Issue 30

Le Drunken Frog

Le Drunken Frog

I’ve had many brilliant ideas in my day. Like how I always think it’s a good idea to ease my tension from the week with a few too many drinks on Friday night. Unfortunately, it doesn’t seem so brilliant when I wake up the next morning.Sometimes fine ideas don’t have the ending we planned.

Cedric Fichepain, owner of Le Voltaire, recently had one of these inspirations. He decided one night to start his own label of wine. He would sell the marvelous blend he had just sampled and it would be an instant success. People all over Omaha would fall in love with wine, sipping more than just Chardonnay and Merlot (finally!). And then he would start a family of wine – a blend first, a Bordeaux next, maybe throw in a rich Burgundy one day. It was a brilliant idea; a way to bring the complex taste of Southern French wine to Omaha and raise the bar on our palates a bit. Well, it didn’t quite go as he planned.

As I sit across from Cedric in the golden light of Le Voltaire’s party room he says, “Patience is a virtue,” with a sardonic smile on his face, “It’s better to have a good product in the end. It’s better to redo a lot of things to get a product out. When a product is out it’s going to take a lot more money to fix it if it’s wrong.”
Cedric is making his second attempt at importing and selling a wine from France, and he’s living another example of an excellent idea that’s not turning out as planned. His first try at a wine label was called Le Drunken Frog. After many, many hours of work to get the label design just right, the US Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, and Firearms (BATF) turned down the name.

But instead of giving up, Cedric decided he didn’t mind starting afresh with the process, “The whole process was actually the fun thing about it — to come up with the choice, the design of the label, to go through an importer and try to negotiate pricing with the importer and distributor. To get one wine here goes a long, long way.”

The BATF examines the label of every bottle of alcohol before it goes into the market. They ensure that consumers are afforded adequate information regarding the identity and quality of the product to prevent consumer deception.

“The [Le Drunken Frog] label was very cool. It’s like the frog was too drunk so he fell of the label. It was very well done,” but it must have been labeled consumer deception by the BATF because, “They said that ‘Drunken Frog’ was not acceptable. It is pushing people to drink,” said Cedric.

It’s funny that a name like Drunken Frog is not acceptable when wines called Fat Bastard, Dirty Laundry and Naked Lady may presently be aging in your cellars. Well, if it’s any consolation to Cedric, the Naked Lady was rejected by the BATF in 1975, but then accepted when re-submitted in 1997.

But, alas, Cedric decided to abandon Le Drunken Frog all together (for now) and start with a new wine from France, a Cabernet/Merlot Bordeaux that is more prestigious and of a higher quality than the Le Drunken Frog blend.

Cedric always considered starting a wine label, but never knew how until he tasted a French wine he liked so much that he inquired how to sell it, “It was an accident, really, that [the importer] had a product that I liked right there and was in my price range…I liked the wine I was tasting and he told me ‘Well, that’s a wine we can do.”

Conveniently – or so he thought – he could purchase the wine from an importer and sell it under his own label. This process is not unlike what water distributors go through. Companies like Coke (Dasani), Evian, Fiji and Pepsi (Aquafina) purchase water and place their label on the bottle.

Cedric made certain that he was not the lone person who liked Le Drunken Frog. He gathered his fellow wine lovers to test the blend knowing that if his wine didn’t generate decent word-of-mouth because of taste, it wouldn’t sell.

“He left me a few different bottles of different wines and I had my personal focus groups…do a blind taste testing to see which was the most appealing,” said Cedric.

He and his designers from Bozell also considered which varietals sell in the Omaha market. I regard myself as a novice wine sampler, which is what the majority of wine samplers are in Omaha. Someone from New York or San Francisco would not likely prefer all of the same wines that Midwesterners enjoy.

For Cedric’s second endeavor, he sent his father to a wine convention in Paris. He chose Bordeaux from importer Frank Kakou of European Wine Imports out of Cleveland, Ohio. Cedric’s father has a mature palate and knows much about the market here although he lives in Paris, and he is friends with Frank Kakou.

“Frank is a close friend and has a warehouse in Paris,” said Cedric, who likes the convenience of having a warehouse in the city where his father lives so that his father can visit the warehouse any time there is an issue.

The Bordeaux is a Cabernet Merlot blend that Cedric is more excited about than his Le Drunken Frog blend, “The Bordeaux is a more prestigious region. The quality is better and worth more.” It is for this reason that Cedric will be able to sell this wine at a $15 price point rather than a $12 price point.

I was always under the impression that the price of wine reflected the quality, but speaking with Cedric made it clear that that’s not quite the situation.
“The wine may cost €1 in Europe, but when it arrives at my place it may be €7,” he said.

The cost of Cedric’s wine began with the cost of the bottle in France, including the conversion from the euro to the dollar. He has to pay an importer for his work, including transport of the bottles overseas, and taxes in France, Ohio and Nebraska. There are also the fees to the label designers. After that he pays distributor fees. Overall, the price increase from the first cost of the bottle is about 425%. So, the end price is really about how much Cedric wants to make and how expensive the conversion is along with the price of the importer, designer and distributor.

Cedric thinks of this process as an investment, “I’m investing in wine instead of the stock market. If I can’t sell it I will be able to drink it. It will never be a loss.”

And like all investors, Cedric is aware that it takes more than one investment to be successful, and you must be patient with your investment to make it grow, “You know, when you think finally you’ve got your product. It’s like ‘Ah!’ it takes you two more days because you need a bold thing on it. But, you know, once again it’s patience. And I’m learning about it now.”

Cedric is working with distributors around the city to get his wine into local restaurants as a special. Although it’s not as soon as he anticipated, Cedric’s plan is to also sell the wine on overstockwineonline.com, wineinstock.com, Hy-Vee stores in La Vista and at 156th & Maple as well as Upstream Brewing Company. Look for his new wine on shelves soon.

5 Tips for Starting Your OWN Label

  • Do your research – research importers, distributors, the local wine market and federal label requirements.
  • Have a plan – know how your wine will be transported from its origin, how the labels will be affixed and how the final bottles will be distributed.
  • Be prepared for the investment – plan for a 425% increase in the price of the bottle and have a contingency fund ready for any unexpected expenses.
  • Grow your network – in order to get your wine into the market you need to have relationships with not only distributors, but also other restaurateurs and people in the industry.
  • Evaluate – evaluate your progress at every step along the way. Take note of what works and what doesn’t to make the next experience go more smoothly.

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