Interview with Marie-Eve Gilla of Forgeron Cellars

Winemaker and Managing Partner Marie-Eve Gilla of Forgeron Cellars in Walla Walla visited Chicago recently, and I caught some of her Tweets.  Unfortunately, we couldn’t get together in person, but she kindly answered my questions about seeking out new markets for her wines:

 How do you decide what cities to target with your wines?  What is it about Chicago that makes it a potential successful market for you? 

 We look at demographics of each city that we visit and we also look at word of mouth between wineries talking about successful markets for wine.  We also consider the potential exposure for the brand — Chicago, New York and California work well for Forgeron Cellars. Usually, we do well on the East coast because our wines have a bit of French influence from my Burgundian training and French heritage.

 What is the process when you first approach a restaurant or wine store?  Is there a different strategy you use with both? 

Every store and restaurant is different, but a warm friendly approach is always best.  I introduce myself and explain that I would love the opportunity to talk to them about Forgeron as well as taste them through my wines. I make an appointment for another day if they appear busy. Picking the time of day is extremely important, especially for a restaurant. I do not go during the busy lunch hour! In Walla Walla, we go back every few days even if just to dine or shop so they know we support their business.   

When you hear something like “we have a very tight wine list/store inventory”, how do you try to work around that? 

I am always clear: My goal is to have that person taste our wine without pressure.  I am lucky that our wines speak for themselves — they are solid and a wonderful value in the $15.00 to $30.00 range, so they are easy to sell when tasted.

Exactly how do you pack your wines for the long trip and present them for potential buyers so they are showing at their best? 

When we visit markets outside Washington state, we like to ship wines at least one week ahead of time and ship overnight or the second day. We also make sure the temperature does not reach extreme levels — particularly when shipping during the winter and summer months.

Do you visit distributors and wholesalers as well?  What strategies do you use to get one of them to represent you? 

We have a lot of wonderful relationships, so we ask other wineries or other distributors for recommendations and then talk to the targeted distributor. Currently the distribution business is a bit difficult for a winery that is our size, even with a great story and beautifully crafted wines. Because we are small (less than 5,000 cases) we look for medium-to-small-size distributors so we do not get “lost” amongst the big brands. Once we find a distributor that is a good fit, either I or our marketing specialist will visit the market a few times a year to talk about new products and reinforce our story.

Is there any legal bureaucracy you wish could change in order to distribute your wines more efficiently?

Definitely the direct shipping rules and regulations. It is very time consuming and different for every state. Keeping up on it is a full time job. We sometimes answer and pay taxes to three bodies of government for a given state: the liquor board for the state, the liquor agency for a city or a county, and the tax revenue regulating body. It gets even more complicated for direct shipping because there are more than 100 tax classifications in Washington State alone.

Please tell us a little about the wines in your portfolio and when we might be seeing them in Chicago! 

Chicago has been a great market for us!  We sold out of our Champoux Cabernet which was very well reviewed by Jay Miller for the Wine Advocate (94pts); we also are selling a fair amount of 2007 Chardonnay, which represents the best of both worlds with a restrained Burgundian style combined with ripe New World nuances.  Our beautiful 2005 Cabernet Sauvignon and Merlot are very complex and deep, benefiting a great bouquet and balance from the extended time in the bottle, which makes these wines ideal accompaniments to a wide variety of foods.

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