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02.11.2008

Wine Marketing Techniques That Need to Stop

OK industry folks, listen up. You've all got products to sell. You need to make a living and feed your kids. But there are good ways to market wine, and there are stupid ways. It's time to end the stupidity.

California Wine Month, Year, Decade, Day, Afternoon
Which brilliant lobbyist or bored politician came up with this idea? For years I've been trying to figure out what the hell the idea behind this non-event actually is. So let me get this straight. The governor puts his signature on a piece of paper (which he probably doesn't even read). Then a lot of press releases go out over the wires saying "It's California Wine Month" (oh, if I had a nickel for every one I've gotten) and only one or two lackluster journalists with nothing better to do around the country write cutesy stories about it. And then... wine sales go through the roof? You've got to be kidding me.

"Last year we won a Silver medal for this wine at The <insert crappy, middle of nowhere> County Fair"
This is so wrong on so many levels. You won the medal last year, so what does that have to do with this year's wine!? And for the sake of argument, let's say you just won a medal for this year's wine. Good for you. But who cares? County fair medals are only marginally more respectable than those PHD degrees that you can pay $49.95 for by mail. Sure accolades are great, but gold medals from fairs aren't worth your effort. Mostly because they're so easy to get, and pretty much everyone who wants one can have one. If I only had a nickel for every gold medal winning wine I tasted that ended up being awful....

Wine Brands for Women
This is just plain insulting. Sure, men and women are different, but every wine that is "targeted" towards women implicitly suggests that what women really want from wine is better branding, rather than better wine. Frankly some of the best palates I know are women, and they could care less what color the label is.

Wine Brands for the Millennials
Ditto on the insult, folks. You're not going to convert new wine drinkers by pandering to them and repackaging wine as some hip new beverage. The much coveted Millennial generation spends more money on eating out than any other generation before, and we're not talking about fast food. This generation may have some of the most refined palates of any American consumer, and what they're going to care about is how your wine tastes. Not how it's packaged. So just go make great wine, and then think about how to get the story of your wine out in ways that Millennials can easily find it. Your winery does have a Facebook page, right?

Green Wine
I know. I know. This is like telling people to stop selling umbrellas when it's raining outside. But really people, come on -- does the fact that your winery is carbon neutral, solar powered, raptor friendly, biodynamic, etc, have to be your crowning achievement? Of course you should be doing these things. They're morally right and economically sound, but they shouldn't be used to sell wine. They should be used to make better wine that costs less.

Paris Hilton
Enough said.

Critter Wines
Telling people to stop making wines with animals on the labels is like telling crack dealers that they'd make more money being shoe shine attendants. It's true, putting an animal on the label of your wine makes it sell some (quite large if my fuzzy memory serves) percentage better. But just because we can, doesn't mean that we should. If only because once you start, there's no telling where it could end. We're running out of the cute animals, for starters. Now we're on to the large cud-chewing mammals, and frankly they're not what I like to think about when I pick up a bottle of wine. Even worse, the next thing you know people will start marketing wine made by the critters, and then....well, then I think we're pretty much looking at the end of civilization as we know it.

Readers: which ones have I missed?

* * *

Make good wine. Price it right. Then tell good stories about it to people who care. Spend your marketing dollars on sincerity, not on sizzle.

Thanks to Arthur at redwinebuzz.com for the link on the critter wine.

Comments (45)

Arthur wrote:
02.12.08 at 12:43 AM

Hi Alder,

I get your point and on many levels I agree with you. Still, the fact that marketers of any product pursue a specific demographic is because those demographics do exist in sufficient numbers to hold financial promise.

While I enjoyed the South Park portrayal of the socialite who shall go nameless and did not buy her story on Larry King for a nanosecond, I might be persuaded to buy a wine with Shanna Moakler on the label…

Jeff wrote:
02.12.08 at 6:47 AM

Alder,

A provocative, hard-line post. I won't argue the point as I know you have a brand consultancy background.

What might be interesting is for you to do a pro bono project for a winery to show them the way. You have a wide platform of influence and showing versus telling might prove very interesting for you, the winery, and readers.

Imagine taking a winery from rudimentary place to brand excellence--you could be the Ty Pennington (Extreme Makeover: Home Edition) of the wine marketing world.

Give it some thought. I think this might be impactful in a "showing" kind of way as opposed to "telling."

Jeff

Bill in Chicago wrote:
02.12.08 at 7:41 AM

Alder,
Yes those marketing techniques are annoying, but at least they are aimed at wines, for the most part, that I am not buying.

What's killing me is the use of ratings tagged to the wine rack at the store.

The other day a wine salesperson tried to "up sell" me by telling me that I could be drinking a "94" vs the one I had. Never mid they where completely different types of wine.

Ugh - stop selling ratings! (BTY - what does 94 taste like?)

ChrisR wrote:
02.12.08 at 9:17 AM

Awesome rant and correct on all accounts! Nicely done.

Alder wrote:
02.12.08 at 9:32 AM

Jeff,

I've often fantasized about doing just that, but as someone who reviews wines and cares very much about my integrity and avoiding all potential conflicts of interest, I've established a policy that prevents me from ever working for or promote any individual winery.

It is always the critic's role in society to tell rather than show....

Alder wrote:
02.12.08 at 9:36 AM

Arthur,

I certainly don't argue that these segments offer financial promise, but that doesn't justify pandering. One of America's worst double faults, in my opinion, involves our perpetual dumbing down of messages to consumers, and the fact that us consumers continue to consume such messages without reflection or criticism.

Products can be sold lots of ways. I'm asking for more substance in the wine world.

Alder wrote:
02.12.08 at 9:41 AM

Bill,

Thanks for the comments. Salespeople who use scores as their primary selling tool need to be taken out back behind the shop and spanked. But getting rid of them is a major problem -- most consumers love them.

St. Vini wrote:
02.12.08 at 10:02 AM

Alder: Good points, but here's the flip side (I'm not in marketing, BTW). There are approximately 5,000 wineries in the US, making (let's say) an average of 5 products each, meaning there are 25,000 choices for the consumer each and every vintage! Even a huge wineshop like Sam's or Wally's can only carry a fraction of the total (and I haven't even the 5,000+ imported choices).

How then, as a wine producer, do I get my wine to sell? Nebulous concepts like QPR and other subjective measures are great, as is selling direct (where available) but without the options you give above, or others like them, one might just give up and start selling the juice to Brown-Forman so they can make more "Little Black Dress" Chardonnay..... ;)

Cheers,
V

Arthur wrote:
02.12.08 at 10:06 AM

Alder,

You put a finer point on the issue than I did.

The customers respond to and thereby indicate their need and desire for things like shelf talkers with scores, wine months, cute labels, hip packaging, etc. Giving the customer what they want may be called pandering but in the end it says more about the customer than the producer or marketer.

Things are dumbed down because there is a demand for simplified, sterile messages in the marketplace. One might even argue that there is either an intolerance of or a lack of capacity to assimilate a more complex message.

I think you might agree that you and I and your readers make up a minority of wine consumers. Some time ago you had mentioned that we should not proselytize about wine but rather focus on those already receptive to our opinions and messages. Those who buy wine based on shelf talkers, label design or some image of themselves or their status are not likely to appreciate wine in the way you and I do. And if some do, soon others will come to drinking age and the way they approach wine will see the same statistical distribution as before. For that reason I expect all these marketing angles will persist.

It will have to be up to the intrepid and informed wine lover to see past the veneer of marketing to the substance (or lack thereof) in a given wine.

Morton Leslie wrote:
02.12.08 at 11:02 AM

Some that I am tired of.

Wines with single letters or numbers for the winery or brand names. This includes "cask" numbers. The letter or number may mean a lot to the winery, but to me it is just a number.

Also Ha Ha names. Frog's Leap was funny. Still is funny. But that was 25 years ago copycats today only come off as sophmoric.

Also "green wines" with pious marketing copy about respecting the planet and other deep thoughts who then put their wines put in thick extra heavy glass bottles stoppered with extra long corks with foils to match the owner's RangeRover.

Any name that makes a big deal about how the wine was made differently than their other wines. It may be a big deal to the winery that they used "whole clusters" or "methode ancien", but I don't care and if that makes the wine so much better then why don't you use it on all your Pinots.

el jefe wrote:
02.12.08 at 1:29 PM

There are some rubber chickens over here that are deeply offended by your post...

And you didn't even mention "old vines"!

Arthur wrote:
02.12.08 at 1:29 PM

Morton,

The various techniques do indeed have a very discernable impact on the style (and at times quality) of the wines. Whole cluster, carbonic maceration and traditional vs tank methods have a big impact on the style of the wine.

This may not mean much to an average Joe (who by the way would probably not have any problems detecting the differences in these wines), but the more informed wine consumers might benefit from it.

Thirdly, and since you mention sparkling wine production methods, California is going through an evolution of what to call its sparkling wines. The Global standard seems to be to indicate production method and sweetness/dryness on the labels of wines made outside of Champagne.

Morton Leslie wrote:
02.12.08 at 3:28 PM

Been buying Burgundy and Claret for forty years and never had a bottle that needed more information than the commune, the vineyard, the producer and the vintage. The Old or New World producer who is differentiating its wines by processing techniques in the winery hasn't learned what makes wine interesting. When a winemaker makes a big deal about "whole clusters" they are just advertising they are new to the game and still trying to figure out how to make wine.

Missy wrote:
02.12.08 at 3:41 PM

Valentine's Day specific wines! Gag me.

02.12.08 at 4:06 PM

Timely post, Alder! All of this and more needs to be said. As a wine marketing writer, I completely agree with you.

Alas, the awards and ratings systems -- no matter how self-serving and shallow it may seem to those of us who put more value on wine quality than award quantity – still serve as guides for the average consumer. These publicized accolades and scores may invite an initial spike in sales, but not necessarily repeat purchases if the wine winds up being plonk (which happens too frequently with "award-winning" wines).

Also, I think a backlash is starting against those wines that are "female-branded" (though I'm not so sure of this for critter- or Millennial-branded wines). I cringe every time I see a pink-labeled bottle of wine featuring frilly fonts and dainty little designs -- as do many of my wine-drinking female friends. Hokey, stereotyped marketing and imagery don't resonate with us. Let's face it, many of us outgrew our love of pink and frills when we outgrew Hello Kitty. (Disclaimer: I'm not referring to the winemakers who generously donate proceeds of certain wines to breast cancer research and whose labels are merely honoring the signature pink color of the cause.)

Several other stupid wine-marketing tactics to consider:

--- Throwing around buzzwords that have all but lost their original meaning from over-use or misunderstanding (reserve ... hand-crafted ... terroir ... boutique-style ... expressive of the land).

--- Obscure tasting notes that defy comprehension. How are consumers supposed to interpret "essence of lemon zest followed by orange peel," "wrapped in bacon," "layers of chocolate mousse and green pepper"? We can't appeal to a broader market by using hard-to-understand and harder-to-experience snob-speak.

As a former wine shop steward, I can tell you that the most common question I'd get was "What wine goes with (fill in the blank)?" I never heard, "Can you recommend a wine that has an essence of brambleberry on the nose, bacon fat on the mid-palate, and a hint of caramel on the finish?"

Instead of shelf-talkers, sell sheets and marketing materials that feature awards, scores or indecipherable tasting notes, why not use those vehicles to offer straightforward food-pairing or serving suggestions? For example, "Light-bodied, crisp white that is as enjoyable on its own as it is with roast chicken" or "Full-bodied, fruity red that stands up to grilled steak and barbecue ... great for a party". You get the idea (a couple of wineries actually do this very successfully).

Or would this just make too much sense?

Arthur wrote:
02.12.08 at 4:06 PM

Alder,

Your conclusion: "Make good wine. Price it right. Then tell good stories about it to people who care. Spend your marketing dollars on sincerity, not on sizzle."
has me thinking...

Much of marketting IS telling the story and SELLING the story.
At what point, in your opinion does one cross the point of "teliing the story" and just selling a story?

Paul Sharp wrote:
02.12.08 at 6:30 PM

Hi Alder,

Love the post/rant, bit similar to Arthur but the reason all this happens is neatly summed up by you in a portion of your final few sentences.

“Then tell good stories about it to people who care.”

A lot of the stories just aren’t interesting to most people. Wine making elephants are much more fun!

Cheers

SwillMonkey wrote:
02.12.08 at 9:35 PM

Green wines...well its all about the carbon footprint. Knuckleheads who think globally and act nonsensically.

Alder wrote:
02.12.08 at 10:29 PM

Paul,

Thanks for the comments. If the stories aren't interesting then perhaps we need better storytellers instead of gimmicks...? Winemaking elephants definitely are fun.

Alder wrote:
02.12.08 at 10:34 PM

Arthur,

Yes indeed. I'm not against selling at all. Good stories SHOULD be sold. But that's very different than marketing gimmicks or designing a brand that has no story behind it. I'm against the gimmicks. Not against marketing.

Alder wrote:
02.12.08 at 10:46 PM

Now I'm certainly not against fun.... Who doesn't love a rubber chicken? Especially the ladies, right?

Oh man. Old vines. Good one.

02.12.08 at 11:35 PM

Alder great dialogue going on here… just being oneself is always scary…
One of the hardest situations that I have been trying to break out of (IE how to market) and to tell the world about is that great wines come from a variety of appellations. Great wines are varietal blends as well. Most wine consumers and gatekeepers are very uneasy about this, as we have been schooled for the past 60 years in buying grape varietal and buying place/appellation. After all one can trust a place to deliver great wines, as winemakers cannot be trusted? This is very sad as the true expression of a winemaker is then barreled up in these rules. Can you imagine telling a painter to use only one primary color, and by the way, paint just like Monet for me please? The good news is that many of us are fed up with the tedium of single varietal wines, and we want to make great wine for personal reasons using a wild mix of grapes. This to me is nexus of creativity. Why should we allow the Cotes de Rhone, The Italians winemakers, and the Bordelais to have all the fun blending?
Cheers,
Tom M

Paul Sharp wrote:
02.13.08 at 12:50 AM

wine making elephants aside, it's not necessarily better story tellers (although it wouldn't hurt) that wineries or labels need, but better stories. This should actually be part of a labels business model, but is almost never executed. Hence the crap you have listed above.

You may want to add "low yielding vines" to your list.

Morton Leslie wrote:
02.13.08 at 9:31 AM

I used to have this label that was printed in the 1950's by John Daniel,Jr. proprietor of Inglenook. He printed it in response to a new label by his friend Louis P. Martini. Martini's new label included the word "Mountain" as a descripter...in reference to his Monte Rosso vineyard on the top of the Mayacamas range. John thought it a bit silly, particularly for a California appellation, so he visited his printer and then invited Louis M. to lunch and served him "a new Inglenook wine." It was a claret bottle with a brown label depicting a mound of dirt. The label read "Mole Hill Red." Proof that in the wine biz, the more things change, the more they stay the same.

razmaspaz wrote:
02.13.08 at 11:51 AM

Alder,
"Make good wine. Price it right."

You and I have had a similar argument before, about new world wines being so homogeneous as to be indistinguishable, but here it is in a different light...

You are obviously talking about a specific set of wines that fall between $5 and $20 and crowd the shelves of supermarkets and the bargain bins of liquor stores. Its hard to argue that these wines possess any kind of unique characteristics since they are bulk wines produced in large facilities and aimed at the casual drinker who wants consistency not a new experience. They are marketed to the Coca-Cola/Budweiser drinker.

Since they are all "the same wine", what then is a producer to do? Resorting to gimmicks or fancy labels is all there is. Now its arguable that if all you're selling is a marketing ploy maybe you should exit the wine business or change your product, but that would leave a hole in the market where there is a legitimate demand for cutsie bottles of wine and gimmicks.

You said yourself "But getting rid of them [Salespeople or scores?] is a major problem -- most consumers love them." if thats true then why is it so bad? If marketers are filling a market demand by selling scores and labels, then how can you fault that?

Of course all of this is silly, because you and I can walk right past all the silly labels at the liquor store to the aisles where the wines that are unique, priced right, and sell themselves are located.

Dave wrote:
02.13.08 at 12:11 PM

To the above-average wine knowledge consumer, these are "annoying", but to the guy with a fat wallet who doesn't know jack about wine, he uses these things to impress his friends…

I have a friend/client that LOVES Silver Oak. While most of my industry friends think it's nasty, it's about status for him. $100 bottle. Name recognition. It makes him feel like he knows his stuff. He might like it, who knows, but over time, I get the feeling that it’s just a comfortable “go to” wine for him when someone asks what he likes. While I try to guide him towards cheaper, better (in my opinion) selections, it will never change…he’ll always go to it when asked what he likes.

I think less is more when it comes to marketing wine. The story? Yes. Word of mouth? Yes. In the end, a commitment to producing quality wines year-after-year. It takes TIME and if people talk about it and share it with their friends, you’re golden.

02.13.08 at 12:25 PM

Alder,

Some qualatative research done by Wieden and Kennedy on behalf of the Oregon Wine Board suggest that the number one factor driving a purchasing descion among those who consider themselves 'wine drinkers' is the label!
I would also like to point out that ALL labels are attempting to target a specific audience. So the wines whose labels you do approve of are being successful in targeting you, those you don't approve of are failing at targeting you.
By discrediting marketing attempts that target consumers other than yourself is making a fairly bold and possibly arrogant statement. Millenials getting into wine will be influenced by marketing attempts that target them as will women. They may, at some point, develop a view of wine that will result in them being more concerned with what is in the bottle than on it. Until then there is money to be made in targeting these consumers.
I also think your readership lulls you into a dream world of what wine consumers are really like. Your readers don't buy into the gimmick marketing; your readers are a very tiny portion of the wine buying public. Fact is targeted marketing works!
You also encourage wineries to give up the silly marketing attmepts and get out and tell our story. Are you kidding me? Do you have any idea how difficult that is to do or how much that costs? You are expecting all producers to play on a level playing field. In my most recent post on www.vintersvoice.com I compare winery sizes, a glance will show you that the playing field is anything but even. Gallo alone makes more than 40 times the volume of wine that the entire state of Oregon produces. The fact is that everyone is "telling thier story" but only those who can afford the "bullhorns" of the media can be heard.
You also allude to "green" being a way to make better wines that cost less. It isn't like you to make such inaccurate statements. Farming in a sustainable, organic or biodynamic manner is NOT cheaper than conventional farming. Yet you want wineries that do use these farming systems to sit back and be quite while they get undercut by producers that spend less and show no respect for the environment. If we don't take measures to explain that we farm in such a way, then we just seem to be more expensive without an explaination. You also state above that these practices should be used to make better wines; wouldn't something that results in better wines be something that consumers might use to make sound purchasing descions? You also go on to suggest that we have a moral responsibility to farm in this way. I agree but until those that act in an 'immoral' way are forced to say that thier wines are produced without regard for individual or environmental health and safety, I will stand on my soap box and tell my story that my wines are produced sustainably.
I get the feeling that you believe in the Field of Dreams approach to marketing wine....'build it and they will come'. I would advise any winery to identify thier market and do ANYTHING that gets that markets attention. This bussiness is to damn competative with too small of margins to be anything but focused and aggressive.

Dave wrote:
02.13.08 at 3:00 PM

Jerry,

If we collectively focus marketing dollars on educating consumers about wine, we all benefit. Focusing on strategies that assume the consumer is none the wiser will eventually bite you in the rear. A winery approaching and implementing "green" farming techniques because they truly believe it is a responsible business practice is moral. A winery practicing it (or saying they are) because they think it will give them a leg up in sales, is not.

You also say, "You also encourage wineries to give up the silly marketing attmepts and get out and tell our story. Are you kidding me? Do you have any idea how difficult that is to do or how much that costs? You are expecting all producers to play on a level playing field." Jerry, please help me and name an established, successful winery in the last 40 years that didn't take this approach.

Alder wrote:
02.13.08 at 3:27 PM

Jerry,

As usual, thanks for your thoughtful response. Great points you raise, which make it clear that I need to clarify some of my arguments, lest they be misinterpreted.

1. Other than critter labels and those that are blatantly sexist in their approach, I'm totally in favor of cool wine labels. I buy wines that I've never heard of before based on the label sometimes (though I admit that it's often based in part on the BACK label, where I start to get a feeling for whether there's a story behind the wine).

2. I'm certainly not attempting to dissuade or discredit wineries that target specific groups that I may not be a part of. EVERY winery, if it knows what is good for it, should be figuring out how to sell to the Millennials. I'm merely criticizing the WAY that they do that -- in the case of both women (by dumbing down wine to a fashion statement) and the millenials (by dumbing wine down to an attitude or lifestyle accessory).

3. Can't argue with you about targeted marketing either. It definitely works. But again, that doesn't mean that it has to be insipid or play to the lowest common denominator.

4. Green wines -- the "costs less" part was referring to things like wastewater reclamation, solar power, and recycling, that after a period of time end up saving wineries money. I'm definitely aware that organic and biodynamic viticulture can cost way more than a sack of fertilizer and pesticides. With regards to consumers using "green" as a criteria for buying, ASBSOLUTELY. But that's different than the winery using "We're Green" as a primary marketing message for the wine. Shafer Vineyards is a classic example. They converted to totally solar a while back. They issued a press release, and that was all. No ongoing proclamations that the fact that they are a solar powered winery should be one of the reasons that people buy their wine. Same thing with Biodynamics. It should just be as simple a fact about your wine as the fact that you do whole cluster fermentation. Too many people trumpet too many green things as if they are evidence that the wine is great. And we all know that is not true.

I hear you about the soap box. Keep standing on it!! But your own winery web site is a model of the restraint I'm talking about: you're not selling biodynamic sustainable wine, you're selling wine from a special place made by a small group of folks with an interesting story that just HAPPENS to be produced sustainably because that's what you believe in.


5. There is one place that I will completely disagree with you though, and that is the suggestion that somehow telling your story is cost prohibitive and something that only the giants in the industry can afford to do. Like another commenter above stated: show me a successful small winery, and I'll show you a winery that has managed to tell a compelling story to customers.

YES! Wineries need to aggressively try to sell their stuff. Hence the first sentence of my post: I KNOW you folks need to make a living and stay in business. But there are good (intelligent, ethical, sophisticated, and creative) ways of doing that, and there are bad (pandering, dumbing down, oversimplification, crass, sexist) ways of doing that which ultimately undermine what we are ALL trying to do, which is to help people learn more about and fall more in love with wine.

Alder wrote:
02.13.08 at 3:53 PM

Rama,

Yes, you and I definitely disagree with whether most stuff under $20 is, to paraphrase your argument, "indistinguishable crap"

I don't think these are all the same wine, but even if they are more similar in their flavor profile than wines outside of that price category, what of it? That doesn't mean that the people making that wine are any less interesting, that the story of how that winery came to be is any less exciting, or that the place(s) that those winegrapes come from don't have fascinating history or geography.

Those wines that truly are BULK wine, made in quantities of hundreds of thousands or even millions of cases have a much harder time at this, and yes, they end up having to market their beverages like Coke does, but only because their wines are now branded commodities.

But those represent only a certain segment of the wines in that price point, and even THEY can do intelligent marketing. Take Ravenswood, which hovers at the edge of that huge producer category -- they do a great job having a story without falling prey to most of my criticisms above.

And don't misinterpret my posting -- this is not a "scores are bad" post. I don't believe that, anyway.

02.13.08 at 5:26 PM

Alder and Dave

I guess I too need to clarify some of my positions as well. First of all; I too despise critter lables, fair and competition medals, and cheesey labels that target specific groups.

However the majority of american consumers will never become 'serious' wine drinkers. So the arguments that we shouldn't 'dumb things down' just doesn't make sense in a world that is completely driven by consumerism. Many posts on your blog, which I will say is likely the most informed readership in the field, also talked about this dumbing down of wine. I love wine as much as any one else, I make my living making and growing it. Even I realize that it is a beverage. We can assign a multitude of values to wine but in the end it is no different than beer, coffee or soda. The market will sort out which approaches fail in terms of targeted sales and which will succeed. Wine should be for everyone not just those who covet it.

Saying that being indifferent to what is in the bottle will bite on in the ass is simply not true. Mad Dog 20/20 has been around for 40 years or more. For each consumer that 'comes to thier senses' and moves on to more serious wine pursuits there will be another that gets turned on to the 'plonk'. I put the responsibility of knowing what is in the bottle on the consumer not the producers. Why are we holding wine to a higher standard than any other industry producing a product?

I also find it interesting that we expect a winery to be 'green' for a particular reason. Does it matter if they care about the environment as long as they behave in a way that benefits it? Are you not, as consumers, just glad that a bussiness respects your thoughts on sustainability and wants to provide you with a product that meets those critieria? I think there can be a variety of reasons for a bussiness to behave in a certain way, when it comes to emergenices like global warming and other environmental threats I don't care WHY they do it just as long as they do it. I agree that there needs to be a clearly defined criteria that seperates 'talking green' from 'walking green' and these points of distinctions exist; 3rd party certifying agencies such as LIVE Inc here in Oregon.


The point that I was obviously most unclear about was in terms of 'telling the story'. I agree with both of you, that this is the most important aspect of marketing not just wine but almost any product. I am not advocating that it is 'cost prohibitive' to do so. It is necassary to get out and do the song and dance. However I understand exactly how difficult it is to do so. It is expensive to get access to consumers and the playing field is not level. Some producers, or more accurately, brands might feel that resorting to gimmicks is an easier way to go in terms of getting access to consumers.


I agree that there are alot of misguided marketing campaigns out there. I am most pained when I see these efforts comming from small wineries because for us ( small wineries ) it is the story and relationship with our consumers that will create sucess. But if someone thinks they can make a buck being silly, I say go for it. Give the people what they want is the mantra that has driven commerce in this country for a century ( in addition to form a Monoply, buy politicians etc ), should wine not follow this model?
As for the story, I have alot of experience pouring wine to a great diversity of consumers. I wish I could say that people cared about how we made the wine and grew the grapes, but I am not sure this is the case. Often times I find people are more interested in my sorted past or how I met my girlfriend. Unfortunately scores really drive purchases ( I am fortunate to have wines liked by some critics )in consumers willing to pay the prices I ask. In consumers that don't care about about the story and have no idea that wines are even scored I think the only way to reach them is low prices. Gimmicks may be the best way to differentiate yourself in that pool. As for consumers out there that really want to know how the wines are made and grown or are interested in the personalities behind the operation; I will be happy to add you to my mailing list I promise you a gimmick free experience.

Most of all Alder thank you for your comments about how Patton Valley presents itself to consumers. We try to do the right thing for the right reasons.

Remy Charest wrote:
02.14.08 at 11:39 PM

Boy is there a lot of debate going on about this question. And with reason.

My little take on this whole issue? I can't stand reading generic statements saying "We use the best quality grapes, carefully selected from premium vineyards to best express varietal character and terroir". Gee. Really?

I just can't wait for someone to write on a back label: "This is our cheapest wine, so we used the leftovers from most of the tanks used for the other wines, along with a tank from some really young, struggling rows of vines that we tried to revive at fermentation with some B543 and M32A yeasts, to get some extra berry flavors going. We're pretty happy that it still tastes like the varietal."

Eric Asimov had a very good article, this week, pointing out that good (but not great) vintages offer really great value, without the hype and hyped-up prices. As he points out: " Let’s be clear about winemakers: they have no bad vintages. If they’re not great, they’re “classic style” or, at worst, “difficult.” "

Of course, I won't really expect a winemaker to say "boy, we really had a hard time with this one". But the lack of story on a bottle is often a story in itself.

02.15.08 at 9:39 AM

If a wine brand wants to target women, target away! just give me enough information that I can get an idea of what foods to pair the wine with. Wine is made to be consumed with food!
Kathleen Lisson

Iris wrote:
02.16.08 at 2:36 AM

Thanks, Alder and all the people who wrote a commentary for this very interesting discussion. I especially appreciate, that there is even a dialogue, with more accurate arguments added (see Jerry and Alder) which make it more clear, what your points of view are.

As a wine-lover, I agree with Alder (after his having explained his "green" argument) - as a winemaker, I understand Jerry. I wanted to tell him, that modern media - as Internet, p.ex. - are a great opportunity for small wineries to "tell their story" without paying a fortune - it just needs time. But a look into his blog has shown me, that he already knows about this.

La vrite est dans le verre, the truth is in the glass - we all know about this - but we also know, that before savoring it in their glass, people have to buy your bottle - and that's where communication comes into it.

I never have any problems in selling my (rather expensive) table wines to visitors, who have followed me around the vineyard on my hillside and seen my cellar and tasted my wines. This way round, its self explaining.

But everybody doesn't spend his holiday mountain climbing and sweating around vineyards in the South of France, so I have to talk about what I'm doing and how.

I don't have critters on my labels (and they are still selling, even in old Europe, believe me), I don't go for gold medals. It's very funny, to see that there always seems to be one for everybody, as concours agricoles or others are very often divided in as many categories as wines participating :-).

I don't make wine for women - it bothers me, that very often, journalists seem to be more interested in writing about me as a female winemaker (it seems to be easier to sell to their boss) than as a winemaker "tout court", even if afterwards they have to admit, that my wines aren't "fminines". But that’s something, you can’t always control.

As for food and wine pairing (and a special hallo to Kathleen) – as it’s well known, that most of the daily meals wines are purchased by women – I understand the question. But I think, it’s better to try out oneself and discover my favorite pairing – as I do for food and spices. It’s ever so changing and depending on the wines state, my mood of spices and the individual recipe, that I very often have the impression, that wines for which you can give an advice like “barbecue” or “fish” or “cream cheese”, are often lacking an individual character – you could have a kind of “food pairing card” in your wallet, but like for the wine itself: the truth comes by trying out.

02.17.08 at 3:00 PM

"You can lead a horse to water, but you can't make him drink" It seems that marketers know and exploit the fact that you can lead humans to the latest fad and they will buy it. Thus a wine that is really not that interesting becomes a sales success. I have always thought of a good vintner as an artist. It must be frustrating to them to see these mass produced, technically manipulated wines sell by the millions. Fads? Yes, how about the latest, a sport bra that allows you to carry your wines with you and suck it up through a tube.How would you like to use that in your promo? "Our wines are really great to drink while you exercise"

Chris Robinson wrote:
02.17.08 at 9:20 PM

I caught this feed rather late in the game being the other side of the world (Hong Kong). What I found most depressing is the disparagement of the wine judging system at local and county shows in the US. Is that really justified? In Australia where I have a vineyard and enter wines in agricultural and specialist shows we at least know the judges are independetly minded, opinionated, disagree vigorously with other judges and if anything err on the technical side in evealuating wines. I cannot believe the system in the US can be any different. Just being invyted to be a judge at shows is an honour that is offered to few in Australia. is it any different in the US?

One last thing, could you make your "Captcha" characters easier to read.

BTW as one of Asia's leading market research consultants I can tell you Jerry Murray's comments hit the nil on the head. The fact is your blog is only really talking to about 5% of wine drinkers, the nerdy end basically. The average drinker buys a wine and consumes it within the firas 24 hours after purchase. This crowd doesn't think too much about anything other than price, label and how it tasted. All the gimmicks you mention are targeting this lot of consumers .. and generally successfully.

Alder wrote:
02.17.08 at 10:36 PM

Chris,

Thanks for the comments. The folks that do the judging in California are, I'm sure, doing the best job they can, but in many cases these folks are far from being wine professionals (though in some cases, they are quite competent and very capable). But as other readers point out, at some events getting a medal is as easy as entering the competition. By and large, if you want a medal, it's pretty easy to get one in California.

As for my blog audience, I'd love to have 5% of the wine consumers in this country reading it! But you're wrong if you think these marketing techniques are only being plied at the level of supermarket wines. I see plenty of folks selling $30 bottles of wine with all of the above.

Unfortunately my CAPTCHA characters are system generated by my blogging software and completely out of my control. I know they can be a pain in the ass, but they really do stop literally thousands of spam comments from being posted on my blog on a daily basis. Life before the CAPCHA was brutal. Thanks for your patience.

Alder wrote:
02.20.08 at 9:12 AM

Here's a perfect example of totally crap "Green" marketing that I think is essentially useless publicity stunt: Languedoc Wines Shipped to Ireland Under Sail to Reduce Carbon Emissions.

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