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Sanford Winery:  Averting the Cliché

It’s too bad about a certain movie that had a certain impact on a certain varietal that helped ignite the wine industry (and the Central Coast) to its current heights in the wine consumer renaissance. 

Unfortunately, It seems almost cliché to make a reference to said movie for fear of being labeled as “That Guy”— the one that drops cultural references to movies that stopped being cultural touchstones four years ago. Doing so would be an indignity in the same realm of egregious faux pas as wearing all white sneakers and pulling out a travel map on the corner of 54th and Broadway when the world is right in front of you, with neatly marked street signs to boot, as multi-cultural, trend-forward, non white shoe-wearing “natives” jostle you out of the middle of the sidewalk.

That said, Sanford Winery is featured in a certain movie, it’s located equidistant between Lompoc and Buellton on a lonely, dusty stretch of pavement called Santa Rosa Road, and visiting Sanford is a nice companion to a dinner stop at a certain restaurant (that serves a tasty Santa Maria tri-tip) that figured as a minor player in this major movie.

Sanford is also a good introduction to what equity partners can do when they endeavor to raise the stakes—Sanford Pinot, in the past, has always being a nice, well-made wine, but it never quite transcended to the top of the vista in between the twin peaks of delicious and reliable.  The Terlato Family have added much to quality in the bottle.

Vague introductions and sideways (ahem!) acknowledgements aside, the thing you should know is simple: Sanford Winery makes some killer Pinot and Chardonnay.

So good, in fact, they have now been inducted into my brand ambassador hall of fame alongside other favorites like A. Rafanelli and Dry Creek Vineyards.

To my palate, both the Pinot and the Chardonnay typify what is great about California wine —wines that are wrought with a deft touch and speak to a fruit-driven California sensibility that is unmistakable, while also being food-friendly. 

The 2007 vintage is currently available; I would urge you to try both the Pinot and the Chard—K&L Wine Merchants has the Pinot and the Chard is in good distribution nationally found by searching




Vin de Napkin - Dubious Research Edition

More doodlings on the back of a wine stained napkin ...

I don’t mean to pick on university professors or researchers, but I can’t help but notice that the preponderance of research that comes out, specifically wine-related research from universities, is usually pretty lame. 

Yeah, I get the “publish or perish” notion, but is our academia sector now reduced to studying whether its more important for a winery to build a brand or to focus on high-quality? I suppose these two things can be mutually exclusive of each other, but on the branding front, didn’t Proctor & Gamble figure out this brand marketing thing 60 years ago?

The world is littered with “better” products that weren’t marketed well ...  you have to be a savvy marketer to survive these days ... in wine or any consumer product category.

Excerpt from a Lubbock Online regarding a Texas Tech wine marketing study:

High brand awareness is more likely to lead to brand survival than high perception of wine quality, according to the study. It tracked the fates of 25 Texas wineries since 1991, when more than 900 Texas wine enthusiasts rated the quality and name recognition of the wineries’ products.

Researchers found an unmistakable trend: the more recognizable the brand, the better its rate of survival. They found no such link between quality ratings, so wine makers may be better off investing in marketing rather than expensive grapes, the study indicates.

With so many brands to consider, Texas consumers tend to put more weight in a wine’s cover than its content, the study also suggests.

“A lot of wineries put so much effort into improving the quality, but not as much attention is being paid to marketing. This study shows it needs to be done,” said its lead author, Natalia Kolyesnikova



Saving “Value” from the Scrap Heap of Meaningless, Bastardized Words

In the realm of words that are in danger of becoming utterly meaningless, “value” is right up there next to “strategize” and “authentic.”

Every year it seems more and more words take on a subjugated role in our daily lexicon and in the process they get used with mixed meaning to the point where the word loses all relevance as an individual contributor in the English language.

That said, the word “value” in wine is on the cusp of becoming utterly meaningless.

While true, I do feel like I’m doing a Jerry Seinfeld stand-up routine, all rhetorical questions:  What does “value” even mean?

And, whose “value” is it?

Is it intrinsic value?

Is it real value?

Is it perceived value?


And, by what criteria is this “value” conveyed?

What is the “value equation?”

No comedy routine, trying to make sense of this value equation is The Wine Blue Book.

In doing so, they use the notion of Quality-to-Price Ratio – a value indicator that is seldom seen outside the wine world – the notion of a baselined, good bottle of wine at a lower price than its peers.

Using Quality-to-Price Ratio (QPR) based on an aggregation of wine points ratings, The Wine Blue Book is essentially a peer review process based on price and based on major critic scores.

Thus, if a Napa Cab scores 95 points and costs $30, it would have an off the charts positive QPR as measured against other Napa Cabs that may score less and likely cost more—thus representing good value.

I wrote about The Wine Blue Book a little over two years ago when they had a name changeover in a branding exercise—you can read my previous post here.

With the current mania (née focus) on “value” this and “value” that in the wine world, I caught up with Neil to see how business is going.

In that conversation (excerpted), Neil raises several interesting points:

Good Grape: Do you have any thoughts on this “value” push in wine?  Do you think that the term “value” is bastardized with no true meaning?  What’s your definition of wine value?

Neil / The Wine Blue Book: Value isn’t just an inexpensive wine.  Value is when the wine is the same or better quality and costs much less than average.  The 2008 Chateau Pontet-Canet Bordeaux from Pauillac region costs $80 but it received an average score of 95 points.  Well the average price for a 95 rated Bordeaux is $245, so $80 is 33% of that cost… a “value” in my book.  You can buy a bottle of 2006 Chateau Margaux for $537 but it only received 94 points.  I would rather pass on the 06 Margaux and buy a six pack of Pontet-Canet for $480.

For the numbers aspect of defining value, if the price of the wine is 25% below the average cost of a similar scoring wine then we call it a “value”.  At 50% or below it is a “Great Value” and 75% or below it is an “Outstanding Value”.  In the June 2009 issue we had five “Outstanding Value” wines, 91 “Great Values” and 230 “Value” wines out of the 1,197 wines that were included in the issue.

Good Grape: Have you seen an uptick in your business over the last few months with people wanting to be savvier with their wine spending dollars?

Neil / The Wine Blue Book: Yes, we have seen an uptick in new subscribers; I think the excessive spending mentality is frowned upon because of the economy.  Spending money wisely is now “in fashion.”

Good Grape: Since you and I last talked, have you seen an increase in the use of points as a scoring mechanism?

Neil / The Wine Blue Book: Yes.  Some folks continue to dismiss the 100 point system but they choose a 10 point system and then score wines 8.9 or 9.6 which just translates to an 89 and 96.  The 20 point system is the same but just 20% of the 100 points.

The folks who dismiss the system advocate “trust your retailer” but since a retailer’s income is dependent on the wine the consumer purchases, I would rather trust the scores the critics provide since their income isn’t dependent on the consumers purchase.

Good Grape:  Do you have any growth plans for the business that you can share?

Neil / The Wine Blue Book: Based on our subscriber survey and non-renewal survey we conducted earlier this year, we confirmed some of our current policies:

- 86% want us to continue with our policy of only listing wines that have been scored by two or more sources.
- 71% indicate the price we show is “accurate”.

We are working on adding another varietal within the next two months to bring the total to 19 varietals tracked. 

We now include Outstanding and Great Value wines, by varietal, from the past 12 months, in each issue.  This allows subscribers to walk into a wine shop with a list of great values by varietal.

Good Grape:  Thanks, Neil

No doubt, the notion of value and all of its subjective meaning creates a flashpoint in the wine world, particularly when combined with the equally contentious use of wine scores.

However, points aren’t going away, critics aren’t leaving the wine scene and a truly valuable aggregator of these scores provides a meaningful service to those that want to spend their wine money in a way that is more reliable and less crap shoot. 

For $25 bucks a year and a QPR rating on thousands of wines, it seems to me that Neil and The Wine Blue Book are providing consumers a tremendous service and, yes, value.

Photo credit:  B2B Knowledge Sharing



Wine Spectator, Me and the Relationship Divide

The wine equivalency to the eHarmony relationship test would have isolated our differences years ago; without it however I have struggled to discern the incompatibility between me and my wine media muse, Wine Spectator.

At this point, years in, our relationship should have transcended mere “like” to a deeper, more in tune level of trust.

Then one recent day, I finally “got it.”  I got the difference between me and Wine Spectator.

My lodestone pointing north, I finally understood why Wine Spectator has long been a magazine I have read, yet I’ve never quite felt the reciprocal warm embrace from that of a kindred spirit.  True to relationships in our heart of hearts – it was them and not me, even if I took responsibility for the relationship.  The half-heartedness it gave back to me feeling insincere and dishonest like the kiss you share at the end of a first date when there won’t be a second date: part mercy, part memento.

It wasn’t for lack of effort, though.


I mean, I have the credentials; I am a wine enthusiast for Goodness sake.  They have credentials as the premiere magazine for wine enthusiasts.  We should be getting along, no?

Why haven’t these “dates” with Wine Spectator been going the way they should?

Everything from the content to the advertisers have felt “off,” like I was a Brit visiting the Smithsonian Museum of Natural History; interesting surely, but not resonating with me, not a part of my fabric.

I have been a stranger in a not so strange land.

And then, I realized what it was with Wine Spectator and me:  We’re kids from two different sides of the tracks, Romeo and Juliet, however, our love will be forever unrequited.

Reading the “Wine Spectator Magazine Readership at Glance” overview found at the M. Shanken Communications web site and then reviewing their demographic overview, it became painfully clear that the dissonance I’ve felt with Wine Spectator is because it’s a magazine that is not intended for me.

Nope, I’m not the audience.  More painfully, I don’t know anybody in their audience.  I’m more middle management than jet flying C-Suite, doing the work instead of making the decisions.

Yes, I’ve simply been feeling the pain of another intersection that won’t ever be true compatibility.

From Wine Spectators Advertising materials:

* Our readers include epicureans, connoisseurs and collectors and business leaders

* Wine Spectator is the No. 1 luxury consumer publication in the 2008 Luxury Brand Status Index Survey

* The Luxury Brand Status Index Survey sampled 1,681 wealthy American consumers with an average income of $293,000 and an average net worth of $2.9 million

* Wine Spectator magazine readers have a median household income of $163,983

* The median age for a Spectator reader is 49

* The median liquid assets for a Wine Spectator reader is $3,018,000

* 25% of readers have a Chief Officer title

* 34% own 2+ homes

* The Wine Spectator reader takes an average of seven vacations a year

* 30% fly first or business class

* 56% are a member of a private club

Reading through the Wine Spectator advertising demographic information reminded me of the infamous George W. Bush quote when speaking to a group of wealthy Republicans, “This is an impressive crowd: the Have’s and Have-more’s. Some people call you the elites. I call you my base.”

Is it any wonder I have felt the lack of connection with Wine Spectator?  I am not a part of their “base.”  In fact, I might be the cousin twice removed compared to their “base.”

Compared to the demographics, I’m very “outhouse” compared to the penthouse.

At least now I can stop scratching my head about the persistent travel recommendations for the Ritz Carlton and Four Seasons.

Of all the statistics that that I have cited, the one that jumped out to me, besides the one in four readers that are a “Chief” of something, is the $3 million in liquidity that the median reader possesses.


Given the economy, I’m more than a couple of zeros away from that.

So, now that I understand this delta in between Wine Spectator and me, I feel emboldened to build a relationship on common ground, not dating, but perhaps visitation like that rich friend who you share time with occasionally, if only sporadically, perhaps to be reminded of the contentedness you enjoy in your life without the encumbrance of more things to take care of, as much as the quality of the shared time.

Yeah, this thing between Wine Spectator and me will be just fine, but it will be on my terms now, no self-flagellation for a relationship that doesn’t quite fit. 


Now, a Word from Our Sponsor – Please Respond!

Many might suggest that a wine company sponsoring a consortium of bowling centers is a sure sign that the apocalypse is upon us.

These same people might also suggest that a winery sponsoring a team in a NASCAR race is a sign that not only is the apocalypse upon us, but the locusts have blanketed the hills.

Announcements related to wine and the bowling center and wine and NASCAR happened in the last few days.

Of course, Adobe Road winery sponsoring a car for Sunday’s NASCAR race at Infineon in Sonoma is small potatoes compared to sponsoring the entire lead-in race on Saturday as Bennett Lane Winery did with the eponymous 200 mile precursor to the Sunday NASCAR main event.


Doubtless, none of these wine companies will be the last to use sponsorship to create mindshare as the flattening out of the wine demographic curve combines with the continued penetration of the value play in wine.

Indeed, I think we’re in for a lot more sponsorship from the wine industry.

Amongst the influence play options in advertising – display ads, direct response, endorsement and sponsorship, it appears likely that as display advertising shrinks based on the decline of readership; those dollars will be re-allocated to direct response and sponsorships, even more so than today.

Anything to create an associational connection in the mind of consumers and spur them into action.

Everything old is new again – it was sponsorship that was predominant on 1950’s television before commercials took rise.  It was direct response advertorials that were effective before brand-oriented image-based print ads.

Advertorials, a form of direct response marketing, is the secondary aspect of advertising, outside of display ads, that acts as a book-end of effective with sponsorship, a sort of “high-low” approach.

The other night I stopped by a barbecue joint on the way home, picked up a slab of pork goodness, poured a glass of the ’08 Carmen Rosé, a revelation with the BBQ by the way, and turned on the Food Network which was holding a BBQ marathon.

What Rosé is going to sponsor the Kansas City Barbecue Society, I wondered?  And, when are they going to create a Facebook fan page and ask me to join?

This sponsorship movement will become predominant as individual wineries and even varietal groups, like ZAP or Rhone Rangers, look to target large groups of constituents in a way that that feels more quantifiable and more true to a customer base than a full page ad in a glossy wine mag. next to an ad for Cartier watches.

And, it makes good marketing sense, too.  With a magazine, you get a broad brush of people, crossing all types of demographics and psychographics.

I subscribe to Wine Spectator, mostly, because of the columns – Matt Kramer primarily and James Laube to a lesser degree. 

However, if you look at Wine Spectators readership overview that’s where the disconnect occurs because even if I fall into a portion of the demographic profile, I definitely do not hit any of the psychographics – I’m not rolling in an Lexus, not wearing a watch that costs more than a casual dinner for two, not vacationing at Ritz Carlton’s, nor am I likely to purchase any of the above.

To a Wine Spectator advertiser, I am the wasted portion of the advertising budget.

Yet, sponsorships allow you to target “your” audience with a much greater degree of specificity.  An advertorial or a direct response allows you to call them into action.

With the growing wine community online that allows for self-selection – i.e. Twitter friends around distinct interest areas, Facebook fan pages around specific interests, etc. wineries have the capability to target a wine enthusiasts that are dog lovers with a “green” sensibility, amongst a zillion other affinity areas.

Look for winery marketing to continue to fork off into this duality of sponsorship coupled with advertorial call to action as marketers look to create an association, build mindshare and then incent to activity.

The folks that take the brunt of this collateral damage are, unfortunately, the paper-based portion of our popular wine media, reliant on display advertising.

Make no mistake, the fact that the wine industry isn’t an advertising-reliant business makes this shift incremental and not monumental and if nothing else, the 100-point system will keep our wine magazines around for years into the future, but, undoubtedly, the market is changing around them.

And, where do wine bloggers come into this wine magazine, display advertising, sponsorship, direct response equation, particularly if display advertising, on or offline, isn’t effective?

In a word:  endorsements.  And, that’s where things get really interesting.


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