This is all about perception, not a discussion about business plans. I'm no more an MBA than I am an MW so what I'm going to talk about is how I perceive the various local importers, where the're positioned and where they're headed.
Is WineRoute/Shaked a monopoly by now? Not quite, but from where I'm sitting it looks as though their prices, both for wines and tasting events, are less attractive than they used to be. Some of this is within their power to change for the better. I used to be wowed by the value of their tastings on a regular basis and this happens less and less. I suppose the cost of the tastings used to budgeted as marketing so they could price them very generously but this is less often the case these days. And as I write this, it's been a few months since they've offered anything intersting on discount.
They're still the go-to guy for Bordeaux and the Rhone and now Piedmonte as well. I'm not sure about the new Burgundy offerings, however. Certainly Tomer Gal has the bigger names in his catalog but I assume WineRoute can offer a good fight for value-for-money with some village and Premier Crus (though at least one wine - the Serafin Gevrey-Chambertin 2004 seems very expensive compared to US prices). I'm looking forward to their tasting later this month to find out for myself.
Regarding other regions: their Tuscany offerings are mostly modern wines and I usually shop elsewhere. And I would like them to import more German and Alsace wines instead of paying lip service to how much they want to push white wines.
France-Israel, as I hinted at a recent post, has turned into somewhat of a joke. Even ignoring the issue of whether they're still carrying any French wines, their prices can be ludicriously high unless you buy their wines via their weekly discount offering by email. And even this offering presents certain difficulties as the electronic newsletter has been known to carry partial quotes of reviews, reviews for the vintages other than those on sale, sometimes editing out problematic drinking windows (though I admit this happens on rarer occasions these days). The occasional very good deal is almost impossible to buy, seemingly sold out within minutes of the email's arrival. On the other hand, some wines, like the Hugel Vendange Tardive, 1990, used to be offered at discount every couple of months (even though everyone I knew who bought this wine complained that it was past its peak).
Hakerem tried to play WineRoute's game by starting their own store chain. The opening of their flagship store in Givatayim was a comedy of errors that turned off many potential customers due to a chaotic (lack of) organization where hundreds of invitees were crammed into too few square meters of store for a tasting that should have been one of the best values tastings ever opened in Israel. The store never took off and closed within a year if I'm not mistaken. Which was no surprise. New stores need to court customers yet no news of any tasting events ever reached me; and despite being enrolled in their customer club, the only contact I ever had with any marketing programs were two SMS's announcing a 15% discount, good for the same day. I wound up buying only four wines from the store during its whole existence, three of them on the opening day.
Hakerem also tried a branch at the Ramat Aviv Mall that was obviously targeted at rich, incidental shoppers, with a small, not particularly exciting, inventory priced 20% higher than the Givatayim store. The last time I looked in, a few months ago, it was no longer affiliated with Hakerem. So now their chain consists of two stores: Beit Hayiin Ve Hatabak in Rishon LeTzion and the new flagship store in Petach Tikva. By the time the latter had opened I was so turned off I didn't bother to attend the opening gala.
Their catalog is interesting enough, I'll give them that, though I have enough alternatives elsewhere and don't have time to actively seek out their wines. They're solid and interesting enough in Tuscany but in other regions they seem to subscribe to the usual policy of carrying just one big producer with a deep range. And every now and then they would come out with unusual offerings for Israel, for example Domaine Brana from Iroulgey and Williams and Humbert from Jerez (I suspect, though, that they were never able to sell them in large quantities). Their prices are not bad either. Except for the time Hakerem tried to give WineRoute a fight in Bordeaux by hooking up with a different set of negociants and wound up selling the Lafitte 2002 - which WineRoute had been importing for years - at a much higer price than WineRoute.
I know Tiv Taam has its own import arm and thus is automatically a big player by virtue of having such a successful chain. But I really have no idea what they're carrying (besides Eastern European wines) so I guess they just never crossed my social network.
The Scottish Company
The last of the big players is the Scottish Company. Otherwise known as Chapoutier and Friends. And that's about "all she wrote".
I had hopes that any battles between importers would be translated into lower prices for us consumers but I predict everyone will continue to fuck things up while WineRoute will just get stronger as always. Though it seems that Hinawi is positioning themselves to challenge them as a chain but whether they can do so without an import arm of their own remains to be seen. What is obvious to me is that of the big importers, only WineRoute has a (mostly) positive, immediatly identifiable image.
Next Part - The Middle Tier And The Rest