Category Archives: Wine marketing

Terroir Sundae

As a wine student, I’m always knee-deep in terroir. Working through the WSET Diploma, the enduring question that runs through every wine is: Why are you the way you are?

Ice cream sundae by National Cancer Institute. Uploaded to Wikimedia Commons under PD-author

The TL;DR answer is usually “Terroir”-that vague French word which encapsulates all the natural elements of a vineyard and vintage. Over the last couple of decades, that term has evolved like the ice cream sundae from a soda float of “somewhereness” to 3 scoops of soils, topography and climate topped by a cherry of tradition.

Fantastic stuff for study guides and wine books but dreadfully boring for wineries trying to reach the lucrative Millennial market.

Somewhereness still matters. But not in the way we think.

Terroir is essential, no doubt. Ultimately the quality of the sundae depends on the base ingredients that are the foundation for the whole dish.

Spanish wine bottled in France

Is it Spanish? Is it French? Secretly Aussie? Most folks aren’t going to care as long as it’s tasty and a good value.

However, wine writers, such as Master of Wine Tim Atkin, have long noted that the increasing globalization of wine (and the general apathy of consumers) is making those folks who are genuinely interested in the nuances of terroir a minority.

But across the world, wineries still need to find ways to stand out from the pack–to trumpet their distinctiveness. They still need to give consumers a reason to choose their sundae over all the other sundaes and derivatives out there.

So why not lean in hard on the quality ingredients you’re using? After all, isn’t that what everyone else is doing?

However, those aren’t the questions that wineries should be asking. They certainly aren’t the questions that most Millennial wine consumers are asking. Instead, with so many options competing for attention and wallets, the more pertinent question is, “How hard am I making it for consumers to enjoy my terroir sundae?”

Spoonfed

Wine is a unique commodity in that we willingly create multiple barriers to entry. There are price points and availability, of course, but also a substantial education barrier.

To really “get” the differences between various terroirs and why some wines are worth hunting and paying more for, requires a fair degree of knowledge on the consumer’s part. It’s a level of expertise that we routinely take for granted. There is this assumption that if a consumer likes wine, then they’ll eventually “get serious” enough to invest time and effort into learning about it.

Meanwhile–while we’re waiting for consumers like those pesky Millennials to “get serious”–we still desperately want them to enjoy (and buy!) our sundaes. “You want something distinctive? Here is our world-class terroir with a unique combination of natural factors that gives our wine a ‘sense of place’!”

Jaxon with a cupcake

Granted, it could still be a fun experience. But maybe not the kind of experience worth splurging for top-shelf stuff.

But without the “utensil” of education needed to understand those natural factors and what makes them unique, we’re basically just giving consumers a sundae with no spoon. Sure, they can dig right in, but it’s going to get messy.

Don’t forget the cherry on top.

However, there is one part of the sundae that you don’t need any help or utensils to enjoy–and for many, it’s the best part.

The cherry.

It’s the stories, traditions and people behind the wine. While often overlooked, this is still an immutable part of the terroir sundae. But, more importantly, it’s the tangible part that consumers don’t need a long spoon of wine education to devour.

This is because people relate to people. Even if the stories and traditions are worlds apart from their own, it is far easier for folks to connect to these human elements than it is to soils, topography and climate.

It’s also the one part that every winery can absolutely nail with their marketing message–regardless of how spectacular the rest of their terroir really is.

Your sundae might not have hand-churned, French vanilla ice cream sourced from grass-fed cows that received daily deep tissue massages. But fresh homemade Maraschino cherries make even store brand scoops tastier.

Likewise, you might not have vineyards in the blessed terroir of Chablis, Barolo, Hunter Valley or the Stags Leap District, but remember that consumers are going need a long spoon to dig into what makes those sundaes special.

So work with what you have and don’t forget the best part.

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Nitty Gritty Grumble – Are winery websites dropping the ball?

I had a great Tasmanian sparkling rosé that I wanted to write something on. Lovely aromatics. Tremendous mouthfeel. Killer value. Definitely a bottle worth spreading the word about.
Photo by Finlay McWalter. Uploaded to Wikimedia Commons under CC-BY-SA-3.0

So I went to the producer’s website to start researching for a post.

Pretty site, lots of lovely pictures. The bottles moved when I hovered the mouse over them. I found the Méthode Tasmanoise tab charming. Clearly, the winery spent a bit of money and thought to put this together.

But that charm and my enthusiasm for writing about their wine got zapped when I came to its product page.

Now I know that many winery websites are designed with Direct-to-Consumer sales in mind instead of wine writers’ research. I get that. So I expect to see the “nitty gritty” details I crave (blend composition, vineyard sources, aging, dosage, case production, etc.) buried beneath the fold. Or maybe hidden away in a trade section.

But I didn’t quite expect this.

Jansz product page for rose sparkling wine

Side note: The gift bag marketing on the product page is very clever.

Wait.

You’re going to tell me what the pH and acidity specs are even though few wine writers and hardly any consumers care about them. But the best answer you’re going to give me about the grape composition is…. sparkling rosé?

Really?

Photo by Randy OHC. Uploaded to Wikimedia Commons under CC-BY-2.0

I wonder if, at my next WSET tasting exam, I can get away with identifying the composition of the red wines as “red wine.”

I highly doubt this is some top-secret proprietary blend. Even if you don’t want to give the exact percentages because they change often, it shouldn’t be that difficult for someone to find out if this 12.5% ABV sparkling wine with a 3.11 pH and 6.7 g/l acidity has Pinot noir and Chardonnay.

I suppose I could email the winery or tag them on social media to ask what’s in their wine. Maybe I’ll get a reply? Or not.

But that still begs the question of why in the world do so many wineries make it hard for somms, retailers and wine writers to find meaningful information about their stories and products? Why is this an area where wineries regularly drop the ball when it comes to helping folks sell and talk about their wines?

Above the Fold – Entice

A winery’s website serves two audiences. Consumers and the communicators who are going to be presenting your wines to those consumers.

I haven’t seen any good traffic studies on who is more likely to visit a winery’s website. It very well may be industry folks and writers. But the smart move is to always keep the consumer (and what they’re thinking) front and center. That means making sure that the “above the fold” content of a page is enticing as numerous scroll map studies have shown that website visitors are not likely to scroll further down the page.

Unless, of course, they’re looking for something. But more on that later.

Here is where I think the Jansz page does a decent job. The tasting note is not too jargon-driven, using words that consumers respond to such as “vibrant” and “mouthwatering.” As I mentioned above, I think the gift bag suggestion is an excellent idea for add-ons.

Brunnello di Montalcino

Even world-renown wine regions that are monovarietal will get the “What’s in it?” question from consumers who are not geeks or connoisseurs.

For a lot of consumers, this is perfect. But some will want a little more detail. Maybe stuff like, oh I don’t know, grape composition?

What’s in it?

When I was on the sales floor, this was always the question I got asked the most. No one asked me about pH, acidity, yields, harvest dates or trellising.

Occasionally, folks would want to know if the wine was “natural”, vegan or “green-friendly.” The “butteriness” of Chardonnay would come up for customers who loved or hated that style. Sometimes I would get general questions about how oaky a wine was or if it was sweet. But, even then, I never had a consumer expect me to give them exact oak aging and residual sugar details.

Often consumers wouldn’t ask any questions whatsoever and were happy with just a strong recommendation that the wine was worth trying. But that didn’t mean that I didn’t still have questions that would send me to a winery’s website for answers.

Below the Fold – Educate

What kind of “nitty-gritty” info should you have on your site for the folks who really want to learn more about your wines?

A lot of that will depend on if you want everything on the consumer page or in a separate trade/tech sheet section. If it’s the former, you still want to keep the page focused on enticement and driving home why this wine is worth your attention. Again, details like pH and TA are great for geeks, but most consumers aren’t going to care.

illustration by Luigi Chiesa. Uploaded to Wikimedia Commons under PD-self

Seriously, I only had one customer ever ask me what the pH of a wine was. That was because he just had veneers put on and his dentist told him not to have any beverages with a pH less than 3.

One example I like is from Arlo Vintners in Victoria with what sounds like a fascinating white field blend.

In a few brief paragraphs, this product page tells me:

What’s in it.
Where the fruit comes from and why this is unique/interesting.
How it was made (co-fermented, ambient yeast, tank, no acidification, unfiltered).

The biggest things missing are details about how the vineyard is farmed–i.e. organic, sustainable, biodynamic, etc. This is definitely an area that consumers are asking more questions and becoming increasingly mindful about.

Tech Sheets/Trade Sections

Personally, I think every winery website should have a trade section. When I worked in the industry, it was always the first thing I looked for and, as a writer, my heart still drops when I visit a website without one.

Selling wine is like big game hunting. The ammo you use matters. For the somms, wine stewards and writers looking for more info about your wine, here is where you’re either going to properly equip or send them on their way with Nerf darts.

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

The Nerf Strike Vulcan aka a fancy, expensive winery website that offers little to no useful info about a wine.

This is the section to geek out with nitty-gritty technical specs but keep in mind that those are “low caliber” details. They’re not going to bag a sale on their own.

You need high caliber equipment to really nab the prize. Few things pack a punch like personal story tidbits.

And you can slip this powerful ammo into a tech sheet.

A perfect example comes from the vineyard details that Pedroncelli provides with their tech sheet for the Courage Zinfandel.

Dave and Dena Faloni are the neighbors behind Courage Zinfandel, a three-generation grape-growing family located two miles west of the winery. While most Zinfandel in the valley is head-pruned, Dave has trained his vines on a trellis. He knows every quirk of the soil and every vine on their 24 acres having farmed it all of his life.

I love that line “… the neighbors behind Courage Zinfandel” and how it invokes the picture of neighbors and families working together to make something that a consumer would want to share with their family. Great personal connection. The other lines also add personality that makes this Zin feel different and distinct from all the other Zins competing for attention.

Likewise, I also love how Ramey drops several details in a tech sheet about how their Napa Valley Claret is different from its many, many peers.

10% Russian River fruit. (Remember, AVAs are only 85%)
8% Syrah.
12 months lees aging with monthly bâtonnage.

How cool is that?

If you take me back to my sales floor days with a customer asking why they should get this $35-50 Napa wine over other $35-50 Napa wines, this is the type of stuff that I’m going to be telling them–along with my personal recommendation of how delicious the wine is.

Knowing these details gives communicators ammo to highlight the unique and interesting points that make a wine worth paying attention to. So why not give it to them?

Here’s one more.

While I would like a little more “ammo” from an enticement perspective, I’m impressed with the technical design of how Juniper Estate in the Margaret River incorporates their tasting notes on their product pages.

Juniper Estates Malbec

Next to each bottle is a link to view tasting notes as a popup window. No need to click around and visit multiple pages to learn about different wines.

That’s a lot of nitty-gritty info packed into a small space. But it’s done in a fairly elegant and unobtrusive way. Many wineries would be wise to imitate this design.

The Bottom Line

The people who visit your website came to your site for a reason. There was something about your wine that captured their attention and here is where you are either going to foster that intrigue or lose it completely.

A well-designed and functional website is a critical piece that shouldn’t be overlooked. It affects not only consumers and potential DtC sales, but it profoundly impacts what kind of tools you’re giving sommeliers, retailers and writers to sell and talk about your wine.

The ball is in your court. Go to your website and take a look at your armory. Is it well stocked with useful and meaningful tidbits that entice, excite and inspire folks to want to learn more?

Or is the room mostly empty except for some scattered Nerf darts?

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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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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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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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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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375ml Bottles — A halfway good idea?

Before we hit the bottle, let’s talk about cans.

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

I’ve been a canned wine skeptic for a while. But my skepticism has faded quite a bit in the almost three years since I wrote that post.

One reason for that is the data showing that consumers are adopting canned wines to the tune of $45 million in sales (June 2017-June 2018). That quickly jumped to $69 million by the end of 2018 with more than 739,000 cases of canned wines sold in the US.

But the biggest eye-opener for me was when I started noticing my elderly (70 year-plus) consumers buying canned wines.

Wait…what?

House wine pride can

My favorite was the lady who bought a bunch of these cans for her after church treat because the colors just made her feel cheerful.

All the hype and marketing reports attribute the canned wine boom to Millennials. It’s fun! It’s convenient! You can take cans backpacking and to concert festivals! This is the feedback that we’re getting from the focus groups.

Now, I sold a lot of canned wines to Millenials back in my retail days. No doubt. There is smoke to that fire.

But seeing my elderly customers adopting canned wines caught me off-guard. This is a demographic that is notoriously reluctant to embrace novelty and change.

So I did what anyone should do when you have real live customers standing in front of you on the sales floor.

I talked to them.

And I found out that their reasons for buying canned wine were pretty darn practical.

Some of my customers were buying them because cans were easier for them to open with a beer key than cork or screwtop. Another customer who regularly bought boxed wines told me that the 3 and 5L boxes were getting a little heavy for her to take up the stairs into her house. So she keeps a cooler in her car now with a few cans of wine and carries them up in her purse a couple at a time.

But the most common refrain when I asked these consumers why they were buying cans was that they simply liked the portion size and not worrying about waste. They found the standard 375ml to be perfect for a couple of glasses. One gentleman described it as his lunch-dinner combo. He’d open a can at lunch for a glass and then finish it off with his supper.

No waste. No worries about leftovers that might not taste as good the next day. And he doesn’t have to listen to his wife yelling at him for getting snockered.

Hearing these real-world perspectives made me realize that underneath all the smoke and hype about canned wines were some serious embers burning. Yeah, novelty and fun can get a fad flowing, but what makes something become a category are these practical considerations that criss-cross demographics.

That’s what wineries need to pay attention to.

The practical considerations that drive sales trends.

Photo from

Will 2020 herald the new Roaring 20s?

While I’m not really convinced that we’re seeing the dawn of Neo-Prohibition in the US, I do fully buy-in that we’re in the midst of a “moderation movement.”

People are drinking less (but hopefully better) and they are paying attention to calories and serving sizes. Again, this is a movement that is being mostly attributed to Millennials and Generation Z, but it stretches across generations. Boomers are starting to drink less and Weight Watchers has always been recommending that the calorie conscious limit themselves to a 125ml (4.2 oz) serving size.

These are strong headwinds of influence that the wine industry is going to have to consider. The days of a couple (or an individual) regularly dusting off a full 750ml bottle in one setting are waning. We can’t bank on consumption levels staying the same.

Nor do I think we should put our faith in the Coravin saving the day.

Don’t get me wrong. I love my Coravin. It’s been an invaluable study tool when I need to open up multiple bottles of wine for tasting. Whenever Amazon has a Prime Day sale on it, I enthusiastically endorse folks checking it out.

Author using her Coravin

Again, the Coravin is excellent for blind tastings but not for the Wednesday night pizza wine.

But it’s a $200+ investment with replacement capsules costing around $20 for a 2-pack. It’s not something that I’m going to use for my everyday drinking wine. Truthfully, outside of wine studies, I rarely use it on a wine less than $50. The capsule cost and wear & tear just aren’t worth it for me.

And the Vacu-Vin sucks ass. I’m sorry. I’m not going to waste my money on a placebo-product.

The bottom line though is that wineries really shouldn’t be banking their future on the solutions of other people’s products. They need to guide their own destiny and, to borrow my favorite phrase from Emetry’s Paul Mabray, “future-proof” their business.

So how do they answer the concerns of the moderation movement, serving-size and waste issues? Portion-controlled cans and boxed wines are one answer.

But let’s be serious.

Do you really see Lynch-Bages in a can?

Or how about a nice Napa Cab? A Washington Syrah? A Mosel Riesling?

Most likely not. For a lot of wineries, the canned and box wine options aren’t going to fit with their branding. But 375ml half-bottles do.

There’s just that pesky problem of production costs. I asked about this on Twitter a few days ago where several winery folks laid out the hard truth. Bottling 375ml doesn’t follow the same logistics as bottling 750mls with wineries not only needing different glassware but also different sized labels, capsules and case packaging.

Jason Haas of Tablas Creek was especially forthcoming.

In a Tablas Creek Vineyard Blog piece, Haas shared more details about the difficulties in selling half-bottles. Even though it cost 2/3 that of producing a 750ml, not many consumers are willing to pay 2/3 the price. The mental math and perception issues make it tough.

Back in my retail days, I saw a similar situation with magnums. Many would see a 1.5L magnum and expect it to be no more than double the price of the regular 750ml–or even cheaper because of a “bulk discount.” Eventually, more educated consumers would grasp that there is some premium for the bottling costs and storage potential.

That may be the case with 375ml–especially if the retail price of the wine can stay closer to 55-60% of the 750ml price. But I don’t doubt that will involve subsidizing some of the production cost–at least until supplies and logistics become favorable.

Nor do I doubt Haas’ other point about the dwindling demand (and production) that Tablas Creek sees in their half-bottle program.

At our apex in the late 2000’s we were bottling 450 cases each of our Esprit and Esprit Blanc in half-bottles. By the early 2010’s we were down to 250 cases of each. Then 200, then 150. Last year we bottled just 125 cases of each. This year, it will be only 75. — Jason Haas, “Is there a future for half-bottles?” June 3rd, 2019

Being ahead of the headwinds.

It doesn’t shock me that a winery as innovative and savvy as Tablas Creek is 15 years ahead of the curve. I give massive credit to Haas for picking up critical insights in the early 2000s from the sommeliers at his restaurant accounts about their use of half-bottles.

I know for myself, some of the most gang-buster experiences I’ve ever had playing the Somm Game (where I essentially give a somm my budget and let them pick out anything) have been at programs that made liberal use of their half-bottle selection.

But being ahead of the curve means that the timing isn’t always there to hit a home run.

That is always going to be the scourage of innovation. Sometimes the best ideas for the future are ones that haven’t worked out the best in the past. Back in April, I posed this question to wine writer and producer Robert Joseph when he was featured on Sorcha Holloway’s #UKWineHour Twitter chat.

It’s well worth reading Joseph’s answer on Twitter. As the 2019 winner of the Born Digital Wine Awards for innovation in the wine industry, he does give a lot of food for thought.

We didn’t talk about 375ml half-bottles and packaging in that thread. However, I think this is a vitally important conversation for the industry to start having now.

The “Canned Wine Boom” is a wake-up call for wineries.

But don’t let the ringtone of Millennials! Novelty! Fun! distract you from picking up the phone and listening to the voice on the other end of the line.

The moderation movement is real.

Calorie counting and serving-size awareness are real.

Waste considerations are real.

That is why wineries investing in 375ml bottles is absolutely more than a halfway good idea.

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Why Do Winery Instagram Feeds Suck So Much?

For a follow up to this post, check out How Can Wineries Use Instagram Better?

Okay guys, let’s sit down and have a heart-to-heart here for a moment. I’ve been breaking up with a lot of you via Instagram by unfollowing your winery accounts. And, yeah, it’s you and not me.
Photo by Today Testing (for derivative) - This file was derived from: Scroll on Desk.jpg Instagram logo 2016.svg. Uploaded to Wikimedia Commons under CC BY-SA 4.0

Simply put, a lot of your winery Instagrams aren’t worth a damn following.

Now I’m not saying that my own personal IG is gold. Don’t bother going there looking for inspiration or ammo.

But I’m not selling anything. I don’t make a dime from this blog, so my Instagram is purely for my own folly and note-keeping. Plus wineries shouldn’t be comparing themselves to personal IGs anyways. And god knows they shouldn’t be trying to emulate the feeds of so-called “influencers” which are their own kinds of pomp and circum-shit.

Instead, every winery needs to step back and think about what they’re doing on Instagram. What is the point of a consumer following you?

Is it to see a stream of spammy ads and bottle porn?

bottle porn pics from https://www.instagram.com/chateaustemichelle/

So much bottle porn…

Nope. Wrong answer.

If I wanted to see non-stop images of your wine bottles, I’d hijack your delivery truck and take it on a high-speed chase. News flash! People hate ads. That’s why we quickly turn the channel or flip the page.

So why in the world would I want to follow your feed just to see more time-wasting ads willingly? And that is precisely what your lovely, beautifully curated bottle shots in pastel locations are–ads.

Yeah, I can keep scrolling on by (which I do) but there comes a point where I (and other consumers) eventually pause and wonder–why am I following this shit? That’s when we wake up from the IG bubble and start searching for something real.

Give us dirty hands and real people.

Photo by https://www.instagram.com/p/BwkYD6QHP4J/

Great pic from Chimney Rock Winery. Grandma used to say that “Dirty hands are a sign of clean money.”
That’s probably still true, but in marketing to today’s Millennials, dirty hands are a sign of real people making authentic wine.

Wine doesn’t exist in a vacuum. It doesn’t magically appear out of Star Trek food replicators. There were real people who shepherded the land and put in the time, passion and effort to turn bunches of grapes into something meaningful in the bottle. Show us that!

One of the best lines that I heard on my recent press tour of the Stags Leap District was the comment from Chimney Rock’s winemaker and general manager Elizabeth Vianna that “… at least six hands have a role in getting the wine from grape to bottle.” Then she shared some of the stories of those hands like the cellar worker who has trouble clocking in during harvest because the fingerprint reader won’t recognize his print from being so stained and worn by the low-pH of grape must.

That’s a fascinating anecdote that makes me want to see those hands and drink that wine. If I’m going to follow a winery’s Instagram feed, it’s because I genuinely want to know more about it. That’s engagement that wineries shouldn’t squander.

Tell us why we should care. Then you will motivate us to seek out your wines and visit tasting rooms.

Seeing hideously artificial “set-up” shots of people posing with bottles or a random wine sitting alone next to the fireplace, on the beach, in the woods, or whatever does nothing to inspire us to do anything but unfollow your page.

If you’re going to show me “exotic places”, why not show me the vineyard? The winery?

Photo from https://www.instagram.com/p/BuDiUdAAjI9/

Great pic from the South African winery Thistle and Weed.
How many wineries talk about whole cluster fermentation on their back label and website but never bother to show it on their IG feed?

What happens in your vineyard and the winery shouldn’t be relegated to just back label jargon. Show us what happens! Yeah, it may be mundane and routine like budburst or racking, but to most consumers, these are exotic behind-the-scenes peeks into the magic of winemaking.

Every day, every winery has a gold mine of unique and interesting content ready to be featured. In the time you take to set up some plastic presentation with flowers and fruit, you could snap dozens of infinitely more interesting Instagram posts just by following around your vineyard workers and cellar hands and letting consumers see things through their eyes.

And for Pete’s sake stop with the 9 picture “puzzle portrait” spreads!

Photos from https://www.instagram.com/jbookwalterwines/

Ugh…I actually like this winery’s wines a lot but it’s hard not to be annoyed at this colossal waste of time.

My god is this not the most ridiculous waste of space (and likely photographer and marketing fees too)! Seriously, whoever tries to tell you that this is a great use of your Instagram feed should be fired.

Few things get me to hit unfollow quicker than to have my IG feed spammed with nine separate posts featuring fragmented pieces of wine bottles–all with an annoying caption to “Check out our homepage for the whole picture!”

Why?!?!?

Why do you think I want to invest my time in checking out your ad?

The People:Places:Porn Ratio

Photos from https://www.instagram.com/beauxfreres/

A decent PPP ratio from the Oregon winery Beaux Frères.

Every winery should go to their IG feed right now and take a look at their PPP ratio. Is your feed saturated with sad bottle porn or is it alive with personality-driven pictures of the people and places that make your winery interesting and uniquely you?

The wineries that do Instagram right tend to have a People:Places:Porn Ratio of 4:4:1 for every nine pictures. There can be variances in the mix of people and places featured as long as that last number is kept low.

The key to remember is that Instagram is for capturing attention, not commercials.

You want to give consumers reasons to learn more about your story and your wines. Instagram is a great platform to hand-deliver those reasons right to an engaged audience.

You just have to show us stuff that is actually worth our time and attention. Show us stuff that is worth following.

Save the bottle porn for print media. It’s a dying medium anyway.

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Fake Wine and Real Boobs

Does sex still sell? It used to be hard to argue against appealing to one of humanity’s most basic instincts. In many marketing campaigns–after hunger and security–a little titillation was the salt that added spice to a brand’s identity.

Photo by Tania Saiz - originally posted to Flickr as red lips isolated in white, CC BY 2.0

But recent trends suggest that we are slowly moving away from these Cro-Magnon conventions.  Several studies have shown diminishing returns for ad campaigns that focus on overt sexual imagery. In some cases, they can even promote a backlash against brands.

Part of this is changing demographics with those pesky Millennials once again causing trouble.

They never want to follow the old playbook, don’t they? Even Victoria Secret and Abercrombie & Fitch have found that reaching Millennial consumers is a bit harder than the hot bods that they have splashed over their ads.

It’s probably because those sexy ads feel so fake. With around 90% of Millennials valuing authenticity in brands, it’s clear that selling fantasy is not always the best approach.

So why are there still folks in the wine industry clinging to these outdated marketing ideas?

Booth Babes and Nonsense

Earlier this month, the Bâtonnage Forum on Women in Wine conducted a panel where the topic of how women’s sexuality is used to sell wine was debated. According to Jess Landers of Seven Fifty Daily, one of the most “controversial” statements came from esteemed vintner and former UC-Davis professor Carole Meredith.

“…when I go to wine events, I see women who are overtly selling sex under the pretense of selling wine. I sometimes see women who show up to pour wine wearing very tight clothes, very short skirts, their boobs hanging out. I have to wonder, Do you feel that you have to dress like that because the wine you’re pouring just isn’t very good? Doesn’t that diminish the wine? And if it doesn’t diminish the wine, doesn’t it diminish you?” — Carole Meredith, How Women’s Sexuality Is Used to Sell Wine, May 6th, 2019

Preach it, Carole!

The scare-quotes around controversial is intentional because I honestly don’t see anything contentious with what Meredith said. In fact, I often have the same thoughts when I’m at a tasting with tarted up “booth babes” who don’t know a thing about the wine they’re pouring. It actually angers me that rather than invest in training on their products that the wineries and marketing firms that employ these women are encouraging them to use their other assets to sell wine.

I’m not angry at the women. They’re just trying to do a job. I’m angry at the mindset that thinks this schtick works.

But it only works in convincing me not to buy your wine.

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

Gratuitous side booby.

Any winery that has to resort to using sex to sell is raising the white flag.

They’re sending out the message loud and clear that what they’re putting into the bottle is as fake and vapid as their marketing. It’s a boob move.

I get that same message from brands promoted by so-called “influencers” posing with bottles on Instagram as well.

They might not have their boobs hanging out, but they’re certainly not selling you on the story or quality of the wine. Instead, they’re selling you on fakeness and parlor tricks. They want you to “hey, look over here!” while the magician pockets your card (and hopefully your money).

Maybe those tricks worked in the past. But today, misdirection is anathema to consumers craving authenticity and substance.

If you want me to buy your wine, put your clothes back on and tell me what’s in the damn bottle!

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Sculpting Soapstone in Napa

I wrapped up my week-long press tour of the Stags Leap District yesterday. You can look forward to me spending the next couple months working through my notes in between other writings and reviews. For those that want a sneak peek of some of the insights and themes that I’ll be writing about check out the SpitBucket Instagram page. There I’ve posted pictures and thoughts from many of the wineries that I’ve visited.

Photo By Lysippos - Own work, CC BY-SA 3.0,

Before the trip, I wrote about some of the questions and expectations that I had going in. A large part of my role in Friedenreich’s research entourage was to bring a Millennial perspective with an eye towards what the future of the Stags Leap District could be. While that is a role that I’m apt to fill, the WSET Diploma student and wine marketer in me is also conscious of the present reality of business.

Many times in between my Millennial “what if” questions, I found myself taking a step back to think about what I would do if I were a general manager, COO or president of a Stags Leap District winery.

Honestly? There is not much that I would do differently.

Though I still see challenges ahead, I couldn’t find fault in how well-executed all these operations were. It’s clear that these wineries have found a recipe that works for them and have spent considerable time, thought and capital into honing and perfecting that recipe. They’re all working hard to maximize the gifts of terroir like a sculptor skillfully chiseling away to reveal the beauty of the piece underneath.

However, they’re not chiseling their work into granite.

The nature of the wine industry is inherently transient. It’s an agrarian product that is a consumable good. There will always be factors at play (climate change, demographics, consumer trends) that will weather even the mightiest of edifices. No matter how much care, attention and capital that you invest, everything you do will always be chiseled in soapstone.

Quixote Malbec

There is some sexy Malbec being made in the SLD. These wines combine the spiciness of Argentine Malbecs with the seductive texture of Stags Leap District wines.

Even the fabled European wine regions spent centuries, if not millennia, figuring themselves out.

Cabernet Sauvignon, which is the backbone of the great wines of the Medoc, is still in its adolescence in Bordeaux. The Bordelais have been making wine since the Romans while Cab only appeared on the scene in the late 18th century. And even then, it took some time to catch on. During the 1855 classification, many of the grandest estates of the Left Bank relied heavily on grapes like Malbec and Merlot.

The soapstone sculpture of Bordeaux has changed many times over the years. With climate change, it’s already starting to change again with a growing focus on Petit Verdot and even Malbec making a return.

With Cab barely out of the womb in Napa, why should we not expect its form to change as well?

Now I’m not discrediting the beauty of Napa and, particularly, Stags Leap District Cabernet Sauvignon. I had many delicious examples which I’ll be writing about on this blog. But while not as numerous, there were certainly several “unicorn” wines of other grapes that had me excited about what the future sculpture of SLD could be.

Some strawmen, some strong points.

Now back to those Millennials and the future challenges they may pose.

Often I heard the strawmen assessment that Millennials would come around once they had more money. However, there were also some excellent points which I’ll tackle in future pieces.

One is that education will be paramount in reaching Millennials. That does present the challenge of how do you entice anyone to want to be educated. But I also think it offers a double edge sword. One that can both cut Napa/SLD producers just as much as it can clear the path.

Another strong point is that rather than thinking of demographics, producers should market to “tribes”–i.e., a tribe Cab-lovers. This was argued exceedingly well by Russ Joy, the general manager of Stag’s Leap Wine Cellars. That tribal spin invites personalization with a sense of community and identity. A sort of “hipster” approach, which is somewhat ironic.

Malk Vineyards

This tiny little patch of vines in the foreground is Malk Family Vineyards. Beyond the dirt road is Steltzner, then Joseph Phelps, then Mary Jane Fay Vineyards (fruit sold to Shafer), then Odette and FINALLY you get to the Silverado Trail.

But probably the point that I could appreciate the most was the blessing of small production.

This was made quite clear at the tiny 2-acre estate of Malk Family Vineyards. With only a few hundred cases, the Malks don’t need to focus on chasing the market. Anyone who finds them (and believe me, the drive to find them is a bit of a hunt), is someone who is already passionate and committed.

That small production provides a bit of cover that will undoubtedly help many producers weather the changes–regardless of what they’re carving.

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