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Lively “Hip and Trendy Marketing” session marks first Wine Institute-CAWG event


At first I was surprised that such old-line, conservative organizations (not conservative in the political sense, but in the business sense) as Wine Institute and California Association of Winegrape Growers would host something geared to bloggers and the twitterati, but when I thought about it, it made perfect sense. Sooner or later, everybody understands that the wine biz has to market to those pesky Millennials, and social media seems to be the way to do it.

So I went up to Sausalito’s beautiful Fort Baker, where the event was held, practically under the Golden Gate Bridge’s inspiring span, and with a dazzling view of white, crystaline San Francisco across a sparkling Bay. The first two sessions — “The Next Generation: Passing the Torch” and “Evolving California Wine Styles” didn’t live up to their billing (memo to Wine Institute: allow more time next year), while the third, “Eco-Friendly Growing and Winemaking,” was the one I skipped altogether, to shmooze in the tasting room (I wanted to go but…just…..couldn’t).

But it was the fourth session, “Hip and Trendy Marketing,” that I most looked forward to, and it really was a good one. Hosted by Courtney Cochran, the mind behind Hip Tastes (whom I blogged about more than a year ago), it was an exciting, unscripted and thought-provoking roundtable on the whys and wherefores of winery involvement in social media.


Courtney Cochran

I took notes and want to present the dialogue pretty much as it happened. (This is obviously abbreviated but I tried to capture the most interesting remarks.)

Courtney began by apologizing for the moniker “hip and trendy,” which was Wine Institute’s idea, not hers. “As soon as you’re called ‘hip and trendy,’” she smiled, “you’re not.” She continued: “What is the magic bullet in terms of new media marketing? You still have to do everything you did before, plus social media. So we’re all working harder than ever.”

Nicholas Miller (from Bien Nacido/Solomon Hills/French Camp Vineyards): “What’s hip and trendy these days is value. You don’t want to show up at a friend’s house with a new $200 wine.”

Courtney: “So value is the new black.”

Nicholas: “And blogging and talking in the social media sphere. A more personal form of communication [than print].”

Judd Finkelstein (winemaker, Judd’s Hill): “We use Twitter, Facebook [and others]. What’s cool is if we’re traveling I can say I’ll be appearing someplace, and people actually show up. It’s valuable. We expose ourselves to a lot of new people.”

Cane Vanderhoof (vintner, Miramonte Winery/Celebration Cellars): “I communicate regularly with people on a one-on-one through tweets. I’ll put something up and get an immediate response.”

Cheryl Murphy Durzy (V.P. and proprietor, Clos LaChance Winery): “Social media has made it easier for us to connect with our customers. And it’s not just one-on-one. It generates brand loyalty, which is very important.”

Judd: “Our ‘Judd’s Enormous Wine Show’ videos bring visitors.”

Courtney: “So social media drives product and brand development from the ground up?”

Cheryl: “Well, Clos LaChance held a contest to name our new estate vineyard. But our distributors were afraid that the winning name would be too weird, so we decided to call it simply ‘Estate.’ That offended some of our readers [who had nominated names] and we actually lost customers!”

Cane: “So you want to get people involved, but too many chiefs, too many problems! You have to maintain control.”

Courtney: “How will your marketing strategy change as bloggers become mainstream instead of hobbyists?”

Nicholas: “We measure how much media exposure something gets. Blogging offers us immediate gratification.”

Judd: “Bloggers are wielding more influence. It’s not just one person’s palate anymore; others weigh in. But I don’t know how to adjust our marketing to that. Send them samples? Invite them to visit? I don’t know.”

Cheryl: “We’ve added bloggers to the traditional media for samples, but it’s wrong to say the two are different, as Steve [Heimoff] demonstrates.”

Cane: “I don’t see social media as the end-all and be-all, but it’s a powerful moment in communication.”

Question from audience: “Are you seeing an uptick in sales from social media?”

[mixed reaction]

Nicholas: “No. It’s too early to tell.”

Cane: “Yes. But it’s hard to know exactly what works.”

Cheryl: “We can see click-throughs through Facebook and Twitter.”

Judd: “We have a pretty good mailing list, and from there, social media sends us off into the universe.”

[This is Steve again] I asked the combined group this question: “So will the successful wineries of the future be those that are most adept at using social media, even if they’re making bad wine?”

But time was up and we were not able to explore this topic. Courtney: “That’s next year’s session.”

  1. Hi Steve, thanks for the nice write up. I would like to answer your question–will the successful wineries of the future be those that are most adept at social media, even is they’re making bad wine?

    I would have to say no. As we said in the panel, social media is just like any other marketing tool a winery utilizes. It may sell a bottle or two, but if the quality is not in the bottle, that customer will not be coming back.

    And actually I would also have to think that if a winery is making sub par products, social media can really hurt them….a customer could easily post a bad review on a winery’s page or twitter about it themselves, post comments on blogs, Yelp etc.

    I think the moral of the story is that social media will get the word out quickly–whether it is good or bad. As a producer, it makes me want to provide the best possible experience for my customer every chance I can.

  2. Chery, what I wonder is, with everybody his or her own critic — and sharing their opinions with all their friends and followers — how will Authority be established? Throughout history we’ve had Authority to guide us (Classifications, royalty, critics). In the future, will this all be swept aside? How will we know if anything is better than anything else, if everything has its admirers?

  3. I believe that is going to be the choice of the consumer. People find a voice that they trust–after testing it out and matching it with their own preferences–and go from there. There are wine critics, movie critics, food critics, music critics etc. There are lots of opinions out there. I find a critic I most identify with (therefore becoming my authority) and follow their advice.

    Because of blogging and social media, consumers now have many, many more choices on who their authority is. I believe in quality information like I believe in quality winemaking. The consumer may give my wine a try once….and if they don’t like it, then they will not come back. I feel the same will happen with opinions from friends, authorities, critics, etc. If the information is sub-par, then they won’t come back.

  4. I somewhat wonder if the social media somewhat amplifies the good and bad but will not necessarily help develop the core. I am not sure that makes much sense but the idea I am trying to project is if you do something interesting or great the social media tools are a successful way to spread that message. However the opposite effect can be felt if you make a mistake. It often seems like marketing with a megaphone in time square during rush hour. Unless you have something really good to say it will likely become background noise. I think more wineries should think of every blog, tweet or posting as sales call and have a reason to communicate your message. I do not much care to know that your bottling truck just arrived, Unless you tell me that truck just arrived to bottle your ever popular small production rose that will go out to the wine club in May because that may remind me that I need to sign up.

  5. Hey Steve here’s a question for you. Do wineries make more money on wineclub memberships or wholesale channels?

  6. Hey Brett, I think it depends on the winery.

  7. In response to the question posed at the end of the blog I would offer our experience at Hard Row to Hoe Vineyards at Lake Chelan in Washington. Anything you can do to bring a customer to your tasting room or to your web site is worth doing. The only thing that will bring them back consistently is good wine. There are too many great wines made today to think they will return to but mediocre wine.

    Brett asked about Wine Club Sales vs Wholesale – again our experience as a small winery is that the wine club member buy the bulk of our wine. They are the ones that promote it to their friends and ask for it in wine shops and restaurants. As a production increases the wine club may not grow as fast and you have to then rely on distribution more and more.

  8. Thanks for the help Don. This is very valuable information for me as I continue to grow my local wine industry newspaper.
    -So far I beleive that driving wine club memberships is the most profitable way for a winery to advertise with me. Also, feedback has told me that increasing tasting room visits is the most effective way to increase wine club memberships.

  9. Brett.

    Generally speaking direct sales have more margin than your sales through wholesale channels but the operating costs of managing each channel can vary drastically depending on the wineries structure. That said for most wineries it is hard to separate the two. Some survive solely on direct sales or solely on wholesale distribution but for most wineries it is a blend of the two as each supports the other.

  10. Hi Steve,
    I heard about this gathering and I thought the subject matter was great, despite the amount of content that was shared or established, the fact that these topics are now being addressed by more “recognized” authorities like the CWGA and the wine institute is a big deal. It begins legitimizing content social media adds to communications. Maybe next time it will be a larger more comprehensive conference, vs. just a dabbling in controversy? Either way thanks for covering it, I don’t think anyone else even wrote about it.

  11. Charlotte, covered it. I’ve talked to the Wine Institute people and believe they will continue this and will learn how to make it better.

  12. Thanks for the help Phil and Don. My last question is; if a winery is giving 20% off to the wineclub member, what is the discount given to the small or medium wholesaler?

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