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Introducing Wine Blue Book:  Empirical Value for Wine Lovers

In the lifecycle of any business there comes a point in time when you have to metaphorically push your chips to the middle of the table and go for it.

Congratulations to Neil Monnens, Publisher of the recently renamed WineBlueBook, for indicating “all in.”

Last week I received an email/press release highlighting the name change from QPRwines to the Wine Blue Book.

QPRwines, for several years, has published a newsletter 18 times a year; covering 17 different varietals that list wines reviewed by at least two different major wine reviewers, the QPR, or quality to price ratio, is measured based on the price of the bottle measured against the aggregate reviewer numerical score and then baselined against the average sales price of that varietal.

It’s a beautifully simple system, but one that only a spreadsheet lovin’ statistician could pull off, something that Neil probably comes to with either talent or discipline, or both.

I initially found the name change curious because QPR seemed to be a brand-able “Kleenex” like name that could become a category name.  I was a touch skeptical even.  Being a student of business, and a consumer of far too many business books and magazines, my immediate thought was to get some insight into the back story.  Neil and I exchanged an email or two and I was able to glean some additional insight into the name changeover, albeit without much dramatic story arc—no middle of the night epiphanies; just a plain, simple business decision oriented around better building a brand. 

It’s an interesting time in the wine business:  with the proliferation of wineries and labels and an increasing savvy amongst winemakers interested in penetrating the ultra-premium to luxury price points above $15, regardless of quality of juice, coupled with an absolute dearth of any real quantitative metric in the world of wine and you have a recipe for consumer FUD (FEAR, UNCERTAINTY, DOUBT).

FUD, in essence, typifies today’s current wine buying climate.  Sure, on a popular basis, Consumer Reports (CR) tries to fill the void, but I can’t help but speculate that wine enthusiasts view Consumer Reports as a misguided interloper into an area of appreciation they don’t understand.  CR doesn’t have the currency of reputation of a Parker or a Laube to credibly command an audience in the wine world.  And, they aim at the common denominator, which debases their credibility with those that drink a higher level of wine. 

So, there’s a real challenge at hand here—wine reviews on the 100 point scale drive wine sales for ALL consumers.  Sure, some say they don’t pay attention, but those are usually the people educated enough to not have to pay attention.  For the rest of the wine consuming public, a 90 point score means something.  However, if you’re a small business owner and you want to expand your reach beyond those that are cork dorks looking for a QPR score and cross the transom to capitalize on the increasing growth in wine consumption with less educated (think sophomore in college instead of Masters degree), though still passionate consumers that drives to an additional need for education, what do you do?

Enter the WineBlueBook.

Neil indicated, demographically:

Last summer’s survey showed the audience as predominantly male, 45-64 years old with a college/post college degree.  They purchased 11-20 cases of wine in the past year, own 1-20 cases of wine and paid an average price of $11 to $30.  Favorite issues (varietals) are Cabernet Sauvignon, Pinot Noir, Bordeaux and Zinfandel.

Neil made the change, in part, because:

Early feedback is already showing WineBlueBook as an easier name to remember and pre-educates the consumer before I even begin explaining the product.  Although Kelley Blue Book is the most recognizable “blue book” there are over 160 trademarked “blue books” on the market that cover various subjects including residential property, grammar, legal, wastewater, etc … even “pool cues.”  WineBlueBook strives to be the source for wine values.

It’s an interesting dichotomy and it will be interesting to see the development of WineBlueBook.  On the one hand, aggregating scores and doing the heavy lifting of analysis for a thirsty high-end customer is a tidy business, especially if you can take the branding of the newsletter/product into an area that can garner more mass acceptance—i.e. beyond the 45 + male that buys at least 11 cases a year.

However, I think in order to really expand the business beyond just being a well-accepted “point solution” and becoming something of far greater value, Neil will have to go from being an aggregator to something of a content creator by having experts review the boutique wines of California and elsewhere that don’t make the critics list.

In response to a question about brand extension and review of boutique wines, Neil says:

There is tremendous potential but at the moment my time is spent producing and improving the core product.  There are tremendous partners that could take place in the future to apply the QPR method to wines that don’t get reviewed by the critics. 

Something tells me that while Neil kept his cards close to the vest on this question he has other plans that will indicate more of the “all in” nature of a branding change.

Cheers to Neil and WineBlueBook for what appears to be a savvy business decision! 

I now respectfully submit that he set out to solve the still vexing problem of figuring out which small production, un-reviewed, up and coming Pinot from Santa Barbara is a good value.  If he can do that he’ll truly bridge the gap between wine aficionado and wine consumers becoming the wine equivalent of CarFax, Kelley Blue Book, Consumer Reports and any other indefatigable and trusted resource on third-party value.



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Posted in, Free Run: Field Notes From a Wine Life. Permalink | Comments (17) |


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