Three Biggest Challenges Facing Small Wineries Today?

I think the real story in the Willamette Valley (and other small regions nationally) is that 75% of wineries produce fewer than 5,000 cases annually. It’s micro-production by any measure. They have survived because of so-called “Premiumization” and the recent fascination with their AVAs. What will happen when the next economic downturn occurs, as the distribution consolidation continues, and/or as vineyard and winery acquisitions accelerate (which they are doing now)? Are there business parallels between what is happening in Willamette Valley and other burgeoning industries such as craft beer or high tech? Is large destined to win? How will small craft producers survive and thrive in the long run?

Distribution

Distribution is one of the most challenging business problems small-production wineries face. Consider that just 20 years ago there were roughly 2,500 wineries and 3,000 distributors. The odds of having your wines represented by distributors were very high due to the demand for excellent wines. Distributors worked hard to help build winery brands. That is not the case today. There are more than 9,000 wineries in the U.S., and with the consolidation of the largest distributors, I estimate only 700 distribution companies remain. And for economic reasons, they focus on large family or corporate winery groups, high profit margins and depletions. The small winery simply cannot compete. Ironically, market research and industry studies show that today’s consumers want to try and purchase more from small craft brands (as opposed to the well-established brands that used to be consumers’ preference), but cannot find them available in the marketplace.

Additionally, I was reminded of the purchasing power of retailers that act as wholesalers. I made a trip to Costco recently and discovered cut-rate pricing for Willamette Valley Pinot Noirs on display for Oregon Wine Month. Would you believe $10.99 for Willamette Valley label wines? Concurrently, there are active initiatives to control labeling and varietal percentages to enhance the Willamette Valley brand and presumably our price points. I can’t make sense of this discounted pricing in the long run, despite the recent large yield vintages.

Competition

While there are still many small winery operations starting up these days, there are many others that are better equipped for this hyper-competitive environment. I believe we are living in a wine bubble that is destined to pop for economic, political or other unforeseen reasons. Starting a winery today requires significant funding and marketing wherewithal to stand out in today’s crowded, competitive market. We not only have too many wineries in small regions like Willamette Valley, we’re seeing many more from all over the world that bring serious investment dollars and business savvy to bear. Many smaller wineries aren’t so well prepared.

I am also starting to see high quality and reasonably priced $20-$30 Pinot Noir – which I believe is sustainable for most small wineries – and should act as a good hedge against eventual restrained consumer spending, as well as to supply national wholesale markets.

Brand Building

Why do this? Because top of mind awareness is the only way to ensure consumers will buy wine from you when they are ready. The adage goes something like this – Repetition breeds familiarity; Familiarity breeds trust; and Trust leads to Sales. It’s the justification for advertising and media relations programs.

While getting media coverage is still essential for businesses, it is increasingly challenging due to the proliferation of wineries and dearth of established writers with ongoing columns. In other words, the days of being “discovered” and handed a strong fan base due to media coverage have passed.

Writers are not paid enough to research and discover, nor do they have time to do so. Wine brands that stand out in today’s world tend to get ongoing media coverage for three reasons: (1) They are already popular, often written about, and quick and easy for writers to review; and/or (2) They are easily found in the marketplace due to distribution; and 3) They spend advertising dollars with a media outlet. Many print and online publications rely on a pay-to-play system to survive in a post-Internet world. This leaves many small-production wineries out of the equation, and mostly for financial reasons.

Another aspect of branding is controlling your winery profiles on social media. I like to think of social media as Consumer PR. Have you claimed your profiles on all the relevant sites? I mean not only the obvious ones – Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, but also the travel itinerary, wine country mapping, wine rating and mobile app sites. Monitor, post and engage consistently.

Strategies

My feeling is that a balanced approach of direct-to-consumer marketing (direct sales in tasting room/club members and eCommerce), ongoing brand building (using media coverage in your marketing), and specialized targeted distribution options (online brokers, targeted states) are required to ensure success. Unless you have been established for a long period of time (5 years or more), a reasonable goal is 20-30% wholesale and 70% direct sales.

Small do-it-all-yourself wineries are finally hiring marketing staff – DTC or Hospitality Managers – either from within the wine business or outside – experienced hospitality professionals (hotel and restaurant staff come to mind) are excellent hires. They understand the importance of the customer service experience and can quickly acquire sufficient wine knowledge. And they have direct experience with seated tastings, proven to generate higher sales per visitor. Give them a mobile POS and cut them loose.

Consider creating a staff position to manage your wine club, and choreograph the sales path with your staff. Why? Loyalty programs might be the saving grace for small producers. Revenue is recurring and mostly predictable. Members refer friends when treated well and their business is appreciated. Get a handle on this important aspect of your direct sales program while wine clubs are still viable.

Doing outreach and getting media exposure will continue to build awareness of your brand and unique market position to support these goals. Using third-party expert opinions (feature articles, wine reviews and scores) in your content marketing will help you to stay top of mind with your customers.

CARL GIAVANTI is a Winery Publicist with a DTC Marketing background, going on his 10th year of winery consulting. Carl has been involved in business marketing and public relations for over 25 years – originally in technology, digital marketing and project management, and now as a winery media relations consultant. Clients are or have been in Napa Valley, Willamette Valley, and the Columbia Gorge. (www.CarlGiavantiConsulting.com/Media).

Winery PR Doesn’t Sell Wine!

Winery PR Doesn’t Sell Wine!

Winery PR does not directly sell wine, nor is it intended to do so. This is not a retraction from my previous article – Does Media Coverage Help Me Sell Wine? Media Relations is about showing the media real stories and wines that fit what they need or want to write about. Communications professionals and publicists help you earn media by trying to influence and facilitate that coverage.

I recently heard a tasting room staffer state “There are two types of wine. The kind you like and the kind you don’t”. I believe there is a third type – the kind you haven’t yet experienced. And that is why wine is a “Discovery” item for consumers. PR’s job is to facilitate discovery through media coverage. Therefore, PR is about lead generation not about sales generation. Unfortunately many wineries do not understand this or can’t afford to engage in a media relations campaign.

While media coverage can have an immediate impact on sales, doing these types of communications and outreach are more akin to a triathlon than a sprint, not one off projects based on cash flow need, backed up inventory, facility openings and new wine releases.

There are also those winery owners/winemakers who believe all they need are great scores in Wine Spectator to sell wine. Due to score inflation and the mountain of wines submitted (estimated 1,200 – 1,500 labels/month), even Wine Spectator scores don’t matter these days unless you receive 94+ points. What happens if your current vintage marks are sub-par? Is this when you start up your PR efforts?

What does a winery PR campaign look like?

I get inquiries all the time asking about winery PR, and what exactly do I do? The short answer is that I help wineries sell wine by generating media coverage and wine reviews for their brands. Why is that important? There are three reasons. Media coverage 1) implies endorsement from a third party authority 2) introduces your winery to new customers, who will hopefully seek out your brand and 3) provides valuable marketing content for existing customers, followers and subscribers.

  • Consumers need validation, whether from a journalist telling your story or reviewer rating your wines. You can’t rely on Spectator and Enthusiast ratings alone.
  • You can’t keep going back to the same well. There are simply too many wonderful new wineries out there and customer attrition can be brutal
  • Third party content helps you to stay connected and market to existing customers and subscribers, and reminds them of their patronage by sharing your accolades (articles, reviews, scores). More brand impressions and touch points breed the idea of familiarity and quality.

Can you afford not do have an active PR Program?

Sadly and honestly, I believe the answer is negative. Here are three current news items to consider. The big players control the game because 1) large distributors already control the second tier 2) the largest producers will soon control their own second tier 3) legislation benefits the large players the most

  • Consider the consolidation of distributors for a moment. I recently read that New York State fined Southern Glazer $3.5M for bribery, aka pay-to-play with their retailers. With this much money at stake this comes as no surprise. The current wholesaler “mob” and the largest retailers are winning at this game and small production wineries are not in play.
  • Fred Franzia of Bronco wines (Two Buck Chuck) is building its own rail and freight systems to move wine direct to retailers and reduce their shipping costs. This of course increases their margins and puts additional price pressure on everyone else.
  • The recent federal reduction in winery excise tax barely benefits wineries with 5,000 cases of production. The sweet spot is about 100,000 cases if I understand the tax tables correctly. Are you one of the 85% of wineries in the U.S. with less than 5,000 cases?

So what’s a small winery to do?

The answer is not necessarily to engage in PR efforts and media campaigns, not if you aren’t ready. The answer may be to get ready quick. Here are three actionable things you can do now. I suggest you start by 1) identifying your winery’s next marketing role 2) enhancing your winery’s position in your local and regional marketing associations and 3) having your media and trade readiness evaluated by a professional consulting firm or trusted industry advisor.

  • Marketing positions might include tasting room manager (assuming you still manage TR staff) responsible for goals and functions related to consumer direct sales; direct sales manager (assuming you have a tasting room manager) responsible for all aspects of direct sales including tasting room, wine club, offsite and onsite events, and even direct to trade sales; wine club manager once you club gets to critical mass (about 500 active accounts); marketing manager (assuming you don’t have someone else with strong experience in digital marketing) responsible for all platforms including email, blogging, website maintenance, social marketing, etc.
  • Winery associations are getting more involved and getting more requests from writers, buyers and distributors, and are increasing sharing information and recommendations with members. Volunteer for the member board and participate in the marketing committees to stay ahead.
  • Are you trade and media ready?

CARL GIAVANTI is a Winery Publicist with a DTC Marketing background. He’s going on his 10th year of winery consulting. Carl has been involved in business marketing and public relations for over 25 years; originally in technology, digital marketing and project management, and now as a winery media relations consultant. Clients are or have been in Napa Valley, Willamette Valley, and the Columbia Gorge. (www.CarlGiavantiConsulting.com/Media).

How to Taste with Professional Reviewers and Critics

Sampling your wines is important. Writers will not review your wines unless you send and they taste them. Even better than just sending samples? Invite professional reviewers and wine critics to visit you at the winery. How better to understand your dirt, special sense of place, the facility where wines are produced, and to meet you, the winemaker in situ?

What to do, what not to do?

If you assume that most small producers have a plan for such visits you would be wrong. I’ve found many wineries that rely on personal interaction to engage consumers and casual wine media do not necessarily know what to do with professional reviewers. This article is based on a conversation with Rusty Gaffney aka Prince of Pinot (www.princeofpinot.com) who has been writing his eponymous Pinot Noir devoted newsletter for over 15 years. Rusty accepts shipped samples of Pinot Noir from around the world, but what I find compelling about his program is that he actually makes it a point to visit wineries and taste onsite whenever possible. Also, Rusty has received winemakers in Orange County where he lives. Feel free to contact him if you’re working the market or if you’ll be in Southern California.

Our interactions were intended to demonstrate how to receive a wine critic and what to do specifically to make the critic’s limited time useful and leave the most favorable impression possible. As Rusty says “This is the kind of stuff they don’t teach at UC Davis or OSU”. Here’s what we discussed and Rusty’s candid and detailed responses.

Conduct a focused tasting that is well prepared in advance

Rusty: Organize the tasting – either finished bottles or barrel – based on the time of year and how you can best show off your wines. It can’t be emphasize enough that the winery needs to be prepared ahead of time and well organized so the reviewer is comfortable and can perceive that preparations have been made in advance.

Rusty: I believe the winemaker should be prepared ahead of time with some idea of how he/she plans to utilize our time together. They can give options but should have planned the options ahead of time considering when wines were bottled and what wines in barrel are appropriate to taste at that time. If it is a sit down finished bottle tasting, the tech sheets on each wine each wine should be available at the tasting so I don’t have to keep asking details including MSRP. Prepare and hand out appropriate information about the winery/yourself. Water should always be available as well as spit cups/receptacles.

Rusty: The winery should dictate the tasting and not ask the reviewer what they want to taste unless the reviewer demands certain arrangements.

Carl: I was just at a long standing professional wine conference with 30 wineries pouring. There were 2 dump buckets in total, both became immediately full. There were no water pitchers or stations anywhere near the event space. How is it possible to miss those details?

Sit down Versus Stand up tastings

Rusty: Have a sit down venue available if possible with proper glassware, water, spit cups, pen, paper, and wine tech sheets that include the date of release and MSRP.

Consider giving writer time to taste alone and then discuss the wines. The last time I went to Willamette Valley, one of the wineries had five vintages of the same wine lined up with glasses and allowed me to taste in private before discussing. And they didn’t interrupt. I liked this. It is hard to adequately taste wines when the winemaker is hovering over you and engaging you in conversation. On the other hand, it is very helpful to have the winemaker’s insight and comments, and general impressions about the vintage and wines are welcome information to the reviewer as long as they are not obviously over enthusiastic.

Carl: Offering a private space to accommodate writers that to taste privately is an excellent idea. You can show them what you’ve setup when they arrive and ask if they’ like to taste alone. If so, revisit the wines with them after and answer questions they may have.

Create a Relaxed Meeting Experience

Rusty: Make yourself available over a generous time period. The writer should determine how long the encounter will be. The mood should be relaxed and not rushed. It is important to talk personally beyond the wine and winery discussion to give the writer insight into yourself and provide background info for a write up.

Carl: If the tasting takes place in a public space such as your tasting room, have someone there to take care of other guests during open hours. I know this sounds obvious but I’ve seen winemakers dashing between tasting guests and media and it makes a negative impression.

What to Say/Not to Say to Writers

Rusty: Do not discuss finances of the winery or how difficult it is to get distribution.

Rusty: the winery should know in advance how much time the reviewing critic plans to spend at the winery. The winery or publicist should inquire ahead of time about the time frame of the visiting reviewer.

Carl: Upbeat and heartfelt personal greetings matter. Show the writer what you have prepared and planned for their visit. See if the setup meets their expectations. If you are working with a publicist they will typically know how the writer likes to interact and taste through the wines. If you are uncertain of their schedule or if they are running late, ask how much time they have allowed and keep to that schedule unless they would like to extend.

Carl: Be sure to have some key brand points of difference ready to share at the right time. Although this is a formal tasting, personalities and relationships matter. They may love your wines but may not make the extra effort to write if you don’t make a personal connection and if the experience is somehow uniquely not memorable. No, it’s not all about the wine.

Carl:  There is no need to tell the writer your opinions before they taste. Your personal preferences for a specific vintage or style of wine are not necessarily theirs.

Wrapping Up

Rusty: Offer to give the writer opened bottle(s) as they may wish to re-taste later. Also, giving an unopened bottle is a nice gesture for the writer’s time and makes an impression.

Rusty: Always send the writer a follow-up email within 24 hours thanking them for the visit and offering any further information or samples needed. Invite them back anytime if appropriate.

Carl: If you are not working with a PR firm or have communications staff, be certain to let the reviewer know you have bottle and label images and any other winery asset they might need. High resolution photography is not optional (yes, I mean no iPhone bottle shots!).

Rusty: It also is critical that the winery uses the reviewer visits in all their social media (take a photo of reviewer at winery) and on their website. The fact that a reviewer spent the time to come to their winery is a Huge marketing ploy. Be sure to give the reviewer who visits recognition in every way possible. No reviewer who chooses to visit should be minimized.

Remember, reviewer visits are a FREE marketing advantage and I cannot overemphasize the importance of the reviewer’s impression after the winery visit. I receive many inquiries from readers asking advice about what wineries to visit, and the impression winery’s earn will have a major impact on what wineries I recommend. Those that reach out to me to receive recommendations are serious wine buyers and these are the type of customers that wineries want to embrace.

Carl: If you are successful getting important wine critics to visit your winery, and if they like the wines and review them or write a feature article about your brand and wines; please be certain to get the article or wine review online links; a copy of the article if in print and use the content in your marketing. Be sure to tag the author, and use proper hashtags so others see the content. This will drive up the value perception of your brand, and we all know how difficult it is to get attention in today’s marketplace, so be sure to leverage the opportunity.

WILLIAM “RUSTY” GAFFNEY, MD, aka the “Prince of Pinot,” is a retired ophthalmologist who has had a love affair with Pinot Noir for nearly forty years. Upon retirement from medicine, he devoted his energies to writing the PinotFile at princeofpinot.com, an online newsletter that was among the first wine publications exclusively devoted to Pinot Noir. Rusty tastes Pinot Noir almost daily, reads about Pinot Noir constantly through all of the available resources on wine, and visits Pinot Noir producing regions frequently. He also leads wine tours, organizes wine tastings and wine dinners, and participates as a judge in wine competitions. He can be reached by email at prince@princeofpinot.com.

CARL GIAVANTI is a Winery Publicist with a DTC Marketing background. He’s going on his 9th year of winery consulting. Carl has been involved in business marketing and public relations for over 25 years; originally in technology, digital marketing and project management, and now as a winery media relations consultant. Clients are or have been in Napa Valley, Willamette Valley, and the Columbia Gorge. (www.CarlGiavantiConsulting.com/Media).

Does Social Media Help Me Sell Wine?

The Ultimate Question. The Ultimate Answer?

Engaging in social media is like having your own PR department. I like to call it Consumer PR. You are initiating a conversation about your winery and presenting your brand to the public. For small wineries this can be a little scary due to perceived loss of control. Traditional media approaches like press releases, media outreach, advertising, and submitting wines for review are very important, but for small wineries the potential new audience reach and the economics around social media are compelling.

One of my long time clients recently said “Social Media is a waste of time.” This is puzzling to me because this is one way many people like to communicate. Interestingly, this specific winery has more social followers and gets more engagement than most other wineries. I believe that proving social media helps sell wine is the real issue. Before social media, could a winery prove that advertising, media coverage, events and festivals, or printed materials helped sell wine? Does anything other than hand selling wine help sell wine? The answer is yes and no, and proof requires vision, commitment, patience and an earnest effort to track and analyze the results of your marketing efforts. The reality is that the path to purchase is more complicated than ever and interconnected with other marketing efforts.

Brand Impressions

Brand image is incremental. Marketing professionals have long said that it takes between 7 – 13 touches to get a new customer commitment to purchase. With social media, wineries can achieve those touches and targeted impressions much faster than with traditional media approaches. Remember that the nature of social media is social, and that winery promotions typically should be a mix of informational (80%) and promotional (20%). In other words, establish your credibility before “The Ask.” Writing educational articles for your website about relevant wine topics and responding to all queries and comments is a great way to do this.

Engaging Consumers

Your DTC strategy is predicated on having a unique message – See my article What is your Voice? With social media, it’s easy to take an image based approach. Use Instagram and Facebook. Tag people, other wineries, wine industry businesses and associations to spread your message. Use photo captions and hashtags to focus on those customers who engage with brands online to expand the conversation. These customers spend more on average and have identified wine as an “Interest.” This makes targeting the conversation much easier. Twitter now allows images without character count, and using category hashtags like #wine #pinotnoir #winery #tastingroom help Twitter users search and find your posts.

Amplifying your message

Most people won’t act unless you ask them to. Include one (no more than two) call-to-action in every post, and include a link to your website or shopping cart, or dedicated landing page. You should always ask for likes, follows, comments, shares, tags, or check-ins to prompt readers to engage and help extend the reach of your message and ultimately build your base. Additionally, and unfortunately, most of your social media posts won’t be seen unless you advertise on social media, so having a modest monthly budget for this is imperative.

Consumer PR

Wineries understand the 3-Tier system. Here’s an analogy. “Social Influencers” are the distributors of impressions and a channel to new followers and potential buyers. Influencers can be print or online writers with a strong social presence and lots of followers – photo journalists; wine, food or travel bloggers; videographers or podcasters. They can also be consumers or brand ambassadors with strong wine interests and lots of followers. You can develop and nurture relationships with these influencers on a casual organic or paid basis, but it is certainly another way to amplify your message and indirectly sell wine by using social media.

The Ultimate Excuse

The ultimate excuse I hear from small wineries is – We’re just a small winery. We don’t have the staff or capacity to spend lots of time on social media, tracking and analytics, or marketing in general.

The Ultimate Response

The ultimate response is that you really don’t have any choice, and we already know the reasons – too many wineries, too few viable distribution options, limited access to on-premise and off premise outlets, and too much big money moving into your market with the wherewithal to promote their brands. And trust me; social media is just one of the tools in their arsenal. Does Social Media really help sell wine? Probably not directly, but if you stay top of mind, you will sell wine when people are ready to buy, otherwise you may easily be forgotten.

Does Media Coverage Help Me Sell Wine?

The Ultimate Question. The Ultimate Answer?

The only question more difficult than this one for a publicist is “Show me exactly how much wine I sold as a result of the media coverage you obtained for us”.

I was on the phone with a longtime client recently, and received a question I didn’t expect – Does media coverage help us sell wine? – It’s a difficult and broad discussion, and there are so many ways to respond, so instead I deferred and asked “Maybe you can be more specific”?

Let me give this a shot. Generally speaking I would say yes, although it’s difficult to quantify. But I think the question could more appropriately be – Does media coverage encourage consumers to buy wine from us eventually? – as I don’t think there is an instant and direct correlation (with the possible exception of 94+ point scores in Spectator and a few other high end publications) between media hits and selling wine. The reason for this is that people buy from brands they trust and have experienced. Short of that, consumers rely on 3rd party expert opinions to justify their purchases and loyalty. Readers respect writer’s opinions, much as they trust selected wine shop’s palates to guide their purchases.

Media coverage is one aspect of a comprehensive marketing program, and if you aren’t getting media endorsements – articles, reviews, scores – about your winery and wines, it creates an additional barrier to entry for consumers as they have too much choice and information to sort through these days. So yes, media coverage helps new customers discover your brand and wines, which should eventually lead to sales. The point is staying top of mind, and when the time is right and someone is ready to buy you should reap the harvest (couldn’t resist that analogy).

Andy Perdue of Great Northwest Wine says “ I ask wineries featured in my Seattle Times column what kind of consumer feedback they got, and it ranges from a few calls and sales to the phone ringing off the hook, and a ton of sales and wine club signups. I also get feedback from wine shop owners mentioning upticks in sales when the column comes out. And if I review a wine that is difficult to find or happens to be sold out, I hear about it from the consumer.” Andy’s partner Eric Degerman adds that “Wineries can do themselves a favor by quoting and linking back to reviews of wines. Sharing on social media is important. And promoting a post for $20 will often get a lot of good reactions from consumers.”

Tracking the impact of an article via website analytics is worth the effort but tricky. You can correlate spikes of traffic within 7-10 days of an article or magazine review, but it is anecdotal at best. How many readers signed up for your email list after reading an article or review? What about Social Media follows and engagement? You can track these pre-sales actions, but you can’t track sales as easily. However, you now can market directly to those new subscribers, resultant from the media coverage, and hopefully eventually sell them wine. It is an ongoing process and requires vision and patience.

Online articles about your brand are directly track-able when linked back to the winery’s site. If you place a related ad, you can use promo codes for readers of those publications. You know exactly how many visitors came from that coverage because of the unique link or code, and if they purchased.

There are other potential results of media coverage to consider – What about retail store purchases? The wine shop or restaurant customer sees your winery on the list, and recognizes the brand, somehow. Maybe they don’t know from where or why but feel comfortable making a purchase because of some previous media impression. So no, media coverage doesn’t typically directly sell wine, but it greases the skids and removes barriers to enable new customer to find you and purchase your products.

That’s all fine and good and understood, but here is an even tougher question from said client – How do we get the writer’s audience to take action, i.e. to buy our wines? Should the writer be promoting wines that they like to their readers?

This brings us into the cutting edge realm of “Influencer Marketing” which is a hybrid of earned media and advertising, and includes both “they” (the writers) and “we” (the winery) promoting action. Where we want to be extremely careful is not to be perceived as collaborating with writers on advertorials like certain wine travel magazines offer, because people are savvy to that, and professional writers and reviewers lose credibility. There are writers for hire that are more focused on billings than investigative journalism that you can approach to promote your brand.

So how do we get THEIR readers to take action? – It is not the writers’ job to sell your wine as this is conflict of interest for any objective journalist. It is your job to leverage their content in your marketing.  See my article on using media coverage in your content marketing.

One way to leverage articles and reviews is to advertise on their site, place a banner ad or pay for a review. Take a look at Catherine Fallis’ Planet Grape website as an example – upper right hand corner are banner ads. Consumers will hopefully click, which could lead to sales. There are many other ways to pay-to-play with wine reviewers such as The Sommelier Company who will review your wines for a fee. I don’t believe the paid nature influences the actual score, although this always depends on the integrity of the reviewer or publication.

Another example are video reviewers who are paid to review wines, and will say nice and positive things, and post the video on YouTube and their social sites exposing your brand to their followers. I am also actively talking to other influencers in the wine, food and travel industries, and other outlets about doing the same. I think this is a better, superior option to simply running static print ads, and should be part of an overall advertising budget. Vetting the source, type of consumers and marketing program is a must before dedicating advertising dollars to any project.

In the end, no winery can afford not to do all the things that generate sales – either directly or indirectly – including marketing, PR and paid advertising (including Influencer marketing). It’s just too competitive out there and consumers have too much choice.

I think most of you inherently know this, so hopefully this article offers some points of clarification on the topic. Bottom line – Wineries will get more out of media coverage when they put more into it after it’s published. Please comment or email and let me know your thoughts.

Kudos to one of my long time client for continuing to ask the tough questions. You know who you are!

CARL GIAVANTI is Winery Publicist with a DTC Marketing background. He’s going on his 8th year of winery consulting. Carl has been involved in business marketing and public relations for over 25-years; originally in technology, digital marketing and project management, and now as a winery media relations consultant.  Clients are or have been in Napa Valley, Willamette Valley, and the Columbia Gorge.  (www.CarlGiavantiConsulting.com/Media).

 

Engaging with Writers before “The Ask” – Part II

What do Writers really need and want?

Q&A Interview with Jim Gullo

This is the second part of a two-part series. Part one appeared in the May/June issue of The Grapevine Magazine and is available online. I continue my conversation with Jim Gullo about what it’s like to be a professional writer, and to discuss the wine business from his perspective. Jim is a self described Author, Journalist, Wine Writer, Food Eater & Pastryologist. He tweets, he writes, he eats and he’s coming back for more. His work appears regularly in the Alaska Airlines Magazine, Horizon Airlines Magazine, Oregon Wine Press and other publications. Turning to books in recent years, Jim has most recently authored “Grouch Bag,” a children’s novel about finding the Marx Brothers; “Trading Manny,” how he and his son learned to love baseball; and “Fountain of Youth,” a bittersweet novel about coming to terms with loss. He has also written 100s of magazine articles, and now writes from his perspective in the middle of the Willamette Valley wine country. You can learn more about Jim on his website and blog: http://www.jim-gullo.com/

I asked Jim to do this interview because I believe small wineries can benefit from his insights. In this section we’ll get into specifics about the mechanics of working with professional writers.

  1. How do you juggle multiple writing assignments – your books, travel and wine writing, etc?

I have been making this up as I go along for 29 years now, so am fairly good at looking for clients, pitching stories, researching and writing them and meeting deadlines. When I don’t have specific, paying assignments I try to spend my time working on book projects, which pay even worse than magazine writing but are creatively very satisfying and have a potential upside of sales. I don’t have as much time as I would like, to talk with people and explore if I don’t have a dedicated business reason to do so. Between family duties (I have two sons at home) and trying to keep my business afloat, I don’t have much time for speculative writing or research.

  1. When and how did you get interested in wine, and when was your first wine themed assignment?

I grew up in a winemaking region of western New York State and was always fascinated by the confluence of agriculture, nature and craft that goes into fine wine. I quit my job in New York in 1981 to go to France and Switzerland to pick grapes, and was exposed to lots of fine wine, and the charm of winemaking villages. Travel writing has brought me to places like the Piedmont in Italy, the Hunter Valley of Australia, the Loire Valley and the canals of Burgundy in France, and the wine regions of Oregon and Washington, and my food stories would invariably be intertwined with wine. In fact, I first “discovered” the Willamette Valley on an unrelated travel writing assignment, and knew instantly that I wanted to live here and report on the people making these extraordinary wines.

  1. Why is it important to read a writer’s articles in advance of contacting and pitching them?

It’s not one size fits all. There are lots of different writers doing different things, with different specific interests. My focus has always been to look for bigger stories to report, that fit my writing style, and I like to immerse myself and participate in a story where I can. It was perfect for me, for example, when Sokol Blosser recently invited me to attend one of their first cooking classes, and I could chop and cook and participate. Trade information about vineyard practices and clonal selections doesn’t do much for me. But I don’t think that everyone should know and have to keep up with every writer out there. Just keeping me in the loop of what you’re doing at the winery will allow me to decide if there is something I can use, or plug into an existing project.

  1. Do you think it’s helpful to subscribe to a writer’s blog, newsletter and social media sites if they are on your target media list? Why?

No…who has time for all of that reading? That’s a job for the PR professionals. I would say that if you like something you read, and it seems to fit with what you’re doing at your winery, you should note the writer’s name and make sure they’re on your contact list.

  1. Do you find that most small wineries have a unique and memorable story to tell/pitch? What makes for a strong “story hook”?

Sure, but I think that most of the stories are personal – about people. Why they’re doing this with their time and money, what brought them here, what are their backgrounds? I’m still a total believer in the Oregon paradigm of independent people coming here to craft something memorable, getting involved in the community and putting in their own sweat and tears (and money) to make great wines. The corporate and business story of rich people buying into the business and running it from afar leaves me cold. Also, there isn’t much I can do with stories about receiving scores, or vineyard practices and clonal selections, although those stories are useful to many of the wine writers and bloggers, as are Press Releases with real news.

Please keep in mind that there are now upwards of 700 wineries in the state of Oregon, 450 or so in the Willamette Valley alone. We can’t cover everybody. The people whom I wind up writing about took the time to make a personal connection, invited me to their events, allowed me to get to know them and sample their wines, and (this is important) make terrific wines. I can’t write about a winery if the wines are mediocre, even if I adore the people.

  1. What SHOULDN’T wineries do in their interactions with writers?

Oh boy, another question that I could go on and on about. For one thing, you should make sure that your website, press releases and blog are not riddled with spelling and grammatical errors. We writers have a special fondness for the language, and seeing it mangled leaves us cold. When you expound on your attention to detail in every aspect of your winemaking operation, but misspell every third word and have the grammatical awareness of a sixth-grader…well, I have to question your ability to recognize details. Having a professionally produced Media Kit is very helpful and saves writers time by summarizing the key facts they will want to know.

Also, blowing smoke won’t get you far. I once had a regional group of winemakers blather on to me on how their wines were far superior to Bordeaux – but they’d never been to France. Other people bragged about how theirs was a top tourist destination that everyone should visit…but there was limited lodging of any size in the region, and that was a casino. And the vineyard owners who bragged that they were growing “the grapes for a $100 pinot noir”…but didn’t much like pinot themselves and hadn’t tried many. Come on, people! Let’s get real.

Keep it simple, keep it honest, tell me what’s important to you about your operation and we will find some area to work together.

If you don’t have anyone on staff with the skills and/or desire to write and pitch your stories and your wines, you should consider meeting with and possibly hiring a PR professional to assist you.

CARL GIAVANTI is Winery Publicist with a DTC Marketing background. He’s going on his 8th year of winery consulting. Carl has been involved in business marketing and public relations for over 25-years; originally in technology, digital marketing and project management, and now as a winery media relations consultant. Clients are or have been in Napa Valley, Willamette Valley, and the Columbia Gorge.  (www.CarlGiavantiConsulting.com/Media).

CONTENT Drives Winery Recognition; Now More Than Ever

Leveraging all three types of content is critical for small producers

Let’s face it; brand building was easier 20 years ago. Small production wineries today are in an extremely competitive environment. There are close to 9,000 wineries and growing in the U.S. alone. International brands are flooding our markets with good quality and aggressively priced imports. Add to that the consolidation of U.S. distributors, and you have lots of boutique wineries desperately seeking attention and representation from far fewer distributors. Twenty years ago it was not uncommon to be 100% allocated to wholesalers. Today, this is not a realistic model. Here are some wine market facts to consider:

  • 1995 – 2,600 Wineries and 3,000 Distributors*
  • 2008 – The Great Recession starts. Distributors consolidate their books and themselves, and focus on larger, well-known brands
  • 2015 – 8,800 Wineries and 700 Distributors*
  • Today – Distributors work hard selling major brands, and are not necessarily looking for small producers with premium-priced wines
  • Today – five or six national beverage distributors control 65% of all wines wholesaled nationally
  • Today – Large retailers have monopoly power. Retailers with private labels are proliferating and call the shots (Total Wine, Trader Joe’s, Costco)
  • Today – There are fewer print publications with paid staff journalists and wine columns to discovery and report your winery story, and review your wines
  • Today – Wine journalism as a whole is moving from print to a digital medium. How will these outlets generate revenue? They will be looking to you for advertising and/or sponsorship dollars
  • Today – Online wine writers continue to proliferate. Which ones are in your strategic markets? How many are credible and have impact?
  • Today – Wine publications are starting to screen your wines in advance of permitting submissions due to sheer volume alone
  • Today – Wine publications may want you to pay for high scores with label placement and ads in their print and online editions
  • Today – It’s a pay-to-play world and getting consumer mindshare and media recognition can be difficult and expensive
  • Today – Wine consumers are overwhelmed with the sea of wine available
  • But – All is not lost! Please read on!

Today’s challenging marketplace requires small wineries to take control of your own destiny – both DTC Marketing and Wine Media Outreach are the key. Distributors are (for the most part) not going to help you “build your brand” unless there is a quick ROI and minimal risk. It is essential for small producers to tell their own stories, and get their brands and wines to market and be recognized by consumers. I talk specifics on how to get coverage for your brand in this article: Winery PR in a Pay-to-Play World.

All of this brings me to the point of this article—the critical importance of Content. Let’s review the three types of marketing content: owned, paid and earned content.

Owned Content is what you’ve created and actually own—your website, social media platforms, winery blog and news, photos, videos, etc. Paid Content is exposure you purchase—advertising, label placement, etc. And finally, Earned Content is the most important if you want to expand your reach beyond the subscribers and followers you already have and are already marketing to.

Earned Content or Earned Media are third party endorsements by wine writers or other media outlets —media coverage for your brand that results in accolades like feature articles, media mentions, wine reviews and scores. This is also why brand building through media outreach is imperative, as there are too many wineries for writers to discover unless you are being proactive. Can you still be a wine media darling just by making exceptionally good wine? Maybe, but don’t count on it. Put a media program in place to ensure your news and Your Voice is heard.

This area of Earned Content or Earned Media is important because it contributes to the library of content your winery can use in its marketing efforts. Wine is still an esoteric luxury purchase for many consumers, and they rely on expert opinions to support their buying decisions. Links to articles, podcasts, and video interviews about your brand are great marketing content. Share your scores, medals and other achievements in your general interest and wine club newsletters, and on social media. These are the bragging rights that you’ve earned, and that makes a huge difference in today’s wine world. On the flip side, garnering media attention but not doing anything with it, such as mentioning and linking to it on your website, blog and social media pages, is a terrible waste of a precious resource.

Despite our new 21st Century challenges, these are actually sunny days for the premium wines category. Get your Marketing and PR game on now, and bank enough Earned Media content to help you weather the more difficult times to come.

*Source: SVB 2015 State of the Wine Industry

CARL GIAVANTI has been involved in business marketing and public relations for over 25-years; originally in technology, digital marketing and project management, and now as a winery media relations consultant. Carl started by focusing on DTC Marketing for wineries 7 years ago, and formed a Winery PR Consultancy over 4 years ago (www.CarlGiavantiConsulting.com/Media). Clients are or have been in Napa Valley, the Carneros, Willamette Valley, and the Columbia Gorge.