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How Wineries Will Fail in the 21st Century

sorry_were.jpgAs some of you know, I'm in the process of helping to write a book. It's not my book, per se, but I'm one of a group of authors that are helping to create a massive global wine atlas that will cover the world's major wine regions. I'm the guy in charge of Sonoma and Marin counties.

I've spent the last couple months doing a lot of tasting, a lot of digging through my past tasting notes, and a lot of reaching out to wineries to verify addresses, etc. And what I've experienced in the process is quite shocking.

The American wine marketplace has changed and is changing dramatically. I can't speak with full authority about the global marketplace, but I suspect some of the same changes are occurring everywhere. The way that people learn about, buy, and experience wine is changing, thanks to both demographic trends and technology evolution, as well as fundamental shifts in the distribution, marketing, and economics of the wine industry.

What this all means for the wine world is not fully clear, but one key fact has begun to be quite apparent. In order to survive, wineries are going to have to fundamentally re-think who their customers actually are, especially here in the United States.

Since the beginning of the modern wine industry in this country many, even most wineries only needed to care about who their distributor was and the strength of their brand in the marketplace (in addition to the quality of their product, of course). The strength of their brand and the power of their distributor mostly determined how much wine they sold.

No longer. These days it's hard to even get a distributor to carry your wine, and if they do, they're not likely to do a whole lot of work to sell it. Mostly they'll expect the wine to sell itself (better have big points). And for the last 18 months, if your wine is over $50, well then you can pretty much just forget it unless it has 97 points (or something like that).

The way to sell wine in the 21st Century will be to build relationships (and a lot of them) with end consumers. The customers of the 21st Century are the Millennials. They're young, they're wired, and they're used to getting what they want, when they want it online, and that includes communicating with the people, and yes the brands, they care about.

Wineries need to start connecting with people. Building an intimacy that really is not there now. And that doesn't mean selling your wine only on a mailing list. Having a highly allocated wine that is sold to mailing list customers is not the same as actually building relationships with them (though I do know a few high-end wineries that do a great job of establishing relationships with all their buyers).

So back to my experience calling and e-mailing more than 150 different wineries in Sonoma county over the past couple of months. I was astonished to find how many wineries didn't answer their phones during their stated business hours; didn't return phone calls even when the message made it clear that the topic I wanted to discuss was an opportunity for publicity; and didn't return e-mail messages asking for information.

Granted, I'm a journalist, not a customer waving dollar bills saying I want to buy a few bottles, but if I were a prospective customer and got this kind of response, I certainly would have had a hard time spending my money.

I'm happy to say that at least all the wineries had web sites (which wasn't true until just a couple of years ago). But many of the sites were out of date (meaning they didn't actually list the winery's current releases); a few failed to list phone numbers or e-mail addresses; and probably close to 50% of the wineries that offered public tasting rooms hadn't bothered to place themselves in Google Maps so that customers could easily find them.

In short, though my experience is not necessarily a perfect test, in my opinion many wineries are failing to facilitate even the most basic relationship with an individual consumer. And if they continue to do this, I predict that in the absence of very high scores from the critics, they will find their customers going someplace else.

Comments (55)

01.06.10 at 11:07 PM

Unfortunately there's still a tall hill to climb. And if Napa or Sonoma aren't effectively managing their own brands and customer relationships... imagine what the rest of the country is doing. There are a lot of people crying out to help with the direct and CRM efforts of those quality - yet barely "discovered" - brands. Last years' downturn in the economy and the continued consolidation in the traditional distribution channels are all screaming out to today's wine brands to get themselves focusing on and effectively leveraging the direct channel. Here's to a huge opportunity to get that long tail some demand in 2010!

01.06.10 at 11:07 PM

Excellent article. Great insights. I'm not that familiar with California, but from what I've heard, it really sounds like wineries have gotten lazy and are resting on their laurels. The work I do for my winery (albeit on a very part-time basis)I believe is meant to counter this trend. We are the most respected winery in Israel (with no local issues with sales), and despite this, we are the only ones with an active outreach and education department with a clear mission to educate the public about wine.

I will certainly be reading up on this topic, and keeping up with your blog! Many thanks.

Fred wrote:
01.06.10 at 11:38 PM

It's not just intimacy that wineries need to build, Alder, it's relevance. Wineries must find ways to engage consumers beyond what's in the bottle.

The dialog, if there is to be one, cannot be restricted to clonal selection, barrel regimes and trellising techniques. This has never been more important than now, with all the new social media.

For wine labels to become brands, they will need to find their place in the larger world. The world of geography, history, travel. Art, architecture, science. Cooking, eating, laughing. These are all very accessible points of entry for aspiring wine brands. And the most obvious ones at that.

Frankly, this ought to be liberating for a winery looking to distinguish itself beyond the realm of scores & reviews.

VA Wine Diva wrote:
01.07.10 at 4:29 AM

This is what I love about drinking local wines in Virginia. Winery owners get that they need these personal relationships since few have distribution outside the state and most have only limited distribution in the state. Small and local may work very well for these "new" wine drinkers.

1WineDude wrote:
01.07.10 at 7:06 AM


What wineries need to understand - what ALL business need to understand now - is that customer relationship IS their business in this changing marketplace.

Karen wrote:
01.07.10 at 7:42 AM

Alder, what is the name of the future book you are assisting on, and will you send out a post to let us know when it is available please? The option for an audio or ebook version of it, is something some of us would love to see too please (not only for convenience, but shipping to Canada can sometimes be expensive!

It is about time someone pointed out exactly what you have said in this article. At least your article reaches out to your readers/customers/clients and does so on an international basis.

01.07.10 at 7:49 AM

Yes, I'd love to know what the book is and when it comes out - great if there would be an ebook - more info would be great.

Alder wrote:
01.07.10 at 9:22 AM


The book at the moment has the working title OpusVino. It will be published by DK publishing (same folks who do the Eyewitness travel guides) this Spring. It's going to be a big, coffee table style book, so not sure that it will be a good candidate for an eBook, and given that the meat of the book is roughly 5000 short winery profiles, it will not exactly make for riveting audio book content.

El Jefe wrote:
01.07.10 at 9:44 AM

First: I haven't yet been contacted by the Sierra Foothills person. I'd like to think we'd make the cut on 5000 wineries ;)

Yes absolutely relationships with the end consumer are vital. However, your prospective consumer is not necessarily going to want to transact a direct purchase online. While online shopping rates do continue to rise, people still want to be able to pop into the wine shoppe and grab a bottle. Also the cost of shipping and/or the need to be someplace to accept the package is an issue with many people. The need for distribution isn't going to go away.

Alder wrote:
01.07.10 at 9:53 AM


Well, I didn't contact every one of the 153 wineries that I profiled. The ones I didn't contact were ones whose story I know well, whose wines I taste regularly and often, and whose winery address I could personally verify as correct. Not sure who's writing the Sierra Foothills chapter, but presumably the editors picked someone who knows the area well, and like me, might not have had to give you a jingle to get you in the book.

Gary Stewart wrote:
01.07.10 at 9:55 AM


Thanks for a great article as so many of your articles are thought provoking and straight to the point. As a very small start up winery this has been our biggest effort second only to trying to make the best wine we can. Almost from the beginning we have set out to make sure that we stay in touch and communicate with all those who support our effort. It is nice to hear someone verify our judgement, and we will let you know how it works.


Lawrence wrote:
01.07.10 at 10:23 AM

Here is a link and excerpt to a recent article of relevance from Tablas Creek:


"So, a winery's efforts in the social media sphere will be rewarded by its followers accepting it as a more regular part of their lives, with all the benefits that implies. And while these benefits can be difficult for a business to measure, they can cumulatively be very powerful. Tablas Creek's fan list includes our marketing agents, export customers, distributor managers, distributor salespeople, wine shop owners and employees, restaurant owners and employees, and other winery-affiliated personnel as well as wine club members and non-wine club consumers. How each interacts with Tablas Creek will be different depending on their role, but in each case, being a regular part of their social network puts a finger on the scales in our favor. And, in the same way that, as a Facebook user, I find it increasingly difficult to keep in touch with my non-Facebook friends, each member of our fan base is gradually losing some measure of connection with other wineries who are not using social networking.

So, what are the lessons for a winery? Don't..."

01.07.10 at 11:07 AM

I agree wholeheartedly. I hope that all wineries somehow have a chance to read this. And, like 1WineDude wrote, that ALL businesses find a way to read this and understand this very important point you just made.

Josh Stein wrote:
01.07.10 at 11:39 AM

People often underestimate the time customer relations takes, as well as how much work it is to run any small business, let along a winery. I work for a small Napa winery and am in the process of creating my own wine company, too, and I can tell you that many small wineries simply do not have enough people with the right kinds of skills nor the capital to attract those who do. It's not laziness whatsoever for most of them--it's working to get the job of making wine done in a situation that is often no different than any other family farmer. I have said it before and I will say it again: I will sell my soul for four additional hours in every day. And, yes, this is actually nothing new. Social media and web-based communications are new wrinkles to what companies have always had to do: work with the customer. It is just very, very difficult to do that as well you we (and by we, I mean non-corporate, family- or small business-based wineries) would like given the amount of time and effort each part of the winemaking and, equally as important, wineselling process is.

NicoRiesling wrote:
01.07.10 at 11:43 AM


Mmmm did not hear from anyone in the Pacific Northwest... Do you know who is in charge here?

Crazy to hear the lack on responsiveness out there. If you call me, I'll call back!

01.07.10 at 11:48 AM

I agree, but have to say that I would take it a bit further.

I am one of those "relationship builders" for a small winery (which makes 2 small wine brands). We do have distribution in our number one market, California, but as you said, that is not where it stops. Beyond building relationships through the winery, at events and even the off-sale account, it takes building a relationship with the actual region where you are selling. Repeated presence at accounts and events with clear support from the actual winery has kept me accounts and broken down barriers to new ones within the borders of sales regions - i.e. San Francisco, West Los Angeles, SF Peninsula ect. The trick then becomes appropriating your time evenly over your top "a" markets and not leaving any behind.

It has been a strange past year, but a new one is on the horizon.

01.07.10 at 12:52 PM


Can o' worms opened?

Who's writing the Finger Lakes or Northeast portion? And why isn't it me? ;)

Mark wrote:
01.07.10 at 1:23 PM


Great blog entry, really mirrors many of my complaints with the industry as I've found it so far. We run into so many wineries that are great and more then willing to work with us(a 3rd party wine club) and then there are others whom only are interested in our potential export operations.

It's too bad because I think a lot of the wineries take a short term approach to customer relations and b2b relations when, if they want to be in business for the long haul, they should be taking a more proactive approach.

The entire distributor model is completely and utterly broken.

01.07.10 at 2:14 PM

The more things change the more they stay the same. Relationships are not new to the dynamics of business. Some people are just better suited to them.

The new flow of information known as Social Media creates new avenues for exchanges and some are better suited.

My wonder is when will consumers truly seek relationships with their wine vendors? Will consumers make an effort to know the people behind a wine? Or is the best place to find delicious wines the end of the aisle in the grocery store?

Lots to wonder about - good news is finding stuff out is so much easier. So easy, I let all my print subscriptions expire.

Good article.

PaulG wrote:
01.07.10 at 3:12 PM

Alder, my own experience with DK was as contributor to six editions of Tom Stevenson's Wine Report series. DK did a dreadful job in the U.S. - no promotion, almost no distribution – and finally killed the series. I hope you fare better.

Nico, I have no idea who (if anyone) is covering PacNW for this project, but if the recent books by Johnson and Robinson, published out of London also, are any indication, I wouldn't expect much in the way of coverage or accuracy.

NicoRiesling wrote:
01.07.10 at 5:00 PM


May I ask why are those publisher not hiring great people (like you) to cover our region? The whole world has gone mad - wineries don't call wine writers, distributors just want to be an over priced delivery system, publishers and newspapers don't recruit professional journalists... May be it is the new economy, no one wants to work and everything is free - Might as well go back to france no?

01.07.10 at 5:55 PM


The answer to your question is simple: it's not what you can do; it's who knows whom. Plus, one agenda doesn't always gel with another agenda, and everyone is trying to save money, unfortunately, usually at the expense of quality.

Austin Hope wrote:
01.07.10 at 6:24 PM


Many of my peers have long recognized the value of building strong relationships with consumers because without these relationships a wine brand is going to get left behind. The fact is the wine industry is not keeping up with the rapidly evolving landscape that today’s younger wine drinkers live in. If a winery still hasn’t mastered a technology as traditional as the telephone, how is it going to win the hearts of Millenials who are connected 24/7 through their iPhones and social media networks?

01.07.10 at 6:38 PM


How did you decide which wineries to cover and which not to cover? That info may help folks with lesser known wineries to understand how the book was constructed. Did you get to choose the number of entrants?

5000 wineries may seem like a lot, but when that number gets parcelled out over the entire world of wine, it does not leave giant numbers for the West Coast and one can expect that many deserving wineries will be left out.

That, in fact, is the problem with books. They have to be finite, and even a coffee table book has limits. Hells bells, there are 3000 bonded wineries in CA alone and something like 5000 separate labels all told. Anybody care to guess how many there are in the entire world?

Final questions just for fun: (1) do you know who are the contributing editors for the other parts of the book, and (2) did DK come to you directly or is there a specific central editor for the book like a Tom Stephenson or Oz Clarke or other?

Alder wrote:
01.07.10 at 8:30 PM


First of all, please stop the wild speculation and fretting, and especially the groundless aspersions that somehow, for instance, the publisher is getting some idiot to cover Washington because they didn't hire Paul.

Wineries: Probably a full 30% of the wineries I wrote about never got a call or an e-mail from me because I didn't have any questions for them, I just wrote them in the book. It is probably a pretty safe assumption that most of the other writers know their regions at least as well as I do, and would be able to easily write a winery profile and confirm the address of the production facility without contacting the winery. Wait until the book comes out to fret.

Now to answer the very sensible questions Charlie asked:

I generally do not know who the other contributors are, other than the fact that Jamie Goode is covering Portugal, and Wink Lorch is covering the Savoie. The editor is Jim Gordon. I'm not sure if he is the sole editor or not. He approached me and asked if I would write a chapter on a region I knew well.

Given, as Charlie notes, the scope of the book there was an allotment of space for each wine region. Sonoma and Marin combined had space for 153 entries. I chose the wineries to cover based on a number of factors: the quality of the wines, the track record of the winery, the history or heritage of the winery, and occasionally because of some special factor or feature that made the winery distinctive. Given that there are more than 300 bonded wineries in Sonoma, obviously not everyone could be included.

01.07.10 at 10:22 PM

What you and 1WineDude said is totally true. Winemakers, owners, vintners, whatever you want to call them have got to take care of their customers as a treasured resource and not a cash cow. Wilson Creek Winery in Temecula is a prime example of what a winery should be.

01.07.10 at 10:37 PM

I can imagine it's exactly as you say. I'm sure 3% will see this as a wake-up call. 7% will think they're already fine (and aren't), 5% are doing a great job, and 85% will be forever clueless. Actually, I think it's higher than 85%.

Peter O'Connor wrote:
01.08.10 at 5:06 AM

I agree one hundred percent with your argument. And there is still another point: the end consumer wants hard facts about the wine he is drinking.
In my view, wine drinkers will demand, more and more, real information about the wine they drink, and if they’re paying a fair price (economic-wise) for it. At this point we’re in desperate need of transparency from wineries regarding their grape-growing and winemaking processes.

Info wrote:
01.08.10 at 5:39 AM

I totally agree. Here in Virginia most of the wineries are young enough to "get" what you are saying. We have a wine country B&B and Wine Tour Business, and it's amazing how many people are totally surprised when we return phone calls the same day. I tested the limo tour companies via email and same experience as you - they never returned my calls for information.

So as others have mentioned, this is a problem for many businesses.

We're going to a convention this week at a top rated hotel in Virginia - and to my amazement they told our group of 12 that if they wanted to book a dinner reservation in their dining room, there would be an automatic $25 charge for any cancellation PER PERSON in our group. This during the off-season in January,in a large hotel with three restaurants! Needless to say our group will be going out of the property to an outside restaurant for dinner.

Suzanne D wrote:
01.08.10 at 5:54 AM

I agree with Fred the key that wineries need is relevance and with Peter O'Connor regarding transparency. The vast majority of wine consumers don't see any difference beyond red, white, or rose. If a winery is to stand-out from that, they need differences to be relevant. Many of those relevant differences come from wine growing and making practices, which need to be much more transparent at the the shelf - whether on the label itself or discovered by photographing the UPC with your iPhone and retrieving the information. Furthermore, while beyond the scope of this blog entry - Are there many impactful trade associations taking a lead to explain how a wine from Paso Robles is qualitatively different than one from Lodi? Pooling resources may be a key enabler to making relevant, transparent information available in a way that drives purchase and re-purchase decisions.

01.08.10 at 7:45 AM

Alder - your comment "Wait until the book comes out to fret." By then it is too late to possibly change the choices and if you're a small, family run winery offering a very unique tasting experience - you may not have gotten in and that reading audience will never know what you offer? I believe that the editor chosen for our AVA "Sierra Foothills" (covering over 200 miles) will focus on Amador, El Dorado and Fairplay as always....
Our winery answers their phone, emails, twitter and facebook accounts daily (if not hourly).

Tom Ewing wrote:
01.08.10 at 8:13 AM

Distributors are no different from consumers in that they have to be "sold", and I think that's the real change here. There was a time when the winery WAS the distributor's customer. That role has almost reversed completely.

Distributors can do a lot of the necessary spade work to bring a wine to market, but just a casual stroll through a store's aisles reveals the real problem: the number of choices are mind-numbing. That's not the distributor's fault. The market is flooded.

Like it or not, the three-tier system isn't going away any time soon, and wishing it weren't so isn't going to change anything in the foreseeable future. While you stop short of saying it, I will jump in and say that wineries who see a distributor as an obstacle or adversary needs to come at their problem differently. Having been in the wine business in NY for almost thirty years, I can say that there is without question a lot of work that needs to be done to connect with the consumer; likewise, there is a new paradigm in distributor relationships as well. Ignoring a distributor's ability to make things happen (I'm not a distributor, by the way, but I work with them)is not a plan. The call to action is to begin recognizing that a distributor is a different kind of CONSUMER but a consumer nonetheless.

01.08.10 at 10:36 AM


Well said.

Everyone take a deep breath.

Alyssa Rapp wrote:
01.08.10 at 4:39 PM

I couldn't agree more, Alder. At risk of making the implicit explicit, I firmly believe that Millennials are "the" future of the US wine industry as target customers go- and what influences us to buy is fundamentally different than other demographic groups. Very pleased to see you write this piece. Happy New Year!

Enobytes wrote:
01.08.10 at 5:07 PM

Thanks for your insights Alder. I experienced the same frustrations while building my Oregon vineyard data, which supported an initiative driven by Clark Smith over at Appellation America. I failed to get complete data even with the help of a local wine PR person. I have similar frustrations building my winery Google maps. Go figure. ~Pamela

Oscar wrote:
01.09.10 at 3:38 AM

Great points. I'm not too familiar with California, but here in France I see that simply the best farmers and winemakers are not the most commercially minded or technologically adapt. Although some are making really great progress, even across borders.

Scott McIntosh wrote:
01.09.10 at 9:06 PM

Irene Hodes:
Why is the GHW not growing Zinfandel? I visited the website and see the lovely varietals that are grown. Wine stats are great.
As to inattention to winery emails and phone messages I personally think that a small operation does not have staff taking care of them. I operate a small vineyard and custom crush my own grapes in St. Helena, CA. There are some days I don't even turn on the computer to check email. I recently purchased a Blackberry that receives email. What a God send. During harvest and crush I am never out of touch.

01.10.10 at 1:36 PM

Great Article. I completely agree. I see a lot of wineries making a presence on the internet and Facebook but fail to actually engage with their fans. I wonder how many of them are actually looking to connect with their wine club members online and dedicate a few minutes each day to support them. I think we'll see a lot of change this year. Cheers to your book my friend.

Anna Neely wrote:
01.10.10 at 7:33 PM

Sonoma is quite a different animal vs Napa. In Napa it's all about the experience, it creates loyalty. In Napa it's possible to go 90% consumer direct because it's such a magnet for tourism.... almost 400 lables within 20 miles north and south. The competition is in service, Sonoma's not there yet.

rs wrote:
01.10.10 at 9:13 PM

arrogance on occasion
attitude also. Wife and I went tasting yrs ago at a well known Sonoma winery. We had a coupon for tasting and were treated so rudely we'll never go back and certainly never buy their wine. The management didn't do a very good job.
Then there's the ignorance of business. Many of the vintners have a passion, but no business sense. Where did they get all that money to start a winery?

Richard wrote:
01.11.10 at 12:58 AM

since most wineries were heads down busy thru late Nov with harvest and events, assume you didn't call like mid crush

Anthony wrote:
01.11.10 at 2:23 AM

Sorry I am late to this conversation - I only pick up the posts on the weekly digest. This is very interesting Alder - I had a sort of reverse experience last year after attending VinItaly in Verona. Of the few producers I left an email address with or card, I was contacted back by nearly all of them - some with phone calls - within a week after the event. I was astounded by the outreach of the Italian winemakers. Unfortunately I think a little bit of the response was due to what is flatly called the "crisis" here in Italy, but still it was refreshing.

Stephen Weinberg wrote:
01.11.10 at 5:33 AM

By communicating with the Millennium Generation it can also lead to a winery acquiring a "Cult Following such as Austin Hope's Liberty School Cab Sauv which helped put Paso Robles on the map.

Also a distributors need to take care of the "Big Guys" that bring in the $$$ has resulted in an increased need for Brokers to work the streets for the small wineries who get lost in the portfolio!

01.11.10 at 10:16 AM

You are spot on in your assessment of the wine industry--it has always been relationship based. And, those relationships need to span all the audiences, from consumers and wine club members, to wine buyers, sommeliers, distributor sales management, distributor sales reps, etc. Most of us who've been around for a while know this all too well. And, it has to be genuine and passionate.

Doug Wilder wrote:
01.11.10 at 6:43 PM


I'm interested in reading the book when published. Congrats!

Like so many other comments before me, I agree that it is troubling when wineries don't respond to requests for information or even pickup a phone call. As a reasonably well established reviewer/blogger on domestic wines, I experienced this firsthand last month when I was contacting wineries letting them know of my interest in tasting their wines for my year-end Top 25 list. I received many positive responses, but after repeated efforts to reach a number that I hadn't tasted in a while, I gave up.

Would I have received a response if they didn't know who I was?

Your post is very timely for me - I am presenting at the 2010 Direct to Consumer Symposium next week on a panel for Boosting Brand Advocacy - Integrating Social Media into winery marketing programs and I will reference some of your observations in my discussion. I would like to think the poor response we are experiencing is because some wineries are just understaffed however your findings seem to point to poor management of that vital connection with the consumer.

The winery where I work as Director of Commerce and Social Media has a policy that the phone is picked up by a human within three rings. It may be the tasting room, sales, or even the President answering but 90% of the time you will get a live person who will make every attempt to answer every question or service the need immediately. It isn't that difficult when you make it part of the culture. I see the signs there are more than a few wineries on shaky ground financially that won't be able to sustain themselves. Consumers go where they get service, and they work with people who make an effort to get to know them. Those wineries who don't engage their existing/potential market at every appropriate level shouldn't be surprised when they close their doors.

Kris Sookma wrote:
01.12.10 at 10:47 AM

Wow, wonderful post. I never realized the problems that wineries have coming for them. I believe that if people knew how to properly use wine that they would drink more of it.

Greg Brumley wrote:
01.12.10 at 3:43 PM

Social media are important to FUTURE wine sales. The young adult market is active, discriminating and interested in $30+ wines. Unfortnately, social media isn't selling much wine NOW.

The beauty of the small family winery is that it's profitability turns on personal relationships with tastings visitors, mailing lists, wine club members, etc. Small wineries need to communicate more -- and, if at all possible, travel more -- because the most-efficient path to immediate sales and short-term growth runs right through current customers' and allies' living rooms.

GregT wrote:
01.12.10 at 9:40 PM

Hi Alder. Don't post here much but I read you. Anyhow, don't forget that a winery is a business. They know full well that "social media" and the "new media" are important. But at the same time, they've got a worker problem to resolve, a cooler that broke down, a huge order that just came in and damned if they're going to screw that one up, an order to place for labels, bottles, corks, capsules, spare parts, an investigator from the TTB stopping in, pruning that needs to be done, and who knows what else.

The point is, there are only so many hours in the day. But you know that.

Anyhow, good luck w the book. If I'd known, I would have volunteered some help.

anti-marketing wrote:
01.13.10 at 10:42 AM

I love my cookware but I do not have personal relationships with the makers. Same for my denim jeans, my cheese and bread selections, my beer, books, home furnishings and children's toys. Why is the wine industry so fixated on every little detail of consumer relations? Why must the wineries do so much to wow the consumer and lure them into a "special" relationship of prominence. Irrespective of whether the wine is tasty or not, the consumer wants me to hold their hand, prop up their ego and unabashedly sell them the sizzle of my wine. This is ridiculous.

The wine industry in California has become Hollywoodized. It's not about the wine anymore but the "wine experience"

I'm happy to sit in my unwired cellar, blasting Debussy and sipping Chardonnay, which is excellent- bbl fermented, 100% ML, unfiltered. But will it sell? No they say. Not unless I have a "story" a "relationship with my consumer" and 5000 Twitter and Facebook followers.

Katie wrote:
01.13.10 at 11:54 AM

I agree with your observations, Alder, and am interested in benchmarking those who get it right. It would be helpful to know specifically who you think does it well and to hear from other readers too.

James wrote:
01.14.10 at 10:35 AM

VA Wine Diva,

I, too, live in Virginia, and enjoy many VA wines. And there are a number of wineries that do a good job interfacing with the customer. However, I have found that many more are quite unapproachable: they send staff to wine festivals that don't know enough about their product, the staff back at the winery complain about having to go to wine festivals. Quite a few think that a pretty label and pretentious British-accented pourers make them better than all the other VA wines (and that is the "Truth"). And WAAAY too many think that Cab Franc should taste like the end of a pepper mill.

VA has some promise--but there are far too many Sonoma wannabes. Those that focus on making good, affordable wines, drop the pretense, and actually take an interest in their customers will do well.

Cesar wrote:
01.15.10 at 6:24 AM

Everything is about balance. I agree with the comments of Josh Stein and GregT. It must be difficult to answer the the phone when your up to your armpits in wine. Time management is a learned art form, and to be able to eliminate one unproductive call a day can be huge. Would I contribute my product, information and image to a rep that has no control over the final project, with other info that may be outdated shortly, in a medium that is dead or dying; I think I would probably spend the time updating my website or sending a message to my wine club members. It's so much easier to see the view from the mountain top.

Ron wrote:
01.15.10 at 10:49 AM

excellent Alder. Personal contact and immediate follow-up communication is critcal. Business relationships are like any other relationship: the more effort expended in this area the richer (and more profitable!) the relationship.

Alder wrote:
01.17.10 at 1:16 PM

Dear Anti Marketing,

Very few cookware, jeans sellars, cheese or breadmakers are nearly as dependent on, or profit as much from sales to individual consumers as do wineries. A winery with 36,000 bottles of wine to sell is a very different animal than All Clad, Levis, Tillamook, or Acme Baking company.

My commentary here is not about encouraging wineries to as you put it "wow the consumer and lure them into a special relationship of prominence" but simply to get them to realize that they must at least have a basic relationship with their customers moving forward.

I agree with you that creating an experience for experience's sake, and the hollywood-ization of wine is not only a waste of time and energy, but also disingenuous. I'll be the first person to say that for many wineries, having a facebook page and twitter account make absolutely no sense.

To sneer at the idea of having a "story" is quite dangerous. Without a story you're no different than any bottle on the shelf of Bevmo that only gets sold because of some combination of a label design, a point score, and a price point.

You say you're anti-marketing. Fine (though I don't think you understand what marketing really is).

Are you anti answering the phone or responding to e-mails from customers and journalists? Do you only do it when it's convenient for you or when you get around to it?
Are you anti knowing the names of every one of your customers who buy wine directly from you?
Are you anti relationship to the point that if a customer wants to come visit that unwired cellar of yours you're not going to make sure you go out of your way to make sure they enjoy the visit?

If you answered yes to any of these questions, then I predict you're going to have a pretty hard time selling your wine in the future. Forget Web 2.0 and social media, these are the basic tenets of managing a relationship with customers and any winery unprepared to do these things, I say is doomed to fail in the 21st century. That's the point of my post.

Kathy wrote:
02.03.10 at 7:22 AM

When I compiled the European database for winetoday.com, most wineries didn't have a website, some had no fax machine. I sent letters (shock!) and called. While very cumbersome, most wineries replied (don't remember numbers but more than 1,200). Not all answered all questions but it did mean that, at that time (2001), it was the most comprehensive online database in the wine universe.
Before that, with Smartwine (the first online wine site), we called, emailed, faxed - whatever it took.
The problem was, is, and will be whether the content - on a website, social media, open API, or in a book - is edited for accuracy. That is one of the biggest problems online today (besides my personal hatred of flash).
Something is wrong and it is copied and repeated as truth. Daily I find several errors. Add in reviews and comments with names spelled and abbreviated every which way and there is no way to determine what's correct. When something is not correct, it hinders relationships.
Accuracy is expensive. Inaccuracy can kill a business.
For me, that's the bottom line.

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