A comedy of errors

Wednesday, July 9, 2008

Itís been quite awhile since I wrote a diary entry, and in that time I have probably attended six wine tastings, including two wine dinners. Actually, quite a bit has happened, the most notable being that the press release submitted to BlackPR.com was printed in the Philadelphia Sun, as was the article that I wrote for the site regarding Why African Americans Donít Flock to Wine Tastings. Additionally, I was contacted by the Managing Editor of that paper, and given the opportunity to write a wine column, which I graciously accepted.

Since the last entry, the immeasurable Samuel L. Evans, III passed on. He was a kingmaker in the African American world of the city of Philadelphia. I myself was a beneficiary directly and indirectly of the chess moves that he made, most notably as a member of his AFNA foundation. One of his major taglines was ďnow if we could form a coalition,Ē and while that is something that I didnít learn from him, itís something that I have recognized ever since I had the inkling to pursue my own entrepreneurial endeavors. Itís something that I believe in doing, no matter what I am working on; itís far easier to divide progress up in a parts, and have more people pushing the tide, than just one.

In this, one of the things that I am attempting to do is to connect with wine reps, and get them involved in helping out with the success of this site. I mean, they sell wine, and if they start to understand that if they take the time to address an underserved market, that it will not only work directly against their bottom line of their commission, but that it can ultimately propel them somewhere up the ladder in their own industry. So in this venture, I am always to connect with wine reps, wine distributors and wine importers, and when I have a good tasting wine, I am not too shy to call, or email, the distributor or even the producer and give them my compliments.

Whatís most interesting are the responses that I get. Some people are genuinely interested, while others give you the nice conversation one day, which they can easily brush aside with a couple of emails, or simply not following through at all. And in some cases where they are [somewhat and slightly] interested in what I am saying, I sometimes have to get them focused on what I am doing, not the starry- eyed eager beaver attitude of what could happen if they had the next Cristal. Here is on such exchange that took place after I approached one rep (a nice guy by the way) with one asset to the site which could help himÖ or so I thought.

My initial approach:


I've been thinking, and I am interested in your feedback on this one.

One of the things that I want to do in addition to reviewing wines is to allow people to find out where they can purchase the wine. While this might seem somewhat daunting, it's actually great for the wine reps, and maybe I can also post information about the wine reps on the site as well. The first thing is that I of course need to taste wines that are on the site, but from there, I can actually take a csv/txt file with the basic information about the wines (grapes, sparkling, country, alcohol percentage, ava, price, name, producer, bottler, vineyard, quality) and another file of where they can get the wines at (store name, address, city, state, zip, phone number) and post that to the site.

Additionally, as you get new wines, I could review and put them up on the site, and even send out information to the members that you have something new.

Let me know what you think

His response:

Hi Zachary,

I don't want to be blunt, but I think you are trying to re-invent the wheel. Wine Spectator, Enthusiast, Tanzer and Parker to name a few all have sites with HUGE databases full of reviews, pointers, scores, where-to-buy, etc., most of which will refer to the wineries website(s). Also, places like Canals also have a similar SQL database in place and it's updated quite often as part of their thriving internet business. They do a very large internet business from that tiny store. For the sheer love of wine, you may be able to get something going, I'm not sure how profitable it will be for you but what the hell, give it a shot!!!!.

I wish you worlds of success, your attitude alone may get you there!

My response:

Thanks for the feedback. I guess being from PA keeps you somewhat cut off from how the rest of the wine world does things ;-)

I am not looking at this [presently] as being a big moneymaker; I am really more interested in the television offshoot of it, but I would still like to get the members engaged in finding out more, especially from the people in the industry (those reps, distributors and what not), which is something that I don't think any site does so far. I did briefly take a look at Tanzer's site and read about him on Forbes.com, however, the difference with me is that I am targeting a group that no one else has taken the time to develop and market to.

We'll see what happens

His next email:

Hi Zachary,

I was thinking about your angle on this whole wine thing. It seems to me that my African Am buddies have a decidedly different taste than do my white, Indian and Asian friends. Maybe an angle on differing tastes by culture? Indian's are for the most part, non-drinkers, but the one's who do imbibe have a much different palate than do Asians, or other Americans of difffering cultures. Even among whites, depending on national origin, and such, they have extremely different preferences for wines. I think this may be an exciting new angle to take and I will be happy to help u provide a selection based upon cultural preference. How does that sound for an new angle? Let me know if this might work for you and I see a website in the future called "Cultural Preferences, The Wine Angle" We can goof on some of the sterotypes that beset all of our specific cultures and their interesting preferences for liquor and wine. (The young Black guy who buys an Old Ides 40, the old white guy who buys a couple of bottles of Jack Daniels 50 ML, the Asian guy who guys a quart of Sake, etc. The humor to be had is immeasurible) That is the juice of life.

This is a fresh, new approach that may be fascinating for some folks to look at. It may be a home run. A perfect example is NUVO, a new liquer that is in the market and seems to be totally embraced by the rap culture. It's very expensive, but since Diddy likes it, it's a hit. Big money in this one, but it was originally intended for white women, and it's doing ok there, but the AF AM is huge with this stuff. What I'm saying is don't just focus on AF AM, go the the big hit, with Mexican, Russian, Puerto Rican, Cuban, Italian, Polish, Korean, Chinese, Japanese, and focus on NEW immigrants. They move here, but they don't have their national beverages that they had in the "old country". A great example is Cachaca, the national liquor of Brazil. It hasn't caught on yet really, but will soon. Let's find another cachaca. So many cultures, so little time my friend. I was at a party last night and pulled out your card and we went to most of your sites. We figured you were a pretty smart guy with a mission. My friends are some serious folks, not just regular schmucks. We have decided that you will be successful because of your intense dedication and talent.

My response:

Good morning,

I am glad that you liked the sites and thanks for the compliments.

First, when you say Indians, do you mean Native Americans or East Indians, because the latter are still technically Asians.

Second, if you look at the bottom of most pages of my site, it has the mission statement, which states that we are trying to expose African Americans [and others] to wines...

While everyone might tend to have different leanings culturally, that is not to say that that's the only tastes that people like by culture. That's the initial mistake that marketers make when addressing certain groups, which means that while right on one hand, they are totally wrong on the other. I know a slew of African American professionals that like dry wines, which is not typically the African American palate. Also, that would then suggest that all women love fru-fru drinks. When that happens, you tend to miss out on many things.

The reality is that for the most part, the culinary experiences of Americans is pretty much biased with slants of race, class, and nationality... and this is the problem. An example of this is the fact that salsa became such a heralded condiment within the last ten years, but for the most part, people in Mexico and many South American countries have been using it for centuries. The same can be said for chipotle. What people are "discovering" now is what other people that should have been more inclusive of influences from around the world were too biased to actually accept as something that they could pawn off as classy and charge exorbitant prices for. It is only with the past 30 years that wines from Spain and South America have been making a serious entry into the US, and we have an overinflated yearning for wines from France.

If you look around on the web, most interesting is that BlackPlanet.com, which really pulls in a lot of urban- minded African American, is owned by a Chinese firm (meaning the people are Chinese, but it's not based in China). I could not effectively guess the palates of other peoples, nor would I really try to address that without a slew of research and experiences. In as much, you'll find that while people in certain countries traditionally eat certain foods, that is more of a result of what's available there, and that when people emigrate to other places, they also start to eat things that are not of their culture.

You'd be also wise to know that white people consume more malt liquor in the US than do black people. And that the capital of cognac consumption in the world is Detroit, where it's consumed by African Americans, and whites [and others] that have been influenced by them. Now, this last point addresses the fact that more people are influenced by what African Americans do in certain parts of the American experience, and that resounds more than anything else.

With regards to that, I am addressing your reference to NUVO, and how it's becoming a drink that is purchased in enmasse by [a subset] of the African American community. While some African American celebs can influence a percentage of the population, they don't necessarily influence all of it, and the highest amount of disposable income is held by those over 40 years old; this group requires a mature marketing approach that doesn't play in to certain stereotypes or buffoonery.

You'll also find out that when people come here, they still bring their own drinks, and that the crossover speed is very slow; it's taken how many years for some big companies to address the Cuban tastes of mojitos and lime? And for these companies, the overall result will be that they will have more failures than successes (lime tinted beer?).

The key in America is to get people to try things of other cultures, and not to stereotype people or the beverages they produce. For years, California wines were looked at with disdain. People are now discovering the beauty of wines from Chile, Argentina, Australia and New Zealand. I have had a Chardonnay from China that was great, and have tasted Slovenian wine as well. I would love to try wines from every country in the world. While in college, I usually drank beer from around the world; San Miguel (Philippines); Negro Modelo, Tecate, Dos Equis (Mexico), Kronenbourg (France); Xingu (Brazil), and the list goes on and on. Friends used to stop by to see what new stuff I had and to try a taste. I have gotten people to purchase anywhere from a single bottle of wine to several cases based on a quick conversation with them in a wine store; and these were people that I only met while shopping for wine. I love meeting people like you when I am out in the pursuit for a new taste; because of you, I picked up two bottles that I might have not tried for months, if ever I tried them at all. I love conversations with wine reps and with restaurant owners and employees, as we see what's on their wine lists which might interest me, and in those tete-a-tetes, I develop new associations and friendships. And while most African Americans might not have the charisma and boldness to step forth into the world of wine like me, and challenge some of the conventions and attitudes not only in regards to the world of wine, but also towards the African American influence in it, there exists the need for someone to not only bridge those two divides, but to also act as an icebreaker and middleman. I am not saying that I should be the only one, but that I will do my part.

Right now, I am interested in focusing on wines, not other drinks, because mainly I only drink wine and beer. While wine doesn't have the highest ROI, it still is something that is more stable, and comes at you with sincerity, not pomp and flair [for the most part]. Wouldn't it be great that within a year, I could taste something of yours and immediately put in an order for 1000 cases?

While what I am trying is a very hard and undertaking endeavor, what's most interesting is how serious people take me on it, and how they either help me with it, or just sit on the sidelines. No one realizes that those first impressions and actions are the most important. Just think about the people in the music industry who passed on both Eminem and 50 Cent? I just hope that what I am doing is not a flash in the pan thing, and I intend to give it a good twelve months out of my own pocket. In two to three months, I intend to start filming/producing a video version of the site with an intended target of cable television. That's a 13 to 22 episode block of shows, and while I already have the episode themes chosen, I have not chosen all of the wines yet to feature. And in addition to the show, I intend to do a couple video clips each week on one to two wines.

Now, let's do some business. ;-)

Followed by his response:

Thanks for the great response Zachary. I wasn't trying to generalize, just wanted to demonstrate the need for a forum. And by Indians, I meant Asians from India. Keep up the good work and I will see you soon. I am also "that guy" who goes out of his way to look for new and different products to try. That's what got me hooked on Korean and Japanese food and sparked my interest in Chinese herbology.

Summarily what you see is how one person sees what I should be doing, versus what I am actually doing, and it is attitude like these that donít get us our foray and entry into the world of wines like we need.

Well, as it is now, it seems like I might also be writing for another website, which is a good thing. Now, if I can just win the powerball.

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Our Mission: The Black Winer strives to expose African Americans [and others] to wines, without the flair, stuffiness, and airs of elitism and snobbery that you get from sommeliers and high level wine enthusiasts. We believe in finding something that you like the taste of, outside of the basic brands that you have been force-fed over the years through a combination of ethnically targeted advertising, and what people in your family have historically been drinking.

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