Haiti – Roshambo – The Winter Fancy Food Show – Wine Tastings

“Man should not consider his material possession his own, but as common to all, so as to share them without hesitation when others are in need.” … St Thomas Aquinas

Haiti

Referencing what is now a well publicized event, Palate Press Publisher David Honig announced the teaming of the online wine magazine with ‘Brother, Can You Spare a Bottle.’ Palate Press is asking the wine world to contribute that special bottle of wine from your cellar for an online wine auction, with 100% of all proceeds being contributed to the American Red Cross Haitian relief effort. The celebrity Hope for Haiti Telethon is over, and the star power of George Clooney and Brad Pitt have exited stage right. And, while the NFL has stepped up with a drive to raise funds for Haiti via cell phone texting, it’s now our industry’s turn to step up, and offer some of the best of our resources, as we often do.

Those of us who make our home on the west coast, know that but for luck, this could be us. We live with occasional shaky ground and the fortunately less frequent significant earthquake event. But unlike Haiti, which is the poorest of nations in the western hemisphere, those of us in the wine business know that sometimes part of our daily decision process is whether to have a Syrah or a Pinot with our roast Rocky Chicken, and not the Haitian’s constant plea of  ‘where can I find food or water today.’ It’s likely that, by the time this post is read, Think Wine Marketing’s donation of a 1.5L of 2004 Radio-Coteau Savoy Anderson Valley Pinot Noir will have been sold (and it has – thanks to Andy Demsky of Shafer Vineyards). So, thanks to those who not only bid at Palate Press on TWM’s lot #13, but on all of those who bid and to those who provided the most interesting selection of wine collectables for this unfortunately necessary outreach. However, there still are many terrific lots in the auction catalog for your consideration, and it’s not too late to submit your own bottle(s) for bid. TWM’s view is that this isn’t a hand-out, but a hand-up to those who are now most in need of assistance.

Roshambo

The Santa Rosa Press Democrat recently ran an article covering the closure of Rashambo Winery and the subsequent withdrawal of Naomi Brilliant from the wine business. It is an interesting read, but to me this is a story of the career redirection of one individual and not a symptom of a wider wine industry systemic financial failure. What follows is a comment by Think Wine Marketing made as part of the conversation at Alder Yarrow’s Vinography thoughtful analysis in his article “Marketing and Branding Do Not a Winery Make.”

TWM: “Thanks for the cogent POV re another wine business closure. I don’t see the Roshambo case to be an example of a canary in the coal mine. A wineco’s economic sustainability in today’s economic and cultural environment, in reality, requires a complex set of marketing and financial skills that go beyond the visuals of buildings, labels, and personalities. And it’s more than communications, pricing and promotions. Basics include, as part of a long skills list, the development of a diverse strategic channel model: Three-Tier distribution, DTC (bricks & mortar visits, winery iStore, wine-club, and ecommerce), and DTT; and, the implementation of a focused market model to answer the questions of who, what, when and where your wine can and should be sold. As a wine biz bootstrapper that means going out to targeted markets and shaking a lot of the right hands, the hands of consumers, buyers and decision makers with the express intent of revenue creation. For a variety of financial and personal reasons, many lifestyle wineries still exist , and yes a few of these will close, with Roshambo being the most recent example. It seems as though Ms Brilliant is now marching to the beat of a different drummer.”

The above comment and an additional comment made by TWM on Alder’s post reflects TWM’s take on the well documented change of direction for Ms Brilliant and the Roshambo Winery. Success and failure often travel down the same road, but from this perspective, one winery’s hiatus doesn’t a stampede make.

The Winter Fancy Food Show

I attended the NASFT Fancy Food Show this past Monday, January 18th, at the Moscone Center in San Francisco. The production and sale of food is not only part of my life/career experience, but part of my DNA. My varied background includes stints in Disney food & beverage management and as the buyer/operator of Walt Disney World’s grocery ops. Plus, my Grandfather D.M. Sears, a food scientist, worked for the H. J. Heinz Co. in Pittsburgh, and for a leading wholesale grocery concern Reid, Murdock & Company in Chicago, before founding his own branded food production company in Ft Wayne, Indiana, producing ketchup, mustard, sauerkraut, deviled ham, relishes and pickles. The pickle business still survives as Sechler Pickles, thanks to the acquisition by Ralph Sechler of my Grandfather’s St. Joe, Indiana pickling stations. But more than being part of my DNA, I always learn quite a bit from contemporary specialty food marketers re.:

  • trends
  • packaging
  • promotions
  • marketing communications
  • relationship and business development
  • positive examples of small biz bootstaping
  • channel models and channel strategy in a consolidating market

Having only one day to cover the multi-hall location of a show with more than 1,300 exhibitors, these are booths that grabbed my attention:

J&D Foods, the home of Bacon Salt, and Baconaise and now bacon popcorn
Nueske Applewood Smoked Meats…can you say bacon. This Wisconsn based producer is very well known and valued in food service. Also, a great consumer facing brand.
Mia’s Kitchen, a division of Don & Son’s. Not only my hometown friends (I once worked for Mia’s dad), but quality sauces in top drawer packaging.
Jelly Belly, always innovating with product and packaging. Did you know that they offer Jelly Belly wine pairing recipes?
The Craft Brewers Association booth. I’m guessing that you wouldn’t be surprised to hear that this was the busiest booth at the show on Monday. Not only were interesting beers available to taste, but they were being poured but an impressively knowledgeable, somewhat quirky group of passionate brewers.

The takeaway from this event that can be of value to smaller family businesses is that in this greater CPG segment consumer facing brands are experiencing the same consolidating channels and product rich fast product cycles as wine, the following strategic actions matter:

  • Focus
  • Quality
  • Innovation
  • Packaging
  • Sharp pricing
  • Know your product
  • Have an elevator pitch
  • Professional but friendly demeanor
  • Owner involvement in sales and marketing
  • Diversified channel strategy and implementation
  • Have a real, hands-on relationship with your market

Notable Upcoming Wine Tastings

This Thursday, January 28, 2010 The Vines of Mendoza is conducting an online wine tasting with Mendoza winemaker of note, Walter Bressia. Although there are two ways to participate in this tasting, either via a Webinar, or through a real time Twitter tasting, I’m going to participate on Twitter. I’ve been looking forward to this tasting since receiving my wines from Vines of Mendoza, last week, and it looks like atleast 2 of my wine blogging colleagues will be participating,  Frank Gutierrez of Frank Loves Wine and Ward Kadel, aka drXeNo. I’ve actively participated in prior online tasting events, previously on the Taste Live platform, such as

Open that Bottle Night at Back Room Wines

Hospice du Rhone 2009 at Estate Sonoma,

Pinot Noir tasting at Wilson Daniels organized by Lisa Mattson and Agent Red of The Wine Spies

Jordon Mackay’s “Passion for Pinot”  Taste Live Event at The Jug Shop. 

All the Taste Live and Twitter wine tasting events have been a blast, and more than informative, and effective in creating wine centric conversations, while also creating brand buzz. While I’m familiar with Argentinian wines, I’m not familiar with Argentinian wines at these price points. Last year, I picked up my friend and wine biz colleague Scott Becker at the San Jose Airport at the end of a long flight from Argentina, after his plane was diverted from SFO. All he could talk about was the quality of the top end wines now available from Argentina, especially those from the Vines of Mendoza. Now I’ll be able discover for myself. As a family winery, have you considered a wine tweet-up or the Taste Live format to create buzz and awareness for your wines? If not it should be on your brand promotions calendar for 2010.

On Saturday, January 30, it’s ZAP’s 19th annual Zinfandel Festival at San Francisco’s Ft. Mason, that’s on this wine marketer’s calendar. Zinfandel has been on my map since my earliest wine tasting experiences, and this is an event that if you’re a member of the press, trade or a consumer, should be on your bucket list. I’ve been to 10 ZAPs, and circumstances prevented me from attending last year. I’m not missing this year. Yes, I know it’s crowded, and the crowd likes to have a good time, but that’s part of the excitement. And it helps to create a positive buzz, and reinforce the role that Zinfandel plays in the culture of California’s wine industry. Word is that the 2007 Vintage is outstanding. So stay tuned for my take on the ’07 Zins in a future post. I’m also looking forward to saying hi to old and new friends. Also, ZAP is not only wine blogger friendly, but on the cutting edge of recognizing the contribution made to Zin awareness by this group of communicators. So, a special thanks to my colleague, Thea Dwelle, for her contribution in making this happen. If I don’t see you online Thursday afternoon for the Vines of Mendoza Taste Live event, hope to see your IRL at ZAP.

Note: Copyright © 2010 Think Wine Marketing® All rights reserved

Reflections of a Wine Business Blogger

“Sometimes I lie awake at night, and ask, ‘Where have I gone wrong?’ Then a voice says to me, ‘This is going to take more than one night.’”

Charles M. Schultz

The Decision to Write

As my eyes opened on the morning of January 1, 2010, I realized that I had survived what Time Magazine described as ‘The Decade from Hell.’ Oh, a bit beaten-up and feeling a little like one of John Stewart’s Black Pig Meats salumis at the end of the sausage making process. Yes, the economic events of the past 10 years have put most of us through the grinder, but here we are at the other end, having survived to make, market and sell wine another day. A little more than 9 months ago, I started writing the Think Wine Marketing blog. My timing coincided with the bottom of the business cycle. In short order the US stock market had lost more than half it’s value, ending March ’09 with a Dow Jones Market index below 6,500. Housing values, the base of asset wealth for most consumers continued to decline in all but a handful of smaller SMSA’s. Credit to small businesses had been so severely constricted as to be non-existent, especially for wineries with slow moving, devalued inventories. Times were tough for the wine industry. Before this recession, now called ‘The Great Recession,’ the wine industry has always been considered to be recession proof; but, this time at best our industry has proven to be recession resilient. Several cultural and structural changes were accelerated by the difficult economic times that had direct effects on wine sales. As consumers rushed to reduce credit card debit and increase their rate of savings , a significant downward segment shift hit wine pricing almost overnight. The pressures on pricing and the shift from fine dining to a more casual food experience with an emphasis on value, led to a rapid change in channel strategy for many wineries. The rapid movement from an on-premise focus to retail distribution had eviscerated any pricing leverage that formerly not sold at retail wineries had displayed, squeezing profits and/or creating negative margin sales. In light of the current times I decided to write a blog focused on wine marketing. A blog that in part told stories that would be of some help to smaller family wineries in these difficult times. I took a Socratic approach of creating a central narrative and then providing a workbook like ending. As I look back over the last 3 quarters of 2009, and look forward to 2010, I hope that I’ve helped provide some positive mentoring to at least a few family winecos out there in the ether.

The Metric System

While never concerned about gross numbers as the sole metric of success, as an experienced marketer I do track the number of hits and reads that the Think Wine Marketing blog receives. However, my primary concern is/and has been just who is it that reads my blog. It is specifically wine industry marketing centric. My readers for the most part, based on comments and emails are winery principals, GMs, CMOs, PR directors and brand managers. Based on blog originated emails, which have outpaced blog comments by a factor of 10, the TWM blog also has a demonstrable following in finance and in tech. I’ve written 33 blog post in nine months, that have received 149,117 hits of which 56,321 (37.8%) were a result of search engine crawlers, resulting in a net of 92,796 reads, numbers easily exceeded by experienced wine writer/bloggers like Tom Wark, Alder Yarrow and Steve Heimhoff in just a few months – with the following think pieces being the top 10 posts – re. close of business on 1/6/2010.

2009 Top Ten TWM Posts

  1. Nov 17            7,475   — Doctor Pinot’s Thanksgiving
  2. Oct 7               7,434   — Revisiting Marketing 101
  3. Nov 4              7,126   — A Conversation about marketing wine online w/Paul Mabray
  4. Sep 17             6,956  — Marketing by Pulling Corks
  5. Oct 20            6,334  — The Conversation
  6. Sep 24            6,165   — Does your winery have an effective OND plan?
  7. Aug 26           4,534   — Dispatches from Wine Country
  8. Dec 23           4,430   — Y2K10: Part Two: late 90’s tech effect on wine ecommerce
  9. Jul 27             4,259   — Dispatches from the 2009 Wine Bloggers Conference
  10. Sep 9              3,860  — Wine Brand Building Focus

Beyond noting that I have loyal readers, who have provided significant support, input and feed back, the fact that the Think Wine Marketing blog has received recognition from the wine industry and in the wine press is gratifying.

That Was the Year That Was

  1. The March 2009 acquisition of Scrugy by Cruvee in early March 2009 by CEO/Founder, Evan Cover. Scrugy Founder and Chief Technology Officer, James Jory joins Cruvee as V.P. of Technology.
  2. The Think Wine Marketing Blog is launched on March 26, 2009 with the post ‘Viral Marketing Strategies for Wine Businesses.’
  3. The State of the Wine Industry Social Media’, by VinTank, Derek Bromley and Tom Wark published 5/6/2009 and available for download on the VinTank web site. IMHO this is and will be considered the foundation document of the wine industry’s involvement in the social media movement.
  4. American Canyon based wine shipping and fulfillment company New Vine Logistics suspended business operations on May 29th, 2009. The story was broken on Twitter by Larry Chandler, aka LarrytheWineGuy.
  5. The 2009 Wine Bloggers Conference at the Flamingo Resort in Santa Rosa, CA the last week of July, 2009. This was not only a well planned and executed conference, but the opportunity to meet so many wicked, smart citizen bloggers was amazing. Kudos to Joel Vincent and the Open Wine Consortium.
  6. The August 13th appointment of Think Wine Marketing founder John Corcoran (that’s me) to the Board of Advisors at Cruvee.com, a wine business intelligence platform.
  7. On August 25th, Des Moines Iowa environmental attorney Charles Becker publishes ‘Wine and Global Warming: An open letter to the President.’
  8. RJ’s Wine Blog names the TWM blog of the Month for September 2009. If you’re not reading the frequent posts from Avenue A/Razorfish alum, R.J. Hilgers, please click on the link to check this A-List wine blog.
  9. On September 11th The Wine Spectator Senior Editor James Laube reports that cult Pinot Noir producer Kosta Browne sells for a reported $40 million.
  10. On September 28, Williams-Sonoma Founder Chuck Williams speaks on the lessons of customer service at Sonoma’s Maysonnave House.
  11. On September 29th, Wine Business Monthly publishes, as a cover lead, TWM author John Corcoran’s CRM, sales force automation article.
  12. On October 5th, the online wine magazine Palate Press published Paul Mabray’s article ‘New VinTank Research Analyses Wine iPhone Apps‘, winning praise for both wine consumers and the wine/tech segment of the wine industry.
  13. On October 25th Amazon suspends their on again off agin wine sales efforts. The demise of the Amazon.com wine store was laid at the feet of the arcane and balkinized labyrinth of state wine laws. Wine writer, W. Blake Gray wrote in the December 3rd post on his blog the Gray Market Report that Amazon withdrew because of taxation issues, “not just on wine but on everything.”
  14. On October 28th Cruvee & Vinfolio announce a partnership in which user generated reviews incorporated into Cruvee’s social media management platform. On November 24th Cruvee and Cellertracker announce a partnership giving Cruvee clients direct access to over 1.1 million wine reviews. This series of appointments/partnerships along with the subsequent December 3rd launch of The OwnIT movement helped to consolidate wine data and give wineries control over their brand communication. This innovative and free service from Cruvee.com was created to provide a platform “giving you control over how your wine is represented online.”
  15. On December 23rd the TWM blog received recognition from Dale Cruse and the Drinks Are On Me blog as one of the top new food and drink blogs of 2009. Bob Dwyer wrote a very nice review, which is not surprising given the quality of  writing on his blog, the Wellesley Wine Press.
  16. On December 28th Eric LeVine released a sneak peak demo of the new CellarTracker redesign.
  17. The TWM blog landed the #5 spot for the 10/7/09 post ‘Think Wine Marketing: Revisiting Wine Marketing 101’ on the 2009 Most Visited Blog Postings List on Winebusiness.com.

Observable Lessons

Dear Reader, I hope that my blog posts helped you to imagine ways to develop not only a sustainable wine business model but to envision more innovative route to market strategies and branding initiatives for 2010 and beyond. 2009 was a year that presented significant challenges to wine businesses regardless of size or location. It is my experience that out of chaos comes innovation. Observations that I’ve made over time that the Great Recession tended to reconfirm are: Identify your strengths and outsource functional areas in which you don’t do well; Hire and retain talent; Understand, even in an age of social media, that you own and are responsible for your brand(s) reputation; Understand that wine marketing is more than price reductions and promotions; Diversify your channel strategies; Rethink three tier distribution and investigate DTC (as more than tasting room sales) and DTT solutions to include digital distribution; Incorporate the appropriate sales and marketing focused technologies such as CRMs; Convert your wine business from a production centric culture to a sales and marketing focused culture. It’s now time to roll up your sleeves, and to focus efforts on driving your wine businesses to success in the new year, and in the new decade.

Note: Copyright © 2010 Think Wine Marketing® All rights reserved.