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The Luxury Wine Story Framework:  A Cliffs’ Notes Version

It is no secret, and definitely not a revelation: wine business marketing is all about the story.  But, what does that really mean?

A story carries value only if it’s memorable, and connects with an audience – an audience of one or an audience of hundreds, if not thousands.  A litany of facts does not a story make.  If a “story” does not connect then it’s merely information, soon to be forgotten like a kids’ math lesson over the summertime.

However, if a story is memorable, it becomes shareable, like a good joke that can be recalled on command.  And, when something is shareable, well, that is the good stuff—that’s when a winery has other people doing their marketing for them because customers are sharing stories with their friends, and oftentimes including a dash of brand ambassadorship and a hint of positive projection all wrapped in an anecdotal, personal brand package.

I have been thinking about the nature of stories and was motivated into further research by a recent Wine Business Monthly (WBM) article (magazine only).

WBM offered a recap of the Fine Wine III conference held in April of this year in Ribero del Duero, Spain.  Presenting research from U.K. based wine research firm Wine Intelligence, the research breaks down demographic data for luxury wine buyers (over $25 a bottle).  The research is drawn from the U.S., U.K and Switzerland.  According to Wine Intelligence, a stunning 60% of all luxury wines is based on 12% of luxury wine buyers – these are the regular high-end buyers.  Put a different way, 88% of all luxury wine buyers are occasional purchasers and drive 40% of the high-end market.

In a nutshell, based on a deduction even I can make, the reason the upper end of the wine echelon has seen a protracted buying recession is because 88% of luxury wine buyers who buy occasionally, driving 40% of the market, reduced the frequency of their “occasional.”  Simple enough.

However, as the market rebounds, and if reports are true that occasional trading up is by this buying segment may be stunted by the quality consumers are seeing at lower price points, how does a winery induce interest?

It’s all about the story.

The WBM article and the Wine Intelligence research went on to detail the top cues for occasional wine buyers, noting: “…Unlike their luxury counterparts, they seek reassurance in their purchasing because they are not as familiar with fine wine.”  Reassurance in the form of a story. 

The article continues, quoting Erica Donoho of Wine Intelligence, “It’s important for them when they are buying less frequently to have some sort of measure of safety.  A well-known wine producer is a safe bet for them.”  Left unsaid is the fact that “well-known” is a relative term, but “familiar” is obviously the antidote and stories can create that sense of familiarity.

However, as news articles are wont to do, they provided the list of story cues that occasional luxury wine buyers are looking for, but no larger context for what constitutes a good story.

I did some additional research analyzing two books on the topic – Made to Stick and The Story Factor.  The below acts as sort of recipe book for a winery to create their own story that resonates. When viewed sequentially, the first visual offers the six fundamentals of a “sticky” idea, ending with a good story.  The second visual offers the six types of stories.  The third visual offers the seven types of story themes that occasional luxury wine buyers are looking for and the fourth visual, well, that’s when you know you’re hitting all cylinders.

Made to Stick:  6 Keys to a “Sticky” Idea

The Story Factor:  Six Distinct Types of Stories

Wine Intelligence Research: The Seven Top Buying Cues / Story Angles for Occasional Luxury Wine Buyers

What Happens when a Story Hits the Spot?


Posted in, Wine: A Business Doing Pleasure. Permalink | Comments (9) |


On 07/26, Fred wrote:

Jeff, your recipe book is great right up to the Wine Intelligence Research part. These “7 Top Cues or Story Angles” do not, to borrow your phrase, “a story make.”  They are table stakes.  Every winery can claim all 7 cues to one degree or another.  Consequently, they can’t help a winery differentiate itself.
The trap is their factual nature. As a winery tries to fill in the blanks – “Heritage? Yep, we got that. Provenance? Sure. Handcrafted? You betcha.—they end up with the exact problem you identified at the outset: a litany of facts.

Wineries interested in story-telling – in sharing their passions, not just their products – would do well to read <u>The Story Factor</u>, as you suggest.  They would also be well-served by trying to think “different” about their products instead of thinking “better.”

Go to and call up all the 2007 Napa Valley Cabernets. 239 have scores of 90-plus. 144 earned 93 points or higher.  If everyone in the valley is making great wine, “better” doesn’t separate you from the pack.

Let me recast that thought into something more useful. When everybody has high-quality products, then to succeed, you need to have high-quality relationships.

That’s one story that always has a happy ending.

On 07/27, Jeff Lefevere wrote:

Hi Fred,

Thanks for the comment.  The Wine Intelligence research struck me as a bit superficial, but it had a large and international sampling pool.

I think the real meat is when somebody takes a 100K foot view (Wine Intelligence research) and translates that down to 1,000 feet and makes it resonate within a relationship. 

Of course, this all sounds good on paper, but as you know it’s darn hard work.


On 07/27, Alan Baker wrote:

Thanks for the distillation Jeff.

It would be interesting to see some case studies of how wineries are taking these tools/ideas and putting them into practice. I would say that we are using many of these ideas here at Cartograph but being fresh to the game, I can’t look back on a track record that shows me if we are moving fast or slow with growth considering our small production levels.

And no matter how you frame it, getting started in this economy is indeed darn hard work. I’m happy to have a 15 minute conversation to sell a single bottle of wine but using the tools at hand to then keep those people telling your story is a lot of work. Relationships take time.

I think over the next 24 months we need to see more opportunities to link into peoples social graph with more ease.

Do people see that happening

Alan Baker

On 07/28, Mart S - Grotto Wine Racks wrote:

I’ll go with Alan’s suggestion! Cheers!

On 07/28, Jeff Lefevere wrote:


To answer that question—about linking into a social graph.  I think there is a huge opportunity to do something innovative. 

I touch on it at the bottom of this post:

I think the reality is that a winery can throw up a landing page that links to a well-built Facebook fan page and be off to the races with an ability to know exactly who “Likes” their page.  A winery brand can then build relationships off of that.  If I’m you,  I’m going facebook and facebook integration all the way:


On 07/30, April Yap wrote:

Hi Jeff,

Cute layout, I love the tags and also the wine infos. Keep it up guys!

BTW, I wanted to ask you a question about your blog but I couldn’t find a contact form. Let me know if I can email you!


On 09/15, stock market news wrote:

This is a hard concept for many small business owners to embrace, but every single little thing you do is sending a message about your business.

On 05/15, TN Pas Cher wrote:

s that a winery can throw up a landing page that links to a well-built Facebook fan page and be off to the races with an ability to know exactly who “Likes” their page.  A winery brand can then build

On 11/03, wrote:

Keep silent please.


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