NYC wine power list: a discussion

Thanks for the interest and comments in our survey results posted last week. I was on a family vacation so having those preloaded provided me a brief respite–especially when I discovered I inadvertently left my laptop at home!

Channeling my inner Nate Silver, the results of the survey were pretty interesting, so I thought I’d provide a bit more detail. The 29 participants were asked to name the top five most influential people in the NYC wine world today as they see it from their perch (the email stated that the top five could include people living or dead or who resided outside of NYC as long as their influence today was strong). Measuring influence is an amorphous thing so I asked them to define it as they saw fit from their perch, whether that was moving cases or shaping minds, or a bit of both. The reason I asked for the top five was to make respondents focus on submitting five names of people who really matter. Here were the top five, again:

Eric Asimov, NYT
Paul Grieco, Hearth and Terroir wine bars
Michael Skurnik, Michael Skurnik Wines
Daniel Johnnes, Dinex Group, Daniel Johnnes Imports, and La Paulée
Joe Dressner, Louis/Dressner – LDM Selections

There was a tie for sixth place that included Marvin Shanken (publisher of Wine Spectator), Robert Parker (CEO and Chairman of The Wine Advocate Inc.), and David Lillie, a partner in Chambers Street Wines (although some votes came in for CSW generally or also named Jamie Wolff, his business partner).

The next tier saw a tie as well that included: Levi Dalton ( contributor); Alice Feiring (writer); Pascaline Lepeltier (sommelier, Rouge Tomate); and Kermit Lynch (importer).

The next grouping of people that tied included: Joe Bastianich (restaurateur); Robert Bohr (once and future sommelier); Antonio Galloni (wine critic); Michael Madrigale (sommelier, Bar Boulud & Boulud Sud); and Kevin Zraly (author and educator).

The final group to receive more than one vote was: Andrew Cuomo (Governor); Roger Dagorn (sommelier); Bill Deutsch (importer); John Kapon (Acker, Merrall); Jay McInerney (WSJ); Doug Polaner (importer and distributor); Dennis Rosen (State Liquor Authority).

In all, 145 votes were cast. I coded all vote-getters into industry subgroups. As a group, media came out on top with 35% of all votes. Sommeliers (and restaurateurs) came in next with 31% of all votes. Distributors and importers received 22% of the votes while retailers received a scant 7.5% collectively.

Slicing the numbers a bit more, each sommelier mentioned at least one other sommelier. Similarly, each woman respondent mentioned at least one woman. Only one retailer, however, mentioned another retailer.

The findings indicate that media still have a lot of sway, though critics and journalists don’t run the show the way they may have in the past. Also, 13 members of the media received mentions so media influencers are not as concentrated as they once may have been. Respondents view sommeliers as having lots influence in NYC today, which I think is an accurate observation as wine producers may taut a wine list placement more than a critical score. The results show that distributors and importers, particularly mid-sized and boutique, also have a bigger influence than consumers may realize. The fragmented nature of wine retail in NY–licensees are only permitted one location–may have hurt retail as a whole. But it’s clear that Chambers Street Wines has an outsized influence in the category.

The absence of anyone from Southern Wine & Spirits and Empire, the two biggest distributors, is somewhat surprising. But perhaps the nature of the query that focused on people, rather than companies, skewed the replies to smaller players where the name of the name of the person is also the name of the company.

In all, it was a fun exercise and I am grateful to those who took the time to respond. What do you make of the fuller results? I look forward to your thoughts in the comments.

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13 Responses to “NYC wine power list: a discussion”

  1. What strikes me first is that only two women made the full list. Why, I wonder, is Jay McInerney on rather than Lettie Teague? Maybe because most of the voters were men?? In any case, it seems wine is still a good ole boys game.

  2. Not surprised to see Levi Dalton up there towards the top at all. I can’t speak to his influence in the NYC industry, as I’m a lowly flyover state resident, but he is one of the best winebloggers to be sure. His story and the way he approaches wine are inspiring. One video on youtube where he says that he didn’t have a direct mentor or influence but rather took rejection as the impetus to work harder and make the person regret not hiring him was particularly inspiring and really resonated with me. And of course “I’ll Drink To That” is a wonderful podcast.

    Also surprised that there were so few women on the list. And very glad that SWS and Empire weren’t on!

  3. ditto on the under representation of women. shocking, really.

  4. Sharon and Lana – You’re right, there’s an undeniable skew in the responses toward men — a woman on Twitter said that while the list is interesting, “grab a beer because…it’s a total sausage fest.” Which five people would have been on your “most influential” list?

    Kyle – I didn’t see that video of Levi. Do you have the link? Which flyover state do you live in? How’s the wine there?

  5. Not surprised Southern & Empire were not on the list, everyone in the quality wine business remembers the “At Rest” provision.

  6. You don’t get on the list for being a woman. Sorry. You get on the list by being influential. If JR lived in NYC she would have a pretty good shot at being on the list.

  7. Doc, here’s the video.
    Comments are around the 1:45 mark.
    I’m in Illinois, and work for a distributor, so of course the wines I carry are all special flowers whereas everything else is jug wine. 😉
    Seriously, though, there is a high quality of distributors in the state such that even in smaller (40k) towns like mine you can find a large variety of wines, in quality and also variety. You’ll prpbably have to special order them from a trusted retailer (no room for Quintarelli or Roumier on the shelves, what with all the local sweet wines!) But you can still access them.

  8. Dr. Vino, I don’t know the power structure well enough to know which women might have been on the list. But I’m surprised that Lettie Teague didn’t appear rather than Jay McInerney. And I wonder about Mary Ewing-Mulligan. She seems like a likely candidate for the list.

    If there aren’t other viable female candidates, well, that says something unfortunate about the NY wine industry.

  9. Or it says something about the impact they have on the NYC wine scene.

  10. Or the voters.

  11. Dr. Vino, I am surprised that no one from the production side of the wine business made the list. It’s like talking about who is influential in the art world without mentioning any artists or the food world without mentioning chefs. Maybe I am biased because I live in the Finger Lakes close to wine production, but I find it odd that the winemakers who craft the product have no influence (according to your survey) in NYC.

  12. Anybody who thinks that Lettie Teague has power or is taken even remotely seriously by the wine trade is 1) highly delusional and 2) clearly not in the wine business. Go ahead and ask around. The reason there are no women on that list is because there are none who are truly influential. Simple as that. What? This is the Special Olympics? Get over the p.c. nonsense and get real.

  13. The reason why there weren’t any women in the top five is simple: people are most apt to recommend people who are most like them. (Tons of research on topics like hiring practices back this up.) Tyler, as you mention yourself, each sommelier mentioned at least one sommelier. It seems like the only group who didn’t self-recommend were retailers, who perhaps are an unusually self-effacing lot. No producers made the list, because producers didn’t really figure in the list of people asked. Take a look at the (mostly male) survey participants and the math is clear. And no matter the gender, would love to know who Mary Gorman McAdams or Lisa Granik or Laura Maniec or Christy Frank or Melissa Sutherland Amado or Talia Baiocchi or Christy Canterbury or Belinda Chang or Linda Lawry would have chosen. Given the ascendancy of natural wines, it’s surprising not to see Alice Feiring or Pascaline on the list. If you’re going more mainstream, Mary Ewing-Mulligan’s IWC has educated a significant number of people in the wine trade.
    I don’t think think any of this is intentional. I have tons of respect for Tyler, all the participants and the five winners. Aside from the silly rantings of a few unreconstructed misogynists (cf. some comments in this thread), what we’re talking about here are unconscious biases.


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