EENY MEENY MINY MOE, TO WHICH CRITICS DOES MY WINE GO?
If you’re a winery — well, a winery owner — how do you know (a) whether or not to send free samples to critics and (b) who gets them if you decide to do it? The question isn’t academic, because this is a real-world issue every winery has to face, especially these days. Why these days? Because every critic I know is being sent more wine than ever before, which I infer, with some justifiable degree of evidence, is because the Recession has convinced winery owners they have to reach out and touch a critic, in order to get those favorable reviews that drive sales.
O.K., fine. So we’ve answered (a). If you’re a winery owner you know you should be sending out review bottles. Which brings us to (b). Who gets them?
Again, the question isn’t just academic. It costs money to send those boxes out. UPS and FedEx aren’t in the shipping business for charity. (And I’m not even counting the cost of the wines themselves.) The P.R. head of a large wine company told me when s/he got the job, s/he discovered the company had been sending freebies to well over 60 so-called “wine writers” across the country. S/he scanned the names and couldn’t even recognize most of them. That number has since been drastically reduced.
What brought up these musings for me was something that happened yesterday. I got a phone call from a guy who used to be the head wine buyer for a big chain store outfit. Turns out he’d left the job a few years back to realize his dream of owning a winery. He called to “connect,” he said. We had a long chat about this and that, and he told me all about his winery project. I’d never heard of the brand. He said he’d send me samples for review, and to keep my eye open for them. I said I would.
Later, he emailed me with the link to his website. I went there. There was a tab called “Press.” I opened it. Lo and behold, what did I see but reviews — some of them 18 months old — from Wine Spectator, Food & Wine and Connoisseurs’ Guide to California Wine.
Put yourself in my shoes (or walk a few yards in my flip-flops). How does this make me feel?
1. The guy’s been sending samples to the competition for the last 1-1/2 years, but not to Wine Enthusiast.
2. Now here he is, reaching out to me, probably because his sales suck and he needs more reviews so he can cherry-pick the better ones for his advertising and P.R.
3. And he didn’t have the cojones to tell me that he’d been sending to the competition and not to me. Why not?
So I email the guy back, explaining how sad it was for me to discover he’d been sending to the competition, and not to my magazine. I assured him that my disappointment would in no way affect my reviews of his wines (particularly in a blind tasting), only that it made me feel real bad.
He emails me back: “Honestly Steve, I hired a sales and marketing company that handled all of my press submissions…I was told that the Wine Enthusiast was among the publications that would receive my wine for review, but am not surprised to hear that you have not seen the wines before…I have also heard from a few other publications that they had never seen [brand name] before, even though I was under the impression that they had.”
O.K. I take the guy at his word. If that “marketing company” told the guy they would send to Wine Enthusiast and other publications, and then didn’t, they did him a grave disservice. In fact, they lied. And if they didn’t send samples to me because they don’t believe Wine Enthusiast is an “A” list magazine, they don’t know reality.
So, winery owners, if you think you should be sending samples, figure out who’s on the “A” list — it’s pretty obvious — and send to them. (That list, by the way, includes bloggers.) There’s a national “A” list, like Wine Enthusiast, and a regional “A” list, which will vary from market to market. And, owners, if you can afford to send samples beyond the “A” list, there are some very talented, up-and-coming “B” list critics out there, too. A good P.R. person can clue you in to all of this.