What are your biggest business concerns surrounding COVID-19?
My biggest business concern surrounding COVID-19 is the overall health of both the U.S. and global economy as it relates to luxury items. Although Stones Wines does not rely on restaurant sales, a significant portion of the wine industry has built brands and relationships via restaurants and their customers. Wine consumption has not slowed due to COVID-19, but the channels by which they are purchase has shifted. We have always been a “high-touch,” luxury-tier product, the likes of Hermès and Louis Vuitton, engaging personally with our clients in Napa Valley, and with two- and three-star Michelin restaurants in New York, Chicago, Houston, Los Angeles, and other cities. Therefore, the limitations due to COVID-19 have had an impact on our sales, but thankfully only moderately. We have a very loyal following for the Stones and Perrarus wines. We just need to be more creative with our communications.
What is your current business strategy for dealing with the situation?
Stones and Perrarus have always been waiting-list allocated and only available to our clients direct from the winery, by way of specific release announcements, and only online. Although we have had limited personal interaction with our clients since March, we are constantly, even under the current environment, reinventing and redesigning for the future. Wine consumption has not declined, but the choice of price points has. Creation of Stones Magazine, our quarterly digital publication for members, allows us to communicate the internal workings at Stones, including new products and design, tasting notes, and our plans for 2021. Continuing our design focus, Perrarus 2, our handblown glass edition (considered the most exclusive and rare wine in the U.S., only 350 bottles available) was released in September 2020 by lottery and includes a special invitation featuring “The Art Series” with incredible imagery and design. It is important for us to stay connected with our special collectors during this time.
COVID-19 issues related to the management of resources needed for creating and producing a luxury-tier wine have required some ingenuity. As an example, bottling has to occur and requires teams handling bottles, corks, etc., and working side by side. Vineyards still need to be farmed regardless of COVID-19. Many of our supplies are from international sources in France and Italy, which have experienced business interruptions. The process does not stop.
How do you think things will look in your industry a year from now?
Up until early September, COVID was the primary challenge in 2020 for the Napa Valley. The subsequent outbreak of severe fires, first in late August and again in late September, created the most significant challenge imaginable. For the highest-level producers in the Napa Valley, less than 20% of grapes were harvested due to smoke taint. The financial impact of this decision will reverberate through 2023, with the absence of a 2020 vintage wine. In regards to COVID, industry data has shown a significant increase in online wine sales during the crisis, and from my personal experience with our collectors, wine consumption is certainly up. Drinking wine at home has replaced restaurant wine consumption, therefore the increase in direct sales. There will be a significant replenishment of cellars. Collectors, though, will be more discerning, in my opinion. Consumers have great palates and deserve great wines.
If we see a solution or vaccine for COVID-19, people will crave personal interactions and travel, although there could still be hesitations to interact in the ways to which we were accustomed. The history of the demand luxury goods and rare and exclusive products is on our side. Our main focus is to keep creating the rarest and best wines in the world.
Consumers have great palates and deserve great wines.
What have you learned from other difficult times in the past?
Experience has shown that the other side of an economic crisis can result in incredible brand expansion and brand loyalty. Stay connected. Stay loyal to our clients. Provide them with the highest-quality and visual experience available. Quality and exclusivity will always be the driver in the world of luxury-tier wine.
Safe–and entertained–at home: What business leaders are doing with their downtime
I am a morning person. I cannot wait for the day to get started. My 2020 routine, along with a Nespresso, is to sit quietly for 10 minutes, deciding how the day will go—planning the most impactful items. Then to national and international news and the markets, then to a normal routine. Certainly, more Zoom calls and text communications, but it has not seemed to slow our pace.
I love to cook, therefore in the absence of travel and dinners, I have been able to catch up on shows like Taco Chronicles and Top Chef.
My reading has certainly increased with COVID-19. A great client and Harvard-educated friend has been sending me the Harvard School of Business recommended reading list, and I have been able to read some amazing material. This week is Eat a Peach by David Chang and The Color of Law by Richard Rothstein. Also, The Infinite Game by Simon Sinek. Great reads.
What are you doing to spend quality time with those you’re sheltering with?
We have embarked on major cooking and recipe exploration. Thai, Indian, Mediterranean, a few new recipes each week. We have perfected fish tacos, al pastor, and Eric Ripert’s smoked salmon rillettes.
What is the biggest purchase you made during COVID that made you happy?
Two great ones. A case of 2000 Chateau Cos d’Estournel Bordeaux. And a pair of Hermès sandals.
What are you doing to stay healthy mentally and physically?
I am pretty consistent with staying physically healthy. I have a stationary bike in my living room, and my wife has discovered The Hollywood Trainer videos. They are killing me. Mentally, I take time each day to remember how fortunate that I am, and fortunate to do what I do. Even with COVID-19, my work is still fun.
Where are you dreaming of visiting once things are back to normal?