Dispatches from the 2009 Wine Bloggers Conference

Grateful Dead

“Spent a little time on the mountain,
 Spent a little time on the hill,
 Things went down we don’t understand, 
but I think in time we will”
… “New Speedway Boogie” … Words by Robert Hunter; music by Jerry Garcia

***

Conferences are conferences are conferences, and it seems that the one-on-one conversations are often where the real ideas Hardy & Ashley at WBC09are exchanged. Discussing ideas and feedback on just what it is that we’re doing, what others are doing or have done will tend to make us all more proficient tomorrow. A lot of citizen wine writers are in factthe twitterai at WBC09 technology geeks.  Really smart technology geeks, like Doug Cook of Able Grape, who is now the director of search at Twitter, or founder organizer Joel Vincent, or Paul Mabray of VinTank, or Evan Cover of Cruvee, or Josh Hermsmeyer, or etc, etc. The Wine Bloggers Conference IQ meter has been off the charts. This active exchange of ideas with so many wicked smart people is really charging my batteries. The take-away is that I wish that more wineries would embrace this democratization of wine information. Oh, not just the social media side of this, but the energy and intelligence inherent in this citizen wine writer movement. I’m also shaking my head in disbelief that more wineries weren’t standing in line to talk to the candidates from the A Really Goode Job promotion. I had the chance at the conference to talk with Frank Gutierrez of Frank Loves Wine and one of the VinTank 4 + . With a nod to Malcom Gladwell’s Frank Gutierrez of Frank Loves Wine‘Blink’, I’ve always been good at recognizing talent in meetings or during interviews, and then in securing this talent. I alway wanted to surround myself with people that are smarter than I am. Have you noticed that your education doesn’t end the day that you get your diploma, that life is a process of observing, learning, and incorporating best practices until you’re boots-up. Frank is someone that I followed through the arcane process of ARGJ. Mostly because he reached out to engage me. Last night I had the chance to talk to Frank about his aspirations and his vision. I came away floored. I’m not prone to intemperate decisions, but if I were a winery in this economy, I would have extended an offer to Frank on-the -spot. So, out there in the winery world, I just want to know is this somebody that you want working for you competitors, or do you want your wine business to be the next success story?

***

CIA at Greystone, St Helena, CANapa Valley gets it. They’ve gotten it for quite awhile. The Napa Valley Vintners Association knows how to throw a party, and, at the same time, how to effectively communicate their message. Kudos to Terry Hall, Joel Coleman-Nakai, Kat Corcoran, et al. And special thanks to Paula Kornell. I first met her years ago during mBarry Schuler & Marc Lhormer discussing WBC09y tenure at Disney when visiting the Hans Kornell Winery to meet her Dad, Hans Kornell, one of my all time favorite Napa Valley vintners. Having met Paula as a small child, I’ve followed her career from the early days, through her ascension to the top of the Napa Valley wine industry. I know her dad is somewhere, smiling from ear to ear, a glass of sparkling wine in his hand thinking ‘I did a good job.’ Well, Hans, yes, you did a very good job indeed. What a start to the day. Talk about firepower, from the kick-off talk by Ms Kornell to the engaging and effective Charles Henning, ExecutiveEd Thralls, Rick Bakas, Paul MabrayDirector of the CIA (the original CIA) at Greystone, to how to be a better wine blogger/writer from the source that knows, Jim Gordon, Editor of Wines & Wines. But, please allow me a moment to go WOW!!! Barry Schuler, internet pioneer, owner of Meteor Vineyards and VC icon, and one of the great intellects of our time gave a speech that would likely fill the Moscone Center Herta Peju hosting bloggers at Peju Winery WBC09convention hall auditorium at Macworld . And this was just the start of the day. Back to the shuttles, and off to the real business of wine writing, meeting with the winemakers. It was my luck to have a chance to go to Peju Province Winery and to sit with the co-founder, the lovely Mrs Herta Peju herself. Then off to Spring Mountain Vineyard for what would turn out to be the Napa Valley Cabernet tasting of my lifetime.

***

Spring Mt. HouseI’ve been around wine a long time. I’ve attended so many tastings, and thought that I had seen it all. Don’t get me wrong, I am as passionate as ever about wine and the wine business, but how much more new is there? Well, I soon found out, sitting at rounds in the living room of Tuburcio Parrott’s old Victorian, and tasting wines from the mid-90’s and the current or future releases from a list of storied Napa Valley vintners: Jac Cole of SprinThe tasting Panel at Sring Mt, for the Napa Valley cabernet Sauvignon bloggers tasting at WBC09g Mountain, Ted Edwards of Freemark Abbey, Jeffery Stambor of Beaulieu Vineyards, and Paula Kornell of Oakville Ranch Vineyards. Not only did I come away impressed by the overall quality, but by the openness, the frankness and the transparency of the conversation. Yes, times and communications have changed, and they’ve changed for the better. Also, isn’t it about time that we now refer to Sauvignon Blanc, Cabernet Sauvignon and associated varietals as Napa Valley varietals and drop the anachronistic use of the term Bordeaux varietals? Just saying….

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The grand napa Valley tasting at Quintessa for WBC09Recovering from a day of wine tasting in Napa, after a grand tasting at Quintessa that went by in a flash,IMG_0762 and a great dinner with old friends at Franciscan Vineyards hosted by Jay Turnipseed, Aaron Potts, Efrain Barragan, and Cathy Corison, it was back to the Flamingo trenches, and a morning of shared education. Thanks to Tim Lemke, who gave a tutorial on how to monetize blogs, and to Doug Cook, Director of Search at Twitter, who conducted a discussion on just how search actually works. And then of course back to the busses and off to the Russian River Chris Donatiello conducting a bloggers wine tasting at the WBC09and Dry Creek Valleys for more on-site interaction with our sources. I was lucky enough to be invited to C.Donatiello on Westside Road. Chris, Web, Robert and Vanessa get it. Because they get it they’ll be one of the thrivers as the economy rebounds. Oh, and the C.Donatiello Chardonnays and Pinots are fab. Next time you’re in the Healdsburg area, head over and treat yourself to one of our area’s top winery hospitality experiences. And, don’t miss the summer Sunday concerts. Can’t think of a better way to send a day in wine country.

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Tim Lemke at WBC09There is some significant wattage of talented, professional and intellectual firepower residing in the citizen wine blogger community. Most of the resources in this community are just an email, a text message or a phone call away. As a group we’re always looking for ideas, so don’t be afraid to pitch us. Oh, I have the scoop that I promised in my last post: Evan Cover CEO at Cruvee is pairing with Josh Hermsmeyer in development of the winery interface for helpawineryout.com, facilitating the targeting and interaction between wineries and citizenDoug Cook, Twitter Director of Search at WBC09 wine reviewers. More to come as this story fleshes-out. Also, note that there is new media, creative talent out there looking for work. And, not just because they’re looking for work, but because they’re passionate about your (our) business, the wine business. Be counterintuitive and hire the best talent in these tough times to maximize your rise out of the morass, as the economy bounces forward and upward. Adopt and incorporate the appropriate technologies for your wine businesses. Recognize that the game has changed, and we’re all in this with shared responsibility for (re)inventing the future. The bus of wine biz marcom is leaving the station and picking-up speed. Get on-board as soon as you can, or risk being left out of the conversation. Identify and mirror those companies that get it, such as: Hahn, St. Supery, Murphy-Goode, C.Donatiello, Judd’s Hill, Gunlach Bundschu, the NVVA, or Wilson Daniels. Observe, study and then incorporate their best practices into your winery’s marketing/communications operations. Sink or swim, we’re in this together. We do this thing because we must. We are a community driven by passion and talent, and fueled by a burning intellectual curiosity. We are not so different from you. Oh, we may be the early adopters, but the door on the bus is still open. So, come on-board. It’s going to be a fun ride.

Note: Copyright © 2009 Think Wine Marketing® All rights reserved.

Aquí Viene la Revolución

The White Album, The Beatles“You say you want a revolution
Well, you know
We all want to change the world
You tell me that it’s evolution
Well, you know
We all want to change the world
But when you talk about destruction
Don’t you know that you can count me out
Don’t you know it’s gonna be all right
all right, all right”

…. The Beatles

WBC 09

WBM_ad_outlines_bannerOn the immediate horizon, this week-end in fact, is the second annual three day Wine Bloggers’ Conference at the Flamingo Resort Hotel in Santa Rosa, CA, organized by the Open Wine Consortium, with the help of numerous citizen wine bloggers. Both Napa and Sonoma wineries and vintners’ associations are involved in the support and participation of this year’s conference. So, it seems as though at least in our backyard the Northern California contingent of the wine business has discovered that wine bloggers may matter. Given the general marketing conservatism that seems endemic in these circles, this is somewhat surprising, if not revolutionary, even in thisay everything by Scott Rosenbergs philosophically and politically progressive geography. However, what’s surprising, well not surprising perhaps but inducing a significant feeling of disappointment, is the raising tide of ad hominem attacks on the loosely confederated and decentralized wine blogger community from admired members of the traditional wine print media. As Scott Rosenberg writes in ‘say everything‘, a concise history of the blogging phenomena, “saying that ninety percent of blogs are crap‘ is way too close to implying that “ninety percent of people are crap.’ It seems a tad disingenuous to address the tired and the vapid, and then to paint the whole on the failings of the few.  S.I Hayakawa must be turning over in his grave.

Revolution or Evolution

The Tipping PointThe tipping point seems to be tied to technology. Anyone around for the infamous Rodney King citizen video, shot on a camcorder and seen almost immediately around the world and resulting in the tragic 1992 Los Angeles Riots, knew that the times had changed forever. All the major news networks immediately began requesting, and still request, citizen videos, now likely shot on video enabled smart phones. Mr. Rosenberg tracks the origins of blogging back to Swarthmore dropoutEvan Williams Justin Hall, who in the early 90’s began documenting the minutiae of his life, with links to points of interest found surfing online. Justin’s sharing his diary with his growing cult following lit the pilot light with a receptive online community. But the blogging avalanche seems to be tied squarely to the dot.bomb post millenium period, so familiar to many of us who lived in the various tech corridors around the country. Evan Williams, yes the Twitter guy, was a co-founder of Pyra Labs home to a program called ‘Blogger,’ who with some last ditch VC dollars, moved the company’s servers into his apartment keeping the service alive for the then 100,000+ registered users. Within a year’s time more than 700,000 citizen bloggers had a voice, their voice. This created significant buzz and attracted outside interest, Mr. Williams sold his company to Google in 2003 and went on to co-found Twitter in 2006.

The Braindead MegaphoneThe confluence of technology – the internet, word processing and graphic apps, moving to faster and faster broadband and increasingly cost effective wi-fi and wireless solutions and the rapid development of computer technology have all contributed to this democratization of information dissemination. And, please save the lectures on the sanctity of traditional journalism in this age of what Syracuse journalism professor George Saunders refers to as ‘The Braindead Megaphone’ That shark has long been jumped. So, please get off your high horses, bury that hubris under your tomatoes, and join the movement. Oh it might not be a revolution, more an evolutionary change, but it is a citizen movement and, well, you’re no longer in charge.

Some Last Words

Hardy Wallace wins a Really Goode JobOh, I know – a short post. Well there’s more to say and I’ll be blogging live daily from WBC 09. So, please stay tuned. I want to extend my kudos to Hardy Wallace on landing the Really Goode Job, to Rick Bakas, who was an earlAshley Bellviewy contributor to this blog, and hired to be the Director of Social Media Marketing at St Supery, and to Ashley Bellview, who was hired by someone for whom I have the greatest respect, Paul Mabray of VinTank. Good luck and best wishes to all. And wineries, there are still a number of very talented unattached Really Goode Job applicants. Don’t miss this opportunity to bring talent into your wine company.

Help A Winery OutAlso, kudos to Josh Hermsmeyer, aka Pinotblogger, founder of the Capozzi Winery, citizen wine blogger and the developer of the vineyard to cellar iPhone app Juice. Josh has now developed a second application, this time it’s hosted and called Help a Winery Out, similar to the established Help A Reporter Out, but for wine. So, if you’re a citizen wine blogger/reviewer check out helpawinery.com, take a look and sign up. The service is free, always will be, and is meant to bring citizen wine reviewers seeking wines to review together with wineries looking to target them. At press time I was unable to secure confirmation from the partner working on the winery interface, but be assured it’s a respected and valued member of the wine community. This program will help to professionalize the interface between citizen wine reviewers and wineries.

Note: Copyright © 2009 Think Wine Marketing® All rights reserved.

Is The Medium the Message?

Marshall McLuhan“Obsolescence never meant the end of anything. It’s just the beginning.”
… Marshall McLuhan

The opening talk by Paul Wagner of Balzac Communications at the recent kickoff meeting at the St. Helena based CIA’s Rudd Center of the reenergized Academy of Wine Communications was filled with promise.Academy of Wine Communications Promise tempered by concern. Concern that the world of winery public relations was changing, and it was changing fast. How we all communicate our messages and to whom is in a state of flux. Our own local major urban newspaper, The San Francisco Chronicle is the canary in the coal mine when it comes to wine coverage. While the articles and reviews are still top flight, the once dedicated wine section no longer makes economic sense in a world where news, reviews and information availability is ubiquitous anywhere where there is an internet connection. Having been around for awhile, I’ve discovered that change is good for the soul. It’s adapt or perish. Old dogs can and must learn new tricks.

aka Bistro, St HelenaToday at lunch in St. Helena, I couldn’t help but notice the number of smart phones, netbooks and laptops that were visible and in use. The discussion of the decay of manners in American society is a topic for another’s blog, but the use of technology is here and it’s how we now talk with each other. Technology enables how we get and filter our daily information. My invitation to lunch was in the form of a text message sent from a client’s Blackberry to my iPhone, and my response was in kind. We both knew several people in the crowded room, so after the check was paid, we took the opportunity to network. Networking in the old school sense by shaking hands and swapping stories. My host became involved in a longer conversation, so I thought I would do some market research. Alaptop keyboard couple from South Africa was teleconferencing with their winery staff on their MacBook Air laptop. The honeymooners from Florida were posting pictures of their lunch on Facebook for their friends and family back home. The young women from the New York distributor, on an educational trip to the Napa Valley, were documenting lunch and the local wine choices on their company blog. The local vineyard owners were texting details of their luncheon deal back to their CFO. The room was abuzz, and the restaurant was mentioned to countless contacts around the States and around the world.

Reading the NewspaperIt is an incontrovertible fact that we are in an age of permission marketing. Consumers choose what message or marketing centric handshake to accept. We have to ask and answer the question as to what now works, and how do we track the metrics of Public Relations success in this new, new world. How can we still control the substance and intent of our brand messages? Do the number of mentions and the old circulations numbers still function as the measure of success? And, if now, what about tomorrow? The rise of social media and the conversations of wine bloggers, wine forums and the active wine community on Facebook and Twitter are in fact being tracked by Cruvee. Batchbook, a small company contact manager CRM has developed a social media interface that allows registered users to read what their clients are saying on social media networks about their brand(s). Salesforce.com, the cloud CRM application has added a module offering clients the abilitytwittering to listen and interface with their customers on Twitter. So, it is now possible to initiate communications initiatives within specific targeted communities and then track and document the specific resultant metrics via Cruvee, or the appropriate hosted CRM. I happen to think this is more accurate and more effective than a review or a story in a classic metropolitan newspaper, where the accepted metrics were, in my opinion, perhaps more nebulous, by tracking insertions and assuming circulation numbers equaled reads. Of course the numbers won’t look as good, but we are now actually narrowcasting to an identified set of wine consumers rather than broadcasting. If we do this in a limited set of markets, then an ROI can be established by tracking the effect on wine sales within the defined geographies over a 30 day followup period.

Rutherford GrillTraditional CPG best marketing practice must carry the day without regard to the communications medium utilized. In a conversation at the Rutherford Grill,after the AWC meeting and reception, with two giants in winery PR, Jim Caudill and Tim McDonald it was agreed that times have changed, but that the basics have remained the same. The story to have value and to create interest must be unique,Jim Caudill replicable, visceral and verifiable. There must be an objective beyond just awareness. It has to be about managing your winery and your brand(s) reputation. Specific objectives for your communications program must be established and objective points of achievement must be tracked. Action without accountability is likely devoid of merit. Key communication points must be defined and repeated as part of your winery message throughout all tiers, all channels and all outlets. Listen to the pros, incorporate their ideas, and you’ll be effective in achieving your planned programs.

Inconsistency just doesn’t work in winery PR. In my time in the ether of social media, I have witnessed some egregious breaches Twisted Oak Signof sound public relations communication principles. Making the effort and then bailing seems to be worse than not making the effort at all. To be effective in your social media or traditional media engagement efforts it is important to be interesting, consistent, honest, transparent, and personable. The feedback from those in the know is that the format for conversation has changed, the rules of interface have changed, but the idea of

Jug Shop Pinot Days Promotionbest practices remain.There are many wineries and wine shops that do this job well: Twisted Oak, Hahn, St. Supery, The Jug Shop, Domaine547, Winery Collective, Walla Walla Wine Woman, and of course Bin Ends Wine, founders of Taste Live, to name a few. Hahn and St Supery have established the role of social media management as a key winery functional area. With the advent of the the Really Goode Job promotion, the industry has had the opportunity to identify a number of very talented individuals on Murphy-Goode’s bank. It is my fervent hope that many or most of these individuals, finalist or the overqualified, are offered wine industry PR positions.

In spite of the spate of current conversations and all of our observations of old media hand wringing, traditional print media is not yet dead. Perhaps they’re under the weather with a serious case of where are we now introspection. Each week in my iMac mailbox I receive an update from Wine Opinions listing wine reviews and stories that have been printed in major urban USA newspapers. Wine Opinions has also recently identified key wine bloggers and listed key stories covered in this emerging universe. Anyone in the wine business  who has worked with or talked to a wine distributor sales person in current times understands the functional role of reviews. Good to great reviews raise the awareness of your winery or brand with the first line of gatekeepers, and function as virtual key masters unlocking access to the market. So, don’t throw away or demean this still important point of market information.

Imagine How Others Would Do ItI’ve had the opportunity recently to interface with some real wine industry public relations pros and integrated communication wine marketers: Lisa Adams Walter of Adams Walter Communications; Michael Wangbickler of Balzac Communications; Victoria Bunch, former HP PR executive, and Tia Butts of Benson Marketing Group. The individuals in this group along with the aforementioned Jim Caudill and Tim McDonald will help you identify and craft your brand message and act as pilots to assist in navigating your winery through the now churned waters of wine business communications. Remember that Marshall McLuhan advised us that “it’s not the medium it’s the message.”

Note: Copyright © 2009 Think Wine Marketing® All rights reserved.

The Wake-up Call

Niccolo Machiavelli“Whosoever desires constant success must change his conduct with the times.”

… Niccolo Machiavelli

The Cult

My wife’s friend, New York based designer Joe Macal, told her that this summer in the Hamptons the wine selection on the party circuit is no longer the envy of the wine cognoscenti. The cult wines have been locked in the basement wine cellars of the McMansions, and the famous hosts just don’t think ostentatious displays of conspicuous consumption are cool in this economyHamptons Summer Party. Or so opined a vintner friend over Racer 5‘s in Healdsburg last week . I’m guessing there has been a sort of a reverse Veblen good effect going on here. Well, no doubt the tide is out. Wall Street has sneezed, and it’s looking less like a cold and more like the financial flu. The question being asked in the hills and knolls of wine country is ‘are we in a luxury goods recess, or has long-term consumer, even the most affluent consumer, behavior been modified?’ The luxury category segment of the American wine business known as the cult wine market has been on anKinked Demand Curve Model unprecedented run since 1990. While the term is new the concept isn’t. There have always been wines, as long as wines have been produced and sold, that commanded more attention and higher prices. Although we look at absolute pricing as an identifier of value, pricing is relative to the times, and through the inverted kink in the demand/pricing graph made famous by the late Dr Paul Samuelson in ‘Economics,’ and codified by John Forbes Nash in ‘Equlibrium,’ we’ve come to understand that the stratospheric pricing of cult wines infers on the host and guest the psycho-social attributes, as described by Berkeley’s Erving Goffman, of being accepted as members of the club. However, just ask Silas Lapham, membership in the club may not be long term.

The Call

Screaming EagleRinggggg, ringggggg, ringggggg. Sitting bolt up-right in my desk chair, looking past the glare of the iMac screen in the darkened room, I couldn’t believe that at 5 AM my iPhone was vibrating off the edge of my desk. Quickly shaking my head back-and-forth to loose the remnants of the mind numbing long night’s work of pushing ouHarlan Estatet pricing structures for a client’s new label project, I answered my phone without first checking the caller-ID. At the sound of the click the sonorous voice at the other end of the connection jump started the conversation. “Hi, sorry to call you so early, but did you read today’s Wall Street Journal article on the luxury wine market? Well, it struck home. My sales, for the first time in 15 years aren’t so great, and well, I’d like to toss around a few ideas.”

“Not a problem, I’ve been up working on a project, but no, haven’t read any papers this morning. Ah, excuse me. Who is this?”

“I’m that small cult winery, ha, that you pitched last year about this time and I told you I didn’t need any help. But I just got off the Araujophone with a management contact at my Boston asset management firm and, well, I need it now.” “I’ve replanted about half of my vineyard, changing the potential final blend, and the grapes are in 4th leaf. I could bottle the young juice in my primary brand, but the overall quality would be diminished. And if there was ever a time to push the quality envelop, it’s now.” “I’m thinking about introducing another label, in a more popular tier, something that could be sold in other environments, other channels. I’ve always been at the luxury end of the market, but I do buy other wines all the time, and think it would be great to get this new wine in more hands.” “So, how do I do this?”

The Plan

Yes, it is possible for a luxury brand to execute a lower priced, more egalitarian brand strategy effectively. A clear focus is needed and a tier specific brand plan is necessary. There are key questions that need to be asked and answered.

  1. Theme – name, appearance, label, packaging
  2. Personality – place, product, pricing, promotion
  3. Tactical Plan – what, when, where, how, how much
  4. Reputation Engineering – the PR initiative
  5. Sales Effort – DTC, DTT, existing distributors?

Forts de LatourA great team is in place, and to dislocate them for a new project just wouldn’t make any sense. They are part of the positive story for your existing brands and lend credence to the new project. You’re current cult and luxury portfolio is based on Napa Valley mountain grown Bordeaux proprietary reds. Protect the image of the existing luxury/cult brands by reducing production by further defining selection and maintaining real rarity. Use the traditional Bordelais classified growth second label model. Think Forts de Latour from Chateau Latour, Pavillion Rouge from Chateau Margaux, or Le Petite Cheval from Chateau Cheval Blanc. Share the story of replanting with new clones and the early quality displayed by the young vines, whilimages-3e refining the cult winemaking process. Increase exposure and the positive press and/or wine blog buzz opportunities by providing value and access to wines which were formerly unavailable in the broad market from your winery. In a market in which Michelin star chef Daniel Boulud has decided to focus more on value with DBGB Kitchen & Bar, the idea of a cult brand providing a more value centric model is not only timely, but most likely necessary given the reality of today’s world financial markets.

The Wrap

drafting plansCreating any new brand in a rapidly consolidating and saturated broad market is not without risk. Manage your risk by utilizing research to target the best potential accounts. Work with key lighthouse accounts, both on and off-premises in limited geographic markets, who will provide support through newsletter, blog and/or web endorsements, while avoiding brand image diminishing discounting. Be sharp in your pricing to not only maximize profit but to achieve planned depletion velocity and consumer pick-up and repurchase. Your value proposition is leveraged on your existing reputation, built through hard work and a fidelity to your singular vision over the last 15-20 years. Don’t engage in any activity that will diminish the new brand or your existing brands. And, really only do this if you are totally committed to success, and not just as a short term liquidity fix.

Note: Copyright © 2009 Think Wine Marketing® All rights reserved.

Swimming the Grocery Channel

Larry Bird“Push yourself again and again. Don’t give an inch until the final buzzer sounds.”
… Larry Bird

The Client

I’d been listening for more than a hour, taking notes, watching for signs or cues that my client wanted more than a confirmation that the strategic business model conceived more than 7 years ago was still viable in this new, emerging economy. Sometimes it’s just best to let someone talk and talk. And after all the points are expressed, restated and then exhausted the steam just runs out. As my client turned in his chair, at images-3the large cluttered antique desk, holding the latest account sold report, he looked at me and said one last time, ‘just a little more hard work.’ ‘Yep, that’s what we need, a little more hard work.’ I leaned forward in the faded leather club chair, pinching my eyes closed with my thumb and forefinger and started to feel the onset of a migraine. A migraine that would only go away when my client saw the light. I fought back the urge to answer withDana Carvey as Bush 1 my best Dana Carvey imitation of Bush 1 saying “Not gonna do it.” But, self preservation and 7 years of history got the better of me, and I responded that it was time to rethink the winery’s business model. We needed to flatten out the growth curve of the principal brand, while continuing to focus on the best quality. Some of the juice would have to declassified to be sold in bulk, bottled as a value tier or launched as a new brand. If the new tier or label strategy were to be implemented then pricing tactics would allow the winery to open up new channels for wine by the glass (WBTG), independent retail, or grocery distribution. The word grocery resonated like a scratch on a blackboard. My clients face scrunched-up as if he had just smelled a carton of month old milk. He looked up at me over the top edge of his bifocals and said ‘GROCERY?’

The Grocery Channel

I understand your reticence. You’re concerned with endangering, what Tim McDonald CSW refers to as, your winery’s ‘Reputation Engineering.’ And, based on old models, this concern was once justified, but no longer. Today’s grocery is more than a viable constellation solar winerydistribution alternative for wineries of small and moderate size. The world of grocery distribution seems to the uninitiated to be dominated by the big boys, the 30 largest wineries in the USA market. And it seems to be most appropriate as a channel model only for those wineries producing 100,000 cases or more. Well the grocery market, like the wine market is highly differentiated and segmented. Groceries are classified and merchandized by neighborhood and product selections determined by local demographics. A sharp, regionalized well conceived channel strategy is a must. There is a spot across most price points somewhere within the grocery segment for your wine brand(s). There are convenience store concepts, independents, mid-chainKrogers, large regional multi-unit stores, and then there’s Safeway and Krogers. Within these larger grocery brands several regional sub-brands keyed to the needs of their local markets exist. Consolidation, a current trend in the adult beverage business for producers and distributors, has also found its way into the US Food & Drug business segment. It is not a one-size fits all solution anymore. As I look across the country, I see data that demonstrably reveals pricing segment shifts and channel shifts that favors due consideration of grocery distribution for your brand(s). I believe that it’s time to reset your expectations. It’s time to innovate. It’s time to realize that there are new points of price sensitivity that factor into consumer wine purchase decisions. It certainly is time to recognize the need for real-time category information as a key part of your decision making matrix.

Please note that large areas of the country, including the Inter-Mountain West, several control states such as Pennsylvania, and Whole Foods Wine Sectionlarge US Eastern population centers including Maryland, New Jersey, New York, Connecticut and Massachusetts don’t as yet allow wine sales in grocery stores. For the smaller, niche, highly-differentiated winery single unit independents and mid-chains are the most appropriate targets for selected distribution. In the nine county San Francisco Bay Area, the small and mid-chain grocery market is vibrant. Within 100 miles of most wineries in Napa and Sonoma several points of potential distribution exist. Although not meant to be comprehensive, the following list represents strong premium grocery retail wine locations: Oliver’s, Fiesta/Pacific, Molsberry Market, Sonoma/Glen Ellen Markets, Vallerga’s, Ranch Market, Sunshine Foods, Oakville Market, Dean & Deluca, Molly Stone’Nugget Markets Wine Sections, Paradise Foods, Nugget Markets, Real Foods, Andronico’s, Berkeley Bowl, Monterey Market, Farmstead Cheese, Draeger’s, Lunardi’s, Cosentino’s, Diablo Foods and many more. Whole Foods, and Trader Joe’s are also larger specialty food retailers with strong wine programs, and a significant Bay Area presence. Although, I’ve focused on my back yard, I would also target strong local or regional grocers such as the Carolina’s Harris Teeter, Chicago’s Treasure Island, Seattle’s Metropolitan Market, Portland’s New Season’s Markets, Los Angeles metro area Gelson’s and Bristol Farms, Florida’s Publix Markets, Texas’ Central Markets, Arizona’s AJs, Cleveland’s Heinen’s and St. Louis’ Dierberg’s.

A Very Short Course in Category Management

Category Management GraphCategory Management is “a retailer/distributor/supplier process of managing categories as strategic business units, producing enhanced business results by focusing on delivering consumer value.” …FMI ECR Committee

Selling to groceries can seem daunting to the first timer. The concept of management by objective is key to your grocery presentation. What specifically are your goals? How do you hope to achieve your placements? Do you understand how to leverage your brand equity with that of the retailer’s equity? You don’t have to be Gallo or K-J to have definedTrader Joe's goals and a plan. Your brand’s equity is based on your prior distribution achievement, sales history, reliability, pricing and promotions. Understand that this is a business relationship that requires candor, confidentiality, participation and the ability to give unbiased recommendations in reference to the category, varietal and other winery’s products. Wineries of all sizes have the ability to grow and diversify their depletions by taking the category management approach with retailers seriously. Understand that retailers are seeking multiple points of input to get a holistic view of their marketplace. Use your unique position as a smaller winery and your knowledge of the super and ultra-premium price segments to become a trusted adviser helping the grocery buyer to be better at focusing on the end user. In your presentation be objective, be consumer oriented, keep the message simple and focused, be action specific, and sell a ‘win-win’ program.

A very simple analysis is to quantify your opportunity  by comparing the Consumer Development Index and your Business Fine Wine SalesDevelopment Index, What may sound like geek speak to you, is actually a simple concept. CDI is a specific market accounting of the % of sales for an item based on type and price. To access this information you need to refer to data from IRI, Nielsen, Trade Pulse, or other previously discussed wine consumer insights firms. BDI is your actual % of sales within a defined geography. Select markets where CDI>BDI. Calculate the gap as CDI-BDI = a positive opportunity. Then utilizing the formula (Volume/BDI)*Gap = opportunity volume, develop a plan. This is allows you to ask and discover the answers to the 3 basic questions of distribution:

  1. Where are we?
  2. Where should we be?
  3. How do we achieve desired targeted distribution objective

Swim to Win

imagesSelling wine to groceries tends to be a more technical and specialized arena than other available wine sales channels, but not necessarily more complex. Sales is sales. My Dad used to always say ‘sales is a contact sport.’ And in any contact sport you want the best tools in order to just not survive but to succeed. You’ll need to incorporate your market, brand and wine knowledge, salesmanship, business skills and your entrepreneurial mind set. Yes, it’s tough out there, always has been, always will be. But, you’re in the game to win. And if you close your mind to any available channel before a thorough strategic market analysis, win you won’t. As you swim in the grocery channel, utilize technology to access the best market and category information tools to target, prepare, present , close and win.

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