Posted on | May 22, 2014
Written by | Jack Robertiello
Before there was wine marketing, there was wine marking. Greek vendors marked their amphorae as a way to remind buyers who had provided them with such good juice. Marketing efforts have advanced since then, but compared with most consumer goods, wine-selling strategies have tended to be product-focused more than consumer-targeted.
In the past few years, however, some California marketers have adjusted their approach, developing wines not for everyman, nor pitched through the time-honored score/price/region/varietal method. Instead, they did what many 21st century entrepreneurs do: Start with an audience, and create wines expressly for them. Wines are not widgets, to be sure, but appealing directly to a set of potential buyers is a timeless strategy.
As a retailer, knowing which wines are aiming at which consumers can be the key to deciding which to stock, which to stack, and how to make sure the leave the store in the hands of someone who will remember the wine and return for more.
Many of these freshly minted wines target the active and powerful but sometimes overlooked demographic of women. These brands posit wine purchasing as a lifestyle choice. Take HandCraft: The lightly-oaked brand sprung from the mind of third-generation family member Cheryl Indelicato. “Of paramount importance was honoring her family’s Italian heritage and California home, as well as crafting a collection of wines for everyday enjoyment that are approachable and versatile across the menu,” says Christine Lilienthal, VP of Marketing, DFV.
Diageo has also mined the female mindset with multiple new labels: Butterfly Kiss, Rose‘N’Blum and Girl Go Lightly (the latter featuring lower alcohol and no oak, two features also considered attractive to many female wine drinkers). You can also add a crop of lightly sparkling wines: DFV’s Sequin, Constellation’s Ooh La La, Barefoot’s Refresh. Not surprisingly, others are on their way. America’s best known morning wine-sipper, The Today Show’s Kathy Lee Gifford, partnered with Monterey’s Scheid Family Wines for Gifft—a Chardonnay and red blend depicting Gifford’s favorite place to enjoy wine with friends—her garden gazebo.
Some wines are not for everyone. And that’s fine, especially if they are designed with a clear target in mind. A perfect example: Ed Hardy wine. Actually just a fraction of the overarching brand of the legendary tattoo artist Don Ed Hardy, whose business is predominantly in apparel and accessories, Ed Hardy wines are not targeting wine drinkers—they are designed for people who embrace America’s burgeoning tattoo culture. This demographic segment is actually much larger than many people think. According to the firm’s research, more than a third of Americans aged 26-40 have at least one tattoo; and $1.7 billion is spent annually on tattoos in the U.S.
Graphically, the wines jump, the Ed Hardy wine labels have resonated even beyond their target market. “The wines are aimed at Millennials, 21 to 30,” says Gene J. Schaeffer, Vice President at Luneau USA, marketers of the Ed Hardy wines, “but a lot of other wine shoppers are picking it up”—especially Ed Hardy Sangria, the top-selling SKU. Perhaps forbidden fruit appeal is at play? Bottom line: Ed Hardy wine—not unlike Ed Hardy shirts, footwear and fragrances—clearly strikes a chord with a sizable swath of American consumers.
A passionate, well-defined fan base represents a ripe target when it comes to marketing. Constellation’s label The Dreaming Tree, for example, was designed with Dave Matthews Band fans in mind. The brand’s Sonoma County winemaker Steve Reeder explains, “They are an essential part of our brand and this vital community breathes life into the Dreaming Tree story on a daily basis.” Reaching 300,000 cases last year, the wine trades squarely on Matthews’ name recognition, although not targeting specific gender or age brackets within the very loyal and engaged consumer base. Wines include Cabernet, Chardonnay, Crush Red and, most recently, a white blend called “Everyday” (named after a Dave Matthews Band song). “We saw a market opportunity to deliver an easy, accessible white wine; one that doesn’t have a certain type of personality like that of a Chardonnay,” notes Reeder.
Putting Table Wine on the Right Tables
Entwine, a partnership between Food Network and Wente Vineyards that hit 175,000 cases in its first year, focused on solving food and wine pairings for the network’s devotees. Pure consumer interest drove brand development, says marketing director Stefanie Jackel. As she tells it, enough Food Network consumers pushed the channel for help with identifying “approachable” wines that the network auditioned various California vintners. Wente was the best fit, and together, representatives from the network and the winery developed four food-friendly varietal wines—opting for a generic California AVA, avoiding regions viewed as too geeky for these customers.
Labels and web copy avoid winespeak; Entwine Cabernet Sauvignon, for example, is “rich, fruity and herbaceous—like eating raspberry jam off a sprig of thyme.” Food pairings are
similarly homespun. Entwine Chardonnay is recommended with potato chips, and the Merlot with mac and cheese, pizza and meatloaf.
Nothing says brands can’t target specific trade sectors, too. Cecchetti Wine Company created Backhouse as a brand that would fit a need on-premise (in some states it has now moved to off-premise as well.) Roy Cecchetti, founder and CEO, explains, “We decided there was a niche to fill, as a lot of restaurants shy away from mass market wines that are widely available.” The winery, which Cecchetti calls a high-volume, low-margin enterprise, also has had success with the streamlined packaging and direct style of Line 39, a six varietal line that targets novice wine drinkers and consistently garners praise from the wine press for quality at its price point. For him, that is more important attribute. “The consumer of these wines doesn’t understand and doesn’t want to understand varietal differences and AVAs and terroir—they want consistency and value,” says Cecchetti.
Jackel concurs, and cautions that there is definitely a limit to how far a wine concept or label will go: “If the wine isn’t good there is no consumer loyalty in this category. If the proof isn’t in the package consumers will leave you and buy something else in a heartbeat.”
Target branding can work at higher price points as well. 90+ Cellars, a negociant label that sources from around the world, but particularly California, is all about perceived value of high rating for (relatively) low price. Their modus operandi: repurpose wines that have achieved critical success but had trouble selling (and their makers don’t want to tarnish their own label by cutting price). Co-founders Kevin Mehra and Brett Vankoski put the finished wine under their label at a deep discount, appealing to knowledgeable buyers who watch ratings and their budgets. “We’re trying to simplify and build trust among people who know a little about wine, make it easy for them and reduce anxiety about buying,” says Vankoski. Color-coded labels denote price points, which start at around $10 but climb up to reserve and collector’s levels. They recently launched a $19 Pinot Noir from a well-known Sonoma producer that usually sells at around $45.
But like any other brand with high volume aspirations, these brands still need support, whether through marketing, promotion, rebates, tastings, or other methods, says Roberta Backlund, wine manager at Hazel’s Beverage World, Boulder, Co. “You can’t just put these wines on the shelf and expect them to sell themselves. There are a lot of big suppliers with excess juice looking for ways to sell it, and these brands can come and go quickly.”
Keeping It Real
Of all the wine-market targets out there, Millennials perhaps remain the most coveted—and slippery. Rarely does a month go by without a fresh crop of analysis of how people aged 21 into their early thirties shop. But that is a huge age span, considering relative life (and drinking) experience, further complicated by huge differences in disposable income and the fact that Millennials are going to be influenced by a range of factors other than the products beckoning from shelves. There is no shortage of contenders for Millennial attention. Consider Be, from Treasury, targeting younger women (alas, so did Vin Parfait, but that didn’t work); DFV just launched Belle Ambience; Constellation has Thorny Rose; Diageo has Stark Raving (for guys). But are these types of graphic/concept-driven wine apt to backfire among consumers who famously don’t like to be pandered to?
The thinking at Bronco Wine Company, maker and marketer of dozens of labels, is that simplicity still rules when it comes to wine branding. Pointing to a bottle of Carmenet, owner Fred Franzia says, “The way we lay it out makes it very easy to read, to understand. That’s the way labels should be. It should be easy for the consumers to find out what they want to find out, and not complicated.” He calls talk of terroir “counterproductive”—and a big reason why French are selling less wine in the U.S.
Some of Bronco’s best-known brands include Forest Glen, Red Truck, Allure, Salmon Creek, Coastal Ridge, Fat Cat Cellars and Picket Fence. Were any designed with a target consumer in mind? No, says Franzia, but they share a basic clarity in both verbiage and graphics. “We think the consumer wants something that is easy to pronounce, and easy to remember,” he emphasizes. It surely also helps that Bronco wines not only clean and welcoming outside but easy-drinking inside—and well-priced, to boot.
Of course, “easy-drinking” is a term that can be applied to a great many California wines. Ditto “flavorful,” “affordable,” “fruit-forward” and “food-friendly.” Worn smooth by a couple decades of contemporary California wine marketing, such terms are sometimes meaningless. On the other hand, when these consumer-friendly wine attributes are aligned with casual imagery, snoot-free positioning and competitive pricing, the combination has proven to be a pretty reliable formula for brand success.