View from the Top: Marketing Lessons from the Virginia Wine Summit

As another year comes to a close, it’s only natural to contemplate the past twelve months, mentally unpacking the highs and lows; reflecting on what worked well, and what did not. What are the accomplishments of the last year, and how can remaining goals be achieved in the next? For Virginia Wine, this year was one for the record books. In 2014, Virginia was praised by Food & Wine Magazine’s Ray Isle, explored by celebrity chef Jose Andres, and the focus of the entire travel section of The Washington Post. But that was just the beginning.IMG_20141021_090853

With more than 20 wineries added to the roster this year, Virginia isgetting noticed; both as a wine destination, and as a new challenger in the ring with the world’s best wines. But how do we capitalize on this momentum? How do we make sure Virginia’s wines out-compete the best from other “lesser-known” regions, like New York and Texas, to claim coveted spots on restaurant wine lists and in online shopping carts across the country? At this year’s Virginia Wine Summit, marketing was a pervasive element of larger conversations about what is working well, and what isn’t. The topic of marketing permeated discussions on expanding grape production, industry best practices, and the branding of Virginia wine.

If you missed the Summit, or are looking for a refresher going into 2015, here are my top five marketing insights from this year’s event:

  1. Winemakers and winery owners need to tell their story.

It’s clear that winemakers and winery owners play a critical role in wine marketing; each one has a unique story to tell, and if you package it properly, it will sell. Customers engage in more than just the wine; they want to understand the back story, get increased access that others don’t, and feel like they’re a part of the inner circle (hello, Social Media!).

  1. PR is worth its weight in gold.

People are tapping into new wine regions and intel every day, and interested imbibers are willing to pay for shipping just to try the hot new recommended wines. Get your wines into print (or video) and you will attract new brand ambassadors and fans. Done and done.

  1. Virginia doesn’t need a signature grape, it needs to keep doing what it’s good at.

There’s been a lot of talk about Viognier ever since the Virginia Wine Board Marketing Office designed a marketing campaign promoting “Virginia’s Signature Grape.” There’s no question that Virginia produces a number of excellent Viogniers and that this grape is wrapped in an extra layer of intrigue because it’s not particularly well known among casual wine consumers.

The overall consensus at the Summit, however, was that Virginia is tapping into a number of interesting grape varieties, and stands to benefit from such exploration, building a diverse portfolio of spectacular wines rather than demonstrating a range in quality for one particular grape. Instead of honing in on one grape variety to create its signature character, winemakers are growing what works well for them, including Petit Manseng, Tannat, Petit Verdot, and even Albariño. Virginia will build its reputation for quality on many different grape varietals, so from a marketing perspective, sing the praises of what you’re good at, whether or not it’s Viognier.

  1. If you’re not on Social Media, you’re missing out.

Social is as social does. Let’s face it: social media has changed the way we do business, and that includes the wine industry. Customers expect to reach the brands they like and support when it’s convenient for them, whether voicing a complaint, asking a question, or providing positive feedback. It’s critical to be where your customers are in order to listen, interact, and learn from them. An incredible 65% of consumers make purchasing decisions based on feedback from their peers on social media, and 77% of consumers in a recent Forbes study said they are more likely to buy a product from a brand that is active on social media.

With social staples like DrinkWhatULike’s Virginia Wine Chat on Twitter, and VirginiaWine.org’s Virginia Wine Month, it can be hard to know where to spend your time, but with 82% of consumers indicating they gravitate to businesses that are active on social media, you simply cannot afford to be absent.

  1. If you build it, they will come (your brand, that is).

Here’s the catch: your brand isn’t going to build itself. And as much as you might like to lean on the Virginia wine brand built by the Virginia Wine Board Marketing Office and VirginiaWine.Org, your brand needs to be separate and distinct, because you need to tell your story (did you read #1?).

Think of one product or company you really love. Now think about their color scheme, logo, style, and what they stand for. Did they have to tell you these things directly? Most likely not. That’s called branding, and a strong brand will confirm your credibility, connect your target audiences on an emotional level, inspire loyalty, and motivate them to buy from you. But it won’t build itself. The battle for imbibers in the Virginia Wine industry is growing stronger every day, and a strong brand will help you connect with them and make you memorable.

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So there you have it! The Virginia wine industry had a year that would make Jefferson proud. Here’s to tremendous success, both present and future. Cheers!

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Message in a Bottle

I believe that winemakers are artists. And much like any other form of art, there are offerings that you will like, and those that you will not. Just like artists, there are winemakers who seem to move large groups of people, and who are particularly good at their craft year after year. Wine as art, for me, is particularly expressive; often representing a place, a passion, and a history. A message in a bottle, if you will.

So what happens when three of Virginia’s celebrated winemakers come together to put their message in a bottle? Winemakers Matthieu Finot of King Family Vineyards, Jake Busching of Grace Estate Winery, and Emily Pelton of Veritas have come together to offer their fourth vintage of “3.” Sourcing one-third of this red blend from each of their respective vineyards, the 2013 vintage is a powerhouse built by Cab Franc, Merlot and Petit Verdot.3winemakers

 

The wine offers red berries on the nose, with a hint of cedar foretelling its depth and strong character. On the palate, this wine begins with bright red fruit, and develops hints of black cherry and cedar that linger on the finish. The tannins are not at all overpowering, but are structured enough to age another 3-5 years.3_2012

The message in this bottle? A powerful testament to the quality of Virginia wine, and the expressive terroir of the Monticello AVA. You can chat with the three creators of “3” at tomorrow’s Virginia Wine Chat.

Foodie Friday: On a Mission for Morels

This blog is about wine. Devoted to adventures in oenophilia and all great things grape. But every so often, a stunning ingredient steals the show; one that truly makes a meal exquisite. Such is the case today with the magnificent morel mushroom.

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This funny-looking fungus is highly sought after this time of year. Imparting an extremely decadent yet delicate flavor, they are often the centerpiece of springtime culinary creations. Morels appear once a year, magically conjured by some complex formula of ground temperature, precipitation and earthen magic. On a recent hike, we were lucky enough to discover these little beauties just waiting to be plucked for a dish that would make them sing.

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These savory specimens would become the inspiration for what some might call a death-row meal: sautéed asparagus, truffled fresh fettuccini, and filet with a morel mushroom cream sauce. A delightful palette of earthy, uninhibited flavors intermingling to provide what can only be described as a foodgasm.

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Since morels are an ingredient to be celebrated, we thought we’d through off the reins and break the “rules” with the wine pairing. While most red meat recipes call for a structured, tannic red wine, we paired this spectacular meal with a dry Virginia Viognier. The nuanced flavors in the wine complimented the interplay of food flavors beautifully. Neither outshone or overpowered the other, leading to a gastronomically perfect meal. For this edition of Foodie Friday, I give you this morel mushroom cream sauce recipe (paired here with filet) and invite you to use it with, well, anything. Enjoy!

VA: Viognier Aptitude?

Is Virginia for Viognier lovers?

With 82 of Virginia’s 228 wineries producing Viognier, this vivacious varietal is set to make a name for itself in the state for lovers. In 2011, the Virginia Wine Board decided to designate Viognier as the state’s signature grape, hoping to brand it as a Virginia specialty, much the same way that Cabernet Sauvignon can be associated with Napa or Pinot Noir with Oregon. With such an astounding array of styles and character, Viognier certainly isn’t a bad grape to hitch your proverbial wagon to. Generally, wines from this varietal fall into two main styles: bright, lively and slightly sweet with plenty of stone fruit, apricot and honey, or a full-bodied, drier version that exchanges some of its fruit forwardness for oak and vanilla nuances.  Virginia does them both, and does them both well.

Noticeably absent from the 2013 Governor’s Cup Case, one might wonder if Virginia Viognier is really the standout that the state was hoping for (though just one wine in the Governor’s Case is a non-red, and that was the 2008 Trump Winery Sparkling Rose). Still, here are three outstanding wines that make perfect partners for seasonal spring and summer dishes:

Whether Virginia will achieve global acclaim for its Viognier remains to be seen, but this thick-skinned grape may be just the right metaphor for Virginia’s burgeoning wine industry as it looks to take on heavy hitters from California and Condrieu on national and international stages.

Viognier grapes ripening on the vine.