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How To Work With The New Breed Of Wine Shops

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19/07/2019 If you want to impress the best modern wine-shop owners, it’s important to have a great story, according to Ping Ho, wine-shop owner and restaurateur.

Wine shops are changing. Driven by a new generation of forward-thinking, open-minded drinkers, they’re not just places for picking up a bottle of what-you-know any more: they’re meeting places, bars, educational spaces and more. One of the best is The Royce, a shop and wine in Detroit. We spoke to owner Ping Ho, who also owns The Marrow, a new restaurant in the city, about how winemakers can get their products into her shop.

How important is a relationship with winemakers in terms of what you decide to buy? Does it make a difference?

“It definitely does. The wine business is special for many reasons in terms of communicating praise, communicating farming practices, history, culture. Buyers, sellers can actually interact with the winemakers. I've definitely had some... I endeavor to meet winemakers, either by visiting vineyards or, oftentimes they do travel to places like Detroit and stop by to visit the markets and taste with potential or existing buyers.

“There's nothing like sharing firsthand about how a wine is made and the techniques and learning about the history of the wine-making family. Basically, it couldn't be more important.”

In terms of the winemaker getting in touch with you, how should that work?

“I'm open to it. Usually it's through a distributor. They would contact me and say, "Hey, there's a winemaker in town. Would you like to meet him or her?" Or, I've also planned trips. For example, last year I went to Burgundy and basically was set up with a number of different meetings with the winemakers and so it goes both ways. It's either outreach or them saying they're in the market and would love to meet and taste.”

Are there things that winemakers shouldn't do when they're approaching you? Are there things that you find off-putting or annoying?

“Not really. I haven't experienced that personally. Obviously, I think the types of wines that I appreciate and I focus on buying are small production, family-run wineries. Sustainability is a focus. All that. I'm always open when winemakers want to promote, sell their wines, have me taste them. Because I respect the craft, right? I respect how much effort goes into making wine.”

Once you've decided you like the products from a particular vineyard, a particular winery, are you looking to carry a range or sometimes just pick one wine from a range that you want to sell?

“It really depends on the types of wine that... I carry over 500, 600 wines at my wine bar and shop and then I have a restaurant and a couple more projects, so I'm always looking for variety. I'm not tied to one, I don't limit the number of wines I could carry from one particular winery but it's really decided on not just availability, but what sells and what categories I need to fill at any given time. And price points as well!”

What sort of information from a producer do you find valuable when you're trying to sell the wine?

“How it's made. How it's farmed. The viticulture aspect of the wine. I focus on a lot of sustainably-made wine, from organic, biodynamic. Natural is a very large definition these days. Somewhat controversial, too. Low-intervention wine making is something that I believe in. I appreciate knowing how the winemaker makes the wine. I like hearing things, you know, it's a third generation, fourth generation wine making family - but a team who purchase the grapes but make these cool wines out of a warehouse in California, that's also a cool story, right?”

How important is visual branding to you?

“It's pretty important, but at the end of the day, if it's like an ugly label but the wine's good, I think the quality of the wine takes precedent. Yeah, the labels that look unique, interesting, and there's thought gone into designing them, that always helps to sell. I think more so the consumer likes funky, cool labels increasingly. Especially the younger generation of winemakers, there's a lot of quirky, cute labeling that happens. I would say it’s fairly important, particularly, it helps to sell. It's a selling point, right?”

Has it ever been the case that you've wanted to carry a certain type of wine but it hasn't been possible to get it in Detroit?

“All the time. Especially with the large import companies; oftentimes I'll see something on Instagram and it's like, "Oh that seems really cool." And I reach out to my distributor who has that portfolio and they're like, "Oh, sorry. Not in the market. If you want to carry it you have to commit to a pallet." I'm like, "Okay, I can't do that." So it's an issue. It's an issue for smaller, secondary markets in particular. I'm constantly trying to change that, but it's challenging.”

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