Anyone who is writing about anything these days is looking for new ways to say “unprecedented.” With all the newness come a lot of unknowns. The hospitality industry has been hammered, as we all know, and smaller spirits makers are having real trouble, but online liquor sales were up 243 percent in March. There are bright spots, even now, in places one might not expect.
Case in point: We recently spoke with Erica Sigler, a sales rep with Rosenthal Wine Merchant, a leading importer/distributor. The widely respected Rosenthal has been in business for more than 40 years, specializing in fine wines that demonstrate terroir. The company’s portfolio includes about 40 percent Italian and 40 percent French wines, with the balance coming from Switzerland and Spain. With more than a decade in wine, Sigler has seen some things—but, of course, nothing like this. For her, anyway, business is booming.
You’ve been with Rosenthal a little over a year. And your latest numbers are good?
March was my best month in sales yet with the company — better than holiday sales.
That’s mostly retail, right? What’s your normal balance between on- and off-premise accounts?
In terms of sales volume, about two-thirds of my business is off-premise.
So the restaurant third has tanked, but you’ve made up for it?
Yes. I have colleagues whose business is 70- or 80-percent on premise, however, and they are in a bad spot. I have lucked out. It’s been crazy. Some restaurants are selling wine, so long as they sell food with it, and I have a couple of restaurant clients who have essentially turned themselves into grocers, and they are buying a lot of wine. So, again, I lucked out. Others have, too. I have a friend who works for a big company, big spirit and wine brands, and all he does is take calls and ship. Their jobs are very easy right now. That’s not what we do [at Rosenthal]—but people still want great wine.
Your territory is New York, New Jersey, Connecticut. Are stores letting people in?
A lot of places are not allowing customers in. But with retailers right now, every day is Christmas. Or Thanksgiving. That’s the kind of sales they’re doing. But their jobs are much harder. They are accepting call-in orders for pickup or online orders for delivery, so there is a ton of processing and manual data entry that’s not normally a part of how they do business. Normally someone comes in to shop, they shop, and then they go through check out.
And your work is different too.
My job has changed a lot throughout all this. I came back from a work trip to Italy in late February, then quarantined, and so I haven’t seen a client in person in almost two months. I’m sending very long emails. Tasting wine and talking about the wines, even with my clients’ clients—consumers—on Zoom.
I’ve seen places like Morell’s doing some fine wine things, virtually. You’re actually tasting Burgundy like that?
A lot. This all has really changed the landscape of how we’re doing business.