As part of Dominican University’s invitation-only inaugural Wine Marketing Conference, I was invited to speak on the topic, “Observations of a Wine Marketing Practitioner.” Since all of the other attendees were marketing professors from around the world, I thought it’d be opportune to conduct a tasting of local wines while speaking about wine marketing. The professors tasted three wines, two from Robert Biale Vineyard and one from Cornerstone Cellars.* (Read my article about Biale’s Zinfandel.)
Robert Biale Vineyards is a small production winery in Napa whose wines are mostly distributed through their club. With this exclusivity, the keys to successful cultivation of fans is high-touch attention to each individual, a high degree of perceived value to belonging to the inner circle, and unique wines.
As sophisticated as the next winery in Napa, Biale conjointly creates a warm and welcoming atmosphere by greeting visitors (mostly wine club members, their guests, and soon-to-be-members) as if they are family. When I was there, the “guests” were so comfortable in the tasting room and on the porch, I could not easily ascertain who worked there and who didn’t. One enthusiastic woman was saying hello to Robert Biale and when he introduced us, she gushed, “This feels like my second home.” I have no idea who she was, but she chatted with the winery owner like an old friend.
Biale is doing a few things that some would call old-school; for instance, when you call the winery during business hours you never get a machine where you must punch a few numbers and hope you get to the right person, instead the phone is answered by an actual person in the tasting room who acknowledges and thanks you for calling Biale. One thing that immediately caught my eye was a lovely printed newsletter available in the tasting room/greeting area. With blogs and other digital media being so ubiquitous it’s unusual to see a nice print piece these days. Nevertheless, my reaction was positive; it didn’t seem outdated, it seemed purposeful and quite compelling to pick up and read. When I asked one of the partners Dave Pramuk about it, he confirmed that the newsletter complements their brand identity, causing people to slow down and enjoy reading about their favorite winery. Personally, I found the writing and the presentation to be extremely well done and agree with Dave that it suits their brand and target market.
When a winery chooses to sell mostly direct-to-consumer (DTC), participating in winemaker dinners and reception events across the country are important. By visiting markets where there are pockets of supporters, wineries have the opportunity to further solidify their relationship with their fans as well as garner new fans (friends of their members).
Last of all, but certainly not least, it’s important that small production DTC wineries thoughtfully position their wine in the marketplace. Biale’s wines are considered to be special for several reasons: they are making wine from old Zinfandel vines in Napa and they make Petite Sirah which is in itself rare (see my other articles about Petite Sirah). Biale also makes sure the wine is not easily available in retail markets but is available in select fine restaurants. Lastly, the price point is competitive for Napa which makes entry into the Club easier for more people. Biale does submit its wines to critics such as the Wine Advocate and it gets glowing scores, but this strategy is secondary to creating raving fans who like the wine, the story and Biale’s high-touch personal atmosphere.