Bartholomew Broadbent is CEO of Broadbent Selections, and has considerable local experience with America's southern markets.
After I founded Broadbent Selections in 1996, I travelled to Mississippi three times to explore the market. In the first 10 years of my business, it was in our top three states. Today, as our business has grown, it isn’t so big compared to other states but we still sell a lot of wine there. It is a classic example of a big fish in a small pond. If you pay attention to small states where others are not paying attention you can outperform the market. We currently sell in every US state except North Dakota.
Today, the fine wine market is becoming more important in the southern states. Historically, this is where our growth has been centred. Most of the southern states are up between 30% and 100% in 2017 YTD. This follows very strong growth over the past five years. However, in the same period I have seen more competitors enter the southern states. There are more brands competing for shelf space. In addition, Georgia continues to stagnate and Mississippi is slowing down as the market becomes saturated. But in line with other markets in the US, we are seeing a greater interest in unusual wines. Buyers are tired of big brands and big varietals. The wines from South Africa, for example, are experiencing good growth. There is a thirst for knowledge and experiences in the South. There is also, unfortunately, a strong conservative base of buyers who’ll never change their ways, but they are a dying breed. People are more polite and generally more conservative. You have to learn to keep your mouth shut when it comes to politics.
In addition, brands shouldn’t just focus their efforts on the largest urban areas. When you look at the map of imported wine sales, you might see New York at 7%, Florida at 14%, and California at 12%. This leaves 67% to other states. Wineries tend to want to sell into the big urban markets because there is a lot of business to be done. However, it is much easier to sell into a smaller market where the trade is happy to see you and not jaded by too many sales pitches.
Of course, there are challenges. The key is to get the distributors to pay attention to your brands. The importance of having a good national importer cannot be over emphasised. If your importer has good strategic relationships with the local distributors there is no stopping success. We overcame all our difficulties by hiring good people and offering good wines. The consumer is waiting with open arms. Indeed, I believe that wine consumption might be greater in the South. There isn’t a whole lot to do in some places, so drinking is part of the culture. It is a matter of persuading them to drink your wine, not someone else’s.
This was featured in Perspectives, Issue 2, 2017 of Meininger's Wine Business International magazine.