Guest Column by Jim Gullo
What a pleasure it is to watch this Oregon wine industry grow and evolve before our eyes. There were just over 200 wineries in the Willamette Valley when I moved to McMinnville seven years ago and began to cover this industry as a journalist and copywriter, and then experienced it behind the counter as a Tasting Room Associate. Now there are nearly 450 wineries in the valley, and over 600 in the state.
We do so many things well that it almost seems effortless to the casual observer. The wines are consistent and top-quality, and have earned Oregon a reputation as being world-class. The visitor experience is casual and likable – tasting room guests talk all the time about how pleasant and informal we are, with unusual access to the winemakers themselves. Even behind-the-scenes things like vineyard management have gotten better and more consistent. Biodynamics, for example, were little known and rarely practiced as recently as 2008.
What hasn’t changed much, curiously, and where we remain behind on the world stage, is in marketing in general and content in particular. Content: The written and spoken words that wineries use to tell their stories to their customers, and how wineries attract more people to seek them out. Stories delivered not only by tasting room staff directly to visitors, but via newsletters, blogs, press releases, clean and exciting websites, and social media. Nobody In Oregon – be it a winemaker, winery or trade association — has grabbed the content reins and become the go-to source of Oregon wine and industry information in the way that Randal Grahm/Bonny Doon has in California, or Charles K. Smith has in Walla Walla. The field is wide open and ready to be seized.
I may be biased, because I make a living from writing and telling stories, but I think that content management will become the next big, important component to a successful winery, as vital to your operation as clean barrels, your vineyard contract and catchy labeling. It has to be: When consumers get the idea that most, or at least a vast majority of wineries produce wines of a similar quality, it is the story, the presentation and the professionalism of the content – of telling the winery’s story – that put it at the top of the list for tastings and direct sales.
Think this isn’t on the mind of the major players in the industry? Argyle Winery in Dundee, which sees extraordinary traffic, will complete a new visitor space this summer. One of their stated goals was to have more areas where customers could sit in small groups and interact with staff – talk and mingle and hear stories about the winery. That’s content. The new management of Scott Paul Wines in Carlton includes a former Nike brand manager and communications expert, and the first thing they will do is renovate the tasting room for more personal interactions and story-telling with customers.
And here’s the nasty flipside: When your content appears to be shoddy and unprofessional, riddled with errors, outdated and loaded with typos and bad writing, it reflects poorly on the brand that you have been so carefully building. Want an example? One winery insists on the front page of their website that they “pour over every detail” in making their wine. They probably mean “pore” over every detail, and that simple error makes you wonder how good their attention to detail really is.
Another tells us on their website that their property “abutts” another (the right spelling is abuts; we all know what a butt is), and from their property you can see “…a statute of Saint Francis of Assisi…” They probably mean statue, unless some legislative body created a statute just for them.
Look, I’m not trying to embarrass anyone or be the school librarian here. But we suddenly have new competition for customers, and when your website and communications are evaluated side by side with the slick, advertising agency sites of your new competitors, will they pass scrutiny?
You know you need professional winemaking, of course, to make your business work. You need professional vineyard management, compliance and accounting. You need business management. Wineries that want to stand out also need professional content management and marketing. Short of that, at the very least, every message that you put up on your website or blog should be proofread by two or more people in your company who have solid English skills. It’s amazing how even professional writers can overlook obvious errors in our work. When we instituted a proofreading policy at Angela Estate, the typos and spelling errors were almost completely eliminated. Everyone in your company should be encouraged to write or post, and a point-person should be in charge of scheduling the flow of information.
Good luck and may the information flow. I can’t wait to see how this industry matures, and how we tell our stories, as we enter the next fifty years of Oregon wine.
Jim Gullo is a freelance writer whose work appears in Oregon Wine Press, and the Alaska and Horizon Airlines magazines. He has published eight books and was the editor and publisher of Oregonwine.com, a web magazine. He has also written and edited content for many wineries. His website is http://www.jim-gullo.com; e-mail is firstname.lastname@example.org.