How a Chilean Wine came to the US via China…and won awards

labelsDon Mateo Wines started with three global entrepreneurs, a passion for wine making and a vision to become world class.

So, what’s so special, you ask, lots of aspiring winemakers out there.

Yes, but how many have won four awards at the recent Wine and Spirits Wholesalers of America (WSWA) convention? And, how many have had a journey that began in China?

I first met the partners running Don Mateo Wines in late 2010 and was immediately struck by their business acumen, gained in global trading, and applied to the wine world. Their story is interesting.

Andy Lam and his brother Matthew were successful exporters of various products and commodities to Chile from China. Over the years, the currency exchange swings hurt their business and so they turned the ship around and began importing wine from Chile. Their passion about wine helped, and they began buying vineyards and wineries. Added to that was the patience and tenacity to develop top quality wines. They hit the Chinese wine market at the right point in time and the business flourished._MG_0417

You can’t be a global wine player without the US market, so a third partner, Peter Loucks, entered the picture and applied his overall business skills to the wine business. Peter is smart and a quick learner so it’s not surprising that he soon realized that, unlike China, the supply of wine (Chilean and others) exceeded the demand. Consequently, growth here would be an uphill battle. Further, the mandatory wholesaler tier has become more and more difficult to deal with, as in “take on another wine brand, are you kidding?”

But, he knew that despite the hurdles, he had some key brand equities and assets. For one thing, Don Mateo is a memorable brand name for a Chilean wine and the brand symbol is both interesting and notable to consumers.

Maoi

As you can see, the symbol/logo is the Moai (pr. mo-eye). These Moai are the monolithic statues of Easter Island, off the coast of Chile. According to their website “they reflect our commitment to discovery, craftsmanship and passion. These three elements have been the guiding principles for Don Mateo wines from Chile.” Might even stand for the three partners behind the venture. You never know.

If you asked the brand owners what is the single most important asset of their wines, their answer is most likely to be, the wine. Trust me folks, these are outstanding wines. But, in case you don’t believe it, think about the medals they won at the WSWA – three silver and a double gold.

silver and gold

Here’s the irony. Despite the entrepreneurial approach, despite their marketing and branding and, despite the high quality and good value, you would think wholesalers would be beating a path to their door. Instead, getting wholesalers to take on the line has been slow and difficult. Such is the state of the booze business and the plethora of brands on the market.

But, hey, the Moai on Easter Island have stood the test of time, so why shouldn’t Don Mateo Wines.

For you former Seagram folks out there… It might interest you to know that Jim Reichardt introduced me to them and their New Jersey wholesaler is Sam Ellias.

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Gibson Martini – What are those things doing in my drink?

gibsonThe Gibson Martini is generally made with gin (or vodka), vermouth and a few pickled onions referred to as pearl onions.

In the great debate as to how to garnish a martini – what type of olive, stuffed or plain, how many – the Gibson, known for pearl onions, has been somewhat obscured. While originally branded for the association with Gibson Gin, the Gibson is now identified for those cute little white things regardless of the booze used.

As a public service to drinkers everywhere, here is the Gibson story. Or, should I say, stories.

First, while martinis are found all over film, books and TV (think James Bond), the poor Gibson is kind of obscure. Best I could come up with was the occasional drink by Roger Sterling in Mad Men, Cary Grant in North by Northwest, a Frasier episode (Stoli Gibson with three pearl onions) and not much else.

What I find fascinating about the Gibson, are the stories about how the drink came about. I found three.pearl onions

The most common one is linked to the 1930s and Charles Dana Gibson, the illustrator known for the Gibson Girl images. As the story goes, he challenged a bartender named Charlie Connolly at New York’s Players Club to create a “different drink.” The result was garnishing a martini with cocktail onions that became know as the Gibson.

Nah, I’m not buying it. Sounds like it came from some old school press agent.

The second one goes back 40 years prior to this. Mr. Walter D K Gibson is supposed to have had the first martini named in his honor at the Bohemian Club in San Francisco. Apparently, this gentleman didn’t like the way they prepared gin martinis so he specified the brand and had them add pearl onions. Also, he believed eating onions would prevent colds.

I’m not buying this one either.

The story I subscribe to came from a good barman friend and we all know that the stories told over a bar are more accurate than anything on the Internet, not to mention other sources.

As Adam D. tells it, a savvy businessman and banker in the 50’s and 60s often found himself out with clients for the proverbial three-martini lunch. Unable to function during and after the meal, he had the bartender serve him cold water so he could remain sober while his clients got shit-faced. The cocktail onion was used as garnish so his beverage could be distinguished from the others. The banker’s name was Gibson.

Now, there’s a story I can believe.

how-to-make-a-gibson-martini

 

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Cutty Sark and the Real McCoy

Cutty-Sark_bannerWine and Spirits Daily had an interview with the global head honcho of Cutty sark, which is owned by The Edrington Group (Macallan, Famous Grouse, others). In the interview and a previous story, he talks of the turnaround of the brand. In fact, he predicts 5% or higher growth over the next five to ten years.

Is this hype or real?

Cutty+sarkLet’s take a close look. After all, this is a brand that has had 25 years of decline from 2 million cases in the 1950s and 60s to less than 150,000 recently.

What the brand has going for it is the recent movement to Remy Cointreau and their knowledge and focus on scotch. They should be able to push the brand as part of their scotch portfolio and have a vested interest in keeping the Edrington people happy. So check the box on leverage and clout.

A number of side benefits also come with the move to Remy. As a new brand with a full, strong portfolio behind them, they will fill distribution gaps and move into important brand building accounts.

But, wait a minute, isn’t it a bit early to declare victory on the path to a turnaround? From the data I saw, for the four-week’s performance to Feb 24, the brand grew in SymphonyIRI data by 3.2% compared to a -5% for the year.

1967 ad
1967 ad

What about the consumer? What are the motivations that Cutty Sark provides to get a call for it? WSD suggest that its occasional presence on Mad Men, and the retro drinking influence may be helping. That could be, but is it enough?

As I read the article, I became more and more puzzled by the empty pronouncements of success just over the horizon. I can’t figure out the basis on which young consumers are discovering Cutty Sark. Is there a cocktail or signature drink that’s driving the brand? We’re told that Cutty “was created to be easy-drinking, easy-mixing and not particularly challenging.” So is water.

Here’s my favorite quote and an example of world-class marketing BS – “For me, I’m not looking to take business {from} the Scotch category, I’m already seeing us take business in bars from the Irish category.” Really? Cutty Sark is taking business from brands like Jameson that is among the fastest growing brands in the country?

Cutty Sark is an excellent brand with an interesting history. Legend has it that it was Cutty Sark that helped to create the expression the Real McCoy. The story goes back to prohibition and I found it here.

“One man who regularly sailed between Nassau and Rum Row was Captain William McCoy, of Scots origin and living in Florida, who began running liquor in 1921 using a schooner named Arethusa. By this time suppliers and distillers were often meeting the immense consumer demand with very poor quality liquor, and McCoy decided to make his reputation by supplying high quality products, chiefly Scotch whisky. This strategy worked well, to the considerable financial benefit of McCoy, whose name entered the English language as a result of the reputation he acquired.”

“In particular, McCoy ran large quantities of Cutty Sark…”

So there you have it. A brand built on authenticity and known as the Real McCoy
 is the subject of hype and marketing BS today.

Hey, Mr. Global Head Honcho of Cutty Sark: you have a brand with a great story. Why not try to leverage that provenance instead of making empty claims?

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