Wine for the Win (Part 1)

Tuesday, 10 December, 2013
Shante Hutton
Most of us know the saying, "It's easy to make wine, selling it, that's the hard part." Indeed, we're constantly looking for ways to get more people interested in, and buying wine.

I fell in love with wine through a competitive desire to learn something new and immerse myself in a part of South African culture - that, and I could finally convince my Grandmother to give up her vinegar-tainted Australian Shiraz's.

But once in the industry, you start to see the flaws and notice the constant struggle to reel more fish into the sea of wine. We sit with the question, "how do we get people to enjoy wine?"

Harry Haddon, on a past post (read it here), stated that we should simply "Drink More, Write More, Make More Jokes". But with Haddon I don't know whether to take it as biblical truth or with a good gulp of dead sea water.

But two points that stood out for me in his article were that perhaps we're just drowning in our own advice and not really doing anything with it? And/or maybe, we really are trying, but wine will always be 'off the grid'.

I can't believe the latter. 3 years ago I hated wine. Imagine if everyone had a Damascus moment like I did - we'd be steaming ahead!

I started looking at what the wine industry has, and what it does with it. As well as researching other marketing campaigns which we could possibly learn from. And just before you reach for that old adage, "the wine industry has no money for such notions", there is no harm in looking.

For example, let's take the world's most popular beverage, Coca-Cola. Created by John Pemberton as a substitute to his Opium addiction, this is one soft drink that has NOTHING going for it. It hands out rotting teeth, diabetes and is used to clean blood spills off of major highways BUT, the world devours it in abundance. Why? Other than its addictive sugar content, it has advertising/marketing team worthy of Titan status.

In the U.K, when you see the Coca-Cola festive advert with Santa Claus, you know it's Christmas. Forget "Away in a Manger"; the 'holidays are coming" and they are bringing Coke - even if it is minus degrees outside.
A few years ago they focused on the inner workings of a Coke vending machine and how each Coke is lovingly handcrafted and delivered with love - something we can be focussing on with our wines.
Their South African adverts now centre around the idea that Coke and food go perfectly together which, in a hazy blur, is true as sugar goes with everything.

But we all need to start somewhere, as much as I wish there was an overnight solution - my mind often wanders to a world in which people drink wine for breakfast...and lunch...and, well, you get the picture.

So, without further ado, I shall introduce the workings of my mind, induced by a bottle of Nederburg's The Airhawk (I love a good label on a bottle and a bit of fantasy/history)

Things we could implement in the wine industry as a means to promote and market our kick-ass wines:

1) The figurehead
Ken Forrester, of Chenin Blanc fame, makes your life feel like a barren wasteland if you don't have a bottle of FMC to hand.

Gerhard, the GM at The House of J.C le Roux, will have even the most savoury of characters going ga-ga over sweet sparkling wine.

There needs to be forerunner for your brand. Someone (it could be something but that comes later in point 2) who embodies the wine.

So many times, at functions, a/the winemaker makes an address and I am left squirming in my seat because he/she looks and speaks as though their skin is being ripped off and made into a roti.

I know that not everyone is comfortable with public speaking but one has a choice of whether to use that person or not.
People need passion, they need to believe that a particular wine will enhance their life - bring about Christmas if you will.

How cool is Jamie Foxx as brand representative for Oude Meester?
Old Spice body wash wouldn't be the same without Isaiah Mustafa (p.s, their first youtube video in 2006 was the fastest growing online viral video campaign ever, garnering 6.7 million views after 24 hours).

Live your brand. Breathe it. Have it seep out of your pores. People seem to like a story behind a wine brand and with our rich wine history, we have so much to tell. More so than many New World winemaking spots.

2) Fun versus frou frou
From my experience, the 20 - 30 age gap in the U.K still views wine as elitist. There, beer and alco-pops reign supreme, thanks to fantastic marketing schemes.
Bacardi with their 'wicked side' adverts made a seemingly feminine drink something to be enjoyed by both genders.

But there is a fine line between fun and unnecessary nonsense.

For instance, an over-abundance of childish animal labels. The balance (yes, Overhex, the company behind Balance wines, make it work) must be in favour of an eye-catching story rather than tacky, garish colours and poor detailing.

We're still selling wine. Making the outside of the bottle look like a brothel, will not change the insides.

Fat Bastard gets a big fat tick not least of all because everyone loves a good 'naughty' word. Simple design but memorable. It always gets a chuckle when you bring a bottle with you to dinner at a friends.

J.C le Roux's La Domaine, is the highest selling 'wine' across the board in Makro stalls. No other Sparkling wine (sweet or dry) has the same sexy, classy look as a J.C bottle.
Forget the excessive use of pink, most consumers want to pick up a bottle that looks decent and won't show them up in front of their peers.

Rupert & Rothschild Classique is the highest selling red wine at Makro stores in the Western Cape. Why? Could it be the sophisticated design? The fact that it's just under R100 making it affordable, but, above R80 meaning that it's a perfect host gift? Or maybe because, thoughout the years, it never diminished, it remains a consistently good wine?
R & R know their market and continually produce decent wines for it. Their tasting room, whilst not as grand or elaborate as some, is a testimony to beautiful simplicity and historical roots.

Graca, celebrating 30 years this year, is the number one selling white wine. Not much has changed with the bottle or label design which is both charmingly recognizable and evokes visions of continental holidays. They choose their collaborations very carefully - seafood and Graca being the pairing in many restaurants. Plus, it's dirt cheap.

But I have yet to see an advertising campaign that paints wine as it should be sold - as an enhancer to food and social settings.

J.C le Roux, with their 'Le Good Life' adverts were always luxurious and the quintessential party starters and I think consumers need to see more images of wine as a social component.

'But that costs money!' - yeah, it sure does and that is probably a budget that has gone to overseas marketing efforts but when I say 'advertising', I don't just mean fancy magazine spreads and T.V. commercials, you can do a lot with social media but you must be real about it. Make your tweets count.

Now, with the hovering shadow of a Alcohol advertising ban, we need to be even more thrifty in our 'promoting'. Frankly, I'm looking forward to not seeing adverts that depict rolling vineyards and sanctimonious images of winemakers holding a glass up to the light. Who does that? I want to be showed the winemaker chilling with a group of friends and enjoying his wine as an average Joe.

And now I am led to my next point...

3) The Experience.
If the ban comes in to play, wineries are really going to have to up the ante
on their estates.

Fairview, Spice Route and Spier are already crushing the competition by providing a wide base for which newbies (and connoisseurs) can jump onto and experience, not just wine, but food, pairings, history and even beer and chocolate.

Craft Beer is HUGE and Spice Route now draws in the beer lovers and, at the same time, manages to convert them to wine.

I am not wishing for every winery to become a theme park. One must work with what they have and make one's assets shine. There is really no excuse for anyone to have a bad experience at a winery. These bad moments often come down to the staff, which has me screaming, EDUCATE YOUR STAFF.
I get a little sick of being given the feeble excuse of "our staff are just here for the summer", loosely translated into, "they don't give a damn so you shouldn't either. Sorry."
- Don't hire someone who doesn't have character and detracts from your tasting room.
- Little things such as serving the wines too hot or too cold, can be detrimental as well as not knowing when a wine is oxidized.
- Dress the part. In retail, we judge by what we see, same with wine. If I should ever walk into Burberry and saw someone slouched over the counter in a dirty cardigan, I'd walk straight out.

Each person who walks into your tasting room might be a wine virgin and your estate could be the starting point for a revolution in their lives.

And be continued.....