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Written by MARK JAEGER   
Wednesday, 12 October 2011 23:15

The sales staff of MShiraz, a wine and spirits distributor in Saukville, need to be experts on which labels are hot and which are not in an uncertain economy


Tucked away inconspicuously on the north end of the Saukville business park is what could be described as the area’s largest wine cellar.Director of Sales Stacie Tatera and owner Mark Schraith are dwarfed by the racks of wine cases stored in the MShiraz warehouse on Progress Drive in Saukville.                                              Photo by Mark Jaeger

MShiraz, a wine and spirits distributor, has been operating out of a newly built block building at 668 Progress Dr. since June.

“We are slowly settling in, but things are starting to come into shape,” said owner Mark Schraith.

One thing that is missing is a sign, although Schraith said that is not a priority because the company is not a retail outlet and public awareness is not critical.

“Our drivers know where we are. Besides, a sign costs $5,000,” he said.

Schraith is a former North Shore police officer who shared his interest in wine with a fellow officer. They started a retail outlet, but he eventually left that business.

MShiraz was started in 2008, with warehouse facilities in Glendale and then Milwaukee. The company’s vision was to represent small to medium-sized wineries.

The 7,500-square-foot building has high ceilings to allow for ample storage of cases of wine. Card-coded door locks and security cameras ensure the wine is protected.

“We have enough room to store 18,000 cases of wine, which at our current business level would last for nine months. That’s not what we want. We want the product to keep moving,” Schraith said.

The goal is to keep the wine heading to retail outlets throughout much of the state. A smaller portion of the business involves restaurants and liquor stores.

Although the warehouse is not chilled to “cave temperature,” the optimum climate for long-term storage of red wines, Schraith said the building is so well insulated chilling was not needed, even at the height of summer’s heat.

As a distributor, MShiraz works with wineries, primarily from Wisconsin. It carries about 300 labels.

Schraith said the company’s largest wine provider is von Stiehl Winery of Algoma, which offers sweet cherry wine, brandy-fortified cherry kirsch and a variety of seasonal favorites. The label offers more than 30 varieties and specialty blends.

Other Badger state labels the distributor carries include White Winter Winery out of Iron River, Captain’s Walk Winery from Green Bay, Chateau St. Croix Winery from St. Croix Falls, Muller Winery from Lake  Nebagamon, Harbor Ridge Winery in Egg Harbor and Seven Hawks Vineyards from Fountain City.

“We have learned that Wisconsin people are very loyal to local labels,” he said.

In many cases, Schraith said, state winemakers import grapes from major growers on the West Coast, making it all but impossible to detect regional differences.

“When you are talking about the major varieties of grapes, like Cabernet or Chardonnay, local winemakers are often using fruit from the same vineyards as major California makers,” Schraith said.

“The only difference is the label and how long it took for the grapes to get to the winemaker.”

Wines are offered from seven different California vineyards, as well as producers from Argentina, Italy, Portugal, Spain and South Africa.

Schraith said the largest seller the company carries is ChocoVine, a Dutch product that blends wine and chocolate.

As a distributor, MShiraz doesn’t have to convince consumers they want a specific label or variety.

However, Schraith said it can be just as challenging to convince retailers what labels will be in demand — and being right about that market.

“We have to know what we are talking about when it comes to what costumers want. If we convince a retailer to carry a label and it just sits on the shelf, they aren’t going to be coming back to us,” he said.

For that reason, Schraith said the six-person sales force — which includes him — has to know its wines and the market.

Adding expertise in that area is Stacie Tatera, the company’s director of sales and business relations.

“I love wine,” Tatera admitted unabashedly.

She said the biggest challenge a distributor faces is anticipating market demand, which has been especially challenging in the current economy.

“It is a luxury for most people,” Tatera said.

“We find the most popular price point is $7.99 to $13 (a bottle), and people are pretty adamant about sticking to that price range. The fact is you can get some great wine at that price.”

Tatera repeated a marketing mantra, “Labels sell.”

In that context, she said the best wines do not always sport the most high-end labels.

“When people ask me for recommendations on wine, I always say, ‘If you like it, it is good wine,’” Tatera said.

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