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Today I would like to share the presentation Ryan O’Connell from O Vineyards gave at le #levin20 – I found a video of his presentation last week and I have been thinking about what he was saying ever since.

First let me explain a little more about LE VIN 2.0 – it’s an event which was organised for wine professionals in Paris on 8th December of which the purpose was to gain a better understanding of the web.02 and use it to add value to your wines and gain access to new markets. Unfortunately yours truly unable to attend, but live stream coverage and twitter and blog post have enabled me to just about recreate the day:-)

LEVIN 2.0 (or #levin20 on Twitter) was in my opinion a very important event and evidence of this can be seen in the list of important wine web people who shared their experiences. These include amongst others Gary Vaynerchuk from Winelibrary TV, Philippe Hugon from vinternet, Marc Roisin of vinogusto.com , Yair Haidu of Haidu.net and Rowan Gormley of nakedwines .

Back to Ryan O’Connell – Ryan is a talented young winemaker who owns a vineyard and winery together with his family in Carcassone in the Languedoc. Besides making wine Ryan is quite active in Social Media – and actually although he says that girls don’t stop him in the streets (yet!) he’s quite a well known web02 wine character. In his presentation he talks about how Social Media networking has changed his marketing strategy. He compares Social Media to the more traditional way of marketing, ie wine shows. The shows is where you network and expand your professional relationships as well as try and form customer relationships. This is both possible in Social Media as well says Ryan, and in a less competitive and crowded space. At the wine shows, as a small producer on a very small stand, it is very hard to take the attention away from the larger producers who often invest in a fancy stand that draws the (professional and consumer) crowds. However, a lot of them haven’t made a similar investment in Social Media yet, so it is possible and actually very feasible for a smaller producer to steal the lime light here;-) However, fame and stardom never come easy – and so to get anywhere in Social Media a company needs to do more than just have a blog on their website, open a Facebook page and Tweet occasionally. No to make it one has to actively engage and look for relationships – both on a professional and consumer level.

As said on several occasions by Gary Vaynerchuck you have to be willing to give a lot, help people out and really work at communicating with similar minded people before things start to pay off. However if you do invest the time and effort you can and will meet awesome people online, either fans of your wine – they have had it somewhere before, and by engaging personally with these people you will create the very sought after brand loyalty. And by communicating and sharing ideas with other professionals they will open their network to you, and it is very likely that you will be introduced to someone who can and wants to sell your wine.

And as Ryan pointed out – it does help to talk about more than just your brand.. Ryan set up a regional body – Love that Languedoc – and shared that he has created a lot more interest for his wines by promoting his region rather than just the wines – it gives him a point of difference and adds more value for anybody wanting to understand Languedoc wines.

Whilst I do believe that social media is no replacement for a wine show, I know that whilst the area is not overly crowded yet, it’s a great networking tool which I highly recommend using.
I also recommend following Ryan’s example and share information on your region or country; I know from experience that if you are willing to share knowledge on more than just your vineyard you draw people to you and they will remember you for it – on or off line!

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From 22-26 October 2010 I participated in the #EWBC (Eureopean Wine Bloggers Conference)  – a fantastic international event organized by Gabriella and Ryan Opaz of Catavino, and Robert McIntosh of Thirst for Wine. The #EWBC was in its third year and was attended by 200 people from over 30 countries.

Now why do I want to share this experience with you? Besides learning a lot about social media and tasting some fabulous Austrian wines this event in my eyes was also a great  illustration of how you can expand your brand presence online! How I can hear you whisper…

Well Elin McCoy, the famous wine journalist and author, addressed future of wine criticism in the opening Keynote. She raised a whole lot of questions about whom the wine critics of tomorrow would be and introduced the term “citizen wine critic”. She argued that because of the diversification of the wine world – the traditional wine critics at an established organisations (eg Robert Parker – or the guys at the Wine Spectator) are struggling to keep up with the new trends in the wine world. (new varieties, terroirs, vineyard and winemaking techniques) This diversification hence creates a need for local experts – often in the form of wine bloggers & wine lovers who are passionate about a specific region/variety – to share their knowledge and in this way help educate the consumer.

In my opinion, Elin was not saying that the traditional wine critics were not important anymore, but rather that the fast evolving wine world and the rise of social media has created other opportunities for wineries to gain brand awareness.

I would strongly advise you to create a winery blog on your website, and encourage your customers to leave comments here. Add a FB and Twitter share button, so that they can share their comments with their friends. I would also actively encourage people to leave a wine review on one of the many user generated content sites out there (eg like www.cellartracker.comadegga.com or ablegrape.com). You can do this either on the label (for instance by using the avin system or adding a link to one of these sites) or encourage customers at tastings or at the cellar door. Cellartracker has more than 5 million reviews alone, and getting your customers in the habit to use these sites will make you less dependent on scores from the traditional wine critics. And best of all it’s free and is shared by thousands!

In the closing Keynote, by Evan Schnittman of Bloomsbury Publishing, spoke about how the rise of the internet has changed the world of publishing. More and more people reading books, articles etc are doing this today on a Kindle, iPads and other internet connected devices, which means they can reference and comment directly on what they are reading. And by doing this they will have the opportunity to reference blogs, social media channels and topic related websites.

Again I truly believe that this development allows you increased direct communication with your customers> However, in order to effectively do so,  you will need to make sure your website is up to date and has tasting notes for all your wines in the market, as well as bottleshots, vineyard and winery  images and the latest news  readily available.

However maybe the most important lesson I learned from the #EWBC is that wineries actively involved in Social Media and attending these events will see an immediate increase in exposure. At these events you have a captive audience of international writers -who will feel privileged by you taking the time to taste them through your wines and as a result will happily share this experience with the rest of their online community. They will often write blog posts about you, or at least promote you on Twitter and Facebook. And again all this extra exposure only requires a few sample bottles and your presence at the event – a real bargain if you ask me:-)

To finish off this article I just would like to mention that a lot of my fellow wine bloggers have been a lot less slack that I have and have written some beautiful stories about the conference in the past few months.

Here are the links to some of my favourite stories:
EWBC – ongoing stories by Ryan O’connel
EWBC by Lucia Barzanò
EWBC through the eyes of Ignacio Segovia
Enjoy an Austrian Wine Holiday at the Loisium Wine and Spa Resort by Diane Letulle
Where some stories start and many go – by MissVickyWine
Exploring the art of Lunch in Vienna by Jim Budd
Listz in the Cellar by the Winesleuth
Gemütlichkeit: The Ideal Descriptor of Austrian Gastronomy by Gabriella Opaz

Last weekend I visited the beautiful Rhineland – Phalz area, and enjoyed a wonderful morning at the Mosel Wine Museum in Bernkastel-Kues (http://www.moselweinmuseum.de). The museum is interactive, and takes you through the wine growing, harvesting and wine making process of the region. Quite an experience as most of the best Riesling sites around the Mosel are planted on extremely steep hills, which makes the vine tendering and picking quite challenging…

The highlight of the visit for me though was the amazing wine cellar (Vinothek) which is hosted at the Weinkulturelles Zentrum. A tasting of the more than 150 wines is available for 15 Euro’s per peson. When you pay for the tasting you receive a glass and a list of all the wines one can taste in the cellar. Most of these wines are for sale and all the pricing is also included on the list. In the cellar there several experts willing and able to assist the tasting public. The majority of the wines are (obviously) Rieslings, but there are also other white and red varieties available to taste and purchase.

Besides wanting to tell you about the high quality of  the majority of Rieslings I tasted on Sunday morning, I also wanted to share this story as the Vinothek (and the Museum) is another great marketing story.

A lot of the Weingut’s in the region are very small wineries, only producing a few 1000 bottles a year, and ideally these bottles are all sold “directly” to the public. However, most very small business’s struggle to run a constantly open cellar door… That is why the Vinothek is a great opportunity for them. The tasting cellars are located at café and restaurant of the famous Mosel wine museum in the very touristy Bernkastel-Kues, and bus loads of tourists visit the museum every day. These tourists afterwards take a stroll in the cellars, and about 1/3 of them will pay for the tasting, and another 25% will have a glass of wine at the café.  Hence the winery can attract a large tasting public without having to invest in a cellar door and if the winery invests in it’s relationship with the tasting experts, these experts will regularly recommend the wineries wines to the tasting public, resulting in a higher turnover for the winery.

Speaking of sales, I was amazed at the volume of sales at the cellar. I think this is directly related with giving the consumer the opportunity to taste and compare different styles of wine of a particular vintage, type and area (Eg 2009 Trocket Kabinet  Riesling) in one place; this ability to compare makes them more confident about what they like and what not and this generally will result in them buying several bottles of their favourite wine.

So my advise to small wineries would be to actively try and join a similar set up as this Vinothek, ie a place that attracts lots of visitors and offers consumers the ability to taste multiple wines from lots of wineries in that particular region. Experience tells me that a lot of wine regions have a multi-wineries tasting rooms, and these tasting rooms are often located on tourist trails. Look out for this in your particular region, find out what the fees are to be part of the tasting room, how much wine you would have to sell in order to break even and speak to other wineries in the tasting room to see if this is feasible.

Once you have decided that you want to join this particular tasting room, go and taste the other wines in the tasting room and compare them with your wines. Do involve the tasting staff in this comparative tasting and encourage them to look for similarities and differences with their other favourite wines, ask them what wines they feel would best feature in the comparative tasting and why. Actively engage them in these initial stages and be prepared to learn from them – by doing this you make them feel special and they in return will have warm feelings about your wines and will promote them actively.

Once the wine is part of the tasting room portfolio, continue to invest in your relationship with the tasting room staff, be part of any events the tasting room may organise and visit the property regularly and I am sure you will reap the rewards:)

Making great wine often remains the sole focus point for many winery owners and wine makers. Whilst aiming to make the best wine you possibly can definitely is worthwhile and noble goal, I feel at least as much focus should be on where, how and when you are going to sell this wee miracle in a bottle. Awesome wine that doesn’t really make it into a (paying) consumers glass, may be a bit of a waist of time – unless you are a filthy rich filantrope making exclusive wine for your own consumption…

Unfortunately most of the winemakers and winery owners I have ever don’t really fit into that category, which means they are dependent on wine sales to pay the wine making bills… So what is the best way to go about this?

In my opinion, to be a great sales person it’s essential to know and understand your product, your potential customer base and your market. In other words, what are the characteristics of your wines, who is your target audience, and what other similar wines are out there and how are they influencing the way your target audience may perceive your products ?

An example: a small winery in Marlborough makes Sauvignon Blanc, wants to export this wine into the UK.  Marlborough Sauvignon blanc is a fruit driven fresh and zesty wine with great acidity. This acidity and fruitiness is what made this particular style of Sauvignon Blanc popular all over the world. In the UK this wine retails around 4-6 pounds in the supermarket and 6-8 pounds in the independent trade. Our small winery however, in order to make profit, will need to sell the wine at around 4 pounds FOB per bottle, resulting in the wine hitting the shelves between 14-16 pounds. As its pretty difficult for the untrained palate to pick out the subtle nuances in the Marlborough Sauvignon category its going to be hard going to sell this wine next to rest of the Marlborough Sauvignon Blanc section.  However this wine could prosper in the on-premise sector, in a trendy restaurant for instance. Consumers know what to expect from a Marlborough Sauvignon Blanc, they also know they will pay a little more being out in a trendy spot, so the barrier to purchase will be a lot lower than when they see that same wine on the shelf in an independent retailer. The restaurant owner or F & B manager also sees benefits in having a less known wines from a well known regions on his list as it will better mask his mark up. By knowing his product, his customers expectation and the market the small winery owner will aim the on-premise sector when trying to sell his wines in the UK.

My next post will be about direct sales as they still hold the highest ROI for the winery owner – but its pretty hard to export and sell directly at the same time…

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