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Connectedness: the Holy Grail of winery marketing



Last week, while Americans were watching developments concerning the Comcast-Time Warner Cable merger, which eventually (and thankfully) collapsed, another more successful merger went almost unnoticed. That was the marriage between Blue Bottle Coffee and Tartine Bakery, a far happier union that consumers could celebrate, instead of worrying about.

Blue Bottle was founded in my hometown of Oakland and now has cafés throughout the Bay Area, L.A., New York City and Japan. It’s become what Starbucks used to be: the hippest java joint around, one of the high-end coffee industry’s most respected roasters,” according to Fast Company, an appraisal shared by Bloomberg Business, which described Blue Bottle as “the next wave of artisanal coffee shops” and reported on enthusiastic investments in the company by Silicon Valley tech giants such as Google, WordPress and Twitter.

Tartine Bakery sprang from the famous San Francisco restaurant, Bar Tartine, a Mission District hotspot that helped make the Valencia Corridor one of the city’s most visited dining destinations. Tartine’s bread makers earned the prestigious James Beard Award for Outstanding Pastry Chef. As wildly popular as the bakery is, Tartine has not been able to figure out how to expand to other locations. Blue Bottle has. The San Francisco Chronicle predicts the merger will “provide mutual benefits to both,” as consumers continue to seek out “well-crafted quality, locally sourced and planet-sensitive foods.”

There are lessons for the wine industry, particularly for family-owned wineries that want a more personal connection with consumers. Consumers do want “planet-friendly” things to buy. They do want quality that’s apparent, and preferably locally-sourced. But, maybe more than anything, they want a connection with the people who sell them products and services. Never in the history of American industry has that personal connection been more important. People—in their loneliness, idealism and confusion—desire to feel something human. Not the appearance of something human. Not something crafted in some P.R. shop that seems human. Something that is human.

Tartine and Blue Bottle (I’ve been to both) provide that connection to human-ness. It’s hard to pinpoint exactly how, or to describe it, unless you’ve been there; the blogger Kevin Lindsay has called it a “visceral reaction” that can create lifelong connections with the shoppers who can and will become compelling brand evangelists.” This is, of course, the Holy Grail for all companies, including wineries: to “create lifelong connections.” A lifelong consumer does not have to be marketed to with the same ferocity (and costs) as a new, unaffiliated consumer. This is the magic of branding: it’s why I met so many fans of Kendall-Jackson Vintner’s Reserve wines on my trip last week. It’s why the About Money website says branding is not about getting your target market to choose you over the competition, but it is about getting your prospects to see you as the only one that provides a solution to their problem.”

What a concept! So doable, and yet so rarely done. This is precisely the challenge wineries must confront, and solve, in the coming years, if they are to remain viable, in the face not only of domestic competition but international, as trade agreements erode traditional national boundaries and the entire planet becomes a single marketplace.

How is this to be done? Now that the clamorous exaggerations for social media have begun to calm, we can see that merely having a robust online presence isn’t nearly enough. Social media is simply a tool: put a chisel in the hands of Michaelangelo and you end up with David. In the hands of a child, a chisel is merely something to thump and bang with, and possibly do damage. To really connect with the consumer, you have to think like the consumer. You have to have empathy. You have to get out of your box and into the mind and heart of the consumer you hope to reach. That may sound New Agey, but, as Mark Benioff explains in this interview about his late friend and mentor, Steve Jobs, Jobs’ spirituality (inspired by yogic meditation practices and The Beatles) made the Apple co-founder “a prophet” who knew what consumers wanted even before they themselves did. Steve Jobs not only gave them what they sought, which was a way to increase their connectedness to the world, he made them—and the world—a better place.

  1. Bill Haydon says:

    Is there anyone–other than perhaps Joe Paterno–who has, in death attracted a more bizarre cult of personality more so than Steve Jobs while deserving it less? He was a very complex individual, and not a lot of it was good. Just ask Wozniak. Steve Jobs was not Michaelangelo. The latter created timeless art that spoke to the human condition. The former was a businessman selling consumer electronics.

    Did he make the world a better place for those Chinese workers who assembled his products in militarized work camps where the barracks and factory literally had to install suicide nets because so many of them were throwing themselves out of the windows due to the working conditions and treatment.

    Not to mention that he may have just been one of the stingiest billionaires when it comes to philanthropy in the history of this country.

    Had he truly wanted to make the world a better place, perhaps he should have followed the lead of his longtime rival up in Seattle.

  2. Bob Henry says:


    I was educated in Silicon Valley, but I am not “of” Silicon Valley.

    Living and working in Los Angeles gives me a certain sense of detachment. (While still earning an income on tech project that occasionally come my way from that community.)

    I an neither a shill or an apologist for what happens there.

    I also have a background in philanthropy.

    I can tell you that many high income/high net worth individuals give without seeking public acknowledgment. That is their method and their right to privacy.

    Steve Jobs didn’t sign on to The Giving Pledge promoted by Bill and Melinda Gates and Warren Buffett:

    “The Mystery of Steve Jobs’s Public Giving” – New York Time


    If Jobs didn’t give / give much publicly during his lifetime, his widow undoubtedly will.


  3. Bob Henry says:


    “Steve Jobs’s Widow Sets Philanthropy Goals” – New York Times


  4. With regard to being connected, I can think of several practical applications in the wine business of a winery connecting to the consumer.
    1. The Underdog. Wineries that do NOT produce Cab, Pinot, Chard. Wineries that produce Lagrein or Aglianico or orange wine are underdogs. Also, using concrete eggs, amphora, bio-dynamic principles, or actually writing a manifesto about winemaking are within The Underdog ranks. Additionally, any highly rated wine by Jon Bonne would also qualify (a bit of hyperbole, so don’t fact check me too hard). There is always a connection and a market for an underdog. The Underdog may or may not have a tasting room (and perhaps even cooler if they didn’t have a room, but rather a van).

    2. The Party. I’m a native Fresnan, so it’s difficult to go to an event in that town and not hear the words Tobin James and V. Sattui as the ultimate wine country experiences. The Party winery connection ALWAYS has a tasting room and the party is always live.

    3. The Cult. Screaming Eagle or Kosta Browne. Just as there is always a connection to the underdog, there is an equal connection to any cult producer. The connection is not as emotional as the underdog, it’s similar to a 4-year old child wanting your Lego’s to play with, really, really badly. The Cult winery connection has a long waiting list, a tasting room, a consulting chef, gardens and possibly a car collection.

    4. The Local. When driving to Napa or Paso isn’t a weekend thing, you settle for what’s closer by. Temecula? Sure. Madera? Why not. The new winery in Wyoming or Texas? Of course. Quality may take a backseat to convenience with The Party winery as a sub-set to The Local.

    5. The Old School. Probably a winery that was founded in the late 70’s. Ridge. Williams Seylem. Silver Oak. They pre-date the internet and built their business blocking and tackling, selling to locals, grocery, bottle shops, wine clubs, any way they could. They are ubiquitous in the wine world today, yet still have a bit of Cult to them. They can still throw a great party. They might even produce an Underdog wine or two, just because they can. You join the wine club to get their Underdog and Cult wine and an invite to their release party.

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