Networking and Wine

I ain’t no Gary Vaynerchuk. I write and teach about wine, and I help restaurants with strategies for wine programs, but I have always been a poor self-promoter. I shouldn’t even be writing Gary’s name here—he gets enough ink, but he has used networking and Internet marketing in a manner that has revolutionized the wine industry (some might say ruined). I have been a slow learner but am trying to catch up.

As a Sommelier, I’ve observed business dinners where one person is the wine enthusiast and gets the list, and others where the choice is used as a test for some young Turk trying to move up the corporate ladder by showcasing his wine knowledge. Wine lists are full of opportunities and landmines, and I have observed customers deal with both.

As a wine voyeur, I pay attention to many things concerning wine. My wine auction observations have shown the Asian markets to be much livelier than in other parts of the world. In particular, the sales of Château Lafite Rothschild and Carruades de Lafite are outperforming their peers, especially in Asia. This Lafite phenomenon has been around since at least 2003, and many wine professionals have guesses as to why Lafite and not Latour or Mouton, or any other great Bordeaux are such hot commodities in China. One theory is Sommeliers would put a thumb over the Carruades de while pouring the wines in restaurants and the diner would pay Chateau Lafite prices. It’s certainly possible (also quite illegal and unethical) but not the entire story. The real story involves language and networking. Lafite is used to smooth business deals in China. The Lafite name sounds similar in Cantonese to Lai-fat, which means “come get rich.” So for a really big deal, they pull out a great vintage of Lafite and for a lesser deal, they will use a Carruades de Lafite.

My own networking and wine experiences have run the gamut, from meeting very famous people to business opportunities. c/o The Maidstone, a client, recently hosted the Hamptons International Film Festival and many bold-faced names were in attendance. I was able to get a ticket for my son, Cole, to attend the opening party to the festival and the closing movie. He met and had his picture taken with Pierce Brosnan and Alec Baldwin, and had a very prestigious pass to a Premier Screening of Heath Ledger’s last role in Terry Gilliam’s The Imaginarium of Doctor Parnassus. Both were big things for a teenager who dreams of becoming a screenwriter or film director someday. I am hoping this and other experiences will make him realize the importance of networking some thirty years earlier than I did. And even though he is currently not a fan of wine, I hope he learns to appreciate it, so when he is the “young Turk” at some dinner, his wine selection will move him up the ladder. In the meantime, I will continue to network my way through the wine world with my clients and future business ties.