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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

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I am writing this blog post from the Rennaissance hotel in Vienna. I am here to attend the European wine Bloggers conference and to extend my network with like-minded people:).

Whilst I know that attending a conference is a  more classical way of networking, I want to share that I already have connected with quite a few of the other participants via the web (Facebook, Twitter) before ever meeting them in person. Reaching out and communicating with others via the internet is one way of defining Social Media.  The reason social media is social is that it is two way. E.g. I post something on the internet, and others replies, leave comment or post something else in relation to my post.

Why do I think networking via social media really can make a difference for your wine business?

Well first and foremost it’s a direct communication between you and your consumers, distributors, distributors sales reps, store owners selling your wine and sommeliers and waiting staff pushing it on-trade. By reaching out and connecting with these people  you can transfer your knowledge (eg what is going on at the vineyard and winery, what events you are attending, accolades you have received etc etc) and  educate the people in your network. This will make it easier for them to push your wine (if they are in the trade) or feel more connected to your winery and hence make it their wine of choice (for consumers).

Further more social media updates can be read by people who had never heard of you before, so it is a great opportunity to extend your network and consumer base.

There are indeed many advantages to be had by social media networking, but how should you go about it and is it going to be expensive?

There are many different types of media out there that you can use to connect and communicate with people which are free eg Facebook, Twitter, WordPress, Bloggers, Youtube and Flickr. All you need is a little time to invest in communication to your network. Remember you need to be willing to take the initiative here time after time.

An easy way to start is to create an account in Facebook and Twitter. Spend a little time setting up your profile – because this is where it all begins. Your profile is your personal billboard – give a short overview of your business – be concise and direct when doing so! Remember, your profile is what will attract followers and friends -adding your website address here is also a must as once people are intrigued they will want to find out more about you:)

Updates in both these media are generally short and do not require a lot of time. Both media actively encourage and support the ability to connect to all your email contacts. Do invite all of your existing contacts to connect with you here as well, and once you are connected reach out to them to spread the word about your winery.

Both media also allow you to post links to other sites, use this ability if it will further promote your winery – eg a glorious review by a wine writer -(NZ winegrowers and wineries Man o’War and Misha’s Vineyard are very good at this!) or a youtube video of harvest in progress – this was done by Huegel very successfully last month.

I will post some more examples of wineries and wine related businesses using Social Media during the conference and hope their success will rub off on you!

In this day and age where most wine sales are driven by price and specials, brand loyalty is something which is pretty hard to maintain. However I recently saw 2 very simple  initiatives by small wineries which  I feel will create brand loyalty and I would like to share why I think so with you.

The first one was about 8 weeks ago on my visit to the Champagne Region. In the Grand Cru village of Oger we visited the small winery Maison Jean Milan (http://www.champagne-milan.com/). I noticed an invite on a black board  in the tasting room to participate in a day of harvesting at the winery in September. When I enquired about this, I was given a simple looking pamphlet explaining the event. The pamphlets were also at the local tourist office, and had been sent around to some corporate clients in Paris and hospitality schools in France and Belgium. Every year, Maison Jean Milan hosts several  “Come live the Harvest” experience days, where consumers can book (and pay!) to join the vineyard and winery team for a day during harvest. The day starts around 9 AM with an explanation of how to pick the grapes followed by a few hours of hand picking in the vineyard with the regular vineyard workers. At 1 PM the winery puts on a elaborate lunch, and after lunch the wine making process is described, the guests visit the cellars and the winery – there they see the grapes they picked in the morning being crushed and pressed and pumped into a tank. After the winery visit there is a tasting and around 5 the people are send home with a bottle of Champagne as a momentum.

The second initiative I heard about through Facebook. Barrel Oak Winery (http://www.barreloak.com/), a fairly new winery in Northern Virginia try to actively engage the community around them, as well as tourists, by organising unique and fun events on a regular basis. Last week’s event was called “chomp and stomp” and the invite I got said the following:  “I would highly recommend your coming out to visit. Smash grapes with your bare feet, sit around the fire pits, dance Saturday nite, eat some really great BBQ, watch the leaves turn color.”  I was pretty curious so looked up the event on their website. Basically the Chomp and Stomp event aimed to teach participants about the Barrel Oak Winery wine making process. It also was a charity event in such that it was trying to collect food for the neediest people in the area and Barrel Oak winery provided a free wine tasting to all participants who donated at least 3 cans of food

Now why am I so impressed by both these events and do I feel that they will lead to brand loyalty?

Both events are focussed on the active participation of the wineries’ potential customers in the wine making process. By engaging their potential customers in the heart of their business, these wineries created an emotional bond with their customers, resulting in a subconscious preference for their brand. Furthermore when these customers buy and drink this particular winery’s wines, it will evoke the memories and the story of how they were part of the making of this wine – and this is a story they most likely would love to share over and over again with friends and families!!

So in my opinion, both wineries managed to turn their customers into brand ambassadors for the winery, in a very subtle low cost way, and this to me is an ingenious piece of marketing!

The USA is an important target export market for most wineries around the world as it is the fastest expanding wine drinking market. The market is also totally driven by the Wine Spectator scores (http://www.winespectator.com). The Spectator scores play at every level – in the same way as a trophy or gold medal can make a huge difference to a winery’s sales. A 90+ WS score is almost essential if one wants to sell a good volume of wine at a price point higher than $10…  A 90+ wine is an easy sell for the distributor’s rep, because the 90+ WS score tag will attract shoppers and will help the wine sell through.

Because it’s the most influential magazine in the USA, Canada and many other countries, it’s maybe not surprising that the Wine Spectator is often being (wrongly or rightly) criticised.

Earlier this week I read an interesting  blog post by Blake Gray  (http://wblakegray.blogspot.com/2010/09/open-letter-about-wine-spectator.html) – where he elaborated a bit on his Open Letter to Marvin Shanken – the WS ‘s editor. His open letter caused quite a stir in the wine world, with quite some reactions on Gray’s own Blog post (http://wblakegray.blogspot.com/2010/09/open-letter-to-marvin-shanken.html) lots of tweets and more on the the WS forum (http://forums.winespectator.com/eve/forums/a/tpc/f/6826053161/m/717100867)

Whilst I feel I am in no position to voice an opinion one way or another on James Laube’s palette and his way of scoring Californian wines for the Wine Spectator, I do have an opinion on the Spectator’s policy of having just one person conducting the tastings. I feel the magazine is far too influential and too crucial to a winery’s commercial success in the USA for it just being up to 1 person to decide on the wine’s faith…  I also feel that it’s not fair that the person tasting knows exactly what wine he is tasting – I feel it’s very difficult to mark a wine objectively if one knows the wines – i.e. what if the winery is a major advertiser in the WS, or the winemaker or owner is a friend of the taster – by seeing the label, the taster will often already have a preconceived idea of what scores he should allocate to these wines…

In my opinion, it would make much more sense to follow the model most important and influential wine competitions use: a blind tasting by a (multi person) tasting panel. This will allow for an objective weighed score reflecting a joint opinion of the real quality of the wine. Its a known fact that the WS has a significant depth in their editorial staff (ie tasters)  and I feel the wealth of tasting knowledge of the individual tasters can only add value to the ultimate score they will jointly allocate.

Whilst I know some people do follow the WS tasters very closely, it’s also a fact that the vast majority of the distributor’s reps, shop owners and general consumers do not really know who tasted these wines – what style they like and how they generally score – all that matters for them is that the “Wine Spectator” considers this wine to be extraordinary and allocated it a 90+ score. So with this in mind I really do not think they would be aghast by the fact that the wines are now tasted blind by a tasting panel rather than knowingly by 1 taster.

And I feel it would also be easier for the wineries to accept a weighted score – most wineries I have worked with say they stand for quality and I think this should come through better in a weighted score.

The famous Wine Marketing Plan – lots of wineries speak about it, but what should it be, and do you, as a small(ish) winery have one??

Well a wine marketing plan in my eyes is the same as any business marketing plan – ie it is a written document that details the specific actions needed to achieve one or more marketing objectives. The essence of the process is that it moves from the general to the specific – it translates the vision into the mission, mission into specific objectives, and formulates individual action plans for each of these objectives.

To be be effective it’s crucial that the results of the action plans are measurable and reviewed on a regular (generally monthly) basis, as this allows the company to review their objectives and make the necessary changes to the individual action plans to ensure the objectives are met. In other words, marketing planning is an INTERACTIVE process.

Now most small to medium sized wineries I have dealt with have a vision, a mission and some vague objectives. Not that many of them actually have taken the time to create individual action plans to meet their objectives, and still fewer review their objectives on a regular basis and make changes to the action plans. The reason here is that they are so busy trying to run a winery, produce grapes, make wine that they have not a lot of time to focus on a sales and marketing plan, and most are happy as long as some wine is sold every month.

But actually the investment in a wine marketing plan is not really as big an effort as is often thought. What is needed is to define the objectives in a precise way and most wineries already do this for their financial planning. The only thing that they need to add is a little detail.
E.g. in your financial plan it say that you will sell 20,000 cases of wine next year, of which there are 5,000 sold at home and the rest is exported to several markets. You generally already have the breakdown of the export sales – eg 5000 cases to China, 5000 cases to the UK and 5000 cases to the USA.

What is needed now is to add a more detailed forecast per market, split up per month and per variety sold to the specific market in that month. Eg for the UK, in January 250 cases of Cabernet Sauvignon, 500 cases of Chardonnay and 250 cases of Merlot, In February nothing, in March 250 cases of Merlot, in April, 250 cases of Cabernet and 500 cases of Chardonnay etc etc

Once you have the detailed forecast for the year, you should extend this forecast for the next 4 years, the next 2 years you split up the sales forecasts by market by variety in 3 months periods, and for the last 2 years you give a yearly forecast per variety per market. This will give you your long term sales strategy – it will also bring home exactly how much wine you should expect to go out every month/3 months and allow you to better plan bottling, storage and market visits.

Once you have your monthly forecasts per market per variety, its now important to include checks. A first check should be introduced at time of forecasting and it should compare your forecasted values against the actual sales you had in that market the same time last year – again split up by variety and by month. This will allow you to evaluate your situation and submit your expectations to a reality check and if large sales increases are expected it will enable you to focus on these increases and define tools and resources needed to meet the objectives. Eg you would like to grow in the UK from 200 cases of Cabernet in January last year to 500 cases this year. How will you achieve this – has your UK distributor the means to grow the Cabernet sales in a short period of time? How are you supporting him to achieve this growth (eg larger volume deals, better pricing, in market representation, trophy awarded recently to the Cabernet…)

The second check is to compare the forecasted sales in a month to the actual sales in that same month. E.g. you forecasted 500 cases of Cabernet to go to the UK in January , but instead only 100 went. So you know that your forecast is out by 400 cases – this allows you to come up with a plan to distribute these 400 cases of Cabernet that did not go to the UK in January over other markets and other months. Alternatively, you won the Decanter trophy for your Cabernet in December and in January your sold 1000 cases into the UK rather than 500. What impact will this have on the rest of the markets you had Cabernet allocated to and have you communicated the change in allocation to them?

In short the second check will allow you to realize exactly where you stand in comparison with the forecast and will force you to acknowledge the changes needed to the individual market plans in order to meet the overall objectives.

So adding a little detail to figures most wineries have readily available, has introduced a wealth of knowledge about your exact current situation which now allows you to take control and make the changes which are needed to meet your overall sales targets and to realize your vision!

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