I just never had gotten around to it until this past week. As I mentioned in an earlier post, I am thinking it’s time now to begin to slowly (and, hopefully, intelligently) move into territories outside of California with our Steven Kent Portfolio wines. One of our basic and

Le Moyne, the Founder

most important criteria for deciding on new markets is “Do we know anybody there?” The fact that New Orleans, which is home to relatives and friends of our Vice President – Retail Sales, Tracey Hoff, is also a great food city and the home of the New Orleans Wine & Food Experience to which we were headed to pour wine, made it potentially a slam dunk. The proof is in  the pudding, as they say, but I’ve never had a better start to a distributor/supplier relationship.

Business potential aside, I have a new love. My wife, June, and I had the pleasure of spending a week a year -about 10 years ago- in Key West. It was exotic, had great food, warm people, a tiki bar, and, you could drink the water. New Orleans is all that…on steroids (tiki hut to be found on the next trip).

Like all great places, New Orleans has layers. There is the sublime shlockiness of Bourbon Street (5 minutes here is all anyone ever needs, ever),

THE bbq Shrimp – Mr. B’s

the hidden gardens of Chartres; the incredible artistry of Stella! and THE BBQ Shrimp of Mr. B’s. There’s the music that both commiserates and stirs the loins; the humidity that pushes you down to the ground but connects you to the streets. There’s the graciousness of the people – “darlins” all around – and an easy rhythm lost north of Virginia and west of the Rockies.

Then there is the wine part. I traveled down to New Orleans ostensibly to pour at the New Orlean Food & Wine

Dessert at Stella!

Experience, and on the way we gained an enthusiastic new distributor and made a lot of fans with our portfolio of wines. There were a lot of thank yous from folks who were pleased to have small California wineries represented and a willingness to try wines they’d never heard about.  It felt as if we had begun to make a new home for our wines here, and that is a rare and blessed feeling, indeed.

“Peaceful, easy feeling…”

In the aftermath of Katrina there was talk about letting New Orleans go. She was an elderly auntie and had had her time but there were younger folk to worry about now. One should not scatter treasures to the dirt, and youth is not served on the headstone of the old.

Steven Kent Winery started as a wholesale brand. It was the only kind of sales stream I knew back in 1996.

I found out over the first few years that pouring wine for guests and future club members at our tasting room was a much more re

warding way to build relationships and fans of the wines. What was once a network of about 25 distributors dwindled down over the years to just a couple.

The other thing I found out is that for a small brand (that wasn’t yet a darling of the press or didn’t have a huge marketing budget), my wines would succeed in a market if there were a winery employee doing the heavy lifting. There are too many gigantic brands out there that suck the air out of the room for a distributor to really succeed with a tiny brand.

There is that thing about building lasting relationships, too, that we can do well in person, but that are exceedingly difficult if we go into a market cold. The growth for the brand is slow, but the growth is also solid and gratifying. As an example, the industry average for wine club member retention is 18 months. The average for the Steven Kent Portfolio wine clubs is 46! We have been able to build a lot of great friendships with our club members, some of whom later became members of our team.

I think we’ve hit on a strategy that combines the need to spread our wings again and the desire to spread them among friends. We are, in fact, seeking out our friends. We’ve begun a small movement outside of California to the Las Vegas (NV) and New Orleans (LA) markets specifically because of relationships we have built with restaurateurs over time and with family and friends. We are trying to duplicate the dynamic that occurs when you join passionate producers of wine with an already-familiar-with-the-wines group of folks passionate about producing great food.

I have audacious goals for my brands that will take a career to fulfill. The next small steps are Sin City and the Big Easy.