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Spring Break Winery Marketing Reading List

There is a certain monotheism to winery marketing that I don’t understand.

Put another way – why the heck does everybody follow the same Gospel? 

Sure, you see some slight variances, some wineries are more edgy then others, some are cutesy, some are classically serious, but innovation in winery marketing is more exception than rule.

Most wineries create a hospitable environment at their tasting room, create a conservative, but attractive label and let the wine in the bottle speak for itself.  Throw in some pr, a dash of slow adopting technology usage, some major wine media sampling, hold an event or two, rinse and repeat.

This is well and good, but when there are over 6,100 wineries in the U.S. with the addition of thousands of competing imports, it seems like a dangerous proposition to think that competing with thousands of other competitors, when everybody is running the same plays, is a recipe for success.

Put another way, if you are a running enthusiast or a triathlete, do you enter the Boston Marathon or the Ironman competition thinking you are going to win?  No, more realistically, you go in pragmatically understanding that you are competing against yourself and it is about the finish, no matter how hard you train.

However, in winery marketing, I get the distinct sense that most winery owners enter the race thinking they are going to win, yet they do not put in the training necessary.

Part of this myopia may be related to working wine out, the product and agricultural aspect first, instead of working from a customer backwards.

This wine first idea no doubt tickles the natural wine lover, but it does not make very much business sense.

Two recent examples of wine businesses succeeding, Crushpad and Cameron Hughes, are largely based on finding a segment, a customer, and then working backwards with a clearly articulated value proposition.

Interesting and ironic that neither one of them own any vineyards or a winery proper, either.

In addition, I think looking outside the wine business for inspiration is always a good idea.  What are other businesses that have similar marketing fundamentals to the wine business in which some ideas can be borrowed?  Two businesses that immediately pop to mind for me are indie rock and politics.

With that in mind, here are five current and topical books I think any winery marketer should read, sequentially, with toes nested in sand, this Spring Break:

imageIt’s Not What You Sell, It’s What You Stand For: Why Every Extraordinary Business Is Driven by Purpose

Why Read this Book?  Picking up on the Purpose-Idea from thought leader Mark Earls, this books discusses articulating your “why” – what is your reason for being—what is the incremental value that a winery brings to the table, separate from creating a sellable product.

image The Story Factor (2nd Revised Edition)

Why Read this Book? Once you’ve identified and rallied around your purpose, your “why,” you’ll need to think about your back-story, your present day and your future, and craft shareable stories, authentic vignettes that represent, in a memorable fashion, what you are about.

imageRhetoric for Radicals: A Handbook for 21st Century Activists

Why Read this Book? Nobody has an unlimited budget, but understanding the messaging activity in activism is an excellent primer for not only staying on message with your purpose-idea and your story, but also guerilla marketing and how your purpose and message can transcend the boundaries and the normal limits of marketing success. 

imageThe Indie Band Survival Guide: The Complete Manual for the Do-It-Yourself Musician

Why Read this Book? Once a winery has determined its purpose, developed its story, identified outlets for its story, the next step is hustle.  I have long thought that if a winery thought of themselves like a struggling rock band, using the Internet, going from town to town, small gig after small gig, they would find some essential truths to marketing that would aid them.  This book is that guide.

imageThe Experience Economy: Work Is Theater & Every Business a Stage

Why Read this Book?  This last book is about treating your tasting room environment as a theatre, a chance to create an experience for customers.  Once you have defined your purpose, you have created shareable, authentic stories, you understand messaging outlets and how to guerilla market yourself, the very last step is to create an environment in your tasting room that acts as a finale to your play, a piece of show business or theatre, think about the Disney experience, and create an opportunity for a standing ovation, stark raving fans.

Ah, stark, Raving Fans reminds me that there is a customer service book of the same name, a good one, too, but that’s for another post – a Memorial Day Winery Marketing Reading List.


Open That Bottle Night, Vintage 2009

Like a lightening bolt out of blue skies, on the occasion of the 10th annual “Open that Bottle Night,” the cork-pulling event has established itself as a real, fake holiday.

Open That Bottle Night (OTBN) – an occasion espoused by Dorothy J. Gaiter and John Brecher, wine columnists for the Wall Street Journal, implores wine enthusiasts of all stripes to open that damn bottle.

It happens to everybody who has ever purchased a bottle of wine, you buy something that has meaning or is otherwise special by purchase occasion or price and then you don’t drink it.  That bottle may make it through various relationships, storage methods, moves, and life stations, acting as a planted, vinous way station in our life’s journey.

However, the reality is that wine is probably going to be better sooner rather than later, and everybody deserves to share in the delight of a beautiful bottle of wine drunk in the company of friends, family and good food.

Now, that said, on this occasion of OTBN, I will be in the company of friends, but it will be with beer in hand.  My wife and I sometimes hang out with an arty crowd, pottery folks mostly, it’s an urbane, smart, down to earth crowd and every February Joe, the ringleader of sorts, throws a soup party – bring a batch of your favorite soup, a bowl and spoon for yourself and enjoy some noshes and company.

The soup party is always fun.  It is also, as noted, a decided beer event.

So, I opened my wine bottles a day early, just to make sure I was sniffing, swirling and slurping with the same joie de vivre that others would be.

Not able to pull the trigger on my precious A. Rafanelli, nor the 2000 Cascina Morassino Barbaresco that Parker gave just 89 points to, but, in my opinion, is so good it calls up a paraphrasing of Beat writer William Burroughs when he said, “We see God through our (palates) in the flashbulb of orgasm” or the ’99 Joseph Phelps Insignia, that was a wedding present and really deserves to live till 2015 and my 10-year anniversary, I went with the 2005 Patz & Hall Sonoma Coast Pinot Noir and the 2005 Chimney Rock Elevage.

2005 Patz & Hall Sonoma Coast Pinot Noir

This is the fourth time I have had this bottle and it gets better and better every time, and is drinking at peak form.  At $35 this is an extraordinary bargain for Pinot lovers. 

Blended from small Sonoma Coast sites, this is something of a Pinot mutt, but like your favorite companion, the sum of its parts makes a beautiful whole.

With a nose that jumps out of the glass with strawberries and cherries intermingled with tinges of raspberry on the edges, the palate offers a savory blend of stewed fruit with a dash of vanilla, earth and truffle with a lingering acidity that makes the wine a wonderful companion for dinner, but imminently gulpable.

A very delicious wine from a producer that is consistently well above average and reasonably priced relative to other California Pinots.

2005 Chimney Rock Elevage

There is not much to say about Chimney Rock that has not already been said, a noted, and notable producer with a lengthy track record of making expressive, Bordeaux-style wines.

The Elevage, a judicious mix of Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot, and Petit Verdot, is a very pleasant wine now that will only get better with age, a little like the straight A 14-year old student who is a little precocious for his own good, not yet realizing his own vast potential.

Offering up an amazing texture and velvety mouth feel with an abundance of earth and restrained dark hand fruit, blackberry and black cherry, this wine has an alluring tannic structure that hints at the years ahead when the new French oak fully integrates with the earth and fruit.

To enjoy now, decant for an hour and serve with a wonderful bone-in steak and root vegetables.  Alternatively, hold for several years and behold come Open That Bottle Night in 2014.


American Wine Blog Award Finalists are Announced!

Thanks to Tom from Fermentation for doing the heavy lifting and rounding up his team of reviewers to analyze and name finalists in the 3rd annual American Wine Blog Awards.

I am pleased to be named a finalist for the third year in a row in the “Best Blog Presentation/Graphics” category.  Amongst the competitors in the same category is the Hosemaster of Wine, a newer wine blog that definitely forces other wine bloggers to not take themselves so seriously (don’t believe me?  Check out his post about the American Wine Blog Award finalists and his vivisection of a couple of people).  Plus, he always posts a tasteful nudie picture with every post, which, you know, appeals to my prurient side.  My flying birds can’t compete with a set of 38D ta-ta’s.

While I did not make the cut in a couple of other categories, it is hard to quibble when you are up against pros like Eric Asimov, Alice Feiring, Tyler Colman from Dr. Vino and Alder from Vinography.

If anything, the finalists in the Best Wine Blog Writing and Best Overall Blog categories speak to the level of quality wine writing that is being served up online. 

Generally speaking, the balance of the finalists are an interesting bunch.  I am very glad that my pal Tim from Winecast was named a finalist in for Best Business/Industry Wine Blog.  Likewise, I’m very glad for Lenn from Lenndevours for being named a finalist in two categories – Best Single Subject Blog and Best Overall Blog.  Both bloggers have been overlooked in years past and are getting some well-deserved acknowledgment.  Of course, Dr. Debs repeats as a finalist with her always excellent Good Wine Under $20.

The one outlier for me was Steve Heimoff not being named a finalist in any categories—that certainly would have added to the pro’s who are in the mix.  It surprised me because not only is he an excellent writer, but he writes with a clarity of voice that is very strong.  Plus, I like jousting with him as we take our respective “old school,” “new school” positions.

If you would like to vote for Good Grape, or any of the other worthy finalists, please go to Fermentation and cast your vote.

*NOTE* on Blog Comments on Good Grape

For about 10 days, the comment function did not work on my site – blame a new polling module that was installed and fouled some things up. 

I bring this up because, in my estimation, the American Wine Blog Awards are a nice pat on the back for the blogging that many people do out of simple passion, but more important than an award are the comments and community that fuel wine blogging. 

I know it is the fuel in my blogging engine. I check the back-end of my site several times a day for new comments and I am always happy when I get them.  I also notice when I do not get them.

So, just as important as voting in the wine blog awards is commenting and adding your voice to the online wine community.  If you are a lurker and you have not commented, please do.  If you have commented here and you tried over the last two weeks to no avail, please get back in the swing and call me out on stuff, or agree, if you are so inclined, or take a tact that I may have missed in a post.  But, for me, and on behalf of all wine bloggers, remember that it is the conversation that makes it fun and worthwhile.


Oh, Sherry ...

Quick—word association time.  I say Sherry, you say what?

Personally speaking, I’m thinking of the song “Oh, Sherry” by Journey.

I think I’m in good company on that, too, unfortunate as it may be for for Sherry producers over in Spain.

For context, Jon Bonne, Wine Editor for the San Francisco Chronicle, wrote a really fabulous piece on Sherry last month, this most neglected of wines, a quaff barely registering a blip on even the most ardent of wine lovers radar.

Now, I notice a press release that indicates the Sherry Council of America (who knew?) is launching an awareness campaign in conjunction with a creative shop from Seattle called Creature.

The premise behind the web campaign is the notion that there is The Secret Sherry Society with discrete locations across the country—kind of like the Freemasons, except made up.

I’ve been in agency brainstorming sessions before and its not a bad idea—since nobody drinks Sherry anyways why not make it seem like people have been out of the loop because it’s a part of this ultra secretive society.

I can see that idea getting some steam in a brainstorming meeting—but, here’s the rub—in an era of transparency, making something up without a payoff isn’t going to, well, payoff.  There is no secret society, its just a ruse to get you to sign-up at the web site.

How, um, clever.

The lack of pay-off is probably a budget issue, I can’t imagine the Sherry Council of America is throwing around much of a marketing budget, but still ... somebody has to step up and own the full lifecycle.  Plus, they are flirting with mixology and cocktail culture and that is a recipe for disaster because the current mixology era is a fad and wine is enduring and the two don’t co-mingle much.

They would have been better off just building off of and out from what people already know—Sherry for cooking. Ditch the cooking sherry in the back of every spice cabinet and go for a fresh bottle of drinking sherry—6 oz in the chicken, and a glass for the cook ... associate it with a drinking occasion like weekend cooking when you’re doing it at a leisurely pace, as an aperitif, create a mental association to a daypart to drink and enjoy Sherry.

Instead, now there’s a fictitious Secret Sherry Society. 

The good news?  It won’t take much to move the needle on the scant 200,000 cases sold in the U.S.

As a bonus, for Journey fans everywhere, those red-blooded American’s who have turned over $10 for Journey’s Greatest Hits, myself included—Oh, Sherry.  And, tip of the cap to Hardy at Dirty South Wine who rocks the wine + music combo much better than I do.


Field Notes from a Wine Life Pt. 2 – Fat Tuesday Edition

More mental driftwood from the wine life fieldbook …

Biggest Small Town in America

I have seen hard data reports, heard anecdotal reports, and spoken to people with a first hand report.  Simply, most wine enthusiasts are NOT BUYING LESS wine; they are buying LESS EXPENSIVE wine, in the same quantities.

This is an unfortunate, but sad state of affairs for smaller wineries – more exclusive boutiques with lower production and correlating higher prices; they are getting pinched.

These cultural gems, small, unique and interesting, the indie bands as counterpoint to Top 40 radio, the off the beaten track destinations as a cultural balance to Disneyworld, are hurting.

My town, Indianapolis, is often referred to as the “Biggest Small Town in America.”  And, it is the largest city in the country in terms of incorporated size.  Circled by interstate 465, it is approximately 53 miles around.  It is big.

Under the best circumstances, Indianapolis is not a “sexy” place to live.  It pales in comparison on the hip factor to just about anywhere within 75 miles of the coast in California.  It pales in comparison to other major cities.  It is conservative, culturally a year or two behind the times, and, frankly, not all that exciting.  Sometimes I get wanderlust about what it might be like to live somewhere with a faster pulse, a joie de vivre and a vibrant backbeat.  My wife and I like to take weekend trips just to get out of the sameness, the spec. builder homes and the chain restaurants.  I have talked to several Chicago ex-pats who, delicately, indicate that, yes, they are getting acclimated to Indianapolis and the things it offers, and more importantly, what it does not offer.  “Great cost of living,” they always say attempting a “save” to the conversation.

Yet, the city (and its ‘burbs) are eminently livable – affordable, safe, a reasonably stable economy and all of that good stuff.

Right now, in this particular time in life, Indianapolis is a darn nice place to be.

The daily expectedness is comforting.

This “big” small town versus “Sexy” lifestyle comes to mind, particularly related to LESS EXPENSIVE wine, because I have been enjoying cheaper wines – Toad Hollow Chardonnay, Edna Valley Chardonnay, Mark West Pinot Noir and a host of others – large production wines that are good, but not fantastic – comfortable, familiar, and satisfactory instead of sublime.

These are solid, reliable, not particularly ponderous, risk adverse types of wines and they are satisfying like a big bowl of macaroni and cheese made with Velveeta. 

A year ago, I would have forsaken them for something with a little bit more sizzle, something that offered a bit more pizzazz, something that spoke to me on a higher level, something that offered a weekend trip in a bottle.

But, today?  Nope. Solid, safe, and satisfying is okay for me.

These times will not last forever and I know my wine tastes will return, and so will my cultural wanderlust.  After enough Velveeta Mac n Cheese you hunger for the goat cheese and gruyere version.  I just hope the small, unique gems will be waiting. 

The Wine Tool Belt

Somewhere along the way, in the last couple of years, I became old enough that I lost touch with current slang.  As it was pointed out to me recently, the word “tool” has been replaced as pejorative du jour by the decidedly more graphic, “douche.” It is a reference point for somebody that is hopelessly uncool. 

Got it.  That’s too bad, though, because it ruins my “tool belt” pun.

I was pondering my trip to a tasting event and thinking about all of the accoutrements that you can take these days – and there are enough items now that it can require a tool belt, even if most of the items are not for those that that are aware of their own affectations.

Consider, you have wine wipes to wipe the red wine stains from your teeth.  There is the Vino Chapeau to place on top of your tasting glass to concentrate the aroma’s.  There is SanTasti, the palate cleanser.  There is the wine glass necklace to hold your wine glass.  The truly wine savvy take their own Riedel, both a red and a white to better enjoy their tipple, and, of course, I can’t forget the tasting notes notebook to archive your thoughts.

The only thing missing is the pocket protector and the tape on the bridge of the glasses.

If you see me at a tasting event with a wine tool belt and all of my accessories, please leave me be, I’m busy tasting and jotting.  But, please do not call me a douche.


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