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This Month in Wine Advertising Pt. I:  Capturing the Cultural Mood

I made it through my monthly stack of food and wine-related magazines—Spectator, Quarterly Review of Wines, Wine & Spirits, Wine Enthusiast, Sommelier Journal, Food & Wine, Bon Appetit, Saveur, and others.  A funny thing jumped out to me—a bunch of new wine-related advertising made their debut.

As I’ve mentioned, I’ve been on something of a quest to put my wine world into context—the media (and advertising) I consume being a significant part of putting the pieces together into an understandable whole. 

In addition, as a cub Journalism student 15 years ago, I wanted to go into the advertising business and now many years later, I work with advertising agencies.  Because of this, I tend to pay attention to advertising in general and particularly wine advertising—mostly for how bad it tends to be (in violation of design tenets, clarity or persuasiveness), but occasionally, I note the well-executed, too.  I fall into the David Ogilvy school of thought—advertising has one purpose: to sell.  Therefore, it’s always interesting to me to see how a winery “sells” itself. 

By understanding how a winery tries to gain mindshare and persuade, we’re able to understand as much as what goes into the bottle, in my opinion, creating a savvier perspective (if not more world-weary).

Below, are three examples of recent advertising (with commentary) that in one way or another address our current economic climate(full size versions are linked below as a PDF).

Silver Oak
Full size PDF version:  Silver Oak

As seen in:  Food & Wine

Goat or Gloat?
Initially, I found this ad peculiar—the subtle header says, “An American Classic” and the copy head says, “Our Cabernet Sauvignon is Aged in 100% American Oak Barrels.”  100% American Oak isn’t exactly a badge of honor for wine enthusiasts in the know.  Why would they tout this?

The copy goes on to read, “We have been steadfast to this commitment for nearly 40 years.”

After giving this some thought, I think it’s very forward-thinking and a near masterstroke for Silver Oak.  Why?  I live in Indianapolis which is a very geographically and spiritually segregated city.  Eastside / Westside / Northside / Southside—all tend to have their images, for better or worse.  The northside, where I live, is known for being “new money”—luxury cars, big suburban sprawl, a lot of retail.  The southside, however, is known for “old money,”—quiet, less flashy, more of the “millionaire next door” sensibility.

I think a reasonable outcome once we’re a little further along in the economic recovery is an “old money” sensibility about luxury.  Gone for the foreseeable future is the flash and the ostentatious presentation of material wealth, but in its place will be a more understated acknowledgement that some things are worth paying for—Harley-Davidson, Cadillac, Silver Oak—brands with a history and track record should find favor amongst consumers interested in “acquirable luxury” that doesn’t brand them indelicate or showy.

Main Street Winery
Full size PDF version: Main Street Winery

As seen in: Food & Wine

Goat or Gloat?
Main Street Winery is a new brand from Trinchero Family Estates, a top 10 company on the Wine Business Top 30 U.S. wine companies list.  The new brand and its five varietals are in national distribution at the “sweet spot” price point of $9.99.  This ad with its headline, “Trust in Main Street” and it’s sub-head of, “Crafting honest deals for the American wine drinker since 1948” gives the impression of strength, durability and down home goodness, in stark contrast to the public sentiment that has been railing against big business and financial institution abuses.

To me, while I get what they are going for, this positioning is a risky move.  I’ve been in contact with Trinchero and hope to have a subsequent post with insight from their Marketing and Creative Directors on the origination of the brand elements for the launch, but in the meantime, there’s absolutely no substantiation or explanation for how a “new” brand backs into a history since 1948.  Likewise, the web site mentions Trinchero only on its “Privacy” page—not exactly a spot where people are searching for information.  Everything else points to “Main Street Winery”—a winery with its contact information being a PO Box in St. Helena.

If you’re going to present, “trust” and “honest deals” since 1948, the back story better be airtight.  I’m not sure that it is here.

Jordan Winery
Full size PDF version: Jordan Winery

As seen in:  Wine & Spirits

Goat or Gloat?
In stark constrast to the Silver Oak ad is Jordan, though the positioning isn’t too much of an outlier, just a different approach to luxury for a different target.  Whereas the Silver Oak ad is squarely aimed at consumers, the Jordan ad is aimed at the trade (white linen napkins and silver) in Wine & Spirits Restaurant Poll edition (April) where Jordan ranked 10th as a best-selling on-premise wine.  The headline says, “When Every Detail Matters” and the supporting copy says in part, ”...a celebration of of life’s important moments.”

Over the course of my lifetime, we’ve seen white table cloth restaurants go from being a “special occasion” type of thing—anniversary’s, birthdays, and promotions to being something that becomes a small splurge because you can.  The Jordan copy supports the manifest reality that our collective consciousness is moving back to a sense that spending $150 on dinner for two is back to being more, “special occasion.”

On the whole, I like this ad because it follows the “rules” for good print advertising—good headline, good supporting copy, laid out in the eye-tracking “Z” pattern, with striking photography.  The only thing that flummoxes me about this ad is the silverware—what the heck is that utensil on the plate?

Up next:  In Pt. II I’ll look at the battle for the Pinot Grigio consumer, and organic positioning from King Estate.


Posted in, Wine: A Business Doing Pleasure. Permalink | Comments (17) |


On 03/20, John Kelly wrote:

Jeff - that utensil on the plate in the Jordan ad is a drumstick holder; a finicky piece of silverware that allows one of delicate sensibilities to eat a chicken leg at a formal dinner without actually touching the bone. They show up on eBay every now and then, usually in .950 silver from French craftsmen of the early 1800’s.

On 03/20, Alex Andrawes wrote:

Jeff, you are a great writer and this piece is outstanding. Advertising in this case is used to cater to the unknowledgeable oenophile with an affinity to brand names. Have a good weekend and looking forward to your next post. Cheers, Alex

On 03/21, Fred wrote:


I’d say your critique of these ads is on the mark, but rather charitable.
I see nothing but dreck here – missed opportunities (Silver Oak), fabrications (Main Street) and self-serving drivel (Jordan).

The benefit of Silver Oak’s barrel regimen is that their wines are ready upon release. That the barrels are made of “100% American oak” is a feature, not a benefit. And not a particularly interesting one at that. Why waste a headline with an empty statement like “An American Classic” when the winery’s positioning—“Life is a Cabernet” – lends itself to so much more?
I write headlines for a living; I know it’s hard work. But “An American Classic” is not even trying. This brand deserves better. They do so may things right and have an intensely loyal following. See Jay McInerney’s description in “Bacchus & Me.”

Trinchero’s Main Street Wine is not only counterfeit, it’s contrived and half-assed. If the wine is “an honest deal,“ where’s the support? Not in the ad. Not even on their website. It takes a lot more than duotone photos of street signs to convey Value.

The Jordan ad is guilty of the most common sin in wine advertising: it fails to differentiate. Literally hundreds of wines could be slotted into this ad . . . and it would say just as little about each of them.  “When every detail matters” says nothing. It strokes the reader in the same ham-fisted way that everyone trying to reach restaurateurs uses – from purveyors of linens to drumstick holders.

I won’t take up any more of your post with my laments. There’s more here should anyone care:

On 03/22, Thomas Pellechia wrote:

In suppose John’s got the drumstick holder correct, but I thought, since the ad is for the trade, the utensil is a combination oyster fork and ballpoint pen (for the wine and food writers).

On 03/22, Jeff wrote:


Thanks for the comments.

John - Drumstick holder.  hmm. I had know idea such a thing existed.  though, I guess if I’m eating fried chicken it’s at a joint where creating a bib with a napkin is encouraged.

Fred—you and I are in the same camp—most wine advertising is poorly conceived and insipid.  While I didn’t mention it, the copy on the Silver Oak is particularly difficult to follow, though the visual is striking.

On 03/31, Christina Yu wrote:

Great, great article. I would have to agree with Fred as well. What’s truly missing in all three ads is some form of breakthrough for the messaging to stick. From a distance, all 3 ads, are kind of blah. Its never too interesting or hard to differentiate. Its a pity too because wines are so complex and there’s so much to be said and be visualized. Additionally, wine drinkers know the kind of thrilling and enjoyable emotions that comes with imbibing the juice of the gods smile

On 05/02, .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address) wrote:

Jeff, you are a great writer and this piece is outstanding. Advertising in this case is used to cater to the unknowledgeable oenophile with an affinity to brand names. Have a good weekend and looking forward to your next post. Cheers, Alex
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On 07/27, Phoenix Advertising Agency wrote:

I think Silver Oak did a nice job of differentiating themselves. The Oak Barrel could be a unique selling proposition that will help carry their brand for years.

Nice little article!

On 08/14, .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address) wrote:

You need to get a professional graphic designer who has stock images. Reduced Printing has graphic design services. My company has been using them for a while. They’ve designed billboard, newspaper and magazine ads for us at a very low price.


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On 01/10, Matt wrote:

This is very interesting and makes you think about how things are changing. Advertising isn’t the same anymore; to stay competitive you have to be creative and have style. Thanks for the great article and keep up the good work.

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On 03/30, Pes Patch wrote:

Advertising isn’t the same anymore; to stay competitive you have to be creative and have style

On 03/30, Jigolo Sitesi wrote:

Thanks for the great article and keep up the good work.

On 04/06, .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address) wrote:

Cultural Mood is definately very important while presenting wine. I was recently on wellnessreisen through Italy and was really fascinated with the passion and excitement that the people there used to present there wine. I will definately come back there on wellnessreisen soon.

On 05/07, TN Pas Cher wrote:

was really fascinated with the passion and excitement that the people there used to present th


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