In The Bag

Using Storytelling as a Tactic to Sell Wine

A Los Angeles–based rep for Chambers & Chambers says a good anecdote can help make a sale

Photo courtesy of Ann Miller.

In our series In the Bag, wine and spirits sales reps discuss the bottles they’re tasting with customers today.

Ann Miller spent more than three decades in the performance arts, specializing in dance and drama, before eventually becoming a sales rep for Chambers & Chambers Wine Merchants, an importer and distributor with offices in San Francisco, Los Angeles, and Honolulu. Miller grew up in California and Hawaii, and after graduating from UC Irvine with a degree in teaching dance, she danced for several years with the famed Radio City Rockettes in their Christmas roadshow before a knee injury—and later, a serious spine injury—prematurely ended her performance career.

During a yearlong recovery period, Miller was forced to rethink her career path. She’d always dreamed of a life onstage—she also dabbled in radio, interviewing celebrities and working events such as the MTV Movie Awards, during her recovery from her knee injury—but now she felt she had to start considering her other interests. Miller liked wine, and as she was living in Los Angeles at the time, she took a weekend position in 2007 at Rosenthal Tasting Room in Malibu, where she’d been a wine club member for about two years. She later supplemented that job with a position at the Heritage Wine Company Wine Bar in Pasadena. “I wanted to see if there was a career for me in wine,” she says, “so I took a job in a wine bar, thinking I might want to own one someday.”

She continued to work at the Rosenthal Tasting Room on and off for about five years. The Heritage wine bar, however, went out of business within a year of her taking that job. Soon after Heritage closed, Miller was offered a job as a sales rep with Villa Italia/VNO, a San Francisco–based importer and distributor, through a connection she made while working at Heritage. “I knew very little about Italian wines at the time,” she confesses. Miller pored through books on the wines to rapidly educate herself, but she also learned on the job. “I owe a lot to that job,” she says, “and the wine professionals who hired and mentored me over those two years.”

In November 2014, Miller accepted a position at Chambers & Chambers Wine Merchants. The company’s portfolio is focused on small, family-owned wineries and sustainable producers, including many in Burgundy, such as Domaine Dujac, Bonneau du Martray, and Domaine Comte de Vogüé. Miller credits her years performing and interviewing film and TV stars with giving her the confidence to transition into sales. She says her performing arts background has also led her to pay particular attention to the stories associated with the bottles she’s selling.

“I love [focusing on] the stories behind the winemakers and wineries,” Miller says, adding that if there’s an anecdote she knows will resonate with one of her clients—and it’s about a wine that fits that person’s needs and palateshe enjoys sharing those details with the buyer. “If there was not a storytelling aspect to this job,” she says, “I probably wouldn’t be doing it.”

Incorporating those stories into her pitches each week has become a regular part of her sales calls. “Oftentimes,” says Miller, “the story is a deciding factor for my wine directorsas much as need and price point.” When building her bag, in addition to taking into account each bottle’s story, she seeks to fulfill requests she’s received from buyers and ultimately to “hit various sweet spots” for different accounts.

Here are the six bottles Miller is tasting with buyers—and telling stories about—today. (The prices listed are Chambers & Chambers’ suggested retail prices for the California market.)

Bottle 1: Bokisch Vineyards Terra Alta Vineyard Clements Hills Albariño, Lodi, California 2016;  $19.50

“We had an Internet Zoom [conference] in the morning with Markus Bokisch of [Bokisch Vineyards] in Lodi, so he’s got two slots in my bag today,” Miller says, noting that Bokisch focuses on Spanish varietal wines and that the Terra Alta vineyard is certified organic by the CCOF, as well as certified green by the Lodi Rules Program. She says that the volcanic loam soils in the Bokisch vineyards show through in the mouthfeel of this wine, and the crisp acidity “may mislead you into thinking it’s actually a Spanish import.”

Bottle 2: Bokisch Vineyards Belle Colline Vineyard Clements Hills Monastrell, Lodi, California 2014; $25.00

“This is my favorite red from the Bokisch wines,” Miller says. “I love presenting it because no one has ever not loved it.” Miller reiterates the effects of volcanic clay loam soils on Bokisch’s fruit and explains that 2014 was the first vintage made by Bokisch’s current winemaker, Elyse Perry. “Her refined style proves that elegant wines can come from Lodi, despite its reputation for a warm climate. No overripe juice here.”

Bottle 3: Triennes IGP Var Rosé, Provence, France 2016; $18.00

Is it ever not rosé season in L.A.? Miller wonders aloud. She hates to describe this wine as Chambers’ “workhorse rosé,” believing that such a term belies its elegance, but she emphasizes that the quality-to-price ratio here is impressive. Triennes is a joint project of Jacques Seysses, of Domaine Dujac in Burgundy, and Aubert de Villaine, of Domaine de la Romanée-Conti (Burgundy), Domaine A. et P. de Villaine (Bouzeron), and Hyde de Villaine (Napa). “Need I say more?” asks Miller. This rosé is made up of Cinsault, Syrah, Grenache, and Merlot, and she describes its flavor profile as the epitome of Provençal rosé, noting that the 2016 vintage is currently “singing.”

Bottle 4: Château Léoube Rosé de Léoube, Côtes de Provence, France 2016; $21

Romain Ott, of the Domaine Ott winegrowing family, is Léoube’s winemaker, and he’s a huge supporter of environmentally friendly winemaking, says Miller. Biodynamic practices in the vineyard, as well as organically farmed fruit, are nonnegotiable for this renowned vigneron. Miller refers to this blend of Grenache, Cinsault, Syrah, and Mourvèdre as “happiness in a bottle.” She adds that the estate makes up the largest privately owned property on the Côte d’Azur. “You can practically taste the sunshine and salty Mediterranean Sea,” she says, calling this wine a “perfect patio sipper on a beautiful day.”

Bottle 5: Melville Estate Pinot Noir, Santa Rita Hills, California 2014; $38.00

“I’m thrilled that we now represent Melville in Southern California,” Miller says, explaining that she’s personally been drinking the estate’s wines for years. Melville joined Chambers & Chambers’ book in Southern California as of January 1, giving Miller the opportunity to show and sell the wines—and to drink them more often. She describes this bottle as the essence of Santa Rita Pinot and says it gives her a “sensory memory” of visiting the region. The fruit is 40 percent whole-cluster fermented, which, she notes, is evident on the nose and palate. She says it’s “so well balanced and delicious.”

Bottle 6: Vignalta Alpianae Colli Euganei Fior d’Arancio Passito DOCG, Italy  2014; $37.50 (375 ml)

“No one asked for a dessert wine today,” says Miller. “But I have this gem open and it’s literally the wine that won me over to dessert wines. It’s so much fun to show.” It’s made with 100 percent Fior d’Arancio, otherwise known as Orange Muscat. The vines grow in volcanic soils; the fruit is hand-harvested and then vinified in the passito style. She describes this wine as having honeyed orange blossom flavors and says it pairs gorgeously with Gorgonzola, though she concedes that her favorite way to enjoy this wine is drizzled over vanilla ice cream. Miller notes that she’s introduced several accounts to Vignalta’s wines with “this little rock star.”

Vicki Denig is a New York-based wine and spirits journalist and wine educator, discovering the world through the lens of a glass, one sip at a time. When not tasting or traveling, she can most likely be found running through Astoria Park or sipping on Cabernet Franc.

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