Mar 212016
 

Real Estate vs. Wine

This weekend I started reading the real estate section of the San Francisco Chronicle, just for giggles. Normally I can’t be bothered, and I certainly don’t have the kind of money that allows me to peruse the ads for million dollar homes.

But what I found was pretty interesting. There were scores and scores of descriptions of properties for sale—just like in the wine business. In fact, the whole real estate section reminded me of a wine magazine, with a few feature articles, and then endless listings of “tasting notes” of houses for sale

Only in this case, all the descriptions were perfectly intelligible. No effort to show the reader how clever the writer was, nor use of obscure or overly inflated language or descriptors. Just plain old words talking about houses. None of the houses was painted in the delicate colors of a charentais melon, or had gardens infused with the blossoms of stone roses. The dining room floors were not described as having notes of polished rare Allier oak, nor did the carpets capture nuances of zin-berries and cassis.

I couldn’t help thinking that if you can sell a house for $1M with simple words, why can’t you sell an $23 bottle of wine that way? Wineries should take note when publishing their own tasting notes.

Jul 172014
 

2014-06-30 20.23.43No one can accuse John Geber of lacking imagination or lacking enthusiasm. He exudes enthusiasm from the moment you meet him and, as for his imagination, well, it runs rampant.

Most people riding their bicycles past an abandoned building would keep on riding, but not John. Instead, while cycling through the Barossa Valley one day, he chanced upon a chateau for sale and decided to buy it on the spot. After the deal had been made, John called his wife to share the news. The couple are clearly made for each other since she first asked him how many bedrooms the chateau contained rather than the more rational question: “Are you insane?”

John’s new purchase was originally built in 1890, and as the largest chateau in Australia it is the size of three football fields and three stories high. After the deal closed, the chateau was eventually fully renovated and its vineyards restored, giving birth to the Chateau Tanunda brand of wines.

Among Chateau Tanunda’s previous marketing efforts, John used to bring 20 people down to Australia each year to visit his property. But, he recognized that such an approach was inefficient and changed tactics. John decided to do what any reasonable person (oh right, we already decided he was insane), he bought a yacht; now, he brings Australia to the U.S.

The Grand Barossa Cru yacht has kept John “on the road” quite a bit in past several months. Setting sail from Boca Raton, FL on May 6th of this year, the yacht has traveled the eastern seaboard, during which time it visited 18 different ports of call and held 65 events over the course of 60 days. The boat and crew arrived in New York City in late June, entertaining wine and lifestyle writers with Australian cuisine, a brief jaunt in the harbor and, of course, the Grand Barossa wines.

Additionally, John shared his three key messages with us:

  • “Australia is not a brand called Yellow Tail
  • The Barossa Valley is one of the five most important valleys in the world of wine and the only one located in the Southern Hemisphere
  • The Barossa Valley is the “Napa Valley” of Australia, at a third of the price, and it has more varieties than just Shiraz.”

During the voyage, we had the pleasure of tasting several wines including Riesling, Chardonnay, Cabernet Sauvignon and Shiraz. Among my favorite was the Chardonnay, which despite having a small portion fermented in French oak, is surprisingly fresh and elegant. As John noted, “We are not carpenters.” All of wines had great, vibrant acidity and were well suited to enjoy with food, whether at home or on a sea cruise.

Jul 122014
 

As a wine publicist, in addition to a wine blogger, I probably look at wine events in a slightly different way than most other attendees. I can’t help it. I’m always looking at how things are organized and what I believe is their effectiveness. One of my biggest criticisms of wineries in general, and especially of European producers, is their tendency to over-complicate their marketing programs. These companies miss the point that they have ONE shot at making an impression. Yet, many of them consistently try to stuff ten pounds of crap into a five pound bag. By doing so, they dilute their main message and confuse their audience. When dealing with the average consumer, this can cost you the sale of a bottle or two of wine. When dealing with influencers like wine media or trade, it can cost you more than that.

Wines of Portugal Brunch

Here’s an example… At this week’s Wine Bloggers Conference (#wbc14) the Wines of Portugal hosted a brunch for all the attendees. What a great idea! Yet, in many ways, I feel they missed the mark. Take a look at the menu above. Notice anything? They served cuisine from four different regions, each paired with three different wines. The cuisines chosen were from Portugal (obviously) and three former areas where the Portuguese had colonies/influence. What was the message here? That Portugal was once a great empire and a shadow of it’s former glory? Probably not what they were going for.

Okay, looking past that, I get that they were trying to show that Portuguese wines can pair with different types of cuisine. But, the dishes were served out of hotel trays, not plated. Okay, this may be a preference thing, but food from hotel trays rarely show well. It’s too reminiscent of the school cafeteria. Again, not the image they were probably looking for.  They could have easily communicated this more effectively with ONE dish from each of these areas, plated and served. Why three?

In addition, there was very little information provided about the wines themselves. What were the varieties used? What were the regions, and what made them unique? Why is Portuguese wine relevant? How is the health of the category overall? These are key pieces of information that they failed to communicate.

Lines at Brunch

Oddly, for 300 people, they only had four pouring stations with each of the three wines, which led to long lines of thirsty bloggers waiting for their turn. They also had to juggle their small plates of food, while attempting to taste the wine. I couldn’t really figure out how the wines were segmented, or what the message was.

Okay, so what was the overall goal here? Having worked with European clients extensively over the past ten years, I can read between the lines. The Wines of Portugal wanted to show off that they are sophisticated, cosmopolitan, and food friendly. Okay, they may have achieved that. Was it a benefit to the individual producers? Doubtful. I’d wager that very few of the bloggers in the room will remember or care what each of the wines were. They were too busy having “fun” with the food and beverage. If I was one of these wineries, I’d want to see some blog posts or social media activity specifically about my wine, not just general comments about the brunch.

So, how would I have done it differently? First, I would have reduced the number of dishes served and really focus on the best-of-the-best dishes from each region. Make the focus less on the food, and more on the wine. Second, I’d ditch the pairing idea. Few consumers care about wine and food pairing, and that is generally who reads these blogs. Third, I’d increase the number of tables for wine pouring and segment the wines by DO. This would give each of the wine regions and the individual producers a chance to shine and position them in a way that differentiates them from the other areas. Finally, I would have more information about the wines available for the attendees. Whether it be signage, handouts, maps, etc. There should be something.

So, what are the key points you want your audience to walk away with? You’ll have no more than three pieces of information you can convey, and often only ONE. What should it be? Every winery or wine region should think about that before embarking on any marketing program.

In the end, I’m sure that the Wines or Portugal will consider this event a success, but I can’t help but feel that the impression they conveyed to the group was confused and ineffective.

Jun 092014
 

Ian Cauble MS

Master Sommelier Ian Cauble has a new project. For those unfamiliar with Ian, he was one of a handful of individuals featured in SOMM, a documentary film about candidates who attempt to pass the prestigious Master Sommelier exam, a test with one of the lowest pass rates in the world. In fact, there are only 211 professionals worldwide who have received the title of Master Sommelier since the first Master Sommelier Diploma Exam in 1969. Ian is one of those. He recently launched a new web site called SommSelect.

Ian started the site with co-founder Brandon Carneiro, whom he had met while they were both undergrads. Both had ended up with careers in wine. A few months ago, they launched SommSelect as a way to give consumers access to sommelier-selected wines. Still in Beta, SommSelect has new wines featured daily that are limited production and only for the early members of SommSelect to purchase. They state that the site is not about featuring the most affordable wines, but rather offering the best wines at an affordable price that have been tried and tested and now recommended by one of the world’s leading authorities on wine.  Ian also plans to occasionally offer more spendy offerings when warranted.

“We connected last year after Ian had been in the movie, mainly because I had seen a void in the market for a site like this,” says Brandon. “Something where people could see a daily curated wine from an expert Master Somm and buy wine.  We didn’t want to discount the wines like a flash site, but simply offer one great curated wine each day.  I told Ian about the idea and he liked it.  The rest is history.  We decided to work together and then started putting the project together.”

While SommSelect is still technically in beta, wine enthusiasts may still sign up to receive offers and purchase the daily feature. While there are similar kinds of sites, this is the first I’ve seen to really leverage a top wine personality who mostly knows what he’s talking about. The wines are not selected by some anonymous buyer who is looking for the best deal he can offer, but by an expert.

“These are wine selections I believe are the best from a specific grape varietal, region and price-point,” says Ian. “We offer wines from all price points from about $12 to $100s of dollars and we offer free shipping on purchases at about $100. There are other sites out there that offer daily wine selections, but our approach is focused on small production wines that I truly believe are the best of class. I don’t believe there are any other Master Sommeliers offering curated wine selection on the internet so we are a bit unique.”

You can sign up to receive emails about their daily offerings.

 

May 202014
 

Craft Beverage Expo

Last week, I attended the first Craft Beverage Expo (#CBE14) in San Jose, California. It was a conference devoted to the production and marketing of craft beverages, including beer, wine, cider, and spirits. I won’t go into the details about the conference, but I did want to address some of the thoughts that came to me during the event.

 

First, what are craft beverages? This question was raised several times during the conference. I think that most of the participants accepted that it meant a product made by smallish, independent brewers and distillers. I think the wine business looks at it a different way. They don’t really use the term ‘craft’ in their messaging. It’s usually boutique, small-lot, etc. to most winemakers. Regardless, wine definitely fits in with this group, facing many of the same challenges and benefiting from much the same market environment.

 

Second, I deeply believe that each of the separate beverage sectors can benefit from each other. While it’s becoming more common for wineries/breweries to blur the lines and produce both wine and beer, the sectors still remain fairly separate. Call it competition or regulation or focus, no matter what, breweries, wineries, and distilleries haven’t always played nice. I believe that is changing, however, as demonstrated by the sheer existence if this conference.

 

Third, the wine business has a head start on craft brewers and distillers. While it’s possible to ship or sell wine direct-to-consumer in many states now, or even to allow samples in tasting rooms, many brewers and distillers still lack that ability. That is slowly changing as legislatures have begun to open new avenues for them, but wineries have a clear lead. Craft brewers and distillers could benefit greatly from observing what has and hasn’t worked for wineries in their own struggles to compete.

 

Finally, wineries better watch out. As craft brewers and distillers gain experience and grow, they could eat away at wine’s market share. I think we are already seeing this, especially among millennials. Wineries will either have to adapt the way they market their products, or join the band wagon and start producing beer and spirits to offset their losses.

 

The good news is that the upsurge in craft beverage production offers consumers more choice and freedom to seek out new and interesting experiences. They are no longer confined to Dewers, Bacardi, Budweiser, and Coors. The future looks bright.