In tough times, wineries turn to creative marketing, discounts
Tough times have pushed wineries and restaurants to get creative about everything from bottling to marketing, and many have come up with new strategies to build customer loyalty. Among their efforts are a lot of discounting, some production changes to make more of their popular wines and cut back on more expensive stuff, and decisions to stay closer to home, keeping the mom-and-pop nature of the business.
Special to the Seattle Times
Pick of the week
O• S 2006 Red; $18
This blend of cabernet sauvignon, merlot and cabernet franc is declassified 2006 R3 and 2006 Ulysses. There was nothing wrong with these barrels; demand did not justify bottling more. So voilà: half price. Look for the 2006 Red label with the O• S logo; older versions (not the same wine) do not show the logo. Dense, salty, concentrated chocolate and coffee flavors, along with very rich cassis and black cherry fruits. (Elliott Bay distributes)
TOUGH TIMES often make the best businesses more resilient and creative. Though the news in the wine world has been focused for the past year on prices tumbling, distribution channels being clogged, restaurants closing and selling off their cellars, all is not grim. More and more businesses are trying out creative and consumer-friendly programs that not only help them survive the rough times but build customer loyalty for the future. Some recent examples:
Wild Ginger/Triple Door wine director Jake Kosseff has examined the huge wine list, which includes thousands of wines, and concluded that by sharply reducing prices on many wines, the restaurants will actually earn more money through a modest percentage gain in total wine sales. The new approach is a win for both customers and the business. "People get excited about something that also helps the restaurant," says Kosseff. "It's hard not to be a hero."
At Walla Walla's Isenhower Cellars, owners Brett and Denise Isenhower have cut loose from their distribution network. In an unusually revealing e-mail to their customers, Brett Isenhower explained the harsh realities of wine sales and marketing for boutique operations, and concluded that "with three young girls that I want to help raise and without the bank backing us up . . . I decided to keep Isenhower Cellars a Mom and Pop winery." Among the benefits are far less travel, more one-on-one contact with customers, and higher profit margins.
Trio Vintners, another Walla Walla boutique, is adding new options to its wine club, offering discounts ranging from 10 to 25 percent, depending upon the amount of wine a member orders. Many wineries are putting more effort into their everyday wines — popular and widely available blends such as Dunham's Three Legged Red, Dusted Valley's Boomtown series, Rulo's Syrca, Saviah's The Jack, Tamarack's Firehouse and Thurston Wolfe's PGV. Others are rolling out entire lines of value wines, such as the Eliseo Silva wines from Tagaris, the impressive new lineup from Hyatt vineyards and the Cask series from Silver Lake.
A recent visit to a couple of wineries in South Seattle turned up some additional strategies. At O• S winery, Bill Owen and Rob Sullivan are selling a marvelous 2006 Red (my pick of the week). Most of their wines are full-throttle, single-vineyard bottlings from prestige vineyards such as Champoux, Sheridan, Klipsun and Dineen. Though prices have dropped — a riesling from 30-year-old Champoux vineyard vines is especially compelling at $15 — some of the more expensive O• S wines were not moving. The partners noticed that their inexpensive press wine, simply named Red, couldn't keep up with the demand. They made a lot more of it. Better yet, they made it with free-run juice (what comes out naturally during fermentation without being pressed) that was originally intended for their R3 and Ulysses.
At Cadence, owners Ben Smith and Gaye McNutt were just back from a six-day sales trip to Texas. "You have to get out there and have an eye on the future, continuing to tell your story," McNutt explains. Did the trip pay off? "We'll see what kind of sales we generate," says Smith. "These trips are as much about relationships with your sales force as with the buyers. We've been around since 1998 — winery No. 150." That track record and wines from a new estate vineyard give them something exciting to talk about.
Clearly, no single strategy is guaranteed to work. But for all these wineries, and many others, these challenging times are leading to innovative marketing strategies that keep the cash flowing and the customers smiling.
About Wine Adviser
My column is all about sharing the joy of exploring all the world of wine. I want to guide people to make inspired choices, and encourage them to try as many different styles of wine as they can. I will always seek out the best wines at the best prices. Wine Adviser runs on Sunday in Pacific Northwest Magazine.
Sam and Sara Lucchese create handmade pasta out of their kitchen-garage adjacent to their Ballard home. Here, they illustrate the final steps in making pappardelle pasta.