Maximizing Exposure: Sending Wine Samples to Critics

Maximizing Exposure: Sending Wine Samples to Critics

This article originally appeared in Wine Business Monthly on May 3rd, 2024  

Pros and Cons for Wineries

In the competitive landscape of the wine industry, standing out from the crowd is paramount. One effective way wineries can garner attention and build credibility is by sampling their wines. This practice is a cornerstone of your marketing strategy – both for wholesale trade, and consumer direct sales. However, there are both opportunities and challenges for winemakers and brand owners to consider. In this article, we will explore the importance of sending samples to critics, weighing both pros and cons.

Obtaining wine reviews and scores can only be done with sampling your wines. I once heard a writer say “I can’t review their wines if they don’t send them to me”. Same thing goes for the Big 10 rating publications, wine competitions, online reviews, etc. Get your wines out there. The impact of receiving strong ratings will drive traffic to your online store and tasting room, but only if you use them correctly!


Critical Reviews and Validation

Sending wine samples to reputable critics offers wineries the chance to receive third party validation for their wines and affirm winemaking styles. Positive reviews from respected voices in the industry can enhance a winery’s reputation and build brand trust among consumers.

Increased Exposure

A positive review from a prominent wine critic can significantly boost a winery’s visibility. Many consumers still rely on scores and reviews to make purchasing decisions. Scores on a shelf talker are a type of shorthand for consumer decision making and do influence purchasing behavior. Wines featured in influential publications or online platforms (especially those with large subscription bases and social followers) can expose a winery to an audience increasingly purchasing wine online.

Content Marketing

Scores, awards, and reviews provide excellent material for marketing and branding efforts. Wineries can leverage positive feedback in promotional materials, on their websites, and in social media and email campaigns. After all, wholesales and consumers still rely on so called “expert opinions”, so why not remove a barrier to sales by providing them?

Educational Value

Critics often provide detailed tasting notes and insights into the nuances of a wine. This information can be valuable for both winemakers and consumers. Over time, showing consensus of quality ratings across multiple reviewers is proof positive for existing and potential new customers.


Subjectivity and Bias

Critics’ reviews are inherently subjective, influenced by personal preferences and individual palates. And their opinions can vary on any given day. A wine that doesn’t resonate with one critic may be loved by another. Again, over time showing scores for wines that are positive trending is your proof.

Cost Considerations

Shipping samples to critics can be costly, and some well-known wine publications and reviewers may require multiple bottles, not to mention the print publications’ $1,000 offer to highlight your reviews with a label image placement! Wine Competitions do require a fee plus multiple bottles, so decide where you have the best chance of receiving significant awards and exposure. Every winery that samples should establish a sampling list and budget prior any wine reviews campaign.

Negative Reviews

Winemakers and owners are naturally concerned about low ratings. The reality is that most independent reviewers will not publish negatively, but rather, will not publish the review at all. On the other hand, you can receive sub-90-point scores from the legacy publications and they will print and post those online. Look closely at the point systems. Anything above 85 points is generally respectable. However, as a winery publicist, I’d not advise promoting anything lower than 90 points.

Limited Control

Once wine samples are sent for review, wineries must make arrangements to follow-up in an organized fashion. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve been told by reviewers that they receive wines unsolicited and from producers they’ve never heard of or heard from. It appears obvious the winery representative hasn’t read the samples requirements or asked if samples are being accepted. The result of this is that those wines are typically shared with friends and family and not reviewed.

Conclusion: Sending samples to critics is a strategic move that comes with both advantages and challenges. The potential for positive visibility and content marketing opportunities must be balanced against the subjective nature of reviews and financial considerations. Wineries should carefully assess their target audience – Wholesale or DTC or Both – and overall brand strategy to determine if sampling aligns with their business objectives. When approached thoughtfully, the practice of sending samples to critics can be a powerful tool for wineries looking to distinguish themselves in a crowded marketplace.

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