why they do what they do and what makes them special will in turn help me to drive sales, which is a win win. And an enormous +1000 about not being a douche with regards to discussion of other business matters. Sorry, but as much of a bitcn as sales calls are for winery and distributor reps, they take precious time out of my day as well and if I am made to feel like a douchebag for trying to cover as much ground as possible with my rep while I can, then your wines just became less appealling to me sheerly for the fact that youre a silly asshole.


tiredofbeingwalkedon April 11, 2012 at 12:31 pm

A couple of things that actually happened on my last work-with:
dont – repeat the exact same sales pitch to every single account tthe entire day. Please remember I am with you too and its very hard for me to not roll my eyes the fourth time I’ve heard the exact same word for word 20 min long speach knowing I have to show unabided interest at the next 4 appointments.
dont – text, e-mail, or answer your phone while we have the buyers attention. In addition make me wait in the parking lot for 30 min as you take a conference call you are making us late for appontments the rest of the day.
do- Teach me something about your wines or your winery that I am not going to to find on google i will use it on future pitches of your items.
I do think having work-withs can be effective if both of our heads are in the game-


ProducerX April 11, 2012 at 4:42 pm

As one of those “pain in the ass winemaker types” I’m going to pat myself on the back for a moment that I have so far managed to do and don’t according to these suggestions. I did run out of business cards once on a 3-day visit to a market where each rep I worked with had booked more accounts than I thought we could fit in a day (and good on them for it!). Which brings me to my one request – please let me know ahead of time who we are going to be visiting. I’m not going to second guess who you want to see, but I’d like the opportunity to research any I might be unfamiliar with. I can tailor my pitch to each account if you give me the chance.


paradigmwine April 11, 2012 at 5:09 pm

Do: Let us know what wines you want to taste with the accounts well in advance. I’m a rep in a remote market, and if you don’t let me know which wines from your portfolio you want to sample to the market, then chances are I won’t have them in my warehouse. If you let me know ahead of time, I can have the wines pulled and ready to go, price sheets made, and the whites chilled. Otherwise, after I pick you up from the airport we have to spend an hour at the office while we wait for samples to get pulled, and chances are I won’t have that special rose you wanted to take around in stock. We’re not mind readers, so shoot us an email.


Lois April 11, 2012 at 5:11 pm

Thanks! As one of those small, hopefully-not-pain-in-the-ass, small winemakers, I loved reading these do’s and don’t's. Some of us just need more information to know how to behave better!


Borrowed Penguin April 12, 2012 at 3:19 am

Have a plan, and be able to communicate it to me. Not just for today, but for the next couple of months. If your major push for next six months is a the mid-level Cab you’ve just re-priced, I should know that. If there is a wine you anticipate a supply issue on, inform me on how that is going to be handled. If pricing schedules or inventory issues mean we aren’t showing a focus wine, let’s go ahead and either talk about with accounts or develop a strategy. Basically, use our time together to prep me for success with your products going forward. I understand the “first date–don’t talk too much” idea, but remember: most of the time I spend driving account to account is wasted. If you can tell me a story, teach me something, or give me some information I can use you might actually turn my dashboard time into productive time.


Love it April 12, 2012 at 5:19 am

When I have to work with YOU, CALIFORNIA WINEMAKER, and you state to my incredibly well informed buyer that your Amador County Pinot Noir is Burgundian, MY BRAIN EXPLODES… just a little.
Burgundy contains the best examples of Pinot Noir on Earth. You must agree since you keep using its wines in comparison to yours. However, you sound like an idiot who has never tasted a bottle of Burgundy when you say that your 15% alcohol, dark black juice is anything like the elegant wines fore mentioned.
So, if you want to make Burgundy, move to France. Otherwise, embrace your appellation and take pride in your own terroir. There’s no need to make a fool of yourself and me.


winerep April 12, 2012 at 6:06 pm

Amen, Hallelujah and Hells Yes I can totally relate to the brain explosions when it comes to the broad misuse of the descriptor “Burgundian”.


Samantha Dugan April 14, 2012 at 2:02 am

Thank you!!! Gawd do I hate that. Don’t tell me your Chardonnay is “Chablis-like” just because you use stainless, asshat. Argh. Giant peeve.


Will K April 18, 2012 at 3:54 pm

As a mere Wine Consumer, I can tell you that while it may be more head-explody in the moment when your workwith tells that to your well-informed winebuyer, it’s way worse for everyone when he tells that to your UNinformed wine buyer. Who then sells me that selfsame bottle as “Burgundian,” thereby ensuring I stop shopping at that establishment and either (a) buy more wine somewhere you may not have as many placements, or (b) just buy less wine overall.


tracie p August 13, 2012 at 1:52 pm

haha! ha ha ha. in the 4 years that i was a wine rep i heard this so many times. ugh. one the most douche-baggiest things to say, ever.


timcat April 12, 2012 at 5:47 pm

As a small wine producer who doesn’t know anything about the sales process, thank you for this great list and thank everyone else for the great comments!


timmy_t April 13, 2012 at 5:53 am

From the winebuyer camp….Don’t… give me rambling, dishonest tasting notes on your wine, while I am in the process of tasting. I have the wine in my mouth, I KNOW what it tastes like. No matter what you say, you’re not going to convince me that your overripe, overextracted Syrah is “elegant and bright,” when the shit tastes like Sun-Maid raisins. If you wanted to pull one over on me, perhaps you should have acidulated your crappy juice back at the winery.


Scott April 13, 2012 at 2:49 pm

Buyer here. DON’T walk around or stand in my sales floor having loud cellphone convos while your ride and I conduct business other than your wines. If you gotta, go outside or wait in the car. Better yet, for your own sake why don’t you bother to take a look at the racks and shelf sets for the categories of your wines. It’s usually good to know who’s new and who’s excelling in categories where you live.


Tony the Wine Guy April 16, 2012 at 4:37 pm

Do . . . Pitch in and help move boxes and bottles if we have to fill shelves or pitch in with a reset while you’re on a ride along. Your presence is important to me as we push your juice, but if you’re willing to help shoulder a little bit of physical labor at a grocery store early in the morning (instead of twiddling your thumbs as you wait for me), I ‘ll have more time to spend at your targeted restaurant or wine bar later in the day. You might even improve your own shelf space in the process.
Don’t . . . Expect to take precedence over the big sellers in my book just because you deigned one precious day of your life to illuminate my route. Thanks for putting a face to the wine. Thanks for adding presence, panache, and samples to my route. Don’t expect your hours in the car to supersede years of sales results preceded by years of sales effort. Our ride along is your first step on a long journey. Will I see you next year, or will you follow up with notes, sell sheets, the occasional comp, and follow up visits to key accounts? Prove that you can follow through as the sales machine keeps rolling, and I’ll look forward to working with you in the future.


work with master April 25, 2012 at 5:09 pm

Do/don’t: consider the timing of your visit in the market, and modify your expectations accordingly. If the only time you can visit the market is the same week as “big events” like major portfolio tastings or the wine experience, you and about 1000 other wineries/winemakers are trying to get appointments at the exact same places, don’t expect a huge day. If you insist on visiting on the last day and the first day of the month, don’t expect to interrupt inventory. If you can only visit during winter holiday season, don’t expect to do anything except eat lunch with me.


GW June 4, 2012 at 6:13 am

“… 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.”

I have to disagree with this as a good sales rep will reach out to the “Ride-With” at least a week before to let them know what wines you expect them to have available for the day, be aware of any special BTG pricing or large drop pricing if available, let them know what accounts you are targeting for the day (so they do not have unreasonable expectations of seeing all of your A+ accounts as most buyers take a day off and many ride-withs only want to see these accounts) and to see if they are open to host a key account buyer for lunch. (Some suppliers have more $$ to play with while others do not) I believe the proactive approach on the Dist/Broker/Wholesaler side further guarantees a positive day with no surprises and puts both parties in a better place to sell wine – on your terms. If you are the one reaching out, you set the precedent that this is your day welcoming the supplier in your world, not the opposite. This is your world, your relationships, your time and you need to show you own it.


tracie p August 13, 2012 at 2:00 pm

and also, don’t:

…think it’s cool with me to have a plastic cup filled with your shitty very UNburgundian 15% alcohol “chard” and be working at knocking it back all day.

…tell my buyer that your importer’s shitty malo-ed fiano di avellino is superior to the shitty malo-ed fiano di avellino that i already have on the list from another importer within my company.


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