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President for a Day:  Two Tasks for Boutique Wineries

An oft-asked interview question from writerly types of their celebrity subjects is, “If you were President for a day, what would you do?”  I am taking the premise of that question, flipping it for the wine enthusiast being the presumed owner of a boutique winery, and answering it myself.

Now, mind you, I don’t have the hubris to believe that I’m anywhere near qualified to run a winery – a sucking vacuum of knowledge about things like balance sheets and viticulture preclude that, perhaps a reality I’m more inclined to admit than an actor with their cause célèbre.  However, I do believe that there are two very important issues that small wineries need to embrace to succeed in the future, fortifying themselves from the inside out.


On any given day, there are dozens of articles written about winery marketing.  Do this, don’t do that ...  These articles are fine for what they are, but they fail to acknowledge a very important fact:  All of the marketing in the world won’t do any good if a winery is rotting from the inside out.

The most important culture in a winery doesn’t come from yeast; it comes from the esprit de corps created by leadership.

Quite simply, no organization in the world can convince consumers how great their product is if the people that walk into the building and work every day don’t believe it themselves in their heart of hearts.


The cold hard truth is that most companies battle their own demons more so than they do the vagaries of market dynamics.

The other cold hard truth is that most organizations reflect the work ethic and values of their leadership, for better or worse.

If I think back to the company’s that I have worked for that were succeeding – growing the right way with delighted customers—nearly 100% of that success could be attributed to strong organizational leadership that created, fostered, supported and celebrated a focus on serving customers in a singular fashion while eliminating three soul killers – mediocrity, avarice as a decision-making tool and festering politics by a dearth of communication.

People work for a paycheck, yes, but only if you let them.  Most people work because they want to win and they want to be a part of something bigger than themselves.

The shopworn phrase, “Once you love yourself, you can love another” is true and true of an employee and the manifestation of their love for where they work outward. 

If I were a winery President for a day, I would ensure that my company culture reflected the beliefs, habits and action of a champion with integrity BEFORE I worried or spent a nickel on marketing.

Go Bespoke … Out Loud

In my opinion, terroir is the least understood, most misused concept in the world of wine.  Yet, it is becoming THE way for a small winery to differentiate itself, but perhaps not in its current form. 


The continued growth of wine consumption

Pressures in distribution with consolidation

An onslaught of competitive, low-priced imports

According to Wine Spectator reporting on Impact Databank data. “In 2010, 23 brands sold at least 2 million cases each, and collectively their sales increased by 2.1 percent, more than twice the industry average. All other wine brands combined for a loss of 200,000 cases”

This means that small-to-medium size wineries are facing increasing odds against becoming a growth organization and no amount of branding is going to save them. 

However, the proverbial arrow in the quiver that small wineries have against their larger competitors (who are sourcing wine from everywhere) is the piece of dirt and the vines that makes their wine all their own.

Sure, everybody talks about his or her terroir, but have you seen a wine tech sheet lately?  Current tech sheets are an afterthought put together for the trade that say very little and are paid attention to accordingly, usually having nothing on a roll of Charmin and perhaps less …


I’ve seen better conveyance of information from a braille menu, and I’m not blind.

The strength that a small winery has in presenting themselves is:

An ability to convey information down to the nth degree in a way that provides contextual meaning and value.

Yet, a winery’s “story” and their “terroir” typically aren’t bedfellows in the same story and rarely is it interesting.

This should change.

If I were a President of a winery for a day, I would articulate the wine inputs to a degree that would make my wine look like an affordable Savile Row suit monastically stitched to my specifications compared to a big box off the rack suit machine made by child labor in a third world country.

Geography, soil, slope, irrigation and micro-climate for the vineyard?  Check.  Vintage report?  Check.  Clone selection and characteristics imparted?  Check.  Yeast selection and characteristic?  Check.  Winemaking practices?  Check. Oak program?  Check. 

The devil is in the detail and the detail gives meaning to “terroir.”  Or, put another way:  tell me why I am not going to find a wine like this from any other place in the world.  Why has time and place created a confluence of circumstance to create a singular representation of sunshine in a bottle?

In sum, playing the game of “President for a Day” is ultimately an exercise in personal indulgence and armchair quarterbacking, particularly when it comes to wine, a subject of pleasure with little consequence.  It’s certainly not George Clooney’s crusade against genocide in Darfur, Sudan, yet, perhaps that’s why wine and small wineries are so important, our rock in the real world and every bit the reason to sound off, attempting to ensure their safety.

More information on the power of company culture:

Reed Hastings, CEO of Netflix on Creating a Powerful Company Culture

Tony Hsieh, CEO of on Building a Customer Focused Culture


Posted in, Good Grape Daily: Pomace & Lees. Permalink | Comments (9) |


On 01/04, Thomas Pellechia wrote:


Take a look at my opinion piece in January’s Wines and Vines Magazine. It’s related to this blog entry.

On 01/04, Jeff wrote:

Will do, Thomas.

I read the November and the December issue this past week.  I don’t think I’ve gotten the January issue, yet.


On 01/04, Thomas Pellechia wrote:

Go to, click on the January issue at the bottom left of the page, then click “View Selected Content.”

Under DEPARTMENTS, click “Viewpoint.”

On 01/04, Jeff wrote:

Nice piece, Thomas.  I’m envious of the cleanliness of your writing.

On 01/04, Thomas Pellechia wrote:

Cleanliness? No dirty words for me. wink

On 01/04, Jen wrote:

Agreed!  We try to provide our customers with the stories behind the wines that we sell (which are mostly from smaller production wineries) and sometimes it is difficult to find the information that adds value AND interest.  So many winery websites go on and on about their passion and how they like to let the land speak for itself. Okay, great, but was does that MEAN for the wine I am drinking? They have to do a better job of differentiating themselves because everybody is saying the same old thing.  Great post, thanks.

On 01/04, .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address) wrote:

The old maxim in sales is that you can list features, but you have to show your customer how those features become benefits to him. As you have pointed out, the “checklist” of features that makes a wine must, at some point, be made into a benefit to *that* unique customer at *that* particular moment.

The most successful small wineries have a consistent story and translate that story throughout the supply chain, with many different outputs to many unique customers. Imagine how difficult that is when you consider the info needs of the distributor, the retailer and then every customer who walks through the door of every wine retail outlet.

That’s why it takes supreme efforts by many talented people (and we know how rare those people can be) over a lengthy period of time for successful results.

On 01/04, Jeff wrote:

Thanks for the comments, all.

First-timer Jen - thanks for jumping into the comments and thanks for reading.

Sherman—good point about the varied needs for varied audiences, but I would point out that a good story, told well transcends the audience(s).

Thanks again, as always I appreciate your contributions!


On 01/05, Thomson Vineyards wrote:

I just had an image flash into my head - given so many boutique wineries are an army of one, maybe two, imagine a winemaker giving themselves a pep talk about corporate culture each time they stepped foot into the the winery to do punch downs.

I wholeheartedly agree with being loud about the details of your operation and why it supersedes all others. In 2011 I’d like to see fewer boutique wineries focusing so much effort on websites and marketing materials focused on “what to pair with my pinot noir” and dispense articulate, well formulated, accurate content describing who they are and how they do what they do, with a little personality.

Recipes and wine, charity and wine, cupcakes and wine all have their place, but I’m hoping some of the “followers” begin to splinter off and innovate in 2011 by looking to their very own barrels, fruit characteristics, and yeast trials.


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