Local Wine Importers Part 2: The Big Boys

This is a series of three posts/articles about local importers.

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.

Tiv Taam

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


Anonymous said…
wine rout have a very good portfolio and i do not wish to see any Alsac or German wines there.
I would rather have them concetration on what they do best - Bordeaux, Rhone, Italian, Australian, Spanish ect
In Hebrew we say: Tafasta meroobe lo tafasta.
I can not understand why would they get into Bourgogne as this is Tomer's field.
I would rather have proffessionals for each area.
Anonymous said…
Wine rout will never get into the small niches.
Ask Amir from Anavim how hard it is for him to get read of his Brundelmayers and you will know why the big importers will never get into the niches which are hard to sell.
2GrandCru said…
I know about Brundlmayer. WineRoute would have an easier time with similar niches because they're good with marketing.
2GrandCru said…
I'd like to raise a few more points. One, Rhone, even Bordeaux were niches here before WineRoute tackled them. Two, if they don't want to get into those niches fine, but I didn't like it when Koby said they wanted to push white wines last summer only to find out there was nothing to back it up. Three, the bottom line is more Germany and Alsace is what I'd like to see and if I want to see them, I believe eventually others will too and then it will be less of a niche.
Anonymous said…
I think that the Rhone is still a niche, but a bigger one.
Kobi said that they would like to push white wines but probebly their experiance is that the Market is not ready yet and therefore they will not invest in those niches, i believe.
How many people do you think will buy German wines?
Do you think that Wine Rout are not experianced enough to investigate the market and figure?
How many Israelis do you think will buy German wines? 30? 50?
100? 2000? 3000?
This is not something to be intersting enough for company like wine rout, money wise.
Add to that that there are 4 companys that import wines from Germany at the moment, Kipis, Giaconda and those who import Blue Nun and and Wine Rout who imports Dr. Loosen.
How mant bottles of Dr. Loosen do you think they sell? Ask them and find out yourself.
I understand your point of view but i can not fool myself that they will invest money in such a small market.
Anonymous said…
I think that one of the reasons that Kipis for example replaced Germany with South africa is that Germany was not economical at all.
Ask him how much he sell, ask Giaconda how much they sell as well.
Anonymous said…
What racist remarks. Broaden your wine horizons. There are some damned fine German and Alsatian wines around. I don't care who stocks them, I just want to see them displayed more often.