Tag Archives: wine marketing

Winebits 279: Wine telemarketing, tasting notes, booze laws

? Wine over the phone: Never thought you would see the words wine and telemarketing in the same sentence, did you? But several California companies are making the concept work, reports the Press Democrat in Santa Rosa. VinoPRO handles phone sales for 50 wineries, including Jackson Family Wines, Constellation Brands and Treasury Wine Estates, and totaled in $8 million in sales in 2012. Growth over the past three years? 1,800 percent. An official from another wine telemarketer reports that he's always surprised that customers will stop what they're doing to talk to someone from a winery. Was never like that when they called at dinner to sell long distance, was it?

? Academics take on tasting notes: Spanish researchers are collecting a data ? some 12 000 tasting notes from places like the Wine Advocate, Wine Spectator, Wine Enthusiast and Decanter. The words used will be compiled in a database so we can tell how they ?re used, reports Jamie Goode of the Wine Anorak blog (whose notes will also be included. It ?s not so much that this isn ?t a good idea, but that I ?m not sure what it will accomplish. Do we really need to know how many times leathery is used for a red wine? Or toasty and oaky for white? The answer, without a need for research, is too many.

? British booze taxes: The man who runs one of Britain ?s biggest retailers says the government, in its curb to cut binge drinking through taxes and sales restrictions, will destroy the country ?s wine business. Wine, he says, will become a luxury available only to the rich: ?Having established this culture of food and wine, you know, which is a sea change from where we were 30 years ago, why would we want to stop that I have been following this debate for the past several years for a couple of reasons, one of which is that the English always seemed so sensible about drinking compared to us. The other is that just when I think the three-tier system is bad, I see another example that is almost makes it seem sensible.

Millennials and how they’re changing the wine business

Or, as my pal W.R. Tish phrased it in the headline for my story in Beverage Media magazine: ?Boom go the Millennials ?.

The wine business has mostly accepted that the Millennials, born between the early 1980s and the early 2000s, are here to stay; I hardly hear any grumbling about parent ?s basements anymore. And, as John Gillespie, the president of the Wine Market Council has said many times, anyone who doesn ?t pay attention does so at their own peril.

The story is here. Some of the highlights after the jump:

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Winebits 278: Wine thefts, Aussie harvest, sweet wine

? Back up the truck: I spent a considerable amount of time as a young newspaper reporter writing about crime, and one learned certain truths. One of which was that thieves like simple ? simple to carry off, simple to fence. So how to explain this wine theft, the second in the last six months? This report says hundreds of thousands of dollars worth of wine were taken from a San Francisco area warehouse; the difference between this and the previous heist (love those crime writing terms!) was volume ? this was only seven cases of wine, as opposed to most of a warehouse. Still, how does one fence wine? It ?s not like many pawn shops will take it.

? Tons and tons and tons of grapes: Think California had a bountiful harvest in 2012? Then get ready for the harvest in Australia ?s Riverina, where much of the country ?s cheap wine, including YellowTail, comes from. The harvest was near record, not a good thing when the Aussies are trying to cut production. One local official said that despite the near-record year, one-half of growers had not met the basic costs of production for 2013.

? Who tells you what to drink? Robert Joseph at the Joseph Report offers a spot-on analysis of the sweet wine trend, noting the differences between the way sweet red and moscato are marketed in the U.S. and Europe. ?In the U.S., the wine industry takes the view that making money out of giving consumers what they like is an entirely legitimate thing to do. It’s only fair to point out that the wider acceptance of this attitude goes a long way to explaining the success of supersized burgers and some pretty dreadful movies, not to mention a fairly widespread market for firearms. On the other hand, would it really be such a bad thing if the people who are currently drinking flavourless Pinot Grigio and Merlot had the chance to buy the kinds of grapey Moscato and ?velvety ? red that are giving such satisfaction on the other side of the Atlantic

Diet wine, and why we’re stuck with it

One of the Wine Curmudgeon ?s regular rants is how old-fashioned, unsophisticated, and wrong-headed most wine marketing is. This is the industry, after all, that still sees wine drinking as the province of middle-aged white men.

Innovation? Nope. Education? Nope? Mostly, just cute labels and names, the same thing that has been going on for the past 20 years. The ?Let ?s appeal to women with a wine called Little Black Dress ? approach is what passes for genius around here.

That ?s one of the many reasons why diet wine ? wine made not to taste good, but to have fewer calories ? is so depressing. It ?s a 40-year-old concept that wine is embracing because it doesn ?t have any better ideas.

The irony is that the current version of diet wine is an accident (because, of course, there was a version 40 years ago). Beam Global, which makes Skinnygirl, was getting out of the wine business when it acquired the brand. Originally, Skinnygirl was cocktails only, but someone at Beam figured it made sense to do a wine version (called a line extension in the trade) and we ended up with diet wine.

Since then, diet wine is all over the place, and the trade press is full of articles about hundreds of thousands of cases being sold here and hundreds of thousands of cases being sold there. Its growth has been facilitated by consolidation and the growth of the biggest producers; as I wrote last year, the big wine companies are ?so good at the [marketing] ? as good, in some ways, as marketing giants like McDonald ?s and Procter & Gamble ? that it almost doesn ?t matter what ?s in the bottle. ?

Which is what diet wine is about. Because, actually, there ?s no need for it. Want to consume fewer calories when drinking wine? Drink less wine, hardly a revolutionary concept. I wrote a story in 2004, during the height of the low-carb craze, and I quoted a dietitian who said the whole thing was foolish and would soon go away. Her take: What was the point of low-carb beer and low-carb pizza, other than as a marketing gimmick?

Which is what we have here. It ?s not a coincidence that the beer business long ago moved on from diet beer in search of something better, and discovered craft beer in the process. Or that flavor has always been part of beer ?s approach to marketing diet products ? how many of us who grew up in the 1970s still remember the Miller Lite slogan: ?Great taste.. less filling

The wine business can ?t even do that. Diet wine is sold almost entirely on the calorie angle; so much so that two brands are endorsed by Weight Watchers. And wine still views its version of craft beer ? regional wine ? as beneath it, or as high-priced cult wines that most of us aren ?t good enough to drink.

The good news is that diet wine hasn ?t been as successful as diet cocktails. Maybe, like low-carb pizza, it will fade away sooner rather than later.

It is possible to write a good news release

The wine PR business has come in for some unkind words on the blog ? Calling all wine coinsures! ? but the point has always been to improve the quality of the business ? marketing and public relations efforts.

With that in mind, it makes sense to note that I received a quality release last week from Elizabeth Kane Tate at EKT Communications, touting several Italian wines for the holidays. The release was in English and not PR speak, the words were spelled correctly, and the suggestions were relevant.

My pal Tim McNally, who helps me keep an eye on these things, noted that the release was ?very well laid out. Each item description to the point. Lots of white space. And no really cute sayings about ?everyone on Santa ?s list really wants one of these. ? ?

The point being, of course, that that sort of thing doesn ?t happen often enough.

Chateau Ste. Michelle, wine marketing, and wine blogging

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.

Press releases, the wine business, and doing it right

bad press releasesOne of the guilty pleasures of this business are bad press releases. When one of us gets one, it makes the rounds via email so quickly that you’d think that our job was not writing about wine, but spotting these things. Earlier this year, we got one that was so awful — a release about wine and Valentine’s Day — that the sender actually pulled the release and apologized for sending it.

This is such a sport, in fact, that I have seriously thought about starting a series of wine writing awards called The Curmudgies, which would include a category for bad releases. (Anyone who thinks that this is a scathingly brilliant idea and has money to sponsor the awards is encouraged to contact me.)

What makes a release “bad”? Could be overwrought writing, where every sentence is breathless, every paragraph includes a word that was especially plucked from the thesaurus, and the tone is so fake that it hurts to read it. Could be a wrong direction — my pal Dave McIntyre once got a release for Cover Girl cosmetics. Could be sloppiness, with lots of typos and misspellings and even wrong facts. And it could be its overall sensibility, which is silly to everyone but the sender.

I’ve actually written about this before, back in the blog’s early days. Not much has changed since then, sadly. Lew Perdue at Wine Industry Insight also keeps tabs on these things, and he regularly calls out releases. And his advice doesn’t seem to do much good, either.

I’m not trying to be rude here; I genuinely want to help. If releases are better, my life is easier. But I got one the other day for a wine called Happy Bitch Rose, from which I quote: “Not too sweet and not too dry, Happy Bitch Rose is a sparkling wine with a blend of Chardonnay and Pinot Noir with aromas of melon, strawberry and orange blossom. Its soft, fruity finish ? like prosecco ? pairs well with girlfriend gatherings and creates several memories!”


We’ll skip the marketing concept for the wine, which apparently isn’t taking any chances. It jumps on the snarky name bandwagon, the sweet wine craze, and the chick buddy movie thing. If that’s what the producer wants to do, it’s their money. I’d focus on the quality and value, but what do I know? (And I’m not the only one who feels this way.)

What’s most annoying about the release is that it does so many things to irritate the people that it’s supposed to impress. Which would be those of us who are being asked to write about it. Because, yes, this email has already come up in discussion between those of us who write about wine.

This paragraph, for instance, says nothing: “Happy Bitch Wines will deliver more than a great tasting wine. Happy Bitch Wines is not just about wine, it’s about lifestyle. Our image will be one of living life to the fullest starting right now, enjoying every moment, and choosing happiness as a way of life.”

No kidding. I’m glad to know that I’m choosing unhappiness if I drink something else.

There is a story here — a chance meeting (on Twitter, no less) between two women who wanted to make a wine that would appeal to women. In the male-dominated wine business, that’s newsworthy. But who is going to notice that part? Who is going to wade through the clutter and the overwriting to find that out? Only cranky wine writers who want to make a point on their blog about press releases.

And that’s not the point of press releases, is it?