Chateau Ste. Michelle, the Washington state producer best known for its grocery store rieslings, is doing a summer riesling promotion called Reason for Riesling. It ?s running in six markets, most of which are in the middle of the country and not considered prime wine territory.
There ?s nothing really unusual about this, save for one for one thing. Getting wine bloggers to write about riesling is a key part of the campaign, and that ?s not something one would expect from a big producer like Chateau Ste. Michelle, whose parent is a multi-national that owns 15 brands, has partnerships with 13 others, and sells hundreds of millions of dollars of wine each year.
In other words, wine blogging not just for the little guys any more.
One of the on-going controversies in the wine business is whether those of us in the non-traditional media matter. Do we have the clout and the power and the influence with readers that the Winestream Media is supposed to have? The Winestream Media, of course, says we don ?t, and too many producers see us as scammers who just want free wine samples.
That Chateau Ste. Michelle is focusing on wine bloggers (as well as those who do lifestyle and travel) means that attitude is changing.
?Targeting bloggers offers a new audience of gatekeepers for us, ? says Lynda Eller, the communications director for Ste. Michelle Wine Estates, the parent company. ?Some consumers still value traditional media wine reviews, and other consumers look to the blogger community for their product reviews and recommended experiences. For us, it is exciting to have a new media audience to communicate with to help engage consumers. ?
This is a revolutionary approach to wine marketing. It acknowledges fundamental changes in the way consumers approach wine, as well as the changes that have made the Winestream Media less relevant. There are fewer of them, thanks to the depression in the traditional media business. Second, as Paul Mabray notes in the previous link, they ?ve run out of things to write about. Third, and this is something worth a post all by itself, the Winestream Media ?s audience is dying off, and it ?s not being replaced by younger readers. What happens to wine writing when no one reads what ?s being written?
I also think it ?s important to note that Chateau Ste. Michelle wants bloggers to do wines that don ?t always get a lot of attention in the traditional media. Eller disagrees with me about this, and emphasized that her company ?s wines get plenty of ink from the Winestream Media. But I wonder: When is the last time you saw a review about about an $8 riesling in the Wine Spectator? When is the last time a Spectator reader wanted to see that kind of review in the magazine?
Finally, and perhaps most importantly, this is a long-term approach to wine marketing. It says, ?Let ?s get people interested in our wines, and trust them to come back to them because they ?re well made and interesting. ? That ?s one of the advantages of blogging, after all. One good review on the Internet will be around forever, and it almost doesn ?t matter if anyone actually reads the review when it ?s written.
In this, it ?s not the usual ?let ?s sell as much wine this weekend as we can ? philosophy that dominates the business. Wine marketing is incredibly short-term; so short term, in fact, that many of the people who do it think wine writing (save for the Spectator) is a waste of time. The criteria for quality is whether a wine writer can move wine, and the consensus is that most of us can ?t.
Or, as one very, very wise sales guy told me years ago: ?Jeff, if they spend 15 minutes talking on the phone with you, that ?s 15 minutes they can ?t spend calling on accounts. And, as silly as it sounds, they think they ?ll sell more wine and make more money by calling on one account than they will by talking to you. ?
Fortunately, Chateau Ste. Michelle is smarter than that.