Dispatches from Wine Country

The Blessing of the Grapes

“God is in the details.” … Ludwig Miles van der Rohe

The Blessing of the Grapes for the 2009 Harvest at Schramsberg VineyardsIt’s late August in Northern California wine country, and the annual wine grape harvest has once again started. At most wineries in North America it’s long shifts and no days-off time for the next several months, as full attention to the details of wine production are the primary focus of each winemaking team. In spite of all the inevitable hard work ahead, the first load of wine grapes is always met with anticipation, and the arrival of the first bins are often celebrated by the staffs at the various winery. It’s a ritual that likely goes back to the historical agricultural origins of grape growing and winemaking in recognition of theFirst Grapes in - Pinot Noir from Richburg Vineyards, Napa/Carneros cycles of nature, and the task of hand crafting what was once just sunlight on new plant growth into a wine that one day will be opened in celebration of some special moment in time. This past The Celebration Begins at Schramsberg Blessing of the Grapes for Vintage 2009Tuesday, August 18th I had the opportunity to witness the ‘Blessing of the Grapes’ at Schramsberg Vineyards. The first load of Pinot Noir from the Napa/Carneros based Richburg Vineyard was pristine. Small berries on small clusters of deeply colored fruit on bright green, yet to lignify, stems. Based on the early returns, 2009 looks like a spectacular vintage, at least for Pinot Noir and Chardonnay. As a bonus I had the opportunity to meet iconic National Geographic and now famed wineSamantha Brown interview Schramsberg Winemaker, Keith Hock by the Bladder Press at the Blessing of the Grapes Vintage 2009 countryThe Schramsberg Vineyards Family Heritage Continues with Vintage 2009 photographer Charles O’Rear, who’s work I’ve long admired. I also had the chance to meet Samantha Brown who was filming segments for her Travel Channel show. More importantly I got to meet and talk to Hugh Davies, his wife Monique and their childern, a few of the Schramsberg board members and a proud grandfather. This ceremony wasn’t just a celebration of Crush, but it was about heritage, continuity, and being a member of a wine making family. It was a seminal bonding experience for family, staff and crew. While Schramsberg Vineyards PR & Marketing Manager Matt Levy had the press bases covered, this was not a publicity event, but a timeless ceremony that for me reconfirmed Ben Franklin’s pantheistic beliefs that nature is god.


Boot Scooting BBQ

“They paved paradise and put up a parking lot,
With a pink hotel, a boutique,
And a swinging hot spot.
Don’t it always seem to go
That you don’t know what you’ve got till it’s gone?
They paved paradise and put up a parking lot.”   …. Big Yellow Taxi by Joni Mitchell

The arriving crowd at the Scully Ranch for the Land Trust of Napa County 2009 BBQWith the smells of wine harvest filling the air in the flatlands and hillsides in the Napa Valley, and rising seasonal temperatures in what the locals refer to as Crush weather, it was time for the annual Land Trust of Napa County fundraiser. The great thing about attending a non-profit fundraiser in wine country is that you know that the wine and food are going to be something special, and the ‘Boot Scooting BBQ’ at thAuctioning a Magnum Vertical Of Viader Napa Valley Cabernet for the Land Trust of Napa County 2009 Fundraiser at Scully Ranche Scully Ranch on Mt. Veeder didn’t disappoint. The Land Trust of Napa County, like all non-profits in these challenging economic times is facing a funding crisis, and this event was an effort to refill their depleted coffers. The LTNC is permanently protecting more than 55,000 acres of agricultural and open space lands throughout Napa County. More acreage than BBQ great Ray Green at the Scully Ranch for the Land Trust of Napa County Fund Raisercurrently planted to wine grapes. Protecting the natural lands, scenic and open spaces and the agricultural heritage benefits all the inhabitants of wine country – residents, visitors, businesses and wildlife alike. And through fundraisers, like the Saturday event at Scully Ranch, will continue to do so for future generations. Thanks to organizations like the Land Trust of Napa County, they haven’t ‘paved over paradise and put up a parking lot.’ BTW: The perfect smokeThe hard working volunteers burning the midnight oil raising funds for the Land Trust of Napa County 2009 Fundraiser at Scully Ranchd traditional Texas BBQ from world BBQ champion chef Ray Green was a smash hit. And my table rediscovered a fondness for Saintsbury’s Carneros Chardonnay and Carneros Garnett Pinot Noir, both the right weight and style for a warm evening and full plates of Ray Green’s BBQ. All of the volunteers worked so hard, and deserve a hand-up. So if you live here, visit here or sell wine from this area of the world, click on this link and send in a few bucks. It’s needed, it will be appreciated, and it will help to continue the preservation of this special corner of the wine world.


So You Want to be a Wine Marketer?

Walt Disney and my old boss, Mickey Mouse“When you’re curious, you find lots of interesting things to do.” … Walt Disney

One of the attributes that I always look for in someone who tells me that they’re a wine marketeer or that they want to be a wine marketer is an unquenchable thirst for knowledge. Oh, not just being a wine geek. Truthfully, that’s not going to cut-it in these hyper competitive times. You really have to have an unrelenting curiosity about life, about culture, and about others. When I used to move around a lot a skill that I developed, one that has served me well in my career in wine marketing, is what they call in the armed services ‘living on the economy.’ This basically means immersing yourself wholeheartedly and without reservation in the circumstance of the culture in which you live. It’s dropping your fears and embracing life. It means reading newspapers, magazines, books, news feeds, and not just wine industry based materials. It means listening to music, seeing plays and movies, engaging and talking to people of all ages. Well, basically living life, but paying attention while you do. Really good actors are able to observe those around them in their daily lives for cues on Duck Blind Liquors, Santa Monica, CAperhaps a current or future performance. This is a necessary skill for any good marketer. Years ago while making a sales call at Duck Blind Liquors on Montana in Santa Monica, I noticed a small, unshaven and rather unkempt man intently watching me as I made my pitch to the store owner. Thinking that the man wanted to make a purchase I offered to step aside to facilitate a possible sale. The man demurred and saiDavid Mametd that he was writing something, and was just imagining a scene. After the man left, the store owner identified the customer as playwright David Mamet, who was drawing information from the encounter. Well, as wine marketers we should always be doing the same thing. Informing ourselves about the circumstances of our culture. Here are a few articles and links that I felt informed me as to what’s transpiring out there in the greater universe which will now tend to help shape my future marketing decisions.


Please note that although the following links have good useable information, a few may require free registration or may time-out after being up for seven days:

‘Word-of-Mouth Gains Volume’ article from Brandweek re. contrary to other ad categories increased WOM ad spend

Better wines in groceries due to fine dinning slowdown now followed by availability of prime beef (may require free registration)

Timely WSJ article ‘The New, Faster Face of InnovationThanks to technology, change has never been so easy—or so cheap’

Interesting must read on ‘Wine and Global Warming: An Open Letter to the President’ (via environmental attorney, Charles Becker)

An article from Restaurants & Institution ‘Social-Media Marketing for Restaurants: 10 Tips’ – can apply to wineries

Interesting article re anonymity of food critics

A good read re. ‘New Orleans’ Chefs remembering Julia Child’ in context of Julie & Julia movie  BTW: Loved the movie!

Be involved and be aware. You never know when or where you’ll find that next big idea. Be inquisitive. Ask Questions, and then sit back and listen to the answers. Stay intellectually curious. It’s the engine that drives the effective, creative wine marketer. And that’s you, right? The innovative, creative, effective wine marketer?

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

Focus on Blocking and Tackling

200px-Pat_Riley“When you’re playing against a stacked deck, compete even harder. Show the world how much you’ll fight for the winners circle. If you do, someday the cellophane will crackle off a fresh pack, one that belongs to you, and the cards will be stacked in your favor.” … Pat Riley

During Monday’s NBA Finals game 3 something seemed off with Kobe Bryant. His focus just wasn’t there. ThisKobe Bryant usually isn’t the case. Kobe is arguably one of the top 10 professional basketball players of all time. His skill set is matchless, and usually so is his focus. Needless to say, the Lakers lost. We’ve seen this lack of focus in sports before with the Pens’ goalie Fleury in last week’s NHL game 5 at the Joe, or with pitcher Barry Zito most of last year at the Phone Booth. It seems that a key observable attribute among those that succeed in any endeavor is the ability to focus on the task at hand. Focus that is the culmination Kennethfoxof awareness, preparation and execution. As a matter of course the wine business entrepreneur is often pulled in multiple directions, and in place of the necessary laser like focus on the end game these distractions tend to diffuse one’s original vision. In observing this situation, a former associate who prior to his life in the wine business was a senior US Navel officer was fond of saying that ‘a good Admiral always knew the outcome of the battle before sailing from port.’ So, like good admirals we should all have a thorough understanding of our brand positioning, and the strategy and tactics necessary for the competent and successful execution of same on the road to winery viability.

Without regard to a specific channel model, understand that you are in the wine distribution business. This is just the process by which your wine gets to the final consumer. This includes the selling, shipping, merchandising and promotion ofWine trade tasting your wine. In performing these functions it seems important to understand the unique and individual needs and wants of each and all of your customers – sales agents (including distributors), trade and consumers. It also requires an understanding of the marketplace and your competition. It is through the acquisition of this knowledge that leadership is developed in crafting quality products that fill the needs and wants of your targeted audience. Being a visionary in anticipating your future opportunities will allow you to continue achieving your brand goals. But, in order to shape your brand success you’ll need to identify, create and communicate your winery’s unique brand position.

Small to mid-sized wine companies need a keen awareness of the perceived attributes that determine their brand positioning. For Cabernet Sauvignonexample, where your wine grapes are planted, and the set of geological, geographical and cultural attributes inherent to this point of origin go a long way to the determination of positioning – i.e., take the vineyard location of Cabernet Sauvignon. While Cabernet Sauvignon’s organoleptic profiles, without regard to origin, share some similar characteristics, the point of origin provides some significant points of differentiation as to brand positioning. Cabernet wines grown in Napa Valley will tend to be positioned differently thaimages-7n Cabernet wines from Bordeaux, or even neighboring Sonoma; and, certainly on a different tier than the good Cabernets grown in Monterey’s Hames Valley or in the nearby Paso Robles AVA. Consider the unique brand position that Ste Michelle Wine Estates achieved for Washington State Cabernets. All of these are different but potentially good wine regions, but each is perceived to have a unique sets of attributes by critics and consumers alike. And these attributes tend to aid in directional decisions concerning volume, price, and channel, hopefully resulting in consumer take away.

images-8For those brands in broad market distribution, whether in a DDT or a three tier model, there are three basic questions to ask and answer:

Where are my wines now sold?
Where should my wines be sold?
How do my wines achieve desired targeted distribution?

Effectively answer the above inquiries and you’ll be worth every penny of your income aspirations. In other words, define the current state of affairs and establish brand goals. Yes, this is detailed work, but without targets, goals, and a foundation of specific in market knowledge, your house of cards is in danger of crumbling. So, roll up your sleeves and create an effective CRM list of targeted accounts, by market (geography), name, class (volume potential) and type (on or off-premise). The broad market is dynamic, so continually modify, maintain and update your CRM database.

Now that you have this baseline brand distribution intelligence, your future sales efforts should be directed towards increased markePalace Kitchen Seattlet penetration in your now targeted account universe. Goals should be established within each designated sales territory by account and varietal. Target specific goals should also be codified and achievement should be tracked. These targets, for example, could be wine list or WBTG placements in New American cuisine restaurants in Seattle, Portland and San Francisco. Or, fine wine retail placements and ads in Boston, New York, and D.C. Your case goods volume, price point, product mix, and brand intelligence will help to determine this market specific distribution strategy.


FocusThis is how the top 30 largest wineries tactically achieve their success. They do this in all their key markets. While it’s almost always a good idea to observe and mirror other successful wine businesses, you’re going to have to be more focused and crisper in your execution. You’re a much smaller business and your wines are at FOBs that exclude certain points of distribution. Take advantage of your unique brand positioning proposition. Focus your efforts on fewer markets. Perhaps look to hotels such as Four Seasons, or Ritz Carlton or Kimpton Hotels, and not just wine list or wine by the glass, but in addition pursue placements in banquets and events. Country Clubs and private clubs are an under serviced account base,  but once established they tend to be long-term loyalty accounts and their members represent a key demographic base of influencers. Some of my brands most sustainable distribution was achieved in private clubs, common in most major metropolitan markets. By the way, caterers are always looking for differentiated wines.  So, put on your game face and become a focused niche marketer. Focus on your execution, and focus on scoring those winning placements.

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