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Keeping wine out of the red

In the face of the economic crisis, Alex Gambal is hitting the tarmac to sell his wine.

In 2009, Burgundy saw a cool winter and cool spring nights, so the growth was a little slower, delaying the growth spurt by seven or eight days. Gambal used that time to participate in the Nantucket Wine Festival and to visit clients in Brussels. Earlier in the spring he visited accounts in the Cote d’Azur just at the cusp of the high season, when sommeliers and beverage directors make decisions about their wine lists.

One key to Gambal’s marketing strategy is to diversify markets, countries, and audiences. He spreads himself out because, he said, putting lots of effort and energy into one account or one market spells doom when the economy sours. Another grower Gambal knows, for example, has relied for years on the British wine market but it’s “tanked” right now, so they aren’t buying the wines. And the grower is stuck.

The purpose of the trips Gambal makes around the world is to visit, to educate, to say thank you, to gossip a little, to make sure his wines are still on the shelf and to pay dividends.

“Constantly staying in front of people is what gives the business legs,” Gambal said. “It’s gotten to the point where we don’t need to taste them on the new vintage. They’re ordering on the brand.”

At the end of the year, in alternating years, Gambal visits Asia where his largest sales are in Japan, Taiwan and, to a lesser extent, Singapore. Gambal’s Japan presence is an example of how having a good agent can help a producer. Yuko Tanamoto of Vinos Yamazaki represents Gambal there and the audience she gathers treats him like a rock star. Each person wants him to sign their bottle of wine because they’re looking for that personal connection with someone they see as a celebrity.

Agents like that earn 10 to 15 percent of the profit from the sales of wine. Even with such a large cut into the profit, even with all the expense of traveling around the world, is Gambal’s business of making and selling Burgundy wine profitable?

Yes, he said, helped by his lack of debt.

Does he think there’s any chance that the price of Burgundy will go down?

Well, no, he said — at least not for his bottles.