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

The Conversation

Naked City Detectives, Harry Bellaver, Paul Burke, & Horace McMahon“There are eight million stories, in the Naked City. This..has been one of them.”Stirling Silliphant (The Naked City ABC TV series 1958-63)

The Rain

The sound of rain, and just not the sound of rain falling, but the sound of people talking about the rain at the end of what had may just have been the perfect vintage, seemed to divert attention away from the economy, at least for the time being. While the rain, and all the wine country conversations that the rain started, provided a welcome relief from the constant drone that it’s hard out there. It’s really not the time to take your eye off the ball and to forget the market challenges inherent since the onset of the ‘Great Recession.’ For each winery and each winegrower or vineyard owner there’s an unique story. The folks on the flats in mid-Napa Valley likely had a different take on this year’s growingDoug Shafer giving his take on Vintage 2009 season weather than the folks in Calistoga, Carneros, the Vaca or Mayacamas ranges, or in Western Sonoma County, Mendocino, the Willamette Valley, Walla Sun and rain in Oakville, CA looking at the RObert Mondavi Tokalon VineyardWalla or in Santa Barbara. While each unique story suggest a similar outcome, this is a vintage that will unfold over the next several years. Perhaps the critics will pronounce estimates of Vintage of the Century or speculate that the rain has dashed all hopes for a positive result. Perhaps I lack the prescience or the hubris to judge the future of an entire vintage during harvest and crush, but I do have an understanding that a vintage is the sum of the individual experiences of each participant. And, I have an understanding that it’s in the telling of your story that will connect you to your customers.

The Bounce

In this brave new world of permission marketing, and in this time of growing consumer detachment and cynicism driven by the perceived systemic failure of our financial and Henry Paulson,  Bush Treasury Secretary governmental institutions, a review of your traditional marketing message methods has been necessitated, even as the mixed message on the state of the economy is being delivered by traditional mass media. A mention of the names Paulson, Geithner, and AIG tend to initiate a gag reflex in even the most jaded observer. However, today the DowTimoth Geithner, Obama Treasury Secretary Jones Market Index reached a 12 month high and once again climbed above 10,000, in part driven by reports that Goldman Sachs made record profits in Q3. Also noted as a sign that the climb from the bottom is underway are stories in Ad Age Talent Works that Google is Hiring again; and The New York Times reporting that Apple profits are up 47% on Strong Mac Sales. The story on the state of the wine business is even more mixed. Like the citizens of the Naked City, each wine business has its own story, some up by 10%, some flat, and some down 30%. Many wineries are going through an extended period of stress. Vic Motto, Co-Founder, Chaiman and CEO of Global Wine Partners, a St Helena, CA wine industry iBank recognizes the industry wide stress; but, doesn’t see a significant long term dislocation in wine consumer’s buying behavior. Having heard the sea change story before, most recently with the Vic Motto, CEO and Chairman of Global Wine Partnersprediction that Two Buck Chuck would drive consumers permanently away from luxury wines. Didn’t happen. It’s Mr Motto analysis that the American wine consumer is ‘aspirational’ and that wine is and will be viewed as an ‘affordable luxury.’ I’m also in the camp that believes wineries that survive this very tough period will likely, at some point, see a return to the pre-recessionary trends in buying patterns. In an October 15th Associated Press interview, Safeway CEO, Steve Burd sees signs of the turnaround in an uptick in the coffee sales mix and a move back to growth in the premium wines segment.

The Conversation

Technology has provisioned wine industry CMOs with a whole new marketing tool kit. Technology is a tool to be used and appreciated, but not one to be viewed as the long hoped foThe CLUETRAIN Manifestor silver bullet. How we now communicate with our customers has dramatically changed with the development of the web, email, texting, blogs, video, Facebook and Twitter. And in this new paradigm there are three words that have become the mantra of this new technological world in which we all now communicate our stories: transparency, authenticity, credibility. I’d like to add one word, human. This commonsense point was first made in ‘The Cluetrain Manifesto,’ by Rick Levine, Christopher Locke, Doc Searls and David Wineberger, first online in 1999 then in print in 2001, Copyright © by Basic Books. BTW: a 10th Anniversary edition of this must read biz book is now available. While the 10 year timeframe has dated some of the jargon, the core concepts of the treatise remain, especially those listed in the seminal 95 THESES:

  1. Markets are conversations
  2. Markets consist of human beings, not demographic sectors
  3. Conversations among human beings sound human. They are conducted in a human voice.
  4. Whether delivering information, opinions, perspectives, dissenting arguments or humorous asides, the human voice is typically open, natural, uncontrived
  5. People recognize each other as such from the sound of this voice

The first five points in the “Cluetrain’ 95 THESES are a construct that is now an unavoidable communications directive for your consumer facing business. People grow your grapes. People make your wine. People sell your wine, and people buy your wine. Your story, while sharing traits with almost all others in wine’s corner of the CPG market, is unique to your circumstances.

The Case Study

Mike BenzigerIt was harvest time in the fall of 1994. Mike Benziger came out of the winery office to check on the grapes to judge when to start picking on the Family’s Estate Vineyard, located in a collapsed caldera on the Sonoma Valley side of the old dormant Sonoma Mountain volcano. Times were good. The vineyard was always busy from the days of the Glen Ellen Winery start-up through the launch of the premium value tiered Benziger Family Winery. Wines that always over delivered. Mike should have been smiling, but instead he looked troubled. He cocked his head as he stood on the edge of the vineyard, puzzled that he heard nothing. Nothing at all. Just up the hill at his home in Jack London State Park, he rememberedBenziger Family Winery Ariel Shot hearing birds chirping madly as the sun broke through the morning fog. But as he looked down the neatly groomed rows of vines, he noticed that there wasn’t a wild flower, a weed or a blade of grass on the bare dirt underneath the vines. As he walked the rows, Mike noticed that there were no bugs on the vines or flying through the air, no dragonflies, no butterflies. Stopping and reflecting he knew what was bothering him, the vineyard was no longer a living space. Mike thought a moment and considered his options. He knew that this wasn’t the way things should be. At that moment in time he vowed to change the way things had been done, to change the conventional wisdom of how things had always been done. This ancient bowl had supported life Benziger Family Winery Bloggers Visitfor millions of years, and in just a decade of intensive modern farming that had all changed. But, it wasn’t working any longer, and the Benziger farming practices needed to revert to the old ways, to the ways defined by closed system agriculture. Benziger Vineyards needed significant cultural change to recreate a new living farm. And change they did, after 3 years of concentratedThe Insectary at Benziger Family Winery study, a sustainable, biodynamic vineyard started to take shape. The first step was to establish biodiversity. So island gardens were established within the vineyard space to help support beneficial insects; and between every 10th vine row a bed of host plants and flowers were seeded to support a vineyard population of the good guys. Sheep and cows were introduced as natural lawn mowers, with their waste the base of a closed system compost program, so that no chemical fertilizers would ever be needed or would ever be used. Land that was dead just ten years ago was, in less than a decade, now a classic biodynamic closed system living farm. Earth, nature and man came together in a special place that happens to be in my backyard, just north of the town of Sonoma.

Mike Benziger & Kathy Benziger Threlkeld talking with the wine bloggersOn Saturday, October 3, 2009 I had the opportunity, along with a group of wine blogger colleagues, to hit the Benziger Biodynamic Trail at the Benziger Family Winery on Jack London Ranch Rd, just up the hill from the village of Glen Ellen. Our tour group had the opportunity to interface with Mike BenzigerKathy Benziger Threkeld, Colby Eirman, Director of Gardens, and Winemaker, Rodrigo Sotto. The passion in the delivery, even from the well practiced folks at Benziger, was  impressive, especially in closeColby Eirman, Director of gardens at Benziger family Winery quarters over 3 hours. This was a one-on-one conversation and the telling of the story, starting with that moment of enlightenment in 1994. There wasn’t any ducking questions in the active exchange of ideas. We weren’t being sold on a story. We were being invited into an experience. This was a conversation between humans. A few points really stuck with me. The first was that ‘the wines weren’tRodrigo Soto, Winemaker at Benziger Family Winery necessarily better, but that they were different.’ That they reflected this place. The second point that hit a nerve with me was that ‘each year the wine was a time stamp of the vintage.’ Not once were scores mentioned as a descriptor of any of the Benziger grown and produced wines that we tasted that day, although the Rodrigo Sotto’s wines have gotten rave reviews and scores in the traditional wine press. My take away from the day with the Benziger Family and team members was one of transparency, authenticity, and credibility. A team that understood that their plan, in a world now dominated by pull marketing, was that by communicating in this human voice missionaries were created, replicating the message and influencing friends.

The grandchildren of the founder of Park Benziger & Company, and the children of the founder of Glen Ellen Winery, Bruno Benziger are well versed in the finer points of wineNow that's biodynamic, at Benziger Family WInery marketing. But, change must be in their DNA. First selling Glen Ellen, then converting a 200,000+ value brand to a slightly more than 110,000 caseMike Benziger pointing out the native raptor population at Benziger Family Winery sustainable, biodynamic super-premium/luxury brand, while changing their farming practice as stewards of the land. In a time of declining circulation numbers and disappearing newspapers, an effort has been made to maintain contacts with the traditional press, in both the wine and consumer lifestyle focused print media arenas. The Benziger marketing team has fully embraced new media, including Twitter, and wine bloggers. Benziger POS is also available as an online deliverable, further enhancing the green story, while insuring the timely delivery of product sheets, neckers, sell sheets and cut case cards on an as needed by market basis. If you go to the Trade/Media section of the Benziger web site, you can download the Chris Benziger narrated video sales presentation which is a masters class in wine brand marketing. And, if you ever find yourself near Glen Ellen, stop-in and take the tour. As a small family wine marketer, you need to identify and mirror the success stories. The Benzigers have successfully differentiated their wine brands in this difficult, brand saturated market. And, by the way, their wines just aren’t different, the Benziger wines exhibit a specific point of view and IMHO are damn good.

The Story

Mike Benziger in the wine caves at Benziger Family WineryThe Benziger family and team recognized that their best path to the market was through their authentic story told in a human voice to groups of consumers, members of the trade, and to traditional and new media writers. A story that has been replicated to the point that in 2008 almost 175 million media impressions were created. Even though the Benzigers produce in their Demeter Certified Winery 1.32 million bottles of wine, the consumer impressions and strong word of mouth campaign along with a vibrant visitor center program help to create demand beyond the produced supply.  Through their objective mastery of pull marketing tactics, tactics based on an authentic and credible story, the Benzigers have been able to not only create an awareness envied by any enterprise wineco, but a model for any family wine business. The question that now begs to be answered: what’s your story and what are your winery’s marketing plans to maximize brand awareness and sales in what continues, even as the turnaround starts, to be a challenging marketplace?

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

Yes We Can

Rosanne & Johnny Cash“The key to change… is to let go of fear” … Rosanne Cash

Change, Change, Change

Anyone who has lived through the last 3 years, has an awareness that in these transformative times fundamental social change has occurred. You were along for the ride whether you wanted to be or not. Oh, this isn’t the Woodstock Nation’s form of radical social change, or, even the Brown vs The Board ofBrown vs the Board of Education Education emotionally charged social change. In this current period symbols of change were not as visible. No long haired flower children in strange colorful clothes, no angry mobs, no Lester Maddox with his ax handle, and no burning Woodstock posterstreets. The agents of change fit-in as well as ‘The Man in the Grey Flannel Suit’ fit into his era. Most likely you woke up one day and saw that significant cultural change had occurred. Buried in the details of your daily existence, the greed and hubris of those that created the current economic conditions driving this period of change went largely unnoticed until the meltdown. The meltdown which hit as quickly and as surely as those planes hitting the TwinTowers on 9/11. And, as this was happening an evolution of just how it is we communicate concepts, ideas and beliefs rapidly evolved. Into the void stepped a political marketing machine whose brand plan was consideredChris Matthews News Sunday on MBC revolutionary, and was widely disregarded by most professional political pundits. It was an often repeated Sunday broadcast network news analysis that the candidate and his team using these new symbols and social media platforms had no idea what they were doing. And then came the Iowa Caucus. Without regard to your personal set of political beliefs, it seems to be obvious that you as a wine marketer should be studying the observable lessons of the Obama Presidential campaign marketing tactics and the campaign’s use of new media tools with the understanding that how we as wine MarCom managers now communicate and market brand has fundamentally changed.

A Short Case Study in Contemporary Brand Management

Barrack working the crowd on the Campaign TrailIn any brand marketing campaign, the essence and essential truths of the brand must be distilled into a viable message. The message must be replicated and repeated through the use of images, words and symbols. Through the message a visceral connection must be made between the brand and the targeted audience for success to be North Carolina Rally for Barrack Obamaaachieved. In an effort to achieve this success, through effective marketing research, the campaign was able to identify a target audience based on demographics and attitudinal predisposition. A significant portion of this identified audience had a presence on social media. The Obama campaign was an early adopter/implementer of social media platforms. MySpace was dominant in the social media space at the beginning of the campaign, and so an Obama fan page was created, and interested individuals rushed to join the club. As Facebook and then Twitter gained traction, accounts were created to engage voters, and as the Shepard Fairey's Barrack Obama 'Hope' posternumber of fans grew so did the channels for communication and a pool for fund raising was established. Individuals who contributed to the campaign were given an opt-in choice to receive important updates about the campaign and election. YouTube was also a major factor with numerous short videos featuring endorsements, narrative story lines and music like the Will.i. am. ‘Yes We Can’ video featuring the mantra of the ‘Change’ message for the campaign.Will.i.am, Yes We CanThe iconic Obama ‘HOPE’ poster was created by street artist Shepard Fairey, and became instantly recognized as the visual image of the campaign. Third party endorsements, utilizing the ideas of co-branding and borrowed interest, were achieved, with Oprah’s endorsement gaining worldwide press coverage for the Obama campaign. A masterful use of message, image, social media, endorsement and third party advocacy. There was significant push-back against this campaign, but the execution of an integrated brand management plan through the fidelity to the perceived authenticity of message, the engagement and involvement of the many, and a transparency of the process, insured the successful conclusion of stated goals. So, are you to going to mirror this model and move your brand(s) forward towards the adoption by your targeted audience resulting in purchase?

An Even Shorter Conclusion

writing a checkAs I stood in line at the local Safeway this morning the three customers ahead of me all paid by personal check, and I’m thinking ‘people still use checks?’ If you want to live on a cash basis, haven’t ATM cards been around all of our adult lives. This slow adoption of tools made available through technology, even in this technologically sophisticated area of the country, seems to be endemic in the marketing arena of the wine business. I’m not sure if this is ego, uncertainty, or fear of the unknown. But I am sure that those that are frozen by fear will likely not survive in these uncertain economic conditions, or have afrozen in fear chance of thriving in a turnaround. Given the vision allowed by the distance of time and with my apolitical marketing mind-set, I can see the clarity of vision of the Obama presidential campaign, and their effective use of all the current tools available to even wine marketers. Ones that are available for use without the necessity to build a war chest on the scale of a political campaign. Difficult times should light the fires of our creative marketing imaginations. At this time in history, we have to be thinking better, faster and cheaper. One of the key lessons to be learned is that ubiquity doesn’t trump authenticity. The basic idea that I’ve learned sometime in my marketing experience is that while political skills matter there are no magic bullets, or one size fits all solutions for today’s wine marketing challenges. But, identifying, targeting and engaging your consumer audience before, during and after the sale is essential, essential to conceiving and executing your winning wine marketing brand plan.

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

Satori in Sonoma

Studs Terkel“We are more and more into communications and less and less into communication” … Studs Terkel

My father instilled in me an innate curiosity about life and people. He taught me that having the right question may be more important than having all the answers. And most importantly he taught me to listen. I’ve always been interested in how people arrived at their career choices. Was it an accidental journey or a planned path that you’re now walking down. Since my life’s work has been in the wine business, I’m for the most part interested in people who have traveled a similar road. My Socratic style was inspired by Studs Terkel and his examination of the average American working stiff. When someone asks, ‘will there be anything else, sir’, I often respond question in question, “what’s the meaning of life?” This always stops the questioner in his/her tracks. A moment of reflection is sometimes given to a substantive response, but for the most part it often devolves into an embarrassed laugh, or worse into some platitude or other. Whenever I have the opportunity to talk with someone during a wine interaction I like to ask about their first memorable wine experience. What’s that? Well, since you’ve asked, I’m more than willing to share my story.

My father, Howard Corcoran was a character, and in the Irish oral tradition told great stories. He graduated as the Valedictorian from Central Catholic High School in Wheeling, West Virginia and then from West Virginia University with a degree in Law. He never sat for the bar, but instead followed his widowed Aunt Margie to Florida, where she was the business manager for the architect Addison Mizner. His aunt had been married to Arthur McConnaughy the founder of Island Creek Coal Company, the genesis company of what is now ConocoPhillips. My great Uncle was killed defending his mine during a strike, and Aunt Margie was Jerome KernleftBreakers Hotel Palm Beach with a then significant income. So off to Palm Beach with Dad to be near her sister Virginia, who’s husband operated the men’s haberdashery at the Breakers Hotel. Dad quickly landed a job for $1/day as a clerk in a brokerage office, and lived on a yacht owned by American composer Jerome Kern, with his roommate Johnny Love. At night Dad and Johnny headed a jazz combo that played during the high season at all the big parties. This was in the middle of prohibition, but the swells weren’t about to do with out their champagne or booze. My Dad and Johnny had a sideline business of also supplying the party favors. The yacht was used to sail over to Bimini to pick-up a load of Cordon Rouge Champagne, Seagrams whiskey, and Kennedy Scotch. And then the boys sold their haul to the social 400 who inhabited Palm Beach for the winter.

My Mom and Dad got married after the end of Prohibition just as the New Deal was helping to drag the economy out of the SCAN0009depression. I came along as the last of five kids towards the end of the famed boomer generation. I grew up listening to these by then romanticized stories, and knew that in some way, some how wine would be part of my life. My parents often had dinner parties, and Sunday meals were always formal sit downs at the long claw and ball foot table in the big dinning room. Wine was often part of these occasions, and we were always allowed to taste the wines and encouraged to share our impressions. Knowing my Dad’s story, I often asked my father’s friends and business associates about the first time that they thought of wine and went wow.

I still ask this question. I ask it of store owners, and clerks. I ask sommeliers, and chefs. I ask university professors, distributor owners and winery entrepreneurs. And everyone has an answer. That moment of enlightenment seems, while always different, to be a memory worth sharing. Although I grew up enjoying wine with my family in the appropriate social situations, my moment of zen came on theCh Pavie Label
Empress Lilly Riverboatbalcony of my Disney office in Florida tasting samples while creating the wine list for the Empress Lilly Riverboat restaurant complex at Lake Buena Vista Village. It was the mid 70’s and I was tasting the 1970 Ch. Pavie, and all of the sudden I got it. This, my moment of sudden enlightenment, was soon followed by a trip to Sonoma County, California. At the end of a long week I was sitting in my rental car on a cloudy, rainy winter day in the parking lot of the Dry Creek General Store sipping on a bottle of Dry Creek Vineyards Zinfandel. The sun finally came out from behind the dense clouds and a focused beam of light hit my car. At that moment, I knew that this was my home… satori in Sonoma.

Andre TchelistcheffThat my story, but what’s yours? I’ve been so fortunate due to the circumstances of my life and career to have asked this question of governors, congressmen,senators and CEO’s. I especially enjoyed asking this question of some of the icons in the wine industry, including Joe Heitz, Hans Kornell, Mike Girgich, Andre Tchelistcheff, Robert Mondavi, Henri Jayer, Jacques SeyssesJim Barrett, Warren Winarski and Jess Jackson. Their stories were all unique, but what great stories they were to hear. One of the best lessons that any successful wine salesperson can learn is to ask the right question and then listen to the answer. So, do your remember the moment when you first drank a wine and thought, wow? I‘m listening.

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

It’s Time for Imagination

“Imagination is more important than knowledge. For knowledge is  limited to all we noimages-1w know and understand, while imagination  embraces the entire world, and all there ever will be to know and  understand.” … Albert Einstein

images-1-1 All the recent economic and financial story headlines and news feeds that we all receive, read and attempt to digest have led to an industry wide case of psychological indigestion. There is often significant cognitive dissonance in what we want to achieve with in-place business models and the levels of brand  performance  necessary for survival in these recessionary times. We can either retreat to our cellars, heads-in-hand, or rethink our models and create new ways to improve brand success. Sitting down with key staff and analyzing sales and distribution numbers used to be a monthly routine, but this process has now become a weekly, if not a daily exercise. We collectively obsess in the analysis of our flash reports and wonder when and if in the near term there will be a turnaround. Well, soon perhaps, but it’s been my life and wine business experience that difficult times call for imaginative solutions – imaginative solutions that will position your winery to survive in the short term and to thrive in this transformative economy.

The Situation

images-2The closure of the fulfillment/compliance firm New Vine Logistics this past weekend was met with a audible gasp heard throughout wine country. Today we can hear the scramble as a significant number of wineries try to recover their wine, meet individual state and federal compliance requirements, and communicate in the midst of chaos with their customers, clients and fans. In the spate of news articles, analytic pieces and blogs on the subject it became apparent that many of the wineries, the ones that relied solely on a DTimages-4C channel model for sales may need to rethink their distribution. A good case study was discussed a few months ago when I hosted a tour of  three west Sonoma County Pinot Noir producers for a group from HBS. At each stop the same question was asked by the group about the breakdown in the winery’s distribution model. All of these still successful wineries had the same answer: 50% DTC, 50% three tier sales focusing primarily on-premise, but with growth in independent retail and mid-chain sustainable grocery. All three wineries understood that a diversity within their models allowed significant flexibility to refocus priorities as market dynamics changed, and market dynamics have changed, and will change again.

Although a few cult wineries are holding even on club sales, most winerieimages-5s have suffered increased resignations, or clubs shipments placed on hiatus resulting in diminished DTC sales performance. The national wine wholesale channel is no longer open to distributing unproven brands or brands that belatedly realize, with the recent pressure on DTC sales, the need for other tactics to sell and distribute wine. The time to create you own revenue enhancement opportunities is now.

The Lesson Plan

dreamstime_6009024.jpg Although it’s tough out there, it’s been tough before. Something we tend to forget this after periods of  meteoric growth.The US wine business is a product saturated, dynamic and evolving industry  meandering  through peaks and valleys on its way to maturity. But a little imagination on how to market, distribute and  sell you wine brand(s) will help in overcoming even significant obstacles on the path uphill. There are so  many distribution options available to wineries in DTT, DTC, or three tier models just use focus and creativity  in building your base channel strategy.

If your brand has limited distribution, then you have a lot of distribution voids. Start locally. No matter what you call your wine images-6country, you want to achieve distribution in local key reference accounts. Tourist come from all over the world to visit, to taste and to eat. If your wine is on a local must visit restaurant wine list or as a wine by the glass feature it creates not only trial but awareness. If you’re a Napa Valley winery, target the wine list at Cole’s, Tra Vigne or Bouchon. I was at Cafe La Haye in Sonoma last year when a distributor friendimages-3 from Texas ordered a bottle of Radio-Coteau. He’s now Eric Sussman’s Texas wholesaler. Years ago, Schmitt-Sohne, an unknown German wine brand without US distribution, established a tasting room at Disney’s Epcot and within 1 year had distributors in 50 states growing today to be one of the most successful of German wine brands in the States.

In order to build sustainable broad market distribution start building a key lighthouse and/or multi-unit on-premise account base. Begin in your immediate local market, then as production grows expand regionally. If you’re lucky enough to produce wine in a state that allows DTT distribution, or you’re working with a firm such as Inertia Beverage, key on what is now called national accounts.

images-7 Although SW&S’s Mel Dick always advises building your brands on premise  today I believe in a more diverse      distribution strategy. The ascension of the local mid-chain grocery provides quality distribution alternatives for fine    wine  sales. If you’re in St. Louis, you want your wine in Dierbergs, or  in Cleveland at Heinen’s, or at Nugget    Markets in Sacramento. And on a regional or national level distribution and features at Whole Foods will result in    significant sales. If you have a new brand that has garnered 90+ reviews from The Wine SpectatorThe Wine Enthusiast or The Wine Advocate and your goal is regional distribution in club stores such as Costco – then it’s achievable.

If you have unsold wine, understand that the burgeoning private label business is boomingimages-31. Rather than spending resources to launch a second label, consider the development of a private label wine for a regional beverage chain, a  mid-chain Grocer or with an emerging sommelier. The aforementioned Heinen’s in Cleveland offers Vin Hunter, a label developed by Wine Director Ed Thompkins.

Consider distribution in control states. For example, if you’re a small winery and decide to sell wine in Pennsylvania you will be in the PLCB speciality store system opening up the special order market to a state closed to most out of state winery DTC efforts, while providing the ability to access the important on-premise markets in Pittsburgh and Philadelphia.

ian-jpg1In order to drive more guests to your winery plan more effective promotions. Ch Ste. Michelle and Robert Mondavi do this through summer concerts. But this tactic is not just for the iconic destination properties. C.Donatiello has a great summer concert series – most of which are free. Newbies get to discover great wines, associate the wines with a memorable time like Gomez’s Ian Ball’s birthday concert and become members of a growing fan base.

Offer freemiums, such as online complimentary or twofer tasting coupons. Offer free ground shipping oimages1r additional discounts based on quantity purchases. Host a  group of local or visiting wine, food or travel bloggers such as the recent Hahn  vine planting forum, the St. Supery annual bloggers forum, or the Twisted Oak pre-WBC bloggers party.  Establish and maintain your Facebook and Twitter accounts. Don’t treat winery social media accounts as hard sales tools, but occasionally offer specials such as the first chance to get limited production wines. Initially limit this to your contacts, but count on this offer going viral.

images-21Focus on improving your customer service. Recognize the importance of your guests. Greet every visitor with a smile. Over deliver on their brief experience. Call your customers and thank them for their phone and internet orders. Let them know about any events, tastings or winemaker dinners in their home market. Solicit ideas and suggestions and then listen. Reward your most loyal customers at least once per year with an in-house members of the tribe event.

Imagine

images-5This list is not meant to be comprehensive. The above ideas are just suggestions meant to engage you the winery chief marketing officer and to encourage your brand building creativity. You have responsibility for your winery’s success. There is no one out there to hold you’re hand. Bury any inclination towards hubris and arrogance, and listen to what the market has to say. Pay attention to other wineries, big and small that are successful, and study just what it is that they do to create sales. Have the right staff with the right skills in place. Invest in resources, even as margins are squeezed. Spend time in your best markets and keep your eyes and ears open. Keep your pants up and your head down. And be prepared to work harder and smarter than ever to achieve the tasks at hand, but do it with a smile on your face, and the attitude that failure is not an option.

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

Back to Basics

Picaboo Street“When someone tells me there is only one way to do things, it always lights a fire under my butt. My instant reaction is, I’m gonna prove you wrong.” … Picabo Street

Yes, it’s tough out there, maybe tougher than anytime since the immediate post 9/11/2001 period for wine sales. The wine brand market place is saturated, with little or no room for additional undifferentiated brands. The rate of distributor consolidations has increased squeezing out the small winery brand. On-premises national accountNielsens are becoming an even more significant part of current broad market wine sales. There is an increasingly rapid consolidation of the grocery sector, constricting the funnel from winery to shelf placement. And, now the Nielsen Company, in their May 13, 2009 US Wine Consumer Report informs us that even though wine in general is ‘recession-resilient’ the US wine consumer has an economic hangover resulting in restrained spending.

US Wine Market GrowthThe domestic wine market, while featuring new points of price sensitivity and significant channel shifts, is still growing, albeit at a slower but perhaps more rational rate. Is the market growing for your brand? If not, maybe you should revisit some of the basics of marketing best practices. It will also help to have an understanding that the actions that you take today and tomorrow, will help to position your winery to ride upward with the recovery.

project-genomeDevelop a deep understanding of the various to market models available to you as a wine marketer:  the Three Tier System, DTT, and/or DTC. Gain a thorough knowledge of the role of ‘Marketing Agents,’ third party marketers of your wine such as The Wine Spies, Woot Wine, winecliQ, and soon Amazon, Sears and Borders Books, plus a panoply of independent wine clubs.

Hire and retain talent. Find people who share your vision, and have the ability and desire to articulate this to the market. Identify individuals who view innovation as a key strategy. It seems to be an important concept in this phase of the business cycle to have experienced leaders who have previously weathered the inevitable exigencies of  business ups and downs.

Run a flat organization. Create an environment of opportunity. Stress collaboration over hierarchy, and value and reward individuals based on their contributions. And, remember the golden rule of management, to praise in public, and to discipline in private.

Steve JobsRecognize that in recession it’s time as Steve Jobs of Apple once said to, ‘Think Different’. Apple was born in the energy crisis of the late 70’s. The early 1980‘s were a time of great innovation. Glen Ellen and ‘fighting varietals’, Kendall-Jackson’s category leading Vintners Reserve Chardonnay, and Corbett Canyon 1 Ltr varietals from Santa BarbarBadit Tetra Pack Winesa County all debuted in a climate of 22% interest rates and base mortgage rates of 17%. The early 90‘s brought about $2 Buck Chuck, Tetra Packs, Screw Caps, and Cult Cabernets. There has been a continual evolution of the wine market from deserts, to light sweet whites, to the era of jug wine, through the shift to varietals. The current cover of Beverage Industry Magazine features a story about packaging innovation, proclaiming a new ‘French Revolution, Boisset Family Estates pushes the boundaries of wine perception.’

permission marketingPay attention to cultural and market dynamics. In this age of permission marketing, use all of the great social media tools to engage your friends, fans, customers and clients. Get online and in tune with social networking through Twitter and Facebook. Make sure that all of your print trade information is accessible through your web site, such as labels, product information sheets, sell sheets, press releases,file:///Users/johnncorcoran/Desktop/images.jpegacclaim, etc. Put your press kits on USB flash drives. USB drives are green, they can be recycled, the end user decides what’s important to print saving a tree or two, and the reduction in print cost can be significant.

wine tastingsGet on the road and shake hands. No one can tell your story with more authenticity than you can. Do a lunch with market movers each day. If you’re in the market for 2 days, make the first lunch with 10 accounts who don’t buy your wines, the second day can be the thank you lunch for your best in-marketDavid Cole accounts. Get on the phone and talk to your customers. I saw this on Twitter 2 days ago from David Cole of James David Cellars “Surprised a few customers today when I called to thank them for their online orders. Love talking with customers!”

Jay Conrad LevinsonBecome as Jay Conrad Levinson counsels a ‘Guerrilla Marketer.’ Drive your DTC business by innovative marketing. Taste and interact with college alum groups. Do luncheon tastings for faculty groups, i.e., the Stanford faculty tasting. Set-up tasting lunches in large brokerage offices. Do tech company events. The following email announcement is a great example of a must do wine tech event hosted by Smoke Wallin, founder of Wine 2.0:

Subject: Announcement from Wine 2.0 – the second, exclusive, Wine 2.0 Reserve @ Google Event

500-600 Google professionals will attend. Very Casual/Relaxed, Outdoor on theJ. Smoke Wallin patio of the Cafe on Campus
. When: June 19th, 2009, 
Times: 4:00 – 6:30. 
Cost: $325 per winery to pour. 

Winery must be signed up on Winetwo.net to register. Wineries must register who will pour for them in advance.

 Limited to first 25 wineries. RSVP to join us or with inquiries to clay@winetwo.com

Invest in research tools, and get to know your market. For wines in broad market distribution, whether in a three tier model or a DTT model, wine market intelligence is key to decisions regarding your channel strategy, pricing tactics, and distribution model. Marketing intelligence isn’t just for the mid and large sized wineries. It may be as important to the 5,000 to 25,000 case producer, where these decisions are key to surviving and thriving in today’s congestion. All classes of CPGs utilize market intelligence, and there are specific products and companies that provide information to the wine industry.

IRI provides transactional web based data reports for wineries in chain beverage, or in US Food and Drug retail markets, utilizing empowering technology to focus on market performance and brand building

TradePulse provides comprehensive sales, distribution and inventory management services, critical information for managing your sales model.

Nielsen Retail Scan Data provides a robust reporting engine on current transactional data from the retail chain marketplace. Provides information on what are you selling and where are you selling. This is important as a tool for checking your strongest and your weakest markets.

WINEDATA Pricing Report is a source of competitive supplier pricing. This is important in helping to determine your brand and/or varietal competitive frame, and for tracking pricing tactics and promotional activity within this frame.

Christian MillerFull Glass Research is an independent firm providing primary wine industry marketing research operated by Christian Miller. This firm helps you choose the right methodology for your budget, by separating the nice to know issues from the important to know issues. A key component to understanding market dynamics necessary to making those important decisions.

MKF Research, founded by Vic Motto, is now headed by Christian Hill, and is a division of Frank Rimerman, Co LLP. MKF Research has done primary market studies on varietal and category pricing, ranking markets by varietal, and tracking pricing segment shift patterns. This is an aid in determining your market distribution model.

Joe MontanaHopefully your goal in the wine business is to build market value. This is your passion. You do this because you must. Really, because it’s nose to the grindstone time. Basically you need to work harder and smarter than your competitors. It is not the time to cut back on core business resource allocations, either human or capital. Use these resources to identify and fill distribution voids. And, remember to pay attention to the basics.

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

Networking Matters More Than Ever

Oscar Wilde“There is only one thing in life worse than being talked about, and that’s not being talked about.” … Oscar Wilde

In a modern computer centric world our Rolodexes have for the most part been replaced by CRMs. We’re wired and connected through our desktops, laptops,Rolodex netbooks and smart phones. We tend to ping each other rather than talk to each other, through connections on Linkedin, Facebook, FriendFeed and Twitter. How we identify and track our networks has changed, however it is still clear that the power inherent in networking has never been more important than in today’s product saturated wine market.

This week I received an e-mail from a dedicated reader in my blog network who made the following observation on contemporary interpersonal communications: “With all the focus Screaming Eagle Labelon social networking, I’m worried that the signal gets lost in the noise…So much noise that the point of social networking – building relationships – can get lost. Especially if you’re trying to sell high-end wine, you need deep relationships with consumers, not ones created in 140 characters or less. Facebook will never replace face-to-face meetings, lunches, interview, etc. It can augment, but not replace.”

Dear Reader:

The specific idea behind my blog was an attempt to raise the level of discourse concerning the field of contemporary wine biz marketing issues, and the concomitant desire to create a dialog with my readers. Part of this contemporary marketing landscape is the need for the effective application of e-marketing skills as applied to our complex, saturated corner of the CPG category. Of course there are often no real solutions in a single microblog post people talkingexpressed in a 140 characters. But perhaps there are answers and solutions in the resulting conversation. Effective wine marketing is a series of integrated actions leading to planned outcomes, trackable through specific metrics. Social media is a brand awareness tool that works only in concert with effective implementation of channel strategies, field brand execution, promotions, pricing, etc. Murphy-Goode’s current promo would be inauthentic, and ineffective if they didn’t have their brand house and e-house in order, and a fully developed network of guests, customers, clients and fans. Murphy-Goode is effectively reaching out to existing and new customers, creating additional brand touchpoints.

In an attempt to clarify the role of Social Media on improved brand performance, please note an observation from Pahlmeyer Chardonnaymy experience and noted marketing research in that wine consumers have a limited # of brands, or varietals in their preference set(s). Any mentions from good print reviews, to a product placement in a Demi Moore movie, or a write up by Alder Yarrow in the Vinography wine blog will tend to place one’s brand on the tip of the consumer’s tongue, and tend to predispose and shape  consumer  purchase activity, the goal of any cogent marketer. Also, winery sales management need compelling reasons to communicatNoisee to their distributor partners, gatekeepers and consumers. If a certain number of mentions, perceived as noise, predisposes a positive response from the audience, all to the good. The conversational noise of the Social Net can be be filtered into viable wine marketing buzz with the use of the Social Media aggregation and syndication tools from Cruvee.com. So, yes the Social Media digital handshake augments, supports, and sometimes drives commerce as a new part of old school wine industry networking best practices.

My blog is 1 of approximately 4 million existing weblogs that are written in total and 1 of about 250+ wine marketing blogs. My readership is targeted to a specific niche market, the emerging tech sector of wine marketing, i.e., CellarTracker, VinTank, Cruvee, AbleGrape, etc., also including the winery brand management, marketing research, consumer insights, anacademic analysisd strategic planning arenas. To limit my discussions to just deep academic analysis and thought, would perhaps limit readership, and in turn limit an understanding of the Social Media e-tools now available. But, please don’t confuse brevity with lack of thought or insight. Although reports like the foundation VinTank Social Media White Paper, are perhaps more important in moving the awareness needle forward, the bloggersphere performs a key wine business communication function . I’ll concede that many blogs are personal journals, quickly written, or restatements of news feeds, and that some may disappear without reader remorse. But perhaps blogs are like Thomas Paine’s Common Sense pamphlets, Red Meat issues meant to stir the pot, with some postings leading to a positive, meaningful discourse that moves the conversation forward.

Wine NetworkingAlthough I’ve focused my blog on wine business Social Media issues, hopefully I’ve done so with the POV of pragmatic integration. My goal has been to move at least one person to be a better wine marketer.  I don’t have all the answers, just a part in the real world approach to contemporary wine marketing that works. Marketing that works because it includes talking to and more importantly listening to our customers. Yes networking matters more than ever because we’ve now included the end user as a focus of that network. And, while our handshakes are now often digital, they hopefully convey the modern wine marketer’s intent to form meaningful, nurturing adjunct relationships in the new wine marketplace.

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