Wine Influencers and Thinking Like a Consumer

I’m working my way through Neil Gaiman’s MasterClass where I just finished Chapter 17 on editing. I adore the advice that Gaiman gives here on the importance of looking at your work through the eyes of the reader.

Photo by nrkbeta. Uploaded to Wikimedia Commons under CC-BY-SA-2.0

When he finishes a draft, Gaiman sets it aside for a week or so. Then he returns to as if he’s never seen it before in his life. He brings with him all the expectations that he would have as a reader–to be entertained or enlightened and wanting to follow a good story that makes sense with no dangling loose ends.

Often in his first draft reading, he’ll find many unsatisfying marks that he’ll annotate for Gaiman the author to later revisit. It might be a character that Gaiman the reader wanted to learn more about or a battle whose descriptions felt far too truncated to immerse himself into the story.

I love the simplicity of that advice. Yet, I don’t doubt that it’s difficult to follow through on. Beyond the troubles of divesting yourself emotionally from something you’ve created, there’s also the challenge of “forgetting” all the knowledge you take for granted.

I see these same difficulties when it comes to wine marketing where we rarely stop and think like a consumer.

Now I’m not talking about market research and consumer studies.

Photo by Van Vechten Collection at Library of Congress. Uploaded to Wikimedia Commons under PD Van Vechten

Do note that you don’t need to take off your shirt for this exercise. Though, seriously, DAMN… Marlon Brando.

I’m talking about walking into a store or sitting in front of a restaurant wine list and looking at it like you don’t work in the industry at all. Think Marlon Brando-ing instead of branding.

I’m talking about asking the question “What influences me?” and “How do I decide?” in those situations as if you were a regular consumer.

By doing that, by taking fresh eyes to a marketing dilemma, there are many insights to gleam that are not going to be measured by metrics. To win consumers’ hearts and wallets, you have to first get into their heads.

So what influences you?

When you’re standing in the wine aisle or staring at a wine list, are you recalling wines that you saw random bottle porn shots of while scrolling through your Instagram feed?

Are you remembering wines recommended by any of Global Data’s Top 10 Wine Influencers, Social Vigneron’s Top 40+ Wine Influencers of 2018 or the Beverage Trade Network’s “Top Wine Influencers In 2019 You Need to Pay Attention To“?

Well, you might be. But if you’re truly channeling your inner Marlon or Meryl Streep, the odds of these influencers actually influencing most regular consumers are fairly low.

Photo by Financial Times. Uploaded to Wikimedia Commons under CC-BY-2.0

Pretty much any list of top influencers should prominently feature the Beyoncé of Wine.

Even among some of the genuinely notable influencers on those lists like Jancis Robinson, Jamie Goode, Robert Joseph, Fiona Beckett, Alder Yarrow, Karen MacNeil, etc., the extent of their influence is felt far more on wine industry folks than consumers.

Yes, there is a segment of highly engaged consumers who subscribe to wine magazines, read wine blogs, comment on forums and follow influencers on social media. But even in the wettest of winery owners’ dreams, this segment is rarely ever more than a minority of wine consumers.

How do I decide?

Go back to that wall of wine. Pick up that wine list and look at them again as a consumer. How would you decide?

Depending on your mood and the occasion, you’re likely going to do a couple of things.

1.) Go with what you know or at least what you see everywhere (i.e., the McDonald’s/Starbucks wines that dominate supermarkets)

The Bacon number of wine

The Bacon Numbers of Wine Influence.
The further you are away from the consumer, the less influential you will be.

2.) Phone a friend or ask the wine steward and sommelier for advice (Folks with Bacon numbers of 1 in the Wine Influence Sphere)

3.) Google “Best wine for blah” or pick the most interesting label or wine name and Google it to see if it’s not plonk.

And here, with this last option, do we find where wine influencers can actually make a difference.

Influencers aren’t helping you at the beginning of the consumer journey, but near the end.

Every marketing student has seen the familiar consumer journey map documenting the path from brand awareness/familiarity to consideration and then purchase with hopefully loyalty/advocacy coming soon after. The reality is not that linear, but it’s a solid starting point.

The problem with the wine industry’s relationship with influencers is that we’re often thinking more like marketers instead of consumers. It’s easy to assume if we see influencers work in other sectors such beauty, fashion and tech with generating brand awareness then that is how they’re going to work with wine.

But wine is not like beauty, fashion or tech. Consumers aren’t scrolling through social media feeds and blogs looking for something to “inspire” them to drink. Again, step back and put yourself in a consumer’s shoes. Think about how you shop for things–what catches your attention on impulse versus something that you deliberately look for.

If you want a better comparison with wine, think about taking a vacation.

Yes, sometimes the inspiration to travel can come as an impulse. A picture or a story of an exotic location can come out of the blue to capture your imagination. But more often you have a general sense of where you’d like to go–if not a particular place in mind.

Photo by Mstyslav Chernov. Uploaded to Wikimedia Commons under CC-BY-SA-3.0

Somewhere with a lot of feral cats…

Somewhere warm.

Or somewhere not too expensive.

Somewhere with great food, great history or great beaches.

Somewhere….blah.

And then what do you do? You start Googling about your somewheres until eventually you find just the right “where” that fits your mood and occasion.

Wine consumers do the same thing.

I can’t tell you how many times on the sales floor I witnessed a consumer break out their phone and start googling. Of course, I was trying my best to be their in-person influencer but, for whatever reason, some customers just want to ford ahead on their own. However, it’s not really on their own because they still want some sanctification of their choice.

So they turn to the almighty influencer of Google to see what comes up. Sometimes they’ll have a particular place/wine in mind–like a Napa Cab or a German Riesling. Sometimes it’s more generic like “Best wine to pair with risotto” or “Best red blend under $20”.

Often it’s a particular wine that caught their eye or even a double-checking of what the wine steward or sommelier recommended. You know, just to be sure.

This is the consideration stage of the consumer journey.

Photo from Nick Nijhuis. Uploaded to Wikimedia Commons under CC-BY-SA-4.0

Wine blogs and most non-consumer social media (i.e., influencer posts) are most effective when you’ve got the consumer already considering your wine.

This is where the consumer is looking to buy. They already have an awareness of “Brand Wine” and even a vague familiarity of what they want. But they’re honing their choice down to a particular wine and looking for something to verify that they’re making the right selection.

Often winery websites will show up on these Google searches. They might be clicked so wineries shouldn’t overlook how valuable this experience is. However, let’s again step back and think about this as a consumer. If you’re looking for an unbias confirmation, you’re probably going to skip the winery website.

Instead, you’re going to look for links that seem to be objective and knowledgable. And you’re probably going to find a lot of sites belonging to wine influencers. (Hopefully, those influencers are upfront and ethical about noting wines received as samples.)

This is why it’s absolutely vital for wineries to be paying attention to what kind of content shows up on these “consideration searches.”

A Winery’s #1 Influencer Metric — What kind of content are they producing?

Photo by Victorgrigas. Uploaded to Wikimedia Commons under CC-BY-SA-3.0

Smartphones are the new Wine Spectator.

And where does it show up on Google rankings of search terms that my consumer might actually be googling?

The entire marketing community is waking up to the fact that influencers’ engagement metrics and followers are hugely gameable. I honestly don’t think we’ve even scratched the surface with the extent of fraud that is going on in the influencer community.

However, the marketers who are telling wineries to invest in micro-influencers aren’t necessarily blowing smoke up the bum. Though I would be very wary of the ones who don’t strongly advocate thoroughly checking out and doing research on an influencer they’re partnering with. But a massive part of that research should be spent on looking at the quality of the content that the influencer is producing. Metrics can be gamed, but good content stands on its own.

But wait, Amber, aren’t you one of these so-called influencers?

Eh, maybe. I dunno.

Yeah, I have a samples policy and will write posts about wines and tasting I’ve received. But I don’t buy into the “influencer lifestyle” and have no problems being blunt about that.

That’s because I tend to think more like a consumer and winery owner instead of a blogger/influencer.

Internship days photo

Ah, yes. Internship days. The boss didn’t want to pay to use a sorting table but wasn’t happy about the number of jacks that were coming out of the crusher/destemmer.
So he stationed the interns underneath the crusher bin to pick out jacks while grapes rained down on us.
I swear I rung at least a 375ml of juice out from my hoodie.

While I’ve studied wine marketing in school and continue to study it with my WSET Diploma studies, a considerable part of my outlook stems from years working in the trenches of wine retail. I didn’t cut my teeth in conference rooms telling wineries what will help sell their wines. Instead, I spent it on the floor actually selling wine and learning first hand what consumers responded to and what they didn’t.

But, as I noted in my bio, I also worked at wineries and gave a lot of thought to starting a winery.

My wife also studied winemaking and while we’re finding that the technology sector pays significantly more, the idea of “a retirement winery” somewhere down the road is still on the table. Only I know that running a winery is not really retirement but a heck of a lot of work. Making wine is the easy part. Selling it is the challenge.

So when I write posts like this, I’m not just sharing sentiments earned through my studies and experience. This is the advice that I’m taking to heart and what I will do when it’s my money, my brand and my success on the line.

And here’s exactly how I would approach partnering with influencers.

1.) I would Google, Bing and Yahoo the shit out of my winery’s name and any phrases that would be tangentially related to my wines. Brainstorm away with things “Best Cab under X”, “New York wines to try”, “Best wine to go with toasted ravioli”, “Dry Creek Zinfandel”, “Sustainable Sangiovese”, etc.

2.) Note which wine writers and bloggers show up in results on those queries. While search engine optimization is its own Pandora’s box to figure out, it’s never a bad place to start with influencers who are already trending on pages 1 and 2 of relevant search terms.

3.) Check out the sites, look at the quality of their content–particularly with how they show up on mobile phones. Again, think through the eyes of a consumer who is likely going to be doing their Googling in stores and restaurants. Also, note that search rankings are often different on mobile versus desktops with sites like Google favoring mobile-optimized websites on mobile devices with a higher ranking. (Oh, clear your cookies/go incognito with your searches for more accurate results too!)

I would also do searches on Instagram and Twitter under relevant hashtags. Make sure to check out what kind of cross-platform content your potential influencer partner creates here as well.

Now I’ll freely admit that I’m not acing all these things here on SpitBucket.

But I’m not writing this for my benefit as a blogger.

Instead, I’m taking Neil Gaiman’s advice and looking at this through the eyes of the reader–which these days on SpitBucket is mostly wine industry folks. So, if you don’t mind, I’ll spare you the pandering and BS.

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60 Second Wine Review — D’Oliveira 1908 Boal Madeira

A few quick thoughts on the 1908 D’Oliveira Boal Madeira.

The Geekery

Joao Pereira d’Oliveira founded his namesake winery in 1850 originally to supply wine for other shippers. It wasn’t until the 1970s that D’Oliveira began bottling under their own name.

Still owned by d’Oliveira’s descendants,  the estate produces around  150,000 liters of wines a year. After many acquisitions of other Madeira shippers, D’Oliveira is home to some of the oldest stocks of Madeira. All their Madeira is bottled on-demand, which means that these wines spend a considerable amount of time in cask.

The Bual/Boal grape tends to ripen to higher sugar levels than Sercial and Verdelho. The resulting Madeiras are often sweet though usually not as sweet as Malvasia.

The Wine

Photo by Andrea Levers. Uploaded to Wikimedia Commons under CC-BY-SA-2.0

The savory balsamic note is mouthwateringly delicious.

High-intensity nose–An interesting mix of caramel, ginger and balsamic. With some air, there is also a little herbal note like rosemary and mint that emerges. Crazy complex.

On the palate, those savory balsamic notes come through. As you roll it around your tongue, the tart fruit emerges (citrus, a little fig, and even some tart red cherries). It’s remarkably fresh-tasting given this wine’s age. Intensely mouthwatering and intensely rich–such a textural juxtaposition. The sweetness and caramel also carry through but are balanced so well with the acidity. The more you engage the wine, the more different notes come out.  Even some white floral notes emerge with the long (2 minute-plus) mouthwatering finish.

The Verdict

I had this at a restaurant where I paid $40 for a 1.5 oz pour and it was worth every penny. A full bottle is averaging around $738 and I would honestly say that’s tempting as well.

The beauty of Madeira is how long it last after opening, much like a great whiskey. One bottle could give months, even years, of pleasure. This is definitely something that every wine lover should try.  Well worth at least $40 for a taste of such a complex wine that is essentially living history.

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The Wine Industry’s “Nice Guy Syndrome”

I’ve been working with Kenneth Friedenreich on his follow-up book to Oregon Wine Country Stories about the Stags Leap District. He’s been sharing some of his drafts on the prologue and, not to spoil anything, he includes a remarkable moment we had on our research trip watching a hawk swoop down into the vineyard to pluck a vole out amongst the vines.
Photo by Michael Warnock. Uploaded to Wikimedia Commons under CC-BY-3.0

Friedenreich expands on this imagery as a metaphor for many of the themes that he’s weaving into the SLD book. But reading his prose and recalling my memories of watching the cold realities of nature in action,  reminded me of Lisa Perrotti-Brown’s article last year for The Wine Advocate called “The Big Parkerization Lie.”

Now I’m not going to rehash the old Parkerization debate or drill deep into this article. But the image of the hawk and vole struck a similar chord with me as Perrotti-Brown’s three-point rebuttal of the Parkerization mythos. While I disagree with her that Parkerization is a “useful lie”, I do think people’s response to Parker (painting him as a villain) and Parkerization (This is why I’m not selling my wine!) is symptomatic of the “Nice Guy Syndrome” poking its head out in the wine industry.

No, I’m not going to make this post about sex either.

Photo of Cabernet Sauvignon aisle

Passionate winemakers working with great terroir is behind every wine on the top shelf–or so the story goes.

That’s because it’s not sex that wineries feel entitled to when they make good wine, but rather sales. There is a sentiment that if you have great land, work it diligently and put your passion into making wine that it’s going to sell. That it should sell.

And if it doesn’t? Well someone is to blame. From wine critics who promote particular styles of wine to distributors and gatekeepers with a stranglehold on consumer channels, they all throw up obstacles. Even pesky consumers, themselves, can be an obstacle such as those maddening Millennials turning their noses up in boredom at the old guard wines and grape varieties.

Those are all valid concerns and serious impediments that wineries do need to deal with. However, there is an even starker truth that is just as raw and stinging as watching a hawk snuff the life out of another animal.

No one needs to drink your wine.

There is no entitlement to sales. No entitlement to attention.

photo by gdcgraphics. Uploaded to Wikimedia Commons under CC-BY-SA-2.0

Well the actual line is “If you build it, HE will come” so maybe you can at least bank on Ray Liotta showing up at your tasting room.

It doesn’t matter if you have the most blessed terroir on earth, tended to by the best viticulture and winemaking teams that money can buy. It doesn’t matter if you have generations of heritage and tradition. None of that guarantees that people are going to care, much less beat a path down to your door.

The wine industry has never followed the quaint narrative of “If You Build It, They Will Come.”  You can build the best and be the best, but in the end, it doesn’t matter if you are the hawk or the vole. You stand just as good of a chance of missing out and going hungry as you do of being dinner yourself.

That is the nature of life and the nature of capitalism.

And, really, there’s no villain here.

I did have a Bambi “Oh My God!” moment watching the hawk snatch up that little vole. But the hawk is not a villain. Heck, from a vineyard perspective the vole is a dirty little bastard wreaking havoc among the vines. There is a reason why wineries build nesting boxes to encourage birds of prey to patrol the vineyard.

Photo by Marisszza. Uploaded to Wikimedia Commons under CC-BY-SA-4.0

But he’s just trying to support his little vole family!

But, honestly, the vole isn’t the bad guy either. It’s just trying to survive in the environment that it was born into– a situation that humans have shaped far more than a rodent species ever could.

Likewise, critics such as Robert Parker and the frustrating web of distributors and gatekeeping aren’t truly villainous either. Though I’ll give you that many of their tactics can make them prime, juicy targets. But, in their own way, they’re just hawks and voles doing their thing among the vines too.

The lesson of the hawk and vole is that nothing is owed to anyone. In the wine industry, there’s always going to be some combination of luck and circumstance that leads to success or failure. Some of that you can influence. But a fair amount of it boils down to being in the right or wrong place at any given time.

Ultimately, all you can do is just be glad for all the dinners you get and grateful for all the dinners you’re not.

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How Can Wineries Use Instagram Better?

It’s been a little over a month since I wrote my post Why Do Winery Instagram Feeds Suck So Much? which garnered some tremendous responses. Many folks have emailed me, including wineries, to share their thoughts.

Photo by Today Testing (for derivative) featuring work from Pexels. Uploaded to Wikimedia Commons under CC-BY-SA-4.0

I was most surprised at the number of wineries that asked me to “audit” their feeds. I have to give them massive credit for seeking honest feedback. It’s effortless to get lulled into the status quo, thinking that if you’re getting an okay amount of “likes” and “shares” that you must be doing good.

The vast majority of responses to my original post has been agreement that, yes, winery Instagram feeds do tend to suck.

But that’s not a universal sentiment. There was one really thought-provoking comment left by an owner of a social media agency that sharply disagreed with my take. You can go to the article to read her six-point comment as well as my reply. I appreciate her contrarian view and suspect that it’s probably shared by quite a few folks who run social media marketing firms.

But while we both agree that “authenticity” is vital, there are a few things about that contrarian view that I just can’t buy into–especially when it comes to marketing to Millennials who are the biggest users of social media.

Brand Awareness: The Be-All, End-All of Marketing?

One of the main points that commentator made was that “Regular pictures of the bottle help to keep the label top of mind is pretty basic, crucial even, to drive awareness and brand recognition- especially for new or boutique wineries.”

Now, I’m not against any pictures of wine labels appearing in social media feeds. My issue with “bottle porn” is the gratuitousness and oversaturation of it. Essentially many wineries take the idea of “Brand Awareness” and drive it off a cliff trying to emulate McDonald’s or Starbucks.

Here’s the thing. Wineries (especially small boutique wineries) are never going to be McDonald’s or Starbucks. It’s silly to take their idea of branding as benchmarks to emulate. People don’t look for the same things from wineries that they do from MacDonald’s or Starbucks. With those latter behemoths, they’re banking on the “top of mind” impulse buy.

I’m hungry. There’s a McDonald’s. You’ve got a Starbucks cup. You know, I could use some coffee.

Photo of image Created by Street Advertising Services for the Barefoot Wine Reverse Graffiti campaign in UK. Uploaded to Wikimedia Commons under CC-BY-3.0

Don’t mind the bird poop on the sidewalk. It adds street cred.

While you can make a valid argument that supermarket wines need to bank on some of this recognition impulse buying, this is not going to work the same way for a small boutique winery. Seeing a few random bottle porn pics on Instagram is not going to help these wines stand out in the massive wall of wine.

If you’re a small boutique winery playing in the arena of “Brand Awareness,” you’re always going to get trampled underneath the bare feet of the big boys.

Instead, small wineries need consumers who are actively looking to find their wines. They need consumers who are engaged and motivated.

They need intention, not impulse.

Brand recognition only gets you so far. Relationships will take you further.

The goal of small boutique wineries should not be “top of mind.” You’re never going to achieve that. But you can most definitely squeeze a little place in the hearts of consumers who feel connected to your wines because they feel like they know you and know a part of your story.

Photo by Matt Pourney. Uploaded to Wikimedia Commons under the public domain.

If you’re expecting to win the “Battle of the Wine Wall” with brand awareness and bottle porn, then you’ve already lost and dragons won’t help you.

That should be the goal of every winery’s social media strategy–building the relationships that consumers have with their brand.

Saturating your feed with nothing but bottle pics and fake poses doesn’t give the consumer anything to connect with. It doesn’t tell us anything about the people and places that makes a wine worth finding. There is no motivation to want to search online, get in a car, visit a store or winery.

It’s just…porn. Pretty pictures. A cheap thrill. Well, maybe not so cheap for the wineries that pay beaucoup bucks to marketing firms for the staged photoshoots.

So how can wineries inspire (good) intention on Instagram?

Well, the first thing you should not do is to treat your social media like “one big commercial.” Just no. Don’t.

This is especially vital if your winery is trying to capture the attention of Millennials. Because, if you haven’t heard, Millennials hate ads. Like we really, really, really hate them.

Now sometimes we’ll allow the subtle stuff, which is where the “bottle porn phenomena” got its start. But eventually too much is too much and all the subtlety is lost. Then you start venturing into the area where we feel like you’re ruining our social media experience.

Instead of putting you “top of mind,” you’re moving to the top of our shit list. That’s inspiring a bad kind of intention. I’m not kidding. Ask any Millennial you know and they’ll name a few brands that they absolutely refuse to buy because of how annoying their advertising is.

For me, Jared and Coit Cleaning can go to hell.
Photo by M.O. Stevens. Uploaded to Wikimedia Commons under CC-BY-SA-3.0

Maybe this is why Millennials are supposedly killing the diamond industry? So that no one will ever talk about going to this godforsaken store again. I’ve never set foot in here and never will because of their annoying ads.

And, honestly, while I wouldn’t say that they’re on a “shit list,” there are several wineries that have completely zapped any enthusiasm or interest I had in finding their wines simply because of how boring and porn-saturated their IG feeds were. It’s not like I would adamantly avoid their wines, but with so many other options competing for my wallet, “Why bother?”

That’s what you have to remember. There are so many other options competing for your consumer.

The ones that are going to get their attention are the ones that give them a reason to bother. For a demographic that craves connection and engagement, you have to meet them where they’re at.

You have to enhance their social media experience, not ruin it. Show us something interesting and engaging.

Show us something like Grgich Hills which lets visitors stomp grapes during harvest.

Or Long Meadow Ranch which, during Pride Month, subtly let all its followers know that everyone is welcomed there without nary a rainbow flag or pinkwashing in sight.

Show us some history like Charles Krug Winery or Buena Vista in a way that lets us know that we can take part in that history.

Share what makes you unique even if it’s your passions outside of wine like the art of James Frey of Trisaetum or beekeeping at Spottswoode.

Or just share your geeky love of doing what you do like what comes through in every IG post by the Mullineux family.

Show us your people because that is the one thing that most sets you apart from every other winery. From the vineyard workers, to harvest interns, the winemaking team, hospitality, everyone–they each put their own unique imprint on your wine.

I raved about this on Twitter during my #WineMktMonday chat, but I absolutely adore this IG post from Côte Bonneville.

Screen shot from Côte Bonneville IG https://www.instagram.com/p/ByiIlengOyO/

Rock on, Rosa! You better believe that I’m going to find some Côte Bonneville wine (like their gorgeous DuBrul Cab or crackling off-dry Riesling) to toast to her and the Côte Bonneville team’s efforts.

Heck, show us their family like this excellent post that Frog’s Leap Winery did to highlight a proud papa moment of one of their cellar crew.

And, well, cute animals never make a bad post. Seriously, you have to look at these baby sheep at Hanzell!

Now if you look at the IG accounts for all of those wineries, yeah, you’re going to see some bottle shots.

But their PPP ratio (People:Places:Porn) is far healthier than what you see on most winery Instagram accounts. And every single one of them gives me a reason to pay attention–a reason to feel a connection to their brand.

As a consumer, those kind of IG posts motivate me to seek out their wines with intent. They’re not crossing their fingers and hoping that brand recognition and impulse blows customers into their tasting rooms like tumbleweeds. Instead, they’re creating the wind that’s doing the moving.

Bottom line: People are always going to be better than bottle porn.

Photo from Nationaal Archief / Spaarnestad Photo, SFA006004681. Uploaded to Wikimedia Commons with no known copyright restrictions.

Maybe we need to get him frolicking on the beach? That should score some “likes”!

A consumer is always going to be able to make more of a connection with a real, living breathing person than an inanimated wine bottle. Every time. Everywhere.

You’re not selling vacuum cleaners. We don’t need to know all the products and features. But a HUGE part of wanting your wine is driven by knowing you. After all, the wine is a product of the passion and people behind it.

While I respect the hard work and effort of marketing firms, and I’d like to think that their hearts are in the right place, I need to be brutally blunt here.

If the people you’re paying to market your wines are telling you that you need to treat social media like “one big commercial,” then you’re wasting your money with them.

Yes, I’m sure they can point to plenty of metrics showing how many “likes” or “shares” and “comments” that a fancy, professionally shot and beautifully curated spread has. But tell me this…

Can anyone buy your wine with a “like”? With a “share”? How many comments of heart-eyes emojis can you point to that turned into real customers motivated to seek out your wines?

I’m not saying that metrics aren’t important. But they can be overstated. Ultimately the question that every winery should ask about their social media strategy is:

Do I want to chase likes and shares, or do I want to chase connections and sales?

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60 Second Wine Review — 2007 Vilmart Coeur de Cuvee

A few quick thoughts on the 2007 Vilmart & Cie Coeur de Cuvee Champagne.
Vilmart 2007 Coeur de Cuvee Champagne

The Geekery

Laurent Champs is the 5th generation vigneron running his family’s estate in the premier cru village of Rilly-la-Montagne in the Montagne de Reims. Despite this region being world-renown for Pinot noir, the 11 ha (27 acres) of Vilmart are majority Chardonnay.

While his father, René, experimented with biodynamics, Laurent practices sustainable and organic viticulture with AMPELOS certification.

The Coeur de Cuvee is 80% Chardonnay and 20% Pinot noir sourced from a single parcel of 55+ year-old vines. Vilmart uses only the first 14 hl of pressing (the “coeur/heart”) instead of the full 20.5 hl allowed. The vin clair is aged in white Burgundy barrels for ten months with no malolactic fermentation taking place.

The wine then spends six years aging on the lees before being disgorged with a 7-9 g/l dosage. For the 2007, only 150 cases were imported into the US.

The Wine

Photo by Brisbane Falling. Uploaded to Wikimedia Commons under CC-BY-2.0

Lots of apple pastry action going on with this Champagne with some almond marzipan making as well.

High-intensity nose–lots of apple pastry and vanilla notes with racy citrus peel. A little air lets a white floral note come out that’s a mix of lilies and acacia.

On the palate, those pastry notes come through and are very creamy with an almond marzipan note. Noticeable oak spice is also present, but it complements the spice pear that emerges adding another layer of depth. Very full-bodied mouthfeel but ample acidity keeps it balanced and fresh. Long finish ends with the oak spice and the creamy marzipan.

The Verdict

This is a bloody gorgeous Champagne that is worth every penny as a prestige cuvee in the $140-150 range. Truthfully, it blows many more expensive bottles out of the water.

However, I do suspect with the strong lingering oak notes–even after 10+ years in the bottle–that younger vintages (like their current 2011 release) will be more overtly oaky. While this 2007 was in a beautiful spot right now, this may be a Champagne worth focusing more on older vintages.

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Book Review — Drive Through Napa

The folks behind I Like This Grape were gracious enough to send me a copy of their latest book, Drive Through Napa: Your Ultimate Companion to Napa Valley’s Wines Regions.

Drive Through Napa cover

Photo courtesy of Naushad Huda, ILikeThisGrape.com

While working on a research project about the Stags Leap District, I had several opportunities to check out the eBook version written by Paul Hodgins and Naushad Huda with Kathy Lajvardi providing graphic design.

Below are a few thoughts about this modern primer on the most famous wine region in the United States.

The Background

Naushad Huda came up with the idea of Drive Through Napa after wandering,

“If Pharrell or Complex Magazine were to write a wine book, what would it look like? What would it sound like?”

Previously, Huda had founded the digital creative agency XTOPOLY that focused on interactive marketing. They worked on T-Mobile’s first mobile eCommerce site and created campaigns for several global companies including Vitamin Water, Nestle, Emirates Airlines, Nivea and Google. After merging XTOPOLY with the Finnish software company Vincit in 2017, Huda served as their Director of Strategy and Partnerships.

It was during this time that Huda, along with his wife Kathy Lajvardi, wanted to take a fresh approach to the traditional concept of a regional wine guide.  Lajvardi is an accomplished artist whose done graphics work for the Iron Man and Transformer movie trailers. Her photographs and paintings are also regularly featured in major art galleries.

Partnering with Paul Hodgins, a longtime writer for the Orange County Register and author of The Winemakers of Paso Robles with Julia Perez, the Drive Through Napa team embarked on their project with Millennials as a target audience.

The Book

With that Millennial-focus in mind, Drive Through Napa is designed to be easily digestible within a 1-hour read. One of the goals of the creative team was to avoid many of the cliches that they saw in other wine guides–such as endless photos of vineyards that all look the same. The main graphics in the book are maps and price-to-rating charts taken from data provided by Vivino.

Another focus of the book was to steer clear of being a “what to drink” guide. Instead, Drive Through Napa takes more of a high-level approach to exploring the 16 AVAs (or “neighborhoods”) in Napa with brief blurbs on climate, elevation, rainfall, soils as well as principal grapes and their characteristics.

SLD Screenshot from Drive Through Napa

Screenshot of winery listing for the Stags Leap AVA which also includes notable vineyards.

Each AVA section touches a bit on some of the history and key pioneers. They also include a listing of most all the wineries and many notable vineyards that call each region home.

A critical distinction between Drive Through Napa and other regional wine guides is that there is no contact information about these wineries. Nor are there any details about which wineries are open to visitors and if appointments are necessary.

I suspect part of the reason for this stems from the goal of not being a “what to drink” guide.

The book does include a note directing folks to check out each individual AVA associations’ website. However, they unfortunately don’t include what those websites are so folks will have to Google them.

In addition to the AVA chapters, the introduction of the book goes into some of the history of California wine and the role that Napa has played in bringing prominence to the state. It touches on the usual characters of the Catholic Church and early 19th-century pioneers but also devotes time to post-Prohibition figures like Brother Timothy Diener of the Christian Brothers and putting the “Mondavi Effect” into context.

Additionally, the intro chapters include a short glossary of essential wine terms used in the book and briefly touches on a few of the major California wine regions beyond Napa.

Things I really liked about the book.

Photo by Sarah Stierch. Released on Wikimedia Commons under CC BY 4.0.

Burgundian winemaker and Raymond Vineyards owner Jean-Charles Boisset is one of several subjects interviewed for Drive Through Napa.

The team behind Drive Through Napa certainly achieved their goal in creating an approachable primer. There is brilliant simplicity in the graphics and design that makes it easy to digest even when a fair amount of information stray into technical viticultural details.

You don’t need to be a “wine geek” to pick up this book and find it useful. But if you are a geek, there is most certainly something in it for you as well.

My favorite part of Drive Through Napa was the interviews they included in several AVA chapters. Here Hodgins and Co. asked very pointed questions such as  “What effect does your region have on the grapes that are grown here?”, “What will we notice when tasting a wine from your AVA?” and What do people misunderstand about your AVA?”

This is where Drive Through Napa moves beyond just being an easily digestible primer on Napa Valley towards something that wine students will find immensely useful. In particular, I would encourage folks working on blind tasting exams to pay careful attention to the answers about AVA characteristics and their influence on the resulting wines.

The interview subjects have some serious pedigree.

Richie Allen, Director of Viticulture and Winemaking for Rombauer Vineyards (Carneros)
Taylor Martin, Managing Partner of Italics Winegrowers (Coombsville)
Dave Guffy, Director of Winemaking for The Hess Collection (Mt. Veeder)
Lorenzo Trefethen of Trefethen Family Vineyards (Oak Knoll)
Celia Welch, consulting winemaker of Keever Vineyards and many others (Yountville)
Jon Emmerich, winemaker of Silverado Vineyards (Stags Leap District)
Jean Hoefliger, winemaker of Alpha Omega Winery (Atlas Peak)
Nicole Marchesi, winemaker of Far Niente Winery (Oakville)
Ivo Jeramaz, winemaker of Grgich Hills Estate (Rutherford)
Jean-Charles Boisset, owner of Raymond Vineyards and many others (St. Helena)
Stuart Smith, owner and winemaker of Smith-Madrone Vineyards (Spring Mountain)
Danielle Cyrot, winemaker of CADE Winery (Howell Mountain)
Dawnine and Bill Dyer, owners and winemakers of Dyer Vineyard (Diamond Mountain)
Bo Barrett, owner of Chateau Montelena (Calistoga)
Andy Erickson, consulting winemaker and owner of Favia (Napa Valley)

Things that were “Meh.”

Diamond Mountain screenshot from Drive Through Napa

Good luck trying to find those $30-40 Diamond Mountain wines. My best guess is that these are white wines and roses.

I found the Price-To-Rating charts to be pretty useless. Using Vivino’s 1 to 5-star ratings, Drive Through Napa featured a bar chart for most of the AVAs. Here they highlighted what the average score was of wines at various price points.

Spoiler alert: In every AVA but Diamond Mountain, Spring Mountain and Carneros, the wines with the highest ratings are the ones that cost $70+.

And really, the $70+ wines are still the highest rated segment even in those exceptions. They just happen to share the same rating as another price category.

I honestly don’t think a single person is going to be surprised at these charts.

I also do wish they did little more with the winery listings for each AVA. In particular, I think they should have found a way to signify which wineries had open tasting rooms, those that needed appointments and which ones that there is no way in hell you’re getting into.

I doubt including little icons (asterisk, smiley faces, etc.)  next to each name would have added much to reading time. Plus, even if they didn’t want to be a “What to Drink” guide, anyone that is buying this book is likely going to want to visit Napa. And they’re probably going to want to drink something.

Steering folks to the individual AVA associations is fine (though, again, would be helpful to have their web addresses in the book). But that one small change to the winery listing pages would have significantly enhanced the overall utility of Drive Through Napa.

The Verdict

While I was fortunate to receive my e-copy of Drive Through Napa as a sample, I would buy this book without question. For $18 paperback and $9.99 for Kindle, it more than delivers in content and usefulness.

In particular, I wished I had this book back when I worked at Total Wine and helped train their wine staff in my region. I would have recommended Drive Through Napa to every wine associate there, especially those studying for their California TWP certifications. Likewise, I can see this book being handy for sommeliers–especially with those interviews I mentioned above.

You can’t talk about American or Californian wines without talking about Napa. If you want to understand this famous wine region, Drive Through Napa is a great place to start.

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Talking Wine and Millennials on the next #WineMktMonday!

Next Monday, June 24th, I will be the featured guest on Jessyca Lewis’ #WineMktMonday talking about the wine industry’s approach in marketing to Millennials.

Wine Mkt Monday details

I profiled Lewis’ #WineMktMonday on a previous Geek Notes about useful Twitter chats for wine lovers and wine students. A long time wine educator and social media consultant, Jessyca Lewis has worked with wineries across the globe.

On Twitter, she uses her bi-weekly #WineMktMonday chats to highlight innovative voices in the wine industry such as Jim Morris, Vice President of Estate Management and Guest Relations at Charles Krug; Tim Hanni, Master of Wine and author of Why You Like the Wines You Like: Changing the way the world thinks about wine; Shayla Varnado, founder of Black Girls Wine; Zoltan Nagy, author of Reinas de Copas about the pioneering women leading Spain’s wine industry and Frances Gonzalez, founder of VeganWines.com and Despacito Distributors.

I am very excited to join that list of guests to discuss Millennials and the changes they’re inspiring in the wine industry.

This has been a topic that I’ve focused on quite a bit on the blog as evident by the bounty of articles in the Millennial category archive. Those Millennial focused articles have also been some of the most read and shared posts that I’ve produced here on SpitBucket.

The Wine Industry’s Millennial Strawman
Millennial Math — Where’s the value in wine?
Is the Wine Industry boring Millennials to (its) death?
The Real Influencers of the Wine World
Napa Valley — Boomer or Bust?
Adapt or Perish — The Wine Industry’s Reckoning With Technology
No, There’s Not an App For That — Winery Visit Rant
The Lost Storytelling of Wine
Zinfandel — The “Craft Beer” of American Wine

So Join Us This Monday!

It will be at 9 am PST, Noon EST, 5 pm BST and 6 pm CET on Monday, June 24th. If you’re not familiar with how Twitter wine chats work, take a look at my primer for some tips. Everyone is welcome to participate, whether you’re just a regular wine lover or someone in the industry.

And if you have a question about Millennials and wine, tweet them to Jessyca Lewis (@JessycaLewis) with the #WineMktMonday hashtag. It might just make it to the chat!

See you on Monday!

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60 Second Wine Review — Odette SLD Cabernet Sauvignon

A few quick thoughts on the 2016 Odette Stags Leap District Cabernet Sauvignon from Napa Valley.

Odette SLD Cab

Note: This wine was tasted as a sample.

The Geekery

In 2012, the PlumpJack Group acquired 45 acres in the Stags Leap District from Dick Stelzner. Along with Nathan Fay, Stelzner pioneered Cabernet Sauvignon in the area.

In addition to Odette, the PlumpJack Group also own PlumpJack in Oakville and CADE on Howell Mountain.  While each property has its own winemakers and style, they all consistently use screw caps for all their wines, even high-end reds.

At Odette, Jeff Owens, previously the assistant winemaker at CADE and a protege of Anthony Biagi, has been with the winery since the beginning. He helped design the new winery to meet LEED Gold specifications and oversees the sustainable and organic farming of the estate.

The 2016 Estate Cab is 82% Cabernet Sauvignon, 10% Merlot, 4% Malbec and 4% Petit Verdot with 75 barrels (about 1875 cases) made.

The Wine

Photo by ANAND HULUGAPPA. Uploaded to Wikimedia Commons under CC-BY-SA-4.0

Very rich dark fruit in this Cab.

Medium-plus intensity nose. Ripe dark fruits–black plums, blackberries–and noticeable vanilla. With air, vivid floral notes come out–violets and lavender. Very perfumey.

On the palate, the richness of the dark fruit leads the way. Velvety and very ripe medium-plus tannins hold up the full-bodied fruit. Medium acidity gives some freshness and life to the floral notes, as well as suggest a subtle spiciness underneath. The fruit leads the long finish with creamy vanilla and chocolatey notes lingering.

The Verdict

The Odette wines were by far the most hedonistic and lavishly seductive wines that I tasted on my press tour of the Stags Leap District. They are definitely more velvet glove than an iron fist.

Is that seduction worth $150 a bottle? Depends.

Compared to many of its hedonistic peers that I’ve bought before such as Pahlmeyer Proprietary Red ($170), Bevan Wildfoote Vixen Block ($265), Alpha Omega Beckstoffer Georges III ($200) among others, it holds its own. And, truthfully, I would put the Odette closest to the Bevan–which makes sense given their SLD pedigree.

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Introducing the Mystery Grape Game

A lot of my writings the past few months have been focusing on wine business and marketing topics. That’s always been an interest of mine that I’ve enjoyed exploring. But it’s also an area that I need to stay up on as part of my WSET Diploma studies and eventual attempt towards getting a Master of Wine.

IG Mystery Grape clue James Busby

All the images used in this post will come from a recent Mystery Grape. Can you figure out the grape?

The Wine & Spirit Education Trust and the Institute of Masters of Wine were both founded by figures in the wine trade and while their certifications require a broad depth of knowledge on grape varieties, wine styles, regions, winemaking and viticulture–the nature of the business of wine is always in the backdrop.

In fact, it is this inclusion of the global business of wine that most separates WSET and MW certifications from those of the Court of Master Sommeliers–which focuses instead on service topics.

I’ll still be doing regular Geek Notes and other general wine features on the blog. But I’ve started to focus a lot of my geekiness over on the SpitBucket Instagram account where I’ve launched a Mystery Grape game using the IG story feature.

So what is it?

There’s really not much online in a game format to help high-level wine students. A lot of wine games are tailored more towards newbie wine lovers. For myself, I was looking for a game to help with both blind tasting as well as deep-level wine knowledge of grape varieties.

I didn’t find what I was looking for, so I created it.

IG Mystery grape straw bears

Be sure to look for secondary & tertiary aroma clues as well as primary notes.

Using photos featured on IG, I’ll post up to 10 clues relating to the identity of a particular wine grape. Players can answer by replying to the IG story or on a specific IG post that I do when the second batch of clues are live.

The next day I’ll highlight who got the correct answer first as well as other folks who got it right. I’ll also explain in the congratulation post many of the clues and often highlight a particular wine that exhibits a lot of the notable traits of the Mystery Grape.

It’s meant to be challenging.  For the first batch of clues, I’m aiming for WSET Diploma/Advance Sommelier level knowledge with easier WSET 2 & 3/Certified Sommelier clues coming towards the end.

If you don’t get it, that’s alright. A lot of folks won’t. But I guarantee that you will learn something regardless.

Below I’ll give you some tips as I explain the game.

Here’s How It Goes.

Monday through Friday I’ll launch the game with the first clue being a wine map. This is going to be our starting base and is often an area that folks will encounter blind tasting examples from.

I’m going to feature plenty of grapes that aren’t included in blind tastings, but I do regularly reference the Court of Master Sommeliers’ list of Probable Red Grape Varieties and Probable White Grape Varieties. If you’re a wine student and don’t already have those pages bookmarked, you should bookmark them now.

The next 3 to 4 clues will be aroma and flavor clues.
IG Mystery grape clue apple

It’s crazy how many white grape varieties have apples as a primary flavor.

Here is where I’m often going to get a little tricky because I’m not going to give you the dead-giveaway notes right away. I’m not going to post pictures of black currant, tobacco leaf, anise and cedar off the bat if I’m talking about Cabernet Sauvignon. Nor am I going to show you a map of Piedmont and then post pics of cherry, roses and tar for Nebbiolo.

Those items might come later on when I get to the WSET 2/3 level clues. But here I’m going to focus on some of the important but less obvious notes including young primary and secondary flavors as well as tertiary notes that come with age. I might also skip around the globe a bit. Many of these grapes are grown in multiple places and Diploma/Advance Sommelier candidates need to know those different notes.

However, the majority of the clues will pertain to the map region with other flavor notes being connected to regions that get brought up in subsequent clues.

Most of these clues will come from my own tasting notes of these grape varieties, but I will sometimes reference Neel Burton’s The Concise Guide to Wine and Blind Tasting, Rajat Parr’s The Sommelier’s Atlas of Taste and the Oxford Companion to Wine.

The last clue (#6) of the first batch is usually a context clue.
IG mystery grape honey wax clue

This pic actually contained two clues that were fairly specific to a particular white Australian wine grape. It referenced both the nature of the grape and an unique aging note.

Many grapes within a wine region will have similar flavor profiles. I can have a map of France with notes of red plum, blackberry, tobacco, pepper and chocolate and it could refer to dozens of grapes. So I need to narrow the focus a bit. I’ll do that by tossing in a clue that is relatively specific to the Mystery Grape–such as that this grape can also be found in the Veneto, Abruzzo and Puglia regions as well. (If you have an idea of what grape I’m talking about, post it in the comments).

Almost all these context clues are going to come from Jancis Robinson’s Wine Grapes. For Italian wines, I also like using Ian d’Agata’s Native Wine Grapes of Italy. Both books are must haves for wine students.

Now sometimes from this first batch, there will still be multiple contenders even with the context clue. Folks can take a stab at it, trying to be first. It depends on how generous I’m feeling with what kind of feedback I’ll give you if you’re wrong. Sometimes you might just have to wait for the next batch of clues.

Second Batch of Clues

Clues 7-10 will be more context clues hitting on history, wine styles and additional regions that our Mystery Grape is associated with. These often will tie back to the first batch of clues in some way.

And these clues will be easier–including more WSET 3 knowledge with at least clue 10 going down to WSET 2/Certified Sommelier/Certified Specialist of Wine level.

IG Mystery Grape Israeli wine.

Admittedly this was a little hard for a Clue 9, but it was something that googling would give the answer away to.

At the launch of the second batch of clues, I will do a separate Instagram post that will also go out on the SpitBucket Twitter account highlighting a particular clue and letting folks know if someone has already guessed correctly.

Timing

I’ve been testing this game over the last month and found that I have players in the US, Europe and Australia.  That pretty much makes a perfect time impossible. So I’m going to err on the sake of my sanity and go with the timing that works best for my schedule.

I’m in Paris so I will launch the game with the first batch of clues between 11 am to Noon CET. That will be 5-6am New York, 2-3am Seattle and 7-8 pm Sydney.

I know that kind of sucks for the Americans. But take solace in knowing that the first batch of clues is usually difficult enough that the Mystery Grape is often not solved until the second batch is posted.

The second batch will be released between 6-9 pm Paris time. That will be Noon-3 pm New York, 9 am to Noon Seattle and 2-5 am Sydney. Here is where it kind of sucks for the Australians but there have been some savvy Australians who have gotten the Mystery Grape with the first batch.

Again, my apologies that outside of Europeans, there is always going to be time zone issues for someone. But, hey, in the end, it’s all about having fun and learning something. The IG stories last up to 24 hours before they’re deleted so anyone can play at any time.

The best way to approach it is to set a personal goal of trying to guess the grape with as few clues as possible. Then try to beat your best the next day.

A Few More Tips

IG Mystery Grape saffron

At first blush you might think this is a clue for a blue floral note. But the other clues are referencing a white grape.
However, look at the user name from the image @saffron.tabuma. That and clicking on the image to look at the tags, should help you realize that this is saffron. This note come out in certain white wines that have been “influenced” by something.

If you don’t understand a clue, it’s always a good idea to click on the picture and go to the original image page. Often the caption and #hashtags will give more context. I’m very deliberate in which image I choose and usually I will select images with specific hashtags.

Plus, sometimes the image I select is from an album of pictures taken by the Instagram user. I don’t consider those other album photos when I choose the clue image. But I have seen many times where they provide insight into wine regions that the Mystery Grape is associated with. Plus, they are usually cool images to look at too.

It’s okay to Google. Especially with the second batch, there is almost always a google-able detail that will lead you to the Mystery Grape. It’s not cheating if it helps you learn something.

Don’t expect the obvious, but also don’t overthink it. Yes, this game is meant to be challenging. But sometimes your gut from the first batch of clues turns out to be right. The same thing often happens with blind tasting. You never want to lock yourself in on one answer too early before you’ve fully evaluated the wine. However, you should always take note of what your gut instinct was.

Intrigued?

You can head over to Instagram now to take a look at today’s game. There you will also see posts from several of the last few games featuring grapes like Cabernet Sauvignon, Malvasia, Grolleau, Zinfandel, Pinot blanc, Rondo, Petit Verdot, Pinotage, Albarino and more.

You will see both “clue posts” as well as bottle pic congratulation posts. Those latter posts will explain many of the clues along with a featured wine made of the Mystery Grape.

BTW, how did you do?

Could you guess the French grape with some Italian flirting that I used as an example in the “Clue 6” section? Or how about the previous Mystery Grape referenced in the article’s images? Let me know in the comments below.

Happy Geeking!

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One Night Stands and Surprises

When is the last time that a winery really surprised you?

Photo from Unnamed photographer for Bain News Service. Uploaded to Wikimedia Commons under PD-Bain

Now I’m not talking about a wine that was unexpectedly delicious (or atrocious), a shocking winemaker departure or an owner selling.

Instead, I’m talking about being genuinely surprised by the way that a winery interacted with consumers.

I’m talking about a “Morton’s Surprise.”

Back in 2011, a hungry businessman boarded a flight destined for the Newark airport. The flight was going to arrive late and in a half joking, half grumbly manner he tweeted out to his favorite steakhouse, Morton’s, that he would really like a porterhouse steak when he landed in two hours.

The Morton’s Twitter account did more than just “like” his tweet.

When he got off the plane and retrieved his bags, there was a Morton’s employee (from a location 24 miles away from the airport) waiting for him with a 24 oz. Porterhouse steak, shrimp and a side of potatoes.

Yeah, that’s a heck of a surprise.

Now I’m not expecting wineries to show up at airports with free wine.

But let’s look at the base elements of this story and compare it to how most wineries interact with consumers on social media.

Morton’s could have responded to the initial tweet with something like:

“Oh thank you! We’re glad you are a fan. Come by and visit!”

Sound familiar? It’s pretty much a word-for-word reply that you see from wineries every day in response to consumers tweeting, Facebooking and Instagramming about wines they enjoy.

That’s not a horrible response. It’s polite and at least something of an interaction–which is undoubtedly better than not responding at all. But it’s so…scripted.

And when you’re competing in an engagement economy–where the goal is to build enduring and lasting relationships with consumers–a scripted response is basically the marketing equivalent of a one-night stand.

Slam Bam, Thank You Ma’am

Photo by Jhaymesisviphotography, Uploaded to Wikimedia Commons under CC-BY-2.0

Um….he thanked me for being a fan with three thumbs up emojis.

One of the critical elements of the Morton story is that they were already dealing with an engaged customer. This was someone who liked their brand and took time out of their day to talk about it. Not only that, but they also made the effort to look up the company’s tag and include them in the conversation.

That kind of customer engagement is hugely valuable. They essentially took the brand to bed and clearly had a good time.

So why is that good time so often greeted with scripted responses?

I don’t think a lot of wineries realize what they have when they’re tagged in a consumer’s post. That might be why we (and the consumer) are so rarely ever surprised by how they respond.

Yet, think about all the investment that wineries put into getting new customers. Now think about how many new customers that Morton’s likely got from going beyond the “one-night stand” engagement of just thanking and liking a consumer’s comment.

How can wineries surprise their consumers?

Let’s say that someone does a post raving about a winery’s red blend. Put yourself on the other side of the computer screen and imagine how you would feel getting a response like this:

“Oh thank you! We’re glad you loved it. You know, our winemaking team puts together that blend in February. If you’re in the area, let us know and you can help us put together next year’s wine!”

Whoa…did this winery just invite me to help make their next blend??? How freaking cool is that!
Photo by Johann Jaritz. Uploaded to Wikimedia Commons under CC-BY-SA-4.0

Hmm, maybe we can pull this trick off during harvest? Obviously, it depends on labor laws and restrictions, but back in my winemaking days, we could never get enough volunteer labor during harvest.

And the thing is, the odds of that consumer actually showing up at the winery’s door on a cold February day is pretty slim. This was a low-risk proposal.

Though, if they did show up, damn you’ve got a really engaged consumer and potential brand ambassador who is practically volunteering to promote your wines.

However, the impact of that invitation went far beyond a “one-night stand” response. It was like the winery texted them back in the morning to let them know that they really did have a good time and are wondering when they can meet again.

That’s engagement that leads to lasting relationships.

And this “surprise script” can be adapted to cover so many angles. Do folks think you have a really eye-catching label? Offer to email them the new label design for your latest release to get their feedback.

Did someone post a photo of your wine along with a fantastic dish they cooked? Ask them for the recipe and THEN post on your social media feed, tagging them, your winery team’s attempt at recreating their recipe and food pairing.

Essentially the secret to surprising consumers is to simply go beyond just acknowledging their posts.

It’s acknowledging them.

Now, yes, this type of social media engagement requires time and labor costs. So does everything in business. You can spend a fortune on vineyards, personnel, barrels and equipment but that is all for naught if people aren’t (repeatedly) buying your wine.

Building sales means investing in your consumers and not squandering the engagement capital that you already have. It means building relationships instead of being content with one night of vinous nookie.

Photo by Arnold Gatilao. Uploaded to wikimedia commons under CC-BY-2.0

Enthusiastic and engaged consumers, plus fried chicken. How is this not a win in anyone’s book?

Scroll back up and look at the examples I posted. Now put yourself in the shoes of the consumers receiving those replies, receiving those interactions. Not only will they be super stoked at the thought of getting another bottle of your wine, but do you think they would keep those sentiments to themselves?

No! It’s social media. They’re going to share and talk about how this winery, just out of the blue (in their minds), asked them to help make their wine, give feedback on a label or made Grandma Coury’s famous fried chicken and posted about it.

And you better believe that every time they’re with someone and a bottle of your is wine nearby, they’re going to share their story about your wine.

People don’t talk about one night stands (unless they’re really bad). But they do talk about the ones that surprised them and texted them back in the morning.

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