What makes a good Brand Ambassador? That’s the question that I’m constantly examining. As a former child performer, I remember worrying a lot about the future possibility of landing a commercial role for a product that I did not believe in. I was a tiny, yet very truthful actor that would not lie. That is still me. I have to believe.
During in-store tastings curious New Yorkers inquire about how I came to be the NYC Brand Ambassador for Lieb Cellars and Bridge Lane Wine. Prior to joining Team Lieb I spent 14 years in wine retail. I was perfectly content in what I was accomplishing and could have carried on for several more decades.
Back in May 2018 it had been a chaotic week. My husband was receiving his Master’s degree from Columbia, our mothers were meeting for the first time even though we had eloped 8 years before (modern love), and I had just returned from judging a wine competition in Beijing. When an ad crossed my path from New York Wine & Grape Foundation announcing a newly created position of Brand Ambassador, I felt immediately compelled to help promote the New York wine industry at a higher level. My unique set of skills and the requirements involved were evenly matched. I applied and was backed by some top-notch industry references (thank you Joe Czerwinski, Doug Frost, Peter Bell, and Cassidy Havens). I had been selected as one of the top seven but did not secure the position.
Today that position no longer exists. The former Brand Ambassador has gone on to open his own wine shop/wine bar which exclusively features New York wines. But NYWGF set the precedent and that is the model that still drives me for Lieb, for the North Fork of Long Island, and for the wines of New York.
Unofficially and allegedly I may have begun conducting in-store spirits promotions in grocery stores at 17. I had been business savvy for my age, yet I was certainly unfamiliar with those products. The gigs which were booked by my New Orleans agent at the time taught me that even though I was not properly trained people could make up their own minds whether or not to buy based on taste alone.
During my recent end of year review our GM, Ami, expressed her surprise that 3+ years into the job I still haven’t waned in enthusiasm. Enthusiasm is all that I had to offer for many years of my life. That is what I naturally bring to the table. But after several decades of wine studies it is exciting for me to be able to merge presentation skills with solid knowledge.
What is it that I do exactly? I’m not quite sales. I don’t place the orders. I communicate with our distributor reps to assist the buyers. I am the face of Lieb in NYC. I open doors. I show possibilities. I help support. I educate staff. I observe. My job is easy in the fact that I believe in the wine. I’m a really bad liar and everyone would see on my face if I thought otherwise. The truth is Lieb Cellars has a very good thing going, and it’s my job to let the rest of NYC know it.
Sometimes I encounter a shop buyer operating on an old trope that NY wines don’t sell well to New Yorkers. This is a frustrating challenge. When a gatekeeper will not permit even one NY wine to grace the shelf, how is the cycle ever to be broken?
I do understand the skepticism. NYC is an important port which has had centuries of trade ties with wine-producing European countries. Long Island is currently celebrating 50 years of wine production, and while that is an exciting milestone, we must realize that we are playing catch-up against centuries of brand building.
Yet, rapid changes are occurring. In the span of six years I have seen consumers’ attitudes go from hesitancy over canned wine to not even batting an eye. In the span of three years I have seen NYC residents become more and more open to the possibility of enjoying a wine from New York.
During the last few years there was an increase in visits to NY tasting rooms when overseas travel came to a halt. Cooped up New Yorkers sought out local options of entertainment, took advantage of their backyards, and made a connection to the land and vines in a way that had never before occurred. It was a unique time period in history where people from NYC could fall in love with these local wines that they had tasted “on vacation.”
To buyers who may still be hesitant I ask, “When was the last time that you tasted wines of New York?” There is a vast assortment available here which can match trending consumer demands for wines especially those that are sustainable, sparkling, orange, or pet-nat styles, alternative varieties of grapes, wine which are lower in alcohol (resulting from the cool climate), and environmentally-friendly packaging.
Convincing a buyer to put a NY wine on his shelf is one thing, seeing it sell is another. Once a wine hits the shelf it needs to be supported. I help by sharing the story, being on hand for questions, participating in wine dinners, informing staff, and having customers taste and explore.
Wine made on the North Fork of Long Island will never be cheap. Land is expensive and expansion and volume are limited. Labor is an issue globally but is especially challenging in an area with a high cost of living. Still, in terms of quality and value, these wines are evenly matched on a global stage.
Competition for NYC shelf-space is fierce and getting fiercer. Even well-established trading partners such as France and Italy are seeking larger pieces of the US pie to help offset their decline in local consumption.
What can we do? How can we make it better? If you are reading this chances are you are already a fan of wines from NY. And I know some of you may want to keep the tranquil, rural Lieb Cellars tasting room location a secret. But if you wish to truly support local agriculture and sustainability long-term, please share your favorite New York wines with a friend, a colleague, a long-lost cousin, your cat-sitter, a third-date, your yoga instructor…
As ambassadors, we have the power to take New York wine to the next level in terms of recognition and credibility. Your actions can influence trends. Ask yourself which wine regions are worthy of your support. Share the wines that you believe in.
[Bon Voyage Alice!
I want to give a shout out to our departing Marketing Manager Alice Falcone who has reported and helped craft our message of Lieb Cellars through her lens for many years. I remember my first day working with Alice over three years ago. She sat me down at the table by the window in the tasting room to take my photograph for the Team section of the Lieb Cellars site. I had not prepared at all because I was unaware of this task. I had carpooled in from NYC with Mike, Director of Sales as that is one part of our way of saving the planet. I had no make-up on because that’s how I go about life unless the situation dictates otherwise (to combat stage lights for instance.) Luckily I was wearing a whimsical sleeveless dress that made me feel comfortable. It was quirky, a sort of deconstructed paisley, yet neutral with purple accents. Alice served me a very generous pour of the Lieb Cellars Estate Chardonnay as my prop, snapped a few shots, and showed me the results. I reacted, “I can look friendlier than that.” We went again and quickly after in the natural light cascading in from Oregon Road she captured the true essence of me as a wine professional who is always ready to help.
Alice you and your talents will be missed! Good luck in your new adventures!]
Thank you for reading!
Aimée Lasseigne New
NYC Brand Ambassador
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