Five Predictions for Wine Marketing

two hands hovering over a world globe with a question mark in the world globe

By: Susan DeMatei, Founder of WineGlass Marketing

When I start feeling optimistic, I imagine one or two people might read these blogs, (although I have a sneaking suspicion that they sit out on the internet equivalent of a doctors waiting room table between the large type Reader’s Digest and June 2004 People magazines). But I wouldn’t be able to legitimately pretend to be an industry expert if I didn’t do the obligatory “predictions” blog.

  I will stick to my lane: Marketing. Because it’s what I know and also there are many other excellent articles out there (https://napavalleyfocus.substack.com/p/the-wine-boom-is-over) with overall market predictions. (But, then again, what do I know? My senior thesis at Boston University was an analysis of radio and TV media consumption patterns with the supposition that cable television would never take off because people wouldn’t pay for it.)

  So, I’ve been wrong. Like, really wrong. But assuming I get lucky sometimes, here are five things I believe will come to pass.

1)  Generation X will demand attention. We’ve been doing more and more data appends lately (see prediction #3) and it is nice to see Gen X routinely show up as a prominent segment within wineries databases. Marketing doesn’t talk too much about Gen X because we’re the stereotypical middle child between Boomers and Millennials who are instantly repelled by anything targeted to us. Whatever you are hoping we will like, buy, or do, we’ll hate, boycott, or do the opposite.

  There are reasons for this. We grew up as the first generation where our mothers wanted to work, yet there were not sufficient after school activities or social services to support that type of family unit. As “latch key kids” we fended for ourselves and grew up largely on our own to became fiercely independent, highly cynical and defenders of counterculture.

   But now, our parents are passing on, and Boomers are the first generation to have accumulated significant wealth. And lucky us, we’re now the recipients – right about the time we’re empty nesters or thinking about retiring and spending some money on leisure activities. In the economic press this is referred to as the great wealth transfer, and it will make Generation X an enticing target. So, expect more press and focus on targeting this group. (And expect us to retire and age very differently than Boomers…but that’s a topic for another blog.) The smart winery will give this some thought and consider Generation X as a viable option for current targeting.

chart showing how much will each generation inherit from 2024 until 2045

2)  Clubs are going to continue to fade…and they aren’t coming back. I’m sorry if this is a bummer, but I strongly believe the club model will not continue past Boomers. (And by club model, I mean a pre-selected shipment of wines sent out on a set schedule to customers who have their credit card on file.) Boomers are the last generation to be programmed before the internet to narrow down a search with things like magazines, catalogs, and Consumer Reports to find their brands, and then stick with them.

  The internet has not only introduced unprecedented variety, but also the concept of impermanence. It’s not a big deal to swap suppliers for a product on Amazon or brands at a store in Instacart. The club model just doesn’t fit with how most of us shop and make choices now. Wineries that are actively expanding to alternate sales channels such as online or partnerships will see less declines and be healthier in the next five to ten years.

3)  The answer is inside of us. For the longest time, the answer was external – cast a wide net for traffic. Go out and blanket tourists with ads to come to your winery. Once they’re at your location, selling wine and clubs was relatively easy to a captivated audience that was in awe of what you could do with some funny looking fruit. But now, wineries are not novel anymore, and subsequent generations are not enamored with Wine Country.

  Hopefully, if you’ve had a clue during the past decades, you’ve been collecting names and sales information from all those visitors. Now is the time to analyze them. Data modeling to find and target look alike audiences of your best buyers is not new to most industries. But, as usual, the wine industry is slow to adapt and we’re just now learning this. The wineries that invest in data appends and analysis to understand their specific customers and then go after a similar audience target will be the winners.

chart showing benefits of database marketing

4)  Evolution will favor the adaptable…even the mutated.  If the definition of insanity is doing the same thing and expecting a different result, it should also include doing the same thing repeatedly when all signs point to change simply because it worked in the past. Wineries that are open to new ideas, programs, sales channels, and products will fare better than those who hold onto tradition. Today’s wine consumers aren’t concerned with the right appellation, or the famous winemaker, or the best score. They don’t want to book a 90-minute lecture about soil composition. (Did anybody, ever, want this?). They are looking for different experiences from brands that hold their interest. Focus on your brand story and listen to the young ones on your team. Experience is great, but fresh ideas will be the deciding factor.

5)  Napa and Sonoma will slowly begin to trail other wine regions. Napa, and to some extent Sonoma, are the old guard in the US wine business. With our hospitality industry turning 50-ish this decade, we are the most experienced and will be the most reticent to change. But remember that everything we’ve developed has been focused on Boomers and pre-internet ways of doing things.

  Established but younger wine country locations like Willamette, Walla Walla, Santa Barbara and Temecula are beginning to break with tradition and offer more inspired marketing. More recent markets like Texas, Virginia, the Finger Lakes or even the Mid-West are just now developing and won’t feel the pressure to conform with past operational procedures. Free from history they will develop not only new products to attract consumers but embrace novelty and imagination to move toward new experiences. Just sign up for some of their newsletters and check out their programs. You’ll be surprised what you find.

  So, there you have it. These are five marketing trends I see coming that you might want to consider in the back of your mind when you’re planning out activities for 2024. My wish for you is to be creative, open, and innovative this next year.  And ignore the headlines – all the doom and gloom articles are just trying to get clicks. The wine business isn’t going away, it is just evolving. 

Our Five Top Marketing Priorities for 2024

By: Susan DeMatei, Founder of WineGlass Marketing

If you’re like most of us, the holiday marketing campaigns are well underway, and you’re now focusing on next year’s budgets and plans. Choosing your marketing priorities for 2024 is a bit like assembling IKEA furniture—you’re looking for simple, clean lines and straightforward instructions. But you soon realize you are missing some tools to assemble the Järvfjället and wonder if you should have gone with the Ödmjuk instead. So, grab your metaphorical Allen wrench, and let’s build a marketing strategy that’s as sturdy as it is stylish, with just the right amount of snarky commentary along the way.

1. Know Thy Customer:  Your customers aren’t generic – they are unique and won’t be won over by vague, generic messages. If you write copy like everyone else and post the same boring stock bottle shots like everyone else, it’s like you’re trying to impress your date with poetry you found on the internet—it might sound good, but it won’t resonate unless you know what makes their heart skip a beat.

CRAWL

  Learning about your customer is simple and doesn’t require a degree in statistics or even that much time – you start with following their behavior. What posts do they comment on, and which ones fall on deaf ears? What emails have the best click rates, and what pages on your website do they go to? You should be constantly looking at behavioral data for your marketing. Ignoring these analytics is like throwing a surprise party and not checking if anyone RSVPed— you might be celebrating alone with a cake shaped like disappointment.

WALK

  Once you see their likes and dislikes, refine your messaging. If customers respond well when discussing food, is it recipes or dining out? Is it ethnic elaborate food or simple comfort food? Understanding these preferences is called a persona and will help you brainstorm content that resonates with your customers to position your product within their lifestyle.

RUN

  It is improbable that you have a single, homogeneous customer persona. You will find several groups, which you can start to parce using behavioral data (like buyers vs. nonbuyers), customer segments (like club members versus nonclub members.), or even demographic data (like Millennials and Baby Boomers). When you’re ready to take your marketing to the next level, start segmenting email lists, targeting social media content, and presenting dynamic website content to your different audiences.

2. Pay Attention to the Care and Feeding of Your Website:  I know what you’re thinking: “Whatever, I can skip this section. I already have a website. I got that to a good place two years ago.” But, your website, much like a garden, requires continual attention. Regular updates with fresh content and imagery and adjustments based on evolving consumer trends and product offerings are essential. You can’t just plant it and forget it; neglecting certain areas may result in withering while others become overgrown. Keep your online landscape flourishing by tending to it regularly.

CRAWL

For many of you, the interweb is a confusing black hole full of acronyms and technology. But even if you don’t know your DNS from your IP Address or your WordPress from your WooCommerce, this is no excuse to bury your head in the silicon sand. I don’t know exactly what my mechanic does either, but I still take my car to get it tuned and the oil changed. Technology is constantly evolving, so websites are continually decaying. If you don’t know how to update plugins, check for broken links, or monitor your hosting server’s performance, hire someone who does. Or risk hackers, frustrated customers, and lost sales.

  Maintenance Doesn’t Have to Be Expensive. See our Packages>> https://wgits.wineglassmarketing.com/product/website-maintenance-packages/

WALK

  If the extent of your website deliberation up to this point has been limited to confirming you like the pictures, you’re not alone. But your website is a highly visible and effective tool for every step of the customer lifecycle, from acquisition to loyalty. Evaluate what you need your website to do (and there will be multiple objectives, so try to put it in a hierarchy of importance). If your number one marketing objective is to drive traffic to the tasting room, does everything on your website home page make visitors want to come to your winery? Too many times, we throw everything we’ve got to say to a visitor on the home page, and it overwhelms them, which causes them to leave. Your business priorities change frequently, certainly seasonally, so consider your website part of your overall marketing communication and update that home page regularly.

RUN

  Not only does your business change and technology advance, but our own behavior evolves. For instance, as of 2022, 59.16% of all website traffic comes from people using mobile devices, compared to 47.19% at the end of 2019 (Worldwide; StatCounter). So, in those short three years, mobile viewing became more critical. What do your own Google Analytics say about your site visitors? Knowing that we “read” on a full PC screen but “skim” headlines and subheads on the phone, what have you done to change your content to be bite-sized? Are silhouette bottle shots the best way to showcase your wines on the phone? Or should tight label shots be considered for a store refresh?

  Websites used to be like brochures; they were designed and used until you needed a new one, and then you threw out the old one and replaced it with a new one. Now, smart marketers believe websites should be alive and continually evolving. Unless you’re going through an entire rebrand, you should be able to keep the bones of the site for years and focus on updating new content weekly or monthly. While working on your website is not as glamorous as the latest social media craze or as flashy as a viral meme, it will be seen by more people than any other channel, digital or IRL, so focusing on this area should be a high priority for any marketer.

3. Appearance Matters:  The intersection of technology like smartphones, the popularity of apps and social media tools like filters and editing, and our ever-increasing pace of processing information have created the perfect storm for visual storytelling. From icons to emojis to Instagram, to say we are a society that relies on visuals is an understatement. And flawless photos are every teenage girl’s selfy norm, so you better have a game plan for decent marketing photography.

CRAWL

  We sell a product that is glass, curved, and sometimes has foil or screen-printed text. It is not as simple as snapping a selfie of you and your bacon bloody mary for Instagram #SwineAndShine. Luckily, we all have excellent cameras on our phones, hundreds of photo editing apps for pennies, and thousands of free YouTube videos with tips on how to use them. There is literally no excuse for bad images except laziness and complacency. So make 2024 the year you say no to bright reflections, lip marks or spots on wine glasses, and fuzzy label text.

WALK

  Just because you can do something yourself doesn’t mean you should. I can cook at home, but I’m not going to spend all day on a 20-ingredient Mole sauce when I can enjoy a professional chef’s version via DoorDash in 38 minutes. Your time has value, and if you’re doing other important things like making wine, selling wine, or managing the business, it’s time to call in a professional. You can save money/time on the frequency you post on social media or how complex your next club party is but don’t skimp on your marketing visuals. They are the one tool you have in your arsenal that helps you acquire, connect with, sell to, remind, and retain customers in every single channel.

Picture showing wine bottles in first box, 1 wine bottle in second box, and a wine bottle being held behind a women's back saying Visual strategies include props, models, colors, lighting, backgrounds, angles, symbols, composition, and contrast to make your images look different than other brands.

RUN

  You develop a visual strategy by combining your visuals with your customer data and personas above. This is next-level thinking about composition, contrast, lighting, angles, or props that tell your story. The goal is to present a style that is all your own and continues your brand’s story.

4. Invest in Marketing:  I was teaching a class on social media content last spring, and we were talking about boosting strategies. A gentleman who had been quiet for most of the class finally spoke up with disdain in his voice and said, “It’ sounds like you have to pay these suckers to do anything. Nothing is free anymore.”

  I don’t know why he thought marketing was ever free, but it isn’t. (If that hasn’t occurred to you, let me be the one to burst that bubble.) It doesn’t matter if you make one hundred cases of wine or one million; it is unrealistic to assume that people will magically buy your wine because you made it. You must have a marketing budget and a plan to sell your product.

CRAWL

  Start with the items that will get you the most impact (assuming you already have a workable website and reasonably good imagery because those are priority #1.) You will need two things to survive as a business – customers coming in and orders going out. Social media and email are the typical utensils chosen for these deceivingly simple accomplishments.

  You’ll want to pay your social media channel of choice to help consumers see your content – a minimum of $100 to $200 monthly. If you do not do this, expect only about 7% of your followers to see you. For emails, you’ll want a professional email platform like Mailchimp with a template to create HTML emails. That will run you anywhere from $13 up to a month.

WALK

  The Small Business Association recommends spending 6-8% of your gross sales on marketing. Meta and Google are two of the most efficient places to do that. Both channels are mailable for multiple objectives, such as driving visitors to your tasting room, adding people to your mailing list, or selling wine.

  If Boosting is training wheels, crafting a killer News Feed Ad opens up a world of creative possibilities, lets you target your audience with surgical precision, and can deliver superior results. It’s like upgrading from a tricycle to a turbocharged motorcycle without breaking the bank.

There are numerous targeting, message, and graphic concerns, so if you can partner with a professional, you may find that money well spent. If you are set on DIY, plenty of training videos are online. It is best to start slow, learn, and iterate. Expect to spend $500-$2,000 a month.

RUN

When your business needs more customers, you have more wine to sell, or you just want a double shot of caffeine, marketing is an effective level to toggle. There are multiple print magazines and online outlets to partner with for visibility and sales. You can also lump in sales support channels like Instacart ads in this area. A professional media planner or trained marketing professional should be consulted if you’re entering this carnival because the rides are expensive, and the media planners work on commission. Like the ringmaster, their goal is to separate you from your money and sell you a shiny story that is primarily a sales spiel.

5. Relax Your Grip:  Our final bit of advice for 2024 is to be open to new ideas. Our customers are changing, carrying new consumption patterns, attitudes, and travel preferences. I couldn’t disagree more with the Wine-Searcher article last week saying that wineries exhibit ageism if they don’t double down on Baby Boomers as a target audience because they drink wine now. Boomers are, and have been, fabulous customers and should be provided with all the best marketing and customer service deserved by their years of support. But to assume that Millennials, who are forty and relatively wealthy, by the way, will be interested in the same products, price points, and experiences is a mistake. 2024 is an excellent year to start testing out additional bifurcated strategies.

  Let’s take it out of generational context. Name one other tourist or luxury industry that has serviced customers the same way for almost 50 years without evolution (assuming wine tourism took off in the 1970s.) Cinemas now have iMax and streaming, museums have concerts and children’s exhibits, hotels have changed, spas have changed, shopping habits have changed. To offer the same essential tasting experience and product marketing that you have for decades will only be successful for a few more years before it’s phased out.

  Listen and be observant of your customers and be open to new ideas. Be a willow, not an oak, and don’t be afraid to try new things. You’ll be rewarded with new customers for years to come.

B Cellars Embraces AI to Understand the Emotional Connection Between Brand and Consumers

Photo of B Cellars front entrance to their building

In the ever-evolving landscape of the wine industry, innovation is not just about viticulture and winemaking techniques; the new frontier is understanding the emotional bond between brand and customers. B Cellars, a trailblazer in the Napa Valley wine scene, took an early leap into the future by integrating artificial intelligence into its marketing and sales strategies. The results have allowed the company to carve out an enviable niche in the direct-to-consumer channel, which is the focus of their business model.

  In 2018, B Cellars distinguished itself as a pioneer in the winery-meets-AI space by employing Metis, a cutting-edge, AI-powered behavioral research program developed by a San Francisco-based company, Richey International. This move marked

B Cellars as among the first in the wine industry to seek consumer feedback through AI, with a focus on emotional connection to the brand.

  Metis, named for the Greek goddess of wisdom, was designed to delve deeper than traditional market research methods. It analyzes vast amounts of data, including social media and online review sites like TripAdvisor and Google Reviews, to provide insights into the emotional resonance a brand has with its customers and find best practices within specific industry segments. The AI searched for what consumers were saying about their experiences at B Cellars in comparison to a subset of other well-respected Napa Valley wine brands. It went a step further by also analyzing data from select non-winery businesses such as restaurants, hotels, and even retail stores; surprisingly, some of the most valuable insights for B Cellars came from analyzing the customer experience at Filson, the 130+-year-old Seattle-based outdoor clothing company.

  The next step was to invite past B Cellars guests to answer questions in writing. The instructions were clear and were meant to solicit thoughtful responses by noting respondents should “take as much time as you need to develop your response…we are listening carefully.” Participation in the survey was well above industry research norms.

  What Metis’ process revealed to B Cellars unlocked the essence of the relationships between B Cellars and their customers. Why did customers like the winery (apart from good wine)? What drove them to maintain a multi-year relationship? How could such a relationship endure when the customer was thousands of miles away?

  The answers became clear as Metis honed in on the core differentiators that consumers perceived about B Cellars: the “soul” of the brand was rooted in craftsmanship, terroir, and the idea of a lifestyle grounded in authenticity (as opposed glamour or floridity), plus appreciation of great quality wine, food, and entertaining in a manner that was elevated yet approachable. Metis found that while these elements were amply apparent to visitors to the B Cellars estate in Oakville, these factors were not highlighted effectively on the company’s website and online user experience. Simplifying and streamlining the website made it more inviting and accessible to potential customers and aligned better with the superior elements of the B Cellars brand. Once executed, the website simplification translated into a refined pre-visit experience between guests and the winery’s concierge team, which gave way to a unique arrival experience for guests.

  The insights B Cellars gained from the AI analysis of its in-person experience were also eye-opening. From Metis’ data analysis, the winery learned that their wine tastings were undervalued. So, they increased prices by an unprecedented 30%; this adjustment aligned the perceived value of their offerings with the high quality of their wines and curated food pairing experiences. The price increase also heighted the perceived luxury of the experience, which led to increased bookings to visit the estate.

  Furthermore, Metis’ insights led to a reimagining of B Society, an offering that encourages ongoing purchases of its wines. Before Metis, B Society wines were predetermined for its subscribers based on previous purchases; however, AI recommended a totally customizable wine purchase approach that allowed consumers more control over choosing selections for each shipment. Metis also challenged the B Cellars approach to Society gatherings. Today, gatherings are designed to encourage deeper connections between the B Cellars team and their clients by having more intimate gatherings and allocating visiting hours exclusively for returning guests. These changes have not only improved customer relationships but also reduced attrition rates, which now sit well below industry norms.

  The results of incorporating AI into the winery’s strategy have been remarkable. B Cellars enjoyed a 7% increase in annual winery visits with in the first year of implementing the Metis findings, plus a notable improvement in customer engagement, loyalty, and referrals. These changes underscore the potential of AI in transforming not just marketing strategies but the very fabric of the customer relationship. The key was deeply analyzing a comparable set of businesses and listening carefully to its customers, just as B Cellars had promised to do. In the final analysis, Metis showed that B Cellars customers wanted to believe in the winery’s ethos of integrity and authenticity. While most wineries market themselves based on what’s in the bottle, their scores, or a continuous stream of marketing campaigns,

B Cellars sought substance, which has translated into a durable emotional connection with its customers.

  The success of the B Cellars story provides a roadmap for other wineries to follow as AI inevitably becomes more integrated into all of our lives. The implications of the winery’s pioneering use of AI extend beyond their own success; it opens up a realm of possibilities for other wineries and vineyards. The wine industry, traditionally reliant on conventional marketing and customer relationship techniques, is already starting to think of AI as a viable tool for enhancing business models, especially in the DTC segment, which has grown significantly during and since the Covid-19 pandemic began in 2020.

  Moreover, the adaptability of AI tools like Metis means they can be tailored to different business needs, whether it’s refining product offerings, enhancing customer experiences, or developing more effective marketing strategies.

  The innovative approach of Be Cellars incorporating AI into their marketing and customer relationship strategies sets a new benchmark in the wine industry. As the industry continues to evolve, AI will undoubtedly play a significant role in shaping the future of winery and vineyard operations, not only in the sales and marketing spaces, but also in optimizing elements of the wine business like farming practices, supply chain, and even winemaking techniques. The experience of B Cellars using novel AI tools demonstrates that the fusion of technology and tradition can lead to unparalleled success in the wine world.

Exploring Accommodation Options at Wineries

Picture of front of a winery building entrance connected to 3 metal silos

By: Becky Garrison  

Wineries looking to provide their guests with elevated wine-tasting experiences might want to explore the option of offering accommodations at their winery or vineyard. Kristen Baxter, operations manager for Abbey Road Farm in Carlton, Oregon, said, “Our lodging is integral to our business model, as it allows winery guests and event guests to stay overnight while they are here enjoying wine or celebrating with us.”

  Carrie Bonney, general manager for Youngberg Hill (McMinnville, Oregon), concurs, adding, “Lodging contributes to our reputation for exceptional hospitality and helping to sustain and grow our overall operation.” In addition, their lodging serves as a revenue stream that supports their broader mission and allows them to invest in the enhancement and maintenance of their property.

  In Bonney’s estimations, this is just one piece of the experience they aim to provide our guests, and it complements their primary focus, wine. “By offering a range of comfortable and thoughtfully designed accommodations, we aim to create a welcoming environment where guests can relax, unwind and fully immerse themselves in a unique experience. This, in turn, enhances their overall visit and encourages return visits and positive word-of-mouth referrals,” Bonney adds.

Lodging Options Available at Wineries

  As noted by the following examples, the types of accommodations available at a given winery vary from a rustic cabin cozy for two to a luxury country-style mansion replete with five-star amenities.

  Lumos Wines’ (Philomath, Oregon) vineyard is situated on what was the H Bar H Dude Ranch back in the 1940s and 1950s. The one-bedroom cabin with indoor plumbing was one of the original guest cabins built in 1938 and can accommodate up to two people. They maintain this little cabin to keep the historical feel of the place. In another historical touch, their tasting room is in the old dude ranch’s dance hall barn.

  Colter’s Creek Winery & Vineyards (Moscow, Idaho) began offering lodging at their tasting room because they had an open space that needed remodeling, and they saw a hole in the Moscow lodging market to fulfill. They have four boutique rooms above their tasting room in Moscow available via self-check-in, with bookings that can be made through their website.  Different packages are offered, each room comes with a complimentary wine tasting and with enough planning, guests can visit the vineyard and production facility 45 minutes away in Juliaetta.

  Abbey Road Farm’s (Carlton, Oregon) Silo Suites B&B is housed in three-grain silos. Two of the silos were built in 2003 when the property was a grass seed farm. The third was added to complete the project the winery opened in 2019. The silos boast a grand entry and sitting area with a wet bar. Their five suites feature foam-topped beds, Jacuzzi tubs, luxurious bedding and ambient floor heating. Stays include a bounteous Oregon breakfast prepared by on-site chef/innkeeper Will Preisch.

  Youngberg Hill had already been functioning as an inn since 1989, when they planted their oldest blocks, the Natasha and Jordan blocks. They chose to maintain this inn as a nine-room bed and breakfast offering comfortable rooms and suites, an open-air deck, spectacular views for sunsets and stargazing, and a fireplace beside which to relax with a glass of wine. A two-course breakfast keeps guests fueled up for a day sightseeing around the Willamette Valley.

  In a similar vein, Hummingbird Estate (Central Point, Oregon) converted a historic private home and former orchard into a vineyard and tasting room, event space and inn. Renovating the home’s bedrooms into suites made the most sense for the space. Here, guests can enjoy a glass of chardonnay, syrah or pinot noir while taking in the view of grapevines from their windows. In addition, they have a vineyard cottage available for rent.

  Also, when Grosgrain Vineyards (Walla Walla, Washington) acquired their winery/vineyard property via a bankruptcy auction in 2017, the only structure on the property at the time was a house where the previous owner had made his wine in the garage.  They needed a significantly larger winery space, so they built their current winery and tasting room in an adjacent area. They considered moving into the house themselves but decided that it was better suited to use as a short-term rental, which would be a great way for them to provide a more immersive experience. The house has four bedrooms and four baths, all of which are en-suite, with the house rented as a single unit on a nightly basis.

  So far, the house has been a great way to host new customers who experience their winery for the first time, as well as their wine club members who can book further in advance and at a discounted rate. Also, this house provides a great way for them to host their national distributors and further educate them about their winery. While the revenue it generates has been significant, more importantly, staying at this home helps guests build a deeper connection with the winery.

  The Joy on the Anahata (which translates to the heart chakra in Sanskrit) Vineyard (Salem, Oregon) is a luxury wine country retreat and 6,500-square-foot home with seven bedrooms (four suites, two queen rooms and one twin room in the basement for a nanny or younger children.) This house sits on top of the vineyard at 550 feet with views in every direction, and the gated 30-acre property is fenced in for deer. Other amenities include a chef’s kitchen, living room, dining/family room and outdoor heated swimming pool and hot tub, as well as a basement with a wine cellar and ping pong and pool tables. This property is rented as a “hospitality home” designed for family retreats, work retreats, YPO retreats and, in some cases, smaller than 100-person weddings. As they don’t have a tasting room built yet with their wines poured at Carlton Winemakers Studio, this house provides an opportunity for guests to taste their products as they collect their information.

  Bianchi Vineyards (East Wenatchee, Washington) chose to rent the two-bedroom house on their property as a short-term Airbnb experience. In addition, they have two RV spots with power and water. Some guests visit the tasting room for their complimentary tasting. Others enjoy hiking, skiing and concerts at the Gorge Amphitheater.

Recommendations for Designing Lodging at a Winery 

  Bonney stresses that offering lodging is not for the faint of heart. “This can be a significant undertaking, but it is also an excellent enhancement to your guest experience and can put your winery on the map as a unique destination. While it can eventually enhance your overall revenue streams, a great deal of investment is involved.”

  Meghann Walk, general manager for Hummingbird Estate, reminds those looking to invest in lodging that while lodging is an extension of their long-standing tradition of hospitality, it is not passive income. She reflects, “The inn is our most stable but also, in many ways, the most constantly demanding aspect of our business. There is no such thing as only answering phone calls during open hours. Make sure you are prepared for this.”

  Before launching a lodging program, Bonney recommends conducting market research for your area, determining lodging demands and assessing the type of accommodations guests will want. Along those lines, familiarize yourself with zoning and permitting regulations for your area before you start any work.

  Also, Baxter notes that conducting market research into other lodging options in your area can enable you to curate a unique experience from competitors to help you stand out. “Consider putting together packages unique to your property and potential discounts for loyal wine club members for additional benefits,” she says.

  In designing the lodging, Bonney recommends ensuring that the overall design provides a comfortable and memorable experience for your guests. Think about room options and various views, private patios and accommodating children or pets, as well as sustainable practices, such as energy-efficient appliances, water conservation, composting and eco-friendly amenities. In addition, consider if you want to offer wine tasting and breakfast as part of the lodging experience or if those will be separate options for purchase.

  Don’t neglect security and safety. Consider outdoor lighting, security cameras and post-emergency exit procedures for guests to see.

  Also, Bonney stresses that wineries need to ensure they have the appropriate trained staff. In addition to scheduling and maintaining guest reservations, they must know local restaurants, tour operators, spa services and other area happenings. “Anyone from the front desk staff to the housekeepers who will be interacting with guests must excel in customer relations,” she said. Baxter offers this cautionary reminder, “Your housekeeper will be your most valuable and least replaceable employee.”

  A CRM (customer relationship management) staff member will be needed to help maintain contact with guests, book rooms and provide an online booking option. Along those lines, online travel agencies like Expedia and Tripadvisor can help expand exposure.

  Finally, Bonney recommends that those seeking to add lodging as a service, embrace it fully. She proclaims, “You and your staff can create a holistic and integrated experience, develop new ambassadors for your brand and most importantly, sell more wine!”

What is a Website Template & Ten Reasons You Want One

By: Susan DeMatei, Founder of WineGlass Marketing

In today’s fast-changing landscape, web experts agree that we should redesign our websites every three years. Don’t get us wrong, that doesn’t mean touch your website every three years. You should constantly update and keep your website current, but we’re talking about a complete reboot every three years. This refresh is necessary because our content and feature-needs change, and our consumer eCommerce and browsing habits are constantly changing. Look at the wine business in the past four years and how much has changed since pre-COVID. In addition to the obvious design revitalization, we should also be re-evaluating our website goals and needs on this three-year frequency.

Image showing 75% of consumers will judge a brand's credibility based on their website design source Stanford Web Credibility Research

  When facing a redesign, the first question that crosses the minds of most is, “Should I use a template or have this custom-built?” If you have done a big website from scratch. before, you hired a designer and then a developer, and they walked you through Photoshop comps and wireframes. It worked back then, but that long and expensive process is no longer the only way to build websites. In the final months of 2023, the vast majority of the websites on the internet are built with a template or theme. For most of our clients, a template is the best place to start unless you are a complex corporate entity with multiple brand or feature needs (and even in that case, you might want to start on a template.) But we’re getting ahead of ourselves. Let’s define a template and then break down some pros and cons of using a template.

What is a template?

I am currently car shopping, so I have automobiles on the brain. I let my lease go during COVID and for a time my husband and I have survived on one car, but it’s getting to be logistically difficult. For the past few weeks, I have been comparing features and reading reviews and am no closer to making a decision than I was when I started. Is it wrong to want heated seats in Northern California? Will I really use the Navigation system if I can plug in my iPhone? What the heck is torque, anyway? If anyone has an SUV suggestion. I’m all ears. So, forgive all the car analogies and puns when discussing websites, but that’s what’s racing out of me at this moment. (See what I did there?)

There are Three Parts to a Website

1.  The base structure is like a chassis of a car. Your base will include basic feature choices like a type of Navigation menu, the ability to incorporate eCommerce, mobile optimization, a photo carousel, or slider. It will also suggest plugins options like a recipe section, a mailing list signup, or a blog page. A good base with have pre-built areas for what you need and easily be able to incorporate additional special touches you want.

  This base is a template (or theme or stencil) and is a blank slate that can host very different websites. If the template is the chassis in our car analogy, it is mostly unseen as what you put on top of it defines the car. This is why a Toyota 4Runner, an SUV, can have the same chassis as the Toyota Tacoma, a pickup truck. (Ok, I’ve read entirely too much Car & Driver lately.)

2.  Your website content is the shell, or car, that is put on the chassis. This is the second part of the website and contains your copy and images. These areas flesh out details of your website like a wine club membership section, an events schedule, or that wedding venue picture gallery. On top of the template, your content provides the site’s function as well as content specific to your winery.

3.  But the third part is where most people think about – the design. The design of your website are fonts and colors added on top of everything with a style sheet. This is the trim of your car. It dictates what color it is, if it has the sports or the luxury package, or if the interior is cloth or leather. (Um, with four dogs, leather. Definitely leather). The designer crafts these tweaks to make your site look like your winery and nobody else and puts thought into how your content is best displayed.

  So don’t feel like a template will be cookie-cutter. A template should be the basis for the content and styling that will make your site your own. A template is not an excuse not to customize everything. Sure, you bought it with some fonts and colors but you should absolutely customize it.

Image says it takes .05 seconds for visitors to form an opinion about a website source  behaviour & information technn\ology

10 Reason’s To Choose a Template over a Custom Build

  Have you ever tried to configure a car at a dealer? It’s nearly impossible. They don’t like it and quickly try to sell you a configuration already on the lot. If you resist and genuinely want your custom car, you have to wait, sometimes for months. Having your dream car is pretty sweet but time-consuming, costly, and requires a hefty dose of patience. 

  On the other hand, using a template is like buying a car on the lot. It might not match your dream features perfectly, but it’s close, quick and convenient, you still get that new car smell, and it’s much easier on your wallet.

  But sometimes, the heart wants what it wants. Both options have their merits, and the choice largely depends on your unique needs and circumstances. But, for those who appreciate a straightforward, no-nonsense approach, there’s something inherently attractive about going the template route.

Here’s are ten reasons why you might lean towards a template for your website:

1. Time-Efficiency:  Templates are like website-building cheat codes. They come pre-designed with layouts, color schemes, and content placeholders. You can go from a blank screen to a functioning website in days, not months. Templates get you online faster, which can be a game-changer in the digital world and allow your team to focus on sales versus infrastructure.

2. Cost-Effectiveness:  Custom builds can be expensive. You’ll need to hire web designers and developers, and the bill can quickly spiral out of control. Templates are often affordable, making them a budget-friendly option. You can save your development dollars when you start with a template.

3. Beginner-Friendly:  Not everyone is a web development guru. With templates, you don’t need to be. They are designed with the average Joe in mind, so you can create a professional-looking website even if you’ve never coded a line. While I recommend getting a designer to design your template initially, you should be able to maintain it independently. Templates always come with a CMS, and if you’re using something like WordPress, once you learn the basics, all those skills are transferable throughout your career. You don’t need to be a coding wizard to use templates. On the other hand, custom builds require extensive technical knowledge or the hiring of a developer, which can be a headache if you’re not tech-savvy.

4. Built-In Features:  Many templates come with handy features like responsive design (your site looks good on any device), SEO optimization (helps your site rank higher on Google), and e-commerce functionality (perfect for online stores). Why reinvent the wheel when it’s already rolling your way?

5. Stability and Maintenance:  Technology is like a never-ending racetrack with new updates and emerging trends constantly rounding the corner. With templates, you can breathe easily. Templates typically receive updates from their creators. This means you don’t need to worry about your site becoming outdated or vulnerable to security breaches. It’s like having a virtual mechanic on standby. Also, this template has been used repeatedly, so all the issues have been worked out. With a custom site or something only your winery uses, you and you alone are the guinea pig. With templates, you’re minimizing the risk of major technical issues.

6. They Are Highly Customizable To Your Brand:

  As discussed, the template is just the base. (The most popular WordPress theme, DIVI, has been downloaded over 800,000 times. And all these websites look very different from each other.) The point is to make it your own with customization. It is recommended that you initially get a designer to customize your template for you, but with some reading and trial you can likely do it yourself.

7. They Are Developed To Change:  We started this blog by saying the web is dynamic and constantly changing. One of the cool things about templates is that they are built to be changed. Don’t design your website and then walk away from it. Design it, then watch customer activity. Track your sales conversions, track your visitors, and then try different landing pages, sliders, or content. Templates are made to be modular and editable, so take full advantage of that. This allows you to experiment with different layouts, content, and features to optimize your site’s performance and user experience. Custom builds require additional development to implement such testing capabilities.

8. SEO Friendliness:  Templates often come with built-in or the ability to add SEO features or plugins that make optimizing your website for search engines easier. Custom builds may require additional development to implement these features, adding to your time and costs.

9. Mobile Matters:  In today’s mobile-first world, having a responsive website that looks great on smartphones and tablets is crucial. Most templates are designed with mobile responsiveness in mind, saving you the headache of ensuring your custom site is mobile-friendly.

10. Future-Proofing:  Website templates are built to adapt to changing technologies and trends. As design and functionality evolve, templates evolve with them. Custom-built sites can become outdated quickly, requiring more significant investments in development to keep up with the times.

When asked what visual elements they value on a company website 40% of consumers said images 39% of consumers said website color scheme and 21% of consumers said video source top design firms

  Ultimately, the content of your website matters most. Whether you choose a template or a custom build, what you say and how you say it will be the driving force behind your online success. A beautiful custom design won’t save poor content, just as a template won’t hinder great content from shining.

  So, why choose a template over a custom build for your website? Because sometimes, speed, affordability, and ease of use trump the pursuit of perfection. Templates offer a fast track to getting your online presence up and running without draining your bank account or sanity. For most small to medium-sized businesses and personal projects, templates offer a hassle-free and efficient way to get your online presence up and running.

  In the end, the choice between a template and a custom build is a profoundly personal one. It’s like choosing between that dream car and one off the lot. Both have their merits; it just depends on what drives you (Sorry, I can’t help it).

  So, get out there, explore the world of website templates, and remember that the web is an open road. Whether you go with a template or a custom build, the most important thing is to get your voice, brand, and ideas out there for the world to see.

  Susan DeMatei founded WineGlass Marketing; the largest full-service, award-winning marketing firm focused on the wine industry. She is a certified Sommelier and Specialist in Wine, with degrees in Viticulture and Communications, an instructor at Napa Valley Community College, and is currently collaborating on two textbooks. Now in its 11th year, her agency offers domestic and international wineries assistance with all areas of strategy and execution. WineGlass Marketing is located in Napa, California, and can be reached at 707-927-3334 or wineglassmarketing.com.

The Right Blend of AI Can Keep Customers from Withering on the Vine

robot holding tray with full wine glass and woman holding full wine glass

By:  David Wachs, CEO of Handwrytten

Changing U.S. consumer drinking habits have been troublesome for the domestic wine industry. Younger generations including Millennials and Gen Z are more likely to purchase ready-to-drink cocktails, seltzers, or mocktails than wine, a shift from previous generations. It was noted in Rob McMillan’s annual State of the Industry report earlier this year that wineries need to do a better job of marketing to younger generations because currently the only growth being seen is among the Baby Boomer demographic. Otherwise, wine sales are falling, and less wine was sold in 2022 than in 2021. One reported suggestion was to launch a multi-winery campaign like what the dairy industry has done for milk or the cattle industry for beef. But those efforts failed. Perhaps now is the time to call on the robots for their assistance?

  It might seem like social media is the best way to reach younger generations, since a 2022 survey by Morning Consult found that 54% of Gen Zers said they spend at least four hours daily on social media, and 38% spend even more time than that. But an avatar on TikTok or Instagram enjoying a glass of merlot on a beach or in the back of a camper van overlooking a breathtaking vista is not the right robot to help the wine industry breakthrough to younger generations. Especially when the industry is competing against a movement of influencers promoting sober living as the latest wellness trend that followers should aspire too.

  So, if not social media, then what? Does the wine industry need to go head-to-head with politicians and launch an invasive television advertising campaign that floods screens across the country with bottles of chardonnay and cabernet playing the starring roles in every type of social gathering possible? Do wine tastings at grocery stores and other brick-and-mortar retail locations need to occur on a daily basis to infuse wine purchasing as a more regular habit when picking up items for meals for the week? None of these are bad ideas, but the reality is AI isn’t all that great at creating television ads, yet, and a robot pouring wine at the local grocery store would require investing in technology that is cost prohibitive and impractical.

  The most effective and unique way that wineries can connect with younger consumers is through a traditional advertising method with a high-tech, modern twist. A survey, conducted by Full Spectrum Insights on behalf of Handwritten, found that emails and text messages are, unsurprisingly, the most common way for businesses to communicate with customers but that 45% of customers would feel more valued and be more likely to make repeat purchases if they received a handwritten note. 30% of customers said handwritten notes are the most meaningful way a company could communicate with them and the least annoying, compared with the annoyance of receiving a phone call, email, or text.

  Nothing says “pay attention” like a personalized handwritten note. No one flips past or does not see a handwritten envelope in their mailbox. These stand out from everything else that was delivered. Recipients wonder what could be inside and while envelopes that look like bills or advertisements are set to the side, handwritten envelopes are usually opened immediately. The attention-grabbing nature of a handwritten envelope provides an instant advantage that even the biggest and most prevalent direct mail marketers cannot compete with. Handwritten envelopes have been found to have a 300% greater open rate than standard envelopes. And handwritten marketing has response rates 7-21x greater than printed mail, with a return on investment 3-7x greater than print. Some companies have even found that retention rates are 50% higher for customers who receive a handwritten thank you note.

  Rather than tasking an employee to sit at a desk with a stack of cards and envelopes and bucket of ice to alleviate hand cramps, the task of penning handwritten notes to customers can be outsourced to robots that are capable of using real pens to craft notes that are nearly indistinguishable from ones written by an actual human hand. There are also a variety of AI services available own that can help everyone from a marketing novice to a pro discover the right words to include in the message. From there, it’s about ensuring wineries are using the right direct mailing strategy to maximize ROI.

Spend Time On Your Call to Action

  Your call to action (CTA) may be the most important part of your direct mail campaign. This statement tells your recipients how you want them to respond and encourages them to do it. A strong CTA can boost your response rate substantially while a weak one can jeopardize your entire campaign. Every communication piece you send your customers should have a purpose. Identify it and your CTA will come naturally.

  Compelling CTAs are clear and concise. They contain actionable verbs which are impossible to misinterpret. When people read your direct mail letter, they should know what you want them to do. You can ask people outside your marketing department to read your letter and determine whether they understand what’s expected of them.

  Procrastination prevents action. Limit procrastination by adding a sense of urgency to your CTA. Asking your recipients to call today or claim a free sample by a specific deadline is more powerful than making similar statements without referencing time. The way you present your CTA can make it more compelling. White space draws the eye. Separating your CTA from the body of your letter prevents someone from overlooking it. Using a different color or font size can also help your call to action stand out.

Use Personal Text and Images

  Savvy consumers will see through a handwritten form letter. Make sure you include personal details to strengthen your bond with your recipients. Using names rather than “To whom it may concern” is an important start. But you should look for other opportunities for personalization, too. Mentioning customers’ locations, past purchases, and pop culture references that people of their ages will probably appreciate are other ways you can show your recipients you’re speaking to them.

  While the text matters, using appropriate imagery can also reinforce your words. For example, targeting a millennial or Gen Z household with a note that features a retired couple enjoying a glass of wine with dinner, probably a messaging failure.

Tempt Your Recipients With Great Deals

  The most compelling direct mail campaigns contain offers people can’t refuse. Brainstorm strategies to tempt your recipients with your direct mail campaigns.

People love feeling they’re receiving something others don’t get. They’ll struggle to resist signing up for your mailing list if you say they’ll receive exclusive members-only coupons. Ordering a product becomes much more enticing if you’ve waiving shipping costs or reducing the price for a limited time.

Get the Timing Right

  As with all marketing campaigns, the timing of your direct mail campaigns plays a key part in their success or failure. Your direct mail will ideally reach your recipients when they’re receptive to the messages inside them.

  Getting the timing right isn’t a precise science, but you’ll do best if you put yourself in your customers’ shoes. The members of your mailing list will probably be receptive to a card promoting a great sale sent in the lead-up to Christmas when they’re searching for gift ideas and planning to spend money. Sales announcements can also be received favorably in April when your customers may have extra money from refunds on their tax returns. Your sales efforts are likely to be less effective in January when customers may suffer from a Christmas credit card hangove

  Sending direct mail cards through your customers’ journey with your organization is also a great way to engage them and make them feel special. However, timing matters here, too. Send a card saying you have missed a customer’s business too soon and you’ll seem too insincere. However, with the right timing, this type of card can re-engage a lapsed customer and encourage a purchase. On the flip side, a letter thanking a customer for the individual’s business or referring a customer should be sent promptly. If you let too much time elapse, the thank you will seem unnatural.

Think Outside the Box

  Since households don’t receive many letters, your direct mail is already likely to be more memorable than a marketing email. However, you can increase the chances your recipients will recall your direct mail with a novelty. Think outside the box to create a direct mail campaign that makes a real impression.

  Knorr used leuco dye on a direct mail campaign for a new line of frozen food. The cheeky mailing read “Unlike any F****N dinner you’ve ever tried.” Recipients were encouraged to put the mail in the freezer. The extreme cold triggered a new message reading “FROZEN meals can be this delicious.” The quirky campaign, which had a 10.2 percent response rate, prompted 17,000 purchases. This campaign was so successful that half of the mail was delayed to help supermarkets manage the increased demand for the company’s products.

The great part about all of these direct mail ideas is that they stay in the minds of recipients long after they open the mail. Even if your recipients don’t take action now, they’re more likely to think about your business when they need your products or services in the future. Brainstorm relevant ways you can also enhance your direct mail materials and make them distinctive.

Eagles Landing Winery

Award-Winning Wines In Northeast Iowa

Picture of Eagles Landing Winery from the street with red car in front on street

By: Gerald Dlubala 

Marquette, Iowa, is built for tourism, especially outdoor enthusiasts. The quaint, welcoming town of 429 offers premium hiking, fishing, hunting and camping, along with some of the best fall leaf peeping available. The natural beauty of Marquette’s landscape against a backdrop of the Mississippi River bluffs will put you into a postcard-type setting. And while there, the welcoming residents and hometown feel Iowa is known for will always make itself known. Additionally, nestled in the bluffs of this driftless area of Iowa, the scenic town of Marquette also draws in tourists for their award-winning winery, Eagles Landing Winery.

  Eagles Landing Winery and Vineyard has been serving Iowa and Wisconsin since 2003, with their success driven by a mantra that includes being patient, paying meticulous attention to quality and continuing to focus on their wine’s drinkability and taste.

  Roger and Connie Halvorson launched the winery in 2000 as a retirement hobby. Their son, Jay Halvorson, joined the business in 2003 as the master winemaker. By 2007, Eagles Landing Winery was not only doing well, but they were taking home awards for their wines. Cindy Halvorson joined the company in 2009, and just a few years later, Jay and Cindy Halvorson officially took over the winery from his retiring parents. Since that day, Eagles Landing Winery has received over 400 medals and awards. These coveted awards include the Governor’s Cup and Best of Show at the 2022 Iowa State Fair for their wine, Constance, a clean, crisp and subtle American white wine. In 2022, Jay and Cindy Halvorson also went the route of retirement, selling Eagles Landing winery to current owners Scott and Sharon Patten.

Love at First Sight

  “It was just a wonderful experience and a place that felt familiar and welcoming,” said Sharon. “We literally fell in love with the winery when we visited. The town was so attractive and welcoming, so we knew we had to look into acquiring this place. Scott had experience in winemaking and homebrew brewing, built on a general science background and engineering experience. He was looking to make a change, and we started exploring different businesses available to purchase and came upon Eagles Landing. Scott’s previous background gave him an understanding of the winemaking process and the different production elements, and it all just kind of seemed to click.”

  The Pattens hadn’t previously visited the winery, only making the trip to Marquette a couple of times after seeing that it was available for purchase. They lived in Cedar Rapids at the time, a little less than two hours away.

  “When we visited, it just seemed like a wonderful business, and everyone was super friendly and helpful,” said Sharon. “Jay and Cindy Halvorson were so accommodating and helpful with the transition phase. The winery and the area just became a really good fit.”

  With four children at home and multiple pets to consider, completing the Pattens’ move to Marquette will take some time. In the meantime, there are scheduled days and trips between the two places. Scott runs things at the winery several days a week and comes home on off-days.

  “We are still very much a small family winery,” said Scott. “Everyone pitches in. We include the children on some weekends to help with tasks and gain experience in the different tasks needed around the winery, like different processes, restocking and the never-ending cleanup duties. We’ll produce between 6,000 and 7,000 cases of wine annually, with the main distribution going to Iowa and nearby Wisconsin.”

Wines for Every Palette

  Eagles Landing currently produces 36 wines ranging from dry selections to sweet, dessert-style wines. About two dozen wines are usually available onsite to sample at any given time, including some seasonal blends produced in smaller batches.

  “We source a lot of different kinds of fruit and make a lot of different types of wine,” said Scott. “We offer a little bit of everything in the hopes that our customers will find something they like. Most are what we refer to as Midwestern-type wines. We have a good selection of sweet-style wines because those are typically our best sellers and are always in demand, but when we came on, I wanted to add other types and styles of wines for those who are interested in that as well. And if you’re looking for something seasonal or a unique blend, we do produce those in smaller batches. We’re working on a pear and currant blend that seems to work well. Sometimes, it’s all about trying new things.”

  “And we have to mention our Campfire Hootch,” said Sharon. “It’s a blend of four to seven different berries, grapes and other fruits. The flavor comes through as a sweet, very adult juice that even dry drinkers seem to enjoy. If someone comes in and says they’re not really a fan of wine or a wine drinker, we have them try this, and it usually changes their perception of what a wine can offer. It’s absolutely nontraditional, unlike anything that most people have ever had, so it’s something worth trying when you come in.”

  Grape varieties grown at the nearby vineyard include Edelweiss, Marquette, Marechal Foch, Petite Pearl, Brianna and Frontenac Gris. Patten tells The Grapevine Magazine that the vineyard was not included in the original sale but is contracted to supply grapes to the Eagles Landing. They didn’t want to be overwhelmed with trying to learn the winery plus the farming and agriculture business simultaneously. However, they still use those grapes in their wine production, as well as some coastal grapes for their dry reds and quality Midwest sources for their fruit needs. Patten is hoping to increase the Midwest sources in the future. In addition to its wide-ranging lineup of wines, Eagles Landing Winery offers a large selection of fruit and berry wines and a gold medal-winning honey and blackberry mead.

Come for the Wine, Stay for the Atmosphere, Hospitality and Craft Pizza

  Eagles Landing Winery is a perfect reflection of Marquette, Iowa. The quaint, welcoming surroundings draw you into the small-town hospitality feel of the winery, where samples are always on the menu. Located in downtown Marquette, patrons of Eagles Landing Winery are welcome to sit inside or enjoy themselves outdoors. Visitors can enjoy the outdoor wine garden, complete with an arbor and trellis that supports a network of natural grapevines over the top to make the experience authentic, memorable and relaxing.

  “We wanted a place where people felt relaxed, appreciated and comfortable,” said Patten. “And that attitude includes our drink offerings. We want to offer wines that people like, regardless of their preference. Additionally, we feature live music on the weekends and offer different cheeses and snacks to nibble on while enjoying your time with us. But that’s about to change as well. We’re in the process of installing a pizza kitchen for craft pizzas to enjoy with your wine while hanging out with us. It’ll be a game-changer for us and the total experience we can offer our guests.”

  Patten said that the oven will likely be ready to go when you read this. He projects a November 2023 start date to fire up the pizza oven and make delicious craft pizzas for their patrons to enjoy while drinking Eagles Landing wines.

Eagles Landing Winery Looks to the Future

  “In the short term, we’d like to increase our vendor market,” said Scott. “We currently distribute to Iowa and Wisconsin and have about 200 vendors. We think we can double that in the future. In maybe three to five years, we’d love to have a second location somewhere, but that adds a lot of logistics.”

  Coming from a science, engineering and homebrewing background, you may wonder if another craft beverage endeavor is on the Pattens’ radar as I was.

  “Now that you mention it, we’ve been debating that perhaps we would do something in the future,” said Scott. “We’ll have to see what the market looks like. The future trends and demographics of wine are okay but not entirely sunshine right now, and the numbers for beer aren’t really great right now, but spirits are picking up, so I may be leaning towards adding that.”

Advice to Potential Winery Owners

  Asked for any advice they could provide future winery owners, the Pattens laughed and replied that the experience would be different than they initially expected and planned.

  “Well, Scott and I had a whole strategic plan in place for the first six months,” said Sharon. “But we’ve had to reevaluate that plan simply because knowing things now is much different than going in as first-timers. There are a lot of new things we can bring to the table. It’s important to have a plan, but it’s just as important to be willing to be flexible with that plan. For example, we decided to add the pizza oven, meaning we had to add a previously unplanned physical structure to our site. With this new addition, people will be staying here for longer periods of time, so that has us reevaluating our building’s infrastructure to accommodate those longer stays.”

  “Additionally, everything takes a little longer than we had planned, so I guess if I could go back and change something, I would try to get a jump on some things earlier,” said Scott. “We undertook a rebranding of sorts and wanted to update the look of our product and packaging. It’s the same award-winning wine, but we wanted to freshen up the logos and labeling. That process is taking much longer than a couple of months that we planned for it to take. It’s starting to present some challenges. We could’ve planned that better.”

  “And just knowing how much wine to make for the season will be easier,” said Sharon. “We had to go through the high season of fall, so knowing how much wine to make and when to get it out will be much smoother next season. We had to improvise a bit and update plans on the fly.”

Preserving History

  The Eagles Landing Winery’s offices are located in the historical home of Emma Big Bear. She was the last full-blooded American Indian to live in Clayton County, Iowa. Originally from Wisconsin, Emma Big Bear spent most of her life living by the traditional Winnebago (Ho-Chunk) customs and traditions, known for the handmade woven baskets she made and sold within the McGregor and Marquette regions. She passed away in 1968 at the age of 99, and there is a memorial statue in her honor at the Mississippi River Sculpture Park on St. Feriole Island, Prairie Du Chien, Wisconsin.

  For more information on Eagles Landing winery and to plan a trip to Marquette, Iowa, visit:

Eagles Landing Winery

127 North Street

PO Box 472

Marquette, Iowa 52158

(563) 873-1905

info@eagleslandingwinery.com

An Overview of Washington State’s Vineyards & Wineries

Picture of rose of grape vineyards mountain and blue sky

By: Becky Garrison  

Since the first planting of wine grapes in Fort Vancouver, Washington in 1825, Washington State has risen to become the second-largest producer of wine, with an annual production of approximately 17.7 million cases and a total annual in-state economic impact of $8.4 billion. Currently, the state has 1,070 wineries, with over 400 grape growers and over 60,000 acres of grapevines planted, which produce over 80 varieties of grapes. Of these wineries, 90 percent would be classified as boutique wineries, producing less than 5,000 cases annually.        

Tour of Washington State’s AVAs

  Established in 1983, the Yakima Valley AVA is the state’s oldest AVA, with 708,710 total acres, of which 18,580 are planted acres. This area’s diverse growing region, with an annual rainfall of eight inches, allows for a wide range of wine varieties and styles. Approximately a quarter of the grapes grown in this AVA are chardonnay, with riesling, merlot, cabernet sauvignon and syrah among this region’s other most popular grapes.

  The Columbia Valley AVA was founded the following year and consists of 11,308,636 total acres, 8,748,949 of which are in Washington State. Cabernet sauvignon, chardonnay, riesling, merlot and syrah represent the most popular varieties planted in this area. This region is home to 99 percent of Washington’s total wine grape acreage, with the vast majority of Washington State’s 20 AVAs located within the Columbia Valley.  

  Four of Washington State’s AVAs are cross-border appellations. Columbia Valley, Columbia Gorge and Walla Walla Valley are shared with Oregon. Lewis-Clark Valley is shared with Idaho. 

  The Columbia Gorge represents the state’s westernmost appellation east of the Cascade Mountains. Founded in 2004, this AVA is noted for the diversity that produces a greater variety of wines than other AVAs. This AVA consists of 186,610 total acres, 66,604 of which are in Washington State, with 381 planted acres in this state. Rachel Horn, winemaker at Aniche Cellars in Underwood, Washington, states how the western end of the Columbia Gorge AVA is similar in many ways to her favorite cooler climate growing regions in Europe, including Alsace and the Wachau. She observes, “I find that many of the white varieties so seldom grown in the U.S. can thrive here.” Unlike most farms in eastern Washington, they can dry-farm, as the slopes and cooler nights on Underwood Mountain provide enough rain that, according to Horn, can make some gorgeous ripeness in phenolics without becoming jammy or too high in alcohol. “We can focus on elegance and finesse without huge extraction and muscle in our wines,” she said.

Growth of Seattle Urban Wineries

  When Tim Bates, Andy Shepherd and Frank Michels of Eight Bells Winery and Lacey and Charlie Lybecker of Cairdeas Winery launched their respective wineries in 2009, they were among the first winemakers to set up shop inside Seattle’s city limits. Bates reflects on how consumers had a hard time understanding how they could have a winery in the city. “Everyone expected you to be surrounded by vineyards. People are pretty amazed when they come in and see a real winery in action, especially during crush.” Lacey adds, “When we first started making wine, the urban wine scene was concentrated in South Park and Georgetown. It’s now in SODO, West Seattle, Ballard, and beyond. It’s great to see the expansion.”

  As part of this expansion, after the Lybeckers moved their winery from West Seattle to Lake Chelan, they established a second tasting room at SODO Urban Works, a collective of ten of Washington’s finest wine and food crafters situated in one communal space. Nine Hats Winery followed a similar model, with a winery based in Walla Walla and a tasting room at SODO Urban Works. According to Ryan Shoup, who oversees this tasting room, having a presence in this bombing-bustling neighborhood enables them to pivot off this urban energy. “This, in turn, results in a more casual and upbeat feel to their tasting room that attracts a younger audience,” he reflects.

Promoting WA State Wines

  The Washington State Wine Commission designated August as Washington Wine Month (WAugust). During this month, consumers can find special deals and events all month long at wineries, tasting rooms, restaurants, grocery stores and backyards across the state. Also, as part of WAugust, the Washington State Wine Commission partnered with Ste. Michelle Wine Estates in 2022 to bring on Wine Spectator as a national media partner for an expanded Washington Wine Month campaign.

  In addition, 2023 marked the return of Taste Washington in March, which is the nation’s largest single-region wine and food festival. This week is marked with a dinner series, seminars and parties. A key highlight of this week is the Grand Tasting, which includes selections from over 200 wineries alongside more than 50 regional restaurants. This event will return in March 2024, with the Grand Tasting slated for March 16 and 17, 2024.

  Another series of statewide events that have returned post-COVID are those from the Auction of Washington Wines. This nonprofit organization seeks to raise awareness of Washington wine through a series of events benefiting their community. Events happen throughout the year, including an online holiday bottle auction, Wine Country Celebration dinners, and a trade-focused Private Barrel Auction. The largest events happen in August and include TOAST!, an industry-focused recognition dinner; the Winemaker Picnic & Barrel Auction, a casual event featuring wines, food and a consumer barrel auction. Their largest fundraising event of the year, a formal gala, where unique auction lots are available through a live auction and money is raised for Seattle’s Children’s Hospital, Washington State University Viticulture & Enology Department and various industry grants.

  On a more regional level, Walla Walla Wine on Tour allows 45 member wineries to pour to sold-out crowds in Seattle and Portland, as well as reconnect to the wine trade and media. In 2023, they expanded this tour to include Boise, Idaho. In 2024, they will return to Seattle on January 29, Portland on February 26 and Boise, Idaho on March 3-4. In 2023, 60 percent of ticket purchasers were first-time attendees to the Seattle and Portland events.

  Along those lines, Horn points to events like the Blood Of Gods 2023 Annual Merrymaking event held in Walla Walla that work to create space and voice for alternative people in the wine industry, including queer, punk, BIPOC and female voices. She proclaims, “I like that people like us are finding wine and taking some ownership.”

  Renea Roberts, the director of community engagement for the Lake Chelan Wine Alliance, points to the importance of in-person events as an essential part of any local wine community. As she notes,

“They provide an opportunity for wine enthusiasts to gather and share their passion for wine while also promoting local wineries. Being able to host wine events means that the wine community can come together to celebrate their love for wine, learn from each other and support local businesses. It also allows wineries to showcase their products and connect with potential customers.”

  Currently, Washington’s wines can be found all over the state in some unexpected settings. Onboard Amtrak Cascades trains from Eugene, Oregon to Vancouver, British Columbia, travelers can savor Chateau Ste. Michelles’ chardonnay and cabernet sauvignon. Most hotels offer Washington wine to their guests, with the Kimpton Hotels hosting Washington-focused happy hours featuring Washington wines. Other places to find Washington wines include the Seattle Space Needle, Washington State ferries and various performing arts venues, such as the Seattle Art Museum, Seattle Symphony Orchestra and the Fifth Avenue Theatre.

Recent Washington State Winery Trends 

  After Paul Beveridge of Wilridge Vineyard, Winery and Distillery in Yakima led the lobbying effort to permit wineries to hold a distilling license, a select number of wineries have followed suit. Like Beveridge’s winery, most of these other wineries also distill the must from their grapes and other fruits to produce grappa and fruit brandies though a few produce grain spirits. For example, Browne Family Vineyards in Walla Walla established  Browne Family Spirits in Spokane, focusing on locally sourced, limited-edition bourbon and rye whiskeys by Kentucky-native master distiller Aaron Kleinhelter.

  Another growing trend with Washington wineries is offering lodging options onsite. Presently, nine wineries based in either central or eastern Washington offer lodging ranging from guest cottages to yurts, cabins and more palatial offerings.

Challenges

  Moving forward, the biggest challenge for Washington State vineyards remains wildfire smoke, though the 2023 harvest was not impacted as in the case of some previous years. Also, in August, Ste. Michelle Wine Estates announced to its contracted Washington wine grape growers that it’s not taking nearly half of its contracted fruit this fall. The long-term impact of this decision is not known at this writing.

For updates about Washington wine, visit https://www.washingtonwine.org   

Clubs Vs Subs; Which is Better?

3 people holding wine bottles

By: Susan DeMatei, Founder of WineGlass Marketing

Unless you’ve lived in your cellar for the past five years, you’ve noticed we live in a subscription economy. We have subscriptions for food, clothing, pets, razors, socks, movies, sports, makeup, and almost anything. You name it, and there is a box that can be delivered with options on your schedule.

  How sustainable is this trend? Will we forever be ordering small packages in bright boxes with sample sizes, or is this just a fad? And is the decrease in wine clubs part of it?

  Let’s start by defining a wine club. This recurring sales model provides wineries with a direct channel to reach high-value consumers and bypass traditional distribution channels. They are structured to offer repeat customers a winery-curated selection of wines at a small discount delivered to their homes monthly or quarterly. Key prospects for club membership are customers who have purchased multiple times at a winery and have some affection for the wines and brand. Clubs are typically free to join, and the benefits of being a club member include a discount on wines (typically ten to twenty percent), first access to new releases of wines, and invitations to events. Some wineries will have special seating areas or experiences for participants, and members are encouraged to visit the tasting room for complimentary activities.

  In 2022, the Silicon Valley Bank report noted that the average winery gets 24% of its sales from wine clubs. Wineries cling to this model because they can better control their brand messaging, pricing, and customer experience while capturing more sales value. It is also a bankable recurring revenue stream with projectable inventory depilation. Repeat purchases typically offset the discount.

pie chart showing clubs vs subs

  Most clubs have an average membership tenure of over two years, and club members almost always have a higher-than-average lifetime value. Wine clubs are historically the largest part of a winery’s DTC playbook. As such, wineries protect this loyal customer base fiercely.

  Using a dating analogy, wine club relationships are married. This channel buys the most expensive magnums and enjoys the most elaborate experiences. Club members routinely plan vacations around their wineries and even go on extended cruises or world wine trips with clubs. Club members have been known to spend hundreds of thousands of dollars at one winery and have been members for 10+ years. Wineries, in turn, are expected to know the intimate details of these very high-value contacts. Many club managers have club members’ contact information on their cell phones, with preferences, birthdates, children, pets, and personal information. Some are trusted to have the card on file with blanket approval for purchases or arrangements. These trusted face-to-face relationships take years to forge and are rooted in trust and familiarity.

  Wine Clubs have worked perfectly over the past 20 years for Baby Boomers in the loyalty phase of their relationship with wineries and don’t mind handing over their credit card for randomly selected wines shipped to them at a future unknown date. The consistency, VIP status, discount, and comfort of guaranteed access to wines they’ve endorsed, check all their boxes for dependability and responsible accumulation. Wine clubs have been developed around and for Baby Boomer pressure points.

  But to any consumer under 40, this model is frustratingly rigid. Consumers who grew up with the internet are accustomed to variety, transparency, and immediate access with no strings attached. To withhold these basic qualities will not fly with them. Moreover, younger consumers don’t want the same wine delivered periodically. They grew up with the internet and know what it is to have options, so their goal is not to decide on a favorite and stick with it. Instead, they live in a perpetual state of trial.

  The long process of waiting on some allocation lists isn’t appealing to them, either. Baby boomers equate loyalty point tiers based on spending, passwords to hidden website pages, and private access to winery areas as luxurious and aspirational. Millennials see one-click orders, open company values, and delivery within 30 minutes as luxury and desirable.

  So, what will happen to wine clubs? Are wineries doomed to lose 24% of their sales? If done right, the goal should be to evolve them into subscription models. And, no, that isn’t just semantics.

table comparison of wine club model and subscription model

Subscription models are different from Wine Clubs because they place control of the relationship in the customers’ hands. Typically, all interactions are online so that they can be managed anytime and anywhere. Many have apps. The consumer signs up and chooses frequency and dollar amount. The focus is on new brands and products, typically highlighted with in-the-box collateral containing stories about the new items.

  Subscriptions have become popular in the last half-decade, with young urbanites 25-44 years old leading the charge. Skimgroup reports that 48% of Millennials have four or more subscriptions. Why? 80% of those polled said subscription boxes made their lives easier, and 74% said it was because they liked to try new things. 55% replied that they joined so they didn’t need to go out to get the items. Those answers make it easy to see why the current club model of complex offers, repeated products, and on-site visits will soon be extinct.

  Subscription selling is not like selling to a wine club. First of all, it is not face-to-face. A subscription manager will not intimately know the people they are selling to. They will be names on a shipping manifest. The manager will focus on trends, variety, fun collaterals, and packaging that can make each box opening Instagram-worthy. The more exciting and interactive the manager can make each shipment, the longer the customer will stay in the subscription program. Aim for fresh takes on tasting notes and brand information and lean heavily into visuals and stories instead of words and data.

  Do not expect a subscription customer to stay as long as a club member. It’s all about trial, right? This is the biggest difference between subscriptions and clubs: Subscriptions are at the other end of the funnel – they are an introductory tool. Expect consumers will want to move on once they’ve tried your wines and figured out your vibe. But churn can be mediated with many opportunities to share their experience and bonus incentives if they sign up friends. Remember, this group likes to share the good news, so give them the tools to spread the word. And that intrinsic curiosity which causes one member to move along will bring two more to sign up.

  There are a few things that will have to happen for the subscription sales channel to become a mainstay in wine marketing:

•    Wineries need to consider subscription models useful in the initial trial phase, not replacing clubs in the loyalty phase. As a salesperson, you would never come out of the gate with a wine club offer as it is now. That would be like walking up to someone you don’t know at a party and asking them to marry you. It’s too much of a commitment. But subscription models are less cemented in routine. If a wine club is a marriage, the subscription model is speed dating. You can try wines for a while and then move on. It is the perfect introduction to a brand. This sounds simple, but the entire sales process is different. Online ads targeted to new customers will be for trial subscriptions. If someone doesn’t want to buy wine, a salesperson could offer them a subscription to try the wines instead. It’s a different way of thinking for most wineries.

•    Technology needs to catch up. If we were selling t-shirts today, there would be a multitude of plug-ins and templates for us to set up a recurring sales model on an e-commerce site. But, because we’re talking about a controlled substance, we must involve compliance, and our websites have limited online subscription choices. Right now, only Commerce7 and Shopify/Drinks offer the customization, but others are in development, and this will not be an issue for long. But as a whole, technology has been slow to respond to this usability shift.

•    Fulfillment needs to step up. Amazon has taught us all that we want 2-day shipping for free on everything. Wine is fragile and heavy and susceptible to heat and cold issues. This is unavoidable, but consumers’ standards are set, and other subscription services have extremely fast turnarounds. Large clubs like Winc are handling the volume, but to the average small winey, the logistics of giving a choice and cadence control over to the customer is a logistical nightmare.

•    Since subscriptions are virtual, the companies that offer them have no brick-and-mortar overhead. They put all their money and attention toward delighting the consumer with bright, cheerful curated boxes and providing excellent, fast, seamless customer service. Most wineries have spent years perfecting their tasting room hospitality service, not their shipping and remote customer service. We pack wine in plain boxes and call UPS and call it a day. These new consumers care about what the box looks like, what surprised are included inside, how well the delivery is managed/ communicated, and how easy it is to return, refund, or change their minds. These are not qualities that the wine industry typically excels.

  To be clear: If you successfully work out the logistics of a subscription, we do not recommend migrating your club over to it. Your Baby Boomer customers have done their research, spent a lot of money, and are perfectly happy being first in line to get all your new releases in their wine clubs. You want to offer a subscription in addition to the wine club. Position the subscription as a virtual sale to states outside of your tasting room or as a gift for tasting room fans to give their family and friends back home. Think through what you can do virtually to connect with these customers, even if only for six months or a year. Subscriptions are a complementary tool to get in front of people not standing at your tasting bar and a platform to communicate all you can about your brand story and wines. 

  Overall, wine clubs in the past have effectively disrupted the DTC wine market by offering consumers a convenient and personalized way to discover and enjoy wines while providing wineries with a direct sales channel and a means to build customer loyalty. As the target audience of wine clubs continues to diminish and technology enables choice, we can expect subscriptions to play an increasingly influential role in shaping the future of the wine industry. It is crucial for wineries to start thinking of these trial subscription models in parallel to clubs so that as the balance of visitors and customers changes, they can keep that 25% of their business healthy.

  Susan DeMatei founded WineGlass Marketing; the largest full-service, award-winning marketing firm focused on the wine industry. She is a certified Sommelier and Specialist in Wine, with degrees in Viticulture and Communications, an instructor at Napa Valley Community College, and is currently collaborating on two textbooks. Now in its 11th year, her agency offers domestic and international wineries assistance with all areas of strategy and execution. WineGlass Marketing is located in Napa, California, and can be reached at 707-927-3334 or wineglassmarketing.com.

Steps for the Long-term Success of Your Brand & Business

man in super cape

By: Lauren A. Galbraith

Family wineries face certain common issues when it comes to succession planning, and there are steps you can take to help ensure the longevity and success of your brand and business.

Step 1 – Develop a Plan

  Benjamin Franklin is thought to have said:  “By failing to plan, you are preparing to fail.” This rings true for family wineries, where planning can substantially increase the odds of the business achieving its full potential over the long term.

  Some forms of planning end up memorialized in legal documents. Thoughtfully drafted governing documents for the business lay essential ground work. For example, a shareholder agreement can establish a framework for the transfer of ownership within the family and restrict the sale of business interests to nonfamily members. The business’s governance and management structure can be tailored when it comes to, for instance, using a management committee or vesting control in single strong executive, setting the voting thresholds for approval of major decisions by owners, or instituting a family advisory board to help set goals and priorities for professional managers or to provide a mechanism for passive owners to have a voice. 

  A business leader helps to ensure stability for the business and its stakeholders upon his or her death or in the event of incapacity by having in place certain core estate planning documents such as a revocable trust, will, and power of attorney. Lifetime gifting may be part of a plan to minimize estate tax at the death of the senior owners such that the family has the freedom to continue as family-owned. In California, avoiding or deferring property tax reassessment can be an important objective to minimize future costs to the business. 

  In transferring business interests, some families choose to align controlling ownership with successor management. To the extent one can discuss these matters and the rationale for certain decisions in advance of the decisions taking effect, it can help to preserve family harmony and avoid conflict and resentment among the next generation after a death.

  Identifying talent and cultivating future leaders is an important part of the planning process. This leads to the next topic of taking steps to encourage full and frank communication.

Step 2Open Communication Channels

  An important step of family business succession planning is to examine the desires and expectations of next generation, as well as their strengths and weaknesses. Some children readily see the business as their family legacy and relish the opportunity to continue its growth. Others view it as a family legacy that they are honor bound but not excited to inherit. Still, others see it as an asset to be sold as soon as the parents are deceased to provide the capital to pursue the children’s true career objectives. Before moving forward with a family-based succession plan, parents should seek to ensure they are getting an honest answer from their children as it relates to taking over the family winery.

  A coach or consultant may be retained to conduct family interviews and synthesize findings into a plan of action. Coaches can also help family members develop communication skills to improve how they work together, such as effective listening, understanding and responding while not shrinking from difficult conversations. 

  A collaborative and diplomatic style can feel unnatural to a strong, independent leader. But a pivot in approach may be what enables longevity. Sustainable solutions are more likely to be designed in environments in which individual values and aspirations are expressed. Relatedly, a leader must learn to let go and, at some point, allow for transition of real management and decision-making authority such that next generation of leaders can gain confidence and skills, make mistakes, learn, improve, and, perhaps most importantly, know what it feels like to have family members, employees and their families rely on their ability to make wise decisions. Real, sometimes difficult experience tests skill sets and suitability but also enables the family member to make an informed decision as to whether the contemplated role for him or her is the right fit.

Step 3 Plan for Potential Estate Tax

  Some family businesses fail due to overwhelming debts or taxes, in particular the 40 percent estate tax. However, with enough lead time it be possible to eliminate estate tax or at least to minimize and defer the payment of such tax. This can make all the difference in allowing a family business to endure and thrive.

  Under current law, U.S. persons have a combined gift and estate tax exemption of $12.92 million, but decreasing on January 1, 2026, to $5 million, indexed for inflation, absent a change in law. Some family winery owners are choosing to make large gifts in order to “lock in” the record-high exemption before it shrinks. Transferring business assets today has the added benefit of removing future appreciation from the transferor’s estate.

  By transferring a portion of a family business during life, you can ensure that your estate includes less than a 100% interest in those assets at your death, which is advantageous from a valuation perspective, especially if you decrease your position below 50%. When fractional interests in a private company are valued, they are typically eligible for generous discounts for lack of control and lack of marketability.

  Lifetime gifts have the additional advantage of being valued on a per beneficiary basis, rather than based on the grantor’s aggregate ownership. Example: (a) You die owning all 1,000 shares of a business with fair market value of $4 million, passing to your four children (taxable estate includes $4 million) versus (b) you give each of your four children 250 shares in the business (each valued at $750,000, or $3 million total, using a 25% discount).

  Once you transfer assets you can no longer have the income from those assets, but there are methods to address this if a concern.  For example, a person who wishes to maintain cash flow might sell (rather than gift) interests to trusts for their descendants and receive in return a promissory note payable in annual installments.  This essentially converts an asset that would have been part of the transferor’s taxable estate into liquid funds for consumption and at a price that is the fair market value at a fixed point in time, excluding post-sale appreciation. 

  Keep in mind that appreciated assets transferred during life, by gift or sale, do not receive the step-up in basis that is available under current law for assets transferred at death.  The step-up would reduce or eliminate capital gains exposure on a subsequent sale of those assets. This is of less consequence, however, if the transferred assets are not intended to be sold and will instead remain in the family.

  For active family business that make up a significant portion of a person’s estate, estate tax obligations may be deferred and paid in installments over as many as fourteen years under a family-business minded provision of the Internal Revenue Code, Section 6166. If your family will want to take advantage of this deferral, it is prudent to examine whether or how lifetime transfers, debts, etc. might jeopardize eligibility.

  Many families use life insurance to address and pay for estate tax.  Large policies of life insurance should be held in irrevocable trusts, with premiums paid following certain technical procedures, to help ensure the insurance proceeds are not subject to estate tax.

Step 4Pre-Sale Planning

  If the next generation lacks interests or ability to carry the business into the future, sometimes the right choice for a family to continue the legacy of its brand and business is to sell to a third party.  In such case, careful planning can maximize value and minimize tax consequences. 

  In an effort to put the best foot forward, wineries may engage professionals to help them “clean up” their financial statements in the years leading up to a sale.  If individual family members or family trusts that are partial owners of the winery have loaned funds to the winery, those loans may be converted to equity and, if necessary to avoid dilution of other owners, superseding loans may be made between owners to move the debt off the winery’s balance sheet.

  Any transfers of interests in the family winery to trusts for the next generation should be accomplished well in advance of a sale, to potentially achieve favorable valuations that leverage one’s gift tax exemption.

  Those business owners with philanthropic inclination might choose to make gifts of the business interests in kind to charity to reduce the income tax burden of a sale.  To achieve the desired tax benefit, such gifts should be considered and executed prior to negotiations to sell and certainly before entering a contract for sale, so as to avoid application of the step transaction doctrine which would treat (and tax) the individual as seller, rather than the tax-exempt charity.

Conclusion

  Far from morbid, anticipating personal and business life changes provides peace of mind and helps answer the critical question, “Who will take care of this winery or vineyard once I am no longer able?” From an emotional standpoint, planning helps to ensure that the great wine of today continues to be produced and poured well into the future.

  Lauren A. Galbraith is a partner with Farella Braun + Martel LLP in St. Helena, CA. She advises individuals and families on all aspects of estate and tax planning, estate and trust administration, and business succession planning. She can be reached at lgalbraith@fbm.com.