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Making the Muse

I’m learning that developing the new darling on the wine scene is one part zeitgeist and three parts effort.

Marketing effort, that is.

Yes, agencies that do wine PR and marketing, mostly those doing large umbrella campaign work for country or varietal associations, might be the under-acknowledged heroes in the wine industry, bringing new varietals to light via a focused effort on creating mindshare.

In the past, I have naively noted that country association advertising in wine glossies was a waste of money.  Ah, the precociousness of youth.  What I didn’t know at the time (but now realize) is that wine country association advertising is a part of a multi-pronged marketing plan aimed at the hearts and minds of wine influencer’s and consumers and it is primarily driven by PR and marketing pros.  Instead of “Making the Muse,” I could have just as easily called this post, “Battleground U.S.”


Seemingly, everybody is ramping up their marketing efforts in the states.  Not that this is a bad thing, quite the opposite.  Wine marketing people are increasingly acting as the tastemakers for the future.  And, with wine quality being uniformly superb around the world, it’s a benefit that forward-thinking wine countries and the professionals that they work with bring under-acknowledged wines to the forefront.

By way of context, it was with interest that I recently found out that color trends for our fashion is governed by a group called the Color Marketing Group (CMG) based in Alexandria, Virginia.  A non-profit consortium of color experts, CMG forecasts direction in the form of their Color Directions® guidance document nineteen months in advance for all industries, manufactured products and services. 


Based on these color forecasts, the Color Management Group members “translate” that information into salable colors for manufactured products in all industries.

So, if you’re wearing a lavender shirt and painting your bedroom robin’s egg blue in the spring of 2011, you now know who to thank.

Trends management, related to wine, is interesting to me because it used to be that in the wine world Sommeliers were the trendsetters; the Color Management group as it were.  Gravitating to and latching on to quirkiness and neglected varietals, the unspoken secret society of Sommeliers built a varietal over a period of years, wine list after wine list.  Gruner Veltliner and Condrieu are two notable examples from the last decade that spring to mind.  Condrieu is interesting to note because acreage under vine for Vigonier, the primary grape grown in the Condrieu AOC, has increased in the U.S. over the last decade, but mindshare has remained flat—mostly because of a lack of unified varietal marketing, in my opinion.

However, this trendsetting is no longer a monastic pursuit, at least not in the singular sense.  Sommeliers have help and their influence is being buttressed by the online wine scene.  In a hyper-connected world, where the stakes are high, it seems as if mindshare for varietals is developing in 12 and 24-month campaigns at a level more organized than “organic growth,” making the “tipping point” something that can be managed.

Take Wines of Chile for example.  What will we be drinking in the next couple of years, a newly omnipresent varietal that will enter our wine vocabulary like Malbec and Albarino before it?  Carmenere.

With a plum piece written in Saveur magazine by David Rosengarten, the trickledown effect from Wines of Chile and their marketing firm RFBinder is already happening.


According to Atalanta Rafferty from RFBinder, the agency responsible for two large Wines of Chile online wine tastings this year:

“Over the past couple of years, we have focused on changing the perception of Chilean wines (to make) them a player in the above $10 wines (category).”

We see the ‘Discover Carmenere’ online wine tasting (as) an example of how we worked to educate the media about the quality and diversity of Chile by highlighting a key varietal and the different wine regions of Chile.  We have also included top sommeliers in our education program conducting a Carmenere seminar with winemakers as (a) part of our annual Grand Tasting.”

Rafferty noted that Chilean wines have gained popularity and awareness (read:  mindshare and marketshare) over the last several years leading to an increase in market penetration from 8% in ’06 to 10% in ’09.

Said Rafferty, “Wines of Chile also defines success in the way journalists, bloggers and top sommeliers are talking about Carmenere.  Consumer and trade publications have published features on Carmenere and other Chilean varietals – like David Rosengarten’s story on Carmenere in Saveur this month.

Looking forward, Wines of Chile plans to continue to promote Carmenere as one of Chile’s signature (varieties).”

Rob Bralow, a PR rep. for Gregory White PR, the firm who manages Chilean winery Vina Carmen noted, “These regional programs are great, they give a sense of unification to a region, a single message for the consumer to digest.”

This is all very savvy marketing.  As a wine enthusiast (and alpha consumer), I have patterns of buying behavior that I move in and out of, and Carmenere wasn’t a part of that program a year ago.  However, now, understanding the regional lay of the land in Chile and tasting a half dozen bottles, I’m much more likely to look for a Carmenere when I’m wine shopping in general and, in particular, looking for a Cabernet Franc, especially if the trade-off merits are slight and Chile offers a better price value.  And, of course, I’m also likely to write about this in some form or another as life experiences filter through the wine prism.

That said, I’m no trends soothsayer, but in order to prognosticate the future and determine the next up and coming varietal or region you really only need to follow the marketing focus.  So, what’s up next?  Soave from Italy and Georgian wines from Eastern Europe!

Next time we want to decry the pervasive hand of marketing for its invasiveness, let’s pause for a moment and at least look at it within context.  For all of the inventiveness of wine enthusiasts who seek out the unknown, chances are good that your newly discovered varietal had a helping hand helping you to “discover” your next muse.


Posted in, Wine: A Business Doing Pleasure. Permalink | Comments (15) |


On 11/18, Rob Bralow wrote:

Nice piece. Interesting take on regional marketing efforts.

On 11/19, kate wrote:

interesting.  it makes the big ad i just saw in the new york times for cotes du rhone make a little more sense.

On 11/19, Jeff wrote:

Hi Kate,

Thanks for commenting.  Yes, Cotes du Rhone has launched a big campaign!  It seems to be more mass-consumer related than it is trade and online, but time will tell.  But, that’s a great example or a varietal or region trying to move the needle via mindshare.  Though, I fear their advertising is generic enough not to even invite investigation.

Thanks for reading!


On 11/20, .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address) wrote:

  “mindshare” !?  aren’t there enough real words in the language to keep you covered?  or is marketing like scientology, where the jargon is part of the con?  good wine is still good wine, without marketing neologisms

On 11/20, Jeff wrote:


Yeah, good point. I didn’t even think about it, it’s used so much.

By the same token—neologism; now that sees my word and raises me 5 cents! ha.

Thanks for commenting,


On 11/20, Thomas Pellechia wrote:

beef: it’s what’s for dinner.

got milk?

pork: the other white meat.

this bud’s for you.

it’s the real thing.

Oh, how much the wine industry has to learn…

On 11/20, Rob Bralow wrote:


Ha! Good quip, but…

First of all, I challenge you to come up with a tag-line for a wine region.

Second, consider why you know those tag-lines. Then consider the amount of money that is required to make any one of those stick in your mind.

Third, consider how you would feel about a wine which was that well known and had that much money to throw around. Also note that each of the products that go with those tag-lines sell BILLIONS of their product, all for less than $5 (except for New York, where a Bud Light could be $6-8 if you go to the “right” type of bar).

The wine industry is constantly learning how to market, because the market tells the industry when its ideas are bad ones. It is the reason why you are now seeing hundreds of new brands under $10.

On 11/20, Thomas Pellechia wrote:


You are over-analyzing the quip, but making valid points about the wine industry, the money involved, and who winds up footing the bill.

Still, the linking thread in those ad slogans is the ease at which they send the message in a few syllables, and their universal message as opposed to trying to reach segments of the consuming public, which appears both more costly as well as limiting.

Now for your challenge:

“Paso Robles: it’s hot!”

Says so much about place and resulting wines wink

On 11/20, Rob Bralow wrote:

Been a while since I’ve been called Jeff, but I guess I’ve been called worse. Kidding, Jeff.

I’ll send that off to the Paso Robles people and see how they feel about it.

On 11/20, Thomas Pellechia wrote:

Rob, just wanted to see if you—or Jeff—are still reading…but sorry, I must have lost control of my senses—this damned 18% Zinfandel made me do it!

On 11/20, Christophe wrote:

Thanks for the good read.

It saddens me to think that Heinz beat the wine industry with their new tag-line ‘Grown not made’

On 11/20, Christian Miller wrote:

Your juxtaposition of sommeliers and the Color Management Group is interesting and insightful. A review of CMG’s website turns up no indication that their forecasts and recommendations are based on actual consumer research. And I’ve never seen any research showing that sommeliers are a good predictor of consumer taste in wine. I think both groups play a role as “discovers” and publicizers, but don’t necessarily reflect tastes or beliefs in the actual market.

On 11/20, Jeff wrote:

Fun comments—

Rob -  Thomas is my commenter mainstay—he must have mistaken your lucidity for my occasional moment.

Christophe—thanks for coming by.  I can get down with Titus, that for sure.

Christian—As far as I know, CMG is a closed poll amongst professionals, not consumer research.  They are arbiters of taste, so to speak, hence the analogy to Somms.

But, you’re right, what arbiters of taste say and what consumers respond to are very different things.

Thanks for commenting, all!  I appreciate it.


On 11/20, Jeff wrote:

Ah, what a coincidence and how timely ... Dorothy and John from The Wall Street Journal writes about Carmenere ...


On 11/22, wine club wrote:

Marketing from associations I believe is pretty important.  Take Napa for example, even if you’re producing bad wine, if it carries the Napa AVA it will sell.  At 50% FOB I can see why the average winery though needs to control costs these days.


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