Tuesday, July 27, 2010

Syrah is Awesome! Now How Do We Sell It?

"Whether sold as Syrah or Shiraz, these wines enjoy great popularity." - Wikipedia.

We couldn't help but chuckle when we read this assessment of Syrah on the grape's main Wikipedia page. Call it what you like, but it does not enjoy anything like 'great popularity’ around here. Not in New York City. Not at retail. Not now.

“It appears to have crashed and burned in this country.” - Randall Grahm, Bonny Doon Vineyards

There has been a lot of discussion lately about the problem with Syrah. Writers, bloggers, wine producers, and wine aficionados have been weighing in on what's to blame. Theories range from poor marketing and style confusion, to lack of ageing and generic winemaking. From our perspective, it's that people don't
know what to expect from a bottle of Syrah, thus the style confusion issue rings most true. Is the juice beyond the cork going to be reminiscent of a soft, juicy, ripe and fruity Shiraz, a big, tannic, roasty, meaty Syrah, or somewhere in between? Admittedly there are a lot of different styles of Syrah/Shiraz out there, but plenty that remain true to the nature of the grape. You might think this diversity would be appealing to wine drinkers as opposed to repellent. Sadly, it is not.

“If I meet one more salesperson who says ‘I can’t sell syrah,’ I’m going to f—ing kill him.” - Bob Lindquist, QupĂ© Wine Cellars

Since we taste everything we bring in to the store, we can describe with confidence the bottles of Syrah and Shiraz that line (ok, dot) our shelves. We can steer people towards something we feel certain they will enjoy -- if only they would give us the chance. Most people come out with blanket statement regarding their dislike for Syrah. Talk about confident. At that point, unless we have a bottle open to taste, the conversation is over before it begins. If we do have a bottle open, however, we may just have a convert on our hands. Unfortunately, the revelation generally applies to the particular Syrah we are pouring and not to the category as a whole. It goes something like this, "I HATE Syrah but I LOVE this one." Foiled again. (Bob, we assure you we are trying!)

"Whatever will be, will be, the future's not ours, to see." - Que Sera Sera lyrics

For the record, we love Syrah. We started out with three entire shelves of California Syrah. All awesome stuff from Tor Kenward, Rudius, Eric Kent, Favia, Donkey & Goat, and the list goes on. We love it, but we can't sell it. Some of the bottles we opened the store with more than a year and a half ago still grace the one remaining Syrah shelf today. (In this case, absence really would make the heart grow fonder. We'll getcha back!) We have since tasted other wonderful Syrahs from Big Basin, Scribe Winery, and others. There are two problems, no three; (1) it seems that everybody's got one (2) it ain't cheap and (3) there's no demand for it.

We are now at the point where, if someone wants to come in and show us a new Syrah, we turn them away. It's a shame, but it just makes us sad to taste yet another great California Syrah we won't be able to sell. We have even considered merging the Syrah in with "Other Reds" for the time being. We seem to have more luck selling Petite Sirah, Mourvedre, even Nebbiolo from California, than poor, doomful Syrah. We hope it doesn't stay that way.

"The ultimate function of prophecy is not to tell the future, but to make it." - Joel A. Barker

At this point, part of the problem seems to be a self-fulfilling prophecy fueled by all the articles and blogs out there talking about the trouble with Syrah. (Shoot, we just added to that mess, didn't we?!) One quick Google search brings up "The Fate of Syrah", "What's the Problem with Syrah", "What Syrah Really Needs", "Syrah: It Should Be 'The Next Big Thing'… But It Won't", and "Why Syrah 'crashed and burned' here" to name a few. Maybe some positive marketing spin, some real assertive, self confident buzz, is what Syrah needs. The 'Summer of Syrah', although it sounds kinda nice, is already taken (thanks a lot Riesling) and doesn't really work that well anyway. We couldn't really convince consumers that Syrah is the perfect Summer sipper. Let's all keep thinking. Unfortunately, for now, it looks like the winter of discontent for Syrah.

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