An Open Letter to Winery Owners: Things I Would Do If I Owned A Winery

By: Susan DeMatei

It’s tough out there right now. COVID cases are on the rise, scaring both our customers and employees. Bank relief programs are ending, but the virus looks like it is just getting started. Even if we are in an area that can open a tasting room, we’re not sure what the rules are this week, or exactly how to alter our protocol to keep everyone safe. With harvest looming and the farming community profoundly affected, some wonder if they’ll get their grapes picked at all this year. My day is spent hearing the stories and struggles of so many within our community, I wish I could do more to help. All I have to offer is my experience. This is not a sales article. I’m not pitching anything. I don’t have a silver bullet, but I can share some advice on how to help your businesses.

Waiting is not a Strategy

  The first day wineries were closed in California we lost 5 clients – all calling to apologetically say they were cutting spending while the tasting room was closed and would be back when it reopened. 5 months later, most of us realize there is no going back at this point. We’ve also recognized acting like an ostrich with our head in the sand isn’t going to work, either. The keyword for 2020 is “pivot,” and the Darwinism of survival will favor those who adapt quickly and are flexible.

  My favorite example of a pivot is Tuco, a turn of the last century subsidiary of the Upson Company, which initially produced 3/16” wallboard for home construction. This was all good until the Great Depression hit, all construction stopped, and Tuco found itself stuck with warehouses of drywall and construction equipment. Not giving up or waiting it out, they realized they had boards, printers, and jigsaws, so they could, theoretically, print images on the board and cut them into pieces. By 1932, Tuco was the largest producer of picture (jigsaw) puzzles throughout the early-1980s. You can still find them all over eBay, and they’re now quite collectible.

  I’m not suggesting we all start making board games, but we have one client who began turning their alcohol into a grape-based hand sanitizer, which I thought was clever. We are also witnessing a surge in others making their websites more streamlined for sales, and a swap in traffic efforts redirected toward website traffic over tasting room traffic.

My point here is, don’t just turn off the faucet of tasting room traffic and sales without having plans and programs to replace that stream somewhere else. You need alternatives to sales and new list signups and engagement with your members and customers that can’t come to visit. How well you continue those three critical goals will determine if you make it to whatever “normal” will be post-COVID. Let’s look at each one next.

eCommerce is Now Critical

  Since February, you should have been focused on optimizing your website sales wherever possible. But if you haven’t, it’s never too late to emphasize this channel, and you still have time to get your act together before the critical Q4 selling season. Let’s break down some specific things you can do to help shore up this sales channel.

  Search Engine Optimization: SEO is all about Google (or other search engines). Google scans sites and pages to serve up results that match search queries. SEO is the hidden message in which you tell Google what is on your site’s pages. Part of SEO is the meta tags, which are like a little ad for each page. Put your winery website in Google and see what comes back. If you don’t see an “ad” for each page, then Google has pulled random words, usually the navigation or footer, because it didn’t know what the page was about. Meta tags are essential and should be action-oriented 155-character statements that describe what is on the page and why someone would want to go there.

  How do you do this? If you’re on WordPress, many plugins make this easy. We like Yoast. If you’re on a proprietary platform, ask them or look at your documentation site. It is unlikely that there is no way to access these page tags.

Website Presentation

  You wouldn’t open your tasting room if it wasn’t stocked and clean and ready for visitors so, why do so many fail to keep their website store updated? Takedown old products, update new ones with scores or notes. Update your shipping options and tables. Please invest in professional bottle shots or, at the very least, buy a $40 product table-top lightbox on Amazon. Review everything on mobile. Put in test orders to confirm your work and ensure it is easy to purchase, and the shipping is calculating. If your eCommerce system allows, use every tool they have, such as carrots or bundles or automatic emails. Your website is your tasting room now and for the foreseeable future. Put as much care into it as you would your property so it can do the heavy lifting.

  Drive Traffic to Your Newly Refreshed Website

  At a high level, you can bucket your efforts into three buckets – existing customers, existing non-buyers on the mailing list, and new potential customers.

  For existing customers, make sure you have a strong email campaign touching them at a minimum once a month (twice a month is better.) They may not feel comfortable visiting you in person, but you can keep in touch with them. Alternate your sales offers with general news, recipes, and information about the winery, vineyard, or people. Everyone is feeling isolated and a bit disconnected now, so they will appreciate your outreach.

  For non-buyers on your mailing list, follow much the same strategy as the existing customers but target them with “trial” offers with low barriers. This is not the group to send a case offer to. Lean toward 2 bottle packs and comp shipping to nudge them to make their first purchase. And possibly lean more toward introductory copy about you and your winery since they don’t know you as well as your existing customers.

  Gathering brand new customers is a must. Consider that we’re experiencing double-digit unemployment at the moment and that databases, in a good year, decay at a rate of 2% a month. This equates to my prophetic prediction that if you check now, you’ve lost, at a minimum, 12% of your mailing list since the COVID closures in March. All those newly canceled business emails will only increase your bounces. You’ve got to start working on accumulating qualified leads as soon as you’re done reading this article.

  There are two significant ways to get qualified signups to your mailing list and get sales from new customers online: Facebook ads and Google Adwords. Facebook is, by far, the easiest. If you can Google Search, you can find tutorials and blogs written about how to set up Facebook ads. I can’t encourage you enough to do this right now. You should have two, maybe three campaigns running at all times. The first one, with a smaller budget, maybe $100 a month, with the goal of “like-ing” your page, so you are continually gathering a community online. A second campaign with a slightly higher budget, maybe $150-$200 a month, should focus on lead generation. Facebook has collection forms and a whole ad category for collecting leads. Just follow the directions or Google for help. The third campaign would be for sales. Pick that same introductory two-pack you’re offering to your non-purchasers on your database and create an ad on Facebook. Upload your purchasers and unsubscribes to Facebook and target this sales campaign to a “lookalike” audience.

  Google can be very effective at these three objectives as well. We have had particular success with the sales approach. Targeting is more complex, and you’ll have to watch a few online tutorials to master this, but I would encourage you to give it a try. Expect to spend about $600+ a month, however, to see decent results.

What Do You Say?

  It is understood that times are tough, and you need sales. It is also understood that your wine is delicious, award-winning, handcrafted and that if you are open, you are doing everything possible to keep it clean and contact-free. It is so universally understood – try to avoid saying it because it isn’t about you… it’s about them.

  They are feeling lonely, isolated, unsettled, burnt-out, and exhausted. While we don’t want to market ourselves as an alcoholic elixir that will solve all problems, wine is a lovely balm for much of what ails us. Over the past months, we have seen plenty of creative emails and social media posts about zoom happy hours, food and wine pairings, wine and toilet paper offers, and everything from updates on winery dogs to staff members to keep us engaged. Don’t forget to remind them there is good in the world and you are part of that good, and they are good and should treat themselves with your good wine. Keep it positive and heartfelt.

  We didn’t mention discounting. On the whole, discounting (beyond what you usually do) isn’t an effective strategy for a downturn. Why? Because in times of stress, people tend to purchase for emotional reasons, not logical ones. If you were to re-read that list in the previous paragraph of what our customers are feeling right now, a 35% discount doesn’t solve them. So, don’t rush to devalue your product. Instead, position your product as an integral part of their new reality.

One Last Point: Do Something

  I realize many of you are feeling very alone now. You’ve had to furlough or let go of staffers and are now winemaker, general, tasting room, wine club, and marketing manager. But, to circle back to the beginning of this article, doing nothing is not a strategy for success. Please don’t sit back and watch all that you’ve built fall apart around you while you wait for tasting rooms to return to their former glory.

  You don’t have to be radical or expensive or even   innovative – just pivot your efforts and your businesses toward online sales. I tried to give you tips here to get online sales on your own. If you still need help, you can literally Google how to do almost anything. But, if you don’t have the time, don’t give up. Instead, get some help. You don’t have to hire WineGlass Marketing; there are many other capable agencies. You could work with one of the hundreds of consultants out there that specialize in email or social media or website editing. And don’t forget about recent graduates. We have an entire graduating class with nowhere to go who are eager to get started with their lives. A quick and free ad on Craigslist might find someone capable who can help you for a very reasonable hourly rate and have you reaping in online sales by this time next week

  Susan DeMatei is the President of  WineGlass Marketing, a full-service direct marketing firm working within the wine industry in Napa, California.

Covid, Community & Commerce: The Emergence of Online Engagement & eCommerce

By: Carl Giavanti

Many wineries, business partners and consumers are at home in some form of quarantine or under stay at home restrictions. This is a communications opportunity – to interact with other tasting room and wine industry professionals on social media – as well as with your customers, and not just to sell wine.

  Consumers will want to know what’s going on with the winery, and may be interested in engaging with you online. DTC marketing outreach by old school mail, email and social media will keep people informed and updated, as well as offer them online opportunities to enjoy your wines shipped direct to their homes.

  Be authentic and genuine. What is Your Brand really all about? I’m reading that people don’t want more pitches for wine, but want to know what the winery is doing to accommodate followers and community during the crisis. I would hedge a little on promos, and err on the side of subtlety and indirect offers, by focusing on wine education and entertainment experiences which are brand appropriate.

  Is this the long-awaited inflection point to meaningful winery eCommerce? Now is the time for wineries to find creative ways to shift their business models and shift their sales channel strategies. The last 10 years saw an adjustment from reliance on distribution sales to selling Consumer Direct. Small producers with fully established DTC programs are the most affected by this disruption and many are reacting very quickly and creatively with online solutions. I think this will be the point of transition for those wineries that have not fully embraced eCommerce, to establish online sales as a significant and ongoing part of their DTC programs.

  In addition to curbside pickup and drop-off services, there has been lots of interest and many calls for Virtual Tastings from the winery associations and the media. They are looking for events that are part of your programming, so scheduling and publishing well in advance – to allow for system testing (Facebook Live, Instagram Live, Zoom, Skype, etc.) and presentation practice is important, as well as providing ample time for shipping if customers are interested in acquiring specific wines for the event. From my perspective, this could and should become part of your ongoing DTC program – post pandemic – to reach out-of-state and other targeted groups, i.e. consumers, out of state club members, trade or media – so why not get a program in place now and take a leadership position?

  I also suggest you do the math and focus on “Shipping Included” promotions versus discounts. Develop a progressive schedule of different packages and gift packs for instance. Consider which wines to offer for virtual tasting events featuring winemaker and staff. You might be surprised at people’s willingness to meet and taste with you online – with either your wines or for wine education. Finally, remember the phone? I know its old school, but the human voice is reassuring. Keep your staff engaged by having them contact your best customers, not just club members. Check to see how they are doing, let them know what’s happening at the winery – and just this one time – don’t ask or mention selling them wine. You might be surprised at the results.

  Here are some best practice marketing articles I’ve read that you may find helpful:

•    Wine Direct – scheduling, engaging and selling wine direct to consumer:

•    Amber LeBeau, SpitBucket Blog – discusses the importance of authenticity. Offers recommendations and creative ideas for winery pandemic responses:

•    Rob McMillan, Silicon Valley Bank – eCommerce is your pivot from tasting room sales, and Rob offers fun ideas to engage, sell and ship wines to consumers:

  For my part as a publicist, I’m focused on shipping wines to reviewers across the U.S., not only the large national publications but also critics and writers whose opinion matters. Their reports and reviews will help my clients stay top of mind and provide important content to support their marketing efforts. I’ll also reschedule canceled March and April visits, and hopefully start booking media tours again late spring, early summer. That’s my best guess timing at this point. Of course, pitching client stories to national and regional outlets including magazines, broadcast and radio seemingly never ends.

  Things that wineries can do on the digital and marketing side are:

•    Website – update all pages with current information, virtual offers and photos. Position the site as if you are an online only business, with tasting room and in person experiences coming soon. Special focus now should be on the shopping cart and mobile shopping experience. Is the site fully responsive? If not fix that. What shipping or “quarantine” promos can you run to capture online sales?

•    Photo Gallery – setup or update your gallery by category (Seasons, Views, People, Vineyard, Harvest, Events, etc.) and populate with best available high-resolution photos. Someone will need to curate your library of photos. I use this resource often for media image requests. Why is professional photography so important?

•    Content Schedule – setup and maintain a schedule for email and social media marketing. Identify content in advance – news, promos, photos, etc. This also helps me coordinate media outreach and with your marketing department.

•    Wine Club Retention – you are likely to get some cancels or credit card rejections. Offer membership suspends for 3 months, downsize club levels or at least keep them on the general email list for future “we want you back” campaigns.

  I believe the 2020 pandemic will trigger an industry-wide transition to more meaningful digital and social communications, and most importantly eCommerce as a profitable channel. Not all wineries will get it done. Those that do will be in a better position going forward.

  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.

Keeping it Social: How to Approach Your Online Connections Post-COVID

By: Tracey L. Kelley

Aspects of target marketing are quite fluid right now and are projected to be for some time. As the world continues a slow but seemingly progressive recovery from COVID-19, and as the United States, in particular, addresses other key issues affecting its citizens, how you approach a purposeful social media presence for your brand has a significant impact on your turnaround.

In an article for Scientific American, tech expert David Pogue said, “No longer are you on top of the mountain, blasting your marketing message down to the masses through your megaphone. All of a sudden, the masses are conversing with one another.” These are the conversations and actions you need to engage in on your social platforms to reposition your wines, tasting room, community engagement and other advances of your business.

Community and Locality Matter Now More than Ever

You may have experienced extra support from existing and new customers during the pandemic. This momentum, said Meaghan Webster, is essential to maintain through online channels. “People are sourcing inspiration from social media for how to support local businesses and their employees. There’s been a huge push from consumers to support local restaurants and beverage producers they know are struggling, and wineries should acknowledge this sentiment on social media, emphasizing the local nature of their products.”

Webster is the founder of Meaghan W. Marketing and current marketing manager for First Batch Hospitality, the group behind urban winemaking and events at Brooklyn Winery in New York, District Winery in Washington, D.C., and RiNo Point Winery in Denver. She told The Grapevine Magazine that how you use social media to enhance alliances in the community—both with your charitable partnerships and to celebrate the efforts of employees and customers—matters now. So steep your posts with gratitude. “For example, if a winery is donating a percentage of its sales to recovery for their laid-off employees or a special industry fund, then social posts referencing these efforts should thank followers and customers for contributing to the stated cause,” she said. “People love when you show them the impact that their purchase has made. Therefore, follow up and post about how much ended up being contributed to the cause.”

Chad Richards is vice president of Firebelly, a “social media marketing agency on a mission since 2007” based in Indianapolis. Firebelly has worked with JUSTIN Winery and Landmark Vineyards, as well as breweries and restaurants. Richards also recommended taking a less self-serving approach. “Whatever you do, make sure the hero is the charity or community you’re supporting. Nothing elicits eye rolls faster than ‘Look at us—we’re so charitable!’”

If you shredded your social media plan already, don’t worry. There’s still strong potential for authentic communication. “Humans like stories, and we’re storytellers by nature. It’s how we connect to one another, and right now, people are seeking connection more than ever,” Richards said. “And don’t worry about trying to be creative or clever—just be honest.”

We all appreciate uplifting stories right now, according to the media team at Happy Medium, a full-service digital creative agency in Des Moines, Iowa. Keeping this intent in mind helps you craft social media content that showcases community involvement as a result of the energy of your brand and, by close relation, all your customers.

“Overall, audiences tend to react well to community involvement because it’s inspirational and aspirational. If your team is volunteering, share a photo of employees at the volunteer event. If you made a charitable donation, ask the recipient to share digital assets that align with the cause you’re helping them support,” the Happy Medium media team said. “This demonstrates how your brand builds and supports communities in a way that’s relatable and impactful. Write a brief caption about why the cause you’re supporting is relevant to the brand. Always tag the organization!”

Creating Evocative Content

The critical nuts and bolts of pandemic communication are still necessary. On your website and across all social media channels, points about safety, sanitary practices, operational hours and tasting room traffic allowances, among others, must be continuously updated and with proper sensitivity. But, Webster added, you can also use this time to create a haven of comfort.

“Offering a bit of escape from reality is received very well, according to social media analytics for the wineries I work for,” she said. “People are longing for normal times of the past, which means they enjoy seeing photos of what wineries were like before everything shut down. All businesses should be especially cognizant of the tone they use, and always acknowledge the current state of the world in their captions in some way. But providing the nostalgia and temporary escape that followers are looking for right now is a good way to keep people engaged.”

Webster suggested showing the human side of the business through Instagram stories and static posts to “connect people of the business with people who want to support the business.” What’s going on in the vineyards right now? Who’s putting wine shipments together while the winery is closed? What’s the origin story of the winery and vineyard, how did it evolve pre-COVID and how is it navigating this difficult time?

“While the entire story may be long and not fit into one social media post, a winery should know its full narrative, so when it writes a shorter Instagram caption or creates a few slides of an Instagram story about their business, they can distill the most important parts down into a digestible format, and weave it into posts whenever they can,” Webster said.

Happy Medium advised using interactive content whenever possible, to build confidence and trust. “Customers are more likely to engage with content that entertains, educates and tells an authentic story. Engaging customers with your content makes your brand more memorable and creates a deeper connection,” the media team said. “Try incorporating polls, question and answer stickers, or feature the people who make your brand what it is in Instagram stories or by hosting a live stream. Both of these are growing social trends that bolster higher engagement and should be a staple to any social media strategy.”

Don’t feel you have to do all the heavy lifting of brand awareness and connection alone. Once again, Richards said, think about potential alliances. “Get your bottles into the hands of influencers—allowing people to learn about your product via someone they already trust or admire. And think outside the box. These don’t have to be wine or foodie influencers. A travel, fashion or beauty influencer could easily weave your brand and bottle into their story.”

And if the budget allows, boost your social media ad views. “I realize they may be a luxury in times like these, but ads really are the fastest way to get the right message to the right people in the right places,” he said. “Many brands have cut their ad spends, so the marketplace is less competitive right now. You’ll get more for your money if you’re able to participate.”

As reopening continues, your messaging to various demographics might change slightly. Take time to evaluate your core audiences and cater to how they might be feeling. For example:

• Promote your best practices for safety and cleanliness to reassure and comfort people who want to visit your winery but express concern about contagions.
• Consider how other individuals, including those new to the wine tasting experience, might want to know about both your in-person and virtual interactive opportunities.

• Finally, there are additional people, especially those in younger demographics, who are eager to get out and make new memories. Show them through social media why your establishment is the perfect choice for safe-but-fun gatherings.

Remember the message of online interaction: simply ask your followers what they might be interested in, and listen carefully. Their suggestions might be different than what you’ve tried before, but now is the time to take advantage of fresh ideas.

Social Media Tips for the Next 12-18 Months

“Flexible consistency” is the action plan for your social media efforts now—and the foreseeable future. Maybe your marketing manager is temporarily furloughed. Perhaps your state allowed gradual reopening, but as you approach early harvests, you don’t feel you’ll have time to maintain your online presence like you did last year.

The media team at Happy Medium suggested three areas of focus:

• Post consistently. While so much consumer activity has slowed during this period, it’s especially important for brands to stay top-of-mind with their consumers. Even if operations are currently paused, still send at least a couple of posts per week.

• Stay positive. Audiences have been overloaded with COVID-19 messaging over the past few months and are starting to become jaded to overused marketing verbiage. Send positive messages while still being respectful to the current situation.

• Don’t post content exclusively directed at sales: share photos and stories about your team, industry news or fun facts about your winery and operations.

A 2017 study from the American Express Customer Service Barometer reported that Americans are “more likely to post about good experiences (53%) than poor experiences (35%).” So, in addition to staying realistic and flexible about your content and posting efforts, reaffirming customer service is one of the strongest messages Webster offered.

“For small wineries without dedicated marketing or social media staff, that means digital customer service often gets put on the back burner.” She suggested navigating it this way:

• Respond to comments from followers on your posts—or “like” them at the very least.

• Acknowledge when an excited customer shares a photo of your wine on their Instagram story by at least “liking” it. More preferably, respond to it with thanks, and re-share it to your winery’s story.

• Not only “liking” a photo that a loyal fan tagged your wine in, but also commenting on their post and thanking them for their support.

“This kind of gratitude and engagement is always important for building brand loyalty on social media, but it’s especially crucial during this pandemic when financial difficulty is rampant, and fans are giving your winery free, unprompted promotion,” Webster said.

Also, pay close attention to direct messages and respond promptly, and help customers find links to website pages. “This is an important aspect of social media management that many wineries and small businesses could improve on.”

Finally, be realistic, Richards told The Grapevine Magazine. He provided these tips:

• Be flexible. These are unique times, and we’re not sure what will happen next. That’s okay. Nobody does. Be prepared to update your plan and approach as needed.

• Think short term. Take it month-by-month or maybe even week-by-week. Any really long-term campaign planning will likely be disrupted.

• Show vulnerability. If you’re struggling, say so. It makes you relatable, and people will want to support you and come to your rescue.

“Know that it’s okay to ‘not know,’” said Richards. “Uncertainty is uncomfortable—especially when it comes to business and finances—but we’re all in the same boat right now. A ‘best guess’ is sometimes the best you can do.”

The Media Team at Happy Medium
Social Media Handles on Instagram/Twitter:

Chad Richards, Vice President, Firebelly
Social Media Handles on Instagram/Twitter:
Chad Richards: @chadrichards
Firebelly Marketing: @wearefirebelly

Meaghan Webster, founder, Meaghan W. Marketing
Social Media Handle on Instagram:

Email Is Not Dead…But You Can Be Deadly With It!

Woman watching online videos on desktop

By: Susan DeMatei

I actually looked it up; AOL started in 1993, which brought in a revolution of using email for personal and business communication. Because this is not a new marketing channel, people assume it is passé. In fact, if you look at Google searches, “email is dead” as a searched term appears very frequently. But the fact that there are so many of us using a 27-year-old technology shows just how alive it really is.

  But that doesn’t mean it’s easy. In 1997, online emails got a 7% response rate because it was new and shiny and relatively few companies were using it to communicate with customers. In 2019, we saw a 48% conversion rate on winery emails because today’s brands understand the value of this channel. As more emails are sent, we compete for attention and the stakes have increased.

  According to Statista, the daily number of emails received and sent today is 306.4 billion– and 55% of them are spam. Templafy tells us the average office worker sends out 40 work-related emails a day – but gets back 90. With so much demanding attention in the inbox, you’ll need each email to exhibit a killer performance.

The Six Drivers of Success

  About once a month I get a call from a client that says, “my emails aren’t performing well, I want to talk to you about redesigning them.” My response is usually to ask them a bunch of questions about their database and collection plan, which confused them. So much work needs to be done before you get to the design to make sure you have a successful campaign. There are six key drivers to the success of any email campaign:

1. The quality and the rate of the list sign up.

  Even if your tasting rooms are closed or limited, you can still grow your list, so don’t panic. Capturing leads digitally is nothing new to online retailers who don’t have a physical location – they’ve been doing this for years. In a study by of the top 500 online retailers:

•    7.7% put email sign up in the header

•    44.4% used pop-ups to collect emails on their sites

•    54.3% added an email sign up below the fold or in the footer 

•    29% of retailers incentivized people to opt-in to their email program

  So, formulate a plan to capture emails on your website, Facebook page, and send-to-a-friend links in emails. There are probably other touchpoints you can capitalize on if you brainstorm with your team. The point is to not just give up on this objective if your physical operation is closed or limited.

2. Once they click to sign up what are they greeted with – what’s the landing page?

  Landing pages are so important. Don’t just drive people to your home page––drive them to a specific landing page on your website. A specific landing page increases your conversion and is a very effective way to capture leads. Get creative with videos, images, stories, or bios––the more personalized you can be the better the conversion.

3. The management and the health of the database

  The health of the database is how engaged or responsive your database is. When you send out an email, do you get sales, or do you hear crickets? Some stats to look for here are not just the total number of your database, but also pull out the bounces and then the un-mailables. Another helpful thing to know is the makeup of your database––how many people are purchasers, and how many people are just sitting there like deadweight on your list. When you pull this data, it will give you an overview of your database and some ideas on where to start.

4. The email touchpoint strategy (the HOW and the WHO)

  So, what is the right frequency? In January 2018, we started recording our clients and tracking the data in aggregate across 3 million emails, over 1,700 campaigns over 21 months. We released the data last winter as a benchmarking study and it shows that, at least for our clients, they are choosing to email between every 2-4 weeks.

  And, please make sure to segment your list. Segmented campaigns see a 14% higher open rate, a 60% higher clickthrough rate, and a 7% less unsubscribe rate. We talked earlier about the send-to-a-friend, well targeted messages and those sent to smaller audiences are 90% more viral than untargeted messages sent to large audiences.

5. The offer (the WHAT)

  I don’t have a silver bullet here. I can’t tell you what your database wants to hear––but your database can. You should know your average open and click-through rates and look for trends in responses to tell you what your database is reacting to and what topics they are silent on.

  The open rate is largely a factor of three things; your sending address, your subject line, and the teaser text that comes up in Outlook and other browsers that gives you a summary of the email. These three things are so important, don’t make them an afterthought.

  If you can, also get a conversion rate, which is what happens after the click and is largely dependent upon the landing page and your eCommerce cart set up.

  If you succeed with your subject line to get them to open your email – what do you say? This is particularly nerve wracking in today’s market but no matter how you position it, there are a few main points that you need to hit with your copy. Those main points are your customer’s pain point, the solution you have to that pain point, how your solution works (features), how your solution will improve their situation (benefits), and verification that it works (social proof).The majority of what you write needs to address how you can help your prospect, not how awesome you are (because that’s implied).

5. And then, finally, the design

  Design is important and there are well tested and universally regarded guidelines to follow here.

  First, is text length. More is not better in this regard. As a matter of fact, the more you write the less likely you are to get a response; but don’t be too brief. The sweet spot appears to be between 50 and 125 words––or at least the length of this paragraph which is 57 words.

  A second best-practice is to break up your text––meaning layout three small paragraphs versus one long one. Also, watch your graphic elements. They should be there to illustrate, not distract. White space is very important when scanning emails so try to keep white areas around your call-to-action buttons.

  In English, we read left to right, so it is easier for us to comprehend that quickly. Left justification also works for calls to action and buttons.

  Emails are still the most popular marketing channel used with the best ROI. The shelter-in-place orders have made us even more a slave to our phones. Hopefully, some of these tips will help your email campaigns create and sustain sales for you even when your tasting rooms have limited guests.

  Susan DeMatei is the President of  WineGlass Marketing, a full-service direct marketing firm working within the wine industry in Napa, California.

Marketing During a Crisis: Tips to Pivot Your Marketing Messages

By: Susan DeMatei

Recession Marketing Pro Tip: Understanding consumer psychology and the underlying emotions is critical when advertising during a recession.

  In the wine industry, we don’t typically analyze consumers’ psyches or emotions. We tend to think of our customers demographically – mid 40’s – 60’s, lives in New York, Texas, and Florida, HHI over $150k, and the like. But in times of stress, demographic segmentation may be less relevant than psychographic segmentations that take into consideration consumers’ behavioral reactions and the underlying emotions they are feeling at the time.

  The coronavirus sanctions have created an undercurrent of fear, worry, and stress. People are looking for stress relief and a temporary distraction. By understanding and appealing to their emotional needs you have a better chance of connecting with and engaging them. This is not a novel approach. Research shows that ad campaigns that focus on emotional engagement tend to have a higher ROI than ad campaigns focusing on rational messages (such as low prices or special offers) even when times are not tough.

  But how do you know what your consumers need to hear right now? To guide us, I found an insightful study in the Harvard Business Review that looked at marketing successes and failures of dozens of companies during recessions from the 1970s – 2010. HBR identified patterns in consumers’ behavior and resulting company strategies that either helped them succeed or ultimately fail during a recession. Additionally, they strongly encourage companies to understand the evolving consumption patterns and fine-tune their strategies accordingly.

  For example, did you know that baking yeast is flying off the shelves? An NPR article on March 27th listed the products consumers are buying beyond the necessary cleaning products and everyday groceries. Baking yeast is high on the list – people are baking bread because it is comforting to make, smell, and eat. Two other items on the list are boxed hair dye and dress tops, which speak to the psychology of “keeping up appearances.” With the increase in video conferencing, these make complete sense.

  So, how should we in the wine industry alter our strategies to fit the current climate? First, we need to understand the psychology of our customers. The HBR article suggests there are four key psychological segments and your strategic opportunities will strongly depend on which of the four segments your core customers belong to, and how they categorize your products.

1.  Slam-On-The-Brakes: These are the people who feel most vulnerable and/or are hardest hit, financially. This group cuts all their spending to the necessities. Although lower-income consumers typically fall into this segment, it also includes those anxious higher-income consumers who fear health or income changes.

2.  Pained-But-Patient: This group is the largest of the four segments and represents a broad income swath. While they are more resilient, pained-but-patient consumers are less confident about recovery, and their ability to maintain their current standard of living. So, they economize, but less aggressively. For these consumers, time is their enemy. As the current situation drags on many will migrate down to the slamming-on-the-brakes segment.

3.  Comfortably Well-Off: These are the consumers who feel secure about their ability to ride out the current and future changes in the economy. Their consumption patterns don’t change that much with one exception; they tend to be a little more selective (and less conspicuous) about the brands/companies purchased.

4.  Live-For-Today Segment: This segment carries on as usual. Typically, urban and younger, they are more likely to rent than own, and they spend on experiences rather than stuff (except for consumer electronics.) They’re unlikely to change their everyday consumption behavior unless they become unemployed.

  In addition to the customer segmentation, the HBR article gives us some guidance with emotional product prioritization:

1.  Essentials: Necessary for survival or perceived as central to well-being.

2.  Treats: Indulgences whose immediate purchase is considered justifiable.

3.  Postponables: Wanted or needed items whose purchase can be put off.

4.  Expendables: Perceived as unnecessary or unjustifiable.

  Wine is a luxury item no matter which way you slice it. But your price point and your target will fall into one of these four segments, and your product into one of these four prioritizations. Are you a high-priced allocation wine that mostly sells to the comfortably well-off that are comfortable spending money online? Or are you a strong on-premise brand for the pained-but-patients that would benefit from positioning yourself as an affordable treat in these uncertain times?

  Wine over $20 is best targeted at the Comfortably Well-Off (our traditional wine club target audience), and the Live-For-Today-Segment (our emerging target, and typically our tasting room traffic) and should be positioned squarely in the treat/affordable luxury category.

  So, how do we sort through all of this to create marketing and advertising campaigns and programs that recognize your customers’ psychological and emotional state? Here are my recommendations:

 #1 Support your brand by staying true to yourself:

       Look at your current plans through the lens of “would my winery do this if it wasn’t a crisis?” Tweak your messaging to dovetail with the psychological and emotional pressures your target market is feeling. When sales start to decline, the worst thing companies do is alter their brand’s fundamental proposition. If you have a high-priced and valuable wine, you may be tempted to decrease your price. This may confuse and alienate loyal customers. Drifting away from your established base may attract some new customers in the near term, but you will find yourself in a weaker brand position when the crisis is over. Your brand can acknowledge the new world but fundamentally should remain unwavering.

#2 Move budgets toward measurable channels that fit with customers’ digital lifestyles:

       The Harvard Business Review article reported during the recession of 2008, marketers spent +14% more on online ads than they did over the same time frame in the previous year. Even before most of us were asked to “shelter in place,” our purchasing behavior had shifted significantly to digital platforms, driven by technology advances, access, and convenience. For marketers, the shift allows us to surgically target, show results, and pivot quickly. Even without a recession environment, marketing departments are under pressure to do more with less and demonstrate high returns on investment. Digital advertising is targeted and relatively cheap, its performance is easily measured, and it is where our customers live.

#3 All businesses will increasingly compete on price:

       You may think that discounting is in opposition of #1 – but we didn’t say don’t offer discounts, we said don’t discount outside of what your brand would typically offer. Also, watch the frequency as you will likely feel pressured to increase the frequency of temporary price promotions. Three tips here:

a)   The article notes research shows discounts that require little effort from consumers and give cash back at the time of sale are more effective than delayed value, or “buy more” promotions. Look for the quick benefit, keep it easy, and keep the barriers low. Know your average order value. If your customers are used to buying 4 bottles an order, a case offer might be pushing it.

b)   Make sure you sign up for lots of mailing lists and carefully monitor consumers’ perceptions of “normal” price levels. As an industry, we need to watch over ourselves and not create “a new normal” that we can’t sustain. Excessive promotions lead consumers to revise their expectations about prices and this threatens profitability in the recovery period. People will resist the steep increases as prices return to “normal,” and extreme price deals only lead to costly price wars.

c)   Focus on giving extra value to consumers. As much as it may pain us, this is about them, not you. While it is tempting to ask for help from your most loyal customers, this is not of value to them in their current state of mind. In addition to offering temporary price promotions or list-price changes, improve perceived affordability by reducing the thresholds for volume-based, club member, or allocation discounts. Expand loyalty programs to reward not just big-time spenders, but also people who purchase small amounts frequently.

#4: Keep your messaging calm and trustworthy:

     Last, but not least, in stressful and uncertain times consumers in all segments see familiar, trusted brands and their products as safe and comforting. Reassuring messages that reinforce your brand’s humanity and creates an emotional connection demonstrate empathy, as evidenced in the popular hashtag #alonetogether. But, remember empathetic messages must be backed up by actions demonstrating the brand is on their customers’ side.

  The Harvard Business Review article concludes after 40 years of research, those brands that come out the other side of economic crisis will be stronger. First, the discipline around marketing strategy and research we develop during this time, and the ability to respond nimbly to changes in demand will continue to serve us when the economy recovers. And second, we should prepare now for a possible long-term shift in consumers’ values and attitudes, and a certain shift in where and how they shop.

   Susan DeMatei is president of WineGlass Marketing, a full-service direct marketing firm operating within the wine industry in Napa, California. Referenced and reproduced by approval from the April 2009 Harvard Business review article “How to Market in a Downturn” by John A. Quelch and Katherine E. Jocz.

Turning Award Medals into Marketing Gold: How Wine Competitions Build Community & Recognition

By: Tracey L. Kelley

If there’s one aspect of wine we can all agree on, it may be that what’s “good” or “bad,” in most applications, is all a matter of taste. Of course, some qualities must be consistently present, such as acidity, alcohol, aroma, body, clarity, sweetness and tannin. But when vintners place their bottles next to one another in a wine competition, each judge lends not only industry knowledge to a winning selection, but also palate preference. So why enter?

  Quite simply, exposure. Few avenues of marketing and promotion provide such an effective boost as medaled wines sitting prominently on shelves. From regional appreciation to international recognition, competition awards wave a sparkly hello to customers at retailers and in the tasting room. Additionally, the judging panels—often staffed with sommeliers, publicists, wine reviewers, distributors and other industry notables—provide another layer of marketability. Some studies in France assess the impact of gold, silver and bronze medals on wine producers’ ability to increase prices by as much as 15%. That, at the very least, might be just enough to offset the cost of entry fees, shipping bottles to various competitions and printing medal-announcing bottle neckers.

  So, which competitions should you enter, with what vintages and for what purpose? There are many variables. Some winemakers feel the current market is oversaturated with events—a rough estimate suggests more than 100 competitions in the U.S. and Canada alone—which lessens the impact of winning. Others are concerned about entering contests that award the equivalent of participation medals instead of segmenting the truly best. 

  Nevertheless, the practice is still stacked with advantages. So, prioritize your rationale. If you’re new to the market, revising your marketing strategy or want to showcase longstanding vintages or fresh approaches, venturing into competitions might help build your network and increase visibility. To guide vintners looking to compete, we talked with four distinctly different directors to provide an overview of possibilities.

The Unique Flavor of Each Competition

  It’s essential to research competitions a year or two in advance to gauge which ones match your objectives. Study their entries and winners. Examine the judges’ qualifications and whether the evaluation is a blind process for impartiality. Also, determine if their promotional partnership will be beneficial and how it positions your wines.

Critics Challenge

  “A wine competition medal is a third-party endorsement. It says to the consumer that a group of wine professionals found the wine had merit. That can tip the scales when a consumer is undecided about which wines to buy from the many options available,” Robert Whitley told The Grapevine Magazine. Whitley is the wine reviewer for Wine Talk and founder/director of four international competitions: Critics Challenge, San Diego Challenge, Sommelier Challenge and Winemaker Challenge, all based in San Diego.

  Whitley designed each competition to celebrate the differences in wine, regardless of origin. Entries are open to all wines produced for commercial sale from any part of the world. “I launched the Critics Challenge 17 years ago because I believed my colleagues in wine journalism had important and unique perspectives on wine evaluation,” he said. “For one thing, their understanding of the differences between wines based on place of origin and cultural influences was deeper than most.”

  The competitions have judging panels comprised of experts representative of the topic event, except the San Diego Challenge, which includes a combination of journalists, sommeliers and winemakers, plus other expert evaluators. Whitley believes this segmentation provides additional benefits. “Wineries had a hunger for critical feedback. Hence, we provided comments from the judges on the medal-winning wines. Those comments, in turn, could be used as a marketing tool on POS shelf-talkers or wine-club newsletters,” he said. 

Whitley’s Tips for New Entrants?

1.   Understand that young wines don’t always shine. They go through phases as they mature, so don’t be discouraged if your wine doesn’t medal or doesn’t earn the prize you think it deserves.

2.   Enter multiple wine competitions for the reason above.

3.   Study the lineup of judges before you enter any competition and choose the competitions that field the best evaluation teams.

INDY International Wine Competition

  You might also find that certain characteristics of a competition matter more than others. Jill Blume is an enology specialist with the Purdue Wine Grape Team at Purdue University in West Lafayette, Indiana, and executive director and chief judge for the INDY International Wine Competition.

  “It’s the largest independent, scientifically-organized wine competition in the nation, accepting both commercial and amateur entries from 94 countries and the U.S.,” Blume said. “It’s a unique competition because it’s based at a university and administered by faculty and staff from the departments of food science, computer and informational technology, and horticulture and landscape architecture.” There are 75 classes to enter.

  The INDY, established in 1992, features a broad judging panel that’s craft-specific. In addition to retailers, distributors and winemakers, professionals might include grape growers, chefs and social media promoters. “This mixture makes the event an ideal testing ground for experimentation and an opportunity to receive professional feedback from leading wine experts,” Blume said. “It’s a great opportunity for new wineries due to the diversity of our judges, their knowledge and openness to new varieties and wine styles.”

  Blume noted that an important characteristic of the INDY is to “evaluate traditional and non-traditional Indiana wines with those from the U.S. and around the globe in the same competition. It’s exciting to see humble, unpretentious wines from the Midwest and new cold-hardy grape varieties like Vignoles, Chambourcin, Traminette and La Crescent win big at the INDY,” she said. “In the final Best of Show round, judges don’t know the wine’s variety, packaging, vintage, price or region. The winners are chosen solely by the judge’s senses—sight, aroma and taste.”

  Blume’s top tip for selecting competition wines? Choose those that have big aroma, big finish and balanced sugar, acid and alcohol.

Finger Lakes International Wine & Spirits Competition

  Regional pride and a sense of community enhance other international competitions as well. For the past 20 years, the Finger Lakes International Wine & Spirits Competition (FLIWC) in Mendon, New York, has accepted entries from all over the U.S., Canada and other countries. The event began as a fundraiser for Camp Good Days & Special Times—a non-profit organization that provides programs and services free of charge to children and families impacted by cancer.

  “Supporters of Camp Good Days recognized the opportunity to harness the goodwill in the Finger Lakes wine community to benefit funding, and at the same time, bring visibility to the quality of Finger Lakes wines,” said Bob Madill, head judge of the competition. “With the support of wineries and wine judges from around the world, over 90% of the funds raised go directly to the residential camping programs that are provided free of charge to the participants.”

  Winning entries receive special POS material detailing the event’s mission, so, “wine lovers can choose a quality wine with a heart,” he said. “I worked in the high tech world for over two decades and in the world of wine for even longer. Nothing I’ve done professionally has given me so much honor, pleasure and satisfaction as being Head Judge for the FLIWC and working alongside my colleagues and hundreds of volunteers at Camp Good Days.”

  FLIWC judges are selected to represent the major wine regions in the U.S. and have varying professional industry backgrounds—sommelier, media, educator, winemaker, trained/accredited/experienced judge and so on. Madill pointed out that, in 2019, a change in the selection process ensured an equal number of men and women judges and an equal number as table captains.

Madill told The Grapevine Magazine the award-winning Finger Lakes wines are being compared with others from well-known wine regions and that the awards are given by panels of “exceptionally experienced judges on the basis of merit.”

  “About 20% of the FLIWC judges are local winemakers. This provides them with the opportunity to interact with other judges from all over the U.S. and Canada—who in turn place all of the wines that they taste within a broader perspective,” he said. “Conversely, it provides the other 80% of participants with the opportunity to become familiar with Finger Lakes winemakers and later, in social situations, with their wines. This networking has proven invaluable over the past two decades.”

  Madill advises winemakers to consider three points when submitting to a competition:

1.   Place the beverage in the appropriate category and provide all of the information requested. Reach out to the head judge for assistance if in doubt.

2.   Respond to the call for entries in a timely fashion and ensure delivery to the proper address.

3.   Lead with strengths.

Central Coast Wine Competition

  Standing out in America’s wine epicenter is a unique challenge. Still, Lacie Johns of Solterra Strategies, event manager of the Central Coast Wine Competition (CCWC) in Paso Robles, California, believes this is one of many reasons why the event is so important.

  “A group of winemakers, including Gary Eberle, started the CCWC in an effort to showcase the quality of wines coming from the Central Coast, as there wasn’t one specifically focused on them,” Johns said. “This event promotes the excellent quality and diversity of commercial wineries and grape growers while recognizing the fastest-growing wine region in California.” The competition began in 2011.

  Johns told The Grapevine Magazine that 75% of the grapes used to produce the entries must have been harvested within the eligible grape growing regions. “The Central Coast AVA includes these counties, from north to south: Alameda, Contra Costa, Santa Clara, San Francisco, San Mateo, Santa Cruz, Monterey, San Benito, San Luis Obispo and Santa Barbara counties,” she said. “This competition also includes wines made from grapes grown in Ventura County.”

  Current chief judge, Tim McDonald, rotates judging panels with new judges each year, featuring experts who “can make connections with our brands that would benefit them outside the competition. Most of our judges are wine writers, restauranteurs, wine merchants and some select sommeliers and winemakers to add variation,” Johns said.

  She added the CCWC promotes entries all year long with various partnerships, including local media profiles, stand-alone retail space in Central Coast grocery stores, and a significant event, the California Mid-State Fair. The competition also provides newcomers a foothold in the industry. “It’s a perfect way to weigh your wines against your neighbors and peers within the Central Coast. It encourages friendly comradery with your neighbors, and also can be a way for younger brands to emerge and be recognized amongst their peers,” she said.

Johns Offers this Competition Insight:

1.  We suggest wineries make sure to enter the wines that they’re most proud of, but also know that every judge is interested in different wines, so it helps to enter more options than less.

2.  Unique wines are always encouraged. It’s not the biggest varietals winning every year. Last year we had a Fiano take the top prize, and the year before that was a Grenache Blanc.

3.  When the competition is over, we encourage winemakers to take advantage of any opportunity/benefit offered through the competition. For example, we have the benefit of the partnership with the California Mid-State Fair, which allows us to reach thousands of consumers for wineries.

Listed below are the 2020 event dates for each competition. Some may be a result of rescheduling due to the U.S. public health emergency this spring. Please review individual competition sites for rules and dates of entry for this year and request 2021 information:

Central Coast Wine Competition: The 2020 competition is scheduled for June 17th–18th.

Critics Challenge Wine Competition: The 2020 competition is scheduled for June 20­th–21st.  Please visit this site for updates on Whitley’s other competitions.

Finger Lakes International Wine & Spirits Competition: The 2020 competition is scheduled for July 18th and 19th.

INDY International Wine Competition: The 2020 competition, usually held in May, is still postponed at press time.

Email Segmentation: A Critical Tool in the Digital Marketing Toolbox

By: Nathan Chambers, Gaynor Strachan Chun and Susan DeMatei

Research shows that your email success can be significantly improved if you enact a campaign list segmentation strategy – MailChimp reports that segmented emails can increase open rates by +15% and click through rates by up to 100%.

  Segmenting your email list allows you to deliver more personalized and relevant content to specific groups of customers. Not segmenting your list results in higher customer attrition. On average, over half of those who subscribe to email lists end up throwing the email in the trash when it hits their inbox. 

  For your customer, there are many reasons why they will be more likely to open an email from a brand that delivers content that is more relevant to them in a timely manner. One of the most important reasons is it shows them you understand their needs and wants. In other words, it delivers a more personalized experience.

  For you and your brand, the value of email list segmentation is quite simple – increased ROI. Segmenting your email list drives increases in loyalty and lifetime value (LTV).

  Let’s look at it from your customer’s perspective. They were at the winery, they filled out a customer information card, or made a purchase and shipped bottles home; they either asked or were aware they’d be added to the mailing list and are hoping for special offers, events, or other news. This is a transaction of trust. As a payback for their trust in you, customers expect to get something of value back, on a reliable basis, and not so often that it adds to their in-box clutter. If the only thing you offer them is random, or generic, you violate that trust.

  But where do you start? Here are 7 effective ways to segment your email list and leverage other data to increase your email ROI.

#1: Demographics:  The simplest way to segment your list is by demographics. Age, gender, job title, native language, etc. These traits, individually or combined, can help you understand what products or offers they are more likely to be interested in.

#2: Survey Results:  People like being asked what they want and need. Rather than overloading your opt-in function, use your list to conduct surveys. This way you can create a more complete picture of your target audience. Ask about interests, needs, why they chose your brand.

  You can then use your survey results to segment by interest, sending content that is relevant to the different interest groups. Maybe you have a group of customers who love recipes and like to cook. Target them with an email about a new wine and include a food and wine pairing recipe element. This will greatly increase your rate of engagement with this customer segment. The more they engage, the more likely they are to keep an eye out for further emails. Repeating that engagement until it becomes a regular habit.

#3: Sending Frequency:  Nobody likes their email box to be overloaded, even if the emails they are receiving might be relevant to them. Understanding the optimal cadence for your emails can be difficult. Use your email engagement data to understand the best frequency. The ideal frequency may also vary by segment.

#4: Geolocation Segmentation:  The easiest and quickest way to segment your database is through geography. For instance, target people in a certain area for events, or shipping offers based on weather. When they joined the mailing list, they felt a connection. Your customers expect accountability, integrity, and accuracy. Geolocation segmentation offers many benefits beyond email campaigns. “Taking the winery on the road” brings the winery and the wines to those who may not make it back to your tasting room. Your winery can develop relationships with retailers or have Wine Club members host a tasting at their home in a key market.

#5: Page Views:  Where do your website visitors spend most of their time? By analyzing your page views, you can better understand what your visitors are looking for and even segment content to them. Are they looking for the hours your tasting room is open? The send them tasting room information. Are they looking at the gift set page? Send them a vertical package offer. One of the easiest segmented communications in this group is to target a resend to people who opened an email and went to the landing page of the product for sale but didn’t buy. These retargeted communications might be just the reminder they needed to complete the purchase. Whatever messaging you choose to play with, when you tie your email segmentation to website visits, these insights to create more relevant content for your emails.

#6: Purchase Cycle:  Understanding the purchase and repurchase cycle of different groups of customers is invaluable. It allows you to build customer behavior profiles and each profile type will respond to different email approaches. If a customer has just signed up for your mailing list, they will want an introduction to who you are and what you offer. A case or library magnum offer is not for this group who are just getting to know you. What you want to do with customers early in their life cycle with you is reduce barrier to trial, so give them single or double bottle offers with your best-selling wines. Save the big purchases for when they become loyal members (and then segment on their past purchases – see below). With the purchase cycle in mind, you can tailor email content and timing based on customer behavior, increasing your likelihood of conversion. 

#7 Past Purchases:  By analyzing what your different groups of customers are buying, you build an understanding of what products interest them and what products don’t. This allows you to create target segments for each product type and only send information or offers about products you know will interest them, increasingly your likelihood of securing a sale. Additionally, it signals to the customer that you care about their preferences and are not sending them emails about products they would never buy.

  For instance, imagine you decide to send a special offer email on a new vintage of a particular wine. If a group of your loyal repeat customers have never purchased that varietal, why would they care? New members will appreciate the email and may make a purchase because they’re trying new things, but most consumers show you through purchase action what they’re interested in. Send them too many emails that don’t apply and they’ll ignore it or, worse yet, mark it as spam or unsubscribe.

Implementing These Strategies

  Don’t try to tackle all these segmentation strategies at once. It’s more valuable to master one of these strategies before developing the next one than it is to fumble with implementing all of them at once. Baby-steps count. Start with one idea with a goal to try out a new segmentation each month. Then you’ll see what your database responds positively to, and you can play more in the areas that resonate. The single most important thing is to at least try segmentation in all your campaigns. Doing so will undoubtedly increase your success rates and metrics for your ongoing email marketing.

   Susan DeMatei, Nathan Chambers and Gaynor Strachan Chun work for WineGlass Marketing, a full-service direct marketing firm operating within the wine industry in Napa, California.

Sustainable Wineries Attract More Consumers

By: Briana Tomkinson

  Concern about threats related to climate change is inspiring more consumers to make lifestyle changes like going vegan, upgrading to electric cars, reducing plastic waste and seeking more environmentally sustainable products. It’s also starting to affect how consumers select their wine.  

  Surveys of wine consumers in Canada, the U.S., Sweden and the UK are indicating a growing interest in purchasing sustainably produced wine, favorable perceptions of sustainable certifi-cation programs and certification logos, and a willingness to pay more for sustainably pro-duced wine—particularly by Millennials and Gen Z.

  For many Canadian winemakers, however, their interest in sustainable winemaking began well before consumers started paying attention.

  According to veteran British Columbia winemaker Gordon Fitzpatrick, adopting environmentally sustainable practices isn’t just the right thing to do—it also makes good business sense. “Often, sustainable choices have economic benefits. It’s not mutually exclusive,” Fitzpatrick said. “Every little bit helps.”

  Fitzpatrick has been in the wine business since 1986 when he founded Cedar Creek Estate Winery. He sold the majority of his vineyards to Mission Hill five years ago, but kept one be-tween Peachland and Summerland. In 2017, he launched a new label, Fitzpatrick Family Win-ery, using those grapes.

  The boutique winery focuses on sparkling wine and has approximately one-fifth of the produc-tion capacity of Cedar Creek, topping out at about 10,000 cases at full production. The shift into sparkling wine was a strategic choice to take advantage of the vineyard’s unique microcli-mate.

  “We lose the sun about two and a half hours earlier than most other vineyards,” Fitzpatrick said. “That’s why we specialize in sparkling wine. It creates that natural crisp acidity. I call it shade’s gift.”

  Fitzpatrick Family Winery is located in the Thompson Okanagan region, British Columbia’s pri-mary wine-growing region. The area boasts 84% of the province’s vineyards by acreage and has over 200 wineries. Wine tours are a big draw for visitors to the region. With the local tour-ism association increasingly spotlighting sustainable tourism, wineries like Fitzpatrick’s are get-ting more recognition for their environmentally friendly choices.

  The Thompson Okanagan Tourism Association recently developed a sustainability pledge to identify and feature responsible tourism providers in the region, including Fitzpatrick Family Winery. Other wineries who have signed on to the program include Poplar Grove (, Grizzli Winery ( and Meadowvista (

  The region was also officially certified as the first destination in the Americas to achieve the Sustainable Tourism Accreditation from Biosphere International and the Responsible Tourism Institute. The certification criteria includes commitments to environmentally sustainable practices, including ensuring access to sustainable energy and adopting measures to mitigate cli-mate change.

  Fitzpatrick Family Winery was a pilot winery for the program last fall, Fitzpatrick said, which included a thorough audit on water, energy and waste management practices.

  “We think of ourselves as good stewards of the land, but you always want to look at how you’re doing things. They came up with some recommendations on how we can do things even better than we currently are [doing them]. It was a very worthwhile process to go through,” he said.

  Recommendations ranged from replacing big-ticket items like a 25-year-old water pump with a newer, more energy-efficient model, to less costly initiatives like installing flow meters to better monitor water usage, and expanding the winery’s compost program to incorporate food waste from the on-site, seasonal restaurant.

  The winery is also now pursuing organic certification, following a recent $40,000 investment in mechanical weeding equipment that will allow Fitzpatrick to stop using herbicides in the spring.

  In the last five years, Fitzpatrick said consumer awareness of sustainable practices has changed significantly. “People are much more aware and want to know what your practices are, and are you being a good steward of the land,” he said. “it’s nice to be able to stand be-hind what we do.”

Do Wine Consumers Care? Researchers Say Yes

  According to market research by Wine Intelligence, it’s not just hippies who are choosing more socially and environmentally conscious purchases. Interest in organic, fair trade and sustaina-bly produced wine is growing and is now considered mainstream, particularly among consum-ers under the age of 45.

  In the U.S., almost three-quarters of consumers surveyed said they would consider buying sus-tainably produced wine in the future. Seventy percent of Canadians agreed.

  Nine out of ten millennial consumers surveyed said they would be willing to pay an average of $3 more for sustainably produced wine. The research found that sustainability certifications for wine improved consumers’ willingness to buy.

  The research was presented at the first U.S. Sustainable Winegrowing Summit in Sonoma last June. In a speech at the event, Wine Intelligence CEO Lulie Halstead outlined five key concepts  to “sell” sustainability to consumers, highlighting how it’s good for people as well as for the environment:

1.   Focus on the small steps producers and consumers can take today.

2.   Frame sustainability as a positive choice: talk about positive benefits.

3.   Use groupthink for good: invite customers to be part of a larger movement to make greener choices.

4.   Appeal to feelings, not facts: logic is not as persuasive as emotion.

5.   Be brief: keep messaging succinct.

  The second edition of the U.S. Sustainable Winegrowing Summit will be held this year on May 5-6 in Long Island, New York. The event will feature tours of sustainable wineries in the area, as well as a full conference program. Tickets are $50. More details are online at

British Columbia to Host Global Sustainable Tourism Conference

  The Thompson-Okanagan region is also hosting the 2020 Global Sustainable Tourism Confer-ence November 19-22—the first time the annual event will be held in Canada—at the Delta Ho-tels by Marriott Grand Okanagan Resort in Kelowna.

  The event will feature expert speakers and panelists from around the world. Over 500 local, national and international delegates are expected to attend, including destination marketing professionals, airlines, travel agents, international media and tourism-oriented business lead-ers.

  According to President and CEO of Tourism Kelowna, Lisanne Ballantyne, industry research indicates that interest in sustainable tourism destinations is growing. She said recent reports have found 87% of consumers want to travel sustainably, and 67% are willing to pay more for travel that has a less negative impact on the environment.

  In 2019, for the second year in a row, TOTA was named the World Responsible Tourism Award Winner at the Annual World Travel Awards.

  According to British Columbia’s Minister of Tourism, Arts and Culture, Lisa Beare, the prov-ince’s stunning scenery and unspoiled wilderness is a key draw for visitors from around the globe, and the region’s tourism strategy reflects that.

  “Our strategic framework for tourism seeks to responsibly grow the visitor economy by re-specting nature and the environment, and making sure that everyone sees the benefits of this important industry,” Beare said in a press release about TOTA’s award win.

Are More Audits Coming For the Direct-to-Consumer Market?

By Alex Koral, J.D., Senior Regulatory Counsel with Sovos ShipCompliant

Last fall, the state of Texas began the process of auditing all of their direct-to-consumer (DtC) wine shipping licensees, the biggest such audit in the history of this market.

While all states reserve the right to audit their licensees, the scope of this mass audit surprised many. More than 1,600 wineries possess permits to ship directly to Texas customers. Many have already received a notice from the Texas Alcoholic Beverage Commission (TABC) requesting to review their records. This time-consuming process began in September 2019, when the first round of notices were sent, and will continue as the TABC reviews all permit holders to ensure they are in compliance with the state’s laws.

At the heart of this heightened regulatory scrutiny by Texas is the dramatic rise in popularity of the DtC channel in recent years. Many wine drinkers have come to appreciate the DtC wine shipping market for bringing a direct connection to their favorite brands and greater access to wine clubs and highly-allocated labels, creating a $3 billion national market. 

The beverage alcohol industry has long been one of the most regulated enterprises in the country, so it is little surprise that this increased scrutiny has come to the DtC wine shipping channel. States have a vested interest in making sure they collect the full balance of tax money they are due and that their laws are followed to the letter. As Texas’s audits proceed, they could well represent a harbinger of what’s to come for DtC wine shippers, making it important to understand how and why regulators are examining this market. 

Even the Audits Are Bigger in Texas

In May 2005, Texas Governor Rick Perry signed into law Senate Bill 877, a transformative reform of the state’s Alcoholic Beverage Code that smashed open the door for wineries to ship directly to consumers in the state. Since then, wine enthusiasts in Texas have been able to purchase wine directly from out-of-state wineries, provided those wineries obtain the necessary sales tax and Winery Direct Shipper’s permits.

The state’s timing was no coincidence. Just one week after Gov. Perry signed the new bill into law, the Supreme Court held in Granholm v. Heald that the states’ ability to control their internal alcohol markets under the 21st Amendment did not supersede the general prohibition on discriminating against out-of-state interests under the Commerce Clause. 

Under the decision, states could no longer prohibit direct-to-consumer wine shipping if they allowed in-state shipping. In the years following Granholm, a wave of reforms flowed across the country. But Texas was one of the first to update its wine shipping laws. And today, the state lives up to its outsized reputation by being the second-biggest recipient state for direct-to-consumer wine shipping, according to Sovos ShipCompliant data. 

So what are Texas regulators seeking to achieve with this wave of audits? The goal appears to be ensuring wine shippers are properly licensed, paying excise taxes, reporting shipments, and not exceeding limits on how much they can send to individual Texans. The TABC has asked licensees for the sales data used to produce their Texas Excise Tax returns, including requests for copies of certain invoices

In addition to order data and invoice copies, the TABC has requested information regarding licensees’ business structures, including copies of their state and federal permits, and lists of corporate officers and directors. Contracts or other agreements that licensees have made with fulfillment houses and similar service providers have also been sought.

Finally, the TABC is looking into the specific wines that licensees have shipped to Texas consumers. Texas’s DtC statutes prohibit licensees from selling wines that the licensee does not personally produce or bottle. As such, the TABC has requested licensees provide Certificates of Label Approval (COLAs) and production records for wines shipped to Texas consumers.

These past requests, though, are subject to change at any time and any DtC wine shipper that does receive an audit notice should ensure they comply with the specific requests on their notice.

This heightened review by the state of Texas comes at a time when many states are working to ensure that direct-to-consumer shippers are complying with local regulations. For example, the Michigan Liquor Control Commission is stepping up in response to reports by the Michigan Beer and Wine Wholesalers Association alleging widespread violation of its DtC shipping laws, and the Mississippi Supreme Court recently heard a case regarding stings conducted by the state Alcohol Control Board to catch illegal DtC shippers. 

While Texas is currently the only state to have announced a review of this size, it almost certainly won’t be the last. 

As the Market Grows, So Will Regulator Scrutiny

The Supreme Court’s decision 15 years ago in Granholm v. Heald triggered a wave of wine shipping reforms across the country. Today, 45 states plus the District of Columbia permit DtC shipping, enabling over 90% of Americans to connect directly with their favorite wineries. 

As a result, direct-to-consumer wine shipping has grown from a small, niche market in 2005 into a hugely important channel worth more than $3.2 billion in 2019. According to Sovos ShipCompliant’s annual Direct-to-Consumer Wine Shipping Report, the channel grew by  7.4% percent in value and 4.7% in volume last year as more wineries invested in e-commerce, the average price-per-bottle increased, and Oregon and Washington again outpaced the overall channel in shipment growth, among other trends. 

In many cases, DtC shipping succeeds because it allows smaller wineries access to markets they would struggle to enter if they relied solely on the traditional three-tier system due to their relative size. According to the 2020 Direct-to-Consumer Shipping Report, wineries in the small winery category (5,000 to 49,999 annual case production) again dominated the winery shipping channel in 2019, accounting for 42% of the volume of shipments and 45% of the value of the DtC channel. DTC shipping has emerged as one of the best ways for these smaller producers to reach a national audience. 

This growth also reflects consumer demand across the economy for goods delivered directly to their doorsteps. Apps like Instacart and UberEats have democratized delivery, and consumer expectations for quick and convenient delivery have never been higher. This presents a tremendous opportunity for wine sellers to expand their reach, develop their customer base and increase their sales online. 

The marketplace is also likely to get more competitive in the new decade. In 2019, the Supreme Court paved a path for expanded DtC shipping of wine by retailers in its ruling in Tennessee Wine & Spirits Retailers Association v. Thomas. While only 15 states currently allow some DtC wine shipping by out-of-state retailers, many see this decision as an opportunity to challenge old laws to expand this market. Litigation is ongoing in several states that seemingly discriminate against out-of-state retailers in regards to their ability to ship wine DtC – notably Illinois, Michigan, and Missouri. Much in the same way that Granholm prompted a wave of statutory reform, observers expect consumers and advocates to push legislative changes across the country. While it may take a number of years for these changes to take effect, expanded retail shipping is something everyone should be watching closely. 

In the meantime, regulators have a vested interest in making sure all sellers—whether package stores, direct wine shippers or otherwise—are in compliance with the law. That means ensuring they are properly licensed, collecting all applicable taxes, not overselling to individuals and preventing sales to minors. So if other states see the Texas audits bring positive results, they are likely to follow suit to uncover gaps in their own systems.

Overall, the DtC wine shipping market is still young and regulators are still figuring out how to manage it. As the market grows, we can expect this trend of closer attention being paid to DtC shipping to continue at the state levels, making now the best time for wine producers to firm up their direct-to-consumer compliance processes and overall channel strategy.

Now Is the Time to Ensure Compliance

The risk of audits like those in Texas underscores the importance of closely adhering to the various laws and reporting requirements imposed by states. That the regulations can vary among states only adds to the complexity, whereas failure to comply may result in fines, loss of home state or federal licenses, and even possible criminal charges.

Wineries have a number of ways to handle this. Some are able to build in-house teams that can manage compliance, though this can be expensive. Others rely on outside consultants to manage their compliance needs. But of course, automating compliance processes is the easiest way to ensure audit success, limit compliance risk and reduce the overall administrative burden on shippers as state-by-state tax rules, rates and forms change. 

Shipping wine can be complicated, and compliance will never be a task that anyone relishes. However, as the direct-to-consumer channel grows in its importance to the industry, it’s vital that producers shore up their compliance strategy now before the next round of state audit notices goes out. 

About the Author: Alex Koral, Senior Regulatory Counsel with Sovos

Alex Koral is senior regulatory counsel for Sovos ShipCompliant. He actively researches beverage alcohol regulations and market developments in order to inform development of Sovos’ ShipCompliant product and help educate the industry on compliance issues. Alex has worked with the company since 2015, after receiving his J.D. from the University of Colorado Law School.

2020 The Year of Personalization

Businessman hand using tablet with flying application icons around

By: Scott Moss and Susan DeMatei

According to Forbes, 2020 is going to be the year of personalized marketing. The current opinion is that we are all so bombarded with advertising and emails that we now tune out anything that isn’t specifically relevant to us. When Ad Age asked executives the one thing anyone could do to impact their marketing in the future, a full third of them answered “personalization.” And Conversant Media noted 94% of customer insights and marketing professionals they surveyed listed personalization as either “important,” “very important,” or “extremely important” for meeting their current marketing objectives.

  Back in the 1990’s when the internet and data tracking was young, there was a public outcry concerning privacy and personalization. Individuals were nervous about the newly formed “cookie” technology and didn’t like being tracked online and were suspicious about loyalty cards being scanned at checkout in stores. But now, we take it for granted that when you leave something in a cart you’re going to see an ad for it the next time you log in to Facebook, and we don’t feel creeped out when we buy kitty litter at the grocery store and we get a coupon for cat food along with our receipt.

  Personalization is everywhere and we’re used to it and we like it – which makes the blanket, non-personalized communications all the more blatantly lazy and unappealing. According to an online Epsilon survey of 1,000 consumers ages 18-64, the appeal for personalization is high, with 80% of respondents indicating they are more likely to do business with a company if it offers personalized experiences, and 90% indicating that they find personalization appealing.

  And, personalization does work. In multiple studies, personalized ads and emails are perceived as more engaging, educational, time-saving, and memorable than mass advertising or emails. Experian reports personalized emails deliver 6x higher transaction rates. And, with new affordable tools, there really isn’t an excuse for mass marketing anymore.

  What this means is that we can no longer rely on mass, generic email blasts to our customers and expect the returns we did in the past. Our buyers are now empowered, and their expectations are high in the messaging and advertising they receive. In the Age of the Customer, we need to be smarter about how we communicate.

  The good thing is, this doesn’t require us to restructure our entire marketing plan. Here are three simple things we can do today to improve the way we interact with our customers on a more personal level:


  List segmentation is the quickest way to personalize messages to customers. It can be as simple as creating an email for recent visitors to your tasting room or website purchasers.  Sending these customers, a thank you email 30-days after their visit or purchase is a great way to personalize and engage with a follow-up offer.  You can add a deeper level of personalization if your email provider gives you the ability to insert the customer’s first name in the body copy.

  Additionally, each email can be more personal by modifying the subject line with the purchase location, “Thank you for visiting our tasting room,” or “Thank you or your online purchase.”  Although this may require two email sends, it refines the touchpoint and serves as a reminder of the customer experience.

  Start Crawling: Set up some automatic emails like “abandon cart” and “thank you for visiting.”

  Learn to walk: Take your email list segmentation beyond Wine Club and Non-Club into purchase history. To do this, divide your list into first-time buyers, repeat buyers, and non-buyers/prospects. Then, for every campaign, tailor the message for each. For first-time purchasers give them easy second purchase options similar to their first, for repeat buyers offer them volume or shipping discounts, and for prospects, tell them a little more about yourself and offer a trial package.

  Learn to run: Combine the two. First, set up ongoing automated campaigns (called “drip” campaigns) that remind people they’ve left items in their cart, or that they haven’t logged in to rate or buy a product, or to thank them for an order. Then, take a look at your campaigns in 2020 and brainstorm how you can segment them by purchase or other behavior.


  Sending personalized communications to customers that include a call to action should take them to a page on your website that corresponds to the offer in your email. Keeping the customer journey with our brands consistent is a key component in lowering attrition and increasing sales.

  This requires creating a page template within your website that can be easily duplicated and modified by changing the title, image, or copy to match your outbound communication. This enforces the personalized offer and brand consistency with your customers, while providing a clear path to purchase.

  Brand consistency is the pattern of expression that affects what people think about your company. The more consistent your messaging, the more consistent your branding — whether via words, design, offerings, or perspective. Your brand should build awareness and develop trust and loyalty with customers.

  Start Crawling: For those emails discussing several wines, rather than dumping the clicks at the top of the store page, set up a customized landing page and only include the wines in the email with a header and the offer.

  Learn to walk: For your social campaigns, try a separate landing page with introductory copy about your winery and why they should sign up for your mailing list or like/follow your winery.

  Learn to run: In addition to emails and social media, consider custom landing pages for most initiatives such as pouring events, coupon redemption, Google Ads, and print.


  A loyal customer is one that makes repeat purchases rather than switching to a competitor. A loyal customer will be more likely to purchase additional products and recommend your brand.

  Without digging too deeply into your data, a few key metrics can help identify your most loyal customers.  High average order value, buying frequency, and last purchase date is what you will need to start. These metrics can all be found in the customer purchase history of your database. When vetting your data, don’t assume that your best customers are also wine club members. However, if they are not, you may have a missed opportunity.

  After identifying your most loyal customers be sure to nurture the relationship, they are your best buyers for a reason. Knowing what they purchase, how often they purchase, and how much they spend per order will help guide you on when to reach out and with what offers.

  The communication and touches to these customers should be as a personal friend and offers should be presented as gifts. Offering a specially selected “pre-sale” wine or early event access will build continued loyalty. 

  Start Crawling: A handwritten note of thanks for attending an event or a customer referral is an easy way to start and goes a long way to keep your best customers.

  Learn to walk: Identify your top customers and find them on social media. Set up alerts for their posts and like and comment on them as your brand. They’ll be thrilled you care enough about their lives to get to know them.

  Learn to run: Look at your campaigns and give first dibs to your best buyers. Either offer them a pre-order capability or maybe access to the pick-up part a half hour in advance. Realize that discounts aren’t always what they’re after – they want a relationship and time with you.

  The true end result will look like taking your linear annual campaign calendar and splintering it into multiple, smaller, targeted communications that run simultaneously. It takes more work, but it’s worth it.

  Susan DeMatei is the President and Scott Moss is the Director of Operations of WineGlass Marketing, a full-service direct marketing firm working within the wine industry in Napa, California.