Category Archives: The Market

State of the market, our marketing

ALL Wines Deserve A Level Playing Field

ElBanditoAlice Feiring and I don’t often agree, but today she put up a lament that I sympathize with completely on the exclusion of wines she loves by “quality panels” in Canada and South Africa.

The brilliant label pictured (love how they have used the bar code!) graces a wine that is unusual. Because it is unusual, tasters on the South Africa Wine & Spirit Board rejected it and thus the producer is not allowed to export the wine. Regardless of the fact that the wine has an international fan base, because the tasters on the SAW&SB didn’t like it, the producer is being restricted in his ability to sell it.

Wines that tasters on Ontario, Canada’s Vintners Quality Alliance panel don’t care for are denied a substantial tax break that other wines produced in the province receive – making the economics of production and distribution that much more challenging. Alice and other fans of these wines are rightfully outraged.

Laws that dictate what can and can’t be in a wine, and laws that insist that the label on a wine bottle accurately reflects what is in the bottle (at whatever level of detail is deemed appropriate, and enforceable) are desirable, and protect the producer as well as the consumer.

But laws that empower tastemakers to impose economic sanctions on wines that don’t fit some arbitrary “taste” standard are abhorrent. As Eric Asimov has said: “…distinctive wines will always be at least somewhat divisive.”

The ONLY criterion that should determine whether a wine producer gets to market their wine in any way they choose, wherever they choose, is this: if just one consumer is willing to buy a second bottle – with the only context for their decision being that a friend recommended the wine, or Alice Feiring, or Eric Asimov, or the awesome somm at the table of their favorite restaurant.

"Lies, Damn Lies & Statistics" – It Was Ever Thus…

What kind of lab is this? Credit: Syd MeadAs a consumer, or as a producer, how badly do you really want to know what is in your wine? Would you stop buying (or making) a wine you really liked if you found that it didn’t “stack up” against others in areas that had nothing to do with aroma, flavor, value, or age-worthiness? As a producer, do you change the way you make a successful wine in reaction to some arbitrary praise for a different style? Who would you trust to make those determinations? Inquiring minds want to know.

In early April Alice Feiring tweeted a link to a press release by a lab proclaiming that their in-house testing of over 450 top-selling white wines in the US revealed that one in three of them have levels of lead or arsenic above the level allowed in drinking water under the Clean Water Act.

Oooh I’m so scared…

In fact I am not scared at all, though that seems to be the intent of the press release. Here’s why.

The action level the EPA lists for lead in drinking water is 15ppb (a part per billion is a microgram per liter in liquid or per kilogram in a solid) and for arsenic it is 10ppb. The low levels allowed for both of these metals in drinking water are based not only on their toxicity but mostly on the volumes likely to be consumed by children, not adults.

By contrast, in a letter to the TTB the director of the Center for Food Safety and Applied Nutrition in the FDA stated:

“The Health Hazard Evaluation Board (HHEB) determined that the daily intake of table wine containing 150ppb or less of lead is likely to pose no more than a minimal risk to the adult population, including women of childbearing age.”

Note that the concentration beneath concern by the HHEB is over ten times the action level for lead in drinking water. The director then goes on in the letter to propose that the action level for lead in table wine should be 300ppb.

There is no mention in the Code of Federal Regulations of a limit for arsenic in table wine. The FDA is currently engaged in rule making which proposes an action level of 10ppb in apple juice — the same level as in the standard for drinking water.

Given that this 10ppb arsenic proposal is based on the fact that children drink a lot of apple juice (as well as water), it would be unsurprising to me if the HHEB was to suggest that a level of arsenic in wine of ten times the drinking water standard would be “likely to pose no more than a minimal risk to the adult population.”

Levels Of Lead & Arsenic In Other Foods

It’s long been known that plants accumulate these metals (and others) from the environment. For example, lead levels in lettuce grown next to highways (where the soil is contaminated with decades of accumulation from burning leaded gasoline) have been measured at up to 1.5ppm (1,500ppb) — over 100 times the drinking water standard.

The FDA has measured levels of arsenic in rice (which tends, more so than other grains, to accumulate the naturally occurring metal from the water it is grown in) — especially brown rice — of up to 700ppb, or over 70 times the drinking water standard.

But that’s not really the point. Concerns over toxicity or toxic effects pivot on the serving size and frequency of ingestion. Even the most determined hypochondriac must recognize that drinking enough wine to reach even mildly toxic levels of lead and/or arsenic is likely to result in negative health consequences due to excessive alcohol consumption that far exceed the damage caused by the exposure to these metals.

Which leads back to the question: what is the point of the press release by this lab, warning of levels of these metals in wine that exceed drinking water standards? Assume that the purpose of the press release was to generate media attention for the new business with a scary headline — the tactic appears to have failed. Today I can find no online references to the “1 in 3 wines tested”” headline, and it appears the lab has even removed the press release from their website (though the original tweet is still up).

Perhaps they don’t have much faith in their methodology. I certainly have questions about their performance. This lab claims that their current accuracy/precision is ±20% — a level of uncertainty that was not good enough for me or for my clients when I managed a wine services laboratory in the late 1990s.

In a Twitter exchange with this lab I asked if they had ISO certification and the answer was “we have started the process.” However, I know from experience that the process can take well over a year, and that ±20% on analytical results won’t be acceptable analytical accuracy/precision to the accrediting agency.

In a further Twitter exchange with the lab, they declined to state where they are getting their startup capital, and would not respond to a request regarding their business model — i.e. how they plan to make money after they burn through their startup funding.

What Is The Agenda Here?

Ignoring the implied — and mistaken — assumption in the press release that table wines should be held to the same standards for these metals as drinking water, there is the question of how the levels of lead and arsenic in wine compare to levels found in other foods. The lab does not say what absolute levels they found in the 450+ wines they analyzed, so it is impossible for an educated and concerned consumer to assess the risk. Without the actual statistics, according to the axiom: perhaps we are left only with lies and damn lies as the other possibilities.

This lab is attempting to establish itself as an arbiter of which wines are “healthier” than others on a range of metrics. Rather than provide actual levels of “unhealthy” components in wines in the context of the range of levels of these same components found in comparable serving sizes of other foods, they claim they are using a proprietary algorithm to weight the levels they measure — however accurately, or inaccurately — by non-transparent and therefore arbitrary criteria in order to generate a one-to-five-star “ranking” for individual wines. While Federal law prohibits wine producers from making health claims about their products, third parties such as this lab are, surprisingly, exempt from this injunction.

Much has been written about mandatory composition/nutrition labels on wines, and I’ve written before about the realities and pitfalls surrounding these proposals. While I do have reservations, I generally support the right of interested consumers to know what they are paying to put in their bodies:

Mrs Winslow's Baby Killer

How would you know this contains morphine, alcohol, soda ash and ammonia?

If the people running this lab were more transparent about their funding, their business model, their weighting algorithm and their overall agenda, it’s likely I would be inclined to support their mission. As it is, I have a lot of unanswered questions, mostly regarding the potential for this lab’s activities to result in both direct and indirect coercion of producers: either a pay-to-play scenario, or a requirement to defend our products against specious or spurious claims of “unhealthiness.”

Since the lab was unwilling to provide information, I forwarded these concerns to the Wine Institute, and apparently the legal and technical teams there share them. Here’s their reply to my inquiry:

Wine Institute’s Technical Advisory Committee has been monitoring [this lab] for several months now to determine their direction, intent and purpose. We agree with your assessment that [this lab] has the potential to leverage their web presence and immunity from TTB therapeutic claims provisions to coerce industry members. At this point, we are actively monitoring their website to see if any of their statements rise to the level of a legally actionable claim for defamation, unfair business practice, or false representation.

In light of this uncertainty, Walter White has good advice for everyone involved in this issue for the time being: Heisenberg As this develops I’m soliciting my producer friends and acquaintances on what they think about a third party ranking their wines on arbitrary scales of “healthiness.” I’m wondering what consumers think of this as well: believable? Helpful? Inquiring minds want to know.

Another Big Crop Year?

Apr 14, 2014 PN-CVSWe are having a run of lovely, mild, quiet weather just now: day/night temperatures in the mid- to high-70s/mid-40s, morning coastal low clouds and fog burning off by midday, light breezes. This weather is predicted to last through the weekend, with just the hint of possibility of a rainy front pushing through at the 10-day forecast limit.

Walking through the vineyard yesterday I was struck by how fruitful our Pinot is looking just now. The cluster primordia (seen in the photo above, more in my Twitter/Instagram streams) in the young-vine cane-pruned blocks are enormous, with wings on wings in some cases, mostly two clusters per shoot, and frequently two shoots per bud. It looks like 2012 and 2013 all over again.

A large crop three years in a row would be unprecedented in my experience. I’m <ahem> “interested” to see if the cumulative effect of the past two heavy crops and the very dry conditions December-February lead to massive flowering failure — somehow “worried” is simultaneously too strong and too weak to describe how I really feel.

The Syrah and Tannat are not looking anywhere near as fructiferous as the Pinot at this time, but they are several weeks behind — and the Syrah especially has fooled me before, with the crop ending up much heavier than early-season cluster evaluation led me to expect. I am surprised at how far along the Grenache is this year. At this time its development appears to be between that of the Pinot and the Syrah. Grenache primordia counts are low but they look to end up as really big clusters.

No surprise to me that the Counoise is barely budded out at this time. What really IS a surprise is that the Mourvèdre is behind the Counoise, with only 20% of vines showing even a hint of green. Up to now the Mourvèdre at the Estate has budded out between the Syrah and the Grenache. My only conjecture is that it has been delayed by the dry winter, as the Mourvèdre block is planted on our shallowest soil with the lowest water-holding capacity. I have no idea what this weird timing of bud emergence may mean for either the Grenache or the Mourvèdre this year.

My grape broker emailed me this morning: “Buyers are in a holding pattern currently because crop has potential again. If everything sets this year, at this point it is looking very similar to last year’s record breaking crop.” The word on the street is that La Crema (owned by Jackson Family Wines, producing 850,000 cases annually) does not plan to renew contracts this year for Pinot here in the North Coast — they are reportedly shifting focus to Oregon — which means there will be that much extra Pinot on the market.

Part of me is hoping for a massive flowering failure. Everywhere else.

Geography Lesson On Our Labels

mandatory textThe other day our friend and client Marcel showed up with labels for his 2012 Rosé of Pinot Noir, which Kyle and I helped him apply by hand to all 64 cases he made from extra juice recovered from the fruit off our Haynes selection block at the Estate vineyard (it’s delicious wine, by the way).

Since this is the first wine we have labeled in 2014, it’s the first where we have been required to include the “Sonoma County” designation on the label, mandated by AB 1798, or risk losing our production license.

And we have not gone halfway with this, inviting confusion by doing something so vague as putting “Estate Vineyard, Sonoma Valley, Sonoma County” on our front label (can’t you just see the consumer scratching their head looking at such a label? “Which is it? Valley or County? I’m SO confused!”).

Nope — as you can see above, we have stated in a clear, all caps, sans-serif type that is the mandatory 2mm high:
“SONOMA VALLEY IS LOCATED IN SONOMA COUNTY” Nothing ambiguous about that — the consumer is enlightened, rather than confused. This is every bit as important for the consumer to know as that my wines contain sulfites, and that there are risks associated with drinking too much alcohol.

SO MANY AVAs In Sonoma County! What Is The Consumer To Make Of This Mess?

At this time there are 15 different geographically/climatologically sensible appellations — approved viticultural areas (AVAs) — that have been recognized by the Federal Tax & Trade Bureau for indicating the origin of wines made from grapes grown in the area indicated by lines on the map as “Sonoma County.” (Not to be outdone, Napa County has at least 16 AVAs, though it is only 45% the size of Sonoma County.)

Just over half of the members of the Sonoma County Vintners and the Sonoma County Winegrape Commission — two marketing organizations representing less than half of the wine producers and grape growers in the Sonoma portion of District 3 (*) — believe that it is VERY IMPORTANT that consumers be constantly reminded that these sensible appellations are all inside the lines on the map that delineate District 3, um… I mean, Sonoma County. Because, you know… Napa Valley. QED.

(*)NOTE: “District 3” is the commodity grape crop pricing district defined by the California Agricultural Statistics Service, which includes Sonoma and Marin Counties. Poor little Marin County — producers using grapes grown there are allowed to use “Marin County” on the label, but the underdog has no AVAs of its own. It’s only allowed to share either the Central Coast AVA or North Coast AVA with a bunch of other Counties. I feel sorry for it.

But wouldn’t it be exciting if the Sonoma County Vintners and the Sonoma County Winegrape Commission were to set aside their holier-than-thou prejudices against Marin County, extend the hand of friendship and equality to the producers and growers there, and rename themselves the District 3 Vintners and the District 3 Winegrape Commission?

Just IMAGINE the marketing clout to be gained by riding on the coattails of an internationally successful book and movie franchise! Never mind that District 3 of the fictional Panem is a dystopic slave state specializing in the manufacture of technology for the Capitol. Maybe we could get Jennifer Lawrence and Josh Hutcherson to be our spokespeople! Now there’s an idea that’s catching fire! catching fireBut I digress…

What Does Sonoma County Conjunctive Labeling Really Mean?

We have been assured by something like a quarter of the producers and growers in the County who are wiser and more far-sighted than the rest of us that it is in ALL of our best interests to put “Sonoma County” on all our labels, that conjunctive labeling will “build brand equity” and “ensure that consumers understand where they are.” Heck they even have one bought-and-paid for demographic survey by a third-rate pollster to back up their assertion that consumers WANT conjunctive labeling (or, well, maybe, at least… it doesn’t exactly hurt consumer perception, and never mind that the results could be interpreted entirely differently).

Let’s suppose for a moment that this law was not pushed as a self-serving prop for a couple of largely irrelevant marketing entities. If we suppose that, then the alternative explanation for conjunctive labeling is that Sonoma County Vintners and the Sonoma County Winegrape Commission patronizingly and condescendingly believe that consumers are largely stupid, and ineducable. 15 is this many

Doing Our Part — Gung Ho! Gung Ho! Gung Ho!

Assuming that conjunctive labeling has been made the law of the land because consumers need to be condescended to educated, we have followed both the letter and the spirit of the law with our geographical statement. I can only hope that my fellow vintners can come up with something as forthright and creative, and that consumers actually appreciate our efforts.

Looking For Our Customer

alexander meets diogenes1Quiet day in Sonoma. As I start composing this post I’m looking out at a passing storm that has brought us nearly four times the rain we have had since November. We’re still in a drought, but my friends who rely on surface water to raise their vines are getting at least a partial break.

For the moment, things are quiet. The vineyard erosion control measures have been checked and are holding up. I’ve temporarily patched our roof leak, the winery is not flooded, and Kyle and Tiffany are holding down the Salon on a day when most customers are staying home, perhaps watching the Olympics.

Last week I went to Houston for our annual partners’ meeting. It was great to be able to report another year of growth behind us, and make plans for expanding sales in 2014. There is no question but that, with big crop years in 2012 and 2013 expanding our inventory, we are going to have to pursue a return to three-tier distribution — a sales mode we withdrew from in 2008 when the Great Recession hit hard.

But since the crash of 2008 we have found a sweet niche in the long tail of the wine market, a niche where we have been successful directly connecting with many wonderful people — people who love the wines we make, and geek out when they get to sit, chat with us in our tasting salon and share our passion for our wines and for Sonoma Valley. One of the topics under discussion in Houston was how to expand that customer base.

Searching For An Honest Customer

Diogenes was said to wander Athens in the daytime with a lit lantern, looking for an honest man. According to his philosophy, honesty was demonstrated when a person’s deeds and actions matched their words. I think about this a lot.

The Down Side

I thought about it the other day when a group of guests came in to spend a couple of hours, bragged about how they had bought 50 cases at another winery, didn’t believe we were a “real” winery because we don’t have an impressive building and landscaped grounds, and bought relatively little.

I think about it every time someone comes into our salon expecting—sometimes demanding—a free tasting.

I think about it every time I exchange business cards with someone “interested in doing something” with our brand and see the look in their eyes that tells me no matter how many follow-up contacts I make nothing will ever happen.

I thought about it when I was introduced to a wine broker recently at a charity event. It was late in the evening and perhaps she was at the point of finding veritas in vino, but when she tasted one of my wines she commented “ooh that’s GOOD — great ‘food’ wine. But I can’t sell this — well maybe to one restaurant I know. People want ‘lollipop’ wines.” By which she meant sweet, soft and alcoholic. And cheap. It was refreshingly honest.

The Bright Side

Mostly I think about it when we meet someone new at the tasting salon and see their delight when they get more from us than they expected, when they “get” the wines, and when they plunk down their hard-earned cash and take some with them. I think even more about how word and deed go hand-in-hand when some of them come to visit again and again, and some of them join the wine club.

I’ve been doing this long enough to know that no matter how optimistic my outlook, not everybody is a potential customer. The people we come into contact with honestly are not “customers” until they engage with us in the cooperative dance we invite them to, and until they actually buy something. So the big question facing us in 2014 is — how do we find more of our kind of buyers?

More Direct Engagement

When I opened our tasting salon just off the Sonoma Plaza in 2005, it was an untested concept in our town. There were two other winery tasting rooms in Sonoma that opened about the same time. Today, in addition to Westwood there will soon be 26 other winery tasting rooms in our Plaza area (moving counterclockwise from us: MacLaren, Envolve, Bryter, Two Amigos, Haywood, Sonoma Enoteca, Victor Hill, Spann, Kamen, Bennett Valley, Stone Edge, Sojourn, Highway 12, Eric K. James, Walt, Auteur, Hawkes, Roche, Three Sticks, JAQK, Adobe Road, Charles Creek, Bump, R2, Petroni, and Rumpus).

Up to a point, every new tasting room that opened seemed to bring more traffic to our own salon. I’ve got to think we have reached a limit by now — a limit dictated by the amount of parking available in proximity to the downtown area. Even with our loyal customer base, referrals, and our great Yelp reviews, we are not going to get any more people in our door in Sonoma unless more parking is constructed and new hotels with shuttles open in the area.

So where does that leave us? I think we have to consider opening a second location. We have to do it someplace that will not cannibalize our existing traffic, perhaps someplace that is already a destination in its own right — maybe The Barlow in Sebastopol, or even perhaps a place in SF like Ghiradelli Square. The big question for me (aside from whether the place will pay for itself) will be, how do we adapt and evolve our customer experience to a new venue? Diogenes

Practical Advice On Managing Wine Alcohol Levels

Fourteen percent, more or lessThe other day I came across this fact sheet: “Reducing Alcohol Levels In Wine” published by the Australian Wine Research Institute (AWRI). Directed at the professional winegrower, this is the best agenda-free piece on wine alcohol levels I have read, period. It’s worth the interested reader’s time.

All of my own efforts to manage alcohol levels in our wines are mentioned here. Continue reading

Low-Alcohol Trend? Think Again

A couple weeks ago Joe Roberts (1WineDude) queried on Twitter “Curious: I keep hearing about a low alcohol wine trend in the US, but does any consumer data exist to back it up?” Tyler Thomas (winemaker for Donelan Wines) replied on Twitter with a link to a page of statistics compiled by Wine Institute and Gomberg, Fredrickson.

The data show US wine consumption per capita from 1940 through 2010, along with figures for total gallons consumed and gallons consumed of “table wine” (defined as wines under 14% alcohol by volume).

I pulled these figures into a spreadsheet and subtracted the table wine gallons from the total wine gallons, to calculate the gallons of wine consumed that is (by definition) greater than 14% ABV. Then I expressed this as a fraction of the total wine consumed, and graphed it: click to see larger No question that today we are drinking wines with lower alcohol than we were in 1948. Six decades ago more of the wine Americans drank was fortified, compared to what we drink today; the fraction of wine consumed qualifying as “table wine” (under 14% ABV) exploded after 1968. There is definitely a trend to lower alcohol from 1968 through 2000.

What’s interesting is that the fraction of wine consumed in the US that is over 14% ABV has been increasing steadily over the last decade. So it’s safe to say that if there is some trend to lower alcohol, consumers in general don’t know about it yet. (Click here to see the complete spreadsheet.)

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.

Praise The Thoughtful Wine List

Today I feel like writing about semantics, because the words we use matter (“natural” wine, anyone?). A month ago Jon Bonné put up a piece on “The Bay Area’s incredible shrinking wine lists” where he commented:

Years ago, restaurants like Square One and Zuni Cafe pioneered that balance of fancy and fun. Later came Nopa, with its wildly diverse collection of more than 250 wines assembled by wine director Chris Deegan, with everything from Swiss Chasselas to Santa Cruz Mountains Pinot Noir. It had all the length of a fancy list, with none of the pretense, yet it now feels big by comparison to the svelte lists at, say, Piccino or Bar Tartine.
That reflects another theme mirrored in our dining habits: a communal fatigue with endless choices. The success of focused wine shops like Biondivino in Russian Hill or Dig in Dogpatch shows that we’re ever more content to let someone else curate for us.
So while the list at Perbacco remains an encyclopedia of Barolo and Barbaresco, it has always seemed beholden to expense-account Financial District customs. When Barbacco opened just two doors down in 2010, then-wine director Mauro Cirilli devised an avant-garde selection – on iPads, no less – that veered toward Slovenian Ribolla Gialla and Oregon Gamay Noir.

This piece generated a mild furore over short vs. inclusive vs. comprehensive wine lists among the thirty or so people who actually read and comment on the wine blogs I follow.

Thursday, a wine rep acquaintance re-tweeted a consumer’s lament: “ack! so sick of ‘_____ curated the wine list.’ no they didn’t. they made the wine list.”

My response was: “‘Curating’ is 1 way to make a wine list. Letting the SWS rep write it for u is another. I’ll take curated.” Continue reading

Will Drunken Guests Destroy Wine Festivals?

Festival tasting at Ft. Mason For the last two weekends The Northern Sonoma County Wine Road association held their 34th annual barrel tasting event. Following things on Twitter it was clear that many people were having a great time tasting wines from barrels both weekends. The majority of people attending this sort of wine festival have a responsible good time. But…

There’s Always A But…

The local Press Democrat ran this story a couple days ago with the headline “Barrel Tasting Drunkenness Alarms Healdsburg Merchants” where “…merchants said they witnessed participants stagger from one tasting room to another, hanging on benches and even getting sick from too much alcohol.” Observers quoted in the story focused on “younger imbibers” but I think this is a bit unfair. While I would say that the partying crowd does seem to skew younger in terms of sheer numbers, in my experience “the over-served” come from every age group.

Oh, The Stories I Could Tell

I’ve been doing this a long time, serving wine to guests. If I have not seen it all, I’ve certainly seen a lot—more than the average wine lover. I’m the last person entitled to go all judgey and finger-pointy over people getting their drink on. I’ve done my fair share. And I have enabled a fair share in others.

But there’s something about the behavior of hammered guests at wine festivals that goes beyond the pale. Maybe it’s the public nature of the spectacle that is so objectionable.

Not The Image You Want Identified With Your Brand

Ah'm So Druuuunk! I’ve said elsewhere and will repeat here: I no longer participate in any of the big wine festivals. The last event we did at Ft. Mason in SF was billed to us by the organizers as “a farmer’s market for wine” where we would be able to engage with and sell to motivated consumers. Then they sold tickets through Groupon, whose cutesy-snarky copywriters promoted the sale as “All You Can Drink – Half Price!” Awesome. The line to get into the venue was 8-wide and a quarter-mile long. We poured WAY more than we sold, the vast majority of it to people who forgot our brand before they got to the next table.

These Aren’t The Customers You’re Looking For

These aren't the droids you're looking for Over the years that I did participate in the big events I started to notice something: I saw the same people at every event, year after year. But with very, very few exceptions I never saw them at our tasting room. Not one joined the wine club. Of those that added themselves to our mailing list an infinitesimal fraction responded to invitations to smaller events, or to mail/email offers—even of sale wines. The big-festival-event-goer appears to be a particular demographic; their intersection with the world of wine is centered on these events.

Over the last couple of years I’ve talked this issue over with a number of other proprietors of limited-volume brands. Most of them are saying the same thing I am: the big wine festival is a singularly poor way to build a brand identity. They are bailing, as I have.

This limited anecdotal evidence does not make a trend, but what if this is the start of a trend? Will we get to the point where only the big, industrial producers show up for these festivals? Would anybody care?