Wednesday, January 30, 2013

Fat and complacent.

Man, there are a lot of household name wineries out there! There are a lot of wineries from California that made their mark in the years between 1975 and 1993 or so, and have done, basically nothing since.  A lot of wineries relying on steakhouses and corporate placements to get them through another year. A lot of 30-70,000 case producers that just sort of continue to slog ahead. About half of them have sold off to another entity somewhere along the line, if their kids didn't want to take over. A lot of old, tired names, making okay, but never great wines, just sort of hanging on to the name they established while most of the people that drank their wines were still young. Now those people are nearing retirement age, and what are these wineries to do? They have gotten, fat and complacent through the years. They have relied too much on the name recognition and haven't evolved to meet the times. Now that the people that drank their wines are retiring or dying, and the stores that bought their wines are switching to concierge/ in house wine steward sommeliers, who is their audience? Their success thus far was set in motion years ago, but failing to articulate a true marketing plan, has placed an expiration date on their success that coincides with the expiration date of their clients. If you continue to make world class wine, like Ridge, Heitz, Chateau Montelena, you will live on through generations  If you once made world class wine, but the world caught up to you, you are forever doomed to be a footnote. On some level, we are just enabling these wineries. If we, as a wine drinking society, continue to reward mediocrity, we will be met with mediocrity.  We will be doomed by dead, tired, artifact wineries that are here only because they are recognizable.

Friday, January 25, 2013

An open letter to Randall's marketing mojo


In response to Randall's Blog Post:

Disclaimer: I represnt Bonny Doon in several markets, and have first hand exposure to both states of Schrödinger’s Cat, errr wine. I have spent a fair amount of time around Randall in the market as well as in the car discussing such processes. 

Dear Randall,

2009 Contra-is a stunning wine. Could the same be said in 2011? Perhaps, but to a lesser degree. While we have certainly grown to love this wine, this wine has grown to be loved and perhaps is not yet even peaking. I know that the topic of the timing of this wine's release is in certain circles, contentious, but this was Problem 1 against raging success. Not that the wine wasn't or isn't great, but it didn't know who it was yet. And based on our chats about the oft-misunderstood grape, Carignane, this wine was totally symbolic of everything that grape is. 

Problem 2: Contra is a great name, a mysterious name. It's a name that allows it to be whatever you want it to be. In certain (surprisingly large) circles, it refers to a NES game of the 80's. The visual irony of the couch, while hilarious when recognized, loses it's hilarity when explained by anyone aside from you. This label also lacks the artistic flair that you have become known for.

Problem 3: This wine falls into the hot hot new trend of "red blends". Even trying to place this wine amongst the swill that currently populates that category and drugstore circular ads is going to end up disappointing the hell out of someone expecting Apothic Red. Similarly, falling into that category, sticks you in a section that anyone that has even heard of Carignane, avoids like the plague. That group of buyers, that you are attempting to appeal to understands how preposterous a category like "red blends" is. It's akin to having a car dealership that categorizes cars based on manufacturer of the chassis. this is the part of the world that is entirely unfix-able, so get that idea out of your head.

Problem 4: People don't entirely understand what this wine is (this is sort of problem 3.5). Old Vine Field Blend didn't necessarily help or hurt. This wine is Carignane driven which brings certain responsibilities. It has Rocks and Raspberries  it has soul, it lingers. as I think about it right now, I can taste it. 

Further muddying your clarity on the matter is the Schrödinger’s Cat phenomenon.  It's worth re-iterating that you are a bit of a celebrity (in many circles). People recognize you on the street.  This carries with it a bit of a cult of personality that sells wine in a manner that sometimes overwhelms the senses. In many situations, when I take a winemaker around, the trade is impressed enough, but not to a point of nervousness or neurosis (no, I don't think neurosis is infectious). It is because you are, for all intents and purposes, a celebrity within this niche. The process of meeting someone and tasting them on your wines, overshadows the merits of the actual wines. They would buy the wines from you regardless of the quality or the state the wines are in. Sometimes, the tasting resonates, more likely, the stories they tell will be about meeting you, and less about what the wines actually tasted like (assuming they can even remember). If you were anonymous, you get your point (s) across much easier. So the Cat thing: The cat is not dead in the box, it is certainly alive, but inside the box, it stops being a cat altogether. It becomes something else that is really dependent on who is presenting the wines, the mood of the buyer and a thousand other factors. In other words, Darwinian evolution is determined by the market. Whereas, with you around, it's always a cat, alive and predictable. So you can never suitably observe the "cat" it's natural state.  

So what's the solution? To paraphrase you: Maybe you're asking the wrong questions.

Solution 1: You are the category. Bonny Doon is well branded and identified in the market. Contra is a good name. The category of this wine is: a Bonny Doon wine for everyday consumption. Period. Even selling it within a category will hurt it. Retailers and wine list category Nazi's will do this on their own. Its unavoidable. By keeping it separate of the category, buyers are compelled to market it on your terms if they love it. You occupy a space on shelves in minds and in hearts that most producers couldn't if they tried. Rather than being something for everyone, be that wine geeks favorite Wednesday wine. Screw mass-appeal. Big House will not be repeated. 

Solution 2: The label: I would simply print (maybe screen print) the "Contra" name in a die cut defined font (the one you use is great) right on the glass with a back label that features Bonny Doon Vineyard prominently. Put the blend on it too.

Solution 3: The distributors: Ah yes, the distributors. I tend to think of distributors as a sometimes okay delivery service (they do own trucks).  Sometimes, one of their employees, when not buried with goals and imperatives from quite unlovable North Coast based wineries that spend more on shiny shoes on the street than quality ingredients, discovers that Bonny Doon is in their portfolio. Bonny Doon is fun to sell and fun to represent. It brings levity and joy to often joyless tie wearing widget-schillers. You mentioned the "black" in the balance sheet. Continue that thread down to the salesperson. If refined in concept, Contra can become something that is both joyful to sell and drink, but also nourishing to the wallet and psyche (the latter of which you endeavor towards, always). After avoiding continued lashings at the hands of well-fed sales managers, a salesperson next aspiration is to try to pay for the car they're beating into the ground. Making a wine that sells through, makes salespeople very happy and success in the form of confidence in the product, amplifies.

Randall-You are asking why you haven't caught lightening in a bottle. Maybe it's time to look at this problem as a new and a good one. Your wines have never been better and now you're faced with a wine whose quality exceeds it's marketing. This alone is a not so subtle metaphor of the changes you have aspired to. Perhaps you've subconsciously sabotaged or reigned in aspects of the marketing on this wine based on it's merits and potential. Maybe with the help of a brilliant National Sales Manager and witty (and snarky) accomplices in the Great Lakes Region, you can refine the concept to a point where the sales are worthy of the quality in the bottle.

Then again, perhaps you're just over-thinking it...