Bringing the Renaissance of Armenian Wines to the US With Zack Armen of Storica Wines


by Drew Hendricks
Last updated Sep 15, 2022

Legends Behind the Craft Podcast

Last Updated on September 15, 2022 by rise25

Zack Armen
Bringing the Renaissance of Armenian Wines to the US With Zack Armen of Storica Wines 11

Zack Armen is the Co-founder and President of Storica Wines, an Armenian wine import company in the US. He is an American Armenian who grew up in Long Island, New York, but was raised very close to Armenian culture and heritage.

Zack travels to Armenia every year, and during one of his trips in 2017, he noticed the sudden boom of wine bars and wine drinking. He started to ask around, met two of the best winemakers in Armenia, and the rest is history. Today, through Storica Wines, Zack continues to bring Armenia’s finest wines to the US consumer.

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Here’s a glimpse of what you’ll learn: 

  • Zack Armen gives an overview of Armenian wines
  • Zack shares how and why he got into wine
  • The foundational grapes and winemaking style in Armenia
  • How the climate and topography of Armenia influence the quality of its grapes
  • What’s the price point of Armenian wines?
  • How Storica has expanded and burst through markets
  • What it takes to diversify across regions 
  • Zack’s advice for someone thinking of jumping into a new wine region and bringing it to the US

In this episode with Zack Armen

When it comes to winemaking, the top countries that come to mind are Italy, France, and Spain. But did you know that lesser-known countries like Armenia have been making excellent wine starting 6,000 years ago?

Since its independence in 1991, wine cultivation in Armenia has experienced a renaissance. Quality wine, wine bars, and wine drinking have made a huge comeback. Zack Armen saw this as an opportunity to reintroduce Armenia to the world as a producer of fine wines.

In this episode of the Legends Behind the Craft podcast, Drew Thomas Hendricks and Bianca Harmon host Zack Armen, the Co-founder and President of Storica Wines, to talk about Armenian wine. Zack discusses the history of winemaking in Armenia and the renaissance of its wine industry. He shares how he was able to introduce Armenian wines to the US market and how Storica Wines expanded rapidly since its inception in 2018.

.Resources Mentioned in this episode

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Episode Transcript

Intro  0:03  

Welcome to the Legends Behind the Craft podcast where we feature top leaders in the wine and craft beverage industry with your host Drew Hendricks. Now let’s get started with the show.

Drew Thomas Hendricks  0:14  

Drew Thomas Hendricks here. I’m the host of the Legends Behind the Craft podcast where I talk with leaders in the wine and craft beverage industry. Now on this show, we really try to highlight areas in the industry and the stories behind everything that goes into the final product. And we’ve had some great conversations on the show. Well, last week had to be one of my favorites. We had six members of the Kirchhoff family on the show, we talked about what it truly means to run a small family and winery. Okay, if you haven’t listened to that one yet. That is definitely a must listen. Today’s episode is sponsored by Barrels Ahead. The Barrels Ahead will work with you to implement a wonderful marketing strategy that highlights your authenticity, tells your story and connects you with your ideal customers. In short, we help wineries and craft beverages producers unlock their story to unleash their revenue. Go to barrelsahead.com today to learn more. Today we have Bianca Harmon joining us again she’s one of our direct to consumer marketing strategist. How’s it going, Bianca?

Bianca Harmon  1:16  

It’s good Drew. Thanks. Happy to be here and stoked to talk with Zack and learn all about Armenian wine.

Drew Thomas Hendricks  1:24  

Yes, yes. Today we have another really special episode. We’re diving deep into Armenian wines. Armenia is one of the ancient wine regions of the world. And it’s currently experiencing a winemaking rest Renaissance. Today’s guest Zack Armen is president of Storica Wines. It’s a Boston based import company importing wines from Armenia, and Zack and his team’s mission is to bring the category of Armenian wines to the US consumer. Welcome to the show, Zack.

Zack Armen  1:53  

Thanks, Drew for having me. And thank you, Bianca, I’m excited to talk to you guys about the world of Armenian wine.

Drew Thomas Hendricks  2:00  

Yes, I think we need to jump right in and kind of go straight to give us a brief overview of Armenian wines.

Zack Armen  2:08  

Sure. So one of our distributors actually aptly named us the oldest new wine region in history, which is, which sounds very counterintuitive, but it’s actually quite true. Given that Armenia is one of the most oldest and most ancient winemaking regions by historical standards. It’s actually the location where the oldest known winery was discovered from over 6100 years ago. This is this is a cave that is in the same one of the regions where we source our minds today called out any and that came was from over 6100 years ago, where they were growing a lot of the same grapes that Armenia is growing today. But by contemporary standards, we really opened meaning over the last 100 or so years, Armenia has not been a known wine region of quality wines, much of that having to do with the fact that it was a Soviet satellite country for most of the 1900s. And during that time, the Soviet Union had designated Armenia as the brandy producing region, and Georgia as the wine producing region. And so as a result of that, there was really no market for fine winemaking in Armenia, and therefore, there was no winemaking infrastructure. And really, that persisted until the early 2000s When Armenia had been an independent republic since 1992. And so, in those early 2000s, there, there was this influx of rediscovery of the ancient grapes, and actually a whole bunch of vines that had stayed fruiting or able to fruit for for for generations, that were then reinvigorated, new vines were planted. New winemaking infrastructure was built by many world class winemakers from around the world, both Armenian diasporans and also non Armenians that just saw the potential for the terroir of Armenia. Its climate, its its its precipitation and sunlight profile, its elevations, its soil, and really set this is a beautiful palette for fine winemaking. We just set up shop here and so that of course took that then many years to start to to play itself out and build up into the infrastructure that exists in Armenia today, which is really one that is ready to explode when it comes to becoming a resident wine region by global standards, because now really, over the last 567 years, have there been vintages that have come out at a at a large enough volume at a high enough quality for Armenian wines to begin to truly compete on a global stage.

Drew Thomas Hendricks  4:47  

Amazing is that did the Armenians population is it a wine-drinking population?

Zack Armen 4:52  

Well, it’s funny because that has actually become now in this recent generation, a huge part of culture. So, again, the Soviet influence in the you know, I’ll say the Gen. I don’t know if it’s Gen X, or the the baby boomers will say that the baby boomer generation was very focused, there was really no, there was no wine bars, in Yerevan was at the capital of Armenia, there was really no wine drinking culture there. And now, really, over the last 10 years, there’s been this boom in the presence of wine in Yerevan and other parts of the country. They’re even like sections of the capital city that are dedicated to just having wine bar after wine bar after wine bar. And so it’s really fast become a major wine drinking population, predominantly in the capital city. But that’s really been a recent phenomenon. That’s a function of this of this winemaking movement.

Drew Thomas Hendricks  5:50  

Oh, that’s, that’s fantastic. So it is there is a it’s not just made for export, it’s definitely the resident populations drinking it. I gotta ask How How did you get into wine? And why wine for you? That’s a question I’m asked.

Zack Armen  6:03  

Well, my background is, is finance and I worked in early stage Life Sciences investing. So definitely not a wine person by my by my background, or my my professional efforts until this project. I’m Armenian American. I grew up in Long Island, New York, and was raised American but also was raised very close to my culture and heritage, like a lot of Armenian diaspora. It’s from USR. And so my parents always instilled in us the importance of maintaining our heritage and our culture, and to give back as best as we can to that heritage and culture. And I got to watch a lot of that through a charitable organization that my dad started about 20 years ago, which became an important part of, of our family’s activities, we’d go to Armenia every summer and, and help with the programs that the charity was running and participate in, in fundraising events in the US over the course of the year. So that became a normal part of my life. And then, in going and visiting Armenia, I started to get exposed to this one. And really, there was an inflection point almost like in one year was back in 2017, when all of a sudden this kind of boom of wine bars and wine drinking was happening again in Yerevan and I was there just for a vacation with some friends. And I started to wonder what was going on. I was not aware of the of the winemaking heritage and history of Armenia. And so I got very curious and I started to ask around, and I got the opportunity and the privilege to meet two of the the winemakers who are kind of leading this charge, which are Vahe and Aimee Keushguerian on a father daughter combo, who had set up shop in Armenia. And we’re, and we’re producing some of the top wines coming out of the region, two of which are our our sort of flagship products today, which are Keush and Zulal flagship brands. And so I spent a whole lot of time over the course of the next several months, just bugging them, and fortunate to get on Zoom calls with me. So I can ask questions and figure out, you know, what was going on. And ultimately, what what became very apparent was, this was a great product. This was obviously a really interesting story. And it was something that I believed and they believe would be an important part of not only the economic development of the country, but also of the kind of cultural development of the country to be able to have Armenia be a place known for fine winemaking. And to then have people come and visit the country and stimulate tourism just seemed like a really powerful way to impact what was happening for many generations. So I sort of jumped at that opportunity to make that kind of an impact. And it also got to be really good business. Not fully appreciating how difficult of an industry it was in the US to sell alcohol, or wine and spirits. You know, this is a huge market, and this is a good product. So there’s got to be a way to sell it into this market and make some money doing stuff. So that was kinda like, okay, let’s just kind of jump into this thing and figure it out. And then we, we went from there.

Bianca Harmon  9:21  

So I saw that so all the wine that you’re getting it’s, it’s from growers out there you partnered with these wineries or are you just importing it? How does that all work?

Zack Armen  9:34  

Sure. So five of the six brands we have today eight work in a very simple import supplier relationship, meaning we are their United States, exclusive importer, and we buy finished wine goods from them. Their job is to produce the wine and it’s all produced in Armenia. We do make suggestions and sometimes more stringently and others as to the style. And as to the label and visuals around the wine that many of our winemakers have actually taken very well and it’s actually helped their products get better. But ultimately, they are spires, we are their importer, you buy the goods from them, and then it becomes our responsibility to bring it here and sell it here. One of our brands Shofer, we actually created ourselves and so that’s, that’s like a private label or white label that we actually are now rotating between different wineries by vintage to produce the juice that ultimately goes into that bottle. So it’s still all produced in Armenia by Armenian winemakers. And it’s still all Armenian, indigenous varietals because we only do Armenian indigenous grapes. But in that case, the the actual business relationship is slightly different. Interesting.

Drew Thomas Hendricks  10:53  

So importing the wines, I think is a good case of not knowing what you didn’t know, as far as getting categories placed on the shelf. And the difficulty of that back in back in the day when I was selling wine or as a wine buyer, there are two categories that we were trying to get on the shelf. It was the dawn of the Austrian imports of Gruner Veltliner and educating the consumer on Austrian wines was kind of the last challenge that I had before I left the actual sales floor is you’re bringing this is you’re bringing in Armenian wines in and you’re trying to expand the category, how are you overcoming some of these challenges?

Zack Armen  11:29  

It’s not easy, as you definitely know, from your experience Drew, to bring what is I’ll say, a multi layered, unknown, not only is it an unknown region, these are unknown grapes. And it’s it’s also, you know, an unknown category, if you will, and then the brands are unknown. So you’ve got multiple layers of, of apprehension, at least, from the start. And so, you know, what we really focus on is, number one, telling the story to make it sound interesting right away. And that’s not hard, because it is an interesting story. And there’s plenty, there’s plenty of storytelling content for us to to share right away to kind of get their attention. And then it’s doing our best to to then parlay that into having them try to wine right away. And, and, you know, I’m, I’m naive to like the sales tactics that our team uses every day. But I know they’re good at it. Because of just the growth we’ve had in sales. What I tell them is, like, let’s let’s do our best to almost make it seem like we’re giving them this offer that not many people get, which is which will work in the beginning. And hopefully one day, we won’t be able to do that, because it is going to be well accepted and all over the place. And that’s part of it. And also just the support we offer as a company ultimately helps mitigate the risk that our distributors are thinking they’re going to have to bear by taking our portfolio. And that was a very intentional business strategy we took from the beginning, which was, even as someone tries our wines and recognizes that they’re really good, and they are on a really good price to quality ratio. Ultimately, this is a major risk for them to take on to then sell into their customer base. So we’ve got to make it seem to them, like almost a risk free exercise by basically saying we’ve got all this support in terms of our own salespeople who we pay and will continue to pay, but you get to use in market work in other training seminars, educational sessions, events, tastings, etc. And so, you know, by offering that alongside what I would say is a really good economic paradigm and having a really good price to quality ratio is really all of our skews. That’s been what has ultimately helped us to get distributors comfortable and actually really happy about taking our portfolio because then they see the response on the market side and then they sort of say, okay, you know, this is this thing is going to actually work.

Drew Thomas Hendricks  14:09  

Talking about price and quality. Get me included, give us a brief overview of the grapes. What what could someone envision as a comparison, so they get an idea of wines that are from Armenia?

Zack Armen  14:25  

Sure. So I’ll talk about the grapes. And then I’ll talk about the winemaking styles and ultimately targeted the the price points were at so on the red side Areni is the is the sort of core or most popular red grape that is coming out of Armenia right now. And I think four of our skews are just pure Areni ones, either stainless steel tank aged purely or stainless steel tank plus, plus banner leaves in the case of reserves, and we even have some skews that are fermented in in some form or clay pot, but we’re under meaning the word is cotton’s and we’ll talk But those because those are really those are really fun and unique. So, on the red side, it is the Areni grade on the white side, it is the Voskehat grape, which translates to Golden Berry and Armenian. So those are kind of like the the foundational grapes coming out of Armenian, there are many other red and white grapes that are already being worked with by various vineyards. And then there are a bunch that are actually coming online where they’ve been discovered as rare grapes, but that people are starting to plant that are that are really special and unique. And we’ll be likely importing wines that have those in them as well over time. So as far as similarity to groups, we know and again, this is another part of the story that that really gives us a good chance of being successful because it’s a positive attribute, which is that the red, both the red and the white, the Areni and the Voskehat have similarities to grapes that the American palate knows and really likes, but are unique enough that they kind of draw on some some intrigue factor. So they’re a nice balance between the unknown, but not offensively unknown or too far away from what we like so that they are hard to accept. So in the case of Areni, they’re very similar to Pinot Noir where their fruit forward, the some of them have an interesting, spicier peppery finish. And they’re they’re bigger, like almost like a cab and a pinata baby. Like, that’s what I say to people in my wine team, like cringes. But But that I think is an interesting way to describe it because they are high tannin, big, big structured wines because of the nature of the elevation and the terroir. But ultimately, the grape is very much like a Pinot, Pinot Noir. And on the white side, again, similar to like a Chardonnay or even heard ser, portion and blonde, but bigger and drier. So we’ve had that feedback from the distribution, infrastructure, we have two which is people, it’s clear to people that these wines, the grapes themselves are similar enough to these grades. And also the winemaking style that your winemakers have adopted is actually more geared towards a Western palate. And that that kind of really makes us feel good because that we think will allow for the adoption to be even faster than what it would have been if it was just, Hey, these are great wines for the price. 

Drew Thomas Hendricks  17:29  

Sure, sure. So as far as the microclimate or the climate of Armenia, so that our Areni would be akin to a Pinot Noir is the climate similar to what you’d see in Burgundy. Or maybe it’s actually

Zack Armen  17:42  

so that the soil is like Tuscany, where there’s where there’s quite a bit of soil, it’s not all volcanic soil. There’s also there’s also other soil ties with but there’s a there’s a reasonable amount of volcanic and then clay soil. As far as the temperature goes, it’s it’s sort of like New York, where it gets really hot in the summer, and really cold in the winter. But Armenia actually gets 300 days of sunlight, which is 30% more than the average European country. So the sunlight factor is unique. Number two, the microclimates that exists, especially in the high elevation regions like violets door, which is where there’s like the map of Armenia, that’s the most popular and most well planted wine region of Armenia, those grapes are grown anywhere between 12 118 100 meters above sea level. So a whole bunch of microclimate and you get a whole bunch of volatility in microclimate at that elevation. And that ultimately leads to that complexity and flavor and aroma that we see in a lot of our waters. So you kind of have like a not an ideal before, like if you could draw it up yourself, but a pretty close to ideal palette of climate terroir, and kind of great profile. 

Bianca Harmon  19:08  

Interesting. 

Zack Armen  19:12  

And then, you asked about price points. So our core our core problems with represent 80% of our volume are in the 17 $22 range as far as the price of the show, which right where we wanted the right fastest growing part of the category. And we think like that nice sweet spot to play for a new region that wants to bet we don’t want to we don’t want to be a commodity from the beginning. I want to be a premium product. So most of our products are there and those are really on the steel side, purely stainless steel tank gauged. And then our sparkling portfolio. We have a non vintage champagne method sparkler. That’s 20 to $25 on the shelf. That’s actually like our I’ll call it our Keystone products because it’s seeming means not easy to have a champagne quality, sparkling wine offered champagne. That is this is right there with all the top notch champagnes in the world. And it’s it’s 20 to $25 on the shelf.

Bianca Harmon  20:15  

Yeah, I was going to ask about that one. If that was a that was a hit or not. I mean, especially with the price point, and is it? Is it dry? I mean, is it

Zack Armen  20:24  

very dry? Very stone fruit. And and it’s just we cannot keep this product in our warehouse. We keep having our one week winemaker to make sure he has enough out here to the US because this is a real and yeah, you’ll have to try so.

Bianca Harmon  20:46  

So I mean, are they mostly on the East Coast? The wines are they being distributed? States, they’re in

Zack Armen  20:54  

20 ish states. And that includes West Coast, East Coast, southeast, Midwest, the Corn Belt, we’re everywhere right now. And we’re growing that in that footprint, where we should be at about 25 states by the end of the year, and covering really all the major metro areas. So you know, our biggest markets are Boston, Metro LA, Metro, New York City metro. We’re growing pretty rapidly, actually in Missouri, because we got really great distributor there. South Florida, yeah.

Drew Thomas Hendricks  21:31  

How are they? How are you able to get? I mean, how are is you’re branching out and you’re seeing tremendous growth and all these regions, how are your distributors or sales reps, spreading the word and getting getting the placements? We’re

Zack Armen  21:43  

good, right team, our team is good. We’ve hired six or seven people who come from the wine industry, they’ve had 20 ish years of experience themselves, on the supplier side and on the distributor, side, retail side. And so they come with a Rolodex. Some of them come with this really struggle with the decks. And then they also come with experience in like, how do you go from reaching out to somebody and sending samples to initiating a partnership on distribution side? And then how do you then translate that to showing those distributors early success in their markets, some of it is, we already did some of the work in some of these markets. Like for instance, in Massachusetts, we were self distributed for about a year. And my team just opened up 50 accounts themselves. But that was a very easy sell to our distributor there. As far as like, they could see how they just work off of that existing list. But in most markets, it’s really just been like, we’re, we’re a real company, we’ve got real professionals. And we’ve got this product that’s really interesting. And the good news is some of the real wine people in this country have been clued into early July. And they’ve talked about it. So like I would say, some have had some said, oh, yeah, we’ve heard about this region, but we’ve never really tried anything from and that obviously helps to actually get them to listen. But it’s been a lot of just slogging it out. And like, and like bugging people to death, it gets easier and easier, what’s good, versus where we were a year, year and a half ago, just begging people to try some samples. So we’ve come a long way in that respect. But ultimately, it comes down to our team doing a lot of a hand to hand combat market and showing our distributors early on, that this is going to sell through. And then it just creates this like self fulfilling feedback loop of they see success, they learn how we do it. So they start doing it like that. And then they do it on their own. But then we keep coming and reinforcing it by showing up in their market, sending our wine makers there. And so that’s kind of the formula that seems to be working and we just need to keep doing it. It seems like

Drew Thomas Hendricks  24:02  

that’s a trend. I mean, that’s, that’s a smart formula. And that’s one of the on the show. We I’m always trying to I’m always asking people, how they expand out how they break into new markets. And inevitably, it’s hire top talent. They’re used to selling a complex sale that are able to show that value proposition and then having boots on the ground that can actually get the wines in the person’s hand and taste it. Yes. Versus just importing it and hoping someone’s going to taste it.

Zack Armen  24:28  

No, we do that would work. And the, I guess sort of unfortunate for the industry, but fortunate for us. That’s how everyone else was trying to do it. As far as everyone else being the important landscape of our wine importers. They just figured they can import it here and then they don’t move. And and I say fortunately for us because just from a purely business standpoint, we’ve solved that problem. And therefore we should reap the benefits of being the leader and continuing to be the leader because we’re the ones investing In that US based effort, which is expensive, it’s time consuming, it’s gone and energy consuming. And it’s not easy to do. So as much as sometimes day to day. It’s like, it’s painful. And we know what’s going to pay dividends because it’s just, it’s just the hard work you got to do to get yourself any kind of studying in this world.

Bianca Harmon  25:22  

So are you constantly adding or searching for new wineries to add to your profile? Or are you kind of sticking with what you got?

Zack Armen  25:32  

Well, we have this debate. It used to be intellectual and intellectual debate. Now, it’s a real business debate of where is the right cut for size of portfolio. And that likely changes over time as we grow our distribution footprint. So there’s no right answer to and we’ve kind of felt that out as we’ve gone. And we will add one, maybe two more brands this year, it was important for us to diversify across the regions, which we’ve done. So we’ve gotten lines from the two main regions, and we’ll add a brand from the third region. So that was an important kind of strategic intention for us to diversify across regions to also diversify across winemaking styles. So we added that brand musket balls, which is the one that has the clay aged collection, and we actually only import their clays, wine. So we’ve had cooperation from your side, as far as, hey, we really think these are the skews that will work well in the US. And they’ve been cooperative, like not forcing us to take all of their schools. And then, and then ultimately, it’s also diversifying across price points, right. So being in that sweet spot of 17, or 22, having some reserve or vintage sparklers in that 3040 range, and then having some really kind of special small production, premium wines in the 60 to 80 range. And so we’ve we’ve done a good job of filling each component of that matrix. So now it’s just like, where do we start to get too much bandwidth use of our team and bringing new ones in. And that’s why we’ve made a decision. Actually, recently, we’re going to bring these one or two brands. And that’s it, at least for the next year. Hopefully next year, we’re an even better spot from US side sales and distribution perspective that makes sense to layer in another brand. But now we’ve got to be more focused on the US successor, as opposed to before we were a little bit more focused on like, we got to start getting going with a bunch more focused on the Armenian side of that.

Bianca Harmon  27:37  

So do you think I mean, this might be crazy. But do you think you know that this Armenian wine region just really hasn’t been known out here? So you’ve come in, you’ve done this? Do you think you’ve really helped these wineries grow? are they producing more wine now that you’ve gotten involved? Are they I mean, is it is it becoming busier for them

Zack Armen  27:56  

to be a little crude, they were producing this amount without really advanced versus which I think we’ve helped solve, or what could have become a really painful business dynamic for them. Again, the, these, this cohort of winemakers really cares about this, this region becoming a relevant region in the world. And they’ve made that investment at risk to do so which is to have enough volume that when ready, and they found the right importer, for the major markets that they can provide. So in that respect, we owe a lot to them having taken that risk. And it’s made our lives easier as the importer us to be able to start our business as fast as we have. So right now they’re producing kind of where they want it to be, with the exception of the Keush, because that nonvintage has grown so freaking fast that like, even that wasn’t there. If I was like, I couldn’t have expected this, you know, this three years ago, I made this decision because it’s a it’s a it’s 22 months on release, and it has to ferment prior. So it’s one of those long lead time skews that now that they’ve seen the inklings of success here, I think they will continue to ramp and we’ve, we’ve done our best to show them kind of where we expect each of their brands to head to on a steady state basis. But even for us, we’re still just doing, we’re still projecting off of not a whole lot of data. So we’re not looking at

Drew Thomas Hendricks  29:30  

looking at your portfolio brands. They’re all very, very avant garde, is that I mean, the labels look awesome. So I mean, I mean, it’s something that just walking down the shelf, I would grab it just out of curiosity. Have you helped these them with the with the brand and the look and the labels or is this something that’s part of the culture over there?

Zack Armen  29:49  

Well, there they are. A lot of this was that there are certain instances where we hope hide, just to make it even more eye catching like in the case of Zulal. All right. We made the reserve label a black background instead of the white background just so that it was distinctive enough as a different SKU, and could connote a little bit more of premiumness. And then we’ve done some things like remove some Armenian lettering from the front and put it in the back. So it’s like little tweaks. But all of these brands, except for Shofer, they really had the design aesthetic down, and, and even our logo, the Storica logo, we actually bought that from an Armenian designer. I think that logo is just beautiful and like so such a great balance of being understated and also telling a nice story up and being symbolic. So there is a really strong design, like talent infrastructure in Armenia, that were the leverage, I can see like that ocean

Drew Thomas Hendricks  30:50  

label looks great. And given the difficult to pronounce great names, there’s a lot a lot of areas on the label that can intimidate someone quite a bit. Yeah, it makes the look so much more accessible. And maybe if you’re looking at a wallet, and I want to point out German wines, but with their archaic labels in there long, long, long name,

Zack Armen  31:14  

we want to strike this balance too have of being true to the uniqueness of the region, but also be approachable. So I’m glad you say that because we feel like our winemakers and us have struck a nice balance with a lot of these labels. And that’s important, right? Like it’s important what the thing looks like. It’s important what what it tastes like? Yeah,

Drew Thomas Hendricks  31:37  

especially if we’re on the shelf talking about the shelf placement. Where do you typically see the German, German, Armenian wines? Where do they where do stores place them?

Zack Armen  31:47  

It’s a good question. And we’ve kind of tried to be changemakers, not changemakers. But influencers when it comes to how should people think about the Armenian category and where it belongs? So ideally, for us, they have, an Armenian wine section, now, they don’t have enough wine yet to really justify that some stores have done it, where they like, just as a layout of their store is conducive to having many different categories and sections. But ultimately, it typically goes into like in Eastern Europe, section or, there is this growing categorization which we like ancient world, so not all, the ancient world, which is Georgia, Lebanon, Israel, Armenia, were these are these are ancient, by civil just civilizations, like forget about the white product, really by any like any like life standard. These are ancient regions. So it’s you can you can like, you can latch on to that notion, regardless of whether you believe in the fact that they are older than Old World wines, which they are, but some Italians and French don’t want to admit that. So so we actually think that that’s a really good, like classification, delineation to occur over time. And we will keep trying to like, pound that drum as hard as we can. Because it is it is ultimately going to benefit all of these reasons, which we hope that it will not just Armenia

Drew Thomas Hendricks  33:14  

I think that think that always curious to hear how people hike. I like that the Ancient World wines. We didn’t have that. And I didn’t really know what, like what we had at the time. And back in the 90s. We did have the one for Lebanon, and we put it in the Cabernet category, because that’s

Zack Armen  33:32  

closest thing for it. Well, there seems to be a lot of like competitiveness in the world of wine, which I think is like the world of art, where at the end of the day, there’s like, there’s like a curation process that breeds competitiveness. And so I like being the naive guy and just trying to think about like, what I should call this stuff. I started with all this world, which everyone said, No, you’re gonna relate this off field wrote guys, if you say oldest world, even, it’s true. That’s a kind of a direct shot. So I’ve been I’ve talked off that that ancient world really resonates

Drew Thomas Hendricks  34:08  

like that. As far as your percentage, we’ve got your your sell direct to consumer, I’m looking at your site right now selling to a ton of different states. What percentage of your wines comes? Are you selling directly, and what percentage are sold on premise and off premise

Zack Armen  34:24  

95% is, is the traditional way, which is just through distributors and then eventually to off premise, we really do want to do things to stimulate growth on the online side. And that was part of the rationality to build the capabilities to sell on our website, which we which is useful for us in many different respects, not just purely like to have people ordered the line. And that’s where we get our lines. As we grow the category awareness. The the tip, the traditional distribution, selling will actually benefit you because people are gonna want to restaurants, they’re going to try a glass of the wine, they’re going to be intrigued, they’re gonna take a picture of the label, and then they’re going to that’s ultimately should lead to conversion of sales on the online store. We’re also really focused on getting onto third party online platforms like wine.com. And working with various wine clubs around the country, we actually work with a couple of wine clubs now that are online, only that, that really love our wines. And their customers must because they keep ordering more. So it’s part of our strategy. But I’d say it’s not a core part of our strategy, we’re hoping that it grows, and then we can start to dedicate more resources to it. And when we see that growth

Drew Thomas Hendricks  35:39  

that’s right now, most mostly through the three tier

Zack Armen  35:41  

system. Yep, we sell the distributors. And then they, they sell it through to their accounts. And, and again, big part of what we do is we send in our own people very quickly, to help support the initial account building of those new markets, and then to incentivize through, you know, different promotions, like a fiberglass placement, it will get a sales rep, a bigger like, bonus than a shelf placement, because those are harder, right. And those are where we’re gonna get, in my mind the best bang for our buck. from a brand standpoint, which is most important right now, we want as much mouse traffic as possible, which is, by the glass, right, you’re only competing against a handful of wines, as opposed to a few 100 wines like on the shelf. And we’ve been successful in getting some really great fiberglass placements, really now, this summer being like the first true season where COVID Knock on wood is not going to be an impactor of the on premise world. Our sparkling wines are on lists in Martha’s Vineyard and Nantucket and Cape Cod. So like typical summer locations, in metro areas like Chicago, DC, New York, Boston, LA. So we were prioritizing that like what we call beachfront real estate, because that’s ultimately going to not only have the have the best sales velocity, but have the best kind of awareness generation deficit. Right. Yeah,

Drew Thomas Hendricks  37:11  

I like the marketing through the three tier systems always a big topic on the show. And I like that it’s really that support, because a lot of the misconceptions on the importers are once it gets picked up by the distributor, it’s, it’s their job now.

Zack Armen  37:26  

Yeah. And it’s, it’s a painful pill for an importer to swallow, which is I’ve done all this work to get the wine here, and I’m taking this razor thin margin, and now you’re asking me to actually deploy my own resources that I paid for to do your job. I mean, that’s effectively what the trade off comes down to. And I think a lot of importers just just don’t want to do that. Because of the near term mindset of, of, you know, that’s your job. But we don’t think of it that we actually think it’s all of our jobs, because we’re doing something that’s hard with a product that is competing as a whole a whole bunch of other products that are, you know, resonant in hearts and minds of consumers. So to unlock that, or to replace that with something else. It’s just not an easy exercise. So we need to deploy resources, and we need to invest real dollars and real people in ourselves. And then eventually, if we do our jobs, right, and our distributors do our jobs, right, it will become ever more increasingly, you know, easy and less, you know, economically burdensome.

Drew Thomas Hendricks  38:31  

Sure, yeah, no, no one’s ever going to be able to replace your entertains passion for wines. So that it’s important that that’s out there. What other advice would you have on someone that’s thinking about jumping into a new wine region of the world and bring it to the US?

Zack Armen  38:44  

Have access to a lot of cash. It’s a, I think this is probably true of like many other businesses, and even some of the well established wine regions where you’re starting a new, a new import business, if you just you just have to be willing to invest in these. And you’ve got to do it in a way that’s, that’s professionally credible, because especially if it’s a new region, you’re going to be fighting against preconceived notions, right? Especially in the world of wind, where if it’s not coming from four or 5 million regions, people assume it’s not going to be quality, it’s not going to be up to you know, whatever standards they have. And so your job is really to make sure that there’s no way to poke a hole in that in that argument. And so that’s a really big focus of ours. It’s just, we really make sure that we’re shedding ourselves in the best light as we can and shedding our wines and our winemakers in our story in the best way that we can. Good.

Drew Thomas Hendricks  39:53  

Zack as we’re wrapping up, is there anything we haven’t talked about that you want to bring up?

Zack Armen  39:58  

This has been great Drew Bianca, thank you both again for the time. And we, you know, we really always like to tell our story. And we hope that it that it resonates with people. We’re always available for for your listeners or anybody else to reach out with questions, comments, suggestions, we still think of this as a grassroots effort, even though we’re scaling to be a national brand. I’ll just say, you know, we’re always looking for creative suggestions on on, you know, how we get the product to the right places. So there’s seemingly a small number of people that, that that influence a big chunk of the business in this country. And so we know that people are hard to get to, and that they have a short attention span. So we’re always looking for ways to like cut through that. And so I’ll just offer it out to the public. And you guys, have any, any folks that you think are worthwhile for for us to reach out to and try the wine. That that’s, that’s something we jot down those opportunities. Absolutely. I’ll say one more thing, which is Armenia, even though it’s in a region that most people would think of as, as contentious or maybe dangerous. It is one of the safest countries in the world, the crime rate is like, insanely low. It’s also like just a really fun place to go with a very welcoming culture, that’s tourism focused. It’s very affordable, you will struggle to spend more than 20 bucks a person on a three course dinner and wine, and people should go because it’s super fun. 

Drew Thomas Hendricks  41:42  

That’s really great to hear. I and I grew up in San Diego, in North County, and there’s a large Armenian population and Lacoste area. So I’ve kind of been tangentially part of the with friends and part of the culture grant but I’ve never really never really occurred to me to visit so I like to know that that’s a it’s a it’s a destination place.

Zack Armen  42:02  

And now Qatar Airways, which is voted the the number one airline in the world flies through Doha, Qatar to Armenia so even though it’s a long trip, you’ll be sitting in a really nice airline nice airport. So it’ll it’ll be a pleasant experience. And we’ll get you right into the heart of Armenia. And, and it’s, it really is a fun place to go see, and to go spend time and eat the food and drink the wine and, and interact with the people.

Bianca Harmon  42:31  

My sister went to like the Sri Lanka area. Okay. On she flew the she flew Qatar air airlines, and she was talking about how fantastic it was.

Zack Armen  42:44  

It’s like a luxury five star hotel.

Bianca Harmon  42:46  

Yeah, yeah. So that’s great. Good to know.

Drew Thomas Hendricks  42:53  

Well, Zack, thank thank you so much for joining us today. And let as we’re leaving tell people where they can find more out about Storica Wines.

Zack Armen  43:00  

Sure. So if you go on our website, storicawines.com. We also have an Instagram store storica_wines that you can always find out, like, see our latest posts, and also get to the website there. On our website, you can buy the wines and have it shipped directly to your home address we ship to I think it’s 37 out of the 50 states in the US. You can also just learn more about the wines and read articles that have been written about our wines in Armenia in general, which we have in our present present accolade section. And you could see there’s a store locator on our website, where you can just type in your zip code and you can find stores and restaurants that are near you where you can try our wines.

Drew Thomas Hendricks  43:40  

Yeah, you have a great well laid out site. So definitely everyone go to storicawines.com Learn more. Thank you, everyone. Thank you, Zack.

Zack Armen  43:51  

Thank you both is a pleasure and good not so just here.

Outro  43:56  

Thank you. Thanks for listening to the Legends Behind the Craft podcast. We’ll see you again next time and be sure to click Subscribe to get future episodes.