Winemakers Will Come To You

Winemaker At the end of May, the organizers of Hospice du Rhône announced the end of the big annual event in Paso Robles. Predictably, the announcement prompted expressions of sadness and angst over the cancellation of what was a long-running, successful and popular international celebration of wines made from Rhône varieties.

In reading through these reactions, I was struck by the similarity between incidental comments by two professional wine writers. Stephen Eliot of CGCW commented: “[i]t has been some years since I made my way to Paso Robles for the festivities…” and Steve Heimhoff said:”…I haven’t been to HdR for a couple years (I keep meaning to go, but something always comes up)…”

These comments are telling—that an event with the repute and record of success of HdR has ceased to be a draw for some in the trade. The organizers acknowledge that ticket sales for HdR were good, and that financial considerations were not the reason for discontinuing the big event in Paso. So what is up? I think we are in the middle of a paradigm shift…

Inside the trade, the luster is off of big wine events.

The HdR organizers say they plan to “…seek out new audiences through smaller events in more accessible locations.” Along similar lines, a couple months ago I expounded on the position that the large wine festival is a singular waste of time and resources for small wineries trying to build a brand and a loyal customer base. In the comment thread on that article I said:

“I would rather fly all over the country every week pouring for private groups of 30 or less, where I have motivated, interested potential customers all to myself (or sharing them with one or two other producers) than waste another dollar on a regional association’s festival event.”

Becky Tyner and Ramon Sandoval, aka “Small Lots Big Wines” (among others) are pursuing a great idea for offering in-home wine tastings. It does not take much extrapolation to predict that, soon, winemakers will be coming to a home near you.

8 thoughts on “Winemakers Will Come To You

  1. Marcia M

    Why am I not surprised at the above two’s cynicism?! LOL 🙂

    I, too, have heard quite a bit recently about the rise of the Tupperware-style in-home winemaker dinner/tasting. I recently ran one of these myself (for a highly informal Grenache flight) with a tiny group. Absolutely delightful!

    I think it’s a fabulous way to introduce new wines to friends and colleagues in a comfortable, informal setting that may make the most lasting of impressions (something VERY important to those of us in the marketing biz).

    It’s a nice bonus that this is likely the least expensive way to do a bit of guerrilla marketing w/o the costs of staff, restaurant room rental and other related overhead expenses. Add in wifi for attendees to place orders online from the comfort of a friend’s living room (let alone the use of Square and your smartphone for the same), and you’ve got a pretty nifty marketing system.

    Sad to lose HduR; we’ll see where the paradigm shifts…

  2. John M. Kelly Post author

    Ron – you’re right; once a year should be enough for anyone.

    Thomas – bring your own “wool”? Wool? Really? What is this, Minecraft? Maybe you mean “weed?” “Wife?” “Wit?” I don’t know what you are talking about.

    Marcia – these guys, cynical? No, I think perhaps “experienced” is more correct. But I agree with everything else in your comment. I don’t see this mode of tasting as “guerrilla marketing.” The Tupperware tasting represents the very essence of DTC. I think the paradigm shift has already occurred.

  3. Thomas Pellechia


    My middle name is ambigWuity.


    I love your comment: “…the rise of the Tupperware-style in-home winemaker dinner/tasting.”

    It’s not so much a rise as i is a rehash. Back in the day, Robert Mondavi helped get his name out by being the featured winemaker at Les Amis du Vin gatherings, an organization of the late 70s formed by Ron Fonte (he recently died). It was the vanguard movement of what has transpired in wine tasting groups ever since.

    1. John M. Kelly Post author

      Ah I had forgotten about LADV – as so many have. The vast majority of paradigm shifts are simply pendulum swings.

  4. Marcia M

    The pendulum is merely swinging back the other way — hence “Tupperware” wine parties. And, gee, isn’t that what most (wine-drinking) folks do anyway? Have a nice party; trot out nice food and wine. I believe it’s called the cocktail party or more formally, the dinner party. (Sigh.)

  5. Tyler Thomas

    Hi John, been a while since I commented but I think you are spot on about this. I do see some benefit to brand building with large events, but it has to be the right event and you have to work all the ancillary opportunities the event provides: after parties, coffee with customers, cementing relationships, meeting writers. I will be curious to see how HdR incorporates wineries into these smaller, more intimate settings.

    Hope you are well.


Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *